Wednesday, October 24, 2007

You never think it'll happen to you

Well apparently London is not finished testing me. My job search is now well under way, and I had a great interview last Thursday. I finally got my bank card. We had phone service, and we now have internet service, finally. I was even starting to get to know my way around the city pretty well. Then Saturday came around. We had a fantastic day wandering around Regent's Park, Marylebone, and Mayfair. We did a bit of shopping, a bit of snacking, a bit of gawking at ancient art galleries selling artifacts from Egyptian tombs and, right next door, Bentley and Rolls-Royce dealerships selling cars worth more than my parents' house. The weather was gorgeous and everyone on the streets was smiling. It was a perfect, perfect day.

We hung out in the shops until the evening, when we headed over to Bodean's BBQ. That's right, a barbecue restaurant in downtown London. It was pretty good stuff, too. We were meeting some Gator friends there to watch the UF-UK game, and I was super-psyched because I hadn't seen any football (real American football) since January. We had a great time until I turned around to get something out of my bag, wasn't there. I frantically ran down to the ladies' room where I had changed into my Gator shirt, thinking -- hoping -- I'd left it there. I ran around the restaurant, peeking under tables and asking waitresses if they'd seen it. But no luck. I was at a table in the corner with a bunch of people, and someone stole my bag right off the back of my chair, probably when we all looked up to see UF score its first touchdown. Wow.

Andrew ran outside and looked up and down the street and in all the trash cans he could find while I called the bank to cancel my cards. Next stop was the police station, where we filed a report. Then we had to try to find a place that sold international phone cards at 10:30 at night. Then we had to go get cash because they didn't take cards. Then we had to find a pay phone to call and cancel the American credit cards. They told me on the phone where the thief had tried to use my cards in an ATM, so Andrew found the street and thinks he may have seen the thief but couldn't do anything about it. I was calm through all of this, even through the painful process of listing everything that was in my bag. But when we got home, I broke down. There was no cash in my purse, and they couldn't do anything with my credit cards. They got little to no money out of the deal; maybe a few bucks for my cell phone and the few bucks left on my travel card. But they weren't going to get any money out of the bag itself, which Elizabeth made for me. Or the purse that Laura gave me as a graduation present. Or the brooch on my jacket that Mary gave me as a bridesmaid gift. Or the sweater that Andrew gave me for Christmas. Or the necklace I'd spent hours stringing and restringing by hand. Or the Christmas gifts I'd bought that day for my mom and Michelle. Or my notebook with lists of books I want to read and places I want to travel to. None of those things are worth any money at all. They are literally priceless, but only to me. That made me feel better because the thief wasn't going to get anything from me, really. But it also made me feel so much worse because it was all so pointless.

I'm feeling a lot better now, but I don't think I'll really get over it for a long time. Andrew and I did some shopping on Sunday and found a sweater like the one I lost and a new wallet. I got new keys yesterday and my new bank card and cell phone today. And when we were looking at Bryan's video from our summer trip tonight, I was glad to see that there is an extensive visual record of Elizabeth's handiwork. But I'll never see those things again, and they were some of my very favorite things. That's why I had them with me that day. I don't want to go overboard about this whole thing and never trust anyone ever again; I'm not that way. But I will certainly be more selective about what I bring into the city with me this Saturday. We're going back to the BBQ place to watch the UF-UGA game. I hope that everything goes well and that I can recover some sense of security. And, hey, at least the Gators won.

Wednesday, October 17, 2007

Ups and downs...and lots of yummy food

Hi there. Life has continued much the same for the last couple weeks in (I almost said Blacksburg) London. The frustrations have continued but have started to be resolved. I finally have my bank card and can get money without begging my husband. Our phone and internet services are on the way to being available. I've even got a job interview scheduled for tomorrow.

Oh joy of joys! A box has arrived just this moment! That's two out of the three now. We now have our quilts and photographs and I have my jewelry and sweaters and shoes! I try not to be a materialistic person, but sometimes you need to have your own possessions around you. Wow, we're getting there.

Anyways, that's about all the news. We've been cooking up a storm, though, and I'd like to tell you about that.

A week and a half ago, Andrew and I finally got to go to Borough Market, which is a huge market complex on the South bank. It's also, apparently, really popular! I had to focus and try not to lose my head among the crowds. There's no personal space in a situation like that. I forgot to bring my camera, but here are some photos Andrew took of our loot once we got home:

After we went to the market, we walked around London for a while and ended up at the Courtauld Institute of Art, which has a museum that I really wanted to see. Well, it just so happened that that very day was the 75th anniversary of the museum, so admission was only 75p instead of 6 pounds, so we had a lovely lunch on the terrace overlooking the Thames and toured the museum on the change in our pockets. It's a lovely museum, too. Lots of impressionist and post-impressionist stuff. Highlights include Manet's Bar at the Folies-Bergere, Renoir's La Loge, and lots of gorgeous Cezannes and Gauguins. Delicious.

