Tuesday, January 19, 2016

The Beach in Winter

It's cold here in England. Not Michigan cold, or even Northern Virginia cold. But still cold. No gardens are blooming. No warm hills or sunny meadows beckon me forth. The wind whips up from all sides of this island and leaves me with few choices. And since I had not ventured east yet, the decision was clear. It's time for the beach.
Oh, the desolate beauty of a beach in winter! The forlorn expanse and bitter cold are a far cry from her soft summer ensemble. But she's breathtaking in the dead of January, nonetheless.
I had hoped to see a lot of water fowl at this end of the estuary, but was captivated by the seashells instead. This is at Cudmore Grove Country Park in Essex, a strand looking out across the English Channel.

Others dug deeper for treasure, like this lone beach comber.

 He was happy to find this Egyptian coin washed ashore from who knows when.

There were ruins of bygone lookout points:

. . . and long soft sandy marshes giving way to tide pools.

Standing above the beach looking east . . . 

 . . . despite the wires and warning not to:

A little bit inland was the Colne Nature Reserve and this bird blind where I could get out of the bitter cold for a bit and watch the swans and coots.
Hiking further north led to the Copt Hall Marshes and the sparse beauty there as well.

Because of all the water fowl there (of which I got zero good pictures), it's a good place to train your hunting dog, like this guy is doing:

Or just enjoy that bracing wind.


Monday, January 11, 2016

Kiss Me Quick!

A blend of British design and American textures resulted in this
delicious mini-orange cake with dark chocolate ganache filling
When our cable TV was first hooked up in the UK, I immediately searched for cooking shows, specifically baking. I was eager to see how things were done here, whether I could bake like a native, and if it was possible to blend American and British design into a culinary love child of both.

There are some very good shows spotlighting baking in the UK, not the least of which is the Great British Bake off hosted by noted white thumbs, Paul Hollywood and Mary Berry. (I did not make up those names.)
Mini-sandwich tin with straight sides and, you
should pardon the expression, removable bottoms
One thing I noticed was the oft-used mini sandwich tin. It resembles a muffin pan but has straight sides and removable bottoms. Its most popular use seems to be the mini-Victorian Sponge cake, a little yellow cake split in half then layered with clotted cream and strawberry jam. I made a batch almost immediately and liked the clever idea of tucking the frosting inside the mini-cake. Certainly this could translate to my American recipes.

I have a great fondness for orange and chocolate together and have had some success with Cook’s Country’s “Kiss Me Cake” recipe. It’s an unbelievably moist orange sheet cake that uses all parts of the fruit: zest, juice, pith, pulp and rind. Everything but the oink. A dark chocolate blend in the middle would be - as they say here - scrummy (short for scrumptious). 
The entire orange goes into the batter - including the rind
Years ago I made a delicious ganache from Cook’s Illustrated’s “Ultimate Chocolate Cupcakes” recipe. Since that recipe only made a dozen cupcakes, I doubled the ganache recipe here just in case. No one wants to run out of ganache. Ever.  

Making the ganache with cream so thick it's almost chewy.

The mini cakes baked up perfectly and once cooked, gladly welcomed their chocolate filling. They tasted as good as I hoped with the two flavors working together without getting into a brawl.  And since they’re just a bite of cake you can eat on the go without the fuss of a fork, I’m calling them Kiss Me Quicks.  
The little orange cakes baked up lovely. I drizzled an orange syrup on them while still hot
then sprinkled a ground walnut and cinnamon topping for added flavor and texture
My attempt at marrying two baking cultures was not discouraging.  Room for improvement? Always. Ideas for next time? I have some things knocking around. Can’t talk now. Eating.

My Kiss Me Quick


Monday, January 4, 2016


September 5-6, 2015

With an empty weekend in front of us, and still processing the news of Carey’s recent MRI, we decided to head out somewhere. Anywhere. Any place would be better than staring at our four walls. So we threw an overnight bag together, turned the coffee off, and locked the door.

As luck would have it, we were just in time for a train headed to Stratford-upon-Avon, or as the ticket clerk  called it, "Stratford-Upon." This quaint city is the birthplace and final resting spot of, hands down, the greatest writer the world has known, William Shakespeare. We’ve been in England for over a year and still hadn't visited?  Girl, it was high time.
After checking in and tossing our bag onto the hotel bed, we headed to the Information Center. Visiting Shakespeare's birthplace was a foregone conclusion, but our pass also included entrance to his daughter’s home as well as the home of family friends, the Harvards. (Yep, Harvard University can be traced back to these 15th century folk). 

Shakespeare's birthplace and early home
Shakespeare’s birthplace is beautifully maintained and includes a museum that houses one of Shakespeare’s first folios.

