Thursday, December 25, 2008

Happy Christmas

Our first Christmas in England is going to be a quiet one. As I left work yesterday I picked up the pictured wreath. Due to a cold I didn’t do any Christmas baking as I usually do. My only goal is to wear my pajamas all day as A and I work on jigsaw puzzle I picked up. There’s no Christmas Story or It’s A Wonderful Life on television but there have been at least four versions of A Christmas Carol. I will miss Jimmy Stewart this year as well as the cheese grits we have had for Christmas morning ever since we moved to Alabama.

Happy Christmas all!

The Office Christmas Party

We had our party last week at a beautiful country manor. It was the first time H saw Christmas crackers. The person sitting to my right informed me that there is a way to hold your end of the Christmas cracker to always win. He told me this after he won and didn't share the secret. :)

Sunday, December 21, 2008

The Christmas Number One

If you are an American and have seen the film “Love Actually” you know about the Christmas Number One phenomenon in England. In America having the number one record the week of Christmas doesn’t register with anyone, but this article on Wikipedia lists out the songs that have been number one in year’s past. It finally made sense why so many UK artists have Christmas songs.

Of course now that the program The X Factor (like American Idol) ends in December, that program has produced the Christmas Number One for the past few years and this year unfortunately is no exception.

Here’s a number one from years gone by. I’d rather celebrate with this than the current number one.

Thursday, December 18, 2008

They Must Be Republican

In all of the American workplaces I have been a part of one rule stands: take responsibility for yourself and your coffee cup. Let a science experiment grow from the seven-day old coffee in it if you would like, because NO ONE but you will ever clean it. Imagine my surprise on my second morning of work after using my favorite coffee cup shipped all the way from the U.S. to see it washed and in the kitchen cupboard with all of the others. The cleaning crew actually pick up all dishes and cups from people’s desks and put them in the dishwasher and then unload the dishwasher before they leave for the night. I thought to myself, can I just live at work? This is a good deal! But I also stopped using my personal coffee cup and just picked a generic company logo cup from the cupboard to start using since it felt a little bit like an invasion of privacy having my personal science experiment taken from my desk. I know, I am a little too territorial about a cup. But you may be wondering, what does any of this have to do with a U.S. political party. Well…

We have a new cleaning crew. The morning after the U.S. Presidential elections I went to the local newsstand and bought some newspapers, and put them in a shopping bag in my office to mail in the future. My friend M in Birmingham has been a champion of Obama from day one and I wanted to mail her some international coverage. This bag was very far away from the trash can in my office but I noticed the other day, the bag had disappeared. The over-zealous cleaning crew threw away the newspapers! And not even in the recycling bin for newspapers! I wasn’t sure what upset me more since we have to go through great pains at home separating kitchen waste from non-recyclable waste, to glass, to cardboard/paper.

Sorry M! I tried! I’ll have to pick you up some Inauguration articles and mail them promptly!

Sunday, December 14, 2008

Graduation Lunch - Basic Cuisine

Friday I took the day off to go with H to his graduation lunch for his basic cuisine course. The lunch was held at a beautiful hotel in central London. I was interested to meet some of his classmates and also see what the food would be like at a culinary school lunch.

The class is divided up into sections of around ten or twelve so he is always working with the same small group of people. H told me that on the first day of class they had to share why they were there and an older lady, not to be in his section, stood up and said that she has been cooking the same things for her family for about thirty years so they told her to go out and learn something new. I would have headed to the library and gotten a cookbook instead of investing in an expensive culinary course, but I guess there are a few different paths leading to variety at dinner time. It is a very international school, and for the first time in his life, H’s name is not the most unusual on the class roll. As I walked through the crowd, I heard more languages in one room than I think I have ever heard before.

We had a really nice lunch, which I photographed, and the service was impeccable. At some point I said to H that I needed to stop drinking. Every time I took a sip of wine someone was there to refresh my glass, making it impossible to really know how much you have had. Knowing that A was going to have three friends spend the night that night, I thought it would be a bad idea to walk into the house and need a nap!

When we got home A started heating up the frozen pizzas she was serving for her buddies as H showed me how to filet a Dover sole.

Have Some Breasts with Your Television

For the last several Friday nights H and I have been recording a show called Gordon Ramsay Cookalong Live. It’s a live television show where Chef Gordon Ramsay cooks a three course meal in front of a live studio audience with a celebrity guest cooking along with him. There is very little that the three of us will agree to sit down and watch together except maybe Malcolm in the Middle re-runs but A sat and watched it with us last night because she loves Gok Wan, the celebrity guest. Most of the time we don’t recognize who the celebrity guests are since we are still learning about pop culture here.

We have yet to try and make one of the meals he prepares. We just think it’s a pretty entertaining show. During the program he checks in via webcam with people all over the country who are cooking with him. He also does other segments like learning how to make the perfect cocktail or recipe challenges with other chefs. Tonight as he went to talk to someone in Wiltshire cooking along with him the woman, probably in her mid to late 50s was standing in her kitchen topless. She is a naturalist and when the camera panned to her guests, they were all naked too. She did put an apron on to cook. Not only would American prime time television not show breasts, but if they did they would probably be of the perfect, surgically enhanced variety.

