Friday, March 30, 2007

We're missing Eel Day!

We've been excitedly planning some of our first European adevnture next month: the cute town of Lindau in Germany and the canal-laced medieval city of Bruges in Belgium. But last night I realized the Belgium trip will take us away from Eel Day 2007!
Ely is a village just north of Cambridge that houses a gorgeous cathedral. Before the surrounding area was drained of water a few centuries ago, Ely used to be an island and it was named after the local eels. On Eel Day, smoked and jellied eels are sold, the town criers move through town, and there's a parade. Last year a statue of Ellie the eel was unveiled to great acclaim (right).

There's now even a contest to see who could throw an eel the farthest--although I'm annoyed that political correctness prevents the use of real eels (something akin to stuff socks are used). Missing all this make me very sad. But maybe some of you want to visit next spring and go to Eel Day 2008!


Sunday, March 25, 2007

Blog Interactive: Plant an English Garden!

For all who enjoy gardening and would love to vicariously plant my English garden, I've posted a zillion pictures, complete with dumb questions, here. (Feel free to add comments right to the pictures.)

For all who don't enjoy such thing: As you were.

Wednesday, March 21, 2007

What do British babies eat?

While I am quite disturbed at the absence of grape jam here (see last posting), my latest concern centers on the great Cheerios mystery. As any self-respecting parent in the U.S. knows, Cheerios is (are?) great baby food--portable, dry, and fun to throw are among the cereal's strengths. The sellers of Cheerios even market it as baby finger food!

It just so happens I like Cheerios too, at least when I'm not in the mood for the sweetened rush of Frosted Flakes and other heavily sugared cereals. So imagine my surprise to find no Cheerios over here. Well, that's not quite true. Oddly, they have Honey Nut Cheerios and Mult-Grain Cheerios (a sweetened bastardization of the original), but not the original O's. It makes one (ok me) ponder whether England for some reason rejected the taste of simple Cheerios, or did the producer simply never try to introduce them here. My wife thinks I'm strange to obsess about this but I wonder what the toddlers in the UK are eating if not Cheerios--do they start on fish and chips and bangers and mash that early!


Sunday, March 18, 2007

This and that on food

"England. How exciting! How will you deal with the horrible food?"

This has got to be the question we were asked most before moving here, even by the woman at the reception desk in the Virgin Atlantic lounge before our flight to England.

(Oh, right. I never did blog about our first class flight to England, in which we sat in little pods with fully flat beds and private TV screens and on which I was even given pajamas to sleep in (which, regrettably, I did not steal). Well, it was lovely and amazing and unlike anything we'll ever do, but it was still 1) the overnight flight, which comes with serious disadvantages if you value sleep, and 2) an airplane. No set of pajamas, no matter how amazing, could have made it not an airplane.) (Oh, and since this post is supposed to be about food, I'll say that the food was ... airplane food.)

Anyway, my answer to the critics of British food: People, puh-leez. Meat + potatoes. And even throw in curry, and of course the truckloads of sausage. Hell-LO!

Two weeks ago, I almost wrote a blog post about my new favorite food on Earth, a Stilton and bacon burger on ciabatta bread that we had at this little place we stumbled upon while out for a walk. We were two of six people in the restaurant. It's a pretty new place, and it was previously a pretty dumpy pub. Anyway, that burger. Oh my. I believe it could even replace the now-defunct Nannyburger. (I guess it's still defunct. Any DC'ers been to the "new" Nanny's in Cleveland Park yet?) We wondered whether this would become our de facto place when we want to go out for a relaxing dinner.

On Friday, after coming home from a long day in London, I declared that I just wanted a nice glass of wine and That Burger for dinner. So, we made the 4-minute walk to the Box Tree. We sat down and the manager came over with the wine list and menus. Before I could get out, "I don't even think we need menus," he says, "and here's our new homemade sausage and mash menu."

Me: "I think I love you."

Here was the rundown:
Beef and horseradish
Pork and herb
Lamb, redcurrant, and rosemary
Cajun chicken
Pork, honey, and mustard

Plain butter and cream
spring onion and coriander
roasted garlic
wholegrain mustard

wild mushroom
creamy mustard

I went for the lamb sausages, because we'd eaten a lot of pork sausage that week (more on that in a bit). They only had two left, so I got to choose a different kind -- I picked chicken -- for my other two. (Are you catching this? That's FOUR sausages to an order.) I had it with Stilton mash and onion sauce. Of course it was fabulous. And, even better, John got That Burger, so I got to have a few bites of that as well.

