Thursday, December 31, 2009

Happy New Year!

I’m finding myself feeling anxious about the New Year, with friends and family affected by the economic situation, I’m hoping this next decade can only go in one direction, up.

A and I will be headed over to the B&B to ring in the New Year as H will be working tonight. To everyone reading this, I hope 2010 brings good things your way.

Reading Material Over Christmas Break

I’ve found myself reading what feels like the masculine and the feminine of a cook’s memoir this Christmas break. The masculine is Marco Pierre White’s autobiography, “The Devil in the Kitchen”. The book chronicles his life as a driven chef, the youngest British chef to be awarded three Michelin stars, and also an emotionally unavailable man who was damaged by the loss of his mother at age 6. The feminine is Julia Child’s “My Life in France”. If you’ve seen Julie and Julia, you have some idea of what that’s about. The book chronicles Julia’s move with her husband to France and how she fell in love with all things French, especially the food. She also was driven but in a less aggressive way than Marco. Julia never took a knife and slashed the uniform of someone that worked in her kitchen when they mentioned the heat, or at least she’s too much of a lady to mention it in her book, haha!

Julia’s experiences in France transformed her and she felt like she had found a new home. I found myself feeling envious of that experience but it’s my mood these days. No, we aren’t having a Julia Child like experience in England but we are having an experience, and it has involved cooking. :)

Coffee or Tea?

My UK work colleagues are amazed when I tell them that I only know one person in the U.S. who has an electric kettle and that coffeemakers are pretty prevalent in U.S. homes. More than one person has said to me, “Well then how do you make tea?”

Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Happy Anniversary

Today is our 20th wedding anniversary, hard to believe. If someone would have told us where this adventure would take us for 20 years, I don’t think we would have believed it. H has to work so last night after I picked him up from work, we opened a bottle of cava for a toast. We’re planning a celebratory family dinner in London on Saturday.

Sunday, December 27, 2009

Boxing Day Bread Lesson

All is quiet on Boxing Day. I asked H if he would teach me how to make bread so we spent the afternoon doing that. We started with a white loaf, then H made a fruit loaf which had dried figs, dates, cherries, cranberries and toasted walnuts, and then finished with a brown loaf. We used a lot of spelt flour and recently stocked up on some flour that was milled locally. I sliced and froze most of the loaves, and what wasn’t frozen made for a delicious dinner paired with the Christmas Day ham. Here’s some pics from the yeast to the finished product.

Friday, December 25, 2009

American Exports

H had a friend in culinary school from Greece who was way into Harley Davidsons. When I met him at one of the school events he had on jeans and a black Harley Davidson t-shirt. He was making small talk with A about music and he asked her if he had ever seen the film Almost Famous. We all started laughing remembering the scene in the film where they think their plane is going to crash. Harley Davidsons and Almost Famous, who knew they could be so universal?

I was thinking about that this week when I was talking to a colleague in Spain. After we finished up the business conversation we got to talking about taking time off this time of year. He told me that their big holiday was the 6th of January where they celebrate Reyes. I asked if this was the same thing as Epiphany and he said yes but no one calls it Epiphany, that’s too posh, they call it reyes for the kings. “But because of the Americans we have kids now expecting gifts on Christmas Eve too”. I laughed because unless there’s some secret mission happening, we aren’t purposefully going out and asking people to celebrate the holidays we celebrate, especially when not all Americans celebrate Christmas. What’s funny is that my colleague is a huge fan of gangsta rap, also from the U.S. If I was going to be upset about an import it would be gangsta rap, not Santa Claus.

The Christmas Season

After working ½ day yesterday, I am now in holiday mode until the 4th, A is off until the 5th and H until the 28th. We have nothing big planned and with the wintery weather and travel problems in Europe I am really glad we are just staying put. A’s friends seem puzzled by our lack of rigid holiday schedule, not needing to be anywhere or do anything but I guess that has always been our tradition, and after talking to a work colleague who seemed angry and stressed that they have somewhere they need to be over the holidays, I am glad of it.

This year once again I tried to get them interested in going to Royal Albert Hall for the Christmas carols and A informed me that she “hates Christmas music”. I don’t know how that happened. Is this a phase?

Here’s a picture of a cake that A made and decorated for a gathering with her friends at school.

To all, have a peaceful and happy holiday season.

Thursday, December 24, 2009

Same Trail with Snow

Christmas miracles do occur.  With little coaxing A went for a winter walk with me on Sunday.

