Christmas in London

Merry, Happy, Joyeux Christmas!!  This is a re-post of my blog about spending Christmas in London 2008. Tis the season and I hope you are enjoying yours this year!

I was lucky enough, along with my cousin Marcie, to be invited to London to “see how they do Christmas” in 2008.  We were generously invited by our friends Susan and Tim.  Neither of us have ever gone away and not done Christmas with our families, ever.  I personally will probably not do it again unless they all come with me!  I missed them and all of our quirky little traditions.  The kind that only your own family can have, kept over the years because it gave one or all of us a happy feeling that we wanted to experience again and again.   I’m not sure how the rest of you are, but we try new and different things along with the old ones that were brought from when my husband and I were growing up.  Some things we have to do because of tradition, then we’ll add a little something new and maybe that will be the only year we do it or it becomes part of our repertoire.

At any rate, having the opportunity to go to England and experience with our friends and their family was an offer neither of us could refuse.   I think about it often and pull out the wonderful book of photos that Marcie made for us as a remembrance.  Indeed, I show it to everyone because it captures the fun and amazement that we experienced there.  I am only going to include a few highlights here for a couple of reasons: One is, that if you are anything like me, when it’s over it’s over.  I have a friend that puts her tree(s) up at Halloween and leaves them up until Valentine’s Day.  This is not me.  To my mind it takes the “special” time of year away.  Two,  I have had a spectacularly busy and crazy year and I can not locate my journal of that particular trip.  (New Year resolution: organize my office!)

Most of us came from European descent and holiday traditions were also brought over and passed down, so it was familiar and different at the same time.  Going to this already lovely home in Crystal Palace with the bright red door is always a wonderful homey feeling for both of us.  The wreath on the door, the decorations every where, the hustle and bustle of the season added to our excitement of being there.  The decorations and lights around the city of London were truly magical.                                       

Our friends had arranged a special present for us,  a Christmas choir concert at Westminster Abbey!  Can you imagine?  We had never been in the Abbey, in all of our visits.  I was awe struck, the history, the beauty of the place.  There were readings by Boris Johnson, actors and other dignitaries.  But the music, the voices were inspiring.   I felt my mind wandering, trying to remember some of the history that I had heard about the abbey.  I had to make myself focus on what was happening or I would have missed it.   I couldn’t believe I was lucky enough to have witnessed something this beautiful and profound. There were carols that I recognized and ancient songs that I never knew existed.   I will be forever grateful to them for thinking of us.  It is a family tradition of theirs to go to this wonderful concert every year.  I admit that I was a little blown away when Sue told us that her children went to preschool at the abbey.  Being a foreigner it never occurred to me that this was a working church.  I naively assumed that it was for special royal ceremonies and tourists.

Marcie and I went Christmas shopping to gather a few things for a gift basket for our hosts. We had brought many small tastes of America for them, canned albacore from Oregon, wine from a Southern California winery, chocolate infused with chili, marionberry jam from the northwest.  We needed to find a basket as well as add a few fillers.  We headed to John Lewis, a lovely British department store.  The first visit we made to England included a visit to John Lewis where I bought a warm down comforter.  I somehow stuffed it into a tote bag to carry it home on the plane.   Having got it here I discovered that it was just too warm for my middle aged body, so it’s keeping one of my daughters toasty warm every winter!  At any rate, after shopping around we found ourselves at Green Park and remembered that Sue had told us to stop at the hour and watch the clock at Fortnum & Mason’s.  Not wanting to miss anything that cool, we did just that.  We also went in to peruse the lovely holiday displays.

One of our really fun days was spent going to Hampton Court.  I’ve been to many of the castles and palaces since I started visiting England, but this is one of my favorites.  Perhaps it’s the history, all Americans seem to love Henry VIII and the story of his wives.  So brutal and romantic at the same time.  It was decorated for Christmas and there was an actual ice skating rink set up on the front grounds.  The tour was very revealing and touring the kitchens was a real eye opener.  You just don’t normally think of the day to day actions it took to run this huge residence for the king, his guests and the hundreds of people that worked there.  The grounds are really beautiful, it’s what you would imagine a royal palace to look like, you can just see them taking walks through the park, reading on a bench, embroidering in an alcove.

Here is my cousin beside one of the giant decorated trees:

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Now, I’m going to talk about the food. You knew it was coming, right?  It’s all about the food and at the holidays especially. First of all, my friend Sue is an excellent cook.  It’s not only delicious, but she likes to add little surprise ingredients that the average person wouldn’t think of, at least not this average person!  So, for Christmas morning, we had champagne and little salmon sandwiches in front of the fire.

       I was impressed with their gift giving, so much more practical than the average American way of going crazy and spending a fortune on the people on your list.  They gave personal useful gifts that weren’t over the top, expensive or trendy.  I’m not talking about socks and underwear either.   But things that the other person was interested in and would be used for years and the giver would be thought of every time.  Like a very fine journal for a writer, or an unusual utensil for a chef, things like that.  Something they will cherish but didn’t put the giver into credit card debt.  Being a banker, this is the kind of thing I see year after year here in America.

Our Christmas dinner was flavorful, satisfying and long, in a good way.  First of all, the table was set beautifully with an array of silverware and glasses.  There were crackers at every place setting and yes, we all did wear the funny little crown hats!  I’d seen it on movies but didn’t imagine that I would ever be doing this at Christmas time. It was fun!  Our first course was plates of delicious cheeses and gherkins (pickles), crackers and breads and of course wine.

