Friday, 27 March 2009

Free Refills

After I go to the gym I usually stop by Tesco and pick up something to make for lunch. Today as I walking in the store I noticed that they had a display of pop near the tills.

I never was a huge pop drinker in the States. I would have some if I was out at a restaurant or I'd grab a can here and there, but I never bought pop to have in the house. My favorite pop to drink out of a fountain is Diet Coke, but only from the fountain. It just doesn't taste the same from the plastic bottle or can. 

Anyways, I don't drink much pop at all here in London. Maybe one pop a month? For one thing Diet Coke here tastes like regular Coke. It doesn't have that snappy little diet taste at all. Also there's really no such thing as free refills here. At Nandos they have a fountain and you can serve yourself, but that's the only one I've seen. It's not like back in Minnesota, where I could sit at Currans and have like 9 Diet Cokes. 

Also, there isn't the variety of carbonated drinks like you would find at a gas station in the States. At a gas station here you are going to find Coke, Diet Coke, Sprite, Orange Fanta, and maybe Dr. Pepper. At some off licenses you'll get Cherry Coke, or even 7Up. I remember the amazement Matthew expressed the first time he encountered a cooler at the Super America.

I am going back to Minneapolis with Matthew in May and after seeing the pop on display in Tesco, it really got me craving a nice ice cold pop. Especially when someone will bring you a refill even before the glass is empty. Now that's the America I miss....

Wednesday, 25 March 2009


Last week was a good week. I went and did a Project Management certification course. I am now a certified PRINCE 2 practitioner. PRINCE 2 stands for Projects in Controlled Environments. It is a de facto standard used extensively by the UK Government and is widely recognised and used in the private sector, both in the UK and internationally.

There was a lot of project management in my degree back at MCAD. It was even a required class in my major, taught by the lovely Julie Dirksen. I always enjoyed it. I liked the behind the scenes role of making sure all the ducks were in a row and that things were getting done on time. It's a great feeling to set up the framework in which something gets created.

I had tossed around the idea of getting in project management out here, but found out that people really need some kind of training or certification. Matthew then suggested that I do PRINCE 2 and there was a course that was starting the next Monday. I was excited about the training and interested to see what it was all about.

It was an intense week. You take two exams. The first one comes on Wednesday and that's a foundation exam. You spend the first three days going over material from 9 a.m. until 4 p.m. You are still going over material that you're going to be tested on Wednesday. It's a lot of ground to cover, but you'd be surprised at how fast the day goes by. There were about 12 people in the class. I must say that it was a great group of people. I loved our instructors Simon and Kobus. I liked to call Kobus the Cobra.

We all passed the first exam and then we went on to study for the practitioners exam on Friday. I didn't like the second bit as much as the first. Thursday and Friday we went over a mock exam. The test questions were difficult, I am too tired to go into now, but it was tricky. //
will finish this up tomorrow //

The best things about going on the course was that it got me out of the house, I got to learn something new and I met some great people. The course in and of itself was good. I liked having somewhere to be everyday and learning about project management processes and best practices. I liked studying and being back in school. It was good to have a challenge.

After we all passed our first exam on Wednesday we went down to the pub to celebrate. It was fun to go out and chat with my fellow PRINCEs. It felt good to be part of a group, we would go and get lunch and sit outside together. There would be a little bit of banter and wisecracking in class. We were all in it together!

It gave me a huge boost. I didn't feel like an outsider at all. One of the great people I met, Graham, works for a charity called Sense. Sense is a leading national charity that supports and campaigns for children and adults who are deafblind. They provide expert advice and information as well as specialist services to deafblind people, their families, carers and the professionals who work with them. They also support people who have sensory impairments with additional disabilities. I am going to see Graham today to do some volunteer work for them. I have been wanting to do some volunteer work for a long time, I am glad that I found Graham and Sense.

I know it sounds crazy, but I can't tell you how good it felt to go that course. It just got me out of my rut and changed my perspective a bit. We all went out on Friday after the three hour practitioner's exam. I think it was the first time that I had a group of people to go out with that didn't involve Matthew. Now, of course I adore Matthew's friends and like to go out with them, but these were my friends. To be honest, I felt like I was back in elementary school! Look, I am making friends!

Now the real test is to see whether or not my certification is going to help me get a job!

