Sunday, October 31, 2010

P.S. Happy Halloween

The egg poaching had a decidedly ghostly appearance... perfect for a Halloween breakfast, don't you think?

I don't need no stinkin' brunch place

The dearth of breakfast / brunch places in England has been one of my biggest complaints. While I'm not a big breakfast eater during the week, I used to love weekend breakfasts-- whether it was picking up a turkey sausage and egg bagel at Einstein's (I know, New Yorkers-- not a REAL bagel, but cut me some slack for living in Chicago for a while) or a full-fledged brunch with friend, I loved me some brunch. Sweet and savory, fresh orange juice, good friends... it was a staple, from the time I graduated Vassar and lived in New York (Jane Tavern, anyone?) to my standing Sunday brunch date with Amar my last year in Chicago so he could give me the latest download on his dating fiascoes... errr... successes. I also loved to host brunch... baked french toast, fritattas, salads and fruit... it was one of my favorite hosting activities. It never occurred to me that this could be a U.S. phenomenon.

Lo and behold, I move to the UK and guess what? No brunch. In fact, hardly any breakfast. Sure-- there's the famous "English Breakfast"-- an overwhelming meat on a plate extravaganza... bacon, sausage, black pudding, eggs over easy (it's the only way they do them), and the puzzling inclusion of baked beans, chopped tomatoes and a mushroom (or a few if they're smaller). But that's about it for the breakfast option. It seems that English don't do breakfast out. No mulling over a menu with lots of options of how you want your eggs done; no omelets with a million different fillings; turkey bacon or sausage patties instead of links. Forget about egg whites or fruit or, God forbid pancakes or waffles. You see, the English don't do sweet and savory.

We've managed to find a couple of places that do breakfast-- but mostly it's just a take on the English breakfast. A local place-- called Benedicts, strangely enough, promotes their breakfast big time, but there's only about 5 things on the menu, one being, Eggs Benedict, of course. But what I'd do for a pancake or waffle or french toast option... I'd even settle for a muffin or fresh baked bread for those lovely preserves they make from scratch. But no can do. Full English, Eggs Benedict or omelet of the day... which always has some odd combination of something with cheese. And for me, cheese does not an omelet make.

With a significant lack of brunch places, this morning I decided to bring brunch to the Benedict-Newton abode. Our small place doesn't allow for the groups that used to gather when I lived in Chicago, so it was brunch for two. I've never been one for Eggs Benedict, mostly because it was one of the school-yard taunts that used to be thrown at me (along with Benedict Arnold... Mikie likes it...). But also because I hate runny eggs. I've never been a yolk fan full stop (English-ism) and in fact, used to my make my sister eat the yolks of my hard boiled eggs. That is, until a few years ago when I encountered the poached egg. It was in a French restaurant-- and for lunch, not brunch, where a lovely salad with pancetta and a french mustard dressing had the most delicately poached egg on top... and when you cut into the thick, rich yolk drizzled onto the salad, making the dressing even better. I was hooked. I still don't like runny eggs-- sunny-side up, soft boiled, or any other way. But give me a poached egg, and I'm pretty happy. Since Eggs Benedict is sometimes on menus as an alternative to the heavy Full English, I'd taken to ordering that to avoid the heart-attack waiting to happen on a plate (ummm... not that the butter sauce and bacon is much better for you... ah well).

Until this morning, I'd never attempted a poached egg at home. It seemed daunting and something that only really experienced chefs could do (read Julie / Julia anyone? Didn't she go through like 2 dozen eggs before getting one right? And Miss Julia herself has a whole section dedicated to the oeuf.). Well, thanks (again) to trusty Martha my first attempt didn't go too badly. They weren't the prettiest, but three out of the four had the perfect runny to cooked ratio (the 4th was overdone so no runny goodness at all). I'd say not too shabby for my first try. Next time I'll try the hollandaise from scratch too.

Martha's (fool proof) Poached Egg
  • Bring a large pot of water to a boil
  • Add 1 tbsp vinegar and reduce heat to simmer
  • Crack egg into a small teacup (I used an espresso cup)
  • Gently submerge cup into water (the egg will sink to the bottom of the pot)
  • Gently fold whites over egg yolk using a regular spoon
  • Continue folding whites for 2-3 minutes
  • When the egg is ready, it will float a bit (slightly)
  • Remove egg with slotted spoon and repeat
Martha says to put the egg on a towel to drain while you're doing the rest of the eggs. I couldn't figure out how you could do so without it sticking; So since we were having Eggs Benedict, I had toasted the English muffins, made the bacon and was keeping it warm in the oven while I did the eggs. So when I removed the cooked egg from the pot, I placed them immediately on the muffin... but if anyone else has any tips, let me know!

