Tuesday, February 27, 2007

Spotted what? Odd English Food of the Day

So, after reading the Princess Anne entry, perhaps I should point out it was Katie who made that trip--I only get giggly over Prince William. He's soooo cute. (Ok, end of UK teenage girl impression).

In any case, for those who get this blog by email, I wonder if this entry will survive your filters.

Pudding seems to be a general term for dessert here (except when it's black pudding, which means blood sausage).

There are two types of pudding (italicized stuff stolen and adapted from Wikipedia):

The first type of pudding is a solid mass formed by the mixing of various ingredients with a grain product (e.g., batter, flour, cereal) or another binder (e.g., blood (!), eggs, suet). Puddings can be cooked by three methods: baking, steaming, and boiling. This type of pudding is still common in various places, especially the British Isles, and can be eaten as either a main-course dish or a dessert.... Many puddings of this type resemble cakes, but are moister and usually served in chunks rather than slices. Dessert pudding is often accompanied by custard or ice cream. Boiled pudding was a common main course aboard ships in the British Navy in the 18th adn 19th centuries. Pudding was used as the primary dish in which daily rations of flour and suet were prepared.

The second and newer type of pudding consists of sugar and a thickening agent such as cornstarch, gelatin, eggs or tapioca to create a sweet dessert similar to custard or mousse. This is the most familiar meaning of the term in the U.S. Pudding may be made from scratch or a mix or may be purchased pre-made. The gelatin dessert company Jell-O is the primary producer of pudding mixes and prepared pudding snacks.

So, the whole reason for this entry is because I took juvenile delight in learning that a popular pudding is known as Spotted Dick. (more adapted Wikipedia here):

Spotted Dick is a suet pudding (steamed pies consisting of a filling completely enclosed by suet pastry--fillings can include steak and kidney!), containing dried fruit, usually currants. The dessert is especially popular in the United Kingdom, usually served either with custard or with butter and brown sugar. Spotted refers to the currants (which resemble spots), and dick may be a corruption of the word dough. It is also known as Spotted Dog, Plum Bolster, and Spotted Richard.

For trivia buffs out there, French cyclist Richard Virenque's nickname is "spotted dick", due to his record seven polka dot jersey wins at the Tour de France.

I wonder what US desserts sound odd to the UK: mud pie, rocky road....?

I now return you to your UK royalty updates.

Monday, February 26, 2007

So ... what'd you do today?

... because, well, I hung out with Princess Anne.

Princess Anne, or, as she's referred to, Her Royal Highness the Princess Royal, is Prince Charles's younger sister. (Ninth in line for the throne, for you trivia lovers.) She also happens to have an interest in research in Antarctica, and, in fact, has visited there twice, most recently in January. So, she was the featured speaker at today's UK launch of the International Polar Year. (Science writer buddies: the full launch is on Thursday in Paris. Bet you'd like to be there!)

The event was held at the Royal Society in London. Cool lineup of scientists gave presentations, although anyone who actually knew anything about polar research (not me) would have found it a bit cursory. I sat four rows behind Princess Anne, and spent way too much time pondering whether she puts her hair into that bun herself every day or whether she has people to do it for her. (She stayed for the entire scientific program, by the way. Very devoted.)

In the rows between her and me, there were some Sirs and Lords and I think even a Dame. And some members of the House of Lords, which I'm not sure what that is. I really need to study my British Parliament. And I also need to get a real camera, so when I'm being a dork and taking snapshots not to use for my job but to post on my blog, I at least look professional doing it.

I had to get back to Cambridge pretty quickly after the event, but I took a quick walk and cruised past Buckingham Palace:

... and then zipped off on the Tube to King's Cross to catch the express train back to Cambridge. Just 45 minutes! Even that was cool. This was the view for about 65 percent of the trip:

And it quite often featured fields of sheep and horses. (Not together, though.)

I'm trying to be casual about the whole thing, but I really am giggly inside at this day that included royalty, a palace, and English countryside. How lucky am I!

