Thursday, December 31, 2009

England Trip 2009-2010: Day 12

Wow! What a wonderful day Simon and I had today.

We had another one of those amazing British breakfasts and then got spiffied up and headed to Harod's and the London Ritz for afternoon tea.

Here is Simon- looking quite dapper in his tie and overcoat. He looked so good that a very well-dressed, but matronly looking woman (old enough to be his mother. Cheeky Cougar) was completely gaping at him on the tube. I found this quite humorous. She was checking him out from head to toe with a slight smile on her face. Of course she glanced at me watching her and immediately put on her dour (discusted with having to stoop to riding on the tube) face.

Our first stop was Harrod's Dept Store. It was very cold outside and extremely crowded inside.
We shopped around for a bit, but I had to get out of there- too clausterphobic for me. However we did have to walk through the amazing food courts. I got some chocolate.

This wonderful case of "fairy cakes" was our first look at the sweet shop. The case started with small bite-size cakes and progressed to wonderful variety of flavored cakes...some amazing french macarons and some fruit filled was very hard to pass up the pistachio macarons, if we hadn't been headed for tea I may have indulged.

The chocolate room is a magical place. And it IS as wonderful as it sounds. The room is about 1000 square feet of chocolate counters and displays. Simon took a few shots, while I was making my selections.

The highlight of our afternoon, however, was our 3:30 reservation at the London Ritz Carlton for afternoon tea.
OMG! It was such an amazing elegant and lovely. I get teared up just thinking about it.
Dress code at the Ritz is formal. Jacket and tie are required. They do not allow jeans or tennis shoes and quite frankly if you don't have a purpose for being there...the doormen will not let you in. No riff raff! No way, no how.
I think it is a good thing really. People behave differently when they are dressed up, and it is wonderful to be surrounded by people who feel posh and elegant (if only for an afternoon of tea).
Once we were let inside the Ritz we were greeted and welcomed by a succession of well-dressed doormen and hosts. There was no pretense, just a very formal, very sincere welcome. We walked through the reception area into a grand corridor. Simon and I checked our coats and I headed for the powder room.
The powder room was cotton candy pink, with little terry cloth towels and hampers, sweet smelling soaps and lotions, elegant seating in the lounge area and full length mirrors. Simon said that the mens room had an attendant. The women's room did not.
There was a man playing the piano throughout the tea service. We were laughing that he seemed to know several Abba songs! He played "Its a rich man's world" and "dancing queen" and a few others from the greatest hits album. I will never be able to listen to Abba again without thinking of this wonderful afternoon.

This is the top tier of the cake stand that was delivered to our table by a very well-dressed waiter. They wore crisp white shirts with red vests and black jackets with tails. Brass buttons adorned the back pleat.
The desserts were (clockwise from the front) a very rich chocolate cake with chocolate ganache, an amande tart with a cognac poached prune and dollup of creme, a wonderful little cake of praline layered with a light vanilla cream, a french macaron: vanilla flavored stuffed with buttercream, a light berry jelly and a caramel "disk", a tartlet with cream and fruit, a raspberry gelee bomb with a raspberry mouse and white chocolate center- it also had a sprinkling of gold powder on top (I liked this one a lot!)
The second tier was raisin scones and apple scones - with strawberry jam and devonshire cream to accompany. Also a few slices of brandy soaked fruit cake.
The third tier was finger sandwiches which were replenished generously: smoked salmon, aged cheddar on sundried tomato bread, egg salad and water cress on a small roll, turkey, cucumber, a light cheese one and ham.
We chose Assam tea to accompany. I recommend this one- it was a good choice.
This was a day that I am never going to forget. If you find yourself in London- you must book tea here. You will find that the location is perfect for a day of Harrod's, Buckingham Palace, the Hard Rock Cafe London and you can even catch a pretty decent double decker bus tour in the area. Make reservations a few months in advance.

