Once Upon A Time In London

This is the tale of the adventures of a native Oregonian in London.

20 March 2011

Donut Coffee Cake

So, earlier today I ran across a recipe I found ages ago on a blog called Frugal Antics of a Harried Homemaker. This recipe is for coffee cake that supposedly tastes like donuts. As in those old fashioned cake donuts which, believe it or not, are totally my favorite kind. So, you know what had to happen, right?

Got it in one.

Let the baking commence!

First for the recipe:

Donut Coffee Cake
1/2 cup butter, softened
1 1/4 cups sugar, divided
1 egg
2 cups flour
1 tsp baking soda
1 tsp baking powder
3/4 tsp ground nutmeg
1 cup buttermilk

In a mixing bowl, cream the butter and 1 cup sugar until fluffy. Combine egg and buttermilk and add to butter and sugar mix. Combine dry ingredients and then add to the wet mix. Spread into a greased 9X9 pan and then sprinkle with remaining 1/4 cup sugar. Bake at 350 degrees for 35-40 minutes or until done.

Now, the UK is pretty much completely devoid of buttermilk. This is something I have found to my great irritation. Even when one can find it, the price of gold would be cheaper. I really don't understand why a country overrun with cows can't make reasonably priced buttermilk or any buttermilk at all, really. The stuff I found was actually imported from the US, of all things.

But I digress.

The point is I used milk with a splash of lemon juice. It works very well, as does milk with a splash of vinegar. Just don't use malt vinegar 'cause that, my friends, would be nasty.

One thing I found was that when you mix the sugar/butter mixture to the egg/milk mixture you get this gross mess that looks like curdled milk. I was absolutely SURE that this wasn't going to mix right and I'd end up with lumps, but once I added in the dry ingredients, it was fine.

(Look, Mom! No lumps!)

The question remains: Does it really taste like a donut?

Well, the batter certainly had that sort of cake donutty taste. I think maybe it comes from the nutmeg? No idea. But at least batter-wise it works.

(Sprinkling on the sugah!)

So, I popped it in the oven. (For me this meant Gas Mark 4. For those of you doing the whole centigrade thing, that's 180 degrees.) Thirty minutes later I had a perfect, lovely coffee cake.

(Baking perfection!)

Now for the truth!

No, it doesn't taste "exactly" like a cake donut and, being cake, it's missing that essential texture, BUT it definitely is reminiscent of the old fashioned donutty taste. It's also about one of the easiest coffee cake recipes I've ever used. Nom! Nom!

I give it a solid four stars out of five.

(Keep Calm and Carry On)

Hanky Wavin' Good Times

Every so often I like to visit my friend, Sheena's church in Reading. Reading is a bit of a trek, so it's not something I can to every Sunday, but it's nice to be able to take a train out of London and spend the weekend with a good friend capped off by some hanky wavin' worship!

See, Sheena goes to a mostly black church. The pastor is from Jamaica. The associate pastor is from Nigeria. And they bring in that flavour of passion and joy that you just don't find in a lot of churches these days, especially here in the UK.

Preaching involves a lot of shouting and sweating and "Amen, Hallelujahs". Worship involves a lot of dancing (and I ain't talking the BT two step) and hanky waving. You better believe it's a good service if the ladies have their hankies out! Not for crying, but like spiritual pompoms.

Last Sunday the service was fantastic! No hanky waving, but there was plenty of clapping and dancing and shouting and carrying on both during worship AND during the preaching. You see, we get chastised if we don't shout and holler back at the preacher when he's preaching. "Ain't nobody talkin' to me," he'll say. "Must be nobody out there." And of course that gets everybody all fired up.

There seems to be some sort of difference between normal preaching and PREACHIN'. Once again, the pastor was preaching along and getting all worked up and then he says, "Ohhh, I wanna preach now but I'm tryin' to behave myself." Much laughter. (I turned to Sheena and asked, "What's he been doing for the past 20 minutes, then?") He didn't behave himself long 'cause before we knew it, he was PREACHIN'. There was sweat! There was hollerin'! There was organ music! There was bobbing up and down and pacing back and forth! There was waving of hands and stomping of feet! There was a big, green towel (for the mopping of sweat)! It was pretty awesome. If church had been like this when I was a kid, I doubt I'd have been so bored.

The most awesome thing was that so many things he was saying had deep resonance with me and where I am right now. In fact, church started at 10am and it was nearly 2pm by the time we got out. I didn't even notice. Me, the hater of long church services. Go figure. I guess when a preacher is actually saying something interesting in an interesting way, one doesn't get bored. lol

Sheena is singing in the Easter service, so I'll be back to wave my hanky for that.

In the meantime, check out this youtube video. It'll give you an idea of what her church is all about.


