Homeowners No More

3264 Enderby - Cherry Tree in BloomIt’s finally happened. 3.5 years after we left, we’ve sold our house. It all became official this past Tuesday after what was possibly the most complicated real estate transaction in history. (We are not doing that again. Ever. I expect our realtor also hopes to never do that again either.)

It’s bittersweet. But now we can live in one world, not two. I can start to look forward knowing that this door is finally shut. There’s been a lot of regret, sadness, and wishful thinking in the past 3.5 years, a lot of second guessing and wishing we’d never made this move, but we have, and here we are. The stress of being long-distance landlords has been, well, too much.

I love that house, I love the memories there: bringing home our last baby, our awesome neighbors, block parties, the amazing school nearby. The best babysitter ever who lived 4 houses away. Summer days at the swimming pool, riding our bikes to the library, the flowering Japanese cherry tree that my children bought me for Mother’s Day one year and planted in our front yard. (I had visions of us taking a photo together there every year on Mother’s Day–that makes me sad.)

I didn’t ever really want to leave, but for every thing there is a season. The season of Enderby Road is over, and I think I can let go now.

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It’s Pancake Day!

256px-Pancake_race_London_on_your_marksThree years ago I wrote about Pancake Day (ie, Shrove Tuesday) here, and my marital conflicts over the exact definition of a pancake versus a crepe, and the merits of maple syrup over well, non-maple syrup. (I won, thank you very much.)

As today is Tasty Tuesday, I thought I would repeat the British pancake recipe and offer a few suggestions for those who are local to London and may want to hit The Big Smoke for festivities.

If you’re in London, there are several pancake day races (flip your pancake in your frying pan as you “run” the course) available to watch or participate in, providing there’s still space. Try the Great Spitalfields Race in Dray Walk and Brick Lane; all proceeds go to London’s Air Ambulance. The race starts at 12:30.

The Better Bankside Race is open only to those who work in the Bankside area, but anyone can come and watch. It also starts at 12:30 in Borough Market’s Jubilee Place. There will be lots of stalls selling pancakes of all sorts.

If you’ve read this early enough, head over to Victoria Tower Gardens by the Houses of Parliament at 9:45 for the Rehab Parliamentary Pancake Race to witness politicians, lords (of the House of Lords variety) and political correspondents run with their pancakes for charity.

If you want more ideas about celebrating Pancake Day in London, click here. And enjoy your pancakes, whether they be crepe-like with lemon juice and sugar, or fluffy buttermilk ones with maple syrup.

Pancakes (Makes 8)

  • 125g (4 oz) flour
  • pinch of salt
  • 1 egg
  • 300ml (1/2 pint) milk
  • lard or vegetable oil

1. Mix the flour and salt together in a bowl. Make a well in the center and break in the egg. Add half the liquid, then gradually work in the flour from the sides of the bowl. Beat until smooth.

2. Add the remaining liquid gradually. Beat until the ingredients are well mixed.

3. Heat a little lard or oil in a small frying pan, running it around the pan to coat the sides. Pour in a little batter, tilting the pan to form an even coating.

4. Place over moderate heat and cook until golden underneath, then turn with a palette knife and cook the other side. Slide the pancake on to a plate lined with greaseproof paper and keep warm. Enjoy!

Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons, of a pancake race in London.

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Tea Time Scones — It’s Tasty Tuesday!

I did not make these scones, but I did enjoy eating them.

I did not make these scones, but I did enjoy eating them.

There’s nothing like afternoon tea in a quaint setting with some delicious scones, clotted cream and jam. Scones are a classic English recipe, and today I’m sharing Queen of British Bakers Mary Berry‘s scone recipe. If you haven’t heard of her stateside, she is the woman of the moment in the baking scene here. Cordon-Bleu trained, a former magazine cooking editor and one of the presenters of the immensely popular BBC TV show The Great British Bake Off. She’s also written over 70 books. I’ve plucked this recipe from one of her most recent books, Mary Berry Cooks, given to me by a friend.

Tea Time Scones

These can be made a day ahead and gently reheated in the oven. Also good frozen and defrosted at room temperature, then refreshed in a hot oven.

You will need:

250 g/9 oz/2.25 cups self-raising flour, plus extra for dusting
1 rounded teaspoon baking powder
40 g/1.5 oz/3 Tbsp softened butter, plus extra for greasing
25 g/1 oz/.25 cups caster (superfine) sugar
1 egg
about 100 ml/4 fl oz/0.5 cups milk

1. You will need 4 cm (1.5 in) fluted cutter. Preheat the oven to 220C/220C fan/Gas 7/350F. Grease two baking trays.

2. Measure the flour and baking powder into a large bowl. Add the butter and rub it in with your fingertips until the mixture resembles fine breadcrumbs. Stir in the sugar.

3. Beat the egg and place in a measuring jug. Pour in enough milk to make the liquid up to 100 ml (4 fl oz), then put about 1 tablespoon aside for glazing the scones later. (I found I needed to add a bit more liquid as my mixture was too dry.)

4. Gradually add the egg and milk mixture to the dry ingredients, stirring it in until you have a soft, slightly sticky dough.

5. Turn the mixture out onto a lightly floured surface and pat out until it is about 2 cm (.75 in) thick. Cut the scones using the cutter, making sure you don’t twist the cutter or the scones won’t rise evenly.