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

White Christmas

The winter weather has been more severe in the Southeast than usual. There’s a skeleton crew in the office due to the pending holidays and also because of the weather, a lot of people chose to work from home. My day always starts to get hectic about 2pm when America wakes up and Monday was no exception. I had calls back to back to back. As I chatted on the phone, members of the skeleton crew came by one by one to wave goodbye to me as they left for the day. I wasn’t in any hurry since I was taking the tube home and thought I was the safest of all. H called me around 7pm to say that he and A had gone to the grocery store and had been stuck in the car for about 2 hours trying to get home as the snow continued to fall. I joked with him later that if I would have thought quick enough I would have called him back with some awkward conversation topics to hit her with since she was a captive audience. All those things you want to seriously talk to your child about without them being able to exit a room wait for a good snowstorm!

I headed to the station around 7:30pm and service was suspended. H had told me that I better call the B&B to see if they had a room available for the night. I called and found out that L was stuck in a neighbouring village after sitting in traffic for three hours and that P had had numerous knocks on the door from people looking for rooms. L told me to go on to the house though if I needed to. They would find a place for me. I appreciated the gesture but I just wanted to be home. What’s crazy is that the train journey is eight minutes long but to walk that would probably be at least two hours in good weather. At the last minute they decided to send one train down to London before service was cancelled. We all cheered as we boarded the train. I think I got home a little before 10pm and was so happy to be there.

Random Food Stuff

Want the secret to weight loss? Work five days a week for at least 15 hours a day in a kitchen. H is becoming the incredible shrinking man, which makes me wonder, are they hiring? :)

Recently I read an article in one of the London commuter papers that said that the number one job that people would consider if making a career change was cooking. Now, this survey was conducted at a grocery store so I think their sample might be a little skewed. But watching someone go through that very change makes me think that all of the cooking competitions and the reality shows on television give an unrealistic view of the life of a chef.

H has been making bread at home practicing for work. We’ve both been reading Richard Bertinet’s books about breadmaking. H tried Bertinet’s techniques and said it’s a workout. If you make the bread his way you could probably eat all you wanted. The bread is delicious but even if I never ate a bite, that smell throughout the house is heavenly.

Here’s a new favourite recipe that I tried last weekend. I’m always looking for a good one pot meal and this was great over couscous.

Through blogger I stumbled upon this blog written by an American chef living in Australia. His pics are absolutely gorgeous and the posts are very interesting. If you’re into cooking, check it out.

Saturday, December 19, 2009

The Battle for the Christmas Number One

I have mentioned the Christmas Number One phenomenon here in the past, but there is a funny thing happening in the UK this year regarding the Christmas Number One. Simon Cowell created a machine in the UK, a television show called X-Factor that is similar to American Idol. The show wraps up close to Christmas which is no surprise. This guarantees that the winner will have the number one record for Christmas. Unlike American Idol, this song is usually a cover, not an original song written for the newly crowned winner and this year the winner Joe McElderry singing The Climb. Someone started a Facebook campaign to put another song at Number One and they chose Rage Against the Machine’s Killing In the Name. Why this song? It’s a modern protest song and contains the words “F*** you I won’t do what you tell me” over and over again at the end.

The media of course is eating this battle up with a spoon. Cheryl Cole, one of the judges on the X-Factor says she would find it disgraceful if an American band had the Christmas Number One. Cheryl must not have ever looked at the historical list because a few Americans, including Elvis, have had the Christmas number one in the past. Rage Against the Machine, who got dragged into this by the couple who started the Facebook campaign, appeared on one of the BBC radio stations this week to play the song. This is where it gets hilarious because they were asked to cut out the expletives but when it came to them playing the song they ignored the requested and F-bombs were dropped on the air. Did they really think a band that sings “F*** you I won’t do what you tell me” about 20 times in a song would do what they told them?

I can’t vote in this country but I did buy a copy of Rage Against the Machine’s song this week to help them in the charts. I don’t particularly like them but I can’t stand how orchestrated the Christmas Number One has become thanks to Mr. Cowell, who recently said in an interview that he doesn’t particularly like music.

We're Losing Her

H & I joke about the fact that slowly, the transformation in our house continues. A had a friend over last week and her friend said that when A talks to me, she talks with an American accent.

The London Transport System Gets Us There

Trains to Wembley ran without a hitch last night so we made the show. There were three bands playing, the first from Nashville, Tennessee, the second from England, and then the headliner, Paramore, also from Tennessee. This music that A likes, I guess I’d call it power pop/punk (?), is male-dominated. While it’s not my thing, it was great to see Hayley Williams, lead singer of Paramore in that environment. She has the pipes and she had that sold out arena (boys and girls) up on their feet singing along with every word.

Girls rule!

