Certainty of death? Small chance of success? What are we waiting for?

Exactly, my dear Gimli. What were we (and by we I mean Aisha and myself) waiting for before embarking on our epic quest? Not much thankfully, just the third member of our little Fellowship to arrive. While we were waiting for his arrival on a black horse I mean car, we may not have been sitting in the beautifully woodsy Rivendell, but we were certainly eagerly anticipating setting out towards our goal. And what goal was so lofty and ambitious that it required three of us to complete? None other than the Holy Grail of our generation’s Hollywood Epic Trilogy Challenges: the viewing of all three Lord of the Rings movies–extended editions of course–straight through in one day.

What’s the big deal about a triple feature day, you may ask. Well, let me put it into a bit of perspective for those of you who haven’t attempted to conquer this feat. There are three movies (hence, the trilogy) based on classic literature. No big deal? Not until you learn the total running time, a meager 11 hours and 23 minutes. Psh, easy peasy? NOT. With almost 12 hours of footage, more than 7 of those being battle scenes with vile looking Orcs and the remaining 5 hours being walking around or running around or riding horses chasing after something,  one must be prepared with a steely attention span. Thankfully the landscapes of New Zealand are stunning or else the constant traveling shots would burn holes where your eyes should be.

Yet every true fan of the Lord of the Rings movies has done the marathon viewing at least once in his life, and the three of us were no exception. Once, however, is rarely enough and we decided on Friday to all join together on our one common day off from our respective jobs and indulge our inner nerds. Provisions were laid, timing was set, ground rules were made.

1. Begin The Fellowship of the Ring at 9:30, 9:45 at the absolute latest.

2. Have extra pillows on hand since we were watching in our loft and thus were spending the whole day lying on the ground.

3. No pausing the movie for bathroom breaks, phone calls, ab workouts, water runs.  The only acceptable pausing is for the dinner hour and letting the adorable dog outside to eat and pee.

4. Carrots in ample supply. Thank the Costco gods for bulk quantities of this eventually stomachache inducing orange veggie.

5. Other sustenance must include peanut butter and Wheat Thins in some form. A peanut butter with cinnamon, raisins, granola, and peanut chunks is doubly appreciated.

6. Talking during the movie is allowed, especially for conversations regarding the severity of spider fears, gymnastic techniques and skills, deciding which character you would most want to be, where in Middle Earth you are going to live, and what creature you want as a pet. (Answer to that by the way: Aisha wants an Ent, Pej wants an Eagle, and I called dibs on Shadowfax.)

7. A picture must be taken with Hercules and all of the movie cases to commemorate the achievement.

8. It is completely appropriate to quote the movie to nauseating detail. Embrace the nerdiness of the entire day!

With us all being college graduates, we are definitely not accustom to failing, and we never fell afoul of these rules. And probably the most amazing part was how on schedule we stayed! We took exactly 12 and a half hours from starting The Fellowship to ending Return of the King. Last time I did this marathon with friends, I’m pretty sure we started at 8 am and only finished around midnight. Hence the creation of the ground rules from all of our previous experiences.

Sometimes there is nothing better than a lazy day with good friends and great movies. You can talk when you want to, or you can stay silent and just rest. What you want out of the day is entirely up to you and perfectly within your ability to do. Everything went completely according to plan and made for an awesome end to a very hectic and sometimes very stressful week. But after 12 hours of laying around, curling up in a ball, or sitting cross legged on a floor, I am looking forward to being active tomorrow and crossing my fingers that I’m not super stiff.  Still it was so totally worth it! Long live Middle Earth!!!

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Viva Las Vegas!

What do you do when you finish a really long and busy term in college? Provided you are 21 of course…you go to Vegas! Yeah it’s a stereotypical young adult weekend, but without a ton of time to travel, a two day jaunt to the Strip is kind of one of your only options to blow off some steam. And continuing in the honesty thread, Vegas would be pretty boring alone, so I begged, pleaded, implored, and practically dragged Aisha along with me (yeah right, she totally came willingly and without hesitation!). Two girls (and Mom) off to Vegas the morning after final exams, definitely a recipe for awesomeness.