Wednesday, December 30, 2009

England Trip 2009-2010: Day 11

Day 11:

Simon and I left Cannock for London this morning. Snow was falling last night and the wind was howling and we were concerned about driving in this weather, but when we woke this morning the rain was falling and it had washed all the snow away. The drive was wet, but the traffic was light.

Along the major roadways in England are rest stops called "welcome breaks". These are not like rest stops in the states. These are small malls with clean restrooms, book stores, fast food, and a small grocery store.

In the past we would hold out until the Oxford stop because they had a mini Marks & Spencers. M&S is a quality establishment and you can get road trip food there. On the trip back to London we stopped at the stop just after the Oxford one when we realized that it had a new mini - Waitrose's. Waitrose's was a name we had heard several times on this holiday- expensive, but raved about.

One fortuante discovery at Waitrose's was this fabulous little treat: Parisian macarons!

Aren't they beautiful? Chocolate, vanilla, raspberry, pistachio, lemon and strawberry (heavy sigh).

One fabulous discovery we had over the break: SKYPE! (yes, we are a late adopters when it comes to embracing technology, apparently). I have been able to have several wonderful conversations with my mom back in the states....

Hi Mom!!!!

After arriving to London, dropping off our rental car and settling into our hotel room, Simon and I went down to have a little happy hour. We are staying at the Sofitel Heathrow, which is a new hotel connected to the Heathrow's new terminal 5.

This is where Simon has been staying when he comes to England on business. I love the hotel. Very modern, modular and zen -like. I don't know that you could have a better location. It is at the airport and just steps from both the train and the underground. Also- we have been here all day and have not heard a single plane. I really recommend this hotel.

There is a meditation room and lots of natural elements in the decor here. When you take the elevator down to the spa, you immediately smell lavendar. The doors open to a dark and, warm, candlelit room- it is just very soothing.

Here Simon is enjoying a Caffrey's ale.

Here I am enjoying a South African 2006 Acacia Tree Cabernet/Merlot.

We spent about an hour just sitting and enjoying each other's company in the bar, then headed over to Vivre for dinner.

Ate way too much again, but it was a really good meal.

Our plan for tomorrow is to catch the tube to Harods Department store, then we are going to the Ritz Carlton for tea. I have also promised a facebook friend that I will seek out the London Hardrock Cafe for a t-shirt. I am really looking forward to tomorrow.

England Trip 2009-2010: Day 10

We didn't do much on Day 10. Packed our bags...weighed our bags...repacked our bags and then borrowed another bag from Simon's mum. I think we are okay as far as our checked bags go. This is always a battle- no matter how light I try to pack coming across I always struggle with fitting everything in on the way back home-especially at Christmas.

We de-decked the house, helping Gill get all of her decorations packed and loaded up to the shed at the top of the garden and settled in for a final meal.

Tea tonight was bangers and mash and just about everything you can imagine. We had to clean out the fridge so that things wouldn't go bad since it was only going to be Simon's mum after we left. (Well, that's our story anyway!) By the time I finished my second mince pie I felt like I was going to pop.

Tomorrow we head to London- just Si and I - for a short romantic holiday together.

Monday, December 28, 2009

England Trip 2009-2010: Day 9

Woke this morning and had a wonderful breakfast. To paraphrase Somerset Maugham "to eat well in England, you must have breakfast three times a day" This morning I had a fried egg, bacon, black pudding, sausage links, Heinz baked beans, sauteed mushrooms and toast with a little bit of brown sauce. Sometimes potatoes...sometimes grilled tomatoes...sometimes fried bread. To eat this meal three times a day would probably not be recommended for good health. But it does taste good.
This is the Pye Green Chippy.

This is fish and chips from the Pye Green Chippy.

Looking at this picture now, I see that I should have placed a quarter or a tape measure along side this beautiful fillet to better depict the size of the fish. It was easily 10 inches long. And it was so good! Not greasy at all.

