Out & About in London – October 2016

My parents visited F and me in London for five days this month. Luckily, their visit coincided with both a chorus concert and Half Term, which meant no teaching duties for me and so the ability to take a few days off work. It was fun to be a bit of a tourist around London for a few days — I hadn’t done that in a while. Here’s what we got up to, including pictures.

Bletchley Park

A co-worker of mine recommended visiting Bletchley Park as a nice day trip outside of London. My parents wanted to get out of the city for a day, and it turned out that Bletchley Park was an easy train ride away from Euston Station. In case you don’t know, Bletchley Park is where the British Government Code and Cipher School (CG&CS) set up their codebreaking endeavors during World War II. CG&CS recruited bright young minds from Oxford and Cambridge to work machines, translate, and cipher/encipher/decipher enemy codes, the most famous of which being the Enigma code. Alan Turing, perhaps made better known recently by the movie The Imitation Game, led a team in developing the Bombe Machine to help crack the Enigma code.

Bletchley Park is centered around a mansion on lovely grounds surrounded by lots of “huts,” where various teams were set up to work on codebreaking projects. It was a lovely day when we went, which made for pleasant wandering in and out of huts and learning about what went on at Bletchley Park. There’s also a very detailed museum, which we didn’t spend much time in, having already become saturated by the information in the mansion and huts. It was a nice and informative day out and I’d recommend it.

Dinner at Ottolenghi Islington

Eating at Ottolenghi has been near the top of my “to eat in London” list for a while. We’ve got one of Ottolenghi’s cookbooks — Plenty, or Genussvoll vegetarisch in our German version — that I’ve enjoyed using at times. A few friends recommended the Islington restaurant, and my parents, who love trying new restaurants, were game!

Ottolenghi Islington has cold salads and desserts in the front window and operates a bustling (upscale) takeaway business. The restaurant consists of two long, communal tables and a handful of small two-person tables. The decor is more modern than I expected, but I quite liked the simplicity with splashes of color. The menu consists of small plates that are conducive to sharing — I love this kind of eating, because I get to try a few bites of a lot of dishes! We ordered eight dishes for the four of us, which was plenty and allowed us to save room for the delicious desserts. Dinner highlights for me were: the beetroot and cumin mash, the cauliflower, the braised artichoke and fennel, the pork belly, and the octopus. The almond financier cake for dessert was incredible.

National Portrait Gallery

Looking for something to do before afternoon tea (see below), I suggested to my parents that we pop into the National Portrait Gallery for an hour or so. I had never been there before, and to be honest was not sure I’d like it — how interesting can it be to look at a bunch of dead people’s painted portraits? Turns out, it’s fascinating! We stuck to the 19th and 20th century displays, and they did not disappoint. It was cool to see painted portraits of famous historical figures, from statesmen to the first woman admitted to the British Medical Association to authors like Dickens and Hardy. There was a small but powerful photograph of Virginia Woolf’s husband (or maybe father? I can’t remember) in the foreground with an out-of-focus but so obviously Virginia Woolf in the background. Wow.

My favorite part of the Portrait Gallery was a temporary exhibition, “Black Chronicles: Photographic Portraits 1862-1948.” It was incredibly moving to see such dignified, soulful photographs from the early-ish days of photography. There is something much deeper about photographic portraits from 100+ years ago: carefully composed poses and backdrops, and no cheesy smiles, as people had to hold poses for a long time for the exposure. It is a stunning exhibition and highly recommended.

Afternoon Tea at The Delaunay

My mom suggested that we go out for a proper afternoon tea, like we did a couple of years ago when my parents spent time in London. And who am I to refuse afternoon tea? I had The Delaunay on my list as a well-reviewed (but I can’t remember by whom!) and affordable afternoon tea spot. We each ordered the full Afternoon Tea — my dad and I with scones, and my mom with Gugelhupf (remember that from Bake Off last year?).

Two tea towers (what are they actually called?) arrived, chock full with sweets and savories. The tea also came with brilliant straining devices that had solid bottoms to catch drips when you put them back on the table. It’s the little things! I have a big sweet tooth, but surprisingly I ended up preferring the savories at The Delaunay. The smoked duck sandwich had a great blend of flavors, and I could have eaten five of the cheese puff/choux flatbread-like things sandwiched with cream cheese. The fruit scones were deliciously light and balanced. I found most of the cakes a bit too sweet, although the pistachio financier with poppy seeds and orange cream was really nice. The Delaunay’s afternoon tea selection was very generous, and the three of us agreed that next time we’d only get two full tea menus plus a couple of extra scones.