But wait, there's more. JT's a creme brulee guy, so the Bailey's and white chocolate creme broulee piqued his interest. It turned out to be a divine white chocolate creme brulee floating on top of a shot of Bailey's. Heavenly, absolutely heavenly. I went for the chocolate nemesis. "What's that like?" I asked. "It's a chocolate mousse kind of cake thing." Right. Totally a dense, flourless chocolate cake served with real cream. So yes, I think that, even after just two visits, we may declare this "our" place.


One of the things I love here is that darn near every store -- even your average CVS equivalent -- has premade, prepackaged sandwiches. The combinations range from the odd (goat cheese and beetroot or prawn mayo, for example) to some of my favorites (tuna and sweetcorn or egg salad (simply "egg mayo" here) and bacon).
While in London on Saturday, I came across a sushi place that had a long case full of individually wrapped pieces of sushi! I bought a couple of pieces and then asked if I could take a picture. No dice. Some creative googling, though, revealed a picture someone took with his cell phone. It was even decent-tasting sushi. Too bad I had already had lunch -- an egg mayo and bacon sandwich, of course.

Oh, and another word on sandwiches. A popular sandwich here is a bacon sandwich. Bacon + bread. Anything else optional. Nothing wrong with that.


Last weekend, the place to which we did not drive was Feast East, the food and drink festival for East Anglia. (East Anglia is sort of our "state," and Cambridgeshire is our "county.") Eighty booths of local growers and producers. Like a craft show, but with food.

We ate sausage, cheese, jam, sausage, cheese, and more jam. The theme this year was pork, with hourly cooking demonstrations using pork. The weirdest thing I ate was a pickled quail's egg, and it was indeed weird. Mostly tasted like egg, though. The event allowed us to solve a mystery: Why There Is No Grape Jam in England. They don't make it here because grapes don't grow in England. "Just try some British wine and you'll see why there's no grape jam here." (Indeed, we tried some local wine -- and it was pretty terrible.) Now, none of this explains why they can't import grape jam, but whatever. We talked to some lovely jam makers who told us that when they visit the U.S., they eat grape jam every day.

We came home with a case of beer, two kinds of pork sausage, some dried herbs, three kinds of cheese, and smoked olive oil. Yum!

The same outfit that organized the show also organizes National Watercress Week, British Tomato Week, British Sandwich Week, and British Cheese Week. I would recommend skipping British Wine Week, though -- a week earlier is the Cambridge Beer Festival. Now we're talkin'.

Friday, March 16, 2007

March Madness, UK-style (and I don't mean University of Kentucky!)

We have several posts in the works, one on the food festival we attended last week and another on how one can buy anything used here. But today's blog entry just has to be about last evening. After I got home from work, we popped a frozen pizza into the oven, cracked open a few beers...and watched Texas A&M beat some team in the first round of the NCAA basketball tournament! Now Katie's an Aggie so the win was exciting enough, but I was more amused and impressed by how we watched the game: on our laptop.

For the 2nd (3rd?) year, all the tournament games are streamed live over the internet and I had signed up for a VIP pass last month since I heard they limited the number of people viewing (there's no cost). I tested the system at work and the computer network guy there (who was highly amused) said I wasn't hogging any bandwidth so I edited a story while watching Maryland barely win their game.

Katie was able to log on at home over the wireless network, but she was on the top floor and video was choppy and even audio only was in and out. So we brought the laptop downstairs and plugged it directly into the cable modem providing our internet. We had a long cable so we propped the laptop up on the coffee table, sat on our new couch and ate pizza and drank beer while cheering on the Aggies (Whoop!). There were remarkably few breaks in video or audio and the picture looked fine on the 14 inch laptop screen (one can switch to full screen mode instead of the mode you see above). In fact, the experience was better than watching TV at home in the U.S. in that I could pick any game to watch. I wasn't at the mercy of whatever game CBS chose for me.

Katie had to go to London early today so she went to bed early. I stayed up and watched the Michigan State game, but I must admit I couldn't stay awake for the whole thing--the game started at 11:30pm here and I do have work today! Curiously, I went to watch the archived game to see the ending this morning and viewing outside the U.S. was forbidden--even the highlights! I guess only live TV is permitted for streaming here. Still, with March Madness in full swing on our laptop. I could almost forget I'm in England. Go Spartans!