The next day was our big, important first attempt at a proper British Sunday Lunch, and boy did it turn out well! It was one of our best meals ever, if I do say so myself. Monica's friends Sara and Sally came over for the feast. Here's the menu:

Mixed leaf salad with figs, serrano ham, manchego cheese, and sherry vinaigrette
Roast beef with horseradish sauce
Steamed carrots with sherry and thyme
Sauteed brussels sprouts
Roasted potatoes
Yorkshire pudding
Apple crisp with cream

Again, I forgot to take pictures, although this shot of the aftermath speaks pretty clearly, I think:

The next day was an unqualified disaster for all sorts of reasons I won't go into, but the first box did arrive and I had a long talk with my mom, who prescribed fried chicken and biscuits, which we dutifully followed:

Other food successes of the past couple weeks included omelets with chorizo and wild mushrooms, this week's Sunday lunch with roast chicken, potatoes, carrots, and spinach salad, and a curry feast:

Thursday, October 4, 2007

Other food adventures

I am happy to report that Andrew and I still know how to cook, even after a four-month break from it during our travels.

We have most of our basic kitchen supplies and, thank goodness, a huge kitchen to work in. We’re still getting used to the glass-topped electric range and the fan-assisted oven, but we’ve already produced some glorious food, albeit simple. Here’s a sampling of the sorts of foods we’ve made. Up to this point we’ve mostly just made foods from memory because I haven’t yet made a list of new recipes to try (that’s on the agenda this afternoon).

Baked potatoes (or jacket potatoes, here) with good British cheddar
Andrew has a brilliant way of doing the potatoes: cut them in half and coat them with a bit of olive oil, salt and pepper, then place them cut side down on a foil-covered tray. Leave them in for about 30 minutes or so, depending on size, and when you pull them out, they will be the most beautiful burnished golden brown on the outside and nice and fluffy inside. Sort of a cross between baked and roasted potatoes, and much quicker than regular baked ones.

Burgers and chips
You’ll notice we’ve taken on the British habit of eating lots of potatoes, but they’re just so damn good over here. The potatoes actually taste of something; they’re not just white. Andrew made some delicious hamburgers and discovered in the process that our kitchen fan doesn’t work. Oops. He also made some excellent oven chips.

Tomato, bean and veg soup
Pretty basic but warming on a cold, rainy night. Add some leftover ground beef and spices the next day, and it’s chilli. Serve leftovers from that over some pasta the next night, and it’s a chilli pasta bake. A never ending pot of deliciousness.

Pasta puttanesca
This is one of our favourite foods of all time. You just boil some pasta, and while it’s bubbling away, melt down a couple anchovies in some olive oil. Add sliced garlic, oregano, dried chillies, capers, olives, and a can of chopped tomatoes, throw in the pasta, top with basil, and you’ve got yourself a damn fine meal.

Mustardy pork chops
We can get free-range meat at the grocery store here – hooray! – so we can eat meat more easily than in Virginia. We got some nice little pork loin chops and cooked them, a la Nigella, in some garlicky oil and did a little pan sauce with cider vinegar and whole grain mustard. Add some sautéed Savoy cabbage and roasted potatoes and serve with Gewurtztraminer wine. Yum!

Bangers and mash
Laugh all you want, but British bangers (sausages) are delicious. We just cook them under the grill (broiler to you Yanks) until golden brown and serve with mashed potatoes and parsnips. Have you ever had a parsnip? It looks like a white carrot and tastes sweet, with a slightly astringent edge. They are really nice mixed in with potatoes. If we have leftover parsnips and potatoes after our Sunday lunch, I will make bubble and squeak with them. Stay tuned. We also had sautéed Savoy cabbage with this meal. Savoy cabbage is really dark green, with thick, almost leathery leaves. It’s hard to find in American grocery stores, which is a shame because it has so much more flavour than white cabbage. It’s great thinly sliced and sautéed in butter with a dash of Worcestershire sauce.