Wicked

In addition to afternoon tea and a day out of London, my parents wanted to see at least one theatre show. We settled on Wicked, the music of which I knew thanks to my Oberlin housemate Claire, who introduced me to the soundtrack in college. But I didn’t know the story that links the songs together (other than that it’s about the Wicked Witch of the West). 

Well, the musical was brilliant. Along with the hits like “Defying Gravity,” “No Good Deed,” and “For Good,” Wicked actually has a relatively complex plot with a good deal of character development and many messages about trust, friendship, love, and self-regard. The cast was great, with Suzie Mathers and Rachel Tucker more than living up to my expectations as Glinda and Elphaba, respectively. They had personality, depth, and great singing voices — I got chills more than a couple of times.


Race Recap: Jubilee Hall Trust 10k, Hampstead Heath

Ah, Hampstead Heath, you are one of my absolute favorite places in London. Being on the Heath is like being in a different world; you can forget that you live in a metropolis of 8 million+ people. Sheer bliss.

View from Parliament Hill in July 2016.

View from Parliament Hill in July 2016.

And in this case, a bit of healthy pain to go with that bliss. F and I tromped over to Parliament Hill on a gray and windy Saturday morning for the Jubilee Hall Trust “Run for your life” 10k trail race. J ran it last year and convinced me to sign up, then had to miss it due to another commitment, so F was able to run in her place. The group of 100-odd 10k runners had a low-key feel, with only a handful of us wearing club jerseys. It’s nice to run a race with a lot of “normal” runners from the community sometimes — a bit like the Crouch End 10k.

Pre-race

Pre-race

The course started at the bottom of Parliament Hill, near the athletics track. One of the race marshals led a remarkably effective 5-minute warmup just before the start; it did more to warm us up than the slow 4-minute jog F and I took. Then we were off for two 5km laps of Parliament Hill. (Side note: a few of us only had 9.3km on our Garmins after the race, so we’re not sure it was a full 10km long.) Distance discrepancies aside, it was a tough course: undulating, uneven terrain — mostly trails — up and around the Heath. Luckily the ground was dry, and the cool, breezy weather was actually welcome once we got going.

jubileehalltrust10k-pace

As you can see from my splits, the hills definitely affected the pace. F and I had agreed to run the first 7-8km together — it’s great to have a partner you can be active with! — and then if one of us was feeling good towards the end, (s)he could pick it up. That ended up being F, as I felt pretty knackered after about 7km; I managed to pick my pace up for the last kilometer or so, but it wasn’t quite enough to catch him!

Overall, I’m pleased with my run (50:18) and was happy to treat the race as: 1) a way to spend time with F after a busy week, 2) my “long” run for the week, 3) good general training, and 4) a preview to cross country season! Running on the Heath is one of the great joys of living in north London, and it was F’s first time doing so, which made it extra special to look around and take in the woodland beauty.


 

Birthday Wisdom 2016

Another year older, another birthday reflection post! I turned 28 this week and F baked me the best cake anyone has ever made me:

IMG_2976

Last year I wrote about completing an MA and DELTA and starting a new full-time job. I offered a word of wisdom on prioritizing and finding balance. This past year has tested those words of wisdom on more than one occasion, but I like to think I tried my best to stick to them.

Looking back on this year, I’m coming up on two years as an ESOL and Functional Skills English teacher to migrant women in a deprived area of east London. I’ve taken on responsibility as a line manager and am completing a leadership and management course through work to help me develop in those areas. Teaching continues to bring its joys and challenges; switching to a new exam board for our ESOL courses has helped our students’ achievement rates, but there are still kinks to work out. I have an incredible set of colleagues, inspirational women all.

Ready to get married! 8 April 2016. Photo credit: Fotomanufaktur Wessel (www.fotomanufaktur-wessel.de)

Ready to get married! 8 April 2016. Photo credit: Fotomanufaktur Wessel (www.fotomanufaktur-wessel.de)

This year was big because F and I got married! It felt like the right time. He proposed last summer on Cape Cod, a memorable and meaningful spot for my family and for us, with fond memories of cycling, swimming, running, pastry eating, and relaxing. We got married in Germany this April, in a small civil ceremony with parents by our sides.

This past year has also seen a good deal of choral singing, with highlights being Rachmaninov’s Vespers at St. John’s College Chapel, Cambridge; Mozart’s Mass in C minor; Bach’s Mass in B minor; and even recording a Christmas CD. F and I saw Steven Isserlis in a solo recital and we attended a few other concerts, theatre and musical theatre productions. We must take advantage of London cultural life while we can!

