Saturday, August 27, 2011

Makes me wanna dance...

and listen to Mick.

Thursday, August 25, 2011

Instead of blogging...

...I've been doing! It's been a busy week. Between a weekend gallivanting around the Peak District with MRN and friends Liz and Kelvin as well as a few days off for hospital appointments and driving experiences (super cars and treks through the countryside), I've had no time to write. But oh, are there photos. I'll catch up this weekend since it's a BANK HOLIDAY. That's three day weekend in UK-speak. Rather than bother with the pretense of a day off celebrating things like Presidents or civil rights activists or veterans, the Brits just give everyone a day off-- well, just because. Hey-- who's to complain?

Saturday, August 20, 2011

Off to the Peaks

Whoop-whoop! Wayfarin' weekend, and we're off to a part of England I've never been to: The Peak District. Located in north-central England (it's pretty big for a small country), The Peaks is the first national park in the British Isles. With an estimated 22 million visitors per year, the Peak District is thought to be the second most visited national park in the world (after the Mount Fuji National Park in Japan). Who knew?

Thanks to my "only friend in England" (the wonderful Liz), we're off for a weekend jaunt around the countryside with she and her equally wonderful Kelvin. The plan is to explore the little villages in the central eastern part of the Peaks today and then tomorrow spend the day at Chatsworth House, an historic home and estate where many a movie has been filmed, including The Duchess, Pride and Prejudice (The Keira Knightly version; The BBC Classic-Colin-Firth-*SIGH*-version was filmed at another historic Peaks home, Lyme Park) and The Wolfman (errr-- did anyone see that movie??).

It's a strange mix of sun and rain today, so I think it will be a Wellie kind of a day. And even though it's summer, it's 60 degrees (yes, people-- in August), so jackets and woolly socks will come along as well. Stay tuned for photos!

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Regina Spektor


(Shake it up)

I never loved nobody fully
Always one foot on the ground
And by protecting my heart truly
I got lost in the sounds
I hear in my mind
All these voices
I hear in my mind all these words
I hear in my mind all this music

And it breaks my heart
And it breaks my heart
And it breaks my heart
It breaks my heart

And suppose I never ever met you
Suppose we never fell in love
Suppose I never ever let you kiss me so sweet and so soft
Suppose I never ever saw you
Suppose we never ever called
Suppose I kept on singing love songs just to break my own fall
Just to break my fall
Just to break my fall
Break my fall
Break my fall

All my friends say that of course its gonna get better
Gonna get better
Better better better better
Better better better

I never love nobody fully
Always one foot on the ground
And by protecting by heart truly
I got lost
In the sounds
I hear in my mind
All these voices
I hear in my mind all these words
I hear in my mind
All this music
And it breaks my heart
It breaks my heart

I hear in my mind all of these voices
I hear in my mind all of these words
I hear in my mind all of this music

Breaks my
Breaks my heart

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Delightfully Reimagined

Photo courtesy of Savour the Senses*
Nearly every upscale restaurant has succumbed to the trend of an asparagus and poached egg salad. I can't even pinpoint it to a specific cuisine because I've had some variation of it in French, American, Italian and even Gastro-pub, restaurants alike. Be it with Parmesan shavings, a grilled portabella mushroom, lettuce of any variety, sprinkling of crispy bacon, hollandaise-- you name it, I order it. Because there's nothing I like better than asparagus and a poached egg. (oh, okay-- there are SOME things I like better, but that doesn't really work for this post.)

So imagine my delight to turn up at the Mint Hotel (née City Inn) in Manchester to find a brand spanking new menu with an asparagus and poached egg combo. It was my first time back since our falling out -- this place used to be my weekly hang-out, where I'd wait for MRN after a trip somewhere in the country. I'd hang out in the lobby bar/lounge, where the WiFi was free and the staff accommodating-- they never even blinked at my order of peppermint tea and the hours I spent hanging out, typing away at my computer. But the new management which brought with it poor service, sub-standard loos (previously my favorite part of the hotel-- I'm always on the hunt given my particular aversion to public restrooms) and mediocre food, sent me looking for greener pastures.