For the main course,  Sue had gotten the most wonderful Suffolk ham, promising that it was “very special”.  A huge understatement!   This was joined on the plate with perfect potatoes roasted in duck fat, carrots, green beans and herbed popovers, served with more lovely wine.  For dessert a traditional plum pudding was brought forth, steaming and gorgeous.  Altogether, a feast fit for a king (or queen).  Here it is in all it’s glory:

photo (13)

 For New Year Eve, Sue made us another lovely feast.   But first Marcie and I spent the day in London, visited the Old Globe theater and walked across the Millennium Bridge to Saint Paul’s.   photo (10)

Then we went back to our home away from home where we spent another wonderful evening sharing with, by now, old friends, this delectable meal:

photo (14)

Beautiful food, artistically presented, and amazingly flavorful.  This is a beautifully arranged plate of hor d’oeuvres.  Followed by pheasant with whipped potatoes, whipped sweet potatoes and other various tasties!

 I am the luckiest girl in the world to have, not only my family and friends here at home, but my extended family and friends so far away from here.   I truly wish you all a Happy, Healthy New Year and hope you find a place you love and feel a kinship to as I have.  Happy traveling!

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September in Sussex

LAX

This was the longest flight I’ve had so far going to England.  It may have just felt that way.  After the usual chaos and panic of getting ready and a two hour flight to L.A., we had a three and half hour layover.  We started our trip off with dinner at Sammy’s Wood Fired Pizza.  I should not eat gluten, but that didn’t stop me.  I’m on vacation dammit and I’m going to eat all of the lovely things I’ve been craving for the last couple of years.  I find out later why that was a really bad mistake, but I digress….

Neil and I were  very excited about going together on this trip, it’s been an emotional year, both good and bad and we really need this time away.  Going to a place that I’m very familiar with but he’s never been to is kind of weird for both of us.  He, because I usually wait for him to take the lead and me, because what if he doesn’t see it the way I do?

Of course travel is always an iffy venture.  I was certain I booked the tickets through British Air, which I have always had a good experience with.  Instead it was through American Airlines which I have not.  Honestly it was fine except that the seats were the smallest I’ve ever sat in for a ten hour  international flight.  The movies were great, the food was fine for airplane fare.

Billingshurst Station

We arrived at two the following afternoon, got through customs with me warning my husband not to joke around with the officer asking questions.  They are known not to have a sense of humor. However, the woman that checked us through was awesome and it all went off without a hitch.  We bought our ticket on the Gatwick Express and headed south to Sussex to meet our cousins.  They were waiting there and it’s so nice to have those hugs and catch up time with people that you know and love.  They took us straight back to their lovely, comfortable very British home and a great home cooked meal, then it was time for some much needed sleep.

Linda and Richard are my fifth cousins who I met doing genealogical research in 2001.  They are really, really amazing hosts, much better than I can ever hope to be.  They have taken such good care of me on five other occasions and this was no exception.   They cooked us nice food, drove us around, gave us gifts and even gave up their own bed for our comfort.  Thank you, thank you, thank you for that!  Here is a beautiful watercolor that Lin made for me as a gift.  I will cherish it always!

There are so many beautiful and interesting things to see in Sussex! I love just walking around the villages, stopping in at shops, maybe picking up a few things that are different than I can get in America.  It was nice to show Neil where my family originated, walk in the church yard, see the WW1 memorial that has one of my ancestors name engraved on it.  I love the hardware store there in Billingshurst and go in it on every visit just to  see what interesting things they have that Home Depot does not.

Lin was keen on showing us St Botoph’s Church in Hardham in the Horsham District of West Sussex.  Built about 1050, it has wall paintings from about 1100.  A really interesting and important church, amazing!

Inside of St Botolph’s Church

Lin and Richard then drove us around the gorgeous country here.  We stopped at the town of Petworth which is mentioned in the Doomsday Book.  We walked around the town and stopped in at a few antique shops and St Mary’s Catholic Church.  Petworth was bombed in World War ll in Septemberof 1942, when a lone German plane tried to bomb Petworth House.  It missed the house and landed on the Petworth Boys’ School in North Street. Twenty eight boys died along with the headmaster and assistant teacher. So sad.  I think most of us relate the Blitz only to London, but they also bombed much of the rest of England.

The parish church of St Mary, Petworth

We then drove past the Goodwood Estate which was having a car event of some kind and we got to see lots of vintage cars.  Just up the road is a Rolls Royce factory and there were dozens of new cars lined up outside.  Apparently they were heading for the car show at Goodwood as well.

Richard treated us all to delicious fish & chips, Neil’s first authentic English!  The place was called Andy’s Fish Bar, in Chichester.  The portions were so huge I don’t think anyone actually finished the whole meal.  I find it amusing because whenever I’ve had a conversation with anyone from the UK about food, they will mention the large portions in America.

Arundel Castle

We stopped at Arundel Castle on the way back and walked around the town a little bit.  I had always wanted to see this castle because while doing genealogy, I remember seeing the name “Arundel” in my mother’s family history.  I later found out that what I remembered was “Arundel, Maryland”.  Big let down, thought it meant that we came from royalty!   It was too late to go into the castle by this time so we went in to a little tea shop and had a dessert.

Back home for nice dinner and conversation, talking about all of the lovely things we got to see today and looking forward to more tomorrow.

British Food and Drink

There’s an old cliche that I still hear whenever I tell anyone that I’m going to England, “OMG, I’ve heard the food is horrible “.  To which I say, ” I’ve never had a bad meal there”.  That is such an old tale, really.