Running and sport(s) have been up and down. I did run a 5k PR/PB last September  but slowed down after that, due to busyness and stress in other aspects of life. I’m currently focusing on rebuilding my running fitness base and starting to incorporate speedwork again. I also did my first multisport event this past year: a team duathlon! It was a blast and I could see myself doing more run-bike-run events in the future.

Recent political events in the UK/EU and the USA made me gravitate towards the following quote as my word of wisdom for this year:

We all have a responsibility to now seek to heal the divisions that have emerged throughout this campaign – and to focus on what unites us, rather than that which divides us.

-Sadiq Khan, Mayor of London, after the ‘Brexit’ vote

With that, I wish you all a tolerant year of unity.

(Belated) Birthday Wisdom 2015

A recent picture of me, sunning in the Cotswolds

A recent picture of me, sunning in the Cotswolds

Last week was my “golden birthday” of turning 27 on the 27th — only happens once! Things have been busy around here so I haven’t had a chance to sit down and reflect on my 27th year until now.

Last year I wrote about settling into London life; this past year has brought more of that but from a different perspective.

After finishing my MA in English in September, I started my first “real” (i.e., full-time) job as an ESOL teacher at the Women’s Project of a charity in London’s Borough of Tower Hamlets. Perhaps stupidly, at the same time I embarked upon four months of DELTA training; the “part-time” course plus a 9-5 job brought my working hours per week up to about 60. Somehow I got through (and passed), but I wouldn’t recommend doing a DELTA while working full time. Over the year I have grown and developed as a teacher, drawing on my training and past experience while sometimes resorting to good ol’ trial-and-error.

This year there were also a stressful couple of weeks in January when the UK Border Agency almost deported me (for unfounded reasons)… Luckily, a lawyer and my workplace intervened in time to secure me a work visa.

I haven’t run many road races — and no cross-country races — since June 2014 but I have run two PR/PBs, at the 10k and 10 mile distances. My commute to work is almost 8 miles each way on the bike, which is great for maintenance and base fitness.

If I were to offer a brief word of wisdom this year, it would be this:

Prioritize the important things/people/activities in your life — the things that make you the happiest and best person you can be — and use those priorities to find balance.

With that, I wish you all a balanced and peaceful year.

Walking the Cotswold Way

IMG_0741

My parents visited F and me in the UK a couple weeks ago and took us northwest of London for a glorious five days of walking in the Cotswolds. The Cotswold Way consists of 102 miles of trails, starting at Chipping Campden in the north and finishing at Bath in the south. We spent four and a half days traversing half of the Cotswold Way north-to-south, from Chipping Campden to just above Stroud.

While we could’ve carried our stuff with us, my parents booked through a company that provided us with maps and route descriptions for each day’s walk and transported our luggage to a new B&B or guest house every night. The route descriptions also included lunch and dinner recommendations, so all we needed to take with us each day on the trail were the maps and small day packs. Very civilized.

I’ve written a short recap of each day below, but to save repetition let me just say that the Cotswold Way winds through many fields, pastures, meadows, and wooded trails. There were lots of sheep — some shorn, some wooly — along with the occasional herd of cows or horses. Bucolic England at its best.

Day 1: Chipping Campden to Stanton
  • 8:00am: Breakfast at the Lygon Arms, our hotel in Chipping Campden. Delicious porridge, fruit, and yogurt for me; home-boiled ham and eggs for F; smoked salmon and scrambled eggs for my dad (T); poached eggs and toast for my mom (D).
  • 9:35am: Let the walking commence! Over hill and dale…well, through field and meadow and over stile. It took us just over 3 hours to walk the 5.5-6 miles to the town of Broadway; a leisurely, conversational pace of about 2 miles per hour.
  • 1:00pm: Best lunch of the week at the Market Pantry in Broadway. Goat cheese and caramelized onion tarts and a chicken, bacon, and leek pot pie. Fresh salads all around and a few bites of a lovely lemon curd cake to finish it off and fuel us for the rest of the day.
  • 2:00pm: Walking up across a ridge and down into a vale to the tiny village of Stanton. We racked up a little extra mileage trying to find our B&B but it took us just over 2 hours for the last 4-5 miles.
  • We stayed in The Old Post House — a large, old house with a gorgeous garden owned by a friendly (and very well-off) couple.

Highlights of the day: Lunch at the Market Pantry and our B&B’s flat-faced cats that enjoyed licking F’s hand and sneaking into our rooms.