Today it all changed. Partly because it was raining, and partly because I desperately needed the loo ("English-ism") after my two hour journey, I headed across the street from the train station to the Mint Hotel. I meant to only order tea but in perusing the menu, I spied this little delight:

Warm Asparagus, Lambs Lettuce and Ham Hock Salad (with a soft poached egg and Parmesan)


Having had somewhat dubious dining experiences here in the past, I did wonder what I was in store for-- after all, a poached egg is not an easy feat, and doing it in the fly in a busy hotel bar, even more of a challenge. But boy, was I pleasantly surprised. The salad was indeed warm (as advertised), the asparagus perfectly cooked-- tender but not mushy; the Ham hock such an unexpected-- and tasty-- addition; and the egg! PERFECTLY poached. When you cut into the egg, just the right amount of yolk poured out to create a delectable dressing that the lambs ear lettuce was perfect for mopping up. Needless to say, I inhaled it. (and I didn't even notice that they omitted the parmesan until I wrote this entry-- clearly an unnecessary addition).

So big thumbs up to the Mint Hotel (and most importantly the chef!) for a great rescue. This may just become my "new" haunt part deux.

(*Note: Photo is not the actual dish that I ate. I was too busy eating to remember to take a photo... I'll try harder next time...)

Monday, August 15, 2011

A bevy of activity

That's what my 'hood was this morning (and oh, what a 'hood it is).  It started with what sounded like someone trying to kick in a door. Glancing outside my office window (which happens to overlook the backyard), I saw a couple of kids holding tire irons in the neighbor's yard. Said neighbor doesn't live there anymore-- she moved into a retirement home a few years ago and her house has been empty ever since. It's unfortunately become a target for criminals and vandalized several times (most recently with people stealing PIPES and flooding the place). Then came the kicking and the pounding-- and my subsequent call to the police (following yesterday's call for the SAME THING). Lo and behold, the police showed up immediately! The little perps had already gone by then (they saw me through the window and took off), but the Police Officer was AWESOME. He came in for a chat, took some notes, said he'd patrol the area for a while and reassured me that I should call anytime I hear/see anything (and not call the Community "Police" who aren't really police, but pretend, because as suspected, they don't really do anything). When, about an hour later, the twerps came back, I called the police again and within minutes, the same (awesome) guy came screaming up to save the day (missed them again). I also found out that there are Indian plain clothes/unmarked car police officers that patrol the area regularly. Again? AWESOME. Finally feeling like someone is doing something in this 'hood.

Sunday, August 14, 2011

Getting lost in the countryside

We live a few minutes drive in any direction from some of the most gorgeous countryside. One of my favorite things to do is to set off and "get lost" in the country. With no specific destination in mind, we see what we stumble upon-- from sleepy villages and 100+ year old pubs (there are pubs EVERYWHERE in England... even in the middle of nowhere), historic homes and National Trust treasures to rolling hills, shaded forests and running brooks-- there's a lot to discover. Roads that are barely wider than your car lined by old stone walls or trimmed hedges (which are sometimes TALLER than your car); Sleepy forests with rabbits and hedgehogs and owls and badgers and pheasants; Rolling hills dotted with sheep (or curly haired cows or majestic horses); and of course the terrific old stone farmhouses. Ahhh-- heavenly.

The best is finding a little pub in the middle of nowhere and stopping in for a snack (or meal-- depending on the time of day). We did just that yesterday and stopped into the Tempest Arms in Elsack-- which happens to be the 2011 Pub of the Year. Admittedly, this stop wasn't an accident, as we previously discovered it a year ago when we were on another similar drive around the countryside. Even though it's only about 30 minutes from where we live, it is nestled in the middle of pretty much nowhere, and this is the first time we've returned since last year (mostly because we couldn't find it again-- one of the downsides to wandering around in the countryside). It's an Inn in addition to a pub/restaurant. And it's one of my favorite kinds-- low ceilings, open fireplaces, cozy tables and a pub mascot-- a lovely old lab who wanders around and greets all the patrons. Dogs are allowed in the pub area, and it's amazing how well behaved they are (and that they don't beg at every table...). We had a mid-day snack-- this delish cheese and pate board. Yum-mee.