Mom and I picked Aisha up mid morning for the 5 and a half hour drive into Vegas. The peak of the drive’s excitement was entering San Bernadino and Fransicquito Road. Of course, the only ones who were excited by that were Aisha and me, but that day was a truly a defining moment for us, so to relive it was a great kick off to the weekend. The rest of the drive was The Aisha and Jenna Sing Along Spectacular! courtesy of “Hairspray”, Dixie Chicks, Carrie Underwood, Daughtry, and a smattering of Adele. Poor Mom. Aisha can sing, but I certainly can’t.

We made it in at around 3 pm, and our first stop was M&M World!

M&M World Wall of M&Ms

I was super excited to re-experience this place that was always a highlight of my childhood Vegas trips, and we only went there because of how much I remember loving it as a kid. But if it’s the same now as it was then, then I must have been an easily amused child.  All it was was 4 floors of every kind of M&M merchandise they could think of. I felt bad for taking Aisha there because it was so awfully lame and we were tired from the drive. M&Ms took away from valuable nap time.

We went to our hotel (The Mirage, my first time staying there) and barely walked in the door when a club promoter gave us coupons for discounted drinks. And remember Aisha was in her boot cast! One would think that two grimy girls, one only a few weeks out of surgery, would not be targets for club promoters, but one would apparently be wrong. After we checked in, we got ready for the evening and headed over to the Venetian to kill some time before seeing Phantom of the Opera.

Venetian

There really isn’t much else to do in Vegas apart from walk around the hotels if you aren’t gambling or clubbing, so that is exactly what we did. And we made a stop in the food court for a snack and leg ice-down (on Aisha’s part with that one).

No weird looks at all…

Phantom was great! Even though it was an abridged version, I think I actually liked it better than when I saw it on the West End.  Some of my favorite songs were cut short though which was unfortunate, but at least the Phantom didn’t crawl around the stage like Gollum. After the show, we went to dinner at the Italian place in the Venetian that my family always eats at. We had a blast “drunk people” watching which can be infinitely more entertaining than “sober people” watching. It makes me really never want to get drunk again though. Especially knowing that we were not the only table watching people, who wants to open themselves up to that? Though I guess Laura and I probably will be when we go to Vegas at the end of the month.

Palazzo

Then we walked over to the Volcano show outside the Mirage. It was cool because I’m a closet pyro, but the heat from the fire was nearly unbearable. On our way back into he hotel, two more promoters stopped us and gave us VIP passes for both of the Mirage’s club/bar lounges, so we figured what the hell, we are only in Vegas together once. We ended up at King Ink (the lounge). $10 cover and unlimited free drinks? Of course it was the cheap drinks like a vodka cranberry or a gin and soda, so not really worth it unless you are really taking advantage of the free alcohol which of course we weren’t. One vodka cranberry each and we were both back in bed, sleeping like babies.

We actually slept in until 9:30, something neither of us have done in I don’t know how long! By the time we finally made it through the madhouse line at Starbucks and over to the Paris Hotel, it was past 10:30. As I said, about one of the only things to do around Vegas is walk around the hotels and window shop. We went from Paris to the Bellagio and then through Caesar’s casino into the Forum Shops. In that casino, we ticked off one more thing in the “typical Vegas experience” checklist: gambling! We each played $5 in a slot machine, and I won $20! And then I immediately cashed out and we moved on to the Forum. We didn’t last long. A bit of walking around and then sushi was all we needed before we were totally ready to go lounge by the pool at the Mirage. We were in massive need of relaxation and sun! Not that getting sun in Vegas is a challenge, but tan lines get really uneven when you are just walking around and although neither of us are all that appearance oriented, anyone from Southern California understands how awful awkward tan lines are.

