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Historical novelist Tracy Chevalier, best known for her book, Girl with a Pearl Earring, will join the American Women’s Club of London and guests for an exclusive Zoom event on Thursday, 16 July from 7–8 p.m. to discuss her 2017 novel, New Boy. A creative modern-day retelling of Shakespeare’s Othello, the story incorporates jealousy, discrimination, casual racism, “fitting in” and other timeless themes in an unexpected setting: a 1970s school playground in suburban Washington DC (inspired by her own childhood).
The American-British author will talk about the story, the setting, the creative process, and the topical themes that resonate here and now. The interview-style conversation will be followed by a Q&A with online participants. Free for AWC members, the event is also open to others for a £10 fee. Proceeds from the event will be donated to the author’s chosen charitable organization. Register for the New Boy event here.
On her website, Chevalier explains the connection between the book and her own background:
“Like most students, my own school playground experience was at times fraught. Unusually, I grew up in an integrated neighborhood in 1960s and 1970s Washington DC, and went to a school where the majority of the students were black. So I knew what it was like to walk onto a playground where my skin color was different from many of the others, and the tension that could cause.”
New Boy, Chevalier’s ninth novel, is part of the Hogarth Shakespeare series, which includes “reimagining” of Shakespeare plays by authors like Anne Tyler, Margaret Atwood and Jeanette Winterson. Her tenth novel, A Single Thread, was published in 2019.
Tracy grew up in Washington DC where her father was a photographer for the Washington Post. She did an English BA at Oberlin College, and moved to London in 1984. She was a reference book editor for several years before turning to writing full-time.
The AWC is a diverse and inclusive community of women, providing international friendship, support and philanthropy throughout London. Founded in 1899, the Club welcomes all US citizens, as well as women of every nationality. The Club provides a busy calendar of social, cultural and educational activities (virtual or in-person), along with opportunities to serve through outreach programs with its partner charities. The AWC is a founding member of the Federation of American Women’s Clubs Overseas (FAWCO) and a member of the Federation of International Women’s Associations in London (FIWAL). For more information, visit awclondon.org.
– written by Lonnee Hamilton
I have tried sourdough once before, back when I lived in LA. and the kids were young, but my starter devolved into a stinking, moldy mess, so I abandoned the whole idea. I did regularly make Mark Bittman's "No Knead Bread" that was recommended to me by a colleague when I worked as a copy editor at Bon Appetit magazine.
That recipe uses commercial yeast and not sourdough starter. But it's a good one to start with.
In these lockdown times, what better thing to do than attack a new domestic project that can be tossed into the bin if it doesn't work out?
Like most everyone, I didn't have just spare rye flour or whole wheat flour sitting around. And at that time I couldn't get an Ocado delivery, so plain white flour (not even bread flour) would have to do.
I found The Kitchn's recipe to be the most basic, and I needed basic.
Basically each day, you add an equal amount of flour and water to feed your starter. I used approximately 40g of flour and water each day.
I made a contraption of an old yogurt container and put a plastic bag on the top secured with a rubber band. My thinking was that you needed to allow some of the gases to escape. I placed it on top of my radiator in order to give it a warm place for the magic to happen.
The first couple days, it was very stinky and I thought I was headed down the same road of moldy failure. But don't mind the smelly hooch. Persevere. After about 2 to 3 days the smelliness starts to subside.
My starter took about 7 days to really get going, and along the way I was tempted to give up. But because we're in lockdown and it's a distraction, I kept going, which was good.
Baking with sourdough starter is baking on a timeline. It takes time to get the starter going, and after that it takes time to start baking. I think it's easier to just search for recipes that use starter, rather than trying to convert one that uses commercial yeast. I've had some trial and errors, but here are a few tips:
And that's my adventures in sourdough starter so far. Some people keep their starter going for years. We will see if mine survives quarantine.
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Lonnee is Club Relations Director of the AWC. In her former life she was a food writer for Saveur.
By Lena S.
In celebration of International Women’s Day, AWC London is proud to recognise two of their very own alumni who served as early champions of women’s equality — Lou Henry Hoover and Nancy Astor. These trail-blazing women made great strides in various spheres of public life, inspiring generations of women to come.