Friday, October 29, 2010

I love a good roast

The funny kind and the food kind. This post happens to be about the food kind. Because seriously? When you live in the middle of nowhere in a country where the sun rarely shines, there's not much more to do than cook and think about food, and plan menus and eat. This means that daily walks are now not so much of a pleasure but more of a necessity. But as the saying goes, you say po-tay-toe and I say-- well, po-tay-toe.

Speaking of which, I'm on a great roasted vegetable kick. Ever since C told me her perfect roasted veggie secret (you have to heat the roasting pan with olive oil in it BEFORE adding the veggies) I've been roasting more and experimenting with different preparations. Potatoes. carrots. parsnips, brussel sprouts, butternut squash, zucchini, eggplant-- you name it, I'll roast it.

Tonight, courtesy of Martha, I tried a new twist on the roasted veg: apples. Specifically roasted apples, butternut squash and cippolini onions on a bed of watercress. And yes-- it was as yummy as it sounds. I guess technically butternut squash is a fruit because of the seeds, though...

Riiiiiight. So this post is uninspired. Onto the recipe (you won't be disappointed):

  • 1/2 butternut squash, peeled and chopped into chunks
  • 2 golden delicious apples, sliced
  • 6 cippolini onions, thinly sliced
  • 4 c watercress (or a package)
  • 2 tsp good olive oil
  • 1 tsp sherry vinegar
  • salt and pepper
  • Preheat oven to 400 degrees Fahrenheit
  • Mix squash, 1/2 tbsp olive oil, salt and pepper (1/2 tsp salt; 1/4 tsp pepper if you measure); spread on rimmed baking sheet
  • In separate bowl, mix apples, onions, 1/2 tsp olive oil, salt and pepper; spread on separate rimmed baking sheet
  • Put both baking sheets in the oven; apples for 30 minutes; squash for 40-45 minutes tossing each about midway through their roasting times
  • While the veggies are roasting, toss watercress with 1 tsp olive oil and 1 tsp vinegar and salt and pepper to taste. Arrange on platter.
  • Once veggies are finished, allow to cool for 5 minutes; Arrange on top of watercress; Serve warm or room temp.
Easy, huh?

Bonus-- not only does it taste good, it's super pretty (of course) and perfect for the Autumnal weather.

Thursday, October 28, 2010


For the first time since I was 18 years old, I will not be voting in a General Election.

And no-- it's NOT because I choose not to.

I'm of the camp that voting is a privilege. I am proud to have that right-- I believe in the power of my vote, no matter the circumstances. I believe that every voice, no matter how soft, counts. And importantly, I believe that by casting my vote, I have a right to criticize and complain (yes-- that is meant to say that those who DON'T vote, don't have that privilege).

Even before I could vote, I was a proponent of it-- I co-founded and served as President of the Junior Statesmen of America at my high school (err-- yes; I was sort of a nerd like that). JSA is dedicated to engaging young people in politics and government-- educating them on current issues (through mock debates, conventions and the like) and giving them the opportunity to experience their civic duty through regional, state and national mock-governments. I helped to organize "Rock the Vote" in college and registered students for absentee ballots and encouraged locals (through a stand at the mall) to register to vote locally.

So imagine my dismay when THIS year-- arguably one of the most important elections in a non-Presidential election year, I am unable to vote.

I've lived in England through two elections-- the first being the last Presidential election. I've managed to successfully vote via absentee ballot both times. I also voted in primaries-- this year included. But this time-- for the General Election? Nope. I received all the materials-- the instructions, the return envelope. But guess what was missing? THE BALLOT. Yup-- that thing you actually use to cast your vote. As I'm registered in CA, there are several important seats up for grabs in what has been a contentious battle that's made the news as far away as this small island across the pond. Big business vs lifetime public servants: Governor-- Meg vs Jerry; Senator-- Carly vs Barbara. Plus some key state measures like legalizing marijuana and the vehicle license surcharge.

Despite repeated calls to the Los Angeles County Registrar, I have not received my ballot. They kept assuring me that it was coming-- but now, on the eve of the election (past the deadline for mailing absentee ballots, might I add), still no ballot. So, for the first time in my life, I will not be voting.

I'll reserve my right to complain-- seeing as it's the shoddy Registrars fault. Letters to the editors of the NYT, LA Times, and Meet the Press (I heart David Gregory) at least lets me reserve the right, I say. I doubt my letter of complaint to the County Registrar will raise an eyebrow or get a response (based on the track record), but maybe I'll have spawned a conspiracy theory of LA county public servants blocking overseas citizens exercising their civic duty.