Friday, December 18, 2009

It's a Nail-Biter

Early Christmas present for A tonight, tickets to see Paramore at Wembley Arena.  As the winter weather warnings began yesterday, she got increasingling upset.  Will we make it?  So far while her school is closed and she's home making a snowman, the train lines still look good.  Here are some pics from my journey in this morning.

Thursday, December 17, 2009

No, I'll Walk

Oh, I feel so virtuous in the mornings when I decide to walk to the train station instead of taking H's offer to drop me off in front of the station.  Look at me!  I'm saving the environment!  I'm making healthier choices!

Except when it's freezing cold and there's ice on the sidewalks and I shuffle home in the winter dark cursing to myself the whole way. 

Hopefully it all evens out.  ;)

Sunday, December 13, 2009

Can't Get Enough of the Sunshine

On my walk today I went down a familiar path which passes some cows usually separated from me with a barbed wire fence. To my surprise today, one of the cows was on my side of the fence. I got the stare down as you can see.

A woman that I passed along the trail commented on the mud, but we both agreed, getting out in the sunshine was worth it!

Saturday, December 12, 2009

Christmas Party!

A went with me as my date for the Christmas party last night as H was working. A experienced her first Christmas cracker and was made to wear the hat that was tucked inside. Here’s the joke that was also inside:

What’s long and green and always points north?

A magnetic cucumber

The Tourist's London

We had a visitor at work a few weeks back so we did some touristy things. Wow, if you get off the tube at Westminster where Big Ben is located, it is crazy with tourists! Had the opportunity to go on the London Eye, which I am glad I experienced, but for the price won’t be doing that again! Also walked over past Downing Street and Cavalry Museum.

A New Opportunity

H moved restaurants a few weeks ago. It’s a move into fine dining and it is closer to home so that’s an added bonus. His shifts are long, starting at nine in the morning and not ending until after midnight. A and I stayed up the first night to hear how it went. At one point he was explaining a dish he was plating which had about eight different components on it. As he began A was in the room. She left the room and came back several minutes later and he was still explaining the same dish. Upon her return she said, “Why do you spend so much time on something that will be eaten in thirty seconds?” As H says, “Out of the mouth of babes...”.

They had an event at his restaurant Sunday night and I went up and met him so I got a tour of the place, got to meet his boss as well as Jean-Christophe Novelli who came by for support. Chef Novelli has a new show that is airing on Bravo in the U.S. called Chef Academy.

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

More Christmas Lights in London

I took these after a work event in London last week. 

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Wait, they don't love you like I love you...

Last Tuesday night A and I escaped to Brixton to see the Yeah Yeah Yeahs. I’ve been loving their latest record all year so it was a treat to myself to get to see them live. It was fun to photograph them too.

Monday, December 7, 2009


Saturday A got a chance to go with her friend to an Arsenal football game. Her friend’s family has season tickets. I don’t think A realized what a privilege it was to be invited until she arrived home and my friend N buried his face in the program and couldn’t stop talking about it. As soccer is the only sport she has ever played herself, she actually knew the rules. She can check a quintessential European experience off of her list!

Dinner Party

My buddy N from the B&B who moved back to New Zealand is here until the first week of January. We had him and his girlfriend J over for dinner Saturday night with my work colleague H who also lived at the B&B and her boyfriend. I had been busy with work and errands so I didn’t even ask H what he was planning to cook. He made everything from scratch, and it was outstanding. Not that I need any new favourite fattening dishes but he made a chicken liver pate with berries that was really delicious. When he brought out individual chocolate lava cakes with raspberry sauce and homemade ice cream the conversation ceased as even the person who said they weren’t crazy about chocolate ate every bite. Can’t do that often, but it was sure delicious and fun!

One Long Ramble

Depression is the name of the game right now. I don’t know if it’s the holiday season or a combination of other factors but I find myself on the weekends staring off into space, not accomplishing anything but self-analysis to the point that I make myself sick...of myself!

The weather has turned rainy and cold, not a good combination. I find myself wondering why is it so easy to stick with a bad habit, yet the good ones fall by the wayside in a matter of days. Exercise! Stick!

I’ve been baking some Christmas cookies to take as gifts to work. It’s the first time I’ve been able to do that in a few years and I am enjoying it. Even more reason to get the exercise program going regularly.

I was feeling down a few weeks ago thinking about expectations and work and things ending up differently than I expected here and H said to me that if we left tomorrow, he’d think the move was still a success. My first reaction was disagreement, but after I thought about it for awhile, it is true.

I got some bad news from home this week. A dear family friend, someone who has been like a second mother to me and my brothers passed away. It’s strange hearing that news and being so far away because without being able to go and grieve, it feels like it really didn’t happen.

I figure this pity party may last until December 31st but no longer. New decade, new attitude.