Wednesday, October 31, 2018

Foodie Fun

One of the things that we like about visiting someplace new is the food.  Everywhere has it's signature foods and if you stick to the Pizza Huts or McDonald's ( and we know people who do that!) you're missing most of the fun of being someplace different.  I take pics of food so I will remember. Sometimes I try to recreate what I had.

 This is how we started our days.  This is called the English Breakfast.  If you are in a B & B you are automatically served this in the morning.  If you are at a hotel sometimes this is laid out as a buffet and sometimes it's a menu choice but it's always there.  Now, I'm not real thrilled with even being awake at 8 a.m. much less staring down a plate of food that consists of:  two sausages (large sausages), two pieces of English bacon (ham to us), two eggs, a crock of baked beans, mushrooms, two broiled tomatoes (not in this picture because PH already put them on my plate along with the beans) sometimes hash browns and two pieces of toast.  This is followed by a first course of yogurt, fruit and granola. We ate this and then didn't eat again until our evening meal. 
I had never had sticky toffee pudding so when I saw it on the menu at the first place Brian took us, I said I had to try it.  I'm not a 'pudding' person.  It's a texture thing, but when in Rome...
When I spooned into this I said to Brian, "this is cake!"  No, he said, it's pudding.  "But it's cake!" No, he said, it's pudding.  Here pudding is a custard, there it's this delicious warm little cake.  I was won over.
One evening we had a discussion about fruitcake being a staple at Christmas.  Apparently it's baked then soaked then covered and pushed to the back of a cupboard for A YEAR!  What??!!  I told Brian and his sister that here fruitcake is the butt of all jokes.  No one I know eats it. Some have been passed the same one back and forth between families for decades, but no one eats it.  It's a gooey, solid, strange looking brick.  They were very surprised.  For them it's a must at Christmas.  Well.  One day PH and I were walking down the street in a little town and I saw in a window of a pastry shop a variety of yummy looking things.  Yes, I brake for bakeries.  One of the featured goodies was this fruitcake.  I told PH it didn't look like any fruitcake I knew so I had to try it.  I immediately sent an email to Brian telling him it IS delicious.  Kind of like our gingerbread cake with fruits and nuts in it - more cake than brick for sure. It was wonderful and set my mind to thinking of variations of gingerbread for this winter.  I'm a convert.  In my family I'd tell people it's like our aunt Virgie's Boston brown bread. But different.  In a good way.
Yes, I brake for bakeries.  We were walking down the street in another little town and two little old ladies came out of this bakery holding a bag and giggling about the goodness.  I stopped them (I stopped everyone and talked to everyone) and asked what they bought.  "Lardy cake!"  Well, that doesn't even sound a bit healthy.  I mean the first word is "lardy!"  I asked what it was and they couldn't really say other than it's covered with sticky goo and it's sweet and it goes straight to your bum.
So of course I went in.  There was a tray of lardy cake slices and I bought one of those.  I can only describe it as kind of like a baklava but different.  The flake layers weren't flaky but a bit more dense - maybe from sitting in that sticky goo? Some fruit but mostly layers and goo and of course it was delicious.

We were in Windsor on the right day.  The middle market street was full of tents with vendors selling street food and there wasn't anything you could name that wasn't there as a street food. They only do this once a month so we were very lucky.  We make paella often so this stall looked good to us.  The pan was huge. You can just see the cook's hand at the top.  There were several different kinds you could choose from.  As we walked I suggested to PH that on our way out we stop and get something to take back to the hotel.  He ordered paella and I got bubble and squeek. That's potatoes and cabbage cooked together.  I ordered the chicken on top.  

In Port Isaac PH saw a sign board at a little outdoor cafe offering homemade velvet crab soup and he talked about it all morning.  So that was lunch that day.  I had a crab sandwich. He loved the soup. I loved the sandwich.  Fresh caught crab? What's not to like?
In a pub one night I ordered the fish and chips. The fish is one huge piece - like the whole fish!  It comes with mashed peas or whole and I opted out of those.  On our last evening with Brian just before we were to head home we had fish and chips from a fish shop.  He and PH went to pick it up and when they got home I had the table set, beer and wine poured.  As I unrolled the fish from the wrapper and put the chips in a bowl he said, "Fish and chips are meant to be eaten straight out of the newspaper while leaning against a wall." But we were content to eat them off a plate.  It was the perfect English meal for our last night.

Thursday, October 25, 2018


 PH and I just returned from a trip to England!  It was a personal trip, a chance to meet a member of my family that until about six years ago I didn't know existed. That's how it works when you go looking for ancestors. Sometimes you get lucky and find one that's living and even luckier when you can meet. But that's all for another post.  We were there for a wonderful two weeks - everything worked perfectly, even the weather.