Up in the gym, just working on my fitness

My commitment to exercise and healthy living has been going pretty well. I gave myself a goal of getting in good shape on the 9th of March. At that point I would  have 9 1/2 weeks before I go back to Minneapolis for a visit so I made myself a schedule and it started out great. This is week three and so far so good. The first week I went to the gym everyday for two hours. I usually warm up on the exercise bike (while reading a gossip magazine) and then do an aerobic class. 

Now, some might think going to the gym for two hours is a bit much. Although I am not going to work, so I've got the time. Don't worry. I am not drinking protein shakes and wearing a sweat band 24/7. I haven't gone over the top. 

I've been into the Nike Rockstar Dance Hall workout. I absolutely love it. You learn a "dance" in an hour and it's good fun. I call it my MTV booty dance workout. I throw in some weights and some other evil classes like Legs, Bums and Tums and hopefully there will be some results by the end of it.

I've been wanting to try a spinning class, but I find the seats to be a little uncomfortable. I guess I could just really go for it and stand the entire time, but come on. Would I really do that? No.

I didn't do as well as I wanted to last week. I only managed to get to the gym once. I was doing an intense project management training course and I needed to study every night. I managed to eat well and get lots of water, so that's good. I don't have a certain weight that I am trying to achieve, although the Beyonce body is what I am going for. They play her put a ring on it video all the time at the gym. Who knows, you just might see me in Minneapolis sporing a black leotard and nothing else!

I'd also like to give a shout out to my friend Elyse! Thanks for the support, I miss you and your laugh :)

Friday, 13 March 2009

How random is that

Now here's a random thing that happened today.

I bought this Dr Stuarts detox tea the other day. I was in the market for a good detoxifying brew and when I saw the packaging that Dr Stuart was offering up I was sold. I love great design and this packaging is just delightful. Just as I was putting it in my basket, Matthew came over and wanted to have a look. He was a bit shocked when he saw the price (1.89) and wanted to know why I didn't buy a cheaper one. I think I could have gotten something similar for a pound. 

To me the answer was simple. I liked the way this one looked. After studying a bit of marketing I realize that good packaging and a premium price doesn't always mean that the product is superior, but I felt confident that Dr Stuart wasn't going to let me down. The design made me happy, I thought it was cute and clever, it was going to look great on the counter, it would make drinking a detox tea fun and exciting. I was more the happy to open my wallet.

The random part comes in when I found out that a friend of mine in London, Tiffany, had actually worked on the team that designed the packaging. I had posted the photo on FB, saying that I liked it and I was drinking it, and she posted a comment informing me of her involvement.

 How crazy is that? I met Tiffany through my friend Tracy. Tracy and TIffany worked together at Yamamotto Moss. Tiffany, who is from Sweden, went to college at Macalester and she's been living in London for four years. I met Tracy when I did an internship with her in Texas. It's a small world! Anyway, that's my little random story. The tea is great, I don't know if they have it in the States. I will bring some back for you all to try.

Thursday, 12 March 2009

Stuff. Part 1

I packed incredibly light when I came to study abroad back in September 2007. I didn't want to have to deal with heavy bags and suitcases. I wanted to have the freedom of just having a backpack that I could just toss on and go. My wonderful friend Raya lent me her small Osprey backpack and that in addition to a small little tote bag was all I brought over. I had only one pair of shoes, two pairs of jeans, a couple tank tops, underwear and a few jackets, mainly the essentials. I didn't really pack any of my really cute clothes. I didn't bring a hairdryer or nicknack's from home. 

My thinking at the time was that I was only going to be going to school in London for two months and then I would travel a bit afterwards. I figured that I would just pick up some cool clothes along the way and then I would go back home to find all my lovely clothes waiting for me.

Since I never went home, that meant that I never was reunited with all my clothes. Also since I was going to have to use all my money to stay in London for the entire year, I didn't have a lot of spare cash to buy clothes. Not to mention all my possessions that I left behind. Everything I own, and it's not much, is packed away in boxes in a basement in West.St.Paul. Thanks Peggy and Dennis!!!

I wouldn't consider myself a materialistic person. The contents of those boxes are items that I consider to be very sentimental personal items. I never want to be the kind of person who lets what they own ending up owning them, but I miss my stuff. I miss all my boxes and notebooks. I miss my photos and of course my clothes. I also miss all my music that's on my itunes.  I just miss seeing my things around. 

The last time I was back in Minnesota I went through a bunch of stuff that I had stored at my friend Angie Doerr's apartment and decided to chuck most of it. That was really hard to do. On the one hand, I don't know if I want to ship it all over here to London. I don't really need it, but it's like the contents of my life are all packed up. I've saved up some pretty cool stuff! I have been thinking a lot about what I am going to do with all the boxes in the basement. I don't want to get rid of them, but I feel bad about the boxes taking up space and being in the way. 