Now here is where the irony of all ironies came into the weekend. We were lounging, aka baking in the million degree heat, drinking our Pina Coladas and being rained on (just like in the song!) when I found out that I knew one of the cute British guys in the lounge chairs in front of us! He was a fresher at Teddy Hall this last year. He and his brother were traveling though North America with their family. Of all the people and all the places, the coincidence is just incredible. ANd completely awesome. We four hung out for a few hours before we had to get ready for O at the Bellagio (which was absolutely breathtaking and inspired Aisha’s newfound calling for a career once she is out of rehab). Once the show was over, Aisha and I ran or rather hobbled across the street from the Mirage to Harrah’s to buy Bailey’s and joined up with the guys for drinks and the Olympics in their room. We ended up talking and hanging out until 2 am when we left because I had another 5 and a half hour drive home to look forward to in the morning.

Bellagio

It was the perfect end to a wonderful weekend with my dear friend and mom 🙂 The only regret is that there was no tiger in our bathroom at the end of it.

Quick! Call the Doctor!

Somebody take my temperature and get me some Advil because I have Olympic fever! It’s not really surprising since I am a full blown Anglophile and consider England my second home, so I’m kind of bursting with “national pride” as the city I love hosts these games. But I’m taking this year’s Olympic viewing to extreme levels compared to what I normally watch.

Usually the summer games have only three big draws: American swimming, women’s diving, and women’s gymnastics. That makes me seem like I am feminist and American supremacist, but hey during Olympic season we call that nationalism. This year (okay granted it is only three days into them) I have already watched swimming qualifiers and finals, men’s and women’s gymnastics qualifiers including those heats that did not include the USA team, diving, a little bit of volleyball, and the men’s and women’s road races. Seriously, the road races! And those road race coverages are not like snippets of the races interspersed with other events; we are talking four to six straight hours of nonstop cycling through London and Box Hill. I’ve never even heard of this event and yet was so utterly engrossed with my mom and brother trying to figure out the etiquette of cycling and why teams would help out each other and where on earth they came up with the name of peloton for the massive pack of riders behind the leaders. I was actually rooting for the Brits in those races, but watching a 38-year old man win was pretty cool as well.

And don’t even get me started on my swimming and gymnastics obsessions.

I sat here on my couch late last night, trying with all my might to figure out why I suddenly found all of the Olympic events and interviews engrossing. Was it my love of the country and “homesickness” for anything relating to England? Was it a newfound national pride in American athletes? Was it my improved understanding of the sport of gymnastics since my best friend is an Olympic level gymnast? Was it all the giant guys in swimsuits?

Conclusion: It’s finals week.

Yup it’s my last week (hopefully) of UCLA classes, which means two final exams and two presentations and a whole lot of procrastination. Who wouldn’t use the Olympics as an excuse to not stare at information on gladiators or gender psychology? Um no one!

Can I get my finals waived with a doctor’s note for Olympic Fever? Highly dangerous and contagious illness!

Ode to the Stand Mixer

School has been taking up the majority of my time here over the last four weeks, so once again I am at a loss of what interesting stories to tell you. I could tell you about the time that I ran into a friend from Oxford wandering around Westwood, or catching a foul ball at the Dodger game on Monday, or my booking a skydiving trip for next month. I could tell you any of those stories, but then I’d be lying and lying isn’t really in my nature, despite all of those stories being more interesting than my life has been this month. I get bored sitting in my lectures (okay we do learn some really interesting stuff) and through my exams and reading my textbooks, so I won’t subject all of you to the same plight.

But I also don’t want anyone to feel abandoned, because no one like to be abandoned. It’s not fun either. In fact, my Hollywood Myth of the Romans class would definitely be more fun than being abandoned. At least in class there are some really over keen classmates to silently giggle at and interesting factoids about Rome to absorb for later random knowledge uses. There is none of that in being abandoned. Being abandoned is just…awkward. And awkwardness is even less fun than being abandoned! So the moral of the story is that sitting in my classes is better than being abandoned which is better than being stuck in an awkward situation like the one I probably just made you all stuck in.