Some highlights:
 Liberty of London!  We headed straight for the sewing section and oh, my. Immediately PH found a Husband Chair and let me loose. 
 I really thought I had died and gone to quilter heaven.  I've read posts about lawn and that's the problem with buying fabric online - you want to feel it.  Well, this stuff was like dipping my hands into a bowl of whipped cream.
 I wanted all of it.  Every single bit of it. But at $26 a meter compared to our $12.95 a yard, I had to be choosy.  It was sensory overkill.  I couldn't decide.  I was panicked.  This was just our first foray after arriving. I couldn't spend our entire budget on fabric. One of the very helpful and kind clerks said yes, I could take photos and then showed me the section of fabric that is exclusive to them.  She said others sell Liberty fabrics but no one but them sells the exclusives.  I don't know how, but I bought just 1/2 meter of four fabrics. Can you believe that?  PH also told me to go out to the other room and get a package of fats. And a pair of those cute little scissors that are made in Sheffield. 
 What a doll. He didn't rush me and he paid!!

 We went to the Globe Theater, a rebuild of Shakespeare's theater.  This was a highlight for us. The theater is open to the elements.  There is no roof and they don't cancel a performance for rain. You bought the ticket so you decide if you want to get wet.  The middle section, the cheap(er) seats are for standing.  You stand for the three hour performance and are exposed to the open air.  We are old.  We bought seats but they are little more than church pew wooden.  You can rent a cushion to sit on and we did.  We bought our advance tickets (a must) on the third tier so we were under the overhang and protected from whatever the weather gave us.  In this case it was rain. Yes, it did rain and yes, even the actors are exposed to the weather.  We were undercover in our warm jackets and the play, A Winter's Tale, was great. Shakespeare is very easy to understand if you watch it performed.
 We visited Oxford
 We ate in very old pubs.  I mean come on, Columbus wasn't even born when this place opened up.
 I won't apologize for being a Doc Martin fan and I'm also not groupie enough to think we would see a filming segment, but from watching the show I could see that part of the charm of the program is the setting.  So, we drove to Cornwall and went to Port Isaac and put it in the top 4 of our experiences for the whole trip.  It's too hard to rank them so we just clumped our top four at number one.
 If you know anything about the program you probably notice that when filming at this house they never actually go IN the house.  There is a farmer's barn up the road that has the stage set for indoor scenes.  What we see in the program is the front door open from outside or inside.  If inside, they are at the barn set.  You can go online and look this house up and see what it really looks like.  It is a rental unit so if you are rich enough you can rent this place for a week (or more.) and pretend.  This house is called Fern Cottage.
 This is the part that got to PH in the end.  This is a two lane road coming in to Port Isaac and sometimes the roads are even narrower.  Two lanes of traffic.  I think as he's aged, PH isn't quite as daring or adventurous as he used to be.  After the trip here he wanted to stay for two reasons  1) it's gorgeous and 2) he wanted to NOT be driving.  So we stayed in Port Isaac for two nights, 1.5 days.
The streets are steep.  Very, very, very steep.
 This is part of the ruin of Tintagel, the legendary place where King Arthur was conceived.  Now, I know that this castle was built many hundreds of years after Arthur so he couldn't have been conceived here but there is a Dark Ages ruin beneath these ruins and so the legend is alive.  It isn't proven that he exists but I told Brian, my relative, that I believe in Arthur.  He is my Santa Claus. I believe.
Everywhere here in Cornwall is very steep and we walked everywhere we went. Everywhere.  Here, the paths and tracks and roads were so steep I told PH it was a good thing our shoes were enclosed so we didn't slip right out of them.  By this time in the trip I think our muscle memory was kicking in because while it was steep and long and curving, we didn't care.
While we walked the towns we stopped in we met people who were walking from town to town.  At a bench here we settled down to enjoy the view of the coast and castle juxtaposition and shared that bench with a man who is in the process of walking the entire Cornwall coast. When he has a day or two off work, he walks.

 We spent a day in Windsor
 But this is what I wanted.  I wanted the rolling English hills separated by hedgerows and stone walls not barbed wire.  I wanted stone buildings and grazing sheep. 
 We didn't see any corn and precious few cows.  We saw green, green, green and fat, fluffy sheep. We marveled at the height and thickness of the hedgerows and field upon field of sheep. Old, old, old little towns built on Roman ruins, with streets too narrow for two way traffic but they do it anyway.  We ate in pubs with low ceilings, dark beams holding up uneven walls. We stayed in B & Bs hosted by friendly, helpful people who helped us change our itinerary almost daily as they guided us to interesting places to see. We stayed in a Georgian manor house built in the 1600s and felt pampered.
We met a member of my family, met his family, he is a class act.
We had a perfect trip but there's no place like home.