Sunday, October 24, 2010

Sing it, sister (and brother...)

Friday, October 22, 2010

Waxing poetic about...


It's no secret that I am homesick for my family and friends... and Americana in general. So I get a little giddy when I see things that I class as "from home." Costco is among those things. A visit tonight was equally fulfilling and prompted me to add a review to my Yelp profile.

Okay, okay-- so maybe something else prompted me-- the fact that I was invited to be a member of the Yelp Elite! (Hmmm... it's just occurred to me that is a little, well, Elitist...). That's right! My semi-prolific Yelping has earned me the status of Elite Yelper. Okay, so maybe it's more because Yelp is still relatively new in the UK and REALLY new in Manchester. I think I was one of the first to start Yelping in this area (especially in the sticks where we live). So the relatively few Yelpers in the area has allowed me to be part of this exclusive club. Well, if anything, it will encourage me to submit more reviews (and be less selective about what I'm reviewing-- McDonald's / the local Shell station / HSBC? Bring it on).

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Twitter vs Facebook

So, I must be getting old. While I don't FEEL old, and I certainly pride myself on keeping up with the social media world (mostly due to my job), I'm facing a particularly perplexing dilemma:

What the heck is the difference between Facebook (status updates) and Twitter?

I've researched (through both using and reading articles), I've talked to people who use both and I still can't for the life of me figure out the difference. Is Twitter just one step closer to stalking (or narcissism, depending on how you look at it)? How do users discern between what they put up on Facebook vs Twitter? (Or do they do both?)


Friday, October 15, 2010

Read Me

My friend Erika wrote this awesome book about the Chicago Board of Trade (CBOT) and Chicago Mercantile Exchange (CME) merger that was just published this week. Sound like it's not your cup of tea? Maybe not-- but Erika is a super talented, intelligent and witty writer. She makes what may seem like a snooze a humorous and interesting read (this, by the way, is not a snooze-- just ask this girl who got a sneak peak at the early chapters that made up her book proposal). And no, I'm not just plugging it because she's my friend and she very kindly gave me a shout-out in the acknowledgements (but seriously, HOW COOL is that?!? I always knew I'd see my name in print!). Not just for the finance crowd, this really is a fascinating read (especially if you've ever been through a M&A). Plus, there is a cast of characters to whom anyone who's worked for "The Man" will be able to relate. Buy it today! I guarantee that, if anything, you'll walk away smarter.

Thursday, October 14, 2010

Growin' Up

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

If I could go back in time...

I'd choose my NYC days. (Like you're surprised.) I was taking a trip down memory lane and reading some of my very old blog entries (I was funnier 4 years ago... age and life has seemingly stolen some of my joy). But this one made me smile... there's some of this person still in me.

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Fighting the mo(u)ld-- Part 356

I think this time I may just have enough of an edge to win this war. It comes in the form of these weapons of mass destruction:

Yessiree. This would be a dehumidifier, space bags and a bathroom fan.

K clued me into the dehumidifier when we were in Chicago last week. She had one in her guest suite that, since in the basement, was sometimes a little damp. I couldn't believe that it was damp at all because there wasn't a sniff of must or humidity. Light bulb moment! I needed a dehumidifier! And seriously? It's changed my life. The dampness that was literally palpable is now pretty much gone. My books are saved! The brand new ones that look like they're 100 years old because the damp has turned the pages yellow and puffed them up will be no more (or rather, the future ones won't suffer the same fate). Thank heavens for this invention-- and for K for enlightening me.

Next came space bags... yeeeees. The ones from the infomercials that are only on after midnight (which happens to be when I'm awake now for some reason). Hear me out. Yes, I do have a space problem-- but even more problematic is the MOLD problem. Turns out that the dark and damp conditions under the bed was a breeding ground for mold. Even more unfortunate was the under the bed storage served as our linen closet. A lawn of mold over all the pillows, linens, towels and on the upholstered surround. Niiiiice. Enter the space bags. Not only are all the lovely linens now safely put away in plastic bags, they're also shrunk to a quarter of their original size. Whoop-whoop! More storage.

And finally, the piéce de résistance-- a bathroom FAN! Yes, yes-- this is not innovation in and of itself. But when you pair it with said 130+ year old house that required MRN to be up on a roof and in a cramped attic for four plus days, not to mention learn how to be an electrician, it's pretty darn exciting.

Anyone want to join me?? "NO MORE DAMP! NO MORE DAMP!"

