Archives

The Big 100th Post

Isn’t it amazingly fitting (and completely coincidental) that my 100th post is my leaving Oxford to return home to the States? This was never my intention; I didn’t plan out all of my blog posts for my entire year to make sure that I ended on the 100th post. I can’t even really believe that I’ve had 100 posts!

In fact, this post is truly the last part of me in England at the moment. In case no one noticed, the time stamp on this one is 4:15 pm, GMT, which means that as this is being blasted into cyberspace, my plane towards Los Angeles has just taken off and I am now in the air, eleven and a half hours of a plane ride ahead of me. Let’s hope there are no screaming children!

So as this is my 100th milestone, in typical blogosphere fashion, I thought I would do a little fun listing, an almost sum-up of my incredible time abroad. Nothing is in any particular order. Enjoy!

25 Great/Funny Experiences

  1. Meeting my amazing dance partner, Dan, is probably the best thing that happened to me here!
  2. Being pelted with snowballs outside the Sheffield competition. First time in the snow!
  3. Disneyland Paris
  4. Harry Potter Studio Tours in Leavesden
  5. Seeing Les Mis on the West End…twice
  6. Dan running into a bollard at Blackpool. This was mostly funny because of the email his dad sent him afterwards, but it’s a favorite inside joke with the two of us now.
  7. Blackpool IVDA!
  8. Thinking that Iguanadons were the same thing as Iguanas (you’ll understand this one later)
  9. Baking parties in the Acland kitchen
  10. Dan’s birthday BBQ
  11. Days spent at the Missing Bean
  12. Keble Ball
  13. Meeting up with Dale in Paris
  14. The Port Meadow Photo Challenge
  15. My family visiting!
  16. Driving in Ireland
  17. Finding Charles Brandon’s grave in St. George’s Chapel, Windsor Castle
  18. Becoming friends with all the people on the dance team
  19. Dancing on a table in Wahoo with Ania 😉 and nearly getting kicked out
  20. Flying off to Zurich alone, completely random! Sidenote: Awesome zoo
  21. Seeing the town that  my family has lived in for hundreds of years (Harlech, Wales)
  22. Walking through horse pastures in the Cotswolds
  23. Varsity Match for OUDC
  24. Going to tutorials in a room that is older than any of the original 13 colonies
  25. Stonehenge in the pouring rain with my brother

25 Things I’ve Learned

  1. The Rose has the best cream tea in Oxford
  2. Custard, cream, and mayo might as well be their own food groups here
  3. Pants=underwear, not trousers
  4. Pimms is awesome. There is always an excuse to drink Pimms.
  5. The instant the sun comes out, expect the streets to get very, very crowded.
  6. Blackwells is the most deadly store in the world.
  7. Sometimes it is cheaper to take a train to a foreign country than to Cornwall.
  8. You can get to Brussels or Paris from Oxford faster than you can get from Oxford to Cambridge (they must have planned it like that!).
  9. Awesome words like keen, overkeen, and knackered should be incorporated into our everyday vocabulary.
  10. British people think that all Americans are gun-toting, obese rednecks.
  11. Cobblestones do not mix well with high heels.
  12. Punting is not just a type of kick in football.
  13. At a BBQ, Brits bring their own meat. Americans bring desserts and sides. Plan accordingly.
  14. Stand mixers are necessary to avoid baking catastrophes.
  15. 14lbs=1 stone. This is how they measure weight. But then they use kg? Wth?
  16. Fancy dress means costumes, not cocktail attire.
  17. Stealing ties and bow ties makes night clubs into a game.
  18. You never wait for a cross walk to cross the street.
  19. Buses will run you over and they get really close to the curbs.
  20. Salad means assorted vegetables that you can have put on your baguette at lunch or lettuce with delicious toppings. However, salads are rarely meals.
  21. You need a television license just to stream a show online.
  22. Everyone, and I mean everyone, watches and loves Downton Abbey.
  23. I know more British history than a lot of British people.
  24. Waffles are dessert, not breakfast. And for that matter, pancakes are basically crepes, not the fluffy goodness we get in the States.
  25. If you forget an umbrella, you’ve guaranteed that it will rain. If you brought an umbrella, it will still probably rain but at least you will be dry.

25 Things I’ll Miss

  1. Nightly tea parties with my dance partner
  2. My friends on the dance team
  3. Olives (the sandwich shop not the food item)
  4. Cream teas
  5. Being able to walk everywhere
  6. Saying Cheers instead of Thanks
  7. Spur of the moment day trips into London
  8. West End shows for cheap!
  9. Being surrounded by history everywhere I go
  10. My bay window
  11. How happy everyone is when its sunny
  12. Oxfordshire Public Library
  13. Free entry to museums and galleries
  14. Everyone in the Keble MCR/Acland
  15. The collective understanding when someone mentions Jamals or Park End
  16. My scouts (aka the women who clean my room every week and empty my bins. They were the nicest people!)
  17. The accents
  18. Ease of travel, unless you want to go horizontally across the country. Good luck with that.
  19. Baking for Dan’s friends and Keble events. Love easy taste testers
  20. Laughing as Dan and I attempt to Quickstep/Waltz/Jive/Cha/Foxtrot/Viennese Waltz
  21. Hearing everyone’s opinions on LA
  22. Dirty Chais
  23. All the literature and film links in the city
  24. Feeling like I’m constantly at Hogwarts
  25. My coworkers