Humanitarian, Girl Scout Leader, women’s athletics advocate and First Lady of the United States, Lou Henry Hoover (1874–1944) was an avid traveller who loved the great outdoors. It was her childhood fascination for nature that eventually led her to Stanford University where she became one of the first American women to earn a degree in geology. There, she met her future husband: president of the United States, Herbert Hoover. Years later, her cross-disciplinary knowledge of geology and linguistics enabled her to help her husband translate a seminal 16th-century mining document from Latin to English.
Her life of adventure took a dramatic turn when the first World War broke out in 1914. Thousands of Americans were stranded in Europe, including the Hoovers who were based in London at the time. Undaunted by circumstances, Lou rose to the challenge by providing food, shelter, clothing and advice to those in despair, longing to go home. Driven by wisdom and compassion, she leveraged her husband’s position as Chairman of the Commission for Relief in Belgium to establish a California branch of the organisation — thus raising funds for vital food shipments to be sent to America.
Nancy Astor (1879–1964), the ‘first lady of British politics,’ was the first female MP to sit in the House of Commons in 1918. An American citizen who moved to England at the age of 26, she later married Lord Waldorf Astor, an American-born British politician. Glamorous, intelligent and fashionable, she was known for her charming wit and outrageous sense of humour. In spite of her affiliations with the higher echelons of society, she was a true inspiration to women of all ranks, in particular the early suffragettes. In fact, it was through his wife that Lord Astor developed an interest in social reform.
Lady Astor was well known for her sharp exchanges with Winston Churchill in the House of Commons. Churchill was reported to have likened having a woman in Parliament as having one ‘intrude on him in the bathroom’ — to which she replied, “You’re not handsome enough to have such fears.” Though controversial at times, her remarkable achievements as a champion for women’s rights in the dominant ‘man’s world’ of politics earned her a place in The Evening Standard’s list of 15 British women who have truly changed the world.
Top left: Lou Hoover | Source: Hoover Archives
Bottom Right: Nancy Astor | Source: English Heritage UK
AWC "Let's Do Lunch" event features a traditional feast
– Guest post by AWC member, Lena S.
Lo Hei! And a shout out to Eva Chu and Beth Wagner for organising a delightful Chinese New Year lunch at the Royal China, Bayswater to ring in the Year of the Golden Rat.
We began the meal with the lively tradition of yu sheng in which diners rise up to toss a spectacular dish together, using chopsticks and shouting “lo hei!” – a phrase derived from Cantonese, meaning ‘a toss to prosperity’.
According to an age-old legend, this ritual originated in south China, when a young man and his girlfriend found themselves stranded in bad weather and in danger of starving — but by a stroke of good luck, they found a carp and chanced upon a bottle of vinegar. They stripped the carp and combined the two, and lo and behold, this new dish was born!
Yu sheng is the ultimate ‘prosperity’ dish consisting of a colourful medley of fish and shredded vegetables combined with various tangy, piquant sauces, chopped nuts and spices — to create a delightful dish bursting with flavours and textures. The higher you toss it, the more good fortune you’re destined to bring in!
Although this celebratory yu sheng dish has its origins in ancient China, the modern version arose in South East Asia more recently — in places like Malaysia and Singapore, and is enjoyed on any day during the 15-day Lunar New Year period.
In keeping with tradition, AWC’s yu sheng dish at Royal China was served at the start of a multi-course lunch. It was followed by dim sum, lobster noodles and a host of delectable Chinese favourites. Many of us wore red on the day — the colour of happiness and success.
To all those celebrating, we wish you a happy and prosperous Year of the Golden Rat.
Guest post by AWC member Sue Monshaw
I made my London stage debut last December at the King's Head Theatre in the Charles Court Opera production of King Tut’s Tomb. My performance in the role of “stunned tourist” was touted as “good fun,” by one particularly drunk audience member and “smashing, darling,” by the tiny theatre’s manager and intermission snack seller. This was a very short run for my character, about 20 minutes to be precise, but the experience will last a lifetime and just might encourage me to try again this year.