You can get some other interesting faire at the Chip shop as well. Quite frankly, if you can fry it, the chippy will try it. Battered everything: beef patty (was not impressed), sausage, chicken, pineapple, mushrooms and baps...which Simon told me are like hamburger I guess you could have a battered burger if you put the right pieces together.

Also at the chippy they had an assortment of individual serving pies: steak and kidney, chicken pot, fish pie...and kebabs. These are fairly popular. I have not tried them.

Going to the chippy is a glorious event. Once you have tried "proper" fish and chips you will not be willing to suffer the wimpy, greasy american version...and you will wonder why we should not have our own little fish and chip revolution state side.

At the Chip Shop, the chippy take your order and pulls out a nice piece of newsprint paper. He scoops the chips on the paper, salts it thoroughly and then throws on a battered fillet, asks if you want vinegar...complies...then wraps it all up into a tight bundle.
My mouth was watering all the way home. This is my favorite English meal...and breakfast of course!

Sunday, December 27, 2009

England Trip 2009-2010: Day 8

Spent the day in Lichfield. It was a sunny day, but bitterly cold outside. Only a few shops were open.
Lichfield is a fairly posh town, so the quality of shops is good. The town is called the "mother of the midlands" and possesses a multitude of very old churches and cathedrals that are black with age. It is impressive to look across the skyline as you come into Lichfield because there are these magnificent church spires across the landscape. Also of note, the roads in town are all coblestone here and you see more people walking than driving on them. Lots of old buildings abound, I saw several old post and beam type homes with small doors- apparently people were much shorter back in the day.
This is the birthplace of Samuel Johnson and of Erasamus Darwin (grandfather of Charles). The town has a lot of charm and history. On my first trip here, we had lunch at a local hotel that was across the lane from Erasamus Darwin's home.
Simon's aunt Cecelia (aka: Aunt Ceilly) lives here. We stopped in for tea and chocolate cake and we brought her smoked salmon and a box of aplets and cotlets from Washington state. She bought Simon and I really nice scarves...mine is beautiful and elegant black velvet with cutwork and two peacocks with full plumage...Simon's is more of a cold weather scarf- classy.

Saturday, December 26, 2009

England Trip 2009-2010: Day 7

This is Simon's lovely Uncle Rod and Auntie Jo. We spent Christmas night, eating good food, drinking red wine and visiting with them and Simon's cousin, Mark and his wife Michelle. We really had a very nice evening. Then again- we always do enjoy ourselves when we visit them.

Rod and Jo live in a very nice Victorian style home in Hednesford (Hens-ford). They home has many beautiful features, including a fireplace in the dining room and beautiful tile in the entry. They also have a conservatory and lovely garden.

Dinner at Rod and Jo's was very good. Thankfully it was more of a "salad" than a full blown Christmas dinner. We had already eaten a full meal hours before, and so had Mark and Michelle.
We had smoked salmon, rolls with butter, chicken drumsticks, pickled onions, eggs, cucumbers, red onions. nuts, pork pie...followed by mince pies, chocolates, a wonderful raspberry tart and if you look closely in the picture you will see a beautiful tiramisu in my new green denby dish!
I am pleased to say that the tiramisu was a hit. I followed a slightly different recipe than previous and then added a bit of Bailey's Irish Cream.

Friday, December 25, 2009

England Trip 2009-2010: Day 6

Day 6:
Just a few photos from our day. Christmas dinner #1 was magnificent. The best one that I have had here.

