Wednesday, July 11, 2012

Summer Salads

On Sunday for our Bookclub luncheon I made four summer salads.  Two were new recipes to me, one I had tried before (but Dan made it) and one that I had made several times before.

Quinoa, Edamame and Apple salad
Notes: This is one of the new recipes. I made the Quinoa in my rice cooker the day before and then refridgerated it. I didn't make any changes to the recipe but I thoght it was a little bland.

Chicken salad
Notes: I've made this recipe several times and it makes a lot of chicken salad. I'd recommend preparing it for a crowd or cutting the recipe in half.  This time I ommitted the soy sauce (because one of our Bookclub members is gluten-free) and the coconut (personal preference).

Antipasto Pasta Salad
Notes: This is one of the new recipes. I used pepperoni instead of salami and served it on the side (one of our members is vegetarian).

Caprese salad
1/4 c. olive oil
1/4 c. balsamic vinegar
1-2 cloves of garlic, minced
1 tsp dried basil or several leaves of fresh basil, sliced
5 Roma tomatoes, sliced
1 lb. fresh mozzarella, sliced into bite size pieces

Combine oil, vinegar, basil and garlic.  Pour over tomatoes and mozzarella. Refridgerate at least 3 hours before serving.

Wednesday, January 4, 2012

The lay of the land

London has been continuously inhabited since approximately 46A.D. The Romans settled on the north bank of the River Thames (near today's London bridge) after they invaded England. It became a thriving trading post for the Roman expansion into Roman Britain (Britannia). About 200 A.D. a defensive wall was built around the city. For well over a millennium the shape and size of London was defined by this Roman wall. The area within the wall is now "the City", London's famous financial district. Newspapers and TV reporters refer to "The City" much like we say "Wall Street" in the US. Traces of the wall can still be seen in a few places in London. The City of London is approximately one square mile while Greater London is 600 square miles (and it includes 32 other boroughs, like the City of Westminster).

One of the unique things about walking through a city as old as London is the mix of architectural styles (and the age of the buildings) - it can change from building to building and block to block. In chronological order, you might find: Anglo-Saxon (pre-Norman), Gothic, Tudor, Elizabethan, Jacobean, Baroque, Queen Anne, Georgian, Victorian, Jacobethan, Edwardian (up to 1915), and then all of the 20th century additions.

Two significant events, almost 300 years apart, further shaped the layout of the city. In 1666, there was a fire in London that wiped out most of the city and its wooden structures. As a result there aren't many Tudor or earlier buildings remaining. However, the Tower of London was one important survivor of the fire (the oldest part of the Tower of the London, the White Tower, was built in 1078. The White Tower now houses the Crown Jewels). Central London in 1666, with the burnt area shown in pink.

During World War II, the Blitz bombings by the Nazis (Sep 1940-May 1941), damaged or destroyed more than one million London houses. The city was bombed for 76 consecutive nights and many Londoners spent the night (for months on end) sleeping in local Underground or Tube stations set up as shelters. Most of the bombing was concentrated around St. Paul's Cathedral (rebuilt after the 1666 fire) and despite it's massive size, it was relatively undamaged by the Germans.

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Mmmm, haggis, my favorite!

Since Christmas is coming soon and there are plenty of goodies around, it occurred to me that you might be interested in some of the delicious foods available in England and Scotland. Scotland has a few unique dishes - like Haggis for instance - and I thought I'd share some of them with you today.
Haggis is a food strongly associated with Scotland and I can assure you, I've never eaten it nor am I going to start now. Here's the official Wikipedia description: it is comprised of sheep's 'pluck' (heart, liver and lungs), minced with onion, oatmeal, suet, spices, and salt, mixed with stock, and traditionally simmered in the animal's stomach for approximately three hours. Most modern commercial haggis is prepared in a casing rather than an actual stomach. Blech!!
In addition to haggis, you might find cock-a-leekie soup (chicken soup with leeks), Scotch pie (think pot pie), Neeps and Tatties (mashed turnips and potatoes), and Rumbledethumps (potatoes, cabbage and onions) on a typical Scottish restaurant menu. They don't eat as much beef as Americans do but still eat a lot of pork and lamb. In Edinburgh and other coastal cities, you will find north Atlantic seafood (salmon, in particular) on most menus.
I visited Scotland in 1988 while I was studying abroad and I remember Scotland being well-known for (or at least well-stocked) with sweets - particularly shortbread biscuits (cookies), vanilla fudge and toffee. You'll find some of the same English sweets in Scotland (like scones, McVitie's biscuits, trifle) but each region has its own idiosyncracies.

By the way, this made me think of something else worth mentioning about the differences between the English and Scottish. Over here, we tend to use the terms British and English interchangably but the United Kingdom is a sovereign state made up of the island of Great Britain (Wales, England and Scotland) and Northern Ireland. In Great Britain, a native person will probably introduce themselves as Welsh, Scottish, or English first and then identify themselves as British. Make sense? All Scots are British but not all Brits are Scottish.

