Sunday, 20 January 2013

Snow & A Week of Feasts

It's been a cold week here and as you can see, we got some of the white stuff as well.  We had a little on Monday morning and then a further few inches on Friday.  I thought they did a good job in Derby about getting the salt and grit down such that we didn't have any issues getting home from work.  The smaller roads in the subdivisions were a little slick and I think it was more severe to the south of us (and Wales in particular) though I honestly haven't kept up with the news.

It looks like it will stay around freezing for the next week and I think more snow is predicted.  I think the city can handle a couple of inches but not much more (no plows).  Our cars are rear wheel drive and have summer tires, so we really aren't well equipped.  We are each carrying two bags of sand in the "boot" to provide a little more traction.  Hopefully, it won't get much worse.

Alex is having a blast.  We've hardly seen him as he's been running around with the neighborhood boys building snowmen, forts, having snowball fights and going "sledging" (sledding).  Every so often the thundering herd warms up in our house for awhile and then goes back out and to the next house.

Given the fact that he's having so much fun and the potential for more light snow over the weekend, we decided to stay put.  So, no trip report this week.

Note:  we got snow about this time last year too (link).

We've been playing "Ticket to Ride" on family nights and watching a movie rental or two.  It's nice to take it easy.

I decided to go all-in with "fancy" meals this past week.  Not sure if anyone cares, but I've enjoyed the Jamie Oliver book so much I decided to do more than 1 or 2 recipes from it this week.  They've ranged from good to fantastic so I'll keep plugging away.  It's fun to try new things.  (And if I can do it, I'm sure most anyone can).

Alex:  Dad, I like these fancy meals and all, but when do you think we can have some plain ones?

[Okay, I guess I need to work in a few "plain" meals this week.]

3-course feast last Sunday -- started with some crab cakes with the leftover crabmeat we had

Stilton, Apple & Walnut Crouets (w/ mushrooms)
and mushroom soup (w/ cream and truffle oil)

Prawn Linguini w shaved fennel salad.  Good, but not great.  Last effort on the fennel.  Even without the seeds, it's still too much for us.

Seared Asian Beef w/ Best Noodle Salad and Ginger Dressing.  Excellent.  A good example of my growing adventurousness and confidence.  I didn't considered this one an option when I first got the book.  I'm spending a few more minutes on presentation as well.

Green Tea Salmon, Coconut Rice and Miso Greens.  Also very good.  Yes, the salmon is seasoned with an opened green tea bag.  The greens don't look so appetizing due to the brownish sauce (miso & soy sauce & more), but they were also good.

"Simple" Spaghetti.  A repeat.  Simple to make but complex in flavor (red chili, garlic, anchovy, rosemary, lemon).  A big hit, though the kids would like the spice toned down a bit (but I like it and I'm the cook!).

Easy one -- just grilled up some lamb chops.  Served with sweet potato mash and Mediterranean vegetables.  We don't have lamb too often as it is quite strong but it is generally very good here.  I bet we miss it when we return.

Fancy Fish Baps (rolls) with mushy peas.  Okay.  Family isn't a fan of mushy peas, but I thought I'd have a go with a homemade version (still not fans).  Kids didn't' like the green sauce either so I'll probably shelf this one.

Though I rarely get these in "15 minutes" they don't take too long.  JO does a really good job of combining flavors and I'm enjoying trying new things.  We certainly ate well this week.

That's all.  Have a good week everyone.  Hopefully I'll have something more exciting for you next week.

Sunday, 13 January 2013

Royal Crown Derby

We decided to stay close to home this weekend and visit the Royal Crown Derby.  (wiki link -- some info of which is contained below).  

The Royal Crown Derby Porcelain Company is the oldest (or second oldest) remaining English porcelain manufacturer (there is some dispute with Royal Worcester in Stoke-on-Trent) and is based in Derby. The company, particularly known for its high-quality bone china, has produced tableware and ornamental items since approximately 1750. It was known as "Derby Porcelain" until 1773, when it became Crown Derby, the "Royal" being added in 1890.

It goes without saying that is good for business if the Royals give their seal of approval as that implies quality and has a certain cachet.  This is done, as I found out, by issuing Royal Warrants.  "Derby Porcelian" was given a Royal Warrant by King George III which also gave it permission to incorporate the royal crown.  (Yes, that's the same King George III that the American colonialists had an issue with).  Subsequent warrants have been given out along the way, but the last is from the Queen Mother in 1978.   They are hopeful that another is coming . . . .

In 1877, an impressive new factory (which is the site we visited today) was built on Osmaston Road, Derby, thus beginning the modern period of Derby porcelain. Crown Derby’s patterns became immensely popular during the late Victorian era, as their romantic and lavish designs exactly met the popular taste of the period.