At each place setting there is a traditional Christmas cracker. These have become more familiar in the U.S. over the past few years. Each cracker has in it a paper crown (which you will see in pictures that follow), a joke or riddle, and a trinket of some sort. I got a shoe horn, Simon's mom got a magic trick, and Simon got nail clippers. We also got a couple of lottery tickets each. No windfalls this year though, unfortunately!
Simon and his mum (aka Prince Charming and the Queen Mum)
Simon got a couple of nice shirts from his mum. He looks like a jolly elf here!
Gillian opening one of her gifts
You only have to get me a cookbook to make me happy!
After eating dinner and opening gifts, we watched Queen Elizabeth address the nation. I am not so sure she had anything really earth shattering to say... surprisingly the music for the song "God Save the Queen" sounds remarkably like "My Country tis of Thee" (I think we may have nicked that one off the English a while back) So the whole time the Queen was speaking with that music playing behind here, I was getting all sentimental and patriotic singing "...sweet land of liberty, for thee I sing..." and frankly I missed most of the speech.
I will post more pictures later when we return from Uncle Rod and Auntie Jo's.

Thursday, December 24, 2009

England Trip 2009-2010: Day 5

Day 5:

Notes from this morning: There are lots of preparations taking place today. We have turkey, ham and a pork roast thawing...not sure what my MIL is thinking. It is only Simon and she and I for Christmas here tomorrow and ever since we arrived, she has been dropping stinging comments about how much weight Simon has put on...and how Simon and I are both bigger people...and how we really must try to lose some weight in the New Year, because she is so very worried about our health. (Argh! I have gnawed a hole in my tongue because I have had to bite it so much).

I really don't think she is intending to be malicious...I believe she thinks she is being a good, concerned mother and it is her duty to be straightforward and guiding to her son and favorite daughter in law (okay, only daughter in law). My MIL is all about appearances and maintaining these really impossible and unimportant standards that she believes represent high stature and self respect. England has a very clear class system- I think she has bought into that. She is a bit scatterbrained and simple, but she dresses impeccably. If you did not know her you might think she was well to do. If you do know her, you understand that she is very naive, very materialistic, a bit insecure... and maybe these rules and "standards" are coping mechanisms. (I will continue to psychoanalyze until I figure her out...)

We just made some trifle- which is a custard, fruit and sherry soaked pudding. I have been asked to make a tiramisu for tomorrow. There is a chocolate roll from the bakery today, a rumor that all the ingredients for Eton Mess (Merengue and berries and cream) are in the pantry, along with a box of mince pies, a christmas pudding and shortbread, chocolates and sweets galore...and with all that, MIL asks -just moments after suggesting that Simon is on his way to diabetes if he keeps up his current habits-if maybe we should bake a cake. (Huh?)

Notes from the evening: This just in.....The plan for tomorrow is that we are going over to Simon's Aunt and Uncle's home for tea (remember tea is dinner, not just a hot drink anymore)....apparently we were invited last week and it has been part of our itinery ever since. This just makes all the food preparations that are being planned here seem even more ridiculous. We are going to have tea at home and then head over to family for tea shortly thereafter. I was under the impression that we were going for dessert.....I do not understand Simon's mum.

At any rate, Simon and I are having a good laugh about this. If we aren't really in need of a diet after tomorrow it will be because we have eaten ourselves to death. Simon is thinking that by the time we get back to the states, we may very well be big enough to qualify as contestants for next season's biggest loser.


I am really missing my family this evening..I really wish they could be here. Heaven knows there is enough food to feed them and any friends that might want to come across.

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

England Trip 2009-2010: Day 4

Day 4:

Today, Simon and I made our way up to Derbyshire to visit the Denby factory. (Derbyshire, pronounced: Dar-ba-shur...I know because all day long Simon and his mum corrected sure looks like Der-bee-shyer to me though!)

I was really hoping we would be able to make this trip. I am a huge Denby pottery fan - I have been collecting dinner dishes on Ebay for a few years now. These are high quality stoneware dishes. A few years ago we toured the Wedgewood factory. Denby and Wedgewood are two of the only remaining large potteries in the area.

Mum-in-law had a work event that she needed to attend, so Simon and I went alone. He did not tell her where we were headed and when she asked me what we were going to do I told her we were headed to Der bee shyer. "Dar ba shur?!" she exclaimed, (she knew what I was talking about even if I couldn't pronounce it) " well, we might see you sometime late today..." This was her only comment on the matter. I thought for sure she would try and talk us out of it..but I guess not.