Saturday, February 24, 2007

A Historic Event

I'm not a big fan of hyperbole in sports. I think that 9/11 humbled us a bit in terms of calling sports figures heroes, but to an extent such language has crept back into sports reporting, and to life in general. It seems like every game is the most important game ever, and some games are deemed historic.

We've spent the last couple of hours watching England play Ireland in the Six Nations rugby tournament. (Nevermind that we have no clue what's actually going on -- that's another post.) The game, we had heard, was a historic event.

On November 21, 1920, during the Irish War for Independence, the Irish Republican Army assasinated 14 British agents. In retaliation, British soldiers later that day went to Croke Park in Dublin and opened fire on players and spectators at a Gaelic football match. Thirty people died. The day is now remembered as Bloody Sunday in Ireland.

Croke Park is used only for Gaelic sports (another mystery: what exactly are hurling and camogie?), but the major football/rugby stadium in Dublin is being refurbished, so they've relaxed that restriction and allowed soccer and rugby to be played at Croke Park.

So, today's game is the first time that an English sports team has come onto Croke Park's field in almost a century, and the first time that God Save the Queen has been played in this historic place in as much time. The president of Ireland shook all the players' hands, and the stadium was absolutely packed. Tears streamed down these players' faces as they locked arms and shoulders and listed to each of the national anthems.

A historic event, indeed.

Our first trip to London!

We took our first trip into London on Friday night! It was nearly spontaneous and wasn't too hard. Wanna know where we went?

Are you ready for it?

Yes, our first trip south toward London was to Ikea. We've got a house to furnish, you know. We planned to go on Saturday, but once I started looking around, I discovered that the easiest train route to the Ikea doesn't run on weekends. Then, they're doing track work on the tube, so we wouldn't have been able to take the subway from the other station, King's Cross, to the Ikea. So, after work Friday, we jumped on the train to Swedish Meatball Land to buy us some cheap Swedish furniture. Here's what we bought:

-not a bed
-not a dresser
-not nightstands
-not a livingroom chair
-AND, a sofa that cost twice as much as we meant to spend.

I had a sofa picked out from the catalog, but when we got there, it was ... wrong. So we had to decide whether to get a different sofa or no sofa at all. We said, oh, heck with it, and bought a different one. However, it has to be special-ordered, and won't be ready for a couple of weeks.

Then we moved onto the bedroom section, where we also had picked out a bed. I sent John on ahead to choose a color. By the time I finished up with the sofa and met up with him, he knew exactly what we wanted. We go to the counter to find ... that they've temporarily stopped making that bed. (The Malm bed, for all you Ikea fans.)

So, we had intended to leave Ikea having settled all the major pieces of furniture and having it all delivered on move-in day. Instead we have a sofa that won't be ready for weeks.

But, it's fine. I scored a nice table and 6 chairs at Salvation Army this week, and the landlords are leaving a small futon. AND, this afternoon, we went and bought a mattress and frame. With a little luck, our 32 boxes will arrive this week, too, so things are definitely falling into place.

AND, I'm taking another trip to London on Monday, and, hopefully, it will be blog-worthy. Stay tuned.

Friday, February 23, 2007

Filthy Frogs and naked ladies

I'm slowly getting into "football" and the big event at the moment is the UEFA cup, a competition among the top European club teams. The UK is excited because their best clubs take on the rest of the EU so teams like Liverpool and Manchester United play Barcelona and Real Madrid. Dominating the headlines this week was a game we saw on Tuesday in which the heavily-favored Manchester United played in France against Lille. Lille dominated the game but neither team could score (yep, that's why us Yanks ignore the game) until the last 10 minutes when Lille fouled United. As Lille set up a wall of players between the ball and the goal, a United player quickly kicked the ball into the goal, catching everyone by surprise. Normally, one waits for the ref to move back the wall of playets and blow the whistle but United didn't have to wait. Lille went crazy, yelling at the ref and almost walking off. The fans started throwing stuff--all in all a typical European football match. The headline on the Daily Sport the next day was "Filthy Frogs!" and the stories continue in the papers today.