I tell anyone that asks that you can get any type of food in the world there.  This trip we are taking the time to eat Indian food on Brick Lane!  I have heard many times that this is the place to get the best Indian food in the world.  I can’t imagine it could be better than actually being in India, but I’m willing to give it a try!  Of course, you can count on the fish and chips to be the best anywhere.  That goes for cream tea and high tea as well, there is no contest.

 

Marcie and I went to an “English tea shop” for  high tea in a little town on the outskirts of San Diego.  It was really well done and you could tell that the proprietress tried her hardest to make it authentic. It was very good, but there was just something missing.  Neither of us could put our finger on it.  It may just have been the atmosphere but it wasn’t the same.

Years ago at the bank where I worked, I had this English gentleman customer that was the epitome of what I had always imagined an English gentleman to be like.  He had white hair, a goatee, wore a plaid cap and vest and walked with a cane.  Just before my first trip over I asked him if he would like me to bring him back some real British tea.  He looked at me with a wry smile and told me that “it isn’t the tea my dear, it’s the water.”

Some of the foods that I cannot imagine eating anywhere else and having it be as good are:  British bacon, scones, roasted potatoes, fish and chips, sticky toffee pudding, Victoria sponge and cranachan.  There is a never ending list, but I haven’t had the pleasure of trying everything.

I also hear it about the drinks, especially the beer.  I hear things like “What do they know, they drink their beer warm”, “You can’t get a cold drink, they don’t have ice”.  It’s all so silly.  People should judge from their own experience.

 Now, I’m not a big drinker of alcohol.  I do like red wine with a meal.  I haven’t tried the beer there, but I imagine that it’s a matter of taste.  Some people like it with more flavor and some like the lighter lagers.     I have tasted a lemon shandy though, which is surprisingly refreshing.  Half ale and half lemonade, completely British!  I’ve also had barley water, which I had never heard of before I went there.  Some drinks that make me instantly think “England” are tea, Pimms,  bitters, ale and cider.  Maybe cider because the UK has the highest per capita consumption of cider, as well as the largest cider-producing companies in the world!

 My guess is that the service men that were stationed in England during World War II came home with stories about how awful the food was there.  It’s not surprising really, think about it.  England is a small island that was pretty much cut off during most of the war.  They had what was already there and what they could grow on the island.  I don’t think they were getting deliveries of fresh food from anywhere during those years.  I’m pretty sure that since the weather there is similar to the Pacific Northwest where I live, the growing season is pretty short.

 All I’m saying is keep an open mind, try everything once and don’t make assumptions from what you hear, especially from people that have never even been there.  I guess that’s good advice for everything in life!

Egg Coddlers and Toast Racks

I wanted to share how impressed I am with a couple of everyday kitchen items  used in England.  Here in America, unless you were very privileged,  meals were eaten with pretty basic pieces.  My mother actually only used the “special” pieces for holidays and special occasions, and these were really only bowls and platters.  Growing up in the 50s and 60s in America we had Melmac and metal cups.

               

Years and years ago my mother in-law, Jean, who you will remember from my first trip to England, brought me back an egg coddler and a toast rack.   I honestly wasn’t sure what to do with them at the time.

I thought the toast rack really wouldn’t do, I mean, wouldn’t the toast get cold before you ate it?    I didn’t use it because of that reason until I actually went to England and saw that they were used all over the place.  Let’s face it, toast starts cooling off the second it comes out of the toaster.  This is just a nice way to set it on the table when you’re having a family breakfast, and the toast doesn’t get all soggy.

I like poached eggs, but wasn’t sure how to use this fancy new device.  Jean told me she thought you just buttered it, cracked in an egg or two, and then lower it into boiling water for about 5 minutes.   I tried it and the egg wasn’t cooked all the way, it actually took about 15 minutes before the white was fully cooked.  I kind of just put it on a shelf and didn’t use it for years.   Now that we have Google, I took down the egg coddler and tried it again.  You can put all kinds of things in it, like mushrooms or other veggies and of course cheese.  It does take a bit longer to cook than that funny little Teflon egg poacher.  It’s a lot healthier though than cooking in Teflon.   I’ve also learned to appreciate little niceties  like these since I’ve gotten older.  Like having a beautifully set table and using  the dishes and special bowls and platters that you own all the time.  What are we saving them for?   When my mother died I got a few of her fancy dishes that were literally up in the top cupboard and only seen on Thanksgiving and Christmas, maybe Easter if we were lucky.   I use them all the time and I really love that.  I always tell my daughters “now, this belonged to your Grammy” or “this was your Dad’s Grandmother’s”  I want them to feel that sense of family and continuity, but also that this is your life, make it special everyday!

I know a few people that think I’m a little weird to use something so totally out of the norm here.   Someone asked me once “do you actually use your teapots?  You’re the only person I’ve ever met that makes tea in a teapot”!

I’ve  found that you can go to another place in the world and really fall in love with it.  Bringing some little ritual back to work into your life makes you feel a part of it even when you’re so far away, and I think that’s nice.

Christmas in London

Well, I’m a bit late as usual with a post, this one about Christmas.  Merry, Happy, Joyeux Christmas!!

I was lucky enough, along with my cousin Marcie, to be invited to London to “see how they do Christmas” in 2008.  We were generously invited by our friends Susan and Tim.  Neither of us have ever gone away and not done Christmas with our families, ever.  I personally will probably not do it again, I missed them and all of our quirky little traditions.  The kind that only your own family can have, kept over the years because it gave one or all of us a happy feeling that we wanted to experience again and again.   I’m not sure how the rest of you are, but we try new and different things along with the old ones that were brought from when my husband and I were growing up.  Some things we have to do because of tradition, then we’ll add a little something new and maybe that will be the only year we do it or it becomes part of our repertoire.