Day 2: Stanton to Cleeve Hill

The walking distance for this day had been advertised as 15 miles but ended up as “only” 12.2. It was quite a hilly day through lots of lovely meadows, fields, and farm roads, and past a manor house. Lunch was jacket potatoes with various toppings in Winchcombe followed by coffee/tea and lemon polenta cake. We  skipped Sudeley Castle & Gardens in favor of getting back on the Cotswold Way after lunch.

The day’s walking ended with a trek across Cleeve Hill Golf Course: knobby, rugged, windy, and sheep-filled! We unpacked at Cleeve Hill House Hotel near Cheltenham (famous for its horse racing and steeplechasing) for the first of two nights there.

Highlights of the day: F petted a pony and my mom was butted by a sheep… F also impressed us with his flower and plant identification skills (hooray for biologists). I took a lovely hot bath before bed.

Day 3: Cleeve Hill to Seven Springs

Lovely trails on this part of the route: up and along Cleeve Hill Common/Golf Course, quite a few wooded trails, lots of ascending! We finished our walk at Seven Springs were driven back to Cleeve Hill.

8.3 miles on the Cotswold Way (with a tasty Indian lunch) plus a little strolling in Cheltenham brought us to around 5 hours of walking and 9.65 miles in total. F returned to London in the evening, leaving my parents and me to do one and a half more days of walking together.

Highlights of the day: Walking along the ridge of Cleeve Hill Common/Golf Course in the morning for some amazing views.

Day 4: Crickley Hill to Painswick

Our second-biggest walking day: 12 miles in total, mostly through forests on lovely wooded paths. It was nice to be less exposed — expect for the first bit, up on a hill in the wind — and to walk on some soft and peaceful paths. I even ran for 25 minutes/2.6 miles in the morning. We walked across another blustery golf course near Painswick and had some great views throughout the day.

Walking 8 miles before a late lunch at the Royal William Pub certainly worked up our appetites: pie and chips was the only logical choice! We spent our last night in the quirky Cardynham House Hotel in the village of Painswick.

Highlights of the day: Great views from Crickley Hill. Running in the woods and walking on forest paths. I even spotted a young buck at one point, but he bounded away before I could get a picture.

Day 5: Painswick to (Almost) Stroud

After four days of perfect walking weather — partial sun and cool enough not to sweat — the weather gods of course sent us rain on our last morning. D, T, and I had a wet morning: drizzle starting out turned into steady, medium-hard rain. Walking in the rain builds character, right? The trail consisted of some meadows from Painswick and more lovely woodland trails around Haresfield Beacon. I think we walked about 6 miles on this last morning before catching the train back to London.

Highlights of the day: Feeling hardy while walking through meadows in the rain — the grayness certainly brightened up all the colors around us.

In sum, I’d highly recommend walking the Cotswold Way. It is well-signed, towns and villages are well-fortified with food and lodging options, and it is wonderful to have nothing to do but walk every day. F and I particularly enjoyed getting out of London for a few days to disconnect and appreciate the glorious English countryside. Thanks to D&T for taking us on a great trip.

———

At the Theatre: English National Opera’s “The Pirates of Penzance”

I grew up attending the occasional community theatre production of Gilbert and Sullivan operettas, the most memorable being HMS Pinafore, The Mikado, and The Pirates of Penzance. That’s partly why discount TimeOut London tickets to the English National Opera (ENO) production of The Pirates of Penzance caught my eye. Even better, the dates coincided with my parents’ visit to London last week. My parents always enjoy a bit of theatre and music — after all, they’re the ones who dragged me to those community productions as a kid — so I snapped up some Saturday matinee tickets for Pirates. As if I needed further incentive, I also hadn’t yet been to see the ENO. Here’s my mini review of the production.

———

The ENO’s The Pirates of Penzance was hilarious and good fun all around. We all liked the colorful, minimalist stage set: bold orange, green, and blue sliding half-circles, stairs, and a half moon “ship” worked effectively and kept the focus on the acting and singing.

Vocally, Claudia Boyle’s Mabel stole the show. Her effortless runs, pure tone, and range were particularly evident in the first half’s “Poor Wandering One.” The female chorus — playing the Major General’s daughters — produced a lovely one-voiced sound, and the male choruses (the pirates and the constables) were also strong.

While the singing was solid all around, unfortunately Robert Murray’s acting as Frederic was flat and couldn’t match Boyle’s comic timing as Mabel. Luckily, Jonathan Lemalu’s performance as the Sergeant of Police was spot-on and complete with a great Cornish accent; the character worked well alongside Rebecca de Pont Davies’ comically tragic Ruth.

David Parry led the orchestra well through the light and hummable score, although occasionally it took a few measures for the orchestra and singer(s) to settle into the same tempo.