I also planned to bring a lot of my things that were packed up in the basement back with me. Except that I discovered that my plane was leaving four hours earlier than I had thought. 

That was awful. I had planned to spend my last day in Minnesota going through my boxes and bringing a bunch of stuff back. While I was getting ready to pack it all up I wisely decided to double check what time my flight left. I wasn't very happy to discover that I had gotten the time wrong and I only had one hour to pack and get to the airport.

It was so crazy. I had my clothes in the dryer, I wasn't dressed, I had to call a taxi to take me and it was snowing. I also couldn't get the electronic scales to work so I was worried that if I did just throw things in the suitcase it would be overweight. What a nightmare. So I didn't get to really bring much back. Matthew and I will be able to bring a good load over this May. 

I still like the idea of not having a bunch of stuff to move around London, but I would love to have my Pyrex dish collection out here. We shall see. 

Things I miss the most

Last night was I on the computer and I started a FB chat with my very dear friend Angie Sonrode. We ended up calling each other on Skype and having a video chat. It was great to be able to see Angie, Mike (her husand) and her daughter Maeve. 

Angie and I had a nice little chat, her family is going through some changes at the moment, and I just wished that I could have been there chatting with her in her living room instead of over the internet. She was also telling me about taking Maeve to the Birchwood Cafe. They were having a cookies and milk event to support getting hormone infused milk out of public schools. I wish I could have been there. Going to the Birchwood with Angie and Maeve would be something that I would have done if I was home. 

It was so bittersweet. I loved being able to talk to them and see them on the video, but I would have loved to have been there. I miss that with all my friends and their children. I just love being a part of a community of friends and loved ones, helping and supporting them. Just know that I am thinking of you all back in Minnesota and I love and miss you all.

This photo is of Finn and Maeve, Angie's children. The photo was taken by the talented Cystyal Dobson- Totten of Bluebird Portraits

Wednesday, 11 March 2009

Matt's Bar, Minneapolis, Minnesota, USA

I woke up this morning with a craving for a Jucy Lucy from Matt's Bar. I don't know if it's all the kale I've been eating lately or what, but what I wouldn't give for this amazing creation. A Jucy Lucy (that's how they spell it) is a a cheeseburger with the cheese in the middle instead of on top. They are heaven in a bun. 

I miss neighborhood bars like Matt's. It's one of my favorites back home. Laid back and nothing too fancy. They also have this fantastic 3D wallpaper that I'm quite fond of. Matthew and I are going back to Minneapolis in May for a wedding and we are going to definitely stop in at Matt's. 

I wish I was going to Matt's today with my good friend Linda. That would great, especially since I hear there is a bunch of snow back home. To be tucked up all safe and warm at Matt's with a Jucy Lucy, bottle of Premium and Linda would be a perfect afternoon.

Monday, 9 March 2009

My new retro style

I went and had my hair cut at Nina's Vintage Parlour on Saturday. I was thinking that I was going to grow my hair out a bit, but I was easily persuaded to have my hair cut like Marilyn Monroe. I mean who wouldn't?

The place was super cute and it was just like the photos. There was one other person there getting a fabulous beehive. I was in good hands and after my cut was done my stylist, Leila, did the amazing style. Which I will be able to recreate thanks to her very patiently showing me how to do it. I love it, it really did help to boost my spirits. There's nothing like a new haircut to make a girl feel cute again.

The beauty shop was located in the most amazing antiques mall (Alfie's Antique Mall). It was absolutely huge and full of the most amazing things I have ever seen. Four floors full of treasure and there was a great little cafe on the roof top. I would definitely recommend it. What a great place to have a cup of coffee! Sitting up in the sun with a building full of amazing bits and bobs bellow. I love London.

Getting Fit

I put up a FB update a while ago that I was going to get into shape. I said I might be unemployed, but I don't have to be out of shape and unemployed. Which, at the end of the day is true. I've had a membership to a great gym, Virgin Active, for a long time. I haven't exactly been making the most of that. I have nothing do to day all day besides look for a job, so technically I have no excuse not to be fit and healthy.

Although many people will tell you it's hard to get motivated, especially when you aren't working. As counter intuitive as it seems its true. For a while I rebelled against going to the gym because I did have the time to go, I want to be working not working out!!! I've never been the kind of girl who counts calories or is obsessed with my body. I have the fortunate body type that just kind of gets big all over instead of in one place, so you don't necessarily feel that fat...but then you see a photo of yourself at Christmas and there's no more denial.

