Category Archives: Food

Started in Seattle now we’re here. Started in Seattle now my whole family’s here, sir.

Hello everyone!
This is our Christmas newsletter!  But before reading it, you might want to get in the holiday spirit- London style.  Here are a few suggestions for your consideration:
1. It would be good if you were drinking, and had been everyday: lunch, dinner and dessert for about a month.  If you haven’t been indulging as the British do at this time of year, your liver thanks you.  But seriously, most social events involve lots and lots of drinking.  And since today is Christmas, if you really want to do it right, do as our watch repair man suggested and drink so much that you’re passed out by about noon.  Wake up a few hours later, eat and drink more, pass out again.  Repeat the next day.

2. Turn down the volume on any bright or loud Christmas decorations.  Here, there is a much more natural feel to Christmas décor.  In fact, I recently walked past a house which was modestly decorated with lights and reindeer with my English friend.  She was surprised to see such a thing and exclaimed, “they must be American.”

3. Eat Christmas Pudding (also known as “pud”).  Now, there’s really no American equivalent to Christmas Pudding, which is a cake that is made with lots of dried fruit, prepared anywhere from a month to a year before Christmas, all the while being routinely basted with Sherry, Rum, Brandy or Cognac.  To approximate, I’ve provided a recipe that just might work in a pinch.  First, get a fruitcake and baste it with Cognac, Brandy or Rum- better yet, all of them!  Then get some cream and infuse that as well with Brandy and sugar.  Steam your fruitcake for 30 minutes, then pour some Brandy (if you have any left) over your fruitcake and set it on fire before eating it.   The finished product should look something like this:

4. Sing Christmas carols British-style, where the words are the same, but the melody may be different.  Feel free to add additional syllables to any word to make the lyrics work and remember, coal rhymes with all, grass rhymes with cross and plain rhymes with again.
So by now you should have a meal that is about 80% alcohol and be in a sparsely decorate room with your carols. 
Let’s begin!
This year has been full of change for us and accommodating those changes has necessitated a lot of adapting.  Some of this process has been difficult and some of it quite enjoyable (are you still drinking?).
I am very proud of our kids for how well they have adapted to our new life here.  In March they said good-bye to all of their friends and family and left the only house they’d ever know to journey with us to London.  This required some extreme downsizing of their possessions, living in a semi-furnished house for a few weeks, and putting up with Luke and I as we scrambled to get ready for our trip.
When we arrived in London, they had further adapting to do.  We do not have a car, so there’s been a lot of walking, long rides on the tube and constant comments from mummy to be careful.

After 2 months in temporary housing, we moved again to a more permanent home.  This came with its own set of disruption, as you may remember from my previous post about getting settled.
Then, the kids were in school for the last month of summer term.  There were new expectations for dress (uniforms), new food (British school lunch), new sets of expectations for learning (cursive handwriting, spellings and maths) not to mention the change in pronunciation.  I know we all speak English, but there are many times when we completely don’t understand what someone is saying. 