6. Gather the trimmings together and pat out again to make more scones. Arrange on the greased baking trays and brush the tops with the reserved milk.

7. Bake for 8 minutes until well risen and golden. Transfer to a wire rack to cool.

8. To serve, cut each scone in half horizontally and top with butter, strawberry jam, or clotted or whipped cream.

Strawberry jam and clotted cream are the traditional toppings for scones, but butter works a treat if you haven’t got cream. For any American readers who may be curious as to what clotted cream is–it’s delicious. When I first heard of it I thought it sounded disgusting; I couldn’t get past the “clotted” part. It’s actually normal cream heated to evaporate some of the liquid, making it thick like a whipped cream (perhaps thicker). It generally has a yellow-y crust on top, and for anyone who needs to know, it’s generally about 55 percent butterfat. (Perhaps best not to know.)

If you’ve travelled to England, particularly to Devon or Cornwall, you may have heard of the famous “Cornish Cream Tea” or the “Devon Cream Tea.” There’s a great rivalry, apparently, as to which tea is best, although they’re essentially the same thing: scones, cream, jam, and the clotted cream itself, which has its origins from somewhere within the two counties.

The big difference between the two teas is fairly subtle but, in this sort of rivalry, it’s very important. In Cornwall, one places their jam on the scone, then the cream on top of the jam. In Devon, one places the cream on the scone, then the jam on top. Personally, I find it much easier to put the cream on top of the jam, so I suppose I’m a Cornish Cream Tea girl all the way. I can’t get too worked up about my allegiance to either county: when it’s something this delicious, who cares?

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It’s February 9th And . . .

Crocus

 

With apologies to friends and family on the East Coast of the States, especially to my sister and brother-in-law in Massachusetts, who currently have 40+ inches of snow and are expecting 10-15 inches more today and tomorrow.

But yes, I took this photo today–the first crocuses of spring. There are also a few snowdrops dotted around just beginning to bloom. And I hate to tell you but I saw some daffodils coming up two weeks ago too. There aren’t many bonuses to the weather here, but I count early flowering bulbs among them.

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Fruit Tea Loaf

 

P1040896Hey, look at that! It’s Tasty Tuesday again . . . and I’m squeezing a post in at the last minute. I hope this one will appeal to some of my pickier readers (*cough cough* Kate). It’s so yummy even my picky eater likes it–though if I told him it had orange and lemon peel in it I expect he’d change his mind.

On with the recipe:

60ml/4 Tbsp hot tea (I use black tea)
200gr/1 cup mixed dried fruit — raisins, currants, sultanas, lemon peel and orange peel* (for my British readers, I use Whitworth’s–and the recipe is from the back of their Juicy Mixed Fruit packet!)
225g/1 cup plain (all-purpose)  flour
1 tsp baking powder
100g/ .5cup unsalted butter, at room temperature
100g/ .5 cup light brown sugar
1 medium egg, beaten
3-4 Tbsp milk

1. Preheat the oven to Gas 4/180C/350F. Grease and line the base of a loaf tin.

2. Mix the tea with the fruit. Sieve the flour and baking powder into a bowl and rub in the butter until it resembles breadcrumbs.

3. Stir in the sugar and egg and add the fruit mixture. Mix well with enough milk to make a dropping consistency.

4. Put into the loaf tin and bake for 50 or 60 minutes until golden. Test for doneness with a skewer. Turn out and cool. Once cool, wrap and keep for 24 hours before slicing.** Delicious with butter.

*If you can’t find currants or sultanas, substitute raisins.

**If you can wait 24 hours, you are a better person than I.

I used the Diana’s Desserts website to help me convert metric to cups.

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Groundhog Day

Groundhog_Day,_Punxsutawney,_2013-2I spend a lot of my time here attempting to explain (and understand) some of the quirks of British culture. However today I thought I’d devote my post to explaining one of those quirky American customs I grew up with in Pennsylvania Dutch Country: Groundhog Day.

When I first met my husband, perhaps after we’d moved from the UK to Ohio, we had a discussion about this odd American tradition. “You mean it’s real?” he asked. “It’s not just a movie?”

Oh yes, it’s real all right. And perfectly normal if you grew up where I did. The nearest prognosticating mammal to us was Punxsutawney Phil, who has been predicting the likelihood of six more weeks of winter, or an early spring, since about 1886. I don’t know how they managed the day back then, but these days there’s a swarm of media, spectators, the Punxsutawney Groundhog Club (yes, really…and they wear top hats!), and Phil, of course, who is “gently encouraged” to come out of his burrow to make his prediction. In other words, he’s removed from his burrow, whether he wants to be or not.

And why, you may ask? Apparently, it’s an old Pennsylvania German custom from southeastern and central Pennsylvania with origins in ancient European weather lore, when a badger or sacred bear was meant to foretell the weather future. (Don’t worry, I am probably just as confused as you are.)

 

At 7:28 am every February 2nd, at a place called Gobblers Knob, Phil’s handlers pull him out of hibernation and Phil “speaks” to them in “Groundhogese” to let them know his prediction. If he sees his shadow, six more weeks of winter it will be. No shadow, an early spring. How he doesn’t get confused with all the lights from the TV camera crews around him I don’t know.

And in case you were wondering: Phil is wrong about 63% of the time.

PS: This morning he predicted six more weeks of winter. Huh. Considering spring is about six weeks away, who’s surprised?

Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

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Need I Say More?

Harry Potter

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