My friend Raya is getting married on May 16th so I have given myself the goal of getting in shape for that trip back to Minnesota. So if by some cruel joke I don't have a job by then, at least I will be looking good. My fitness plan involves drinking lots of water, eating fresh fruit and veg, cutting out the junk and getting to the gym everyday. I've done it before and I can do it again.

There was only one other time in my life where I really decided to get into shape and that was when I was 18 years old.
I bought a great workout tape from the Goodwill. It was was filmed in the 60's and it was a blast. I did that and jumped rope every day and became fit as a fiddle. So, I am making the commitment here and now on this blog!

Friday, 6 March 2009

The Hummingbird bakery

Just a quick shout out to the Hummingbird Bakery on Portobello road. I went there the other day with a lady who I met on the UK Yankee message board. We went for a long walk, but stopped there for quick cupcake, for strength.

We had the red velvet cupcakes and they were ever so delicious. If anyone is in London and wants to meet up there for a cupcake, I am game!

Getting a vintage haircut

Nina's Hair Parlour

Heads Up

Nina's Hair Parlour, the UK's first (and only) vintage hair salon, has opened the doors of its new location nestled beside Alfie's Antique Market in North West London. But this is no bland chain-salon experience - between Nina's four walls visitors will find a retro haven of original 50s chairs and mounted dryers, where Victory rolls and full-on beehives are the order of the day. Now home to a barber and make-up artist, the brainchild of 'head dresser' Nina also offers classes on how to get the shampoo-and-set look at home. From £35, at Nina's Hair Parlour, 13, Church Street NW8 8DT

Amy Stone **article from Vouge UK

I am super excited to be getting my hair cut at Nina's Hair Parlour. I've got an appointment for 10 a.m. tomorrow. The last time I got a haircut was back in November and it was a pretty short cut. It's grown out a bit or for my hair has it's gotten bigger. I am trying to grow it out again so I can do some cool 1950 styles, but it needs help in the meantime. A little shape and style while it grows.

I can't remember how I found Nina's salon. I think I was just looking around online for all things retro and found it. It looks like a really cute place and I look forward to going. I love having my hair cut and going to the salon. I am ready for a cute new look for spring. I've been feeling a bit boring lately so hopefully a cute haircut will make me feel better. I could use a bit of glamour. I'll give a report after I go.

My laundry soloution

I've posted before about my London laundry dilemma. I can never seem to stay on top of the laundry situation. There's always piles of it in my room and in the utility closet. The drying rack is always up in the lounge. Sad crunchy socks dangling on the rack or over the radiator. Despite being a free spirit, I need to have some order in my life. I can't stand to have laundry drying all over the place.

Yesterday I decided to take the whole lot of it over to the laundrette. I live right around the corner from a decent little laundrette and there's a coffee shop up that same road where I can have a coffee while I wait. I will admit that I don't walk down to this laundrette despite it being so close. I drive there. It's not even a block away, but I drive. There's always a place to park in front. So I do it. I washed two loads at 3 pounds a wash and it dawned on me that I could just wash the clothes at home in my machine and zip down there and toss them in the dryer.

The dryer is only 1 pound for 20 minutes and that is usually enough time to dry the load. I went home washed a load in the machine on the quick wash and then drove down and threw it in the dryer. 20 minutes later I was back at home folding my hot dry clothes and then immediately putting them away. I've still got to get my hands on some strong smelling dryer sheets. I had some store brand ones and they didn't do much. The clothes ended up smelling like hot metal. Not the best smell in the world, but it does fade once the clothes get dry.

Before the genius plan of mine, doing a load meant washing it and hanging it. Drying could take up to two days depending on the clothes. Also, there were times when someone forgot to take the clothes out and hang them up immediately because they didn't want to get up during EastEnders. They would get forgotten in the machine and start to stink, so they would have to be washed again. It's hard to place blame in a situation like that, since there are no commercials during EastEnders, cheers BBC!

Yesterday I managed to wash six loads! Like most people in London I carry my laundry around in the nice big blue Ikea bags. They are really handy bags. I don't know if they have them in States, but they should. Matthew pointed out to me that if I was English I would have walked the block to the laundrette with the heavy wet bag of laundry. Oh well, I wash the clothes so I do it my American way. At least now he has a drawer full of clean pants and socks.

