Holiday in England

20120209-194440.jpgAlready our holiday in England seems like ages ago. Back in the throes of work and activities, I’m alarmed at the pace of life. Shouldn’t we still be hibernating? At the very least, let’s reminisce back to our holiday!

We saw great sights, had brilliant company and feasted on goregous food. One of the best things about the trip was eating the most delectable meals and not cooking a single one of them! Plus, with everyone chipping in, the clean-up for our lavish banquets was an ease. To be honest, I don’t mind cooking, it’s the dishes and clean-up afterwords I can’t stand!

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We spent Christmas with Dan’s phenomenal Granny, who’s 97 and still does a fitness regime every morning and mostly looks after herself! As Granny recovered from the full Christmas meal (very much like an American’s Thanksgiving sans pumpkin pie), we enjoyed a shot of sunlight while walking in the Clent Hills.

Christmas PuddingI have to confess, I’m not a huge fan of British Christmas desserts – they all seem like a variation on the same. Christmas Cake is like fruit cake with super-sweet frosting (though, I’ll happily eat the thin layer of marzipan!); Christmas Pudding is fruitcake dosed in Brandy (though I do like when they light it on fire!); and Mincepies are more dried fruits and booze, but baked into little tarts. However, I adore Brandy cream and Brandy Butter – which are a delightful addition to any dessert and may have even appeared on my toast at breakfast.

D&P’s house is always a place of supreme serenity. Pietro coaxes flowers into bloom even in the winter and the lighting is always cozy and perfect for snuggling. Dee made Bana Caldo, an immensely creamy anchovy fondu we greedily dipped an assortment of root vegetables into.

After dashing about the sales in Oxford, we regained our equilibrium with lobster bisque and samphire, a delicate green that grows on the British coasts. We’ve discovered that men’s clothing that is small enough to fit Dan does not exist in the US, so we made the most of the Top Man sales while in England. My dad, upon hearing of a store that sold Dan-sized clothing, mixed up the name, calling it “Little Man”!

We met up with friends in Aylesbury and London – our mini-reunions with Dan’s school friends are always great! Next, we were off to Nat & Umbi’s┬ábeautiful flat in Canterbury.

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In addition to it’s fame from Chaucer’s tale, Canterbury has many charms. The old walled city has a large pedestrian-only area with an eclectic mix of cafes and shops that entice you inside. We went for a walk in the seaside town of Whitstable, and took shelter in a small yet picturesque castle when it began to rain. Plus, we discovered a lovely path along the river that allowed us to run on trails, without the customary ankle-deep British mud.

On New Year’s Eve (remembering to wear our red underwear for good luck!) we all headed to London to Matt & Pete’s flat. They have the top floor of a terraced house, complete with clawfoot tub, gas fireplace and tiny garden too! Matt had fixed us a feast for lunch and Pete had made a scrumptious stollen, which I will have to ask for the recipe for.

After lunch, we participated in our annual book exchange, a tradition Dee began, in which we all bring books we have enjoyed to swap with others. We do this in lieu of presents and agree it’s a great way to give something meaningful, without falling into the holiday consumerism trap. This year I gave, Our America, a powerful yet disturbing book based on a project in which 2 young teens were given microphones and cassette recorders to interview people from their Chicago’s South Side neighborhood. If only more of our news was not just about the poor, but from their perspective, what changes there would be!

The book I received is God of the Small Things by Indian author Arundhati Roy. I haven’t read it yet, but it won a Booker Prize and many Pizzo’s recommended it!

That evening, after a curry supper, we headed up the hill to Ally Pally with mulled wine in hand. The park overlooks practically the whole of London and so eyes darted back and forth, watching fireworks light up the silhouettes of St. Pauls, Big Ben and the London eye against a velvet sky. In front of us, revelers set of small fireworks and sparklers, while in the distance larger displays sparkled on and off spastically. It was dizzying trying to watch all the colourful sparks.

At that was it, good-bye 2011, hello 2012!

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got gifts?

Inspiration for those of you who still have some holiday shopping to do!

3. Something hand-made. If you’re not feeling craftsy, check out etsy for cute & creative creations galore. I’m rather biased towards this artist!

2. A mini-adventure.… from a weekend away to a day on the cheap (picnic + museum). Going to the mall does not count. I’m a risk taker, but that is one journey too perilous this close to Christmas!

1. A goat. No, really… why not honour someone with a gift of a goat to someone who really needs a gift? Donate through a group like Heipher International, World Vision or Kiva and change a life.

Rockin’ Around the Christmas Tree

Wow….. New Years Eve already!

Crazy to think our DTS ended over a month ago. Since then Dan & I have had a house to ourselves! We’ve had lovely evenings in watching “The Wire,” Rummikub matches with friends, and beautiful sunrise runs. (Yes, it’s true, Anna is now “running” each morning). We’ve also endured retail jobs at Christmas, biking to work in the freezing cold, and a house with no heating during the day.