The King's Head is located in the Islington section of London. To get to the theatre, it is necessary to cross the interior of the historic King's Head Pub itself. Jammed with inebriated people, this was no easy task as we dodged beer mugs passed overhead and left the ancient floorboards wet with the snow that had just begun falling outside. We emerged a bit disheveled, and entered a doorway cloaked in a velvet curtain. Inside the theatre, there is bench seating for about 75 people. Let’s call the space intimate as the stage is very close to the seats. There is no room for bulky coats or modesty. This audience would become our new best friends for the next few hours. We did not know that a prerequisite of attending such a performance is to have consumed many alcoholic beverages prior to the start of the show, which would prove problematic for me later.
The room was very close and I fought down my inner claustrobic. When the lights dimmed and the show began we quickly caught on that this intimacy was intentional and greatly added to the expected audience participation. We hissed at the villain and groaned in sympathy with the heroine. We laughed hysterically at the corny jokes and double entendres. There was twerking, hip hop dancing, rapping, arias and personal asides. We cheered wildly at the astonishing skill of the performers, who also happen to be classically trained in opera. We felt very much part of the experience and enjoyed it thoroughly.
King Tut was a pantomime production, which confused this theatre-going New Yorker because the word pantomime has a very different meaning in British vernacular. To the average American, pantomime refers to a soundless, brightly physical performance often done by someone dressed in a striped shirt, wearing white face make up and a beret. In merry olde England, a pantomime (or panto) is a theatrical musical Christmas season treat featuring clever dialogue, witty lyrics and physical comedy. Think Monty Python.
Usually based on a well-known fairy tale, fable or story, the panto features a series of characters including the dame (played by a cross dressing man), the main male character (played by a young woman), the main female character (played by a woman), a villain, and an animal or fantastical creature. King Tut featured a sassy camel who would periodically sing out looking for an audience response, “my hump, my hump, my (audience sings) sexy lady hump.”
images: Charles Court Opera
Why Christmas? Pantos may have evolved from the Tudor post-Christmas “feast of fools,” when a Lord of Misrule was chosen from a noble household in a role reversal where the servant played master of the manor for the day. Thus the entire household was turned upside down with the day’s lord demanding certain favors and making outrageous decrees. This was done all in good fun, of course, and evolved into the well-loved tradition of cross-dressing characters playing time honored stories encouraged by booing and singing audience members. As a holiday treat, many pantos are performed for family audiences with cleverly concealed political jabs and snarky social commentary disguised as silly jokes that make the kids giggle with delight. Other productions are aimed directly at adult audiences, no holds barred.
At intermission, the audience was encouraged to collect the drinks at the bar that they had ordered in advance and to buy an ice cream, oddly, the only refreshment on offer. It turns out that we have the Victorians to thank for this interval treat: it is quietly consumed, has no odor, appeals to all audiences. When we settled back into our places for the second act the energy level was high on the stage and in the audience. In addition to the audience participation, there can also be physical interaction between the actors and the folks in the seats. A common practice is a pie in the face or other slapstick element. In Tut, the camel would “spit” into the audience, drenching the first few rows. The play within the play here featured a game show contest where two audience members were called by name to join the actors onstage. Guess who was one of them?
Normally, I am not shy or nervous addressing a group, but in this case, I was completely out of character. My participation in this show, came as a total surprise and I was thoroughly stunned. My husband captured the whole, painful thing on video and I am stiff and sweating under the hot stage lights. The actors were enjoying my dismay and a few people in the front row yelled their encouragement to me while trying not to spill their drinks. Unfortunately for me, we were the only sober people in the room. I suspect I was chosen because I had phoned the box office earlier in the day to secure the last-minute tickets. I actually spoke to a human who may have recognized my non-native accent and shrewdly figured this would add to the fun.
My role was a participant on the game show which success would ultimately help get the time traveling characters back to the place they wanted to go. No pressure here, I could not fail. I flailed, I froze. The camel stood at my shoulder and fed me answers to the silly questions, his warm breath in my ear only adding to my discomfort. One of the game challenges featured a series of completely random items passing by a window cut into the set directly in front of my face. My task was to recall as many of these unrelated things as I could. Here the culture clash became downright bizarre as my brain struggled to recognize prawn crisps (shrimp flavored potato chips), a box of French letters (condoms), and Cadbury’s Dairy milk (chocolate bar), to name just a few. I was surprised to “win” and my prize was yet more agonizing time onstage as the group presented another game for me to blunder through. The drunkest woman in the first row gave me all the answers and inspiration I needed and I was finally released from my position centerstage, to loud applause. I was patted, touched and congratulated on my way back to my seat. I was overcome with delighted embarrassment, a very strange feeling indeed.