So I’ll make it up to you with some baking. Everybody loves baking, right? I mean baking is better than sitting in class which is better than being abandoned which is better than being in an awkward situation! Best of all four worlds! And there has been a lot of baking going on in the house between this weekend and then today.

Despite having a paper and a midterm early in this week, I forced myself to find time to de-stress by baking. (Took a lot of forcing 😉 ) Let’s see, it all began with Friday afternoon tea with almond scones, or as they are adorably being called almond bliss scones, since everything needs an adorable name. The recipe is posted at the bottom of this post. They may have been some of the best scones that I have ever had! And Mommy loved them too, which is always important for a sous baker to approve of the goods being baked as well. These scones were surprisingly sweet and moister than the others–probably a result of my undertaking them a tad–with a slightly crunchy and slight chewy texture from the chopped almonds permeating the dough. Yup, no almond extract in these delights, just pure all natural almonds. Served with some unsweetened freshly whipped cream, the scones made a special treat out of our normal cream tea in the afternoons.

Saturday’s baking was a new one for me: a cake. This cake was actually my mom’s brilliant idea, and it utilized plenty of math skills, proving the age old adage to stay in school. That might relate more to staying away from drugs, but since this cake might be a little bit like a chocolate drug, I’d say that it’s an apt expression. Think about it…four layers, each getting progressively more chocolatey, light with a moist crumb, glued together by more chocolatey buttercream frosting, and decorated with a rich brown chocolate buttercream with my first ever white piping decorations. Drooling yet? Yeah, thank my mom for that one! It took forever to bake the cakes, freeze them, assemble them, and frost them, but it allowed me to get a lot of studying done in the resting time so that the weekend wasn’t an entire wash other than the dishes.

Now you’d think that between the incredible almond scones and the Everybody’s Happy cake (see? cutesy name is a must) I’d be acknowledging that I needed to spend some time studying or else I’d fail my midterm. Right? WRONG. Baking is an addiction, I swear. And with my parents off doing their own things around the house on Sunday, I had no one to distract me from my homework except for Peyton and Byrne, the authors of my British baking book that I ordered as soon as I came home to the States. Hence the second attempt of the Lemon Curd Swiss Roll.

Second attempt, you say? Why weren’t you made aware of the first attempt? Well that answer is easy: it failed. And not in an “Oh I used salt instead of sugar in my apple pie filling but luckily I haven’t baked it yet so I can just rinse off the apples and redo the filling and crisis is averted” fail. It wasn’t even a “Darn my macarons came out wrong, guess I’ll just throw together some Eton Mess and pretend this didn’t happen” fail (that hasn’t occurred yet but I know it will when I finally get around to trying to make macarons). This was a used the wrong size pan, forgot I had a stand mixer, didn’t grease the inappropriately sized pan properly, baked the cake in this said wrong pan for too long, and ended up being able to hold the cake up in front of me like it was a piece of cardboard. Absolutely nothing salvageable, but absolutely embarrassing to behold. It was quickly thrown away and I vowed never to speak of it again. But apparently that part of the event failed as well since I just spilled my guts.

However, I REDEEMED MYSELF! I made the same cake on Sunday but this time with a stand mixer and a properly sized and properly greased pan. And while it may have been a very challenging and time consuming cake to make, it came out perfectly. No mistakes. Some filling gushed out the side when I rolled it out, but according to people who have made similar cakes before such a thing is typical. And the reviews…they warmed my heart on the dreary Monday. According to my mom the entirety of my dad’s office raved about it, a few even went so far as to talk about hiding it so that other office mates wouldn’t finish it off before they had seconds, and I have two requests for the recipe lined up already. That is really the best compliment a baker can get, and I am super lucky to have willing taste testers so accessible.