10 February 2011

A Parisian Tale

A Very Long Tale
(aka. My Birthday in Paris)

As you know, my birthday was this week. For many moons (Well, two years anyway.), I've been wanting to take a trip to Paris as a "Happy Birthday To Me" present. Unfortunately, it just never seemed to work out. Until this year!

This year I made the decision I would go to Paris for my birthday come hell
or highwater. Fortunately a friend wanted to come with me, so we were able to share costs, plus I'd have some one to travel with, which is always nice.

Saturday morning I was up at a ridiculously early hour and headed to St. Pancras station to catch the 06.53 Eurostar to Paris! I have to say, taking a train is very nice. Check-in was done in seconds by swiping a barcode. Security took all of two minutes. Within twenty minutes we were boarding the train which took off promptly. Two and a half hours later it dropped us in the centre of Paris!

We arrived at our ridiculously posh hotel (Hey, it pays to have connections.)and even though it was only eleven in the morning, they assured us our room would be ready in one hour. So we left our bags with the concierge and took a walk through the streets of Monmartre. We popped into an interesting little shop with really unique clothes in sort of the boho chic style. I snapped photos of random buildings and street scenes. We bought baguettes with ham and cheese at the local boulangerie, along with sweet crepes for dessert, then we headed back to the hotel with lunch in hand.

Let me tell you, that hotel room was POSH! We were upgraded (FREE!) to a Superior room which mean posh, posh, POSH! We spent a good ten minutes squealing in delight.

After relaxing a bit over our simple lunch, we headed out again. This time to the Champs Elysee and the Arc de Triomphe. What an amazing place! Really fantastic. I wasn't terribly impressed by the shops lining the Champs Elysee. Same sort of thing you see in the High Street in London, really. But still, the Arc was amazing.

We decided to do the Eiffel Tower next. After about an hour in the queue, we finally purchased our tickets. 13.10 euros to go to the top. That's around $20. Egads. But when in Paris!

We had to wait a little while longer and finally were able to take the lift to the second platform. We snapped a couple pictures before heading to the queue for the lift to the 3rd platform. We'd been waiting fifteen minutes or so, when suddenly the tower workers started roping
off the lifts and shoeing everyone toward the stairs. Not up toward the final platform, but down toward the ground! 800 plus steps all the way to the bottom (At least it was down not up!). Only I would get kicked off the Eiffel Tower on my first visit to Paris!

We were assured by one worker that we would get our money back since there had been some sort of suicide threat and the police were making everyone leave the tower. When we got to the bottom there were no police in sight and while everyone had been made to leave the tower, no one had been made to leave the grounds under the tower. Every kiosk and desk was locked up tight and there wasn't a single person to answer our questions or give us a refund. We finally found another worker whose English was very poor. He told us there'd been a malfunction and to come back in two hours, but it was already 8pm!

We gave up the Eiffel Tower as a lost cause and headed back to Monmartre to get dinner. We didn't really know the best place to go, so we ended up in a cafe that catered to tourists. Big mistake. The food was HORRIBLE. Barely edible, in fact. Neither of us could finish our food. We headed back to our hotel feeling somewhat queasy and not entirely satisfied, so we consoled ourselves with chocolate.

We went to bed early and had a very comfy night. In the morning we slept in a bit before heading down to the "American Buffet Breakfast". I'm not entirely sure what was American about it. It was more English with French influence, but it was tasty! Eggs, sausages, mushrooms, toast, cereal, yogurts, croissants, pan au chocolat... and more! We were stuffed silly!

Waddling away from the breakfast table, we headed off to visit Notre Dame Cathedral. Being Sunday, we were able to catch a bit of mass. I wasn't interested in the "sermon" or whatever (it was in French anyway), but the singing was AMAZING as was the organist. The sound just echoed throughout the cathedral. I know God is all around us, but some places just seem so full of the wonder of Him, and that is one.

After some time in the Cathedral, we took a wander through the streets of Ile de la Cite, which is two small islands in the middle of the Seine. These islands are where Notre Dame is built. There are also lots of little shops, cafes, houses and markets. It's one of the poshest areas of the city. Very desirable. Hubert had told us of a fantastic ice cream place called Berthillon which is on the islands. It's supposed to be the best ice cream in Paris. Well, I can say, it most likely is! Unbelievable! I had white chocolate ice cream which was so gorgeously creamy it coated the mouth. They even served water with it, it's that rich! Fantastic!

One museum was on our agenda... the Musee de Moyen Age. The best Roman Baths in all of France are there and we wanted to see them. It was a twenty minute walk there, and the day was nice, so we walked. Unfortunately, the museum hadn't bothered to note on their website (or anywhere else) that the Baths were closed until 21 Feb!!! Good grief. Fortunately we didn't pay to enter the museum. Instead we decided to check out one of the famous Parisian flea markets. It was supposed to be the best and biggest in the city. Instead it was in a dodgy neighborhood and was comprised of equally dodgy people selling even more dodgy goods. Cheap clothes, knock off handbags, and quite possibly stolen mobile phones. That sort of thing. NOT a flea market at all! Oh, dear. Back to the Metro and Monmarte.