At any rate, having the opportunity to go to England and experience with our friends and their family was an offer neither of us could refuse.   I think about it often and pull out the wonderful book of photos that Marcie made for us as a remembrance.  Indeed, I show it to everyone because it captures the fun and amazement that we experienced there.  I am only going to include a few highlights here for a couple of reasons: One is, that if you are anything like me, when it’s over it’s over.  I have a friend that puts her tree(s) up at Halloween and leaves them up until Valentine’s Day.  This is not me.  To my mind it takes the “special” time of year away.  Two,  I have had a spectacularly busy and crazy year and I can not locate my journal of that particular trip.  (New Year resolution: organize my office!)

Most of us came from European descent and holiday traditions were also brought over and passed down, so it was familiar and different at the same time.  Going to this already lovely home in Crystal Palace with the bright red door is always a wonderful homey feeling for both of us.  The wreath on the door, the decorations every where, the hustle and bustle of the season added to our excitement of being there.  The decorations and lights around the city of London were truly magical.

                                                                            

Our friends had arranged a special present for us,  a Christmas choir concert at Westminster Abbey!  Can you imagine?  We had never been in the Abbey, in all of our visits.  I was awe struck, the history, the beauty of the place.  There were readings by Boris Johnson, actors and other dignitaries.  But the music, the voices were inspiring.   I felt my mind wandering, trying to remember some of the history that I had heard about the abbey.  I had to make myself focus on what was happening or I would have missed it.   I couldn’t believe I was lucky enough to have witnessed something this beautiful and profound. There were carols that I recognized and ancient songs that I never knew existed.   I will be forever grateful to them for thinking of us.  It is a family tradition of theirs to go to this wonderful concert every year.  I admit that I was a little blown away when Sue told us that her children went to preschool at the abbey.  Being a foreigner it never occurred to me that this was a working church.  I naively assumed that it was for special royal ceremonies and tourists.

Marcie and I went Christmas shopping to gather a few things for a gift basket for our hosts. We had brought many small tastes of America for them, canned albacore from Oregon, wine from a Southern California winery, chocolate infused with chili, marion berry jam from the northwest.  We needed to find a basket as well as add a few fillers.  We headed to John Lewis, a lovely British department store.  The first visit we made to England included a visit to John Lewis where I bought a warm down comforter.  I somehow stuffed it into a tote bag to carry it home on the plane.   Having got it here I discovered that it was just too warm for my middle aged body, so it’s keeping one of my daughters toasty warm every winter!  At any rate, after shopping around we found ourselves at Green Park and remembered that Sue had told us to stop at the hour and watch the clock at Fortnum & Mason’s.  Not wanting to miss anything that cool, we did just that.  We also went in to peruse the lovely holiday displays.

One of our really fun days was spent going to Hampton Court.  I’ve been to many of the castles and palaces since I started visiting England, but this is one of my favorites.  Perhaps it’s the history, all Americans seem to love Henry VIII and the story of his wives.  So brutal and romantic at the same time.  It was decorated for Christmas and there was an actual ice skating rink set up on the front grounds.  The tour was very revealing and touring the kitchens was a real eye opener.  You just don’t normally think of the day to day actions it took to run this huge residence for the king, his guests and the hundreds of people that worked there.  The grounds are really beautiful, it’s what you would imagine a royal palace to look like, you can just see them taking walks through the park, reading on a bench, embroidering in an alcove.

Here is my cousin beside one of the giant decorated trees:

photo (11)

Now, I’m going to talk about the food. You knew it was coming, right?  It’s all about the food and at the holidays especially. First of all, my friend Sue is an excellent cook.  It’s not only delicious, but she likes to add little surprise ingredients that the average person wouldn’t think of, at least not this average person!  So, for Christmas morning, we had champagne and little salmon sandwiches in front of the fire.

       I was impressed with their gift giving, so much more practical than the average American way of going crazy and spending a fortune on the people on your list.  They gave personal useful gifts that weren’t over the top, expensive or trendy.  I’m not talking about socks and underwear either.   But things that the other person was interested in and would be used for years and the giver would be thought of every time.  Like a very fine journal for a writer, or an unusual utensil for a chef, things like that.  Something they will cherish but didn’t put the giver into credit card debt.  Being a banker, this is the kind of thing I see year after year here in America.

Our Christmas dinner was flavorful, satisfying and long, in a good way.  First of all, the table was set beautifully with an array of silverware and glasses.  There were crackers at every place setting and yes, we all did wear the funny little crown hats!  I’d seen it on movies but didn’t imagine that I would ever be doing this at Christmas time. It was fun!  Our first course was plates of delicious cheeses and gherkins (pickles), crackers and breads and of course wine.

For the main course,  Sue had gotten the most wonderful Suffolk ham, promising that it was “very special”.  I huge understatement!   This was joined on the plate with perfect potatoes roasted in duck fat, carrots, green beans and herbed popovers, served with more lovely wine.  For dessert a traditional plum pudding was brought forth, steaming and gorgeous.  Altogether, a feast fit for a king (or queen).  Here it is in all it’s glory:

photo (13)

We ended up staying for three weeks on this particular visit.  I will locate my journal and do a proper blog with the details and the wonderful places we visited with cousins and friends.