Now I only relate this tale to justify my purchase of the Daily Sport, which had 3 lingerie-clad women on the cover and those same women with no clothes on the inside. In fact, most of the tabloid was ads for phone-sex lines and pictures of topless women who seem to roam across the UK in great numbers if this paper is any indication. I swear I bought the paper for the sports coverage but try telling that to my wife.

Wednesday, February 21, 2007

Flowers in Cambridge

JT brought up the other day that he's lived a couple of places where they say that if you don't like the weather, wait 10 minutes. Here, though, that's actually true. We will amass quite a collection of umbrellas, I am sure.

Today being a beautiful, sunny day, I decided to take a long walk on my way into the office. (Meetings and conference calls and such.) Also, yesterday the Cambridge Evening News ran a picture of crocuses blooming on the Backs. And finally, KB over at The Little Garden requested more veggie (in British, that's just veg) pics. Will flowers suffice? :)

Let's start with the tulips I bought on Monday for £1.75:

(After I took this picture, I changed the water and cut new ends. Two hours later, they were a wilty mess. Waaaah. Was I not supposed to do that?)

Then, oh, 150 yards or so from our flat, here are some daffodils in front of Parker's Piece:

(That style of bollard is supposedly unique to Cambridge - forged by the ironworks place here in town down on the river. Or so says the guy we sat next to at last week's wine tasting.)

Ah, some veg! Well, a broad shot, anyway. This is one of the larger produce stalls at the daily market.

Pretty! (I am going to opt not to identify anything, since I am very likely to be wrong.)

Hmm, this pic isn't very impressive when it's tiny. (Also note that it is no longer sunny. See note above re: changing weather.)

And finally, some daffodils with the world-famous King's College Chapel behind it. Get used to pictures of the chapel -- blog readers will see a lot of them. And it's worth it.

So there you have it! I'm not promising to honor (or rather, honour) all requests, but let us know what you're curious about!

Tuesday, February 20, 2007

Happy Pancake Day!

Shrove Tuesday in the UK (and other places) is called Pancake Day. It's the day you use up all your milk, butter, and eggs before Lent begins, and what better way to do that than to make pancakes? And by pancake, they don't mean big ol' fluffy flapjack. It's more crepe-like, and served with lemon juice and sugar, or jam, or sometimes syrup or chocolate spread. As far as I can tell, pancakes are not a regular breakfast item or menu item here.

"Other old customs include the annual pancake grease at London's Westminster school (schoolboys fighting for pancakes in return for a monetary reward); Mischief Night (breaking into people's houses in disguise and demanding pancakes); Lent Crocking or Lensharding (throwing old crockery at people's doors and asking for pancakes to be tossed back), and shroving - a visiting custom in which children sang or recited poetry in exchange for food or money." (from http://www.bbc.co.uk/food/news_and_events/events_pancakes.shtml)

Another article:
Flipping silly
Pancakes are so tasty and versatile that it's a bit odd we tend only to eat them on Shrove Tuesday. Add drop scones and blinis to the equation, and it's plain daft.

Recipes at UKTV Food: http://uktv.co.uk/index.cfm/uktv/Food.homepage/sid/521

And let's not overlook pancake races: http://www.viewlondon.co.uk/pancake_day_london_races_index.html

So happy Pancake Day to all!

Monday, February 19, 2007

And the winner is ...

Paradise Street! We signed the papers this morning, and paid another visit this afternoon. Mr. and Mrs. Claus look absolutely overwhelmed. They really do have a LOT of stuff to move. We, on the other hand, will be the opposite. I pared down a one-bedroom condo to live in a four-bedroom house. Yes, you read that correctly. Four bedrooms, three toilets, two showers, one tub. Plan your trip now. And bring 8 friends. And some cash for dinner because we probably won't have any left.

They aren't four American-sized bedrooms, mind you. One will likely be John's dressing room and office. (I know, I know, what does he need a dressing room for. Well, he wakes up a whole lot earlier than I do and therefore usually requires his clothes before I'm awake, and there's one room that's got built in cupboards (closets) and room for a small desk.) Another has room for a double bed, probably -- guest room it is. The next two are a toss up. There's what seems like the natural bedroom -- perfectly good sized room with an en suite toilet and shower. BUT the third floor is one enormous room with a pitched roof, skylights, and dormer things. I can only imagine how hot this room gets in the summer, though. Decisions, decisions.