Saturday, December 17, 2011

They do speak English over there, don't they?

England and America are two countries separated by a common language.
- George Bernard Shaw

Bangers = sausages
Loo = bathroom
Zebra crossing = crosswalk
Drawing pin = thumbtack
Fairy cake = cupcake
Hoarding = billboard
Jacket potato = Baked potato
Plaster = Band-Aid
Serviette = table napkin
Stone the crows! = Holy cow!

Saturday, December 10, 2011

Mind the Gap!

"Mind the gap" is a warning to train passengers to take caution while crossing the gap between the train door and the station platform on the London Underground (Tube). You'll hear pre-recorded messages as you leave the train and see it written on the station platforms. I remember when I first arrived in London, it seemed hilarious to us Americans.

London's extensive Tube system has color-coded routes, clear signage, and many connections. Trains run out into the suburbs, and all stations are marked with the London Underground circular symbol. (Do not be confused by similar-looking signs reading "subway"—in Britain, the word subway means "pedestrian underpass.") It's also the best way to get around London.

Some lines have multiple branches (Central, District, Northern, Metropolitan, and Piccadilly), so pay attention which branch is needed for your particular destination. Do this by noting the end destination on the lighted sign on the platform, which also tells you how long you'll have to wait until the train arrives. Compare that with the end destination of the branch you want. When the two match, that's your train.

For single fares paid in cash, a flat £4 price per journey now applies across all six zones, whether you're traveling one stop or 12 stops. If you're planning several trips in one day, it's much cheaper to buy a tourist Oystercard or Travelcard, which is good for unrestricted travel on the Tube, buses, and some overground railways for the day. The off-peak Oystercard fare for Zones 1-2, for example, is £1.80. The more zones included in your travel, the more the Travelcard will cost. For example, Kew is Zone 4, and Heathrow is Zone 6. If you're going to be in town for several days, buy a seven-day Travelcard (£25.80 for Zones 1-2, £47.60 for Zones 1-6).

Sunday, December 4, 2011

Have fun stormin' da castle!

Buckingham Palace (photo at left) is the principal residence of the British monarch. Queen Elizabeth has three official residences - in addition to Buckingham Palace she also spends time at Windsor Castle (most weekends and holidays) located about 40 minutes west of London and the Palace of Holyroodhouse in Edinburgh (photo below).

We will definitely see two out of the three (BP and P of H) on our trip - no matter which vacation we choose and we may be able to see the third castle on an optional excursion. There are certain must-see sites included in every vacation and then there are other special offerings at an additional cost. Sometimes it's a special dinner, a local show or a special behind-the-scenes glimpse into an historical site. Windsor Castle is one of the optional excursions available. Another popular optional in dinner in London followed by an evening cruise on the River Thames. Dan and I took that optional on our trip a few years ago and I think he would agree it was one of the highlights. There will probably be 5-6 optional excursions offered - a few in London and a few in Edinburgh. It's nice because you get to pick and choose and personalize our vacation. We don't all have to do the same optionals either. We can hand-pick the excursions that appeal to each of us.

Here are a few fun facts about Buckingham Palace:

  • Queen Victoria was the first monarch to reside in Buckingham Palace.

  • Buckingham Palace is located in the City of Westminster. There will be more fun facts about Westminster in a future post.

  • During the 1940 Blitz of London, the Germans bombed Buckingham Palace seven times.

  • Buckingham Palace has 775 rooms. These include 19 State rooms, 52 Royal and guest bedrooms, 188 staff bedrooms, 92 offices and 78 bathrooms.

  • A flag always flies above each of the Queen's official residences. When The Queen is in residence, the Royal Standard flies (see below). When the Sovereign is not present, the Union Jack flag flies instead.

Monday, November 28, 2011

Laura is a Big Wheel!

London, here we come!
So, we're thinking about taking a trip to the UK next fall with one of my sisters and a few of my cousins and and all of their respective partners. My cousin Laura's husband is not interested in going so she was worried about being a third wheel. We assured her that she wouldn't be a third wheel and then she made a joke that she would be a BIG wheel. So Laura, here's your big wheel AKA the London Eye. Dan took this photo on our trip to London in 2009.

Here are a few fun facts about the big wheel on the Thames River:

  • It took seven years to build and was completed in 2000 (its other nickname is the Millenium Wheel).

  • Each rotation takes 30 minutes - it moves slowly enough that passengers can step on and off without the wheel having to stop.

  • On a clear day, you can see Windsor Castle (25 miles away) from the top.

  • Each capsule holds 25 passengers.

More details about the trip to come - like when, how much, etc. In the meantime, I'll update this blog with more posts about England, Scotland and the trip.