Autumn, cooking, & tid bits

Thanks to my weather app, I’ve taken to comparing Birmingham’s forecast with that of my peeps’ hoods: Michigan, Chicago, Milwaukee, LA, NYC. I really should take LA off this circuit since it makes me want to do something desperate. Like buy a plane ticket. Many of you have asked about our Autumn weather, and so far, Birmingham is pretty on par with Milwaukee and generally not that different from the Midwest. Except nothing dries here and household mold is normal, not a serious health concern. Did you know mold will grow on your window panes? Curious, I know. My 7th grade science fair project on this very topic would have been unbeatable if I lived here. Nobody freak out, though: I bought some highly toxic chemical spray (since I can’t find normal cleaning products like ammonia or vinegar) and waged war. ANYWAY.

The rainy season hasn’t hit us yet so I’ve been spending as much time outside as I can. I discovered that one of the city’s canals runs through our neighborhood with a great path for running and biking. It also flows through the University of Birmingham so I explored part of the campus with Penny.

We visited Sutton Park again and picked the season’s last blackberries and some wild apples. (Berries molded immediately. Wahh) Most flowers are still going strong, but my giant chrysanthemums died. Too wet, I think. (Note to self: don’t mention dead mums to Brits. Too confusing.) We have little paths and hilly walks behind our house, which is where we take Penny, and as long as the sun is shining I can deal with the mold and damp. 

Community rose garden in our neighborhood

giant pine
We still have a bag of cooking apples from Joe and Sarah and I’m running out of apple ideas. My pathetic excuse for a freezer is packed with applesauce and apple butter and if I take one more appley bite of something sweet I might lose it. So I turned my attention to Autumn’s other brilliant dessert contribution: pumpkin. Armed with this great idea, I walked up to the high street markets, visited three stores, and each time I asked for canned pumpkin they looked at me like I was an alien. The Trader Joe’s seasonal display would blow some minds over here. Seriously. So I bought a pumpkin and made my own purée. Go me. Then I thought it would be a good idea to double the recipe for a pumpkin pecan lava dessert thing. Which is really smart since there are only two people in my house and I have no friends or colleagues. I’ve been eating it for breakfast, lunch, and dinner.

Other updates:

  • We have everything booked for our week-long Christmas holiday in Italy! We’ll split our time between Rome and Florence. Still looking for a good place to leave Penny. Oh! Speaking of Penny…
  • We recently discovered she has an alter ego: Kenneth. Kenneth suffers from separation anxiety, will jump up and go crazy when he hears his name, and lick you on the lips before you know what’s happening.  He’s also extremely fascinated by sheep. Transfixed. We tend to usher Kenneth out to the yard when he pays us a visit. Or laugh and say his name over and over. Poor Kenneth.
  • Thanksgiving plans in the Lake District and Edinburgh are in the works. Still deciding if we’re going to tackle the turkey tradition. Turkey is a Christmas food over here, so we’ll need to pre-order one if we want it as early as November. I’m not entirely sure we can fit a turkey in our oven. Everything here is miniature.

Up next on the blog: hiking in the Peak District.

  
More pictures will be up on Flickr today and I’ll post again this week about the trip!

Autumn, cooking, & tid bits

Bootle – Lake District, Cumbria

WaterfallLast weekend we drove north to the Lake District and stayed on a quaint farm in Bootle. It was another long and harrowing drive, but it gave us a chance to get away from the city and see a less-touristy area. William Wordsworth and Beatrix Potter spent some quality time in the lakes and we could see why! Great views and opportunities for hiking, more sheep than people. (Although, quite a bit of motocross, which was weird/annoying.)

Speaking of views, hikes, sheep… I feel a bit like a broken record… English topography is not as varied as we’re used to in the States. If you end up on a motorway over here, you will definitely see great views, loads of sheep, hills… there are plenty of stopping points on the roads to pause and admire the scenery. If you venture off the motorway into the neighborhoods you will find opportunities for “English walks” and also feel like you’ve started a game of really high stakes Mario Kart. We were never a big video game family, but I am SO grateful that our neighbors had N64 so I could gain some valuable maneuvering experience.

