Sunday, 16 December 2012

Gastronomical Delight

Wow.  What a weekend.  I think our bellies are going to need a rest.  Either that or we performed some good stretching exercises to prepare for the upcoming holiday season.

On Saturday night, we had a wonderful evening with our neighbors Jo and Tom (shown above) and their boys Max and Leo.

Here are the boys ready to dig in.  (Nicole was at a friend's birthday party/sleepover.)  For the Americans out there, those are "Christmas crackers" on the table (wiki link).   You pull it from both ends and it pops.  There's a small toy, a joke and a paper hat inside (typically).  It's a big hit for the kids.

The picture simply does not do Jo's feast justice.  What an outstanding meal.  I can't imagine preparing so many things and having them ready at the same time.  Well done, Jo!  We had pork loin, sausages, dressing, roast potatoes, mashed potatoes, carrots, red cabbage, regular cabbage and gravy.  (Now you see what I mean!).  Not to mention smoked salmon starters and a homemade apple crumb cake/pie/tart with cream.  Unbelievable.  They had to roll us out the door at the end of the night.

 The boys were "sleeping" during the after dinner movie but the two older ones were simply playing 'possum.  (Heard that phrase, UK friends?).

Given that this is our last weekend here before Christmas, I wanted to have a traditional Christmas carvery.  I tried to get into the Coopers Arms last year but let it wait too long.  This year I booked it a few weeks in advance.  Fortunately, it wasn't until 2:15 on Sunday.  I didn't eat until then (nor did I need to).

The Coopers Arms is located in the small village of Weston on Trent about 15 minutes south of Derby.   Feels like a different world but nothing is really that far away.  They have a pond for people to fish in and some picnic tables for warmer times.

You can see we had our second weekend in a row with nice weather.  It's odd here when the skies are clear and the sun is out during this time of year because the sun never gets all that high.  It pretty much just at eye-blinding level.

As you know, we are approaching the shortest day of the year.  Believe me, it's quite short.  Today sunrise was 8:13 and sunset was 3:50 (!) though there's a little twilight on either side of that.  We've been in the dark going/coming to work for some time now.  Ready to start the upswing!

It was about this time that we went to a carvery last year (see earlier post).  You tell the waitress what you are having and then you go get in the carvery queue to tell them what you are having.  They put the meat, roasted potatoes and Yorkshire pudding on your plate and then you top it off with more potatoes and vege.  You certainly don't leave hungry.

A tried something new:  a lamb shank.  I've had plenty of lamb here in the UK as it is quite good, but I don't think I've had a shank, certainly not a whole one.  It was fine, but I think I prefer the meatier bits of the leg.  This resembled a turkey drumstick in texture though not taste.

It was all good, though it couldn't complete with Jo's spread from the night before.

And to top it all off, other neighbors of ours, Trev and Mandy, had the 3 families from our cul-de-sac over for "drinks" later in the evening.  The drinks also came with loads of delicious finger food and "puddings" (desserts).  I think I was still digesting lunch but I found a little room.

Here's Nicole and the 6 dwarfs (okay not really, but all the boys are younger than she).  We let her scoot back to the house while the rest of use continued to enjoy the food, drink and company.

Trev is a real hoot.  He set up a competition/game that involved winding a string tied to a spoon around a "peg" (clothespin).  All the kids had a go and then the adults as well.  It's always the simple things.   Good times.  Thanks for having us!

Not to be completely out done, I did keep to the food theme and tried another "15-minute" recipe from Jamie Oliver's book.  This one was Thai Chicken Laska.  The chicken was [George Foreman] grilled with honey, lime and sesame.  The "laska" was noodles in a squash and coconut milk sauce with a fairly complex seasoning concoction as well.  Not bad, but not outstanding either.  I'll probably keep the chicken dish in mind though.

Well, I've either made you hungry or full.  Hope you've enjoyed it.