Riding high on that success, I was placated in my baking for a whole two days, until today. For some reason, I thought today was a good day to not only make blueberry scones, but also Mommy’s Chocolate Chip Cookies AND a new banana cinnamon chip oatmeal cookie recipe. Why? Because I had spare time before my dad was ready to watch Gladiator with me for my film class and I’m hanging out with some friends tomorrow night and nothing says party like freshly baked cookies. Looks like the Office Ladies are going to be subjected to more sugar tomorrow, so I hope they all went for a run today!

Oh and I guess I never did explain why I would want to write an ode to a stand mixer. That little appliance is the hardest working appliance I have ever seen besides an air conditioner in Las Vegas. Seriously, it was invaluable in making TWO batches of cookie dough today, as well as THREE cakes this weekend! When I think back to the days of this last year at Oxford, creaming butter by hand and attempting to fold chocolate chips into a gigantic blob of cookie dough, I am even more in love with my mixer and wonder how I ever lived without it last year. The cookies came out so much better since they didn’t have to rely on my lack of elbow greasing ability to properly blend!

Almond Bliss Scones

 

Almond Bliss Scones

200 g plain flour

2 teaspoons baking powder
1/4 teaspoon salt
50 g soft brown sugar
70 g ground almonds
200 mL double cream (heavy whipping cream)
teeny bit of water
Preheat the oven to 220°C (450°F). Sift together into a medium mixing bowl the flour, baking powder, salt, and sugar. Add the ground almonds. Rub in the cream. Add only enough water to bring all the mix together (barely a teaspoon!). Knead until almost smooth, about 5-6 times.
Place on a heavily floured surface and press down to desired thickness (1 cm). Cut out into desired scone size (5 cm). HINT: dip the scone cutter into some flour before cutting dough for easier removal.  Place scones on a parchment paper lined baking sheet.
Bake about 8 minutes until lightly browned or until you lack self control anymore.
Serve with plain, unsweetened whipping cream.
* additional ideas: add in chopped dried cherries when add in almonds.

Apologies Hopefully Accepted?

The blogs have not been posting as regularly here as they were in England, I know, and for that I apologize, though I promise that I am mostly thinking of your sanity and enjoyment when I choose not to post every day or so. You see, the majority of my time is spent either in a lecture room, or reading books and articles, or filling out worksheets, or ignoring the 2 billion emails from my research group, or watching Roman films, or writing papers, or…well, you get the idea. Basically it’s back to the not all that exciting life of a UCLA student, and I’m aware that such a repetitive account week after week of nothing  but school work would probably bore you all to tears as much as I am in lectures and would probably lose me some readers, a compromise I am not willing to make! So the posts may not be as frequent in the next four weeks, but I promise that there are some fun things around the corner.

However there has been some play mixed in with all that work. I’d go crazy if I didn’t have some breaks to see the light of day. Monday I met up with my Sophomore year roommate, Michelle, whom I haven’t seen in nearly a year, for dinner and a massive catch up session. We sat around CPK for about two hours just updating each other on school, new roommates, Oxford, diving, and the traditional most ridiculous story of the last six months. Those, of course, do not get passed on to anyone else, for the sake of our clean criminal records! Kidding 😉 But anyway, catching up with old friends is probably the second best thing about being home, second to Brinkley. I mean, no one can really compete with my love muffin of a dog.

Tuesday also had a dear friend pop into it, but this one was a complete surprise! My mom and I were out walking Brinkley and my friend Amy texted me asking if I was in town. Luckily I don’t drive out of town simply to walk my dog, so we were able to meet up for an extremely late night coffee at Starbucks for the second in a row multi hour catch up. She gave me some great advice on clubbing in Vegas and LA, and told me some amazing news regarding her work. I am so happy for her and everywhere her life has been taking her. Amy is probably one of my oldest friends. We danced together when we were younger and it’s all ancient history from there. We used to dance a lot in Hollywood together as well, but with her currently living in a different city and me being in summer school, that has been put on hold for a bit.