 For New Year Eve, Sue made us another lovely feast.   But first Marcie and I spent the day in London, visited the Old Globe theater and walked across the Millennium Bridge to Saint Paul’s.   photo (10)

Then we went back to our home away from where we spent another wonderful evening sharing with, by now, old friends, this delectable meal:

photo (14)

Beautiful food, artistically presented, and amazingly flavorful.  This is a beautifully arranged plate of hor d’oeuvres.  Followed by pheasant with whipped potatoes, whipped sweet potatoes and other various tasties!

 I feel like the luckiest girl in the world to have not only my family and friends here at home, but my extended family and friends so far away from here.   I truly wish you all a Happy, Healthy New Year and hope you find a place you love and feel a kinship to as I have.  Happy traveling!

Ludlow-part two

I highly encourage you to keep a journal of where ever you travel.  Reading through mine, I find that I get the same feeling as when I was actually there.  There are so many little notes of things that I had forgotten and my journal takes me back so clearly in my mind.  Today in the Pacific Northwest, as many areas of our country, it is unusually cold. -9 this morning! Reading through my journal, I’m back on a May day driving through the gorgeous Gloucestershire and Shropshire countryside with my friends and enjoying every moment of it.

May 7th, 2005

After breakfast in our gorgeous, light filled conservatory we are on the road to visit a couple of Royal Heritage sites in Shropshire.  The first is Boscobel House.

There is a guided tour and our tour guide reminded me of John Cleese! The house has a very interesting history of Charles II hiding out here after his father was beheaded.  He was defeated in the Battle of Worcester by Cromwell’s men in 1651 and went into hiding.  He used disguises and many safe houses before fleeing to France, later returning to restore the monarchy to England in the 1660’s..  He hid in a massive oak tree in the adjacent forest, now dubbed “The Royal Oak”.  He also hid in the house and you get to go into the attic hiding place on the tour.  The house is fully furnished with paneled rooms and secret hiding places.

Here is a small except of what Wikipedia says about the current situation of the oak tree:

 The tree standing on the site today is not the original Royal Oak, which is recorded to have been destroyed during the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries by tourists who cut off branches and chunks as souvenirs. The present day tree is believed to be a two or three hundred-year old descendant of the original and is thus known as ‘Son of Royal Oak’.

In 2000, Son of Royal Oak was badly injured during a violent storm and lost many branches. In September 2010, it was found to have developed large and dangerous cracks. The 2011 season opened with the tree surrounded by a wooden outer perimeter fence to ensure the safety of visitors.

I love that, “the Son of Royal Oak”! Sounds like a movie sequel:)   After leaving here we tried to stop at a pub for lunch, but I had forgotten that so many places close for a couple of hours in the afternoon.  We keep heading south back toward Ludlow and stop at Stokesay Castle.  We started the tour but didn’t quite finish, so we decide to go back the next day.  Besides, the castle serves a cream tea and since Suzanne and Peg haven’t had an authentic cream tea yet, we have to come back!  On the way out we ask one of the men working if he can recommend the best fish and chips place in town.  You just have to try the foods that a country is known for, and it’s always best to ask a local.

                

He told us to try The Clive which is a modern restaurant in a very old building.  Not really a fish and chips place, but definitely worth stopping for!   We found it and it actually had a sign with two different names, it’s also called “The Cookhouse”.  It turns out that there is a fabulous chef and the menu was varied, fresh and healthy with innovative combinations.  I Googled it and this restaurant has now become a B&B and has been awarded two AA rosettes as well as an entry in the Michelin Guide.  Very impressive and glad we got to go in the beginning!  We easily found our way back to our comfortable cottage for a movie and rest.

May 8th

After breakfast we walked up the hill for a visit to Ludlow Castle.  For some reason the tour was closed, but there is an old car show on the green and since we are all married to car guys we take some photos.    I love Morris Minor cars, so much style.  I can never remember the name and have to ask my husband. I always want to call them Major Minors!

We went to a great little antique shop in town and I find another Toby Jug to add to my collection.  I really wanted something of a quintessential British token of my visits and when I picked up a small one on my first visit I decided to buy one for every time I went. Twice I didn’t find or forgot, so my lovely cousin Linda brought me two large jugs when she came to visit us here.  I cherish these and I look at them often.

After this we hit the road and went back to finish our tour of Stokesay Castle.   It is a lovely medieval castle that was finished in 1291 and remarkably has scarcely been altered.  I really like the massive open hearth great hall.  The view is absolutely amazing.  We had the promised cream tea and took a short drive across the bridge into Wales and made a circle back towards Ludlow.   We saw a sign for a garden tour and turned in to check it out.  It looks like a good one but it’s too late today, so home we head to Ludlow and the Rose and Crown pub for some fish & chips.  Back at our cottage we put on our PJs and watched the VE Celebration in Trafalgar Square and then a movie.  What a fun day!

May 9th

We are up and off early today for a long drive to Newport Pagnell, about 3 1/2 hours it was.  Some of Peggy’s family are from this area.  The country is gorgeous!  As always, food comes first so we have a very nice lunch at The Swan Hotel, then set off to find the church.  We stop in a shop that sells old photos of the area and Peggy is able to buy a book about the local history.  We are all looking in the graveyard for her family name of Gurney but no luck.  The church is closed today, but Peggy asks someone who is about and they graciously allow her to go inside and take a look.  It makes the long drive worth it for her to be allowed to do this.  It’s such an emotional connection.  We did go to a small village close by called Stone.  Peggy had some family information about this village as well and we were rewarded with a Gurney grave, although not an old one, but still photo worthy.  She has a new name to research and who knows, maybe she’ll find a cousin that still lives there.