When I read the bios of the performers I was impressed to see that most of their credentials are loftier than this “of the people” show. They are accomplished serious performers in real life. Alys Roberts, a Welsh soprano, was absolutely adorable as young King Tut. Sporting gold lame, 1980s-era “Hammer” pants and a super sparkly blue Egyptian head dress, she behaved as a 20-something person would do, with energy and agility. When she opened her mouth to sing, what emerged was a sophisticated, elegant string of music that collided completely with what our eyes were telling us. It was obvious that the actors were having just as much fun as the lucky audience members. They chuckled in the wrong places, ribbed each other when a joke landed particularly well and cavorted across the stage with the silly delight of 10-year olds, unwatched by their parents.
I’m going back to the King's Head this year to see The Nativity Panto. This time, I’ll have my family in the audience and will hopefully remain anonymous to the stage manager. If our decidedly foreign accents are detected, I’m prepared to play the part of “wiser American ex-pat,” and will wear lighter clothing so as not to perspire so much under the hot lights and friendly scrutiny.
Susan Monshaw enjoys every moment of expat life in London. Most recently from NYC, she has lived in Paris, Tokyo, Connecticut and New Jersey. Susan is a writer, great lover of history, perpetual tourist, unrepentant eavesdropper and ardent watcher of people all around the world.
It’s different things to different people. It depends on who you ask.
For rough sleepers, it’s a safe and welcoming respite from the streets, a place to come for a warm meal, mental health counseling, and more. For the elderly, lonely and poor, it’s a place to connect and find comfort in a big city where they often feel forgotten.
For AWC volunteers, it’s an opportunity to serve others, widen perspectives, make new friends, and make a difference.
For Rev. Jennifer Mills-Knutsen, Senior Minister at the American International Church, the Soup Kitchen is about much more than the meals. “It’s not just a handout, it’s not just the clothes. It’s about a sense of community, a place to belong... And for many of us, it’s about missing them when they’re gone.”
Bonnie Garmus, AWC Activity Leader for the Soup Kitchen, shares her sentiments. “People come to the Soup Kitchen ostensibly for a meal, but also for warmth and companionship. While some struggle with mental issues or addiction problems, most of them are simply down on their luck. As one of the guests once told me, ‘The Soup Kitchen is one of the few places where I can go, enjoy a hot cup of coffee, and not be judged.’”
Although Bonnie works five days a week, she carves out time to volunteer there twice a month. She says she always looks forward to seeing AWC friends, Soup Kitchen staff and the many guests they serve. “I’ve been volunteering at the Soup Kitchen for nearly two-and-a-half years," she says, "and out of all the experiences London has to offer, this remains my favorite.”
Conversation with Bonnie: It’s about friendship and perspective
How has the Soup Kitchen changed since you started?
In the last year, the number of people who seek our help has doubled.
What’s the greatest need? How can people help?
We’re in dire need of men’s jeans, trainers, parkas, and backpacks. Gently used, clean—no holes! But we also need fresh recruits to help prepare food, serve food and coffee, take numbers for the Clothes Closet, and generally just dig in and help.
What strikes you the most?
You start realizing how thin that line is—how homelessness can happen to absolutely anyone. Some of our guests have been faced with horrific burdens through no fault of their own—bad luck, layoffs, war, human trafficking, illness, the death of a loved one. I’m always amazed at how optimistic many of them remain. I’ve lost count of the number of times people have thanked us for simply being there—for smiling, taking their requests seriously, asking after their latest job application, checking in on their health, and especially, especially, for not judging them.
How has the Soup Kitchen affected you personally?
I count many of the guests I’ve met at the Soup Kitchen among some of my closest friends in London—which might sound implausible, but it’s true. You get to know people at their worst and it creates a bond that isn’t easily broken. A few weeks back, one of them waited patiently for his number to be called for the Clothes Closet, then once at the window, told me he didn’t really need anything. "I just came to see you and say hello." It made my whole day.
About the AWC and the Soup Kitchen
The Soup Kitchen feeds roughly 100 people, six days a week. Every other Monday (the busiest day of the week), AWC volunteers prep and serve coffee and soup followed by a warm meal for the 100-plus guests, followed by cleanup. It’s hard work, but also fun, and hugely appreciated. As one volunteer put it, “It feels good to feel useful.”
