Sunday, February 28, 2010

How English Am I Now?! And Some Other Favo(u)rite Photos

Here is a short but sweet montage of some of my fave photos here in England

Big Ben, or more properly known as the Great Clock of Westminster.  (The Great Bell, located inside the tower is actually the proper Big Ben).  While this is sort of a stock photo, it serves to remind me just how, at my fingertips, is a city so rich in history, in culture, in architecture, name it.  And that is an opportunity that should be acknowledged.

I took this one last spring at Kensington Garden (adjacent to Kensington Palace, where, if I am not mistaken, Princess Di lived after separating from Prince Charles (who, by the way reports that he will go by one of his middle names - George - when he ascends the throne.  But if I were him, I would go with another one of his middle names - Arthur.  Because, there has never actually been a crowned king of the United Kingdom by the name of Arthur.  But I digress...)  This photo serves as an inspiration for my ongoing/forthcoming/oh-my-god-how-am-I-ever-going-to-get-this-done garden project.

Tee hee.

Though the red telephone booth is an iconic image in the minds of people the world over, they are slowly removing them from the landscape, save a few touristy areas.  Weathered, but still standing (although it seems with a little lean) this phone booth is located in approximately the middle of nowhere, has made the cut.  Methinks it is because they have completely forgotten about it.

How English am I now?!  My newest purchase, for the previously mentioned gardening project.  And let's be honest - rainy day (also known as every day) use. 

Thursday, February 25, 2010

What's Occurrin'? A Wanna-be Welsh Foodie For A Day

Update:  I made the St. David's day feast a few days early so that Mr. Neil could enjoy it along with me (working late this upcoming week, boo).  As predicted, I couldn't bring myself to buy or make seaweed (not to knock it, I mean who doesn't love some good sushi seaweed?!)  But the chicken and leek pie was AMAZING.  I used a little less cream than called for, a little less cheese than called for (and couldn't find caerphilly, so used soft goat's cheese), and given the chance again, I'd make it in separate serving vessels for each person eating (this probably should have fed 3 - 4, but in my house it fed just the two of us...oops).  But other than that, even the prunes, which I was a little skeptical about, fit in the dish perfectly.  And I forgot to take a photo because I was so ready to eat.  Hope you can enjoy it soon too!

Monday, March 1st is St. David's Day.  The patron saint of Wales, David (or Dewi Sant in Welsh), was born around the year 500 and unlike other patron saints of the British Isles, was a native of Wales.  He died on March 1, probably in the year 589 in Pembrokeshire, Wales.  (Thanks, Wikipedia!)  He was a teacher and preacher and worked to spread Christianity through Wales, Cornwall and Brittany.

Living an austere life without booze or meat, his symbol is the leek, and that's where we come in.

Always one to celebrate for the simplest of reasons, I find that despite my complete lack of Welsh heritage, it's time to start a St. David's day tradition in my house.  So, bring on the day's menu  (well, the night's menu, because I don't know anyone who can be bothered to make a fry-up on a Monday morning).

Up first, the British pie.  (And who doesn't love something that involves puff pastry? - Nobody, that's the answer)  Also, I got this recipe from a British site, so please excuse the inconsistency with measurements.

Chicken, Leek, Prune and Caerphilly Cheese Pie

Preheat oven to 180 Celsius or 350 Fahrenheit

1 lb/500g ready rolled puff pastry
1 Tbsp. olive oil
1 Tbsp. butter
1 onion, chopped
3 cloves garlic, sliced
4 boned chicken thighs, cubed
7 oz/200g leeks, sliced, white part only
2 Tbsp. flour
150 mL dry white wine
1 pint chicken stock
200 mL + 1 Tbsp. double cream
2 tsp. English mustard
Salt and black pepper to taste
3 1/2 oz/100g prunes, halved
5 1/2 oz/150g Caerphilly (Welsh) cheese, crumbled
2 oz/55g mixed chopped tarragon and parsley
1 egg yolk

1. In a medium saucepan melt the butter and oil, then fry the onions and garlic until they start to colour, about 10 minutes.

2. Add the chicken and cook for further 5 minutes until chicken is sealed

3. Add the leeks and flour, stirring continually until well combined

4. Add wine and chicken stock slowly until sauce has thickened.

5.  Add the cream and mustard.  Then season.

6.  Take off heat and stir in prunes, cheese and herbs.

7.  Place the pie filing into a medium pie dish.

8.  Mix egg yolk and 1 Tbsp cream together and brush around pie dish.  Cover with pastry and cut around sides with a knife.  Brush remaining egg mix over pie.

9.  Poke a couple small holes in top of pastry

10.  Cook for 25 minutes.

Let's hope it looks something like this:

The next recipe, a true Welsh original, is made with SEAWEED.  Yes, you read that correctly, seaweed.  I really doubt I'll be able to bring myself to make this one...

Laver Cakes
4 oz/100g fresh or canned laverbread (seaweed!)
1 oz/25g medium or fine oatmeal
2 tsp bacon fat or lard

1.  In a mixing bowl, mix laverbread and oatmeal

2.  Divide into 2-inch round, 3/4-inch thick patties.

3.  Heat fat in heavy frying pan (hot, but not burning)

4.  Fry quickly, 2 to 3 minutes each side


I think I might throw some chips (ahem, fries) in the oven just to be on the safe side(dish).