25 Places that I Didn’t Get a Chance to Visit, But That I Definitely Will Someday

  1. York
  2. Cornwall
  3. Dover
  4. Calais
  5. Norfolk
  6. Budapest
  7. Prague
  8. Vienna
  9. Pompeii/Rome/Venice/Naples/Italy
  10. Warsaw/Other Places in Poland
  11. Berlin/all over Germany
  12. Geneva
  13. Istanbul
  14. Marrakech
  15. North Carolina
  16. Athens, basically all of Greece
  17. Slovenia
  18. The Netherlands
  19. Northern Ireland
  20. Brighton
  21. Denmark
  22. Russia
  23. Bruges/Antwerp
  24. The Caribbean
  25. Portugal

Yeah, it’s a long list, but hopefully I’ll have a long life in which to fulfill it, with wonderful friends and family by my side. Now don’t think that because I’m back in the US that this blog is ending. I’m still going to be traveling and I’m working on finding my way back to England for a bit longer of a term. So stay tuned!

And thank you to everyone and everything in England that made this the most amazing year of my life.

Advertisements

A Week of Lasts

Warning, it’s a long one. My advice: Grab some tea and scones before settling down to read this novella. Trust me, tea and scones makes everything better 😉

It has been a week for lasts. Which is completely fitting as this was 8th week, meaning my final week here in Oxford. Pardon me for waxing nostalgic for a blog post, but what a year it has been. Right now Dan and I are exchanging stories of our favorite memories from the past nine months via Facebook chat, and it blows my mind just how much has happened since I stepped off that plane back in September. But a full reminiscing might wait until a milestone blog post, so I’ll refrain for the time being. Not only is it my final week, but it has also been a crazy busy one! So let’s begin with the list of Lasts. Head’s up, it’s a long one!

Last Shift at Work

Sunday afternoon I ended my time waitressing. Ironically it was one of my toughest shifts; I was far from focused and we filled up the entire restaurant for about 90 minutes. With only two waitresses, two bartenders, and one chef, a full restaurant can get overwhelming really quickly. And although I can normally handle a busy shift, for some reason my brain was just not turned on enough to manage it. I choose to blame it on having three long and busy shifts in a row (Friday-Saturday night-Sunday morning) and being once again plagued with insomnia, two things which would make any waitress a little bit off her game. The breakfast/brunch crowd is also a bit more difficult when everyone orders omelettes and you end up confused about which table ordered which omelette because there are two waitresses managing the same tables. So if I didn’t take a table’s order, I didn’t necessarily know that they had ordered food–the specific table in question had told me they were waiting for one more person to join them, who never showed up–and Table 15’s omelette and yogurt and granola ends up at Table 16, and Jenna gets a lecture from the other waitress. All in all though, it was a fun shift and I am surprised at how much I’m going to miss waitressing. Though the tips have a lot to do with that! 😉

Last Essay for Tutorials

It also happened to be my longest essay of the term. My major tutorial is an Independent Research Project, and because we didn’t have time to actually run the study during term (I’m supposed to figure out a way to run it over the summer from the opposite side of the world?), we decided that I could at least make progress on the eventual final write up by writing the Method section and the Introduction of the paper before we even made the stimulus. The Method section was turned in a few weeks ago, so the Intro needed to be written by Thursday’s tutorial. When I set my mind to finishing an essay early, I rarely rest until I do, hence why this week’s essay was researched, outlined, and written between Saturday and Monday afternoon. Granted, three paragraphs were copy-pasted from a previous essay that was a foundation essay for the Intro (so it wasn’t cheating to reuse it), but the majority of the research was new articles and the paper ended at a concise 2200 words. Not really sure how I was able to churn it out that fast, but I certainly wasn’t complaining as it allowed me more time to experience and appreciate the remaining Lasts as there wasn’t an essay hanging over my head.

Last Ballroom Practice

Only ten people showed up! So disappointing as I was planning on using this last Tuesday at Wychwood to say goodbye to everyone. The rest of the week was shaping up to be a crazy busy one, so I wasn’t sure how much time I would have to make the rounds among my friends (as it turned out, I was right in thinking not much) and really wanted to see as many of them as possible at rehearsal. Unfortunately exams are going on for a lot of people and as such the crowd was small. Sadness. Guess I’ll be leaving without notice for many people. I guess this is the advantage of Facebook; at least I can stay in touch as much as possible.