All in all, it was a very good trip. Simon and I did a little bit of mapping prep, so as not to kill each other over something so trivial as finding the place...we did not argue once, in fact, and we really had no problem finding the place, it was well posted...

Turn here Simon! (Notice the steering wheel is on the left and we are driving on the wrong side of the usually takes me about a week to stop going to the driver's side to enter the car!)
The Factory Shopping villiage. There are about 5 gift shops here. Apparently everyone has already got their shopping done...not a lot of shoppers about!
This is me outside the garden shop...nobody gardens like the English. Denby makes garden pots as well as tablewear. It was very cold today too- clear and icy.

As much as I wanted to buy dishes....I settled for a really great baking dish which was on sale for 10 pounds (approx $16.00). I think this will fit nicely in my carry on. (Great sales- I could have bought several things, but was concerned about shipping them back across the pond.) It looks pretty Christmassy too!
Tomorrow is Christmas eve. We have a quiet day planned- I do not anticipate going out. It is snowing really hard right now and I am happy we will have a white Christmas (Simon and his mom are less enthusiastic about it)

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

England Trip 2009-2010: Day 3.75

Not sure I am ready to start Day 4 yet. I am awake...tired, but can't seem to sleep. It is 5:30am.

No real agenda for today yet. As we have gone shopping now for the past two days, I would prefer to drop that activity from the "must do" list.

Simon's mum loves to shop, and because she does not drive, it is very nice for her to have Simon around for transport to and from the shops. But I am shopped out. I find myself spending money on things I don't really need.

I would like to go to the Denby Pottery Visitor's Centre today. It is about an hour away. I anticipate that this will be met with some resistance from Simon's mum. She will think that it is too far to drive in the current weather and with the crazy holiday drivers about. I am not dissuaded though. Simon has said that he will take me and his mom can stay home if she doesn't want to go. (I feel bad that he is going to be caught in the middle- I anticipate some tension)

Simon's wonderful dad, Robert

Simon's dad passed away a year ago, August. This is my first trip back since he died. There is definately a gap here. Robert is gone and, while Gill seems to be doing okay, there is this loose end...this incredible void. And I have lost a great ally. Because Robert would always side with me and my "wild" touristy suggestions.

Simon's mum and I are a lot alike in our stubborness and our interest in luxury. But we are different too. I am more interested in luxurious experiences than material things. We have found ourselves head to head a few times in the past. Things have never come to an all out battle between us- our disagreements are more of a calm but firm point and counterpoint. In the past, Robert would intervene on my behalf (he did recognize that Simon and I had paid over $2000 to visit them- and deserved more than the tour of Cannock- for crying out loud!) And Gill always came along begrudgingly in the end.

Kenilworth Castle Ruins

Admittedly, these experiences I fought so hard for have n
ot always been pleasant. At Kenilworth Castle ruins we ended up trouncing through a muddy lot to get to the entrance (Gill was miserable in her mud splashed light yellow pants). At Llandudno, Wales, we were turned away at the St Tudno hotel where I had hoped to have afternoon tea. This was the spot where Lewis Carroll met the young Alice of his Wonderland inspiration- the brochure failed to mention that Christmas tea was reserved only for guests of the hotel that week. (Yes, Gill was right - the Welsh seaside was cold and disagreeable in Winter).

St Tudno hotel, Llandudno Wales - in a more favorable season!

Yet, as miserable as these trips were, what great memories were forged!

I am interested to see what will happen today.

England Trip 2009-2010: Day 3

Day 3 in England was sunny and warm. I did get more brave and took a few pictures of Cannock outside the front door.

Here is my mother-in-law, Gillian, leaving her semi-detached home. "Semi-detached" means "Duplex" in America, and this particular duplex is of the "townhome" variety as it is two stories.