Most visitors to England don't get past London. But venture a little further, you'll discover a beautiful country that's much more than double-decker buses, red phone booths and fish and chips (although those are pretty good too).

Saturday, August 13, 2011

Floss your teeth, live an extra 6 years... I recently learned. Who knows if it's true (hey-- it's the weekend; I'm feeling too lazy to do the research), but I do know (from my health care marketing background) that taking care of your teeth can help ward off more serious conditions like heart disease. Who knew?

So here's your public service announcement for the week: Brusha-brusha-brusha... and remember to floss!

Friday, August 12, 2011

Whoopi's Shoes

Whoopi Goldberg is a cool chick. She seems to be so mellow, laid back and very confident and super smart. Oh, and has a wicked sense of humor, of course. What a great combination of attributes. And what makes her a SUPER cool chick? Her love of-- yes, people-- shoes. She says she loves shoes that are "interesting to her." Ahhhh-- I think we're soul sisters.

Check out her dressing room with a wall of shoes in the the behind the scenes video from "The View" (don't worry-- it's only Whoopi, so you don't actually have to watch The View).

Irregular Choice

Melissa (she's wearing these below)

Irregular Choice

Thursday, August 11, 2011


Oh, sushi-- how I miss you. But not just any sushi-- Sushi Aki (now Sushi Yagumo). The amazing hole-in-the-wall of my childhood, located in good old Van Nuys, California.

Maybe it's nostalgia, but I think this is the best place in the whole world. The sushi is delicious-- but their specialty? The spicy handroll.

Unlike most sushi places who use a chili sauce, it's all about fresh and dried peppers for this place. And you can "choose your level" of spicy, between 1 and 10 (and don't I love interactive eating). You can even win a prize if you eat a #10 (well, now you have to eat 2). But best save that for your last roll-- because you won't be able to feel your mouth IF you're actually able to eat the whole thing. Case in point: I LOVE spicy food, and pretty much spice up everything I eat (so demonstrated by the large container of crushed red peppers, and back-up bags of it, that I have in my spice cabinet). But I can only eat a #3.

I woke up this morning craving Sushi Aki-- err, Yagumo (changed owners with the famous Aki retired and the restaurant was taken over by one of the chefs). This is a "ninja roll" whose contents are a surprise-- a mixture of the freshest catch, usually tuna and yellowtail and whatever else is on hand; combined with chiles and green onion and yummy goodness. This is one of my favorites along with my ALL time favorite, spicy scallops. Yum, Yum, Yum. You'll always be Sushi Aki to me.

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

And I moved to a war-torn country when?

Ummm... maybe you haven't heard about it, but there have been riots all across England for the last 4 days. What, you say? England-- the land of high-brow, sophisticated, and proper people? Ummm... yeah. What allegedly started as a reaction to the shooting of a peaceful protester by police in London turned into absolute ridiculousness of bored youth taking advantage of the situation to get free stuff. All. Around. The. Country.

People are speculating that it's this generation of entitlement brought on by lack of discipline, decent parenting and a "nanny state" where parents, schools or other authorities can't scold children for fear of being brought up on abuse charges. And boy, have these "kids" shown the results of this wise practice. Part of it is the kids themselves-- but I don't think any of us is innocent in this situation. How can you teach right and wrong when 1) the government is telling you that you can't; 2) babies are having babies with no support; 3) poor education; and, 4) no role models. And probably a billion other things.

Any way you slice it, it's just plain wrong. All these kids seriously need a good spanking. It would have probably done them good years ago.

Tuesday, August 09, 2011


If you don't know it by now, I love to cook. I do get hooked on favorite recipes, but I also like to try new ones. The last couple of years I've focused on learning how to cook red meat-- since I married a Brit and all and they love their meat. But seeing as I was raised a vegetarian (for all intents and purposes-- although we ate fish and sometimes turkey), other meats were sort of a mystery. And while I cook all sorts of fish, shellfish was one area that I tended to avoid. It was the special treat meal that you'd order in restaurants and pay through the nose for. But, like all food, someone has to prepare it-- so why not me? So I started tackling shellfish... prawns, clams, mussels... but one thing remained at arms reach-- my favorite ever: scallops.