Given all of the new and different of London, the kids have responded admirably.  It hasn’t always been easy, but they have worked very, very hard to adapt and because of this are now enjoying school, new friends, walking/scootering …they even like to eat British sausage and mature cheddar cheese, both of which have a very different taste than what they were used to.  I’m grateful for them and it’s been a joy to see my children’s perseverance in the face of many challenges.  Below are some pictures of major events for them this year.
We’ve celebrated two family birthdays since being here- Mac and Pearl’s:
We celebrated Mac’s birthday in May.  He is a wonderful boy full of lots of energy, silly stunts and affection for his family.
We celebrated Pearl’s 5th birthday in November and had the good fortune of having Grandma here for the celebration- a double treat!  For her birthday, we ventured to high tea at a fancy hotel in London.  It was very fun and proper, although at times we got a bit silly.  Pearl is so very outgoing, and has become our social liaison here in London- approaching strangers to tell them about her shoes, or fancy dress, or plans for the day.  She’s also adopted an accent of her own making which is kind of British, but also just a lot Pearl in it’s fanciness and dramatics.
The kids began their first full year of school in September.  I am still so enamoured by the uniforms and how cute they look each morning heading off for school. 
This year, Mac has been challenged to learn cursive and memorize spelling words- something we did not get to in the States.  He has risen to the occasion and been diligent to practice and perfect what is expected of him.  He has also joined Chess and Football (soccer) clubs after school and enjoys this very much.
Eva is very popular according to her teacher, which she attributes to the novelty of her being from the States.  It was a great relief to see her make friends so quickly.  She also has had her share of catching-up to do in regards to school.  This year she has learned her cursive as well and memorizing her spellings.  And like Mac, she has shown an eagerness to do so.  Since improving in her reading and writing, she has also begun chronicling various events in her life through stories that she writes.  I love reading each one and hope that she continues to write and draw as these are things that she truly loves to do!
Pearl is a little firecracker at school.  If ever a social butterfly existed, it is Pearl.  Everyone at morning drop-off is greeted by her, often hearing the latest news of what she ate for breakfast, what she is wearing, etc.  She too is working very hard in school and though she is just 5, all students in her class are expected to be reading.   She and Eva have both taken part in dance classes after school.  It is a jazzy dance class, so we are often privy to elaborate shows in the evening full of spinning, jumping, rolling on the floor and posing. 
The kids each participated in Christmas plays for the school.  Here RE, or religious education, is compulsory, so the result is a very Christian celebration at the school.  This year, Pearl was a star in a Nativity play, Eva was an Angel in her own class’s play, and Mac a sort of snow-flake.  This may go without saying, but 2 out of 3 of our kids loved this.  You can examine the pictures to see who was not so pleased to be participating 😉
We had some rather silly moments this year as well.  I’ll begin with Mac, who, as it turns out, is not very impressed by bridges themselves (see: Literally, not knowing where you’re going) but loves to stare at the bottom of them.  It also turns out that when we’re on our 5th trip to IKEA, Mac reverts to a silly state where rubbing his head into carpet samples somehow soothes the monotony.

Eva still loves climbing as much as ever, and we’ve had the privilege of not only climbing play structures and Uncles (thanks Uncle Dan!), but also National Monuments:

Pearl sees the world as an opportunity for performance art, and what better location for said performances than Waterloo Station (major transportation hub)?  As we ventured home late one night, she decided it was a good place to perform her dance moves to “Walk Like and Egyptian.”
  

Luke has also had a very eventful year.  Upon moving to London, he began work at Skype which has been a great experience for him.  I think he’s learning a lot from those he works with, not withstanding an education on the London style of dress.  It turns out that his Redmond Microsoft office was a bit more…let’s call it casual…than here.  For the first time since I’ve known him (excluding our wedding) Luke wore a tie!
He’s also had the opportunity to travel this year for his job, with many trips to Prague.  One included a hot air balloon trip with his team, complete with a ceremonial dusting with soil and dousing with champagne on the heads of all balloon goers.  These are cultural experiences people!
In addition to the adjustment of working here, moving and adapting…Luke also underwent a major surgery in October to repair a collar bone injury from this childhood.  The good news is, we had a world-class specialist in collar-bone injuries perform the surgery and his recovery has been rapid, with his back immediately feeling better hours after surgery.  The not so good news is that English medicine is a bit more conservative than in the States, so 24 hours after re-breaking and setting his collar bone, Luke was sent home with Tylenol and Ibuprofen.  We were assured that this was a very powerful combination of drugs for post-operative pain, but pushed to get something a bit stronger, to the dismay of the medical team.  Though I didn’t hear it, I’m sure there were murmurings of our American-ness.
Luke has been a consistent trooper in this move, working hard all day and arriving home to a sometimes overwhelmed wife with always energetic children.  As things settle here and as he recovers, we look forward to a less eventful schedule with lots of trips to the park (pub).

