This past weekend the Queen celebrated her Diamond Jubilee, 60 years on the throne. We all were supposed to ignore the fact that the 60th anniversary of her coronation is next year, or that her reign actually started back in a February. Minor details, of course. Because what is a few months in the midst of 60 years, right?
Anyway, more importantly for me, this weekend was also Dan’s Quarter Jubilee! Yup, on Friday he turned a quarter of a century old! So from Thursday until Monday, the focus was all on his birthday.
It all started on Thursday when I joined him in Acland for some birthday baking before his first performance of Guys & Dolls. It’s tradition in his lab for the birthday person to bring in some form of baked good for tea time, so naturally he did me a favor and called me up as an assistant. The lemon bars from the previous week’s barbecue had been requested, and Dan wanted us to attempt Black Forest Cupcakes for his own personal choice. Always eager to try a new recipe, I quickly armed myself with chocolate and cherry.
And unknowingly armed myself for my first baking failure in Oxford.
Neither of us are really sure what exactly happened. The batter tasted fine (I thought it was a little sugary, but it is a cupcake) and was an appropriate cupcake consistency. But they overflowed their liners within 20 minutes of a 35 minute baking time, and not just a little bit of overflow, the entirety of the muffin tin was covered in cupcake overflows that had merged together. And this made it really difficult to tell when they were done. When we finally pulled them out of the over, the middles had collapsed, the tops burnt, and everything looked caramelized over. And this was before Dan tried to take the wrapper off of one and it was shellacked to the cupcake. Or rather, the blob, since it no longer in anyway resembled a cupcake in consistency, appearance, or taste. Epic. Baking. Failure.
Naturally I refused to even consider the idea of bringing those to his lab the next day. Nothing about them was salvageable and I made him throw them out quickly because I was really angry at the cupcakes. Yeah anger never fixed a baked good, but it had already been a bad day. Luckily the lemon bars are apparently a consistently good recipe, because they went off without a hitch and had the same deliciously flavor as the first time we made them. Tried and true, this recipe will now become a staple of my baking repertoire 🙂
But one 8×8 pan of lemon bars was not enough to satisfy an entire lab of DPhils at tea time, so we had to come up with another recipe to bake really quickly that we had all the ingredients to already since the clock was ticking for Dan to leave for his show call. He found a brownie recipe that we whipped up, modifying it as necessary to accommodate our just barely running out of butter and sugar. Then he left, and I invented a blackcurrant cream cheese frosting–once again without butter–and we ended up with a much better situation than the failed Black Forest Fiasco. According to Dan, everything went over swimmingly the next day at tea, so thanks to him for some clear and fast thinking!
Friday was Dan’s actual birthday, and it ended up being really low key as he had to spend most of it in the lab and then practicing for the night’s show and I had essays to work on. I did join him after the show was over for some pub crawling though. First we went to Spoons with some of the people from the play’s band, and then met up with some Acland friends at the Something & Something, before heading back to bed by 1 am. As it was his actual birthday, I refrained from making the obligatory old man jokes, but once midnight hit, the agreement was off and I let them fly!
Saturday of the Jubilee weekend was a bit more eventful. We started the day with a murder, a murder mystery tour of Oxford that is! I found this website online that has created mystery tours of a bunch of different cities around the country and so we decided to get the one for Oxford to see how we liked them before possibly downloading others. So Jenna Holmes and Dan Watson were put on the case of the murdered Oxford Don. Most of the clues were pretty easy to solve, involving nothing more than reading a sign or looking for a date, but it was still just a fun little diversion to use up the gloomy morning. The clues they utilized were very creative. But we don’t think we will do another one any time soon. It was great to kill some time in a city that we already knew really well, but if you’re looking for a tour that actually teaches you the history of the area, these would definitely not be it. There was very little factual information about Oxford. Still, it got us up and around town, out in the fresh air before our next engagement, the Keble Warden’s Garden Party.
Somehow the topic of conversation at the garden party (isn’t a garden party just so Oxford?) revolved around cucumber sandwiches more often than not, and I tasted them and can now understand why no one likes Keble’s cucumber sandwiches! Unfortunately the day was a bit chilly and cloudy, so I didn’t get the chance to showoff my new dress, but I did get to meet and interact with a whole new group of people from Keble’s MCR. Everyone was really confused that I wasn’t in the MCR, much less in Keble, because they see me at so many of the events. Honorary member, I guess. Everything was very refined. There was a band playing chamber music, finger sandwiches and champagne freely floating around, students milling about with their parents. The highlight was definitely when they brought out the quintessential Strawberries and Cream, but I was more excited for the coffee. It was cold! We hadn’t been intending on staying the entire time, but the conversation turned out to be much more enjoyable, and we only parted from the group because Dan had his final performance of Guys & Dolls to prepare for.
I actually went to this performance (randomly joined by Chaitzi!). I was fully prepared for it to be a typical lame community production, especially as I have been hearing about the problem stories from rehearsals along the way, but it by far exceeded my expectations. It was really fun! The actors did a great job with their American accents, and we funny and clever, and the orchestra was all in tune. Unfortunately it did start pouring rain halfway through the first act, so for the second act we were all shuffled inside to a theater. Though none of us complained about that. Being dry significantly enhanced the show. I had such a good time, and was sitting there the whole play like some proud parents, beaming with pride at Dan’s cello playing.
But Monday was where the real Jubilee celebrations began. Ages ago, Dan and I made a list of things we wanted to make sure we did before term ended, and we took Monday as the opportunity cross of one…seeing Phantom of the Opera in London! What can I say? We are suckers for musicals.
We arrived in London in the early afternoon, and took a stroll around the Thames to look at all the festivities for the Jubilee celebrations. There was a concert at Buckingham Palace with a line that had to be two miles long, Union Jack flags everywhere, and street vendors selling tea towels with the Queen’s face on them. And the city was CRAWLING with tourists! I think the rest of the world is more excited for the Jubilee than the British people are! We made our way from Victoria up through Trafalgar’s Square and over to SoHo, where Dan gladly made a stop at Hummingbird Bakery with me so we could try two of the other flavors (Carrot Cake and Black Bottom Cake, yum!!!!) and then came across Paul A Young chocolate shop and bought some of the really interesting flavors of truffles. We had Goats Cheese, Pimms, Raspberry, and Peanut butter and Jelly. All delicious. Then we had dinner at SoHo Pizzeria before meandering back to Her Majesty’s Theater for the performance.
The sets and costumes are amazing! The last time I saw Phantom was by a touring company at the Pantages, and with tours you don’t get the full impact of the performance. It just isn’t feasible to bring all the sets along. But at Her Majesty’s Theater, the show is a permanent fixture. As for the acting, everyone was really great, especially Christine’s voice, though I feel like the Phantom wasn’t quite right. After a lot of debating back and forth with Dan, the best way I came up with to describe it so that others could see the image in my head was that the Phantom was too much of a model on Gollum from the Lord of the Rings. Trust me, it’s apt.
So while I couldn’t have really cared about the Queen’s Jubilee weekend, I had a great time celebrating Dan’s!