Here’s a good example of a two lane road with a fantastic blind turn.  Full marks if you avoid the oncoming car, hedge, AND house. Oh, and the pedestrians (us).

Beautiful and hazardous
Beautiful and hazardous

Dave the Danger Ranger, if you’re reading this, I can’t wait to drive across the country with you 😀  Seat belts, everyone!!

We did a small walk through Bootle that took us to the top of a hill where we could see the Irish Sea. Penny was a champ! Until she wasn’t…

PennySheepOur hosts invited us to dine with them that evening, which was a literal farm to table experience. When we arrived, Mike was covered in feathers and without any hint of apology explained that he was fixing the duck for dinner. I tried not to think about bonding with a duck and then very unceremoniously eating it. But that’s farm life! They live off their land and that’s just the way it goes. And I admire them for it. Dinner was delicious and aside from the pasta, every bit of it came from their farm. Breakfast was similar – fresh eggs, bread, and sausage. Amazing.

BUT! My favorite part of this place was the little piglets!! Their largest litter ever complete with a runt, named Runtles. I have way too many pictures and videos of these little guys. You can see them in action in this video. Try not to watch as Runtles gets picked on. As always, many more photos are on my Flickr page.

PigletsWe drove to a small village called Coniston after saying good-bye to Runtles, and explored the area before heading back to Birmingham.

Coniston
Coniston

Lake ConistonConnor disagrees with me, but I thought this adventure was a bit underwhelming. Instead of taking the Mario Kart with your eyes closed option and driving north in the dark on Friday night, we decided to head up on Saturday morning. This didn’t give us enough time to tackle a decent hike. Sunday was similar since we wanted to be home by 5:30pm (this did not happen. 7 hour return drive. Woof). No big deal, we made the most of it and had a great time. But I learned my lesson – despite having spent hours researching different hikes, I wasn’t able to find that much information so I just sort of gave up thinking we’d figure it out when we got there. Does that ever happen? Just figuring it out in a village with maybe 50 people living in it? Or ever, for that matter? I really don’t think so. This planner is going back to her planning ways.

 

Bootle – Lake District, Cumbria

An Afternoon in Northampton

One hour east of Birmingham is a magical place called Great Brington, a small village with a population under 500, home to a few of the most kind and generous people I have ever had the pleasure of meeting.  Joe and Sarah live in a beautiful, traditional English home complete with gardens, an emerald green Aga cooker, and magnificent views of the rolling countryside.

Get in my kitchen!!! (Photo credit: the internet. I did not creep on them and take pictures of their hob)

I LOVE their cooker!!!!

Joe studied abroad in Scotland with Connor’s uncle. Years later, they reconnected, and Joe and his wife invited us and Penny to their home for lunch, tea, and a walk. The four of us plus their daughter who is our age, and 4 dogs (Penny, Storm, Tiffin, and Henry) had a great afternoon! Americans are really missing out on the afternoon tea + cake and walking traditions, by the way. We seem to have taken these enjoyable moments and reduced them to simple necessities. A snack and maybe another cup of coffee are enjoyed at our desk, in the car, or on the go as we multi-task our way through life. Walking is simply a mode of transportation or a necessary evil if you have the pleasure of owning a dog. Anyway, I must be feeling the spirit of England because I’m shedding my go-go-go anxiety and loving this slower, more mindful lifestyle.

SO. Now for some history! The parish church in Great Brington is just up the bend from Joe and Sarah, and It. Is. Ancient. According to their website, the church stands on the site of an old Saxon church, and the Domesday Book has record of priests in Great Brington as early as 1086. The oldest part of the existing building (the tower) dates to around 1200.

Church of St. Mary
Church of St. Mary the Virgin

And! George Washington’s great-great-great grandfather, Lawrence Washington, is buried here! They fly the American flag on the 4th of July and President’s Day to honor him. So that’s pretty fun! Sorry for the poor camera angle. I didn’t want to be annoying so I snapped quick photos with my phone when no one was looking.