Have I mentioned the sunroom and small enclosed garden with plenty of room for herbs? I hereby am putting in a request for an auntie or a grandma or mom to come and plant me a British herb garden. (Be sure you're pronouncing that h on herb.)

So, basically, we just rented the house we were looking for in Silver Spring. Or Vienna. Or Cleveland Park but couldn't afford. And I, the one who will be working in the house every day, am extremely excited about it and feel very blessed.

Shoutouts to SZ, AC, and AuntieM for voting! The pilot (ahem, TOTALLY HOT pilot) who owned the adorable house on Earl St. has decided not to rent out the house just now anyway.

One of these days I'll return to the regularly scheduled programming of British culture shock, and adaptation. Or maybe I will just stick to the mundane details, like how I went to the open-air market this morning and bought asparagus and tulips, and then got a bratwurst for breakfast. I love this place.

Sunday, February 18, 2007

On the telly: Sex Lives of the Potato Men

Here's the first of what I hope will be many amusing (to us Yanks) items from the local TV.

1:05am Saturday
Sex Lives of the Potato Men, a 2004 film on the C4 channel is "dreary comedy [that] concerns the amorous adventures of Birminingham potato delivery men Johnny Vegas and Mackenzie Cook."


Saturday, February 17, 2007

Of sausages, haircuts, and the English channel

Three exciting firsts today. I received my first haircut from a British barber--and discovered the clipper settings don't truly match those in the U.S. Let's just say I got a summer shorn in February and my ears are much colder now. I also bought my first book--a history of the English channel--at a cool used bookstore for 1 pound ($2). It seemed like an appropriate purchase for someone new to the country. A bit later I ate my first sausage from one of the many local sausage carts--and got what I consider a frequent sausage card (eat eight get one free). It was tasty but I think I prefer the half-smokes from the DC street vendors. Also packed into the day was a trip to the outdoor market, 2 craft fairs, and the massive retail park on the edge of town--where all the big box equivalents of best buy, home depot, etc are.


Name That Vegetable

Courgettes, anyone? How about some aubergine?

Perhaps a little swede?

Rhubarb is rhubarb. But I don't quite understand what she's selling here -- rhubarb bulbs?

And now, for your entertainment, here is the bustling city centre. This is my first video post. If it turns out well, I'll take more.

Thursday, February 15, 2007

New housing developments, and Valentine's Day

We've now looked at 18 flats. Today we finally hit the dumpy ones -- we were beginning to wonder where they were. We just looked at a former student house that was *almost* fantastic, save the wretched carpet, completely overgrown garden, tiny cooker (stove), and crummy student furniture. But. It was a huge Victorian row house that, with a few thousand dollars of work, could be really fantastic. Also today, we looked at a furnished two bed, one bath that made me calm to be in. The furnishings are absolutely beautiful, and the kitchen is a dream kitchen. We could move in and not have to buy a single thing. We were hoping to have a bigger place, but we would be happy in this place at least short-term, I think.

So, the new development: Whilst standing on a street corner waiting to look at an obscenely tiny row house, who wandered by but Santa Claus (whose real name is Mr. Day), the owner of the Paradise Street house from Tuesday. We had a lovely chat with him. Turns out he is a retired police officer, and he and his wife are moving out to the country. He was on his way back from listing their house with a second agency because they're quite desperate to rent it out. (You are picturing me telling this story with a British accent, aren't you?)

Anyway, later in the day, I got a call from our agent Raymond. Seems that Mr. Day went back home and called him, saying that they really wanted us as renters, and what could they do. Raymond told him that we were slightly worried about furnishing such a big house. So, the Days have offered to BUY US FURNITURE. Ikea furniture, but still. We don't really need him to buy it for us, it's more the possession of another set of furniture that I'm trying to avoid. If they buy it, it would stay with the house, which is a definite bonus. I'm overwhelmed at the generosity. Really, though, I suppose it's not generosity so much as knowing that they have trustworthy, honest tenants. I suppose that's worth a lot to them, too, and I should just quit worrying about it. Don't overthink a blessing, was what my mom said.