Went back and got some provisions at the market and Suzanne made us another lovely dinner.  It’s just so nice to snack on local cheeses and a bottle of red and talk and laugh together.  Afterward we watched “About a Boy” and ate another national favorite, Victorian Sponge.  We all saw this on “Calendar Girls” and had been wanting to try it.  I wrote in my journal “a very light cake with a layer of cream filling and a thin layer of jam.  Pretty darn good!”

May 10th

We got up and made a traditional English breakfast with bacon, eggs, tomatoes and mushrooms and walked up to town to buy some fresh produce for dinner.  We want to be prepared in case we get back late.  Found a local potter in town and I fell in love with a blue spoon holder. It sits next to my stove and every time I take a spoon out of it I think of this trip.  I love mementos of holidays and for me it’s usually glass or pottery.

We got in the car and drove over to Witley Court, another British Heritage site.  I love that you can go onto the British Heritage website and order a pass to see all of these different historical places for a fraction of the cost of going separate!  Plus, especially if you’re a foreign visitor, you aren’t aware of so many of these properties, but they’re worthy of a visit.

Witley Court was one of the great country houses of the Midlands.  It was built in 1655 and today is a very beautiful ruin from a fire in 1937.  The grounds are just breathtaking and we found the church on site really interesting and unusual, as far as the churches that we’ve seen.  It has a very high vaulted ceiling with gold gilding throughout.  The ceiling has spectacular paintings and the windows are painted in enamel of the Ascension. The windows are older than the structure and were brought from London during the blitz if I remember correctly.  The colors are as vibrant as they must have been when first painted in 1719!

                                                                           

We drove home had a lovely dinner and then turned on the electric fireplace because the nights were chilly.  We stuffed ourselves with delicious baked goods that we brought home from DeGrays bakery and cafe here in town.  They make a mean chocolate eclair!

May 11th

Today we set off to see the garden that we didn’t have time to visit before.   It’s called Stockton Bury Garden and I’ve already covered it extensively in my previous blog about gardens.  All I can say is if your are interested in gardens at all you don’t want to miss this one.  We had to get back to the cottage and meet the owner to settle our bill.  We have stayed in this house for 5 nights with only a $50 deposit,that would not happen in America!  She turns out to be a wonderful woman and we enjoyed chatting with her.  She called us later to give us directions on the best way to get back to Gatwick.

Our last night here and we went to a restaurant called the Courtyard and then walked around Ludlow church. A beautiful Norman church with amazing windows and carvings.  Back at the cottage we re-pack and watch “Bridget Jones Diary”.  This is our last night here and it’s been an awesome week, one the three of us won’t ever forget. Ludlow is a great town for tourists and shouldn’t be missed.  Thank you to my mother in-law for suggesting it.

May 12th

Our last morning at Stone Cottage, so sad to leave, it’s been so perfect and comfortable.  Ludlow couldn’t be more welcoming or a better place to stay and explore.

Breakfast, load the car and then head south, deeper into the Cotswolds.  The man from next door came to chat with us as we were loading the car.  He has a walled garden that is off of the parking area of this cottage.  I asked him if we could take a peek and he told us to “wander at leisure”.  So sweet.  It’s a beautiful garden with loads of plants, an ancient tree and an espaliered wisteria that runs the entire length of the wall.  Such a nice way to end our visit.

Ludlow 2005-part 1

In 2005 I was living back in San Diego.  Two of my good friends, Peggy and Suzanne, still living in the Pacific Northwest had been wanting to go to England and decided that this was the year.  Together we planned a 2 week trip.  It’d been 3 years since I was able to go and I was so ready to go back.  I got on the internet to research places to stay and found a great website called holiday-rentals.com.  I just checked and the website isn’t there anymore, however, you can find Stone Cottage on ludlowcottages.co.uk.   I contacted the owner about renting the cottage for the week.  We decided it best to have a base and then take day trips.  This worked out really well and I highly recommend it. Not only do you not have to schlep luggage to a different hotel every night, it gives you a chance to thoroughly explore an area.   We found it fun and relaxing to go to the local shops to get ingredients and cook our own meals or go to a pub to try the local fare.  My mother in-law, Jean,  recommended the town, so we thought we’d give it a try.

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This time we were going in May and I hadn’t been at any time of year but September.  This is the first time I’d ever taken such a long flight alone.  Marcie couldn’t come because her daughter was getting married in the same month.  As it turned out, the plane wasn’t full and I got the triple seat to myself.  I flew British Air this time and I really enjoyed it, extra room and the food was great.  I got in a couple of hours before my friends, so I got to freshen up and have a cup of coffee.  I did some people watching which is always interesting.  Finally I see them coming out of customs, I missed them both so much.  We got on a train and headed for Crystal Palace.  We got so engrossed in catching up that we missed the connection in East Croydon.  I knew we were in trouble when I saw the Thames and London Bridge. I’m sure they weren’t too happy with me,  We’d all been traveling since yesterday morning.  We still had to wheel all the luggage down steps, under the train tracks, back up the steps, get the train at East Croydon, get off again at Crystal Palace which has it’s own daunting sets of stairs and then the 7 minute walk to Fox Hill, half of it up a steep hill.  Whew!

It’s always so great to visit with the Haighs and coming back to this house is nice, a home away from home.  Tim drove us up to a restaurant called Joanne’s in Croydon.  What a great place, the food was fantastic, so was the service and atmosphere, we thoroughly enjoyed it.  We got back to Fox Hill to have tea and catch up with the Haighs and then took a walk up to the Safeway to pick up something for a light dinner and wine, then off to bed for a much needed sleep.