The actually dancing was exactly what Dan and I wanted. Bruce started with our new favorite dance: Foxtrot. I bet my ballroom coach back home will laugh when he hears that I love International Foxtrot, since he practically had to bribe me into practicing it back home! But Dan and I love the smoothness of the music and the technique seems to come very naturally to us, always a bonus. After 90 minutes of Foxtrot, Bruce switched it up to teach us Viennese Waltz. I’ve done Viennese Waltz before, and after spending an entire academic year watching the main team couples dance it, Dan was able to pick it up really quickly. The steps themselves aren’t difficult, it’s all about the speed and stamina. We found it easier to dance when the tempo was quicker, rather than the slowest Viennese that Bruce had, possibly because the slowest Viennese switched timing so often through the song that it was difficult to keep in time. Our last Viennese was the perfect ending to an incredible year dancing with my best friend: it was the theme to Harry Potter!!!! Couldn’t have chosen better myself 😀

Last Baking Experiment

I insisted last week that my making a gigantic batch of sugar cookies to distribute was going to be my last baking day of the term. It just goes to show you that sometimes people eat their words, literally in this case. I blame my mom’s telling me that our peach tree back home is bearing an insane amount of peaches and asking me for some peach dessert recipes to try. She blames Dan for suggesting that we try out one of the recipes ourselves. He blames my telling him about her plans to make peach pie and other assorted peach desserts and sending him the recipes to tempt him. Basically, it’s a blame circle that worked out for everyone in Acland on Tuesday night after our rehearsal. We started off making Strawberries and Cream Pie (recipe below), and it would appear that I still haven’t learned my lesson to read a recipe all the way through before I attempt it, because I neglected to notice that the pie not only took 1 hour 10 minutes minimum to bake, but also needed to chill in the refrigerator for 4 hours before serving. Darn it! I really wanted to try something we baked, but I was not about to stay up until 3 am for a slice of pie. I am definitely not that crazy! Luckily for the little petulant child in me, we also had had the foresight to bake a Honey Almond Cake (also below) that did not need chilling for eternity and was delicious right out of the oven. Our friend Pippa came over after her law dinner and was greeted with huge hugs and a slice of cake. Yeah, she likes us. Plus both desserts ended up great successes, though I found the cake too simple of a recipe too eliminate my baking craving. Guess I’ll just have to make a really challenging recipe next week at home! In my own, fully stocked, clean kitchen!

Oh and did I mention that since neither of us had a pie pan, we made the pie in a 8×8 square pan? Do you know what that means? That Pie R Squared! Sorry, math joke. Dan came up with it.

But really, making a pie in an 8-in square actually was super convenient and came out just as tasty, if a tad unconventional. It was a lot easier to cut it into even slices as well.

Last Spontaneous Weekend Trip Booking

While I won’t reveal where we booked a vacation to, just know that Dan and I booked a last minute trip to somewhere and leave tomorrow morning at 5:30 am!!! So excited though. And I realized that now all three of my terms ended with me spontaneously leaving Oxford on a vacation. Michaelmas I went to Paris to visit my junior high school friend, Dale. Hilary term I flew off to Zurich alone. And tomorrow we head to…like I was really about to reveal it! I will give you a hint though. We are not flying 😦

Last Day Trip into London

With all my work for the term completed, I had a few free days to lounge around Oxford if I so chose. Of course, the weather not being the greatest lately, that would literally entail lounging around my room while all my friends were either in their respective labs or exams. Not exactly the way I wanted to spend my final Wednesday in England. Traveling around the UK, while easier than in the US, can actually be quite difficult and time consuming for simple day trips by yourself, so I just copied what I did a few weeks ago and caught a bus into London with the intention of snatching some discount tickets to some West End productions. I really wanted to spend the evening with Dan, so I chose to only do a matinee and not a double feature (plus I wasn’t really keen on walking around London alone at night again or getting back at 2 am). After buying a ticket at Leicester Square–I tried to get a ticket to War Horse, which would have been the only show I’d have stuck around for a double performance to see, but unsurprisingly it was sold out–and resisting the urge to make it Les Mis for the third time, I walked to the National Portrait gallery to kill some time. Free museum entry is definitely something I am going to miss when I go back to California. I love how England has made it accessible to visit a museum or gallery multiple times because entry is free. I rarely feel rushed through a collection, frantic to see every single piece, because I know that I can return for only the cost of transportation into the city. Unlike in the US where we have to pay an arm and a leg just to visit a pretty garden (not that it has ever stopped me…). After the Portrait Gallery I ate lunch in the National Gallery’s cafe, sat in yet another bookstore adding to my list of books to look up when I get back in the States, and then made my way to the Adelphi Theatre for the matinee of…

Last West End Show

Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet…Street! I never saw the movie with Johnny Depp and Helena Bonham Carter, but I really wanted to, and now I want to even more after seeing the stage show. My ticket was great (middle of second row orchestra!) though I ended up with a slight crick in my neck from having to crane it up a tad to see the whole stage. It was a great show, truly. It was different from anything else I have seen in that there wasn’t a big fanfare before the show began. No overture, no entr’acte after intermission, not even a curtain rising. In the ten minutes before the actual start of each act (five for the second act) the chorus actors just meandered on stage as if they were going about their daily lives, chatting to one another, doing laundry, writing a letter, fixing a door. Really a unique way of beginning a show. The music was great and some of the songs were absolutely hilarious. I actually laughed out loud multiple times, which was unexpected as I had been under the impression that Sweeney Todd was a really dark musical. And it was, even the colors were mostly darker neutrals, but it was darkly humorous as well. And bonus! Imelda Staunton was playing Mrs. Lovett. Recognize the name? Yep, Professor Umbridge from Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix and Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, Part One can actually sing and be comedic. I’ve had such good luck with my spur-of-the-moment musical selections yielding the opportunity to see some famous talents. I mean, Raza Jaffrey in Chicago (as much as I hated that show) and Imelda Staunton now, not to mention a few years ago seeing Daniel Dae Kim in The King and I at the Royal Albert Hall. It was a great and very satisfying last show to experience in London.

