Sunday, December 27, 2009

Christmas, 2009

Christmas… for both of us our first time away from home at Christmas, and subsequently our first Christmas together. I was expecting it to be hard, perhaps even depressing, but David reasoned early on that we should just have as much fun as possible. After all, you can’t go through life being married and spending every holiday depressed with your spouse, right?

Christmas Eve Day I had to work, but we had a huge appie & dessert buffet in our department, so I mostly ate junkfood all day and then was sent home early by my boss’ boss. Rather than feel stressed over having to cook dinner or do dishes before heading to Mass, we went out for dinner to the Boathouse and filled up on hunter’s chicken and beer/cider. Mass was quiet, as most of the parishioners are out of town, but nice and very not North American, by which I mean that all the hymns were different than the ones we normally sing. After Mass we came home and watched It’s a Wonderful Life, since we’re used to going to a Christmas Eve party and this year had none to attend.

On Christmas Day we had a blast. Thanks to the generosity of certain people we had stocking stuffers and presents like we would’ve had back home. Thanks to my mum sending us a surprise care package, we had surprises on Christmas morning that neither of us knew about. We spent a relaxing morning opening gifts and made a nice Christmas breakfast. We spent the afternoon slowly preparing for Christmas dinner, and then we spent the evening in the company of one of our Irish friends who was in town for the holidays. David roasted a pheasant, I made a ham, and our friend brought over Christmas pudding and mulled wine. The hours passed quickly and it was midnight before we knew it!

I’m used to spending boxing day having a huge family dinner and spending time visiting, but of course that could not be the case this year. So instead we slept in, read for a bit, and eventually wandered downtown where we picked up steak & ale pasties before heading to the theatre to see the new Sherlock Holmes movie. The movies was excellent, and it was fun eaten pasties snuck into the theatre. After the movie hit up an open pub for pints.

Two more days of vacation for me! Today we went to an early Mass and then spent the morning browsing shops along Trinity Street before grabbing lunch and groceries. Tomorrow one of David’s mum’s close friends from Jamaica is coming over for lunch. In preparation for this we’ve procured a fancy looking paté and a wedge of brie which in Canada would easily cost $6, and here cost a mere 99p. Did I mention that cheese is cheap in England? I love this country!


Yes I miss seeing my family, and I could dwell on missing Christmas Eve & Christmas morning at home. To be honest, however, I am just grateful that I have a family worth missing, and that I have a wonderful man who worked so hard to ensure that my first Christmas away from home would be a happy one. If anything, my heart is overflowing with gratitude this year for all the blessings in my life.

Merry Christmas!

Sunday, December 20, 2009

Busy couple of weeks

Life has been busy in a pretty good way. My job is going well, but as it involves sitting at a computer writing emails (and clicking buttons!) all day I don’t use the computer as much when I’m home. I also threw my back out last Sunday and have found it difficult to sit on the computer for long periods of time while home.

Two weeks ago I took my first trip to London for a very special reason—one of my favourite folk bands, with my favourite vocalist, were on their 40th Anniversary Tour and we got tickets! So David and I took the train to London when I got off work. It only takes about 50minutes to get there from Cambridge, and we got our tube tickets included in the rail price which was neat. It was fun to just zip to London.

Of course it was even more fun to see Steeleye Span & Maddy Prior in person! That concert is one of the best I’ve been too and it was such an incredible surprise, as we thought we’d missed the chance of ever seeing them. Most of the people there were old hippies and we were some of the youngest in the crowd. It was a magical evening, and the first time David and I have had a chance to get away together, alone, on an adventure since early summer. We still go on dates a lot, but haven’t had a proper carefree adventure away for awhile. So nice! We snacked on winegums, bought Cornish pasties at the train station, and of course heard some of our favourite songs performed live.

The last two weeks have been mostly a blur of work, illness, and Christmas preparations. Cambridge was hit with a “blizzard” and the UK is experiencing “sub zero temperatures”. In Canadian English that means we have about 3” of snow and it’s below zero. Granted it is icy and treacherous outside, and most places don’t have adequate heating so it is cold, but I have been laughing quite a bit over the panic and shock.

This week we have David’s birthday to celebrate on Tuesday and then on to Christmas! So I am feeling quite excited, aside from the giant stack of presents I have to wrap...

David & I at the Clare Christmas Formal (we had a lovely time, including heartily enjoying our 4 course dinner)
Medieval Round Church during The Cambridge Blizzard of '09
A lovely snowy dawn the next day

Sunday, December 6, 2009

food & cooking in cambridge

One of my favourite challenges of moving to a new country is trying to cook without the things we take for granted in North America. We shop at Sainsbury’s Central, which is a supermarket in downtown Cambridge. It has a good selection of meat, a fair selection of [mostly] seasonal produce, and so forth. Cheaper than the butcher’s & the Co-op, more expensive than Asda (Walmart). You get the picture.

Anyway, because it is a supermarket, instead of a mega-market, it doesn’t carry certain things like cornmeal, clingwrap, tortilla chips, etc. Things I take for granted as “able to find in any store”. These are things not impossible to get—the clingwrap is probably hiding in the store, but we can get it from the Co-op anyway. Tortilla chips, in the form of flavoured Doritos, can also be bought from the Co-op or I just purchase a package of Old Elpaso Nachos and find a creative use for the nacho sauce (like adding it to my chilli con queso because I couldn’t find the green mild chillis I wanted as Sainsbury’s).

Today I’m trying to make buffalo wings. They sell chicken wings—raw, whole, unseasoned. So they’re actually really inexpensive, and I got a bit of a workout at home separating them. I found Tabasco sauce, in a little box...but no Louisiana hot sauce. I was really hoping for some Frank’s Red Hot, but alas! So I bought a bottle of Peri-Peri marinade instead, which is a South African pepper sauce. I’m really interested to see the result.

Moving here is really forcing me to think when I cook, instead of just blindly following a recipe or freaking out/omitting if I can’t find an ingredient in the store. Last week I tried braising steaks in a brisket marinade and it called for liquid smoke. So I subbed sesame oil instead, because it has a good smokey flavour, and it turned out delicious. In fact I’d say that since moving here we’ve had more good meals than we had in Canada!

Things I do miss, tho: rootbeer (seriously, this country has none. WTF!), granny smith apples, bacon (the bacon here is different. Not as smokey or fatty), cornmeal (ok, I can actually get this from Asda, but it’s sold fine-ground as polenta and although inexpensive, having to go to another store makes it a luxury instead of the staple it was for us), and the taste of certain things (cola, certain chocolate bars, etc) that taste slightly different here. And also potato chips. They have a bunch of different kinds over here, but they seem to excel for the weird and wonderful. At least they sell Kettle Chips!

We’re learning how to use our gas stove and I’m falling more and more in love with it. Today David made sausages in the grill part of the stove, and they were fucking amazing. I love cooking chicken in the oven, because it gets a beautiful golden brown and I don’t have to fuss over it. And most food over here tastes better, fresher, than back home. Cheese is a whole new experience, and I’m not even talking fancy stuff from the deli.
As for the wings, they came out ok but nothing like my favourites from Alzu’s in Victoria. I think this is because I baked the wings instead of deep frying, and because the Peri-Peri sauce had clearly been made less spicy for these wussy English. David liked ‘em, but I thought they were tasty but not mind-blowing. And for me to keep a less than mind-blowing recipe for my files it must be something that David won’t stop raving about, or something super easy to make with lots of leftovers. And this is neither. Ah well!
See how beautiful this chicken gets?