This is where Simon grew up. His parents lived here when he was born and this was where he was raised. I am sure they have seen a lot of changes on this street over the last 40-some years.

Gillian headed to the car for another day of wonderful shopping!

This is looking down the street to the right - it is a dead end. The snow never seems to melt on this end of the street. I have been told that snow also seems to blow this way and accumulate at the end.

This is looking out the door and down the street to the left. My mum-in-law would most definately want me to clarify that this is NOT her garden pictured (it belongs to an unsavory next door neighbor)

We did some more shopping today in nearby Stafford and then mosied over to the Mill Farm for a late lunch. The Mill Farm is a "carvery". They serve roast turkey, beef and gamon (ham) carved up on demand, and then the potatoes, peas, carrots, brussel sprouts, yorkshire pudding and stuffing are all served buffet style. It was a hearty meal -very tasty- and it was quite affordable too. We followed up the meal with pudding (which is a term used for "dessert"). I had brandy-infused Christmas pudding in a pool of custard and Simon nad his mum had ice cream. (It would seem that brandy is in the running to be my poison of choice this holiday).

Part of England has been crippled by snow, but not our part...we have had a dusting- as you can see in the photos above, but for the most part it is just sunny and bitterly cold out.

Monday, December 21, 2009

England Trip 2009-2010: Day 2

I slept in until 9:30 this morning...of course I was awake from 1:30am until about 5:30....but all in all I wasn't too tired today.

We shopped in downtown Cannock today, and while I considered photographing the town center, I felt that I might draw too much attention to myself there if I started taking photos like a starry eyed holiday tourist. People just don't come to Cannock on vacation. They come here as babies, I think and a few escape after they grow older. Simon calls it "Chav" which in American English could be translated as "Podunk". He does not think highly of his hometown. A few years ago, one of the local home boys was in a serious relationship with the singer, Tiffany....that may have been Cannock's 5 minutes of fame-and I am sorry to say that most of the world probably missed it.

I did take some pictures of the interior of Simon's Mum's home. She decorated two trees and the mantle prior to our arrival. It does look quite festive in her home.

This is the front entryway...looks like someone dropped a Christmas card through the mail slot.

The second tree is just inside the sitting room. We spend most of our time in this room.

The Hearth in the sitting room was especially beautiful. Gillian defintely has a knack for decorating.

And this is a picture of my favorite Christmas treat...a mince pie - my first of the season- with a scoop of brandy cream on top. Mince Pies with brandy cream go very well with a fire in the sitting room fireplace when there is snow outside.

It is starting to look (and taste) a lot like Christmas here.

Sunday, December 20, 2009

England Trip 2009-2010: Day 1

This years journey marks the 10 year anniversary of my very first trip to England.

On Christmas Day 1999, I flew to England to spend New Years 2000 with Simon and to meet my future in-laws. That was my first solo venture outside of the US (I had only been to Canada prior to that). The flight was from Seattle to Amsterdam and then on to Manchester.

My views on long distance travel have changed a bit over the last 10 years. Today, I would recommend paying a little extra for a non-stop flight. It is a long way to travel, best done in one exhausting leg, than two...and the opportunity for lost luggage, non-existant connecting flights and spending 5 sleep deprived hours in a strange airport in Amsterdam on a holiday with no money (only a granola bar and bottle of water) to your name...can be thankfully diverted. (Yes, that was my wonderful first experience- thanks to the fabulously incompetancy of the now-rightfully-defunct Northworst Airlines)

This is my 8th trip across the pond, and I can honestly say that I feel very much at home here these days. Most of our trips have been 3 weeks in duration (which is just enough when in-laws are thrown in-although I do love my in-laws!). This year we are staying for just 2 weeks. Our itinery includes 11 days in the E. Midlands (aka: Shakespeare Country- Stratford upon Avon is just up the road; aka The potteries- Wedgewood, Denby etc...just up the road; aka: The Black Country-coal mines abound; aka: Simon's hometown -Cannock Chase.). We will then venture back down to London where we will spend 3 delightful days drinking tea at the London Ritz and shopping.