Tuesday, 3 March 2009

Have I joined a cult?

Ok, this has been up for like forever. Here's the scoop. I happen to be a lover of self help books and self improvement, personal development and all that jazz. So, looking for a job and not finding one has not been the greatest experience and I decided to reach out and join a Meet Up group.

The Meet Up group was about the Law of Attraction and positive thinking. I thought a bit of positive thinking couldn't hurt. I went along to it and it was a good group of people, I liked it. It's always nice to do something social. Then at the next meeting a woman showed up to talk about a book. I remember the facilitator saying something about it, but I thought she was just going to be some kind of guest speaker. Instead she was there to tell us about a book called We Were All Born Rich and that she was going to be leading a book study group for 20 pounds.

I have to say I was a bit weirded out about it. The woman was very full of energy and seemed nice enough. It just seemed a bit too pyramid schemeish to me. I was just put off by it. Apparently the author of the book Bob Proctor is some kind of self made guru and you can buy these life coaching kits for 200 pounds. Join the network of millions of people changing their lives right now and all that.

I found this to be really funny. The woman was saying that we might meet once a month and then do a teleconference. A gentleman next to me asked her how that would work. She explained that she would give people in the group a number to call in on and then you enter a code. He asked if it would cost anything to do this. Instead of giving him a straight answer she told him that it would cost him more not to do it.

I couldn't believe that she said that. How corny and salespersonish of her. I wanted to puke. Anyway long story short, I didn't join the book club. I did download the book for free online and gave it a read. Not too bad, but I am just not the kind of person to get all jazzed up about it. Anyway. I appreciated the woman's enthusiasm, I'll give her that!

We're still dancing

We've had two weeks of jive dance classes at Maddy's Jiving School. It's so much fun and what a workout! You are constantly moving and jiving. This week we are going to bring some water with us and sweat bands. I love our class. The instructors Colette and Robin are amazing. They are very patient and do a fantastic job at breaking down the steps. In our last class it was Matthew's turn to move his feet. He learned his leads basic step and then we added a cool release move to the mix.

Colette and Robin demo the move and you think you're not going to be able to do that, it looks amazing and complicated. By the end of the class we're doing it. It's a great feeling to be at the dance class with Matthew. There are times when we are dancing that I just stop and think, I am dancing with my husband. I've always wanted to do that and I am doing it. Result!

Now that we've got the basics down we want to try our steps out in London. I came across this Tiki bar in South London that we are going to give a try. One Sunday a month they have a Hula Boogie night, which seems cool. I love how people in London really get into it. They go all out and get dressed up, even at our class there are people who come in their 50's jive clothes and makeup. It's a good way to get in London and meet people. I am excited to start jiving all over London. Look out!

Job Hunt

Well, there's not much to report on this front. Sadly.
I've been putting off writing about it for a long time, since I didn't have any good news to report.

Saturday Night Out in Shoreditch

Saturday night was Wayland's birthday and the old chap was turning 29! What an old man. Most of my friends have had the pleasure of meeting Wayland. He's been my flatmate here in London and good mate.
There he is. Our Wayland. He doesn't like this photo, but I do. He's doing business, which is what Wayland does. He's a brilliant business man and he won't let you forget it.

On Saturday our friends Phil and Katie threw a party at their flat for Wayland. I hadn't been to their flat before. They live over in Wapping. What's Wapping you ask?

Wapping (pronounced 'Wopping') is a place in the London Borough of Tower Hamlets which forms part of the Docklands to the east of the City of London. It is situated between the north bank of the River Thames and the ancient thoroughfare simply called The Highway. Wapping's proximity to the river has given it a strong maritime character, which it retains through its riverside public houses and steps, such as the Prospect of Whitby and Wapping Stairs.

We had a bit of bubbly and then set out to Shoreditch. Our party group split up into two groups and dived into some lovely black cabs. There's a quick stop for a drink at a place called the Underground Station and then we headed over to On The Rocks. I love On The Rocks, and haven't been there since Matthew and I started dating. I would say that it had been a good year. They play Northern soul, Ska, two-tone type of music. It's a great place to go dancing.

The nice thing about Northern soul, Ska and two-tone is that anyone can dance to it without looking like a fool. It's one of those places were you can dance in peace without discovering that you have a dance partner grinding on your backside. Matthew and I even Incorporated some of jive dance moves, aren't we cool?