Last Tutorial

I don’t really have much to say about this other than yesterday (Thursday) was my last tutorial here in Oxford. While I was definitely far from happy about being left in the rain as the tutorial before mine went 20 minutes over, it was a productive meeting. I really like the tutorial system of education and have no idea how I’m going to readjust into massive lectures and multiple choice exams this summer at UCLA! Here’s hoping my GPA doesn’t take a sudden plunge because I’m used to creating my own research topics.

Last Performance at the New Theatre

This might actually be my last performance in the UK, unless some unforeseen tickets come mine and Dan’s way this weekend. The show was a really unique one, titled Against Time, and it was a joint venture with the England National Ballet (my second time seeing them) and Flawless, a UK hiphop/breaking troupe. The story of the production was kind of meh, but I really couldn’t have cared less what the story or the message of it was because the dancing was so incredible and the music was amazingly fun to listen to. The choreography blended hiphop and ballet, with the two styles mirroring and complementing each other and the music was almost all contemporary music. “Moves Like Jagger”, “Party Rock”, “Sexy Ladies” by Justin Timberlake, as well as a bit of Swan Lake and some other classical stuff thrown in. There was also the requisite hiphop/electronic/house/whateverpeoplebreakdanceto music. Absolutely loved it! And now I can’t wait even more to get back into a dance studio.

Last Tea Night with Dan

After the play, Dan came over to Isis for possibly the last time, well at least for a tea night (and pie. He brought me a slice of our pie. Good Partner). The guy really is a godsend; I’ve been freaking out a little bit because repacking up my life to return to LA is stressful, especially when you only have two duffel bags and a carry-on in which to do it. Dan was great about keeping me company while I made the tough decisions about what stays in Oxford for trash, what gets donated to bookstores/libraries/Oxfam, what goes to Dan for either consumption or safe keeping (he was excited about that part), and what gets packed up for this weekend or going home. I had to harken back to the day of the amazing Ziploc bag and “vacuum seal” everything in them once again to make it fit, but Dan seems to share my dad’s incredible packing skills and fit everything I needed in, without me having to through away my unused toiletries! Quite an accomplishment! Dad would be so proud of us. After I was completely packed up, we had some tea and talked about our weekend plans, trying not to think about my leaving in five days. It was 1:30 am before he finally left with two of his four bags of new stuff and a plan of what to do with every item in my room set out. The guy is such a blessing to have around when you are stressed.

Last Full Day in Oxford

It finally came. It still hasn’t hit me that it has, that today was my last consecutive 24 hours in Oxford for this time around. And I definitely spent it all around the city. There were errands to run, banks to visit, people to say goodbye to. To give just an overview of my day: wakeup at the ungodly hour of 6:30 am yet again (curse insomnia!), grab items to donate, go to Teddy Hall to donate items, go to Missing Bean, go to NatWest, go to Barclays, go to Covered Market, go to Library, go back to Isis, meet Dan there, move refrigerator that had melted all over my carpet from Isis to the taxi downstairs, move refrigerator from the taxi downstairs to Dan’s room in Acland, go to a High Street shop to finally buy a new iPhone case that I’ve been eyeing for weeks, go back to Isis, grab more items to donate, go to Sobells and Oxfam to donate items, go back to NatWest, go to The Rose, go to IT office at Teddy, go to Collections at Teddy, go to Sainsbury, go back to Isis. Lots of running around! There is so much to do today since I obviously won’t have the weekend because I’ll be in…gotcha, not giving it away!

Last Dirty Chai

So sad that I had my last Dirty Chai at the Missing Bean. I met a friend from the dance team there for breakfast and coffee and a two hour catch up session before I go to the US and she studies in Paris and Brussels for the summer. But it was such a great 2 hours. And a great Dirty Chai.

Last Cream Tea

All that cream tea tasting and reviewing practically necessitated me going to tea for the last time this year at the place that I consider to have the best cream tea in Oxford: The Rose on High Street. It is the entire package of delicious and warm scones, real fruit in the jam, smooth clotted cream, and a delicious loose leaf vanilla tea in a minimalist but warm atmosphere. And all for a great price in my opinion. Had to end with the best.

Last Time at St Edmund Hall

It’s a little bittersweet ending my time at this college. Granted, I really didn’t spend a ton of time on the site since I lived out for the year, but I still felt like I belonged to St. Edmund and loved that the place had such character. But I left it completely satisfied and with some beautiful pictures in my head from all the seasons. Bye Teddy! Thanks for welcoming me into your quaint world for a great year.

Now all that’s left is a super awesome trip with my dance partner and a twelve hour flight.