By then all markets, shops and most cafes were closed! It was five and I was starving! We wandered round and round and round until we finally found one cafe open near the hotel. Again catering to tourists. At least the food was edible this time! If entirely mediocre. Then it was back to the hotel and an early night before heading to London in the morning.

Let me tell you Paris is an AMAZING place! Gorgeous city and we barely touched the surface. It would be nice to go back in nicer weather and spend time in the parks and gardens and got to proper Parisian cafes and do a bit of shopping. Lesson is, next time be sure to find out where the good cafes are!

But still, it was a grand time.

25 December 2010

I Wish You A Merry Christmas!

Wishing all my friends and family (and loyal readers) a very Merry Christmas! May today be filled with light and love and the joy of the season. And not just today, but every day of the year!

24 December 2010

Christmas Eve 2010

I got up this morning at the crack of 9am, then lolled about for awhile eating bon bons.

Ok, no bon bons, but still.

Since there were no bon bons I had to satisfy myself with my traditional Christmas Even morning repast: Raspberry Cream Cheese Coffee Cake. Nom! Nom!

Ok, so it doesn't look pretty, but it sure is tasty! The snowman mug holds Starbucks Christmas blend coffee. Double nom!

I would have hung my stocking by the chimney with care, but I don't have one, so instead I hung it over the wardrobe next to the Christmas cards.

Here's what it looks like "under" my tree. Which is actually really the bottom of my TV stand.

And here's the tree! Which is really just sitting on top the telly.

Right now I'm watching Hercule Poirot. What better way to spend Christmas Eve? lol

The Company Christmas Party

My company Christmas party was on 9 December. It was at the super posh Hyatt Regency Cumberland just around the corner from our office.

We all arrived to a sort of cocktail hour with little snacks and beverages of both the alcoholic and non-alcoholic variety. There was music playing from fabulous CDs compiled by yours truly! The was also a professional photographer to snap our pictures for posterity. (All pictures in this blog post, however, were taken either by myself, or my friend, Amaury.)

Me with the lovely Luciana:

The wonderful Anna:
Lucia... isn't she just fabulous!

From left to right: Dawn (who sits next to me at work), Louisa (from reception) and Penny (who sits across from me).

Me, hanging with the monsters. Er, I mean boys! Cristiano on the left and Evandro on the right.

We finally sat down to dinner and a noisier dinner you never did hear! There were six tables of ten people each. One of the tables decided they needed to start chanting about how great they were. So started very LOUD chants of "TABLE FOUR! TABLE FOUR!" Of course, that couldn't be allowed to stand, so other tables started chanting. This was NOT a calm, orderly dinner. The tables were nicely
decorated, though.

The starter wasn't good. The options were trout (Most of you know my feelings on the matter. Fish belong in the sea, not on my plate.) or foie gras. My feelings about THAT sort of nonsense are equally strong, but I went with foie gras as at least it wasn't fish. Unfortunately, it was beyond nasty. So I just ate the bread that came with it.

The main was either turbot (again with the feelings) or Angus beef. The beef was DELICIOUS! So tasty and perfectly cooked. It had black truffle jus which was very tasty. MOST delicious.

For dessert there was either a walnut p
arfait or sticky toffee pudding. Bet you can guess what I picked! Unfortunately it was a let down. While it was very tasty indeed, it was definitely NOT sticky toffee pudding. It was just an ordinary plain cake which they had put a few dates in, topped with a drizzle of toffee sauce and then slapped some icecream on. As you may or may not know, this is NOT sticky toffee pudding. But if one viewed it as simply a nice pudding, then it was good.

There was also a gift exchange. Each person bought a £10 gift, wrapped the gift and brought it to the office. We arranged the gifts under the tree, then before dinner each person chose a gift. We kept the gift under our chair until the end of dinner then we opened it. Now here is the fun part! I have been drooling over Le Cruset for AGES. I especially have been drooling over the mini casserole dishes (I showed you some of these when you were here or I was there, I think.). Well, that is what I got. Even better, it was a turqoisey blue colour. Thrilled!!!!!!!! Even in a silly gift exchange, one can be blessed.

Here's the amazing and wonderful Iara! She's lovely. She works in accounts and I've been to her house for dinner.

This is our boss's hubby, Luis. Very nice man and hilariously funny!

And here's our boss Jacqueline with LO (pronounced Elio).

I had asked Filipe to burn a CD with some forro music. He loves forro as much as I do. So I slipped the CD to the event planner and told her to play it after dinner. VOILA! Spontaneous forro dancing!