I don't know why I found them to be intimidating, but maybe it was because I LOVE them, and didn't want one bad experience at home to turn me off to them forever. But thanks to my wonderful brother- and sister-in-law, I gained the courage to try them at home. And they are delectable. Forget spending $20 at a restaurant-- you can make this at home for $5-- for two people! This is Gordon Ramsay's recipe (via my bro- and sis-in-law who made this for us at a dinner party). I've made it several times, experimenting with the quantities of the ingredients (and adding the salt when pan searing the scallops) to get the balance right (MRN doesn't like tomatoes so I use less; I like more spice, so more chiles)-- and I think I've finally hit pay dirt. This is pure yumminess and perfect for a summer evening (not to mention a very easy recipe that is guaranteed to impress your guests).

Pan Seared Scallops with Spicy Corn Salsa

  • Fresh, large scallops (3-4 per person)
  • (1) 14-oz can of sweet corn
  • 1/2 packet of grape tomatoes (approx 100 g/3.5 oz), diced
  • 1 small red onion, diced
  • 3 small green or red chiles, finely minced
  • 3 tbsp sesame oil
  • dash of soy sauce
  • juice from one lime
  • curry powder
  • fleur de sel (or kosher salt if you don't have it)
  • olive oil (for cooking scallops)
  • rocket leaves (optional)
  • fresh coriander (or cilantro for you California peeps-- also optional), chopped

For scallops:
  • Heat olive oil on high heat in saute pan (should be VERY hot so that oil is almost smoking)
  • Remove muscle (if still attached) and rinse and pat dry. Slide scallops in half. Dust both sides with curry powder and sprinkle of fleur de sel (I usually dust the second side once in the pan).
  • When pan is very hot, add scallops and sear for 1 min per side (watch them carefully because you may need less time depending on your stove top).
  • Remove from pan and set aside
For salsa:

Combine all ingredients except scallops, curry, fleur de sel and olive oil in bowl and toss to combine.
Heat salsa is large saute pan for 2-3 minutes until warm.

To serve:

If serving with rocket, place a few leaves at the bottom of an appetizer-sized bowl or plate. Spoon salsa over rocket leaves. Place 6-8 scallops over salsa (or however many you're serving per person; if they're particularly large, and you are serving this as an app, may want to reduce to 4). Sprinkle with fresh chopped coriander (or I use parsley because I'm not a coriander fan...).

Monday, August 08, 2011

Take THAT Mother Nature!

It's been a crazy cold summer (temps have not gone about about 68 degrees; and for the most part, have been hovering in the high 50s/low 60s. Welcome to England!). Which means none of the flowers I've planted have bloomed. The herbs and greens have flourished but other than the lilac tree, there have been no blooms. Entirely disappointing for me because I love flowers and have had to feed my fix through weekly purchases from the grocery story. So imagine my delight when taking the trash out over the weekend I spied two little sweet pea blossoms popping out on the trellis that MRN recently affixed to the garden shed. Whoop-whoop! It's still cold, but these little beauties are standing up against Mother Nature just the same. Maybe the rest of the garden will follow these little leaders.

(P.S. Don't be fooled by the begonias in the foreground-- those are recent purchases, already in bloom, from the garden store bound for MRN's dad's planter).

Saturday, August 06, 2011

Testing... 1-2-3... Testing

I've had a couple of messages that people aren't able to post comments on my blog (big fat BOOOO!!!). Not sure what the problem is, but I'm trying to identify it, so if you are having trouble posting a comment, let me know (and what error message you are getting) and I'll continue to try to identify! (Because I really like comments!!!).

Oh-- and about He-Man. There's no reason why I've included his picture in this post other than when I searched google images for "No Comment" this came up in the search and I thought it was funny. ;)

Friday, August 05, 2011

Filing solutions

The raw materials
After a few years of changing the subject every time MRN brought up our "filing system" (which admittedly wasn't often), I finally decided that it was time to address the problem head on. Well, that's not exactly true. The real story is that in a frenzy of looking for a ridiculous number of documents to prove all sort of ridiculous things for immigration purposes (mine and his) he finally put his foot down and insisted that if we didn't address the filing issue then he was going to go out and buy an ugly, metal vertical filing cabinet and put it in the office.