Strawberries and Cream Pie (aka the Pie R Squared pie)

Prep Time: 20 minutes

Cook Time: 1 hour, 10 minutes

Total Time: 1 hour, 30 minutes

Yield: 1 pie

 Ingredients
  • 1 refrigerated pie crust (I highly recommend making your own pie crust as I find the pre made ones really bland. You only need a bottom crust, so make a single crust or else the crust will be too thick in my opinion.)
For the Filling
  • 2 pints strawberries, stems removed and halved
    • Other fruit options to try: Strawberry-Banana, Peach, Blueberry with Lemon Cream, Cherry (though not having tried them myself I can’t vouch for them, they are just ideas I had)
  • 1 cup sugar (I used just over 2/3 cup)
  • 1/3 cup all purpose flour
  • 2 large eggs, at room temperature
  • 1/2 cup sour cream
  • 1/2 tsp. vanilla extract
For the Crumb Topping
  • 2 1/2 tbs. brown sugar
  • 2 tbs. sugar (I used 1 tbs.)
  • 1/2 tsp. ground cinnamon
  • pinch ground nutmeg
  • 1/4 cup unsalted butter, melted
  • 1/2 cup plus 2 1/2 tbs. all purpose flour

Instructions

  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
  2. Roll out the raw pie crust and press into a pie dish. Shape the edges in to desired shape. Set aside.
For the Filling
  1. In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, combine the flour and sugar together.
  2. Add in the eggs, sour cream, and vanilla extract. Mix for about 3 minutes. (Not having a stand mixer, I whisked it by hand for 5 minutes)
  3. Place the strawberries into the pie crust. Pour the filling evenly over the strawberries.
For the Crumb Topping
  1. In a bowl, combine the brown sugar, sugar, cinnamon, and nutmeg. Stir in the melted butter.
  2. Add in the flour and use your hands or a spatula to combine until the mixture has a crumbly texture.
  3. Distribute the crumb topping evenly over the top of the pie.
  4. Bake the pie for approximately 1 hour and 10 minutes.
  5. Let pie cool for at least 4 hours before serving.

Honey Almond Loaf Cake

4 eggs

2 cups (500 ml) heavy cream (38% fat) *Note: This is whipping cream in the UK. Single and Double Cream have too high of a fat content*

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

1 ½ cups granulated sugar

½ teaspoon salt

2 cups (280 grams) self-rise flour

For the topping

200 grams slivered almonds

3 teaspoons honey

Turn the oven on to 170°C/350F. Combine all the dry ingredients in one bowl and the wet ones in another (eggs, vanilla, cream). Mix the contents of each bowl, separately. Pour the cream mixture into the flour and mix well with a whisk (no stand mixer needed). Pour the batter evenly into one large loaf pan and one small one, or pretty much whatever type of pan you want to bake it in (just adjust cooking times accordingly). Scatter a handful of almonds over the top and drizzle a spoonful of honey. Bake for 35-40 minutes or until toothpick/knife inserted into the middle comes out clean. Cover top of cake with aluminum foil if top is browning too much before the cake is finished baking.

Serving suggestions: As is! Drizzled with a bit more honey. Any way you would serve Angel Food Cake (cherries instead of strawberries would be really good). With bananas. 

42nd Street

I am definitely on a musical kick at the moment. How can I not be, with random breaks of free time, tip money in my pocket, and the West End a mere 90 minute bus ride away? So far, this term alone, I’ve seen Les Mis twice, Billy Elliot, Chicago, Guys & Dolls, and last night I saw 42nd Street at the New Theatre in Oxford. Hopefully I can get myself to be productive enough over this Partnerless weekend to afford a last trip to Leicester Square (if so, I’m thinking Sweeney Todd).

My blog earlier today, in my opinion, didn’t really do Phantom of the Opera justice; chalk that up to a deadly combination of tiredness and low blood sugar and please accept my apologies. Having written a 2000 word essay yesterday, I’m a little burnt out today and writing my blog seemed more like a chore than anything else. But I promise to do as much justice to 42nd Street as I can!

Which is to say, not much? But I’ll get to that. Let’s first step back into Phantom so I can spill a few little, astonishing, tidbits.

Dan bought the program and while he had stepped out for a minute, I read the history of the show. I was floored to see that it was intended to be produced in the style of The Rocky Horror Picture Show! I’ve never seen it, but I have watched the Glee episode and am very familiar with the song “Time Warp” and the Los Angeles traditions of what you do at a screening. I’m sorry, but that just wouldn’t have done the original novel justice! (Yes, Phantom is based on a French novel, and yes I’ve read it and recommend it.) Though after learning that, I could actually hear some of the Rocky Horror influences in the music. So disappointing.

Okay so that was just one tidbit, but it felt like an important one.

As for 42nd Street it was produced for the first time in the 1980s, and it really felt like it. I am pretty sure I’ve done a dance to one of the songs (“Lullaby of Broadway” maybe?) so I kind of new the style of music. But I find it a little saddening when my favorite part about a production is the chorus. There was nothing special about the main characters, no gripping storyline to pull you in, no powerhouse that kept you on the edge of your seat. Maybe I’m a little spoiled from Les Mis and Wicked. But I think the problems with the production stem from its original script and book. It just doesn’t lend itself well to the 2010s’ culture. It was dated. Costumes were dated. Actors were dated. Audience was definitely dated.