I’ve had an eventful year as well.  Events include moving here, entertaining the children for a few months while they were out of school, adapting to life without a vehicle (which by the way has been great!), furnishing our home, etc.  I caught myself having a rather surreal thought around October, which was, “Wow, this has been a lot to deal with, I had no idea I could juggle so much.”  It turns out this was a bit of foreshadowing on behalf of my brain because after Luke’s surgery, the composure that once got me through all of this change was exchanged for the feeling of being extremely overwhelmed.  I can now accurately state that my ability to adapt ends with surgery on someone I love.  There were a few moments of emotional meltdown, combined with a bit of encouragement from our doctor to “worry less.”  But we’ve made it.  Moving, new schools, new food, new house, new friends, shoulder surgery…we’ve got through it and I am feeling quite relieved writing all of this because the hardest parts seem behind us. 
There were many encouraging elements to this year for me.
In June, some dear friends visited me in London.  We had experiences that I will treasure for the rest of my life, including trips to Oxford and Hastings, both in England.  It made the pain of missing home a bit less severe to have them here.  And now when I walk around London, I feel that it is more my home since not only I but my friends have been here.

We also had a wonderful visit with my brother Dan and his girlfriend Hong this summer.  They were the first family members to visit us and it was a welcome respite from the foreign-ness of life.

In October, Luke’s mum (mom) Barb visited us to both see the family and also to provide the crucial support we needed with Luke’s surgery.  We had such a wonderful time with her, and her help and support made it possible for Luke’s surgery to be successful, not only for him but our family.
I have a friend and her name is Kathryn.  She is also from the States and has moved here recently, so we have a lot in common.  While Barb was here, we all went to visit Windsor Castle which was a highlight for me.  I am now quite enamoured with Victorian history.  Although, to be fair, all that was required for this was a little, tiny nudge. 
Luke and I have been regretful of all of the concerts we’ve missed since being here, so we finally made it to a Vampire Weekend concert a few weeks after his surgery.  It was fantastic and also happened to be in Greenwich. 

Finally, but very importantly, I got to meet one of my favourite actors of all time- Nathaniel Parker.  If you are not familiar with the name, he is the star of a very good British mystery called Inspector Lynley.  I have watched the show for years and never thought I would meet him. But by chance he was performing at an event that I attended.  I think I behaved in a rather embarrassing manner, but I got a picture and a kiss on the cheek, and he was lovely and very kind.  To meet one of your favourite (fictional) detectives and not even have to be murdered, or a suspect…priceless!

This ends my update.  I will leave you with a few pictures of our day today, Christmas 2013.  We are enjoying our time here but miss our friends and family very, very much.  We hope that you’ve all had a wonderful year and that the next will be full of joy!

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Bits and Bobs

We’ve been in London for almost a month!   Hard to believe that time has passes so quickly. While I’m no expert in London or the people or culture, I thought I’d do a quick post on what we’ve discovered so far- great things, curious things and not so great things.  Also a bunch of pictures of the kids- because let’s face it, watching the kids enjoy the city is pretty much the best part…and the pubs 😉

I think we’ve been to a park almost every single day we’ve been here.  With no school and very little structure, it is a way to both see the city and give the kids time to wiggle.  London is huge and busy, but breaking-up all this busyness are many, many parks- and they are all awesome!
They’re awesome because: 
1. They are completely fenced-in.  Now I don’t mean a tiny little wooden fence, or a partial fence, or a fence that could be scaled by say, a 6 year old who loves to climb.  I’m talking 8 ft. tall stone wall surrounding the entire park with gated entries.  
2. They have something for everyone.  There are vast expanses of green grass for lounging and enjoying the weather (when it’s nice).  There are play areas, fountains, statues, wildlife, lots of dogs and maps to help you navigate.  
3. The play areas are completely fenced-in.  There is only one way to get in, there is a large fence surrounding the play area that is usually composed of tall iron fencing combined with a prickly hedge that no child would dare tackle.   That means that as a parent you can sit on a bench in an unfamiliar city, watch your children play and have no fear of them escaping the play area and no fear of the running into traffic.
4. Londoners take their play areas seriously.  They are amazing and creative and well kept.  Want to climb a gigantic life-size pirate ship?  There’s a park for that!  Want to play in a gigantic tree house?  There’s a park for that!  Want to climb trees with a backdrop of Buckingham Palace, there’s a park for that too!  Want to walk up to an entire herd of wild deer- yep…go for it!  Want a zoo in your park…let’s do it!
Here are some pictures of the parks we’ve visited: 

Park with a beautiful old church in the backdrop

 

Notice the fence/hedge
Those are real deer, there are about 20 of them, and we are really close.  Richmond Deer Park!