This Christmas Dan’s whole family came to York. Matt, Dan’s bro, is already in York, working at the mental hospital. Beforehand, I got into major “Martha Stewart” mode (craft-making, not stock-stealing) to make the house look nice and Christmas-y. The Pizzos’ arrival was akin to that of Father Christmas. They brought bottles of wine, cava, Baileys, Buck’s Fizz and more. Dozens of mince pies, chocolate, Pannettone, goat cheese and carmelized onion tarts, Thai salmon parsels and a few pressies too. But of course, we were most excited about seeing them!

minsterChristmas Eve I got off work at 3pm, leaving behind frenzied last-minute shoppers and endless queues to join over 4,000 others at a Lessons and Carols Service at York Minster. Even though granny, D&P, and Nat and I arrived almost 30 mins early there was no room in the inn church. But thanks to granny (who’s 94 but in brilliant health), we were given a bench to sit on right in front of the main alter. The voices of the choir were angelic. And we also got to hear the Archbishop of York, Dr. John Sentamu speak. He is amazing, but I have to admit his Ugandan accent kept making me think of this Fone Jacker video.

dna-xmasChristmas Day we carried on a Stalcup tradition by having home-made Cinnamon Bread French Toast. It was delish. Then the Pizzo kidz prepared Christmas lunch (turkey, gravy, stuffing, cranberry sauce, brussel spouts with hazelnuts, and roasted potatoes, carrots and parsnips) and Uncle Dave arrived. This year we did a Secret Santa system of presents, ‘cuz really, shouldn’t the birthday boy JC be getting the presents?

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After stuffing ourselves silly, we burnt off a few calories with a walk around Bishopthorpe Palace, our friend Johnny’s house (the Archbishop of York). Boxing Day it was back to work for both Dan & I, and Sunday we sadly said our goodbyes to our gracious guests. Back to selling Wiis and Xbox for me. And Dan’s scoping out the latest and greatest in backpacking gear at his job at Blacks.

Christmas at my house

Christmas in my family begins the day after Thanksgiving. Heck no, we don’t head to the mall; rather, my dad is finally allowed to start playing Christmas music. All of our usual CDs disappear and are replaced by dozens of Christmas CDs. Rocking Around the Christmas Tree, Grandma Got Run Over by a Reindeer, A Tender Tennessee Christmas and Handel’s Messiah fill the air. Non-Christmas music is strictly prohibited!

Then out come the Christmas decorations. And in our family it’s not just a wreathsanta-cycle.jpg on the door or candles in the windows. Every inch of the houses is decorated. We have a Christmas gravy bowl, Christmas salt & pepper shakers and tacky Christmas trees that spin as they shine psychedelic fiber optic lights through plastic pine needles. The electricity bill usually doubles due to all the lights. This year my dad won a enormous inflatable Santa, complete with sun glasses, riding a motorcycle. “Sorry, Rudolph, but this Christmas I won’t be needing you…”

And the Christmas tree… when my dad was younger his family owned a Christmas tree stand and even long after the stand closed, they still drove up to the farm in Pennsylvania where they had bought the trees to get a special batch of Christmas trees just for the family. My dad usually picked out a 12 foot tree and then cut 2 feet off the bottom & top to get it to just barely fit in our house with 8 ft ceilings. The result, as you can imagine, is one FAT tree.

And traditions… we have plenty! Christmas Eve we always head to church and then go out for Chinese food. And then my dad stays up late doing the final touches (filling the stockings, placing candy canes on the Christmas tree) while everyone else is shooed off to bed.

Then Christmas morning finally arrives! We used to have a rule that the kids couldn’t go downstairs until 7am since we were usually awake and eager to open presents around 5am. So, we’d all scarf down some cereal and then head into the Christmas tree room. One of the kids would always read the story of Jesus birth from the Bible. Then Santa (daddy-O) and his elves (kiddos) would begin the distribution of presents. We always had the presents opened one at a time, so depending on how many relatives were visiting, it could take hours to open all the presents.

All I want for Christmas is you!

Then we’d leave the piles of wrapping paper behind and have our second breakfast – French toast made from homemade cinnamon bread, bacon, eggs, sausage, hot coffee and orange juice. Then we’d open stockings, do some elaborate candy-trading and then pig out on candy. Finally we’d have a few hours to lie comatose from the presents and food before heading over to Big Daddy’s house for a second round of both.

I love Christmas.

Things year things were slightly different since we were away in Ohio at my aunt & uncle’s house. But let me say it was a rockin’ Christmas. And Dan even got to be Santa… or should I say Father Christmas!