Wednesday was the country’s 236th birthday, which just made me laugh because of how old all the things I saw in Europe were compared to my entire country. I mean, I’m pretty sure in Brussels we saw an iron that was twice the age of the US on sale for 15 euro. The school schedule and pet sitting my uncle’s dog really put a damper on any potential shenanigans, so it was a low key holiday of appointments in Westwood and homework. Everything revolves around homework at the moment. Next year, I’ll do something cool…maybe…probably not since I seem to neglect to make plans for holidays. Oops. I think that means that some of my friends should just make it a policy to have me tag along with all of them. Especially if it involves traveling 😉 I fit in a suitcase I promise!

Oh, I nearly forgot, there was something significant that happened on Wednesday. Mommy and I made a semi-traditional cream tea! Obviously we couldn’t import scones and clotted cream from the UK, so we made do with what we could adapt. But I did make my first batch of scones out of a baking book I bought in the UK and my mom put on a pot of Earl Grey, and we sat down on the anniversary of the day our country declared independence to a tradition from the country we separated from.

Sweet Cream Scones with Strawberry Jam

I believe they call that irony? Regardless of the wrong cultural custom being observed, the scones were fantastically light and sweet, almost just like what one would get at a British teahouse, with some of the best strawberry jam around (McClarens in case anyone wants to replicate our cream tea. Find them at the Farmer’s Market at COC Sunday morning!). Definitely evoked some nostalgia for the last year on my part. (recipe at end of post)

Sweet Cream Scones with Strawberry Jam

Since then, the weekend went by pretty fast and uneventful. I saw Spiderman with some friends–and surprisingly LOVED it!–did all the above homework that I already ranted about, made another batch of “Crunchy Butter Scones”

Crunchy Butter Scone with Lemon Curd

to compare to the “Sweet Cream Scones”, had dinner with some family friends last night, and then have been working on yet another paper today. It’s just about tea time, so I may bust out some leftover scones from yesterday (never as good as fresh out of the oven, but I’d feel bad making more scones when these ones haven’t been finished off yet) and curl up with yet another book on Roman films. Talk to you all soon!

 

Sweet Cream Scone Recipe

200 g self rising flour

1/4 teaspoon salt
50 g caster sugar (plain white sugar)
200 mL double cream (heavy whipping cream in the US)
—>if the dough is too dry, add up to another 50 mL cream, but our dough has always been super wet and sticky with only the 200 mL
Preheat oven to 220°C (450°F). Place rack as high as possible in oven. Sift flour and salt together in a medium sized mixing bowl. Add the sugar and 200 mL cream then work in by hand by rubbing in the cream trying to incorporate as much air as possible until fully mixed. DO NOT OVERMIX. If the mix is too dry, now add the extra cream until the dough is wet enough to hold together.
Place dough on a heavily floured surface and knead a couple of times until relatively smooth. Dust top with more flour and pat down to desired height (we did 1 cm). Cut out 5 cm circles with a crimped circle cutter and place on a baking tray lined with parchment paper. HINT: dip the cutter in flour before cutting out each scone. Knead the extras back together and repeat until most of the dough is used up.
Bake for 6-8 minutes (we did 8) until they have risen and are slightly browned around the edges and on top. Serve with clotted cream if you are lucky enough to be in England, but with red fruit jam no matter where you are.

Everything is Better in Mini Part 2

I realized that I never finished the mini series! I left you all hanging with the question: What else is better in mini? Mini Europe cannot be all there is that minifying improves! The suspense has probably been killing you, the agony of not knowing tainting the enjoyment of your everyday life. For that, I apologize. You’ll understand my MIA later in this post once I explain my first full week back in California, but for now I will reveal the other thing that, when mini, takes on a whole new amazingness.

Cupcakes.

My baking obsession has been a well-documented phenomenon throughout the year’s posts, and I was giddily prepared for the wonder of having a fully stocked kitchen once again (Partner constant heard me lament about missing a stand mixer). It was probably only one, maybe two, days before my house was filled with the smell of freshly baked cupcakes and heat from the oven. And the baking has been consistent since.