 

Buckingham Palace in the background

 

Canada put this installation in St. James park.  Your’re not supposed to play on it, but…..com’on…it’s basically a gigantic granite slide with maple leaves 😉

 

 

Iron gated wall around the park.  Tried to climb, but couldn’t pass over.  Parents FTW!

 

Tree climbing!

 

Meerkat zoo at Battersea Park

 

 

Perfectly manicured lawn.  Girls stand in awe…

 

Gigantic bird play structure!

 

Fencing!

 

 

 

Jumping through fields of daffodils!

Next up: Food!
More specifically, grocery shopping.  
We are currently in Kilburn Park.  Not a source of the largest or greatest grocery stores, but an abundant source of good, fresh food.
What’s been surprising to me is how little frozen food there is here.  Even our version of a mini-mart (Tesco Express), has a substantial fresh food section.  It’s hard to find frozen food here at all.  If you want a pizza, it’s fresh.  If you want curry, it’s fresh.  If you want a sandwich, or 2 or 3 or 10, they’re all fresh!  This is amazing, especially since our kitchen is a super depressing place to cook (dark, dark, dark).  Some of the best curry we’ve have has been from the Tesco Express.  A lot of the food is also local and marked as such.  
We’ve been hungry, especially the kids.  This seems normal for the amount of walking and playing we do each day.  For awhile I couldn’t figure-out what was missing from their diet, but then it struck me.  There are no crackers here.  Ritz-no, Goldfish-no, Triscuit-no!  The snack-time staple of salty, cheezy carackers is not available here.  What you can find are aisles and aisles of biscuits (cookies).  I feel bad giving the kids what I would consider dessert for a snack, but I think that’s the direction we’ll need to go, because there are seriously no crackers!

 

Yummy and affordable fresh fruit and veggies!

 

Ditto prepared food

 

The Isle of Biscuits

 

Another Isle of Biscuits!
Tiny section of crackers 😦
Doritoes-no, Lays-no…but Sweet Thai Chili crisps, Ham crisps, Chicken and Thyme crisps- YES!!!
No Ranch dressing!  Not cool London, not cool

 

Mac is surprised and excited to find the cake aisle 🙂
Pizza!

 

Basil, where did it come from? West Sussex.  Who grew it? Stewart Ross 🙂  Thanks Stewart!

 

 

Our grocery bags also have the Queen and Prince’s stamp of approval- very proper!

 

Now there are a few things that are sub-optimal.  Certainly not awful, but they’ll take some getting used to.  
First off, our washer/dryer.  I say washer/dryer because it is just that, a washer and dryer in one!  Sounds great, right?  Except that it has heard more swear words from me (and management) than all other appliances in the flat.  It is mean and confusing and likes to play games with me…like holding wet clothes hostage behind locked door until IT feels ready to unlock the door.  
Meet evil washer/dryer:

Washer/Dryer does wash clothes, when you can figure-out the elaborate system of buttons, and when you’ve pressed said buttons in the correct order.  If not, Washer/Dryer will hold your clothes hostage until you swear at it, push even more buttons, and eventually call maintenance so they can swear at Washer/Dryer and press more buttons.

Washer/Dryer also only holds about 2 loaves of bread and a bag of crisps worth of laundry…not nice 😦

When Washer/Dryer says the clothes are dried, it’s lying.  They are not dry.  They have shrunk considerably, but are still damp.  There are not many appliances we miss from home, but our Washer and Dryer (happy, healthy, friendly, functional) are some of them.

These are a few bits and bobs.  There are many more, but these were the most entertaining that I could think of right now.  

We have been in London for almost a month and we are still just taking it all in- the food, the grocery stores, the parks, the appliances.  We’re enjoying each day for all of the fun and minor frustration that it presents and overall we’re very excited to be here.