I'll be taking a few weeks off from the blog.  We'll be heading back to the States to visit family over Christmas.  Merry Christmas and Happy New Year to all.

Sunday, 9 December 2012

Lincoln Christmas Market 2012

Greetings, Blog Fans.  On Saturday, we made a return trip to Lincoln for the annual Christmas market.  As with last year, we were joined by the Seppanens though this time sans Lori as she was making her way back to Indianapolis for a business trip.  See last year's post here.

Lincoln is about 75 minutes from Derby.  There's a convenient park-and-ride setup for the event since there isn't much parking in town.  Lincoln is known for its castle, Cathedral and being in possession of one of the 4 copies of the Magna Carta.

It was a cool, crisp but fortunately sunny day.  After meeting up, we walked to the far side of the market by the cathedral.  In fact, we ended up walking completely around the cathedral to follow the one-way system that they had.  As a result, I was able to snap a few photos.

Building commenced in 1088 and continued in several phases throughout the medieval period. It was reputedly the tallest building in the world for 238 years (1311–1549).

another view with a statue of Tennyson in the foreground (Tennyson was born in Lincolnshire)

and one more as we continued around

 here's a better vantage point (taken from the web)

We enjoyed our time at the marked despite the crowds.  We picked up some gifts and things for ourselves.  It makes for a longish (or at least tiring) day but we all enjoyed it.  Some areas were more packed than others.  Here, we are shuffling towards the food court and castle entrance.

castle entrance

As an aside, you often find some pretty neat "pub" signs, particularly the Marston pubs.  How did they come up with this name?  Is this where the condemned stayed?  or their family?  or it's all made up?  Not much repeat business to count on if that's the case . . .

obvious connection for this pub

I tried to surreptitiously take a few photos in a vintage sign shop.  They are actually paper reproductions stuck on some "genuine Welsh" slate.  I bought one last year but didn't this year but I did want to catch these for my greyhound friends (we used to have 3).  Sorry for the poor quality/shadow -- I was trying to be quick! 

 and another

Now to the random section.  Brilliant rainbow on Sunday after picking up Nicole from a sleepover near Etwall.  I also saw 100+ Santa Clauses running at the Markeaton Park fun run.  Quite a sight, but unfortunately no camera or opportunity (driving on the A38).

Finally, my string of Jamie Oliver 15-minute successes continued.  This was Chorizo Carbonara and was relatively easy to make and tasty.  Another winner.  I'm trying another new one later this week as well.

Have a good week everyone.

Sunday, 2 December 2012


Birmingham?  Why would we want to go to Birmingham?  It's not exactly a tourist hot spot though it is the 2nd largest city in Britain.  We usually have only 2 reasons to go to Birmingham.  The first is the airport.  We flown out of BHX for most of our European adventures (the closer East Midlands airport is more limited). 

The other reason?  For the Korean Food.  This is the closest we've found for a decent Korean food store so Kuk treks down every couple of months to stock up on supplies.  I started looking into tourist sites in Birmingham to see if there were any decent options, particularly for the bleak winter months.  Well, the Korean cupboard was bare, so we decided to make a day (mostly) out of it.

Birmingham is about an hour away along the A38.  Earlier in the week, 17 miles of this major road was closed due to flooding.  Everything is fairly saturated and when we get solid, heavy rain for a few days, it's more than the system (and rivers) can bear.

The first (and only tourist) stop was this cozy corner.  This is the site of the only surviving "Back to Back" housing establishment from the Victorian age.

Back to Backs is run by the National Trust which meant it was free for us (card-carrying members).  A booking/reservation was required though since it is only available via guided tour.

Back to Backs were narrow houses, only 1 room deep, built back-to-back into a communal courtyard.   Most had 2 small bedrooms, a common room on the ground floor, and a cellar.  Some opened to the courtyard and others to the street side.  The small alley shown above is what we walked through from the street to get into the courtyard

The back to backs were Birmingham's answer to the booming population of the 1800s.  [The population increased by 22% from 1841 to 1851.]  They weren't particularly well built and were almost always built for renters rather than owner-occupied (most of the land was actually owned by very wealthy families evidently).  Some were lived in and some were for businesses.  Court 15, which was completed in 1831, is all that remains.  The houses were condemned in 1965 though some of the street facing ones remained open as businesses.