We took the dogs out for a walk and followed their usual route through the country.

Penny trailing behind

This route takes them right past Althorp House, the 13,000 acre Spencer Estate, currently owned by Charles Spencer, Princess Diana’s younger brother. The house was built in 1508 and has been the Spencer home for 500 years. Somehow I missed the fact that Diana’s ancestors were so fascinating. After her grandfather, the 7th Earl Spencer, passed away, Lady Diana Spencer moved to Althorp House with her father, two older sisters, and younger brother. She was 13. I say this all so casually, but THIS WAS PRINCESS DIANA’S HOUSE! For a time. She went to boarding school and all that jazz so she might not know all the secrets of the gigantic house, but still. She lived here. And she is buried here. There are 500 people in this town and one of them used to be Princess Diana.

Gates to Althorp
Althorp Gates

Althorp Walls

Althorp from a distance
Althorp. It looks tiny, but it’s definitely gigantic.

If I had 13,000 acres, you bet I’d set my mansion back from the road. Deer and pheasant were everywhere. I’ve never seen so many deer in one place – there must have been at least 50 grazing on that front “lawn” when we first walked up. Joe told us the game birds and wildlife were brought in years ago so Henry VIII could hunt on the grounds. It was an honor for the King to hunt on your estate, and important that there were enough animals running around that he didn’t get bored or frustrated. (Especially if its Henry VIII we’re talking about.)

Tea and cake followed our walk, and then Joe roasted some coffee for us to take home. He has a gigantic roaster for large batches as well as a mini one. Fresh roasted coffee!!!! It’s amazing. We’ve been drinking it all week. Never had better.

Then we got out the ladder and Connor climbed up to pick some apples from one of their trees. This was such a treat! Apple picking is always an exciting outing, but picking apples in your own backyard is brilliant and even better. They also have plumb trees and a good sized garden where they grow other fruit and veg. Sarah spoiled us with a big bag of cooking apples, another big bag of regular apples, a loaf of homemade soda bread, a jar of homemade marmalade, and even a special kind of coffee maker!

Apple pickingBellies full and car packed with goodies, we drove back to Birmingham marveling at what an incredibly nice day we had.

 

An Afternoon in Northampton

London Part II

Monday 9/14

Let’s start with the breakfast spread at our hotel, shall we? Homemade granola with yogurt, fresh bread with lox/prosciutto/salami, melt-in-your-mouth waffles, the best scrambled eggs and sausage I’ve ever had, pain au chocolat, and a tart to go. Yes, that was my breakfast. Connor doesn’t suffer from Stuff Your Face Syndrome.

Happy as a clam, I set off to explore while Connor spent the day working. I walked to Covent Garden and wandered in and out of shops as I waited for the rain to stop. A pop-up antique market kept my attention for a while, and I made friends with a guy selling old books. He let me hold a few very old editions of Shakespeare’s plays, and I lingered as long as I could. Books! le sigh. Someday I’ll have a library full of musty, beautiful, ancient volumes. BUT NOT TODAY. I had a lot of walking to do and I was not about to lug Shakespeare around.

London - September 2015

Before I left Covent Garden, I noticed a line forming outside one of the buildings. So naturally, I joined the queue and asked Google to tell me what I was waiting for. I figured it must be good if people had lined up before the building was even open. It was the opera! The Royal Opera House offers a limited number of discounted day-of tickets, but you’re only allowed to buy 1 ticket. One. I figured Connor wouldn’t be that pleased if I ditched him to attend the opera solo, so I left the queue. You may remember I desperately wanted to attend Hamlet at the Barbican and planned to get in line at 3am to score tickets. Due to the terrible rain I opted to stay in bed instead of getting on the tube. The hotel concierge was happy to take care of this for me, but that was going to set me back a few hundred pounds per ticket. This is probably a terrific service for the normal guests at this hotel, but remember I just stuffed my face so I could save money and skip lunch.