Day 1:

(I have not taken any photos yet- but I promise to be better about this in the coming days)

Simon and I had the good fortune to be upgraded twice on our flight. We ended up in Business class on opposite sides of the plane. If you have ever been confined to an extremely small space for 9 hours you will appreciate why we readily gave up our economy and economy plus seats where we sat together, to sit apart in the much more luxurious and private business seating. Being able to lay flat and sleep on a long distance flight is a beautiful thing.

Usually I cannot sleep on a plane, but this time I catnapped for a record 4 hours! Simon also slept well.

We left an hour late, but arrived close to on-time. Grabbed a rental car and headed to Simon's hometown. It took us an extra 2 hours to get to Cannock as we were diverted off of the main motorway due to an accident. On a bright note, we got to see some interesting countryside and stately homes as we followed the detour through the Aylesbury and Weycombe (Weycombe villiage looked especially idealic with a winding road through old buildings and shops decorated for Christmas), on a normal day I would not have minded the diversion, but by the time we made it back onto the main motorway I could hardly keep my eyes open. I don't know how Simon managed, but he got us safely to his mum's house by 7pm England time.

Despite being well ready for bed, I spent a half hour after we arrived trying to figure out how to turn off the (*enter choice expletive here) radio in the rental car while Simon unloaded our bags. Such a trivial little detail just about put me over the edge (I was so tired!) We were concerned that the radio would run down the battery if left on though (and at one point, I seriously considered just letting that happen). The instruction manual said to push the on/off button, which was no where to be found. I pushed the volume button and it changed the channel, I pushed buttons that were completely unrelated to the stereo system, I considered searching out and severing the wires feeding the stereo system...I considered driving a screw driver into the dash and scrambling the entire unit...but then I discovered the on/off button, which was the volume control button I had pressed earlier- I just hadn't pressed it in long enough! (Note to Fiat: your sound system would benefit from a little "on/off" label on or near the volume knob!)

After nearly going ballistic over the event which will forever be known as the "(expletive) car stereo episode", I was caught off guard by catching a small second wind -still a bit sleepy, but I felt like I might be able to be somewhat sociable for a bit longer and engage in little time with my mother in law who was very excited to see us. Simon's mom had prepared tea - which means "dinner" not just a "cup of tea". We had one of my favorites which is "salad". This means an assortment of cold cuts, cheeses, cole slaw, boiled eggs, pork pies, pickled cucumbers and onions, cherry tomatoes, bread and butter and crisps (potato chips), not just "salad". I much prefer a light meal after a long journey and before bed-so this really fit the bill.

We unpacked and I crawled into a very warm and welcoming bed at about 8:30pm. It is now 1:30 am and I am wide awake. It has just occurred to me that it is Monday morning, not Sunday. England is 8 hours ahead of Seattle, so we completely lost Sunday this week to the travel gods. But as we are very good time travelers, I am assured of the fact that we will pick up an extra day on the way home to make up for it.

Think I will go back to bed for a few hours now...I probably won't be over the jet lag until mid-week.

Cheers, from Cannock, Staffordshire, England!

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Cook N for the Holidays: Chocolate Walnut Fudge

Pretty darn good. Pretty darn quick. Pretty darn easy.

Made some fudge today: Cook's Illustrated's Chocolate Walnut Fudge.

This recipe makes about 2 1/2 pounds of yummy, rich, chocolatey goodness.

The people at Cook's Illustrated recommend Ghirardelli semisweet and unsweetened chocolate. I could not find unsweetened in this brand, so used some green and blacks unsweetened powder instead (6 Tablespoons mixed with 2 Tablespoons of Canola oil- and it worked just fine). The walnuts are "crucial" to the texture of this fudge, so if you don't like nuts (or have an allergy) this may not be the recipe for you.