Salade Nicoise
This one is not as seasonally appropriate as the other meals above, perhaps, but it’s another absolute favourite of mine. You can put lots of different toppings on it, but what I like is a bed of lettuce with tuna, olives, roasted potatoes, capers, tomatoes, hard-boiled eggs, and a mustardy vinaigrette. I never actually had this salad in Nice, but I’ll steal the association and think fondly of that wonderful place…

Tuna sandwiches and chips
Andrew makes the most divine lemon-basil mayonnaise. That’s right; mayonnaise from scratch. Throw in some sundried tomatoes, capers, and a can of tuna, and you’ve got yourself the best tuna sandwich ever.

I think that’s about it for right now. We’ve really enjoyed grocery shopping here. The produce is beautiful, clearly labelled, and almost entirely British, which is great. They have really nice breads, too, and we’ve had some delicious sandwiches (cheddar and Branston pickle is a particular favourite – Branston pickle is a vinegary kind of chunky chutney with all sorts of pickled vegetables). Free-range meats (even bacon and deli meats) and eggs are easy to find. The only things we can’t find are decent ice cream (Ben & Jerry’s is four pounds!) and Frank’s red hot sauce, which I sorely miss. I’m planning on bringing back at least four bottles of it at Christmas. I’m feeling very excited about cooking right now, and I would like to write about it more often, too. I’ll keep you updated, and I’ll record our Sunday lunch in great detail, I promise!

Sunday lunch

The British have a lovely tradition of making big roasts with vegetables and delicious homey desserts on Sunday afternoons. It is a tradition I very much want to pick up, so Andrew and I have been doing some research in preparation for our first Sunday lunch at home next weekend. Two Sundays ago we went out in search of Sunday lunch and ended up at a French restaurant that does the traditional English lunch every Sunday because that’s what everyone wants to eat. We had a really delicious meal with rose wine, nice bread and butter, mushroom soup, roast beef and Yorkshire pudding, roast potatoes, steamed carrots and parsnips, cauliflower cheese, horseradish sauce, and apple crumble with custard. Damn.

Last Sunday, we went to The Stag, a local gastropub (that is a pub that does really nice food, too). We had a similar meal, Andrew going for the beef again while I chose lamb with mint sauce. The starters were different, too: I had a goat’s cheese salad and Andrew had prawns in Marie Rose sauce. It doesn’t get much more British than that, folks. We had a decidedly non-British dessert, too: tiramisu; but I think we’ll go full-fledged British for our first homemade lunch.

We’ve been watching our Jamie Oliver DVDs and reading his and Nigella Lawson’s cookbooks – or cookery books, as they say here – and getting geared up for Sunday. We’re heading down to London early on Saturday morning to get supplies at Borough Market. And, we have guests: Sara and Sally, who are studying in the UK this semester. Hooray!

Wednesday, October 3, 2007

Breaking news

I was beginning to think it would never happen, but we finally have a table! And, bonus, you can see it along with every detail of our flat, right here:

Sorry for the blurry ones; I have the world's shakiest hands.

Shop til you drop…from humiliation

British clothing and shoe sizes are different from American ones. No big deal, right? Well it actually is, because the sizes for clothes here are similar enough to American ones to be familiar, yet I wear a much bigger size here. I know that a clothing size is just a number and it doesn’t mean anything, but I had it in my head that my American size 6 would be a size 8 here. Okay, fine; I don’t want to wear a size 8, but that’s they way it goes. Then I looked at a pair of British trousers (apparently “pants” means boys’ underwear here; it’s got to be trousers) I already owned, and they said size 10. Now that made me feel a little bit weirder about it, but I was able to deal. I went to a local store to try on some jeans because I needed a nicer pair, and tried a size 10. Well I couldn’t even get them up past my knees. I tried a 12, and they were too small, too, so I held on to my composure with every ounce of strength I had and marched right out.

It didn’t help that that morning I had read an article in the newspaper about how clothing sizes are variable from store to store. There have been a lot of articles like that over the last couple weeks. It’s fall fashion season, and everyone’s talking about sizes and body shapes and all that. It’s infuriating. They showed photos of a woman who was size 10, and I thought she looked like she was around my size, but apparently not. It also doesn’t help that I’m used to being on the thinner end of the population, whereas here people are generally thinner. Not that you don’t see a fair number of large people like in the States, but the “normal” people are often thinner than at home. So here I’m just sort of average. Great.

I think the first store I went to was geared to a younger crowd, so the clothes just weren’t going to fit right anyways, so, with Andrew’s support and encouragement, I went to another store. I don’t know any of the brands, so I have to go in and look around and listen to the music and see the other shoppers to tell if I’m even really supposed to be in there. I tried on pair after pair (forget bathing suits; jeans are the worst) and finally found some that I liked, in a size 12. Cross an ocean; double your pant size – sorry, trouser size. Wow.