We had to take off around 1 a.m. since we were driving up to Oxford the next day. If I don't get at least 7 hours of sleep I can be as mean as a snake. To get home at that hour you either can take a taxi or the night bus. We opted for the night bus. We took the N55 from Old Street to Oxford Circus and that wasn't a bad ride. The bus wasn't full and it was a pleasant ride. Sometimes riding the night bus home can be a real adventure. For those of you who have done it in London know what I am taking about. You see all sorts in the wee hours. People very drunk wandering around.

At Oxford Circus we waited for about 10 minutes for the bus to turn up and when it did it was too full to stop. This is never a good thing and it usually manages to infuriate people beyond belief. One guy was beating his fists on the door and threatening to put a curse on the driver. Also there was a group of posh couples who had been yelling each other on the sidewalk the entire time we were waiting for the bus.

We thought that we might have a better chance of getting on the bus if we walked up to where it departed from so we took off up Oxford Street to see our bus the N207 coming down the road and it was pretty empty. Matthew and I had to run like bastards to get to the bus. We caught it and managed to find two seats at the back.

It would have been a nice bus ride home if it weren't for the two nasty teen aged boys who got on sat opposite us and played gangsta rap on their mobile phone. I really hate when people do that. People are too afraid to tell them to turn it off and I guess with good reason. Usually it's best not to tangle with those kinds of dudes.

We got home at 3 a.m. not bad, two hours journey across London? That's going out in London if you don't spring for a taxi. I kinda like taking the night bus, but maybe next time we'll get a mini cab.

A day trip to Oxford

On Sunday Matthew, Vance, and Sarah drove up to Oxford. Sarah is from Minneapolis. She's doing a masters programs at SOAS in London. I had met up with Sarah once before for a cupcake in Primrose Hill. She happens to be friends with some of my friends, but we never met in Minneapolis.

The drive up to Oxford takes about an hour and we didn't really have anything planned. We brought a guide book and were just going to wander around. We decided to ignore the useful park and ride right outside the town center and try to find parking directly in Oxford. That provided to be a bit tricky, or hellish might be a better word for it. We found a parking lot and spent about 30 minutes getting furious at people who seemed to be just spending the in Oxford standing next to their cars in the parking lot.

We ended up parking in the lot that is for train commuters. Matthew bought a train ticket (2.50) and then he had to go stand on the platform and send a text to pay for the parking. I think it's neat that you can pay for parking by text. It ended up to be 4.50 in the end and there were plenty of places to park and it was close to the town center. If you go to Oxford park in the train station lot.

Here's a bit of info about Oxford from wikitravel:

Oxford [1] is the oldest university city in England, situated some 50 miles (80 km) to the west of the capital London in its own county of Oxfordshire, and located on the rivers Thames (the section of the Thames in Oxford is known as "The Isis") and Cherwell. Together with Cambridge (the second oldest university city and Oxford's great rival), Oxford has long represented the English academic establishment and élite ("Oxbridge"), a haven of tradition and endeavour. Oxford's famous "Dreaming Spires" refer to the medieval churches and colleges that dominate the bustling modern town in all their Gothic splendour. Picturesque architecture and a vibrant modern life (driven by students, light industry and technology) set in the rolling countryside of Oxfordshire make this a great destination.

Without an agenda we just took to the streets and looked around. I had apparently left my guide book in the car, but thankfully Sarah had hers with. We decided to head towards a pub and have lunch. It was about 2 p.m. by the time we got into town. We set off towards to the pub and on the way stopped to go down Broad street where we discovered Blackwell's book shop.

Blackwell's Books, 48-51 Broad Street (opposite the Sheldonian Theatre) - founded in 1879, Blackwell's main Oxford shop is a veritable tourist attraction in itself, the vast 10,000 square foot Norrington Room excavated beneath Trinity College Gardens laying claim to being the largest space dedicated to book sales in Europe. Another 9 speciality branches of this Oxford institution dot the city.

Thankfully we all love a good book shop especially a big and historic one. We popped in there and looked around for awhile. That's something I love to do, browse for books. I think if it weren't for the pangs of hunger we would have stayed for hours. Thankfully there was a pub right next to the book shop called the White Horse.

The White Horse has many claims, which include being one of Oxford’s smallest, oldest and most famous pubs as well as Inspector Morse’s favourite haunts. Sir Winston Churchill and Bill Clinton are also reputed to have called The White Horse ‘their local’ when they have stayed in Oxford.

Over the years landlords come and go, and so too do the many names of Oxford’s oldest pubs. The White Horse is no exception, being first called the White Mermaid in the 1590s (at a time when the word ‘mermaid’ was a word used to denote a courtesan) and later the Jolly Volunteer.