We got up for a breakfast of English bacon and eggs and then head off to pick up a travel pass and head for Victoria Station and a day exploring the city. I’m disappointed to find that the flip time tables have been replaced with digital:(  The feeling of seeing the times flip and hearing the clacking is replaced with silence.  Jeez, sometimes progress is not better!

We got tickets for The Original London Bus Tour.  I said it before, but it bares repeating, if you have a choice, always go for a live tour guide instead of the headphones.  It’s confusing to have the voice tell you to look for a particular building only to find that the bus hasn’t yet reached it or we’ve already passed it.  You can’t account for traffic, so the headphones have no idea really, where you are.  After jumping off at Trafalgar Square we head into the National Gallery to check out paintings from our favorite artists.  It’s so powerful to see them in person as opposed to a picture or online.  I fell in love with paintings by Georges Seurat.  We also asked a guard where the oldest painting in the museum was.  We walked around, got lost then finally found it.  A religious icon of some type, not my thing but I’m glad I got to see it.

On to Buckingham Palace and The Rubens Hotel for an authentic English Tea.   Lovely as before.  We then headed over to Leicester Square to see if we can get theater tickets to a play.  We ended up going to the movies instead and saw “The Wedding Date”,  a very enjoyable film, but if you’ve read my post before you know that this is the most expensive movie I have ever bought a ticket for!  12 quid, the equivalent to almost $24 US dollars!   It was fine and I’d do it again, but I’m always astounded when I read that in my journal, that is 3 times what a movie costs back home.  Just something to keep in mind if you’re trying to keep to a budget, it all adds up.

We asked one of the ushers how to get back to Crystal Palace and he told us if we hurry we can catch the last underground train of the day.   Suzanne and Peggy’s first ride on the tube, we just made it and got back at 11:30.  We walked back from the train station, talking about all of the wonderful sites  we’d seen that day and planning for the next.  Tomorrow we pick up our rental car and then hit the road to Ludlow.

After having a nice breakfast of porridge, delicious toast and orange marmalade,  we get ready to head out on our next adventure.   I’m elected to drive since I am the only one with experience.  I really don’t mind, it’s easy once you get the hang of it!  It was a long drive and we are all ready to stop.  I had a moment of panic when I realize that I don’t actually have an address for Stone Cottage and Ludlow is much bigger than I expected it to be.  This is something I do again and again,  I’m so sure of myself that I don’t bother to get the facts of things, very naive of me.  I’m such a dork!  Luckily Peggy knocked on an Antiques store door and the gentleman that answered kindly made a call to his son who apparently knows the area.  He guessed at the the approximate house and it turned out to be right!  It was really quite amazing considering.  We had seen pictures from the internet so we recognized it and were very lucky really.

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We were stunned when we got inside, what an awesome house.  Over 200 years old and everything is completely re-done, spotlessly clean and cozy. The kitchen is perfect and it has a very light and wonderful conservatory.  It turns out that the stone cottage is attached to Broadgate, in the oldest part of the walled city, dating from around 1138, the walled city I mean, not the cottage.  There is a magazine from the 1970s  there that shows how the current owners bought the cottage and gutted it and made it the wonderful property it is today.   It is attractive and comfortable and very convenient to stay here, I sincerely hope I can go back one day.                    

We ran down to the local Tesco that we had passed when coming into town and picked up some groceries and wine, went back to the cottage and Suzanne made us a fabulous dinner.  Parmesan chicken, roasted veggies, salad, wine, cookies and tea.  We are happily stuffed and looking forward to spending the next day in this beautiful medieval town.

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We slept like rocks, boy, wine really helps a girl sleep!  Got up and made a breakfast with Peggy of Scottish porridge with currents, juice, yogurt, toast and tea.  We took off to explore this ancient town on foot, stopping in all of the shops, looking at the architecture, and talking with the locals.  So many fresh food shops, we are very impressed with this.  Even the cafe where we have our lunch serves food that is grown and raised locally.  It’s called DeGrey’s and it is a lovely cafe and bakery.   The shops have the most beautiful produce, organic meats and cheeses, and lots of bakeries.  Suzanne and I decide that we want to buy a gooseberry pie since neither of us has ever tried it.  We pick up some local cheese, fresh raspberries and strawberries, and also eggs, mushrooms and asparagus.  Suzanne whipped it all into a gorgeous dinner.  She took the leftover roasted veggies and chicken from the night before, added some fresh mushrooms along with sun dried tomatoes and local Gloucester goat cheese, mixed it altogether with eggs and it was fantastic.  She served it with roasted asparagus and crusty bread.  We had stopped at the local video store and amazingly they let us rent movies even though we were just visiting and had no permanent address. So we put on our jammies, light the electric fire and cozy up with a movie and some gooseberry pie to end this fantastic day.

Busy summer

I have been off the grid and have hardly had time to write or read any of my blog friend’s posts.  What a busy summer!  First, we got the garden in and if you live in the north, you know you have to make every second count when the weather is nice!  I got to go to a lovely garden walk with some friends and got a great tip for my kiwi. I planted some things that I haven’t tried to grow before.  Beets, swiss chard, artichokes, asparagus.  I also tried our favorites, lettuce, tomatoes, basil, carrots, leeks, potatoes.  For the first time in four years my grape arbor is loaded with grapes, kind of jazzed about that!

The main event in my summer was the wedding of my youngest daughter.  What a fabulous week we had in San Diego visiting family and friends, eating our way through the week and then experiencing all of the related events to the wedding.  It was flawless and we all had such a good time.