In 1890, Queen Victoria appointed Crown Derby to be “Manufacturers of porcelain to Her Majesty” and by Royal Warrant granted them the title "The Royal Crown Derby Porcelain Company".

They are quite proud of their royal connections.

Since it was a dry day and not too cold (i.e. above freezing), I decided we could actually combine this with a city walk.  RCD is about 2.5 miles from our house with a fairly linear (walking) route.  Why not walk?  Alex wasn't too keen on it (especially coming back), but I'm glad we did it.  It took about 45 minutes to get there.

 All smiles starting off
 Still smiling shortly down the road.  I mainly took this one because I love the old-time mile markers.  Cars driving on the left.  Is that unnerving to the US readers?
The walk took us through the middle of the city centre.  We don't tend to walk around here as much as we could/should.  We tend to drive straight to the mall (Westfield) or occasionally to a restaurant.   We aren't really High (Main) Street shopping types.  At any rate, this building caught my eye.  Too bad I don't know what it is.

After walking by some less than spectacular spots (including an "adult" store, a pawn shop and numerous bookies) we made it.  [Still glad we did it, but also glad we did it during daylight.]  The photo above is the actual factory.  It's a M-F kinda place, so tours aren't available on the weekend -- too bad.  We spent our time in the Visitor's Centre (shown in photo #1 up top).

First in the gift shop, they had a few Queen Elizabeth II collectibles.  Pricey stuff.  The little mug up front is smaller than a shot glass and essentially costs $100.  We didn't buy anything this time, but maybe later.  They did have some seconds that knocked the price in half on some things.

Note, they've had a couple of banner years with the Wedding, Queen's Diamond Jubilee and the Olympics.  They've also been planning for a royal baby since William and Kate were married.  With the news of Kate's pregnancy, they've stepped it up a notch.  Maybe we'll stop back by when those are out . . .

On to the small museum:
Playing up the royal ties, they had a couple of sets depicting QEII's coronation in 1953.  (Recall that QEII ascended the throne upon her father's (King George VI -- King's Speech guy) death, but her fancy coronation ceremony was over a year later.)  This was set up as a typical household of the day (of course with a nice RCD tea set though).  I made sure the kids had a look at that TV.  That bad boy even pre-dates me.  I do recall where we used one 9" TV for the picture and another 13" TV for sound.  Both B&W (we were on sabbatical away from home that year).

Random note:  TV sales skyrocketed due to the coronation and this was the first event than many saw on TV.

Random note 2:  in 1953 food was still rationed due to WWII but households were allowed an extra pound of sugar and 4 oz of margarine for the coronation celebrations.  That's even better than getting days off like we did for the wedding and jubilee!
I believe this was a table showing the "Royal Pinxton Roses" which was given to the Queen on her visit to Repton and Derby in 1957.

Here's an old photograph of then Princess Elizabeth visiting Rolls-Royce in 1949 (I think).

 a photo and commemorative plate of Princess Diana's visit in 1987 (also a big deal)

 another commemorative plate for QE II

 screams English/British, does it not? (at least stereotypically)

 Royal Cats and Dogs

a reminder of how young (26) and striking Queen Elizabeth II was when she took the throne --  "she heralded a new era for the British people who were still recovering from WWII.  The new young Queen symbolized a fresh, new start."

 one of the odder pieces -- this is supposed to be Mars.  huh?

 "Sweatmeat Stand in the form of 4 Blackamoors"

Zeus (I'm not getting the Greek/Roman gods angle here) -- this was apparently typical of some of the items at the other (Kings Street) location

Finally, a closed room showing the Ronald Raven collection (opened by Lady Di further up)

It was a nice, small museum and worthy of our time.  I'm glad we combined it with the walk to make a full afternoon out of it.  Of course, walking there meant walking back.  And for that, there was some considerable whinging from SmallFrey.  It doesn't help that it's uphill as well.  We did stop at a few stores on the way back to break it up.

Dusk sets near the Derby Cathedral. I'm guessing it's about 4:30.  A few more minutes of light every day!  St. Mary's to the left in the background.

 and now St. Mary's

One of our stops was to the Waterstone's bookstore.  This little number was on sale, and given that I'm a child of that time, I simply could not resist.  A few samples of the pages below (humor me).

 hopefully at least one of you enjoyed that like I did

Finally, the now regular meal-o-the-week item:  Rosemary Chicken, Grilled Polenta & Porcini Tomato Sauce.  I would never think to put these combinations together, but JO has a real knack for it.  Though I rarely get these done in 30 minutes, much less 15, they are still relatively easy.

I still can't get even the streaky bacon to really crisp up properly here.  More work there.

My confidence and track record are up, so I'll be trying quite a few new dishes this week.