After a restoration of Charles II in 1660, it was renamed The Elephant. Almost a hundred years later, the name of the tavern changed to the White Horse.

Steps lead down through a little door into the dark interior of the narrow wood-paneled room beyond, in a building that dates back to the 18th Century. During the rebuilding of the facade in 1951, a painted wall was discovered upstairs, and in the roof was a witch’s broomstick - superstition discouraged anyone from touching it!

After drinks and some crisps we moved on to the next pub where amazing Sunday roasts were promised. While we were walking to the pub we went over the river and saw a spot where we could hire out a punt for a cruise.

A punt is a flat-bottomed boat with a square-cut bow, designed for use in small rivers or other shallow water. Punting refers to boating in a punt. The punter generally propels the punt by pushing against the river bed with a pole. A punt should not be confused with a gondola, which is propelled by an oar rather a pole.

Going for a ride in a punt boat was the only thing that I really wanted to do in Oxford. We thought we would do it after our lunch, but of course a Sunday lunch involves a bottle of red wine. So time got away from us and it was dark by the time we left the pub. We did manage to find a little cafe on the way back to the car that sold pecan pie. I thought that was pretty lucky. It was the first time I had seen it in England. I had a slice warmed up with ice cream and it was pretty good! Not as sweet as it is in the States, but pretty good.

After that we headed back to London. We listened to some Prince in the car and called it a day. It was a nice Sunday out in Oxford. Sure, we didn't see many sights that you'd find a guide book. It was nice just to walk around and explore without a real agenda. I think I will definitely be going up there again to have a look around and for a ride on a punt.

Bubble and Squeak, in a tin

Yes, I actually ate this.
Was it good? Hummmmmm......
I added a lot of Tabasco sauce.

While I was wandering the aisles at Sainsburys the other day I was having a look at all the unusual foods that were around. As many times as I have seen them, I just can't get over the idea of hot dogs in a can. Hot dogs in a can? I can't think of anything nastier. I do happen to eat dogs so it's not the whole what's in a hot dog thing. Just the fact that it's in a can soaking in brine, is disturbing.

So, I walked by the hot dogs in a can and gave them a little nod and carried on to discover that they sold bubble and squeak in a can. I had once had bubble and squeak in a caff in Brighton and really liked it. It was like a mashed potato hash brown thing. For those back in Minnesota, bubble and squeak is as defined by the almighty wikipedia as:

Bubble and squeak (sometimes just called bubble) is a traditional English dish made with the shallow-fried leftover vegetables from a roast dinner. The chief ingredients are potato and cabbage, but carrots, peas, brussels sprouts, and other vegetables can be added. It is traditionally served with cold meat from the Sunday roast, and pickles. Traditionally, the meat was added to the bubble and squeak itself, although nowadays the vegetarian version is more common. The cold chopped vegetables (and cold chopped meat if used) are fried in a pan together with mashed potato until the mixture is well-cooked and brown on the sides.

The egg is resting on the bubble and squeak.
Don't worry I didn't eat the sausage!

Despite the picture on the can looking a bit unattractive I decided to buy it and give it a try. Even the fact that is canned potato product had spinach and cabbage in it didn't put me off. The first thing that hit me after I opened the can was the smell. It wasn't very nice and it didn't help that it was a slimy greenish color. The directions instructed me to just put in a frying pan and cook it up for about 10 minutes, or until the potatoes got brown.

It wasn't very good at all, although what did expect? I will steer clear of the canned kind from now on. I will continue to eat it when I am in a caff. I love ordering it just so I can say the name, what a great name for something to eat.

Monday, 2 March 2009

Dinner tonight. Review

Well, I had the best intentions. I thought this one would be an easy on to make here in London, but it turned out to be extremely bland. I am attributing it to the very bland cream of mushroom and chicken soup. I tried to make a tuna cassarole before and used a very cheap store brand of cream of mushroom and it wasn't very good. This time I went all out and bought the most expensive one I could get, Heinz brand. I also added sliced canned mushrooms and those were bland too.

Matthew confirmed that the mushrooms are supposed to be bland, since they are canned. The ones I like to use in America are pretty salty. The Oven Chow Mein was just bland, but the thought was there. I think I will just have to accept that cream of soups here just aren't the same.

Dinner tonight.