The Birmingham Conservation Trust and now the National Trust have restored a few of houses and take one through on a guided tour.  The tour spans different eras to which the houses have been restored:  1830's, 1870's and 1930's.

Here's a shot of one side of the courtyard which happens to be decorated for Christmas.  The laundry is hung out, knickers and all.

Here's the other side of the courtyard.  The bathtub sits under one window (the 1870's house on the inside).  Milk bottles are outside the 1930's house along with a wash basin.

Our tour group was only 8 so we were half of it (not all are shown in the photo).  Margaret, our intrepid and knowledgeable guide, was wonderful.  It was a real treat to hear about the different eras on how the common man lived as opposed to a manor estate.  She did a good job interacting with the group including the kids.

Note its all of about 1C (33F) at this time.  Pretty cold.  We were ready to head inside!

No photos inside though I was allowed to take this one of Alex on the bed with some toys in the 1870s house.  Quarters were quite cramped with multiple kids to a bed (sometimes 4).  It was mentioned that there really wasn't enough room for everyone so people hung about outside as long as they could.

In the 1830s it was light by tallow (animal fat) candles and no running water.  In the 1870s, still no running water, but they did have some gas lamps (including some piped gas).  In the 1930s, there was electricity and running water but still largely coal heating.

Average life expectancy in the mid 1800s was 24 years though I am sure that was somewhat skewed by the infant mortality rate.  People started work at age 8 and worked an average of 60 hours/week.

There were 3 "privies" (toilets) for 11 families.  Yikes.  The earlier time period was still a bench and a pot.  The pot would hopefully get emptied by the night soil man (nice), but even that wasn't necessarily every night.  You can imagine the fragrant environment.   It was also mentioned how dark it was, candle droppings were everywhere, rats/mice and old newspapers for toilet paper.  Yes, kids, be thankful for being born now.

It was mentioned that the area is now close to "China Town" so we thought we given Chinese a try for lunch.  This place was recommended by saying "a lot of people like it", the food is hot/fresh and cheap.  Hmm.  We don't normally do buffets.  Perhaps this would be different/special?

Nope.  We might as well have been in Indianapolis and the Chinese Food Trough.  I should have known better.  Oh well, we got filled up at least.

To throw salt on our wounds, we passed a nice, simple Korean restaurant on the way back to the car.  Rats.

For completeness, here's our ultimate destination.  We stocked up and headed for home.

We might venture into some other Birmingham sites later.  Glad we did Back to Backs on this trip.  It was a real treat.

Continuing on the food theme, I had another crack at a Jamie Oliver "15 Minute" meal.  This one was smoked salmon on a homemade Yorkshire pudding.   I was pretty proud of myself with this one.  It turned out well though the salmon is awfully strong -- perhaps not our thing for an entree/main.

 with a side of "grilled" asparagus (on my new George Foreman indoor electric grill)

 fancier yet -- beets, cress and basil salad w/ a honey balsamic glaze

Last year, we bought a cheap and cheerful "Christmas in a Bag" tree.  Well, we realized that we lost a key piece to the tree (base) so we were stuck.  Nicole and I went out a bought our own live, potted "Charlie Brown Christmas Tree".  It's evidently slightly bigger than our in-a-bag tree as the lights don't quite make it!  We'll have to get some more.  Trying to get a little Christmas spirit going without breaking the bank since none of this will be coming back home with us.

One more note:  we had the opportunity to visit a relatively new ex-pat family on Saturday.  Thanks to the Kisers for having us over for a great meal and a very enjoyable evening.

Hope everyone has a good week.  Thanks for reading.