I hadn’t seen a Gilbert and Sullivan operetta since before my days of musicology courses in college. With a much greater knowledge of 19th-century opera, I really appreciated the parodies of Romantic opera that Gilbert and Sullivan slip into Pirates: the overdone melodrama, impossible-to-fulfill promises, and an improbably (but pleasingly) happy ending.

In short, The Pirates of Penzance makes for a hilarious, rollicking afternoon and I’d highly recommend that you see the ENO’s production before its run ends.

———

Recipe: Dianne’s Cranberry Cake

For me, Thanksgiving is not complete without something cranberry-ey, and all the better if cranberries appear in multiple guises: in my family, they usually appear in cranberry sauce, a surprisingly delicious jello “salad,” and this incredible cranberry upside-down cake.

IMG_0055

Ever since I can remember, my mom has made this cranberry cake for Thanksgiving — and often for Christmas, too, on my request. For me, it is an inseparable part of Thanksgiving and of the wintry holiday season in general. There’s something about that combination of whole cranberries baked into an orangey cake batter and topped with homemade whipped cream that puts a smile on everyone’s face.

Thanksgiving is my favorite holiday and it’s one of the things I miss most about not living closer to home. Since Thanksgiving’s not celebrated in the UK, it’s hard to take off that random week in November. Last year, we had a lovely Thanksgiving celebration with Sarah and Joe, but alas they’re back in the US of A now (miss you guys!). F and I were going to try and host our own Thanksgiving this year, but my all-consuming DELTA course and various other scheduling conflicts mean it probably won’t happen.

But that doesn’t mean I can’t make some of my favorite Thanksgiving recipes! With the holiday coming up on Thursday and the DELTA course starting to taper off (less than 2 weeks & 3 assignments to go…), I decided to spend a rainy Sunday afternoon in the warm kitchen making cranberry cake.

IMG_0044

IMG_0048

The cake is pretty easy to put together: pour some cranberries into a well-buttered cake pan, whip up the thick batter, spread it over the cranberries and bake! With luck, you’ll be able to invert your cake without incident and spread it with some warm jam for a finishing touch. Mine turned out a bit on the rustic side, as I used a springform cake pan which is a little bigger than your standard round cake tin — the cake was thus a bit thinner and stickier. I probably could’ve baked it for a little less time, but it still turned out deliciously and tasted exactly like it should. Go make it and you’ll know what I mean.

IMG_0058

Dianne’s Cranberry (Upside-Down) Cake (my mom’s recipe, adapted years ago from a Gourmet magazine; makes 1 cake)

Ingredients

  • Cranberries:
    • 3 tbsp unsalted butter
    • 1/2 cup granulated sugar
    • 1lb/16oz/500g fresh (or frozen) whole cranberries, rinsed, picked over & dried
  • Cake batter:
    • 1.25 cups all purpose (plain) flour
    • 1.5 tsp baking powder
    • 1/4 tsp salt
    • 6 tbsp unsalted butter, softened
    • 1/2 cup granulated sugar
    • 1 egg
    • 1 tsp vanilla extract
    • zest of 1 orange
    • 1/2 cup milk (I used semi-skimmed)
  • Topping (optional):
    • 1/3 cup currant or other closely-related jam/jelly (I used F’s mom’s black currant jam, as that’s what we had)

Procedure

  • Preheat the oven to 350F (175C).
  • Butter a round cake pan with the 3 tbsp butter. Sprinkle the 1/2 cup of sugar evenly over the butter, and pour in the rinsed and dried cranberries.
  • In a medium bowl, whisk together the flour, baking powder, and salt.
  • In a separate bowl, cream together the butter, sugar, egg, vanilla, and orange until well-combined.
  • Alternate adding the 1/2 cup milk and flour mixture to the butter-egg mixture, beating until well-combined. The batter will be quite thick.
  • Spread the batter over the cranberries, sealing the edges and smoothing the top.
  • Bake for 1 hour, until the top is well-browned. Let cool for 20 minutes, then run a knife around the edge of the cake and invert onto a platter.
  • Heat the jam (if using) in a saucepan, then brush it over the top of the cake. Top with homemade whipped cream, if desired (plain yogurt is also nice, for the more health-conscious out there), and enjoy warm or at room temperature.

Enjoy!

Recipe: Whole Grain Bread

This bread was the third new recipe I tried over the (now long-past) August Bank Holiday weekend. After making stuffed flatbreads on Saturday and peach crisp on Sunday, I dedicated Monday to my first attempt at making/baking bread from scratch!