One final item:  here's a shout out to my kids.  They've been harping for a raise in their allowance (pocket money I think it's called here) so we collectively laid out the new requirements (chores).  They've really upped their game and doing it with a great attitude.  Way to go Nicole and Alex!

Sunday, 6 January 2013

Boscobel House -- Catching up with Charlie the Second

January can be a tough month here.  It's dark, the weather's not great and quite a few sites are closed.  Combining that with the fact that we've picked off the low hanging fruit I've had to cast our net a little farther afield.  I wanted to get back in the swing of things because we had gotten a little soft leading up to Christmas and it was time to get out and see/learn something.  Here we go!

Today's activity was visiting Boscobel House and "The Royal Oak", an English Heritage property (link).  From the guidebook:

Boscobel House, a handsome 17th-century timber-framed lodge, was built by John Giffard, a local landowner.  Giffard was a Catholic and his new house, which was hidden in deep woodland, was well suited to hiding Catholics who needed refuge from religious persecution.  For a few days in 1651, the house played a pivotal role in English History, as the hiding place of future King Charles II who fled to Boscobel after losing the battle of Worcester.
Boscobel House isn't really near anything.  I guess Cannock is the nearest town but that's not saying much.  It's about an hour away from Derby.

The actual 17th-century lodge is on the right.  The "half-timbered" addition was added later.  (It's actually a little cheesy since it is brick painted black and white).

A quick aside:  another interesting connection is that this property was turned into a farm in the 19th century.  It was purchased by a wealthy industrialist, Walter Evans.  Not only was he from Derby, but he was actually from Darley Abbey (the area where we live -- we are just outside the actual village).  Last year, Alex was at Walter Evans primary school.  Neat connection, huh?

Though this sketch is a little difficult to make out, it shows Charles II's escape route as he out ran Cromwell's Parliamentarian Army (Bravely ran away, away.  Bravely Ran Away.  -- Monty Python HG).  Had he been caught, perhaps the monarchy would have never recovered (doubt it -- but it helps enlighten the story a bit).

He first ended up at the nearby White Ladies Priory and then made his way to Boscobel House.  At first, he spent a night in the dense wood in a tree that had been pruned and had grown back thick and full.  Good for hiding but not so good for sleeping.  (He hid with his trusted officer, Major Careless -- surprisingly he made it through the night!).

After a night in the woods, he set off to try to get to Swansea but found that all the bridges were blocked and he then made his way back to Boscobel for a second night.  Fed up with sleeping in a tree, he asked for an alternative and they decided to let him sleep in the "Priest Hole" which was the hiding place for any priests that were surprised while giving an illegal service in the lodge.

After that, he made his way down to the Old Moseley Hall (NT link).  We would have followed him down, but this National Trust site, like many, is closed this time of year.  He eventually made his way to Bristol (with no luck) and finally Shoreham (on the coast) before setting off to France.

I find it amazing that this house and tree got its fame for helping the future king for 2 nights nearly 400 years ago.

One reason for the detail in the account is that this was written down.  We enjoyed the guided tour through the house and the detail of the those two storied nights.

So, what about this famous tree in this dense forest?




Ta da:

Hmm.  Not so inspiring, is it?  This is actually the daughter tree.  The first died 250 years ago due to souvenir hounds.  This one was struck by lightning in 2000 and has been held together by bands.   I think they have a granddaughter tree waiting in the wings.  (It's a royal heritage after all).

As you can see the forest has also been pruned for farmland.  At least they didn't touch the "royal" tree(s).

 Here's a view from the house.  Just as sad.

 quick shot of the kids on the hill

Here's the glassed-over priest hole in the attic.  Unfortunately, you can only see the reflection from the window above.  It was 4' by 4'.  I'm sure it made for a cramped night, but hey, better than sleeping in a tree with Major Careless.

 We decided to drive a mile up the road to see the White Ladies Priory.  Not much to take in at this point.

For a late lunch, we had to eat at the Royal Oak pub.  Literally, it was the only thing around.   Not bad though we didn't exactly have high expectations.

All and all, a surprisingly nice day out.  We got a little bit more of a historical connection than I had bargained for and we had the bonus Walter Evans/Darley Abbey/Darley connection too.

Despite my warnings last week, I did get in a new "15-minute" meal yesterday.  This was a crab pasta dish.  Very complex flavors -- perhaps a little too complex.  We learned/re-confirmed that we don't care for fennel seeds.  I'll leave that one out next time.

Thanks for reading.  Have a good week everyone.

Tuesday, 1 January 2013

Home for Christmas 2012

Welcome back, Blogfans.  A happy 2013 to you.  We've groggily entered the new year as we recover from our jet lag.  We arrived back in the UK yesterday morning, New Year's Eve.  It was more of a struggle than I remembered but we slept late today and seem to have recovered more or less.