You can bet that kicked my bootie into high gear.

Not that I didn't agree that our "system" wasn't much of a system-- it was a series of expanding file boxes we got at various Ikea visits; so they didn't match and were not integrated... and there was duplication all over the place. But with the threat of ugly entering the house, I set out to find a better solution--err, compromise. I had found a "filing ottoman" at the Dormy House, but at a whopping £500, I wasn't about to spend that kind of cash. I mean-- what is it? Some plywood, some fabric-- how hard could it be? So an idea was born. And thankfully with a handy husband, it was also relatively painless.

It took MRN all of 15 minutes to build it (thanks to the cutting service at B&Q-- England's equivalent to Home Depot). Then the fun part of upholstering. Which wasn't fun at all-- what started as my project ended with me throwing my hands up and letting MRN take over (he can't help it... I'm the queen of get the project finished in the least amount of time and he's Mr. Detail get everything perfect when it comes to building anything). Our take-away? I'm the "idea man" and he's the "execution man." Fine by me!

Here's a step-by-step of our DIY filing ottoman. Still some finishing work (in terms of lining the inside), but functional and in use for the time being. MRN thinks we should sell them-- much better option than ugly metal filing cabinets, don't you think?

The goods:
  • Plywood
  • Foam
  • Quilt batting
  • 3 yards of striped fabric
  • Spray adhesive
  • Staple gun
  • Furniture legs
  • Hinges
  • Metal dowels
  • Cardboard
  • Satin ribbon
  • Upholstery nails 
The process:

A notice board/decorative touch on the inside cover made from thick poster board which I covered with the same fabric, satin ribbon and upholstery nails. The ribbon is a pretty close match to the color of the flowers in the wallpaper used to decorate Gladys (and the lampshade). Lucky purchase on my part considering I didn't bring a swatch to the fabric store. Whoop!

    Thursday, August 04, 2011


    Scott Park
    I live a block away
    from this wonderful park; Weather permitting, I walk around it a few times everyday (it's a little more than a half mile around the loop) and play tennis there (when I can bribe my husband into exercising-- usually with food). You can't tell from this drawing, but it's pretty hilly and towards the South end, and turns into a forest (as you can see by the trees), which makes it a really beautiful walk. With tennis courts, a bowling green, a playground and rolling hills (not to mention bicycle and skateboard bans), it's a pretty perfect retreat.

    There are beautiful houses surrounding the park-- rambling old homes with original sash and stained glass windows and terrific English gardens in the front and back. They all face directly onto the park, separated only by a small, cobblestone lane. They're not huge houses-- 4 bedrooms, 1 bathroom (English houses are not big on multiple bathrooms), a relatively small kitchen, living room, den and dining room. But they're like walking back in time and I love them. I often find myself wondering what it would have been like to live in one when they were first built. So imagine my excitement when on one of my walks earlier this week I noticed that one was for sale. They NEVER go on the market. I went straight home and onto the realtor website and was shocked to see it was listed for nearly half a million (US) dollars.

    If you've read any of my blog, you'll know that I live in a TERRIBLE neighborhood-- there are about 4 streets that are the worst, and I live on one of them. Seriously-- I'm not exaggerating. It's one of the most deprived areas in the country-- both from a poverty perspective, but also anti-social behavior (England's nice way of saying petty crime, vandalism, drug dealing, public drunkenness and fighting, neglect and general grossness. And don't even get me started about the amount of trash and dog poop all over the place-- it's everywhere.). You can literally buy a house for £9,000-- granted, you can't actually live in it. They're shells without running water or electricity (because the pipes have been stolen and wiring ripped out by vandals. Not kidding). But all things considered, not too bad for a small two-bedroom house when you could probably get it up and running with an investment of about £10K. Of course to make any money you'd have to sell it (which in the current market is impossible) or rent it (but to people who are drug dealers and criminals), making it more prudent to just board it up and let it sit rather than deal with the consequences (which we're seriously considering). And this neighborhood (my street included) is literally one block away from this gorgeous park and the beautiful expensive houses.