In addition to the many portraits, quotes, and timelines, there is a screening area that continually runs various renditions of his work - everything from stage productions to ballet to Homer Simpson.  

Actors performed live outside in the beautiful garden as part of "Shakespeare Aloud."  I couldn't help but linger amongst the lavender and roses  and probably stayed longer than I should have. (Can’t have too much of a good thing, right?)  We just barely  had enough time left to visit the Harvard House before closing.

On days like this I wish I had paid more attention in English Lit class to be better versed in Shakespeare. As it was, the little  I had learned seemed to vanish into thin air almost as soon as I arrived. I couldn't remember much other than titles (stupid aging).  I only recognized a few names and references around town, though I’m sure pub owners and shop keepers were playing fast and loose with the Shakespeare puns.

Inside Hall's Croft House, the home of Shakespeare's daughter
Susanna,  and her husband, Dr. John Hall
The next day after breakfast we started our usual early Sunday morning walk which took us to Hall's Croft House, the home of Shakespeare's daughter, Susanna and her husband, the well-established Dr. John Hall. From there it was on to Holy Trinity Church where the Bard is buried. So from cradle to grave, we had come full circle.

For someone as globally renowned as Shakespeare, the city could have made a big campy deal of him. But instead they chose to maintain  old world charm while still running a delightfully modern city. Thankfully, they saw no need to   surrender reverence for their beloved native son.
On the street where he lived. In addition to much Shakespeare, there are also shops
with overtones of Beatrix Potter, Charles Dickens, and J.K Rowling

I suppose one can't overstate the importance of William Shakespeare, he permeates so much of our language to this day. In fact, I've incorporated no fewer than seven expressions of his into the text above. Go ahead, pick them out.
Others he coined or popularized include:
  • The long and short of it
  • Set one's teeth on edge
  • Without rhyme or reason
  • One fell swoop
  • Tongue-tied
  • Cold comfort
  • Budge an inch
We still use words like fashionable, puking, addition and obscene because of Shakespeare. Want even more? You can visit here.   (And don't get me started on his insults - laughing stock, stone-hearted, bloody-minded, devil incarnate, to name a few).
For more pictures from our trip to Stratford-upon-Avon, click here.
"O noble fool! A worthy fool" - As You Like It
The Shakespeare phrases I used are: as luck would have it; high time; a foregone conclusion; too much of a good thing; fast and loose; vanish into thin  air; and come full circle.

Granny's Bottom

(Does this even need a caption?)
Of all the hikes we’ve done this summer, the prospect of Harting Down in West Sussex tickled me most because of a small hill half-way through called Granny’s Bottom. How could I not?   
The day was sunny and mild with a forecast of 0% chance of rain.  Our 6-mile hike was of moderate grade and along the way we spotted a fallow deer, some wild pheasants, domestic piggies and, of course, sheep. 
The sweet rambling blackberries were finally coming into their own, as were blackthorn berries.
Blackberries and plenty of them

A quick stop in the middle of nowhere for pub lunch
Half-way through, we stopped at the bottom of a hollow for lunch in a local pub. Despite its remote location, the Royal Oak did an impressive business. But back to the hike.
I'd like to go on record here and now as commending the UK for its  dizzying network of public footpaths. You cannot go a quarter mile anywhere in the country without stumbling on one.  And if you like variety, there are usually several paths to pick  at any given point. This is both blessing and curse.
At one crossroad we were faced with 5 paths to choose from with no clear idea which way to go. There were no signs to guide us toward Granny’s Bottom and truth be told, we don’t know if we actually found it or not. (But for argument’s sake, let’s pretend we did, shall we?) We ended up looping about 2 miles off the trail but eventually found our way back on track and then to the car just as it started to rain. Zero percent chance of rain is more wishful thinking than anything else.
Uppark Estate
Next we drove a mile to the National Trust’s Uppark Estate to have a poke around. No photography was allowed inside which was a damned shame because the kitchen held one of the most gorgeous arrays of copperware I'd ever seen.
Although built in the 1700s, the home was displayed in it's 19th century Edwardian era,  similar to those seen in Gosford Park and Downton Abbey. It boasted rich tapestries and  opulent silver  upstairs while the downstairs came complete with butler's closet and a  long row of servants' bells mounted overhead.

These two disparate worlds were not lost on visitors, let alone on those who had lived there, including one-time housekeeper Sarah Wells and her young son, Herbert. As a sickly youth, Herbert had been allowed to frequent the home's library and it wasn't long before reading and writing became his passion. Years later, the estate's dimly-lit tunnels, well-clipped gardens, and stark class-distinctions inspired the writing of Herbert George Well's sci-fi classic, The Time Machine.
For more pictures from our weekend, including a drive out to Wolvercote Cemetery  to pay homage to another great English author, click right here.