A couple days later, I started looking for shoes. Due to some miscalculations on my part during our hectic packing stateside, most of my autumny clothes and shoes are still in Tallahassee, so all I have here are flip flops, interview shoes, and sneakers (they call them trainers). I needed some normal shoes to wear because my toes were freezing, so Andrew and I set out with another mission. I thought I would look for some brown ballet flats, because I already had them in other colours, waiting to ship over here, but apparently you can’t get normal shoes here. They’re all polka dots and sequins and metallic sparkles. I ended up resorting to a shoe store where I must have been the youngest customer ever to find some nice, sensible shoes, but they’re not really what I was looking for, either. I nearly killed myself walking around London in them on Sunday. They’re really good shoes that will eventually be very comfortable, but not right off the bat. One good thing, though, is that I figured out my British shoe size, and it’s smaller than at home. Go figure. I decided to look for more casual shoes this past weekend, with no luck, although Andrew found a perfect pair. Oh bother. The search continues.

Here I am in my sensible shoes and size-ginormous jeans.

Tuesday, October 2, 2007

Thoughts on life in London

Sorry for the long break again. I’ve just been so busy doing…absolutely nothing, actually. I think looking for a job is the worst thing for one’s self-esteem. Not that I’ve spent all that much time actually looking; I’ve mostly been sitting around in my pajamas, feeling sorry for myself. I’ve been sleeping a lot, too. Maybe my body is trying to make up for all the sleep I missed out on in college.

Anyways, I just don’t have that much to report right now. I’ve found a couple leads that have mostly evaporated. All the job listings seem to be for secretaries or executives, with nothing in between. And I don’t have any friends over here to help guide me. I don’t even know if I have the right kind of resume. Andrew has been great, trying to make me feel better and get some work done, but it’s hard when I spend all day alone in our flat. I’ve run out of things to do around here, because everything is in place except for the table top. Stupid IKEA. I’m going to post some photos tomorrow if I can figure out my camera.

Wow, this is really depressing. It isn’t all bad, of course. We’ve been having great fun on the weekends. The weekend before this past one, we even got to go to a birthday party for one of Andrew’s co-workers. We’ve also gone into the city a few times to poke around and do a bit of shopping. Last week we explored Oxford Street, and this Sunday we did Piccadilly, Regent, and Carnaby Streets. We went to Fortnum & Mason, a giant food store celebrating its 300-year anniversary. It was amazing; all marble and gilt and phenomenal prices. We particularly enjoyed seeing the hundreds of different kinds of chocolates and other sweets and the American imports. They had a box of Aunt Jemima pancake mix for four pounds – that’s eight dollars! They also had funky foods like Cajun-spiced crickets and candied larvae. We didn’t buy anything; the fun of those places is more like visiting a museum – it’s best to look, not buy.

Speaking of looking but not buying, we also went to Liberty, which is another London classic. It’s a humongous department store that looks like the set for some crazy Shakespeare play. It’s all white and black timbers, light-filled atria, and intricately carved mahogany panels, a beautiful building in its own right. Like most other stores of its kind, Liberty is filled with beautiful, inaccessible, expensive objects, but Liberty does a much better job of choosing and displaying them. Everything was lovely. I usually don’t see anything I would actually want at these stores, but at Liberty, I wanted everything, from the fancy silk robes to the hand printed stationery, to the imported French perfume. Liberty is also well known for its fabrics, and they have an entire floor full of dress and upholstery fabrics for sale by the meter, along with millinery and haberdashery supplies. Excellent.

We didn’t actually buy anything in London, but we have been doing a bit of shopping out here in Enfield. We got ourselves a TV, a DVD player, and a box set of Jamie Oliver DVDs that we can finally watch (they wouldn’t play on our American DVD player, but we got our new one “fixed” at Sony so it will play any kind of DVD). I also bought some clothes, but that’s another post. And food. That’s another post, too.

So here’s the story: when I’m with Andrew in the evenings and on the weekends, life is fantastic. I just need to get myself a job and some friends – and a phone! – and I’ll be fine. Our phone line should be installed this Thursday and our special phone package with unlimited calls to the US should be ready to go on Monday. Then I will be able to talk to all the people I love, and I won’t feel so bad. I miss you all terribly, and I can’t wait to hear all my favourite voices soon. Until then, cheers from Enfield!

PS I see that spellcheck added a “u” to favorite. Tee-hee.