I headed to Trafalgar Square and walked around the National Gallery, National Portrait Gallery, Nelson’s Column, and checked out a church. The rain was stopping, so I didn’t go into the museums. Next time!

London - September 2015

London - September 2015

Next, and at the top of my must-see list, was Buckingham Palace! I planned to follow a self-guided walking tour focused on royal and stately buildings in the area around Buckingham, but I was completely sidetracked when I heard drums rumbling down The Mall. Side note: when exploring alone, you have the luxury of changing your plans every two seconds and doing stupid things like waiting in lines for no reason. And so, I booked it down The Mall, ignoring 10 Downing Street, the Horse Guards Parade, St. James’ Place, and whatever else, hoping I didn’t miss whatever it was that required drums.

London - September 2015

Inwardly screaming with excitement, the whole palace came into view and I joined the crowd. It took me 20 minutes to realize that I was watching the changing of the guard ceremony. Which was fabulous because for some reason I thought I had already missed this when I wasted so much time in Covent Garden. Either I’m easily entertained or this really is a pretty awesome thing, but I stuck around for an hour, watched the horses, listened to the band playing James Bond, and loved every minute of it.

London - September 2015

London - September 2015

London - September 2015

Onward! I passed through Wellington Arch on my way to Hyde Park.
London - September 2015

And then followed the Diana Princess of Wales Memorial Walk through the park…
London - September 2015

London - September 2015

…which passes the Serpentine Lake and the Diana Memorial Fountain (below).
London - September 2015

And then just kept on walking. Here’s the Albert Memorial in Kensington Garden
London - September 2015

London - September 2015

Royal Albert Hall
London - September 2015

The back of Kensington Palace. I went inside and charged my phone for a bit. (I needed the maps!!)
London - September 2015

Kensington Palace Gardens
London - September 2015

I continue to be amazed by the gardens in England. Each time you turn a corner there’s something grand and beautiful and unlike anything you’ve seen yet. The Italian Fountain in Kensington Palace Gardens was beautiful – another Queen Victoria contribution to the city.
London - September 2015

I made my way down Oxford Street, which was probably not the best route back to the hotel. Way too many people shopping and generally disturbing my peace. Take me back to the fountains and gardens! I did see the giant and famous Selfridges building, though. This may have been cooler if I hadn’t spent the last 6 years working on Michigan Avenue in Chicago. My 16 year old self would have loved it. I did go inside, but turned right around when someone tried to spray me with perfume.

FINALLY I made it back to the hotel and went straight to the Chambers Club for some snacks. I had walked more than 16 miles and deserved some sparkling water and macaroons.

London - September 2015

Dinner with accounting people topped off the day.

Tuesday 9/15

Tuesday morning I ate another gigantic breakfast and biked to the Tate Modern Art Museum. Modern art can be weird, yo. But the joke’s on me – I was under the impression I would be spending the day with Monet and Manet, but that’s the Tate Britain. Blast. Not one to miss an opportunity to check out some art, I made the most of it. They really do have a pretty good collection:

Mondrian
London - September 2015

Mark Rothko
London - September 2015

Lichtenstein
London - September 2015

Warhol
London - September 2015

After perusing the galleries, I walked across the Millennium Bridge to St. Paul’s Cathedral and planned to check out the inside.

London - September 2015

However, today was the 75th anniversary of the Battle of Britain, and a service was just ending inside the cathedral. David Cameron and a few other politicians were in attendance, and it was clear I wasn’t getting near the place for at least a few hours.

London - September 2015

That evening I had reservations at NightJar, a jazz club in Shoreditch. Next time I’d love to explore this neighborhood, known for its artsy streets and graffiti-riddled walls. I intended to look up some of Banksy’s pieces but ran out of time.

Thanks to a handy app on my phone, I figured out that I walked more than 50 miles while we were in London. I’m sure that record will be broken at some point over these next couple of years. Yes, it’s exhausting, but I covered a ton of ground, spent basically no money, and would do it again in a heartbeat!

London Part II