A few notes from CI:

  • Make sure to remove the fudge from the double boiler before the chocolate is fully melted. If the chocolate stays in the double boiler too long, there is the possibility of the chocolate separating and producing a greasy fudge.

  • This fudge will change texture and become drier the longer it is stored. Store the fudge, tightly wrapped in plastic, in a cool place for up to 2 weeks or in the freezer for 3 months. If frozen, allow ample time to let it reach room temperature before cutting.

Cook's Illustrated Chocolate Walnut Fudge

16 ounces semisweet chocolate , chopped fine
2 ounces unsweetened chocolate , chopped fine
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/8 teaspoon table salt
1 (14-ounce) can sweetened condensed milk
1 tablespoon vanilla extract
1 cup coarsely chopped walnuts

1. Cut 12-inch length extra-wide heavy-duty aluminum foil; fold edges back to form 7 1/2-inch width. With folded sides facing down, fit foil securely into bottom and up sides of 8-inch-square baking pan, allowing excess to overhang pan sides. Spray foil with nonstick cooking spray.

2. Toss chocolates, baking soda, and salt in medium heatproof bowl until baking soda is evenly distributed. Stir in sweetened condensed milk and vanilla. Set bowl over 4-quart saucepan containing 2 cups simmering water. Stir with rubber spatula until chocolate is almost fully melted and few small pieces remain, 2 to 4 minutes.

3. Remove bowl from heat and continue to stir until chocolate is fully melted and mixture is smooth, about 2 minutes. Stir in walnuts. Transfer fudge to prepared pan and spread in even layer with spatula. Refrigerate until set, about 2 hours. Remove fudge from pan using foil and cut into squares.

Line 13 by 9-inch pan with two sheets of foil placed perpendicular to each other and double amounts of all ingredients. In step 2, use large heatproof bowl and Dutch oven containing 4 cups simmering water.

Sunday, December 6, 2009

Cook N by the Book : Charles Virion French Country Cookbook

Decided that I should start to use my cookbooks on a more regular basis....I have about a bazillion of them. Unfortunately, I have not cooked from a large number of them. I was thinking that this is just wrong of me- to hoard these books and not use them....

So once a week I vow to pull out a cookbook and make something new.

Tonight I cooked from Charles Virion's French Country Cookbook. My copy is quite tattered. I picked this up at a thrift store for $2.99. This is the first recipe that I have used from it.

Roast Loin of Pork with Piquant Sauce

Piquant Sauce

3/4 c ketchup
1/2 c water
1/2 c dark corn syrup

1 8oz can Tomato Sauce

1/2 c wine vinegar

1/2 c brown sugar

1 t chili powder

1 1/2 tablespoons cornstarch

6 tablespoons Cointreau.

I used a 5lb pork roast for this recipe. Browned it, and then put it in a shallow baking pan with a little olive oil for 1.5 hours at 325 degrees.

Combine in a sauce pan the ketchup, water, corn syrup, tomato sauce, wine vinegar, brown sugar and the chili powder. Simmer over low heat for 10 minutes.

Blend cornstarch with 4 tablespoons of the simmering mixture and then add it to the rest of the sauce. Cook slowly and stir until slightly thickened.

Add the Cointreau, continue stirring. Simmer gently for 20 minutes and then set aside.

Reduce the oven temperature to 250 degrees. Transfer pork loin from shallow baking pan to covered baking dish. (You can use throw potatoes into the roasting pan and combine them with the pork drippings if youd like roasted potatoes)

Pour 1/2 of the piquant sauce over the pork roast, cover and return the pork to the cooler oven for .5 to 1 hour.

10 minutes before serving, pour the remaining piquant sauce over the roast.

I served the roast with roasted dutch potatos, green beans and granny smith apples spirals that I sauteed in butter, then added a bit of sugar and nutmeg to. I recommend the apples! They go great with the pork.