A week or so after that my lovely cousin Marcie came for her annual visit.   She comes every summer so that we can can tuna together.  It’s the best and freshest tuna I’ve ever eaten!  My friend Suzanne taught me this skill and so I pass it on to my cousin and now we do it together every summer.  This year we also put up some excellent dill pickles, spiced beets and Ukrainian Garlic Dills that you make on the counter in a large pickle jar and brine.  They all turned out exquisite.  Waiting now for the tomatoes to ripen.  There is an excellent sounding recipe for canning roasted roma tomatoes.  If you’ve ever roasted tomatoes, you will appreciate a way to preserve them.  Another lesson from my friend Suzanne who in my opinion should have her own cooking show!  Nevermind that though, I would miss the amazing meals she serves to those of us she loves. lol

At any rate, Marcie and I spent a good portion of our time talking about England and all of our visits there together.  We also talked about any future visits we might be dreaming of and pondered the wonder of going somewhere else in the world!  It’s kind of funny to us that we we haven’t taken the time and money to see other parts of the world.  Both of us love different cultures and are open to learning about how regular people live as opposed to travel shows.  We both want to go to France, Italy, Spain, Portugal, Austria, Holland.  I would love some day to sail the Fjords and check out Austrailia and Japan.  Also, India.  I would love to go to India.   The landscape, the colors, the food!

It’s obvious that we need to play the lotto to make those dreams come true.  In the meantime, we both long to go back to a well loved country where we feel at home at the same time as experiencing a different culture.  When you can do this with people you like and admire, it’s golden!

Cock a leekie soup recipe

I take umbrage to anyone who says that British food is not good.  It’s kind of turned into a cliche and I wonder where it came from.  I’ve heard it from people that have gone to England, people that have never been, on movies, jokes on TV and read it in books that the food there is terrible.

I have not found that to be the case.  I really have never had a bad meal there. Period.  In fact, I’ve tried a lot of things that I had never heard of and found the diversity of what you can get kind of amazing.  This isn’t just in London, but in small pubs all around.

Another thing I was impressed with is the presentation.  If you watch any of the cooking shows on TV, you know that when plating your dish it should look as good as it tastes.  You can order from a pub menu and it will just be gorgeous and set in front of you with a friendly “cheers”.  I always appreciate that!

Here is a short history of this soup recipe:

“While it is called “Scotland’s National Soup,” it likely originated as a chicken and onion soup in France.  By the 16th century, it had made its way to Scotland, where the onions were replaced with leeks.  The first recipe was printed in 1598,  though the name “cock-a-leekie” did not come into use until the 18th century”. (From Wikipedia)

Years ago I heard this recipe on a radio talk show and hastily wrote it down.  I planted leeks last fall, so when they needed thinning I thought of this recipe and searched it out in a desk drawer.  It’s pretty easy with just a few ingredients but the flavor is rich and satisfying.   I don’t even remember the radio station I was listening to so I can’t credit anyone with this recipe but I think it’s fairly common.

Cock a leekie soup:

2 lbs of chicken

4 tbsp of butter

2 tbsp of grated fresh ginger

1/4 cup of barley

4 cups chicken broth

1 cup leeks, julienned, mostly the white part

2 tbsp fresh parsley

Cut the chicken into chunks and brown in 2 tbsp of butter, season with salt and pepper to taste.  Set aside.   Use the remaining butter to brown the fresh ginger and leeks for a few minutes until ginger starts to brown and leeks get a bit limp.  Add the chicken broth, barley and chicken.  Simmer slow for about an hour, add the fresh parsley just before serving.

Of course I go with what I have, so I used half of a roasted chicken that I had in the freezer.  I put that in my soup pot with the chicken broth and let it simmer on low for about an hour on its own.  I then removed it and let it cool before I stripped all of the good meat off and tossed  it back into the pot.  At this point I sauteed the leeks and ginger in the butter and added them to the pan.  I de-glazed the ginger in the bottom of the pan with a little Riesling and added that to the pot.  I like to season all of the chicken soups I make with “better than bullion  which is an excellent concentrated flavoring.  It looks like a golden paste. I usually wait to add any salt until after I’ve flavored with this because it is salty as well.  I was going to add some cilantro at the end because I prefer the strong flavor of it to parsley, but I forgot.  Also, because I try to stay away from gluten I used brown rice instead of the barley.   It was excellent anyway, so I think that no matter what you do it will turn out delicious.

I made some gluten free biscuits and it was a hardy meal and we have lunch tomorrow as well!

Red Pepper and Goat Cheese Soup

 RED PEPPER AND GOAT CHEESE SOUP

2 medium onions, finely chopped

3 1/2 pints of vegetable stock

2/3 cup of dry white wine

8 medium red peppers, seeded and coarsely chopped

1 large cooking apple, peeled , cored and coarsely chopped

2 tsp. dried basil

Salt and pepper to taste

5 oz. soft goat cheese

Boil the onions in 1/2 cup of stock for about 10-15 minutes until stock has evaporated and onions have browned and are beginning to stick to the pan, being careful not to burn them. Add the wine to de-glaze, scrapping the onion bits off the pan.and simmer for 3 minutes.  Add all other ingredients except the goat cheese.  Simmer,  partially covered for 30 minutes until the vegetables are tender.

Cool a little and then purée with an immersion blender. Pass the soup through a sieve or fine strainer (this is essential) into a clean saucepan and reheat gently. Add the goat cheese and whisk into the soup until it has melted.  Taste for seasoning.  Garnish as desired.