IMG_5887

After perusing many a bread recipe and reading tips from various blogs, I settled on this recipe from smitten kitchen (without the cinnamon swirl). Overall, the bread making process was enjoyable — if you have a free few hours, it’s fun to set and re-set the timer to wait/watch the bread proof, knead it a bit, then start to smell it as it bakes. Satisfying, too, to turn out your very own loaf from the pan.

risen & ready for the oven

risen & ready for the oven

In terms of the bread itself, I was very pleased with the taste — nicely wheat-y with some added depth from the rye flour. The crust, however, was disappointingly soft. I think that’s due to my novice bread making skills (or lack thereof), as further reading enlightened me to the fact that for a crustier bread I must bake it free-form and with some added steam in the oven. Note to self for next time! F professed to enjoy this loaf regardless, even though he also prefers a crustier and less crumbly bread.

just add butter

just add butter

Whole-Grain Bread (adapted from smitten kitchen; makes 1 loaf)

Ingredients

  • .63 cups warm water
  • 150g lukewarm milk
  • 25g (2 tbsp) brown sugar
  • 7g (.75 tbsp) instant yeast
  • 28g (1/8 cup) sunflower oil
  • 1 egg, beaten
  • 318g (2.5 cups) whole wheat flour
  • 60g rye flour
  • 10g cornmeal
  • 10g wheat germ
  • 7g (1 tsp) salt

Procedure:

  • Make bread dough: in a large mixing bowl, whisk together water, milk, sugar, & yeast until everything dissolves. Add the oil and half of the beaten egg, and whisk to combine. In another bowl, whisk together the flours, cornmeal, wheatgerm, & salt. Add to the wet mixture and stir with a wooden spoon (or with a paddle in an electric machine) for 1 minute.
  • Let dough rest for 5 minutes.
  • Now mix the dough for 2 minutes, either with a wooden spoon or with a dough hook on medium-low (machine). The dough will become firm and smoother yet stickier and more supple. If it is very wet, add flour a spoonful at a time. Conversely, if it’s quite stiff, add water a spoon at a time. Keep mixing for 4 more minutes.
  • Turn the dough out onto a floured counter. Knead it a few times then gather it into a ball. Cover the dough with the empty bowl (upended) and let rest for 10 minutes. Repeat the knead + 10-minut rest process 2 more times.
  • Proof/prove dough: lightly oil a large bowl and place the dough in it. Cover the bowl with plastic wrap and let it proof/prove for 60-70 minutes at room temperature or until it has doubled in size. (You can also proof/prove it overnight in the fridge.) While this is happening, lightly grease a loaf pan.
  • Form loaves: turn the dough out onto a floured counter and form it loosely into the shape of your loaf pan. Place it in the loaf pan.
  • Proof/prove #2: cover the loaf pan with lightly greased plastic wrap and let the bread proof/prove for 45-60 minutes at room temperature, or until it has risen to about 1 inch over the pan’s rim. Partway through this process, preheat the oven to 175C (350F).
  • Bake bread (finally!): pop the loaf into the oven and back for about 40 minutes or until the internal temperature reaches 88C (190F) and it sounds hollow when tapped. Let cool a bit before turning out of the pan and slicing.

Enjoy!

Recipe: Basil Pesto

green=good

green=good

Every summer since I can remember, my dad has made an amazing basil pesto with basil from the garden. He used to make it with pine nuts — the classic combination — but those are so expensive now that he has started using a mixture of pecans, walnuts, and almonds. We always eat it on whole wheat spaghetti — the secret to extra creaminess is a dollop of buttermilk or yogurt — with frozen peas on the side.

peas are a must

peas are a must

F and I had been wanting to make pesto for a while, and when Simply Recipes published a pesto recipe — which coincided with Cookie and Kate posting this dish — I knew it was time. My dad has always used the classic Silver Palate recipe, but as I forgot to write it down during my most recent visit, I went for the Simply Recipes version. Making pesto is so simple and satisfying: combine basil, nuts, cheese, garlic, and olive oil in a food processor, and blend until smooth. Toss with pasta or spread on pizza or a sandwich.

Do you have a favorite pesto recipe? How do you like to eat it?

Basil Pesto (adapted from Simply Recipes; makes 3 cups of pesto)

Ingredients

  • 4 packed cups basil leaves
  • 5-6 garlic cloves, minced
  • 1 – 1.5 cups grated parmesan and/or romano cheese
  • 1 cup nuts (I used 1/2 cup walnuts + 1/2 cup almonds)
  • 1 cup olive oil
  • to taste: salt & pepper

Procedure

  • Place the basil and garlic in a food processor and pulse until blended (you can use an immersion blender if you don’t have a food processor). Add the cheese and nuts and continue pulsing until the mixture is uniform.
  • Slowly add the olive oil while running the food processor continuously. Keep blending until the pesto reaches your desired consistency. Stir in salt and pepper.
  • Note: If you’re adding pesto to pasta, reserve/mix in 1/2 cup of the cooking liquid per 1 cup of pesto.