Friday, October 19, 2018

Evergreen Tidings From the Baumgartners


 Evergreen Tidings from the BaumgartnersEvergreen Tidings From the Baumgartners
       I was all set to not like this book.  I thought it would be a quick read full of silly, but thought it was just what I needed after reading a serious book.  Oh, readers, this is full of surprises. Pleasant surprises. Good surprises. And I surprise myself by already passing on the recommendation to friends to read this one.
     Violet Baumgartner has written a Christmas Letter every year for thirty years, ever since she married Dear Ed and thought it was her duty as a new wife.  This immediately made me think of the Christmas Letters we’ve received over the years.  Letters filled with smiles and pats on the back for all good things that happened during the year.  Christmas Letters are the public face of a family, full of twinkly smiles. But for every public face there is a private face and the truth.
     Violet is determined to make her family, Dear Ed and daughter Cerise, shine to the outside world. There is nothing she can’t handle, nothing she won’t do, no committee she won’t chair to make her world and the people in it shine.
     When we meet Violet she is touting the party of all parties for Dear Ed’s retirement from, God love him, research to make colonoscopies more comfortable for us.  At the party Violet receives the news that is definitely going to tarnish the shine and can’t be denied. No smiley public face is going to fix this one. Nothing to do for it but own it. And in owning it Violet needs to discover if she is capable of letting go of some of her control.  Now, if you know a control freak, you know this is no easy thing.
     Violet’s world is inhabited with sometimes funny but very real people who very much really have to learn to navigate around, through or over her. I found myself laughing at Violet’s view of the world and being grateful I wasn’t in her galaxy.
     I absolutely loved this story.  I loved that it changed my mind about my preconceived idea that I would give it little of myself. I ended up really loving being a part of Violet’s world.  But I still don’t like Christmas Letters.

Tuesday, October 16, 2018

The Library Book

The Library BookThe Library Book by Susan Orlean

      The Library Book by Susan Orlean is terrifying to anyone who loves books.  This is the true story of the fire on August 29, 1986 at the Los Angeles Public Library.  A fire that destroyed hundreds of thousands of books, documents, records, you name it, it was there and it was either destroyed or affected by a fire that blazed for seven hours. Fire, smoke, water, none of these things are good for books.

          While the author takes us there, introduces us to staff and even the main suspect, this isn’t a book so technical you don’t want to read it.  Just the opposite, it’s so completely scary, like any fire, you can’t take your eyes off it.
We are introduced to so much more about libraries, about the books, the system, the people, the history of libraries, if you are a book/library lover, you will plow through this book. I did. 
     I know I’m gushing, but this was fascinating. We meet the politicians, the architects, the patrons. We learn the story of libraries as the anchor to communities and of the lengths librarians around the world will go to bring books to people. We meet the early librarians, hear about the many programs begun for the patrons who are homeless and look to the library for warmth and acceptance and a free place to be.
     I loved the author's reflection at the end that you don’t have to take a book off a shelf to know that there is a voice inside that book waiting to speak to you.  And that behind that book there is someone who wrote it and who truly hopes someone will listen.  Her reflection reminded me of when I was working in a school library and read The Fantastic Flying Books of Mr. Morris Lessmore to second graders and in the end one little boy, the one I would have least expected, said, "Oh, I get it!  Books don't come alive until someone reads them!"  That's what libraries are for.  To watch one burn is heart stopping.
    If you are a book person, you'll love this one.

Sunday, October 14, 2018

Retreat, retreat, retreat!

 Recently we nine had our fall quilt retreat at the beautiful Inn at the Rustic Gate.  We love this place, the innkeepers, and getting together twice a year here to stitch, reconnect and share what we love. I can't imagine retreating with people other than these or anywhere but this Inn.
 This was our 10th anniversary and PH sent along two bottles of champagne to help us celebrate. In the fall we had five days here.  Five days of pampering, five days of unbelievable meals, five days of peace and quiet, five days of plush, oh, and five days of non-stop sewing if that is what you want.  This year Chef Sharon made a special anniversary meal for us on Saturday night:  beef tenderloin (it was so big I thought it was a brontosaurus tenderloin), mashed potatoes, squash, salad, rolls and a cake she makes for us every year that we adore.

We always hope in the fall that we will have weather that allows us to sit outdoors on the porch for awhile.  This year we had two afternoons where the skies cleared and the sun came out.  Not everyone brings hand work but those of us who covet nice weather in the fall and know the days are numbered do.

 And we all know that even if you wear two pairs of glasses
 you can still have those "dammit" moments.

After dinner on our last evening we have show and tell.  This year we had everything from reworked family heirloom quilts to challenges to door hangings to Christmas trees to rugs.  Me? During stitching time I sit in the corner in my chair with feet propped up hand quilting whatever quilt is currently waiting.  I am within one and a half squares of finishing the crow quilt that is hanging over the railing in the first picture. 

This year we are trying something a little different for a sharing project.  We were to bring a piece of pottery, a dish, a cup, a whatever that means something to us.  We put it in a brown paper bag and sealed it.  Then we chose a bag and revealed the piece within and read the note that we included telling why the piece meant something to us or why we chose it.  
 I picked Vicky's bag and this little red truck was inside.  Vicky collects Christmas village scenes and this truck was the first that she bought because it reminded her of her dad.  By next fall I will have made something that reflects the truck, and in Vicky's case, Christmas.  It has to be no more than 72 inches in perimeter.  If I make a square that's 18 inches square but it can be smaller.  Or rectangle. Or circular. 

So now we keep in touch and about four weeks before our spring retreat we will start getting and sending emails that say simply: "Retreat, retreat, retreat!"