Amaury managed to snap Dawn dancing with Alam. Oooh, lala!

It was a fantastic Christmas party! Best company party I've been to!

Roots (Northern Ireland)

I don't know if you are aware, but some of my family originally comes from Northern Ireland. The Skaggs, in particular, and also the Lynns. More is known about the Skaggs, in particular that they came from Londonderry and that William Skaggs was born there in 1600.

Yeah, I know, long time ago. But I wanted to see the place where my ancestors once lived. I have a thing for history and family history in particular. Lyn was kind enough to drive over to Londonderry the day after Thanksgiving so we could have a wander and see if we could find anything.

Admittedly, there's not a whole lot left from that time period except the wall around the original city. But it's a BIG wall! Here's the view of Londonderry/Derry from the top of the wall:

This is the site of the original cemetery and chapel (Next to the cathedral.). There has been a chapel on this site since the 1600s and there has been a church of some nature on the cathedral site since the 112th or 13th century. The buildings that stand there now are a bit more recent, though. Also, the oldest graves seem to date from the 1800s, long after the Skaggs left Northern Ireland, so no luck there.

Also the church records weren't available. We did, however, get the name of someone who could help. For a price, of course. I took his name and details, just in case!

Despite the snow we wandered the walls and took in the views. You can even see the snow coming down in this picture of one of the towers on the wall:

This cannon is actually from the right time period! My ancestor would have been about 25 years old when this cannon arrived in Londonderry.

And here I am 400 years later on top the wall of Londonderry!

Giving Thanks in Northern Ireland (Again)

Once again, I decided to spend the Thankgiving holiday with my friend, Lyn, in Northern Ireland. As you may, or may not, recall, she lives in a town a bit north of Belfast. I flew over on Wednesday, the day before Thanksgiving, around midday. Which left us lots of time for vultching.

We headed to the Old Post Office in Lisbane. Now I now what you're thinking: Why would you hang out in a Post Office? Well, because the Old Post Office in Lisbane is a lovely old building from the 1840 which has been restored to house a tea room, gift shop, and deli. It's all very cute and cozy and popular with the locals.

Here's why:

Yep, that's lemon meringue pie. And boy was it tasty! And then there's this reason:

Chocolate cake! Lyn said it was delicious. I will have to take her word for it as she gobbled down every bite. How rude! LOL

After our tea, we headed south to have a look-see of the sea. It was too cold for the beach so I popped out of the car long enough to take a couple pictures.

There are some truly magnificent views along the coast line.

And some... interesting... artwork in Newcastle.

Then we headed back to the house both because it was getting toward time to eat and because we were freezing our collective bewtoxes off.

For dinner Lyn put together a nice roast of parsnips, carrots, potatoes, and wee little sausages. Nom! Nom!

It was quite a spread with everything one could ask for in a Thanksgiving dinner including Turkish baklava. Why not, I say!


There was, of course, pumpkin pie for dessert made by yours truly. Before dinner we each said the things we were Thankful for.

After dinner our friend Conor stopped by and we had a bit of a catch up, including ways to survive a zombie apocalypse. It's good to be prepared, you know.

12 December 2010

Apple Day

Back in October, Borough Market had Apple Day. It was a celebration of the Harvest in general and the Apple Harvest in particular. I met up with Clara and another friend, Shane, to check out the festivities.

The day was sharp and cold, but the sun shown brightly with not a cloud in the sky. A rare thing for London! It was a Sunday, so other than the festival, Borough Market was fairly quiet, which was nice.

All around the Market, people dressed in traditional garb wandered about handing out fliers for the day's events and selling random bits and bobs to take home.

Every stall in the festival area sold something which involved apples. In this case (Chegworth Valley Farms), it was ALL apples! Apple juice, fresh apples, even hot apple cider! I bought a bottle of plain apple juice to take home. It was the most delightfully sweet, crisp, refreshing and tasty apple juice I've ever had! Nom! Nom!

Here's Clara, camera in hand, as usual! Behind her is the mushroom stall. Actually, I don't think they had any apples at that stand. But I suppose since mushrooms need harvesting, they were allowed.

There was a stage area where they put on a play by Chaucer. Hilarious! I laughed soooo hard! The actors were fantastic (They should be as they are all players from the Royal Shakespeare Company!) and the costumes were amazing! The play alone was worth the trip.

Yeah, I was a little obsessed with this apple stand. They even had an apple/beetroot juice. Clara liked it, but Shane said it tasted of dirt. Well, that's beets for you.

We finished up with a sandwich lunch at Pret and dessert from the French Patissiere stall. They had no apple tatin (more's the pity), so I made do with an apricot tart. It's a terrible job, eating an apricot tart, but SOMEONE had to do it!!!