Sunday, March 11, 2007

Home and Garden Tour 2007

Here they are, pictures of ...

our house in cambridge

(In theory, you should be able to click on the above image and view an album. Lemme know if it doesn't work.)

I have four little videos, too, but I think I'm going to wait until after Wednesday to post those so I'm not hogging someone else's bandwidth. (I say that. Of course I've already uploaded one of the videos.)

Friday, March 9, 2007

Stay Off the Sidewalks.

I (KT) had my first British driving lesson on Wednesday. I set up the driving lesson because 1) there's a thing we want to go to on Saturday that's in a village outside Cambridge, 2) renting an automatic costs twice as much as a manual, and 3) I am the manual driver of the family.

I shall further summarize with the following: We will be taking the bus on Saturday.

Really, by the end of the lesson, I was fairly comfortable with being on the left side of the road and the right side of the car, and even with shifting with my left hand, although I did whap the door a couple of times with my right hand. My biggest problem was understanding that there was a whole half a car on my left side. I clipped curbs, came dreadfully close to cyclists, and would roll through narrow streets at .02 mph because I didn't have a good feel for how much car was to my left.

The other problem was that I'm not sure I ever "learned" to drive a stick shift as much as I just sort of did it. I apparently press the clutch too much. And I don't know if this is a UK thing or a thing I just flat out never learned, but the instructor had me put the handbrake on at EVERY SINGLE RED LIGHT. Seriously?? It's to prevent rollback on hills, he says. You know, here in The Fens, the flattest place on Earth. After looking around at red lights and not seeing brakelights, I realized that pretty much everyone else does this, too. In the UK we get a red/yellow light a second before the green light, so it's in that time that you let up the clutch and release the brake. This was NOT easy to get used to.

Anyway, I'm glad there are some traffic circles in DC, because I was at least familiar with the roundabout concept. I went through small roundabouts, big roundabouts, miniroundabouts, and double miniroundabouts.

Also to contend with are the various types of pedestrian crossings: The pelican, the puffin, the toucan, and the zebra. And no, I am not making that up.

I think I pretty much had a handle on it by the end, and I was certainly more comfortable on my bicycle after the lesson. But for now, pedestrians are safe, for I shall take the bus this weekend.

Tuesday, March 6, 2007

Partly Thundery

The weather forecasts here crack me up. I often hear "showery" as a forecast word, and did even hear "thundery" one day, although I did not subsequently hear thunder. Almost all forecasts are sentences long that all pretty much describe the same weather. I wonder if there's a class in university on writing weather forecast copy.

Here's tomorrow's forecast:
"Dry and bright. But there will be a fair amount of clouds at times, meaning that any sunny spells are likely to be short-lived."

Don't make the lollipop lady cry!

Ripped from the headlines...of the Cambridge Evening News (the amusing local newspaper).

Headline: Hands off my A-S-S-S-S-STRA. Snake shock at garage
Story: 3ft dead python found behind dashboard of a car called an Astra. "We were gobsmacked" says service manager.

Headline: Lollipop lady ignored
Story: Lollipop ladies are apparently the women who hold up "Stop" signs at school crossings and this one was "left in tears" as cars sped by her and students on Monday.

Headline: Council hatches plan to curb duck growth
Story: The pretty village to the north, Ely, apparently has an ever-growing duck population and need to take special measures to stop eggs hatching. My in-laws with deer problems can relate.

Till next edition of Ripped from the Headline--jt

Saturday, March 3, 2007

Dead Computers: One (1)

Well, almost everything made the trip without incident.

This week was the big move-in week, and really, everything went very smoothly. I picked up the keys to our new place on Tuesday night. Wednesday morning, JT came over early because we weren't sure what time our 32 boxes were going to arrive. He got to the house at 8:30; the boxes arrived at 8:40. A good 10 of the boxes were pretty royally smashed, but surprisingly, nothing was broken. Even our six Mikasa cordial glasses made it in one piece. (KT pats self on back for good packing job.)