Yet the chorus girls were great. I didn’t know that all the dancing in it was going to be tap (though it does explain my memories of that dance’s costume and yes it was a tap number), and it was good tap. So often you get a line of tappers and it just sounds like a terrible cacophony. Which may be why it has always been my least favorite style of dance. But here, everyone was really talented. Their sounds were crystal clear and on time! And there were easily 30 tappers all dancing at one time. I really wish my mom had been there with me, she would have loved the dancing. As it was, definitely my favorite part of the entire show. I found myself groaning whenever there was acting or singing, wishing I could go back to writing my paper, until the chorus came on and I paid rapt attention.

The other funny thing about the show was its storyline. It definitely was not an accurate portrayal of how people act in the entertainment industry. An entire chorus would not be clamoring for a brand new chorus girl to take over the lead role of a high profile Broadway play just so they could perform themselves! In truth, everyone would be cutthroat and after the lead role themselves. But I guess that makes for entertaining television right now in Smash but not appropriate for 1980s Broadway.

Oh and I find the storyline of the older, crotchety director in love with the clueless chorine ingenue kind of gross.

Random interesting factoid: Catherine Zeta-Jones got her start in musical theatre in the chorus of 42nd Street when she had to fill in the role of Peggy Sawyer after both the lead and the understudy became ill. Lucky her!

Dan’s Jubilee

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!

Puddle Prance

Yesterday was one of those days. You know the ones I’m talking about…where you are cranky and bored and short-tempered so thank goodness you don’t want to be around anyone, where even a shining sun can’t motivate you…those days?

Knew you would.

No one likes those days, least of all when you’ve just had a good week with beautiful weather, so I decided to go for a run in the hope that some physical activity was all I was really craving. I love running, weird I know, but with how much training for dance I had these past 7 months I didn’t want to overdo anything or possibly injure myself, so I hadn’t run since the summer. I went for one about a week ago to a park up in my area and it was great. Dan went this weekend on a run to Port Meadow, that beautiful countryside path to Wolvercote. While I obviously am not in good enough running shape to run the whole thing, walking there with some intermittent sprints sounded like just the ticket. So with that decision made, I packed up my iPod and water, changed into running clothes, and sent off a quick “bye” text to Dan before going out.

I may have also ignored his responding text of “You know it’s going to rain, right?” Oops.

Now I may be weird, but we already knew that, in that I actually really enjoy running in the rain. It’s surprisingly fun and I highly recommend it to anyone who hasn’t tried it. You just have to be cautious of slippery surfaces, but what’s a run without a little risk? (Answer: A safe one). And I figured, it’s England, it never rains that much to be intolerable, particularly after this gorgeous sunshine.

Wrong!

I didn’t realize that by rain, he meant torrential rain accompanying a thunderstorm. But he did. Oh yeah he did. I wasn’t even to Jericho when a drizzle rapidly morphed into literal buckets being dumped on me. I can honestly say that I don’t know if I’ve ever seen that much rain at one time. Thankfully, it was warm rain so I wasn’t going to chill to my bones, but I soon realized that if I wanted to protect my iPod and cell phone from irreparable water damage, I was going to have to sacrifice my shirt to save them (oh c’mon guys I was wearing a sports bra!). I hid under a tree and quickly wrapped them in my shirt before braving the storm and continuing on my path. Figured I might as well since I was going to shower anyway.

Roads here are not the most even of surfaces and I was heading towards a dirt and rocky path; puddles and mud were going to be inevitable. I saw one, a quite wide one too, directly in my path, but I estimated that the puddle was only about an inch deep, totally manageable for my mesh running shoes. I never was skilled at estimating. I didn’t divert my path and ran straight through the puddle.

And immediately sunk mid calf in rainwater.

There was no hope after that. Soaked socks and squishy shoes combined with contact lenses freaking out because they were filling with rainwater, I ended up just standing there in this pond laughing at how much I looked like a drowned rat. A few guys in a van stopped to make sure I was ok/laughing at how stupid I had been not to watch where I was running/compliment me on my beautiful accent. I just shrugged and continued. Why not? After all I was already drenched and dirty and I really wanted to run. So I did end up running to Wolvercote via the deserted Port Meadow path, artfully leaping over and around further puddles. The only person I met on my trip was this Belgium named Roan who also loves running in the rain, so much so that he swam across the Thames spontaneously to get to the other side…because there is another reason to swim across the Thames? Anyways, he was really cool and we shared running-in-the-rain stories until we parted ways at The Trout.

I chose to walk the way back to my place because the sun was out and I had the time. Unfortunately by this point the rain had soaked into the ground and turned puddles into mud, but I had already run through a pond so did any of it really matter anymore? I hated getting back into town though. Apparently the Oxfordians aren’t used to seeing runners in sports bras and shorts especially not on Cornmarket or High Street, so I received a lot of weird looks from people of all ages. No one even would have noticed  in LA.

Back home a few hours later, I felt completely rejuvenated though utterly knackered. It was all completely worth it, even having to wash my shoes in the bathtub because they were caked with mud.

Running in the rain, especially through the stunning Port Meadow, totally my best experience in a thunderstorm 🙂

Port Meadow on a sunny day at twilight

Will It Grill?

Answers:

Yes

Burgers, Sausages, Chicken Skewers, Bell Peppers, Courgettes, Onions, Steaks, Chicken, Veggie Burgers, Arms/Fingers of the Grillers

No

Steak for 6 seconds on each side, Cauliflower

These are the experiments that were conducted at yesterday’s joint birthday BBQ extravaganza.