Thursday, February 18, 2010

14:00 Is Not 4-o'clock And 9 Other (British) Life Lessons

An Incomplete List of Life Lessons Here in Blighty

1.  Known as "military time" across the pond, we don't use it, nor do we understand it.  "Meet meet at fifteen hundred hours only works if you are actually in the military."  Or if you're European.  To get "actual time" from a military time reading, subtract 12.  Or, if you're not mathematically inclined subtract 2 and drop the first digit.  (14:00 - 12 = 2 pm. or 14:00 - 2 (forget the 1) = 2) Simples.

2.  Standing in line (aka queueing - yes, that's right, it is apparently part of their citizenship test!) is a big deal.  Just don't budge.  We all learned this in elementary school. 

3. The road signs are in miles, the temperature is in Celsius.  Recipes measure in metric, but yesterday when I bought some timber (DIY goddess, remember?!), it was in feet and inches.  Apparently consistency is a little too much to ask for, so you'd best brush up on your 9th grade science (1 in. = 2.54 cm!) before a visit.

4.  Don't take anything anyone says seriously.  Easier said than done, as I've taken many a-joke very personally.  British "humour" is what I would call snarky, rather than funny.  But alas, it's a "joke" nonetheless.  And if you don't adapt, joke's on you.

5.  Don't like bread?  (Stupid question...more like, don't eat bread although you're tempted every minute of every day?)  Too bad.  Everyone eats it, all the time.  Plus chips (ahem...fries) and crisps (ahem...chips), It's a carbivore's paradise, and Dr. Atkin's nightmare.

6.  If you like to get excited about things, don't expect any natives to join in your enthusiasm.  A demeanor of calm, cool and collected must be maintained at all times, really funny things to be smirked at and the end of the world to be met with "well, figures".  Like to display your enthusiasm via the volume of your voice?  Be prepared for stares.  And by stares I mean if-looks-could-kill-dagger-stares.

7.  Don't eat the "Mexican".  I promise you disappointment.

8.  Drink the beer.  And the cider.  I promise you the exact opposite of disappointment.

9.  As much as the Britons whinge (ahem...whine) about the weather, it really isn't that bad.  The press will have you thinking that after two inches of snow you will be stranded for weeks, after four days of sun a drought is nigh, but really, for those of us that have truly lived through weather (read: tornadoes, floods, deep-freezes, actual droughts, etc, etc) the weather is actually fantastic.  It really didn't get below freezing the entire winter.  And the snow melts the day after it falls, hence there is green year-round.  Beautiful.

10.  British people like you as an American, yet have an undisputed dislike for "Americans".  Because, if you can spell your own name and put together a sentence you are smarter than the rest of the "Americans".  They picture us all as regular George Bushes.  I won't mention Bill Gates, Barack Obama, Thomas Edison and all those I know and love who are not, in any way, George Bush.

How to Be British

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Pancake Day, the English Mardi Gras (please try to contain your excitement)

Hello friends and family,

I'm back.  Both in Blighty and the blogosphere.  And despite my reputation as arguably the worst blogger in said sphere, I'm going to give it another go.  Ahead, my musings on England, and English pancakes.

On most days here, I learn something new about England.  Today I learned, via the blogosphere, that it is "Pancake Day", or more accurately, Shrove Tuesday.  It is the English version of Mardi Gras  - there is even a Pancake Race, if anyone fancies a sprint, decorative headgear and throwing pancakes.  Say what parades, beads and general debauchery?


Something learned early on is that English pancakes are not the delicious puffy savoury/sweet loveliness that one expects from an American kitchen.  They are dense, thin, crepe-like, and sold packaged in supermarkets.  And I won't even start on the "maple syrup" or the "bacon".  Needless to say I am not making pancakes, or throwing them, on this Pancake Day.  I will bide my time until I go to Perkins with Mom, order the eggs benedict and steal a bit of her pancake breakfast.  Or, if you're more inclined than I, you can make apple pancakes and home fries and be sure to invite me over for the morning fiesta.

As I sit here (or rather, lie here) writing about, and therefore drooling over, said delicious goodness, the Olympics are in full swing.  The screen is replete with hard-bodied men and women (hello skin tight suits!), pushing themselves to the pinnacle of athletic performance.  I've found that Great Britain (as they force them to compete as one nation, rather than Scotland, England and Wales, as they much prefer to do), is generally rubbish at most Olympic sports, especially winter ones, as winter as we mid-westerners know it does not exist here.  (I mean, their best hope for a medal is in curling.  Superior and world-class athletic prowess?  Maybe not).  Therefore the peoples of Great Britain, care very little for the Olympic games and poor Neil has been bored out of his skull as I make him watch cross country skiing or figure skating.  But he's been a trooper, as I've had to sit through "Steven Seagal: Lawman" for him.  I'm not kidding.  I've actually watched it.  Lawman aside, it is one definite perk of my jobless state that I get a two-week long date with the Olympics.  Couch-sitting preparation for the 2012 Summer Olympics in London (their response to my request to make this an official sport still in transit), for which I do hope the Great British people will get at least a tad more excited.

Well, I'm back to training as I wait to hear back from the IOC.  And perhaps some cookie baking.
Peace out.