We need nine to ten volunteers each time: four or five to help serve in the cabin, one to call out Clothes Closet numbers, two to three in the kitchen, and one in the Clothes Closet. Join us!
Learn more about the Soup Kitchen here: amchurch.co.uk/soup-kitchen/
Twenty AWC members filled two long tables in Din Tai Fung, known for its dumplings, cult status and long queues to get in, last Thursday at noon. Many of us had never been there before, so it was a treat to have the whole thing organized by Eva, our longtime AWC activity leader and foodie friend.
The Covent Garden outpost of the Taiwanese restaurant chain did not disappoint! Along with dozens and dozens of xiao long bao, its famous Chinese soup dumplings, we enjoyed a variety of dim sum dishes.
At the end, Eva insisted we all try Din Tai Fung's signature dessert: salted egg-yolk custard lava buns. We're glad she did! They were amazingly good.
Stay tuned to the AWC Activities Calendar for upcoming Let's Do Lunch dates and locations.
Din Tai Fung to introduce its signature salted egg yolk custard lava buns to its London menu / Evening Standard, 8 May 2019
(includes a video of the making of the buns)
"The buns, which are decorated with a yellow stamp symbolising good fortune, are filled with a slightly salted, vibrantly yellow custard made with duck egg yolks. They get their unusual name from the way the warm liquid supposedly flows like lava when they are pulled apart."
Din Tai Fung London: Cult dumpling restaurant to serve vegan version of its xiao long bao / Evening Standard, 15 Oct. 2019
SquareMeal Review of Din Tai Fung Covent Garden / Bronze Award
"Din Tai Fung was the most-searched restaurant on SquareMeal in 2018 – not bad for somewhere that didn’t open until December. The Taiwanese dumpling specialist is famous for making what many say are the world’s best xiao long bao, for its Michelin-approved Hong Kong outpost and for having 150 outlets spanning Asia, Australia, North America – and now London, where it has become famous primarily for the size of the queues. It’s worth noting, though, that if you arrive off peak (4pm on a Monday in our case) you'll be able to walk straight in, with only Asian students and curious tourists for company."
Our May gathering at the Royal Albert Hall received much applause from members. In addition to a generous buffet lunch, attendees were treated to a behind-the-scenes tour of the magnificent 5,200-seat concert hall — all on the house.
The Royal Albert Hall is one of the UK's most treasured and distinctive buildings. Tour guides took us through backstage hallways lined with vintage posters of The Beatles and other legendary performers, and then upstairs to see the best seats in the house: The Queen's royal box. Afterward we learned a quick history lesson about the Hall, from its opening by Queen Victoria in 1871 to the present, as well as its important role as a registered charity dedicated to preserving and promoting the arts.
In 2021, in conjunction with the Royal Albert Hall's 150th anniversary, the institution plans to launch a new 501(c)3 non-profit, Royal Albert Hall America, to strengthen Anglo-American ties, allow Americans to make tax-deductible donations, and broaden opportunities to engage with artists and exclusive events in the UK and America.
Thanks to Anne Kollar, Director of Club Meetings, for organizing another outstanding event. Bravo!
Click here to view an interactive "Who's Who" of famous artists who've conducted or performed on stage at the Hall. From Sir Colin Davis to Dame Shirley Bassey to the Dali Lama and Yo Yo Ma.
See the BBC Proms 2019 / Royal Albert Hall guide to learn more about the world's largest classical music concert series. Tickets for July and August concerts are now on sale.
This week's guest post, London Day Trip: Stonehenge & Salisbury, is from a former AWC member who recently moved back to the States. Check out her other posts on London Day Trips on her blog, Basic Bon Vivant: An American in London.
The Best Bars in London
A guest post by Jenn, a former AWC member who just moved back to the States, from her blog Basic Bon Vivant: An American in London
"London is a world-class city. There is something here for everyone. For those who like to enjoy a good cocktail now and then, London’s cocktail bar scene is among the best in the world, according to The World’s 50 Best Bars." Read more here.
"The American Women's Club of London" is a volunteer run organization. +44 (0)20 8088 3192 firstname.lastname@example.org