Partner’s birthday is coming up this Friday and one of the other girls in the Keble MCR has her birthday today, so the two of them combined forces and planned a BBQ to celebrate with all of Keble MCR and a select group of their friends. It seemed that within a week of the Facebook invite being posted, there were 80 people RSVP’d, so legendary is Dan’s cooking skill. And luckily for me, I was quickly requested as a sous-griller and dessert baker (both my parents would be so proud). I love helping people out with big parties, so much more than being just a plain guest. And this party definitely turned out big!

Having planned out the desserts and baking schedule the night before, Dan and I met for breakfast at Greens Cafe before heading off for a Tesco run. Sometimes grocery shopping in the UK can be really frustrating with different names for things and a few basic cultural differences leading to an extra 30 minutes inside a store as you search for sweetened condensed milk and baking chocolate. But we did eventually find everything for the three desserts we needed to make from scratch.

Baking commenced at 11 am and didn’t finish until nearly 3 pm, though when compared to the Super Bowl party, this time around things were super relaxed and went smoothly. Possibly a function of only having to make four recipes instead of the 11 we had for the other party, but nonetheless we have also kind of found a rhythm in the kitchen and got into a groove quickly. First up was the easiest, only no bake item: Rocky Road! Simple enough, melt chocolate and stir in mix-ins before popping it in the fridge for the rest of the day.

Rocky Road

Then Dan worked on the two chocolate and two carrot cakes (unfortunately we had to make them from box mixes for lack of time, money, and recipes) while I made a brand new recipe of Oatmeal Lemon Creme Bars. Just in case everything came out poorly, we had a revolving oven of my family’s recipe for chocolate chip cookies cycling through the whole day; thankfully I had frozen cookie dough from my last batch ready to go. I still kind of can’t believe that nothing went wrong. Timing was all perfect, ingredients all available, dishes all simple to clean. Before we knew it, everything was finished and all that was left was for me to frost the cakes while Dan made us lunch.  Easy peasy, oatmeal lemon bar squeezey.

It was only 3 and the party wasn’t starting until 6, but there was still tables and chairs to nick from Acland’s kitchens and a sound system to figure out, so we worked on the outside party area for a bit then headed upstairs for reading/relaxation/15 minute cat naps. Dan had to start the grill up all too soon, and it was nonstop from then on.

Four hours in front of a grill…FOUR HOURS! There was no break as people were all hungry and eager for some of the Grill Master’s wares and his assistant’s grilled vegetables (okay that second part isn’t true, but I like to think that people actually wanted the vegetables as more than a TMO until more meat came off the coals). Burgers, sausages, chicken wings, kebabs…the waiting pile of meat seemed to grow of its own accord as people had apparently heeded our notice of not having ordered enough meat to go around.

Full grill=Happy guests

What we did run out of was charcoal, sending one of our dance team friends on another Tesco run so that we could fire up the other half of the grill and serve our anxious customers. Food was flying off the platter faster than Dan and I could put it on–except the cauliflower. And I still have no idea who thought it was a good idea to grill unseasoned, unoiled cauliflower? Hint: It doesn’t work, sorry cauliflower fans. As for the sides situation, since Dan and I both spent the entire night in front of the BBQ, I have no idea how people fared in terms of sides, but I never heard any complaints so I’m assuming it went fine.

Nick, Pippa, and Pippa’s younger brother

A few times people were kind enough to ask Dan and me if we needed a break to go socialize and get something to eat ourselves, but every time we politely declined. Both of us agreed that we had the best job and the best location in the entire party. Apart from the fact we both love cooking, because everyone went to the grill at one point or another during the evening, we got to meet everyone and socialize with our friends while slinging burgers and sausages, all while hanging out with each other. Was there any better way to spend the night? No, we were both in agreement.

Four hours at the grill. My dad will be so proud 🙂

But regardless of my new grilling lessons, I am at heart a baker, and I was really looking forward to everyone’s enjoyment of the desserts we had made earlier in the morning. Of course I wasn’t expecting the reactions I received. Always unsure about a brand new recipe that hasn’t been tested, I was a little anxious about how the lemon creme bars were going to go down with everyone. Were they an adequate follow-up to my peanut butter chocolate cupcakes (which, funnily enough were still being talked about last night as people lamented that they hadn’t known I was baking and so hadn’t requested their repeat appearance)? Based on their quick disappearance and the most common comment after one bite being “Holy shit”, I think I can say with mild confidence that yes, they were well liked. There was one girl who kept dragging over all her friends to get another bar, so afraid that they would be gone before they had a chance to try them! And one of Dan’s friends from his lab has asked for them to accompany Dan’s birthday cupcakes we are making for the Engineering lab on Friday 🙂 All the other desserts went equally as well, people loved Dan’s carrot cake, and the two of us ended the night under the stars smiling over how successful the day had gone.

There really is nothing like spending the entire day with my dance partner baking, cooking, and laughing. Happy Birthday Dan!! So happy that you got such an amazing party 😀

Dan, the BIrthday Boy and Grill Master

Springtime at Last?