We are a predictable bunch and our Christmas holiday was quite similar to previous years.  Take a look back to last year and you'll see quite the repeat.  Whether coming from the UK or our home in Indianapolis, we visit Kuk's family in Maryland and my family in North Carolina.  The only difference is the jet lag and the extra shopping (we did our best to boost the US economy while we were home).

But first, we had a few school events before setting off:

Alex's school had a Christmas musical of sorts.  Each of the four "houses" (just like in Harry Potter) performed a non-traditional song.  Alex's group did "Grandma Got Run Over by a Reindeer".  They did a great job and won the competition in fact.  Alex is a funeral goer (1st dark suit on the left).  You can see poor grandma laid out on the table.

 Begging Grandma not to go out

 Poor Grandma

I was glad to be able to attend (as was Kuk).  I had planned to take off early but I got stuck in a sticky situation at work.  I left as soon as I could and fortunately made it before his skit (but after the start of the show).  Perfect timing, actually!

The formal Christmas program for the school was held at Derby Cathedral (see previous visit).  Grand building but horrible sight lines.

We flew to the US on Friday, 12/21.  One of the top highlights for the kids was seeing their aunt's dogs again.   Here's Nicole with Annie.

 and Alex with Nicoli

One tradition we have is to always get together with Kuk's longtime (grade school) friend Julie, her husband Roy and their daughter Ashley.  I managed to leave without taking any pictures again.  Sorry guys.  We had a great visit and some great food as usual.   It's an annual treat for us.

Another tradition is ice skating on Christmas Eve.  Typically we go to the Sculpture Garden but we tried a newer place in Georgetown.  Though not as scenic, the facilities were nicer.  Nicole with her cousins Shay and Cass.

 Alex in action

 Cass, Aunt Mi Jung and Nicole starting a train chain

 Aunt Kuk Ja, Nicole and Shay

 Kuk and Mi Jung

 Shay, Mi Jung and Uncle Ted sneaking up

a nice one of Alex and Shay (these two paired up well -- we managed to see Les Miserables on Christmas and they swapped candy and kept themselves entertained through the whole movie)

 one last shot of most of the girls

after skating we had some excellent pizza and beer.  I do miss the beers available in the States.  I indulged myself with the Black Chocolate Stout on the right.  It was high in alcohol content so they served it in the cute little glass.  Kuk's wheat beer is on the left.

We spent the rest of the day at the Houseknects.  This was a familiar scene of everyone playing on their electronic devices.  Modern day Christmas!

Partial family shot on Christmas Day back at the Kims.  I realized that I didn't get any photos of the grandparents this time.  Oops.

 nice one of Shay and Nicole

10 year old Shay explaining things to Kuk

Our non-typical but traditional for us Christmas spread:  Sushi!

We did get some snow, just a day late for Christmas.  It made driving to the mall for our annual day-after shopping a little dicey but it melted by the end of the day.

Next up was our trip down to NC.  Fortunately our Ohio cousins Brian and Brett were able to join us for a few meals and this gift exchange. Their parents joined us too, just not in this photo.

Soccer nut and goalkeeper Brett liked his England Joe Hart shirt.

 my sister, aunt and mother (not my photo, but it certainly fits!)

another tradition -- a nice steak at Outback.  This and a salad for the equivalent of £10 here.  Can't get that quality for that price here.

Another tradition is hooking up with my junior high / senior high / college buddy John and his family while we are in town.

John's a big time car nut and Ford guy.  He showed off his new toy, a recently purchased restored 1940 Ford.  Sweet.

 John and other long time friend Ray and me

The entertainment for the afternoon was clearly John and Lori's nearly 3 year old twins Graydon and Margot.  How quickly we've forgotten how energetic kids that age could be.  We had a great time hanging out and enjoying the show.

 my kids with Graydon

 and all 4 -- most of the pictures were a little blurry as the Tots aren't known for staying still!

 the two cuties

 Nicole and Graydon

Margot was perched high on a stool and pretending to be "Re-Pencil" (with her long hair)

family shot -- sorry for the closed eyes Lori.  It was that or a moving Graydon.

Our trip home was low on sites but high on friends, family, food and fun.  That suits us just fine.  It was great to see everyone.

Finally, a quick mention for my last Jamie Oliver 15-minute meal of 2012. 

 this one was called Asian Fish and has both white fish and salmon

it was served with Miso Noodles and crunchy veg.  Another winner.  Nothing from the book planned for this week but I'll get back in the swing soon.

Note for those in the US, that might be interested, you can purchase the book though it is a little pricey.  Here's the link.  (Here's the UK version for those on this side).

Thanks for reading everyone.  Happy New Year.