    Now, I know that you'll often find poorer areas on the outskirts of high-rent districts. But THIS much of a divide, this close together? It's insane! Also insane that no one actually uses the park. It's virtually empty most of the time-- even when the sun is shining (which admittedly, is not often). When you live in absolute squalor and there's a little haven right next door, why not take advantage of it? Instead, the people in my neighborhood pull out their furniture in front of their houses and sit and drink and let their children play in the street and complete filth in front of abandoned and boarded-up houses. I realize that I grew up in a completely different world, but I simply do not get it. Any urban studies people out there care to comment?

    Wednesday, August 03, 2011


    Vinyl Monogram Decal from Etsy
    And aptly pinned (have I mentioned my obsession with Pinterest? Oh-- well, I am-- OBSESSED)-- this is the newest addition to the re-arranged bedroom decor. It's taken far enough away so you can't see how I completely messed up the whole application of the decal (yes, we all know that I am not crafty... or patient... so what business I had applying a decal to a glass surface, I don't know). On a positive note, it's at least centered and level.

    And yes-- I do realize the unfortunate nature of our monogram. Seeing as I'm not a big fan of chocolate, we can hold the candy references and paraphernalia. ;)

    Tuesday, August 02, 2011

    Office makeover

    Home Office: Before
    You may remember a few years ago (or may not... but considering there's only three people who read this blog, it may not be too far of a stretch) when we started to re-do the office. I posted a pretty pitiful before shot, which is pretty much the only photo I took. But you can imagine, based on this pic, the state of things. Basically you couldn't really walk in here. It was a storage closet with a desk crammed into the corner that was all but consumed by the behemoth all-in-one printer that my company issues to work at home employees (seriously-- could they give me a bigger one??). I know that it's getting old, but you'll remember my house is SMALL. So storage was a key priority. Plus, if we were to ever have guests (which we still haven't had), we wanted somewhere for them to sleep.
    Home Office: After
    DIY Roman Blinds
    This is pretty much how the office has stayed--significantly cleaned up with nothing in the room/on the floor aside from the desk and closet units that you see here. That is until I got and made-up Gladys, we moved the dresser previously in the bedroom to this room, got some new shades, and made this nifty ottoman (more on this in an upcoming post)-- and re-arranged some pictures and mirrors in the house. And wouldn't you know it-- it went from a space in transition to a pretty nice (if I do say so myself) space.

    Gladys and re-arranged wall decor

    Wall decor, alcove cover, rearranged dresser

    DIY Ottoman

    Monday, August 01, 2011

    A little paint goes a long way

    Another make-over, this time of the mini variety. I found this planter at Tesco in the sale aisle for a whopping £2. Score! And while I love the natural terracotta with the olive branch decoration, I've been looking for a planter that we could put at MRN's dad's grave for a little while now. And since it will be outside permanently and you have to seal terracotta so it doesn't wick away all of the moisture and kill whatever is planted, I decided I would paint it.

    I started by sealing the inside with a clear enamel spray and then painted the whole thing using good old Rustoleum multi-surface spray paint in gloss black (yes, I used the same for Gladys).

    After 24 hours I then used a stencil brush to dab bronze metallic acrylic craft paint on the olive branch decoration which I purposefully did imperfectly to give is a more natural look. Another 24 hours later, I sealed the whole thing with more clear enamel spray paint.

    So, voila! Pretty simple transformation for a flower pot-- and at a bargain (since I had left-over rustoleum, I only had to buy the enamel and craft paint (£2.99 each). That plus the pot means this little project was only about £6. I always think it's such a shame to leave flowers that die so quickly and I'd noticed that some of the other graves had lovely gardens and planters-- so this way we can plant seasonal plants that could last a few months and there would always be something in bloom. I was too late this season for forget-me-nots so I got some beautiful begonias (not pictured) and as the season changes I figured we could replace with some heather or evergreen as it gets cold and then plant forget-me-nots and rosemary (for remembrance) in the Spring. Any other ideas of what we can plant as the seasons change?

    Spray-painted black

    Finished product