Monday, October 11, 2010

Bored on a Plane

And this was only an 8 1/2 hour flight. We're screwed for Hawaii.

Sunday, October 10, 2010

I'm a godmother!

I'm so completely honored to have been asked to be a godmother of this joyful, beautiful little girl. Sophie Laudurée Dempster-Gullino is my first godchild, and I'm so lucky to have her (and her amazing dads!) in my life. I just wish that I didn't live so far away from her so I could spoil her more easily (hmmm... maybe that's why her dads picked me! Less chance of enormous boxes showing up on their front porch). Lots and lots of love to the Dempster-Gullino family!

and me with her handsome dads...

Saturday, October 09, 2010

Cats are afoul...

... and are a-fouling. In my garden planters. And yes, it's gross.

I'm not a big gardener; I did not inherit my mother's green thumb. Our little walled back garden that's all decking with container plants is about as much as I can do. So I take a lot of pride in those little plants that I've painstakingly chosen and gotten dirt under my fingernails (and we all know how I hate that!) to plant.

Imagine my displeasure when upon looking out kitchen window I saw a mounds of dirt surrounding the planters that were home to our wisteria. I went outside to investigate and saw that someone-- or something-- had been digging in the planters. I didn't see anything suspicious IN the planters so went back inside after sweeping up. A few days later I noticed the same and upon closer inspection also found cat poop peeking out from under the dirt in the planters. The neighborhood cats were using my platers AS A LITTER BOX. UGGGGGGHHHHH.

Don't get me wrong-- I like cats. I would even get one if only I didn't have to deal with REAL litter boxes and, well, poop (and smell...). Just the thought of someone else's cat using my yard as a litter box was enough for me to want to throw everything in the trash and pour bleach everywhere (see previous post about my aversion to dirt). But since, like my mom, I do love flowers and to have a bit of green about, I decided to fight fire with fire. First I tried cat repellent spray. Big thumbs down. It was like catnip. Seriously-- it made the problem worse. Then I tried cat repellent pellets. It worked a little bit better, but the minute it rained (which is every minute in this country), it just washes everything away and I'm back to square one. So now, plan C... I decided to plant heather in the planters around the wisteria to try-- once and for all-- to deter those fouling cats. It gives them less surface area in which to maneuver (although, they previously dug up my violets...), plus the all-weather plant will add some color through the winter (fingers crossed...). Well, that is if I can keep them alive... luckily the daily rain gives the new plants a fighting chance (since I'm certainly not going to remember to water them...). We'll see how this one works out...

(another container planter. The cats haven't been bothering this one but I think it's pretty so I thought I'd include a photo. The blue flowers are new since MRN dropped something on it and killed the yellow chrysanthemums that used to be there. You can see the cat repellent pellets on the decking beside. I have a feeling they're not working because they're some non-toxic, non-chemical concoction that just has a really strong smell of garlic... after all, I don't want to kill the cats... just keep them from pooping in my yard...).

Thursday, October 07, 2010

Beans Glorious Beans

We eat a lot of veggies in this house (much to MRN's chagrin although he's a good sport about it). Most of the time I'll include some sort of potato to appease my English husband's soul, but mash is seriously getting boring. I've made it a million different ways-- plain, chive and cheddar, sour cream and bacon, sour cream and parsley, cream and butter, parmesan and thyme... times that by about 5,000, you get my point. B-O-R-I-N-G.

Since we've been back from the US, I haven't had a chance to do a "proper shop" (as the English would say). So I've been digging through the pantry and refrigerator, trying to be creative with the bits and bobs (another Englishism) that I have left over. One night I found an onion, half of a yellow pepper (that wasn't moldy-- score!) and some chesnut mushrooms (we keep our fridge at a ridiculously low temp, so veggies tend to last a bit longer...). Saute that up with some fresh garlic, tomato sauce and toss in some brown rice penne and voila! Instant meal. The next night came roasted brussel sprouts and some diced turkey bacon that I found in the freezer (MRN clearly didn't eat this-- he was working late that night and would have probably rather gone hungry than eat it even if he were home). The frozen turkey bacon discovery also yielded another gold mine-- ground lamb (organic, low fat) which I turned into mediterranean meatballs the next night by adding in some garlic, red onion and chopped sundried tomatoes that I found in the pantry. But what to serve as a vegetable with the meatballs? Another scavenger hunt through the pantry uncovered one small new potato. Hmmm... whatever possessed me to leave one teeny potato I'll never know. That certainly wouldn't work. I then spied a can of cannellini beans and thought, "hmmm-- wonder if I can make this work?" I peeled and quartered the potato and tossed it into a pot with the beans, a couple of cloves of smashed garlic and some extra water and brought the whole shebang to a simmer until the potato was soft. Then I drained it, returned it to the pot, added a dab of butter, salt and pepper and mashed as you would mashed potatoes. It was looking pretty dry so in went some plain yogurt (Greek 2% of course!) to make it a bit creamier, along with a slip of low fat milk. I finished by adding in some dried tarragon (my go to spice after garlic). And guess what? My experiment worked! I thought it was quite tasty.

