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 beautiful 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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Backpacking with Buddy


 


Last weekend we headed into the Shenandoah’s with our new friends Dan and Hannah. Backpacking in mid-Feb is always a bit of a risk but we managed to stay warm. There were some patches of snow on the north side of the mountain but overall it was snow-free. Walking on the ridge near Rockytop Mountain was windy but we had views of the whole valley and the Massanutten mountains beyond. DnH don’t backpack much, so we planned a mellow hike of about 10 miles for the first day – but they bombed it up the mountain and we arrived at camp by Brown Mountain by 11am!  We decided to just enjoy a lazy afternoon in the woods – munching on our peanut butter pitas, building a massive fire, reading Billy Collins poems and enjoying hot chocolate with mint schnapps.

The next morning DnH had brought mix to make blueberry pancakes. However combined stove/pan issues meant we ended up eating something Dan coined rattlecakes – a gooey blueberry batter scramble. Yum!

We made our way back to the car via many river crossings – lucky Buddy was carried across. I’m ashamed to admit this was the first time I’d gone weekend backpacking since we lived in England in 2008! It’s been either 4+ month trips or nothing. But that’s definitely going to change…. it was a superb weekend away.

Buddy staying warm by the fire

England in December

England! I’ve realized this is my fifth winter in the UK.  And as lovely as England is, I’d like to spend my next winter holiday somewhere a bit warmer!  There’s record breaking freezing temps here at the moment!



Still, I’m enchanted by the charming cottages, milk that’s delivered to your doorstep in glass bottles, tremendously tiny roads and beautifully packaged food.  No honestly, going through the supermarket even the store-brand items have gorgeous design. Mind you, this was at Waitrose, but even Tescos has some nicer packaging.  Why can’t things be beautiful, functional and inexpensive?  In addition to looking good, I am so impressed with how many fair trade foods are available (a good portion of the chocolate, bananas, coffee) in the UK. It’s also easier to get ethical products – milk and meat from pastured “happy” animals and sustainably fished salmon. Plus, in Britain you don’t find corn products hiding in all of the food.  Grr… the industrial food system in the US is shameful!

Meanwhile, Dan’s friend Sameer got married… on the London Eye!  What a fantastic venue… but as only 20 people can fit in a pod I wasn’t able to be there 😦

The 11th we enjoyed a delicious brunch with Granny & co. to celebrate her 96th birthday! She’s doing wonderfully and even had enough strength to arm wrestle D!

Sunday we went to Oxford. Wandering around the back alleyways it was amazing to think that 5 years ago we’d been there searching for an engagement ring!  Later in the evening we saw blind, autistic, musical savant Derek Paravicini in concert.

He’s extraordinary! We first found out about Derek a few months earlier while watching TV during our hike of the Contintial Divide Trail. It’s amazing how things come full circle.