There have been two consecutive days of sunshine and warmth, but after the teasing weeks back in March that soon gave way to England’s wettest April since 1910 (according to Danopedia) I am hesitant to bask in the perception of spring. Is it folly to put away my winter coat finally into my closet instead of hanging it on the back of my chair each day? Do I dare to wear a dress without tights or even–gasp–shorts?! Or would doing so be tempting the weather gods too much and encouraging them to drop a freak snowstorm or something? See the dilemmas a few days of not just tolerable, but enjoyable weather bring to the people of this country?

But the facts do speak for themselves: the last two days have had such crystal shades of blue skies and balmy air that I have twice ventured outside without a jacket and sweater. Sunday may not have had the cloudless atmosphere, but it was an indication that we may have broken through a cold spell. I even went for a run Sunday morning before heading off to Cuppers to support my Dancesport friends.

Cuppers is the Oxford term for intramural sporting competitions between colleges. I have no idea why they call it Cuppers (and by that sentence just opened myself up to a few long winded comments from readers regarding the origin of the term; I welcome your enlightenment!) but for ballroom dancing it works a little bit different than the other sports. Since you obviously need a couple in order to dance, college teams must be made up of at least one inexperienced dancer who has not competed in the last year. The other member of the couple is allowed to be an experienced dancer, so most of the couples were made up of one member from the dancesport team (either Blues or Beginners) and then a member of their college who learned a dance just for this occasion. It’s quite good fun, and highly entertaining to watch in some cases. As I am the only dancer from my college, and no one approached me about getting a team together, I had the opportunity to merely spectate and take pictures for the largest represented college, my partner’s, Keble College. With a good combination of Beginners and Main Team dancing on behalf of the college, their eventual victory was kind of a given, but no less fun to watch.

Cuppers was run in a typical elimination fashion, with the added addition of the first two rounds being essentially free rounds, though I’m not sure that the inexperienced dancers realized that every single couple made Quarterfinals. But doing this gave them more opportunities to dance, and since when is that ever a bad thing?  Randomly there would be a break for some general social dancing, so Dan and I ended up with a spontaneous Quickstep, Waltz, and Jive under our belts before the embarrassment of Bruce teaching us a line dance to “Stayin’ Alive” put me off dancing for the rest of the day. He should be lucky that it wasn’t forever. Dan claims that I had good fun during it and was just acting out my sullenness, but I claim that I had a headache ever since I went for my run and so I was in truth sullen. Agree to disagree perhaps?

But that is beside the point; the point being of course that Keble achieved the Cuppers win (how cool would it have been if there was a Cuppers Cup?) and Dan and his temporary partner placed second in Quickstep! And one of the other main team guys not dancing and myself correctly identified all four dance finals, down to the random people who were obviously thrown in for entertainment. Maybe I have a future as a dance judge?

Yesterday, after spending the entire afternoon beginning/finishing a book because my tutor still hasn’t emailed me an essay assignment for the week, Dan sent me a simple text: Take a walk at 5? to which I sent an equally simple reply: Sure. Easily persuaded aren’t I? I had a feeling of where Dan wanted to walk to, and at first I was determined to change the location citing bad weather, but as I already mentioned, the weather was perfect for a very long stroll while waiting for the sunset at 9 pm. I arrived at Acland and was handed a camera with no indication that he was going to take it back. I should have known then that something was suspicious, but I can be oblivious and just followed Dan out the back doors of Acland and into Jericho. Yes he was taking us down the three mile path through Port Meadow (if you have been around him for more than five minutes you know that Port Meadow is his favorite place in Oxford). Only then did I receive my challenge. With the camera OFF of auto, I had to take 150 pictures on our round trip walk to The Trout Inn. Some challenge! As soon as I learned that I was being given free range of a camera, I went giddy like a child and ended up with 237 photos (we all know I can be an overachiever). Dan found it really interesting the difference in shots I took versus the ones he would have chosen. So I may have gone a little bit overboard, but especially on the walk back, once the sun was setting, the lighting was so beautiful that taking pictures became a veritable compulsion.

We did stop at the beginning of Wolvercote and at dinner on the patio of The Trout Inn, where we questioned how one could chargrill a watermelon given its high water content. Oh and we unofficially designated ourselves the Duck Police, as there was one particularly cheeky duck that was obsessed with the potatoes of the table next to ours (and yes you did read that correctly). She must have made the leap from another table four times, knocking over the wine glasses that were thankfully empty and snatching chips directly from their plates or the bowl, whichever was closest to her landing mark. Boldly going were no duck had gone before. Because of the obsession with potatoes, I’m betting she was an Irish duck.

I can completely understand why Dan loves Port Meadow so much now. A stunning and relaxing walk that seems like it would look different every time you took it. I won’t put up a fight next time he wants to walk there! I’m thinking picnic by the banks of the stream?

Having been bitten by the photography bug yesterday and still lacking an emailed assignment today, I borrowed Dan’s camera yet again and turned it onto a few well known sites in Oxford. And finally made my way into the Botanical Gardens! While they were pleasant and relaxing to read in for a little while, they are nowhere near as beautiful as some of the other gardens I’ve seen in both this country and back in the LA area, so I didn’t spend more than an hour there. But now it is time to return the camera to Dan and go learn some foxtrot!

Hmmm, is it still okay to wear shorts at 6 pm?