Saturday, December 13, 2008

What Does God Have To Do With It?

I was at lunch with some folks and we got to talking about Christmas and New Year’s celebrations. One of them was Scottish and he was saying that years ago, his father got more time off of work for New Year in Scotland than in Christmas but over the years, it has evened out. As we talked on and on about Christmas I said to them that I was surprised how Christmas-centric it seemed to be. They all looked at me kind of funny. I explained that what I meant was that the London area is very multi-cultural and therefore I would imagine a lot if not more than half of the population didn’t celebrate Christmas and it seemed a bit insensitive to be going on and on about it. They all agreed that Christmas in England only has a religious connotation to a small number of people and it’s more the commercial, Charles Dickens kind of Christmas that they celebrate. They all knew people that were not Christian that celebrated the holiday. They all seemed taken aback that I would think that their celebrating of Christmas had anything to do with a religious affiliation.

This Blog is Going to Start Talking More About Food

While I haven’t lost any weight since October, I am proud to say I haven’t gained any either. Why am I saying this? Because in October H began the cuisine course at Le Cordon Bleu in London and his practice dishes at home are divine.

I wrote in an earlier post that figuring out how to finish a university degree here when you are ever so close to finishing was proving to be a time-intensive and costly endeavor. Having lived apart for some time last year, we aren’t keen on being separated again in order for H to finish up in the U.S. So he began exploring other options. After looking at a few different programs, and me talking about it with my friend M who went to culinary school, he decided which one to start. The program is broken into three different courses; basic, intermediate, and superior. As of Wednesday of this week, he is finished with basic and will finish completely in July.

While they are using French technique (and copious amounts of butter) they have been making a lot of traditional English food as well. The first exam covered the traditional English roast dinner complete with something called bread sauce that I loved and A and H thought was gross. It was strange sitting there waiting for this very labor-intensive meal while H slaved away but he also had to work on his timing and presentation. All I did was wash the dishes afterwards. He has also learned to make Yorkshire puddings and taught me last week. He’s quite a good teacher.

My friend M said the he needed to blog about the experience. I told him that and jokingly said to him that he couldn't because he'd be taking away my material! A fellow classmate told him about a book called "Sacre Cordon Bleu: What the French Know about Cooking" written by an English journalist who decided to move to Paris with his family and enroll at Le Cordon Bleu. After H finished the book he said there was no point in blogging about it since there is a book written about the experience. I'm now mid-way through reading it myself.

I am including some pictures of some of the lovely meals he has made.

Friday, December 12, 2008

Homemade Curry

Interestingly enough, in our village most of the restaurants serve Indian cuisine. We had a great meal at one of them a few weeks ago and after watching a cooking show last week called Indian Food Made Easy, we decided to try our hand at making a homemade chicken and spinach curry. It was delicious and spicy enough to soothe A’s cold. I thought it photographed beautifully!

The Car Key

When we bought our used Renault, the English salesman commented on the abundance of electronic features in French cars with just a hint of disgust. I also thought the key was interesting, which looks like a credit card. After inserting the key you press a button and the car starts.

Sunday, December 7, 2008

They Call Her Bubblegum

A picked up a part-time job helping my friend L at children’s parties. Not only does it give her some spending money, but I believe she picked up a nice cold as well! After her party yesterday she was telling me how tired she was and how some of the kids were pretty annoying. I responded, “Yeah, I can’t stand kids”, which made us both laugh. She’s got another party today. The show must go on.

Stop and Appreciate

This past week at work was an absolute blur. On Friday afternoon as I ran into my office to throw down some contracts and start working on a spreadsheet I quickly glanced out the window and saw this. Glad I had my camera with me to capture it. It made me slow down for a moment.

Saturday, December 6, 2008

Would We Call Them Gut and Butt?

These make A laugh every time we see them.

Tuesday, December 2, 2008

To Tree or Not To Tree...

We don't have any of our Christmas decorations with us and A has been asking if we are going to put up a Christmas tree. H's quick answer is NO! Me, I'm feeling a mother's guilt but honestly I don't like an impersonal tree and this one would feel very impersonal without our favorite Christmas ornaments. We will see. I am becoming my mother, no lie.

On another note, although we bought a car last Saturday, it has yet to leave the drive. The car was previously owned by a disabled person and they do not have to pay tax. So now that we own it, we have to take it to an office to pay the taxes. But first, we had to have the proper insurance paperwork to do that, which we have been waiting for for over a week. Finally it arrived on Saturday. Sigh. I hope to put in reverse by 2009.

Monday, December 1, 2008

A Welcome Surprise

When moving to a new place as we have in the last year, I was sure I would make some new friends. I didn't expect one of the friends I would make would live in the U.S. but D and I worked on a project together this year and in an instant became fast friends. He used to live in the UK and came back here for a visit and the two of us got together on Thanksgiving. He came out to our village in the morning so he could see our place and meet H. Then he and I spent the afternoon in London going to the National Portrait gallery to see the Annie Leibovitz exhibit as well as talking, talking, talking. Sometimes someone can say something to you that you just really needed to hear at that very moment. He has had the experience of working in many countries and was sharing with me how he approached the cultural conflict that can sometimes exist. We had a fabulous day.