Enjoy!

Recipe: Fresh Corn & Avocado Salad with Basil & Lime

Visiting my parents in the summer is always fun, in part because there are always so many delicious fresh/seasonal fruits and veggies around the house. My dad and I, finding ourselves alone for dinner on a Friday evening, improvised with what ingredients we had and created a colorful and healthy spread: He made delicious BBQ chicken and I came up with this salad, inspired by Mark Bittman. Add some grilled eggplant, and you have a perfect summer meal.

IMG_5776

Fresh Corn & Avocado Salad with Basil & Lime (inspired by Mark Bittman; serves 3-4)

Ingredients

  • 2-3 generous handfuls of your favorite salad greens
  • 4 cobs of fresh corn, blanched & kernels cut off
  • 1 ripe avocado, diced
  • handful of fresh purple basil, minced (feel free to use “normal” green basil)
  • small handful of fresh mint, minced
  • juice of 1 lime
  • 1-2 glugs olive oil
  • to taste: salt & pepper

Procedure

  • Bring a large pot of water to boil and blanch the corn cobs in it for about 5 minutes. Remove the corn from the water, let cool, then cut the kernels off the cobs.
  • Combine the corn kernels, diced avocado, minced herbs, and salad greens in a large salad bowl. Squeeze the lime over everything, add some olive oil, salt, and pepper, and toss until the salad is evenly coated.

Enjoy!

Recipe: Terry’s Gin-Barbecue Chicken

Extra-crispy, May 2014

Extra-crispy, May 2014

I grew up eating a lot of chicken. One of the family staples, especially in the summertime, is my dad Terry’s amazing gin-barbecue chicken. Usually baked in the oven, though occasionally grilled, this is one of the simplest chicken recipes you’ll come across: marinate chicken pieces in gin and barbecue sauce, then bake for an hour and voila! An easy and delicious dinner.

Not-so-crispy (but just as good), July 2014

Not-so-crispy (but just as good), July 2014

Barbecue chicken goes well with grilled vegetables — I prefer eggplant and/or zucchini — and a big salad. Also gin and tonics, which my family affectionately calls “G&Ts”. It’s hard to go wrong with that combination! If you want some more carbs with your meal, rice does a good job of soaking up the barbecue juices.

Terry’s Gin-Barbecue Chicken (family recipe; serves 3-5, but easy to adjust for more or fewer people)

Ingredients

  • 5 bone-in chicken pieces (thighs &/or drumsticks)
  • 1.5 – 2 cups barbecue sauce (choose your favorite brand, or make it yourself)
  • 1/4 cup gin
  • to taste: salt & pepper

Procedure

  • Rub some salt and pepper into the chicken, then marinate it in the gin and barbecue sauce for at least one hour and up to overnight in the fridge.
  • Bake the chicken in the oven at 375F (190C) for 1 hour. Alternately, grill the chicken on a barbecue (this may take longer for the chicken to cook through).

Enjoy!

Living Abroad & Perspectives on the US

This week has brought some interesting perspective on life and living abroad. I’ve been back in the US for my grandmother’s 80th birthday party/family reunion and a brief visit to my parents (and also some quiet time to work on my MA dissertation). It was fantastic to see all of my aunts, uncles, and cousins in California for the birthday party — I’m really glad I went. It has also been nice to be in Rochester and not have any official household duties — of course I help out, but visiting the parents is different from living with F like a “real” adult; here, I can be a bit like a kid again, albeit a grown one.

almost the entire family on my mom's side, gathered in Ventura, CA for my grandma's 80th birthday. Photo credit: Nancy R.

almost the entire family on my mom’s side (missing a couple cousins and partners), gathered in Ventura, CA for my grandma’s 80th birthday. Photo credit: Nancy R.

I lived at home for two months last summer, but that felt normal as I had only been in the UK for six months beforehand and was still on the heels of transitioning from Peace Corps/Ukraine life. Peace Corps was so different that returning to the western world was an adjustment in and of itself — it didn’t matter where I was, and there were so many changes that I had to take each one as it came.