But the true test came when I put it in front of MRN. He ate the meatballs and beans with gusto and when I asked if he liked it, he answered, "It's gorgeous!" (Of course he's so sweet, he would say that even if it were horrible.) When I asked specifically about the "potatoes" he answered in much the same. And when I pointed out that they weren't potatoes he responded:

'They're not?"

Maikib: 1; MRN: 0

I'm in training for when I have children.

Wednesday, October 06, 2010

Holy Yogurt Batman

I'm a big fan of Greek yogurt. It's creamy and lacks the sometimes tart flavor found in a typical plain yogurt. I used to eat it for breakfast only-- the way you would any yogurt: with honey stirred in or sliced berries and grapenuts sprinkled on top. Then I started stirring it into eggs which made them super fluffy and light. And I had an "ah-ha" moment. Yogurt is just as good in savory foods as sweet.

I love sour cream in mashed potatoes, but obviously high in fat and cholesterol, it's not ideal for an every occasion potato. So I started substituting 2% greek yogurt (or 0%, but you lose some of the texture) instead of sour cream, butter and cream or milk. You still get the creaminess without the high fat content. I tried the same with salsa-- mixing yogurt with my favorite spicy salsa for a dip and it was delicious. I've also added it to make a creamy tomato sauce (last night's experiment was sauteed onions, peppers, cremini mushrooms and garlic with plain jarred spaghetti sauce and two spoonfuls of yogurt stirred in), which makes the sauce rich and thick (and gives you the creamy goodness without any of the guilt-- and for the record, I hate creamy, cheesy sauces, so the fact that I liked this is a big deal in itself). I also added it to mashed beans which helped give it more of a creamy mashed potato consistency-- and MRN ate it without a second glance, thinking it WAS potatoes! Whoop-whoop.

A super versatile ingredient that can be used for sweet or savory? It's not just for breakfast anymore!

Tuesday, October 05, 2010

The Good and The Bad

It's no secret that I have issues with living in an old house. There are clear pluses (charm, quirkiness, history) and clear minuses (rising damp, mold, drafty, quirky-- yes, that's a plus and minus). For me, the minuses far outweigh the pluses, mostly because they come with things that are dirty and gross (particularly the damp and mold problem that I swear will be the end of me). But today our lawyer handed over something that makes living in an old house pretty cool: the original deed, in mint condition.

Whenever I say that this house is old, MRN laughs at me. In my world, 1876 is old. But in this country, 135 years is nothing. Let me tell you-- 135 years has made a BIG difference in home construction. Granted, these properties were most likely constructed quickly (and without care) for servants that worked for the nobility who resided at the nearby Townley Hall. Or perhaps the apprentices and workmen of wealthy merchants who made a name for themselves during the Industrial Revolution that saw Burnley grow into one of the most prominent Mill Towns in the country. Either way, they were homes for peasants-- you can imagine the open fires that warmed-- and served as kitchens; the narrow dark stairs that led to the sleeping quarters; the outhouses that stood outside the back doors (I know this because our neighbor still has hers in tact-- she has indoor plumbing now but when she and her husband moved in as newlyweds 70 years ago, the outhouse was the primary bathroom). Curiously, our street and the surrounding ones had different names when this deed was drawn. I'm thinking the main drag-- now St Matthews Street, may have been changed after St Matthews Church was built (it was consecrated in 1879-- three years after the house was built). But not sure why or when the surrounding street names would have been changed. More research to do!

I'm sure that we should probably store these in a safe deposit box or some other secure place. But for the time being I'm going to enjoy the reminder that this is actually a cool little abode. Plus (K!) the paper is really, really nice-- heavy parchment in perfect condition. Beautiful!

The folded deed-- dated 24 January 1876.

Detail of a seal of some sort with some of the original silver foil in tact.

Original wax seals and signatures (of owners? solicitors? builders? landowners?)

Henry Todd

Alexander Parker (?)

Sunday, October 03, 2010


It's raining. And cold.


Lots of photos and some great stories to share (including the origin of my name!). Missing my family and friends already. Remind me again why I moved???