On to Valentine's Day. When we were here in September, we got on the mailing list for the wine shop across the street from our flat. We learned a month ago that they were doing a Latin wine tasting for Valentine's Day. So, not wanting to stress about V-Day plans, we signed up. We had the BEST time. At our table was a very friendly chap from the Royal Society of Chemistry, a PhD student in engineering and her boyfriend, and a woman who lives on Emery Street, where we looked at a house the day before. (The lovely unfurnished Victorian one with the traditional crummy WC off the back of the kitchen. And when I say off the back of the kitchen, I mean 1 foot from the refrigerator.) It was a fun evening of good wine and good conversation. We had 10 wines, a few of which were stellar (and cheap, so even better).

Tuesday, February 13, 2007

Flat hunting: Day 1

We had a very successful first day of apartment hunting. Here's the rundown. Vote on your favorite!

#1: Very Modern Rowhouse at 54 St. Matthews Gardens
Pros: Modern! Partly furnished! Plenty (maybe too much) space! Free parking in carpark! (carpark=parking lot)

Cons: Longish walk to work. Longish walk to central Cambridge. House split over 4 levels. A bit sterile.

#2: Victorian rowhouse at 33 Emery St.
Pros: Character! Original floors, original fireplaces, HUGE master bedroom, adorable garden. 12 minute walk to office, easy enough walk (or even a short busride in foul weather) into downtown.

Cons: Just one non-original added-later bathroom off the back of the house with a slopey ceiling in which 6'3" husbands can't stand up straight. "Drier" is clothesline in aforementioned adorable garden. Not a lick of furniture.

#3: Paradise Street
Pros: STEPS to Burleigh Street and Grafton Centre (translation: butcher shop, charity shops, Robert Sayle, and movie theatres). Huge! Sunroom AND garden. Owners remind me of my parents. Or Santa and Mrs. Claus. They might leave the organ, so Grandma could play it when she visits. (Actually because it won't fit in their new house.) Oh, and they have two fat kitties.

(imagine these rooms without all the crap in it.)

Cons: Fat kitties not included. No furniture. Price is close to our upper bound of affordability.

#4: 9 Earl St. (In British, that's "Elll Street.")

Pros: Location, location, location. Traditional Victorian with modern kitchen and well-placed bathroom. Comes furnished. (John, honey, look away for a sentence.) Owned by TOTALLY HOT pilot for EasyJet who now lives in Milan. HELLO!! (Hey!-says the annoyed husband)

Cons: Just a little too small. Washer/drier is in the garage. (That's Gair-aaahhgghe.) Now occupied by 2 bachelors -- what have they done that we don't know about?

#5: Bailey Place, Rustat Avenue

Pros: Fully furnished (including TV!), in modern building. Certainly enough space. Nice balcony.

Cons: On the 4th floor of a walk-up with no lift (translation: elevator). On the "wrong" side of the tracks -- that is, literally (British: LIT-ra-lee) on the other side of the train station, making accessibility to town a bit more challenging.

#6: Modern rowhouse on Rustat Avenue

Pros: 4 toilets! Modern furnishings. Plenty of space. Garage.

(Look: ACTUAL clothes closets! The only ones we saw.)

Cons: No washer/drier (there's a place for it in the garage, it's just not there.). See previous note re: wrong side of tracks. A bit isolated.

We're scheduled (that's shed-uled) to see 11 more in the next two days -- stay tuned!

Friday, February 9, 2007

A Fun Farewell

Huge thanks to Sean and Chris for organizing our going-away party. (And thanks for the cake -- how awesome!) I can't tell you how much it meant to us to see everyone. We had an absolute blast. We're excited, we're scared, we're ready to go. And that was definitely the best sendoff ever. Watch this space for tales of our adventures.

Katie and John

Thursday, February 8, 2007

32 Boxes.

We thought, "Nah, we're barely taking anything." Thirty-two boxes later ...

Movers come tomorrow. And take our stuff to England. Because on Sunday we leave for England. SUNDAY.
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