But this year, I’ve become settled in my UK life and haven’t been back to the US for almost a year. Being “home” has felt different, in part because I’m here for a vacation-y 10 days rather than a long period of “living” time. Here are some things that have struck me about the US after living in the UK/Europe for a year and a half (of course, the following things seem extreme because I live in London, a city of 8 million, and am comparing it to Rochester, a much smaller city of 300,000. But I think I’d feel some of these differences no matter where in the US I was):

  • Open space. Americans often take for granted how much space this country has. On the flight from London to LA, my British seat-mate and I marveled at the hugeness of the land, particularly in the southwestern US, and at how much of it is uninhabited (and uninhabitable. And beautiful).
so much space!

so much space!

somewhere in the Southwest

somewhere in the Southwest

  • Traffic and driving. Okay, so LA has crazy freeway traffic, but the Rochester streets are so peaceful! My dad and I were driving to Panera the other morning for breakfast (and endless coffee refills, yes!) and I remarked on how quiet the streets were. My dad replied, “Oh, I was just thinking it was pretty busy.” That’s perspective for you! It comes from living in London, where traffic is dense no matter the time of day. In a similar vein, driving has felt really easy here after cycling in London, where I have to be hyper-aware on the bike so as not to be run over by aggressive drivers. Cruising around in a car here feels quite calm in comparison.
  • People and friendliness. Maybe I’m becoming more like a reserved European, but Americans are so friendly and open…sometimes overly so, it seems to me. I’m happy to strike up the odd amiable chat, and do it regularly in London with our fruiterer shopkeepers. But many people here seem a little too in-your-face-potentially-forced friendly. It’s fine, and I do appreciate the openness, but it’s funny to come at it now from another perspective — if anything, it reflects how living abroad has changed me. I will say that it’s refreshing to go into a store here and be able to ask an employee about what I’m looking for, because I know that they will provide good customer service and help me find what I need. In the UK and other parts of Europe it sometimes feels like people are mildly annoyed when you enter their shop…but I sort of like that, too — or at least am used to it by now!
  • Short distances. Again, this is me comparing two cities of vastly different sizes and areas. But still, it is so easy and quick to get around Rochester. In London I have to plan and map out where and when I want to go somewhere, taking into account the time and money and clothing I’ll need. Here, pretty much everything is a 5-20 minute drive away. I could get used to that again…

Oh, the cross-cultural life is always fun and interesting! I wouldn’t have it any other way — it has opened my eyes to how different people live and how different societies function, and has brought me a hefty dose of perspective along the way. I love it.

———

Recipe: Poached Spring Vegetables

London’s springy weather has been tempting me to try some new, fresh-tasting recipes. For inspiration, I turned to Yotam Ottolenghi’s Plenty, of which we have the German version (called Genussvoll vegetarisch). Also, my mom keeps making recipes from her (English-language) copy of Plenty and telling me how good they are (I know, too; we’ve made this a few times), so she also inspired me to crack open the book and find something nice for a Sunday dinner.

IMG_5511

so springy

For a main dish, F and I made an amazing caramelized garlic and goat cheese tart. As a side, we tried these “pochiertes juges Gemüse” (“poached young vegetables”). The vegetables, lightly poached in a white wine-olive oil-lemon juice mixture, turned out well. They retained some crunch and still tasted fresh and bright. Poached spring vegetables would be a great accompaniment to any meaty main you might cook up. The recipe is also easy to expand or contract, depending on how many people you’ll be feeding and/or how many leftovers you want.

Poached Spring Vegetables (adapted from Yotam Ottolenghi’s Genussvoll vegetarisch/Plenty)

Ingredients

  • Vegetables:
    • 5-7 young carrots, peeled
    • 3 fennel bulbs
    • 2-3 bunches thin green asparagus
    • 3 thin zucchini
    • 2-3 thin leeks
    • to taste: minced fresh dill
  • Poaching liquid:
    • 750mL  (1 bottle) white wine
    • 250mL olive oil
    • juice of 3 lemons
    • 2 bay leaves
    • 1 onion, quartered
    • 2 celery stalks, cut into chunks
    • 1 tsp salt

Procedure

  • Wash the vegetables. Cut the carrots, zucchini, and leeks lengthwise into sticks that are about the same thinness as the asparagus. Slice the fennel thinly.
  • Pour the wine into a large pot and let it heat over medium-high for a few minutes. Add the rest of the poaching liquid ingredients and bring to a boil.
  • When the liquid boils, poach the vegetables: first carrots and fennel, then asparagus, then zucchini and leeks. If your pot is big enough, you can poach everything together; if not, poach the vegetables in batches (like I did). Each set of veggies should take 3-5 minutes to poach — you want them cooked but still a little crunchy.
  • Serve the poached vegetables with some of the liquid and garnish with fresh dill.

Enjoy!