Then, closer to 1 p.m. the table I bought at Salvation Army arrived. I had asked JT earlier in the week to ask his British officemates whether delivery folks should be tipped. Two ladies said not really, but if they do something above and beyond, a pound or two is appropriate. So when the two little old men who delivered the table had to take the legs off to get it through the door, and then they put it back together, I thought I'd give them a little tip. As they left, I went to hand them each two pounds. They both gave me confused looks. Now horrified that I had offended them in the worst way possible by offering them money, I blurted out, "I'm American - this is what we do." They thought that was the funniest thing they had ever heard and cackled all the way out the door. They did take the tip, though.

Wednesday night was the last night we spent in our temporary apartment, and also was the night that John locked himself in the house. Now we know not to force the door shut if it won't close easily! Thursday morning our new bed was delivered (a "king" bed, which is the size of a US queen), and in the early afternoon, my huge grocery order arrived. We live in walking distance to several grocery stores, but it's a long walk to the big (less expensive) stores, so I placed an online order with one of them and got stuff like 12 two-liter boxes of sparkling water, 8 two-liters of Diet Coke, a 20-pack of Stella, a case of Strongbow -- you know, the essentials. So by Thursday night, we were well-prepared to live in our new house.

Friday, after a good solid morning of work work, I decided to pull the bike out of the box and put it together. (JF, if you're reading this, cover your eyes for this paragraph.) (JF put a lot of work into the bike before we left the US.) When I pulled it out of the box, one of the spokes on the back tire was broken, and I later learned that it was otherwise mangled as well. I put the stem and handlebars on, put on the seat, screwed the pedals in, then walked it 50 yards down the street to the bike shop. For 10 pounds, they fixed the back tire, fixed the spoke, and tightened everything else up. I rode it around the block a few times, and it works like a charm.

The next stop was the computer store. Both my monitor and computer are able to run on the 240V current here; I just needed the right cords. So I headed home excited about getting the big computer all set up. Monitor first: Works perfectly. Next I switched the voltage switch on the CPU to the right setting, added all the peripherals, plugged it in, and: Nothing. I'm on Step 9 on the troubleshooting guide, which is, "Open the case, and disconnect all the power cords from the motherboard." Ack. I did at least open the case, and there appears to be one set of wires that should be plugged in somewhere but are loose. Problem is, I can't figure out where they go. So, that's going to go off to the shop, too. (A different one than the bike, obviously.) Frankly, if we get it resurrected, I'm going to have to do some work on it anyway. I neurotically backed everything up -- twice -- before we left, so I'm actually not that worried about this little fiasco.

Apologies for the rather mundane post. I know you probably wanted more fun pictures and such. Hopefully the house will be in decent shape by the end of the weekend, and I'll take some pictures. Meanwhile, perhaps you can tell me what exactly I'm supposed to do about these:


Friday, March 2, 2007

Help! I'm locked inside my new house...?

I'm sure Katie will soon do a post on how great our house is and show plenty of pictures, but me and the new digs got off to a rocky start. Even before we moved in yesterday, I took some stuff over from the office. It was meant to be a quick dump and run...but then once inside, I couldn't open the door to leave. After trying every possible combination of keys, handles and strengths, I was stumped. The normal lock seemed to open and close but I couldn't get the deadbolt to slide clear no matter what I did. As I tried to quell my annoyance I realized the kitchen windows didn't open and the garden had no alley exit--so I was truly locked in unless I wanted to hop into someone else's backyard garden or jump down from the 2nd floors window. Then I started to worry the phone had been turned off. And I had no cell phone on me. Whew--a dial tone. I sheepishly called Katie who was very nice about it (she could tell how angry and embarassed I was) and said she would be right over. Fortunately, she was only about a 10 minute walk away. As I stewed, I wondered if I had broken the deadbolt slamming the door. Finally, Katie arrived, quickly opened the deadbolt and set me free.

Apparently the deadbolt is not broken--it's a security feature of the lock! When one leaves, one can set it so the deadbolt cannot be opened from the inside (The idea is that a thief breaking in through a window would be prevented from walking out the door). When I opened the door to enter the house, I must have turned the cylinder in the wrong direction and engaged the inside lock setting. I've seen this before in the U.S. but there's usually a keyhole on the inside of the deadbolt that can be used to open it in a pinch (fire!). Not so here.

Well, we now know how not to lock ourselves in by turning the deadbolt the right way. Any visitors might want to remind us to teach them that little lesson!