1 lb. ground beef
1 onion chopped
2 cups rice (dry) can be instant rice
2 stalks chopped celery (optional)
1 can cream of mushroom soup
1 can cream of chicken soup
2 tablespoons soy sauce
2 cups water
chow mein noodles

Brown ground beef and onion (or microwave if you have one)
Add all other ingredients (except chow mein noodles)
Stir all together in 2 quart casserole dish
Bake covered at 350 for 50 minutes or so
Add chow mein noodles (I just put them on the table for people to add themselves)

Great with strawberry jello

My good friend Molly's mom Pat Roark posted this recipe on my FB page. It was a very pleasant surprise to find it there today. The last time I was in Minneapolis Molly's mom, Pat, took us for lunch at the University Club in St. Paul. Over lunch I told them that I wasn't exactly a fan of English cuisine. Or that there were certain foods from Minnesota that I missed, that's a bit more diplomatic. Taking to heart what I said about food in England Pat was kind of enough to send this to me. She's been to England before so she understands the differences.

Oven Chow Mein is just the kind of thing I have been craving and is virtually unheard of in England. I am going to make it for dinner tonight. I hope I can easily find the chow mein noodles, I haven't used them in anything since I've been in London. Hopefully they'll be at Tesco or at the big Sainsburys. Just looking at this recipe makes my stomach growl.

I will post up a full report and photos tonight! Thanks again Pat!

Beans on Toast

I have to say that beans on toast is one of my favorite things to eat in England. I even have a little song that I sing when I cook them up! I am sure those who know me well aren't surprised that I have song about this, so here it is. I sing it while I am stirring my beans and waiting for the toast to pop up.

Beans, beans, beans on toast. It's the English food that I love the most.

The reason for this post isn't to talk about beans, but to talk about toast. I am now eating toast every day, which might not seem like a big deal except that I never really ate toast in Minnesota. I guess that's not entirely true, I would eat it if I was out for breakfast. I just would never really make toast for myself at home. In fact I didn't even have a toaster for a long time. I just didn't start my day with toast. Not because I didn't like it. I do enjoy toast, I just thought it took to long to make.

Now, I realize how nuts that sounds. Toast doesn't take very long at all to make. However, I am not a breakfast before I leave the house kind of girl. I would sleep as late as I could get away with and then dash out the door. Grabbing a coffee and something to eat wherever I went. If I was going to work then I would eat breakfast there. If I did make toast for myself in the morning than what usually happened was that I would pop it in and then forget about it only to discover it by the time it had transformed into croutons.

Perhaps it's because I have no where to be in the morning that I have turned to toast. There's really no where to run out and grab something for breakfast where I live. There's always bread, so there's always toast.

There is an interesting perspective on toast in Kate Fox's book Watching the English. The book is about the hidden rules of English behaviour and it is a very useful reference book for me. Kate has noted that in England toast is not only a breakfast staple, but an all-purpose comfort food. She discuses the role of the toast rack and points out that American toast is usually "served piled up hugger-mugger in a humid, perspiring stack on the plate, sometimes even wrapped in a napkin to retain yet more moisture. The English would rather have their toast cool and dry than warm and damp. American toast lacks reserve and dignity:it is too sweaty and indiscreet and emotional."

See, there is more to the subject of toast than one originally would think.

I was talking to Vance (our resident coach surfer) about it this morning. What I missed was being able to run out in the morning, usually on the way to somewhere, and getting an almond croissant from the Wedge for breakfast. I became lost in thought about how I used to go about getting my breakfast.

The convenience of being able to decided that you are in the mood for a Jamba Juice, Chipotle burrito, Mexican mocha (from Bob's Java Hut), a cup of tomato soup from the French Meadow, a Dairy Queen, a cupcake from Lucias or an oatmeal chocolate chip cookie from the Great Harvest and then jumping in your car and going to get it.
It's one thing that I think I will always miss about living in America

I also will admit that I miss the drive through. A few times last week I drove Matthew to the tube station and thought that it would be great if I could run to McDonalds and get a bacon, cheese and egg biscuit. There is a McDonalds that is some what close to where I live, but there is no where to park anywhere near it and they don't have the biscuit either. So it was back home for some toast.

Matthew was shocked at all the drive throughs in Minneapolis, especially at the bank. He just couldn't get over that you could do your banking or get cash at an ATM from a drive through. Matthew's home town, Bognor Regis, didn't get it's first drive through until he was 13 years old. I think it was a Burger King that opened just outside of the town center, off the motorway. It's hard to imagine never going through a drive through until you were 13. As hard as I try I just can't.
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