Blueberry and Cream mini cupcakes

Peanut Butter Chocolate mini cupcakes (fondly called Coma Cupcakes)

Devils Food with Pomegranate Buttercream mini cupcakes (newly named Wistful Poms)

Peach and Vanilla Pie

Chocolate Mousse (okay that one didn’t require an oven)

Chocolate Covered Digestive Cookies (yes like the British biscuit!)

And then of course there is all the cooking I’ve been doing as well, but that’s more of just throw together meals rather than noteworthy baking amazingness. It has been awesome having all this freedom in the kitchen, and my brother’s coworkers and my dad’s office mates are all being really spoiled by their freshly delivered goodies.

Unfortunately I can’t spend all day everyday baking; summer school waits for no girl and my first week was upon me way too quickly. I’m taking General Psychology Lab, Psychology of Gender, and The Hollywood Myth of the Romans (yes we are watching Gladiator!). So obviously that means that I am taking three classes during A session of UCLA summer school. I mean that doesn’t sound too bad, right? WRONG. It’s absolute murder. Here’s to put it into perspective a bit: UCLA normally has 10 week terms, but summer sessions are only 6. In one 10 week term, a full load is considered 3 classes with anything more than that being considered an overbooked and stress inducing schedule. The most people usually take in a summer session is two classes. Therefore I am a psychotic masochist in taking what is a full regular term load in a shortened term. Okay the masochism is not really all that surprising to my friends, but this may be taking it to a whole new level. The majority of my week has been spent either in lecture or doing readings and assignments outside of class preparing for the next lecture. No sooner do I finish one thing on my to-do list than I have to add another three. Luckily I have Brinkley and baking and crafting and reading for reviews on my other blog to break up the monotony of body image lectures and readings.

Thankfully I survived my first week, partly because of the opportunities to catch up with some old friends that will now probably be taking center stage on this blog/platform. Monday night I went to dinner with my best friend from high school, Laura, where we had one of the most awkward waiters we have ever had. It felt like he was trying to usher us out of the unbusy but still with a few tables left restaurant as fast as possible. That has never happened to us! Then on Wednesday, after breakfast with Laura at our favorite place The Tea Garden, my college best friends and I reunited in our foursome for the first time in over a year. It is really difficult to work around the schedules of four people, but thankfully we did as Aisha, Keith, and Aaron are amazing and we all had so much to catch up one (haha their initials make the acronym AKA, so calling them that from now on!). It can be such a relief to just see these people again; they have been with me through so much and being around them all just warms my heart. Of course it is all twinged with homesickness for England and missing Partner and Pippa and all my other friends in the UK, but I can worry about how to make it back to England once I graduate in five more weeks.

Until then, it’s all about university work, baking, and spending quality time with my incredible family and friends (and hopefully some blog-worthy shenanigans!).

Cheers!

Everything Is Better in Mini, Part One (Brussels, Part 3)

The last day of traveling is always the saddest. And the most anxiety provoking as well! You want to spend as much of the day as possible cramming in the remaining sites and attractions that you missed out on all the rest of the days, but that clock is ever ticking down towards your arrival at the exit location. There is always that looming two hours before your flight or 45 minutes before your train deadline tainting even the shiniest of Atomium protons. Such a shame, but alas one of my favorite parts about a vacation is the coming home and reminiscing over the amazingness that was the past weekend. Being back in my own bed and room is admittedly probably the biggest reason for that, but let’s pretend for a bit that the blogging to all of you about my travels is why I am so anxious to get home (though I do absolutely love blogging!).

I was still recovering from my Friday night lack of sleep, and coupled with being knackered from the easily 25 miles of walking already recorded by our internal pedometers, we allowed ourselves a slightly more leisurely morning to roll out of bed and pack up our things. But because we made such a late start out of the door, we forwent a sit down breakfast for a grab and go continental spread back at EXK(carrot I). Of course, a sit down breakfast probably would have taken the same amount of time, since as soon as I saw that the pain au chocolat were nearly out of the oven, I insisted that we wait for them to be fresh instead of settling for delicious but already cooled cream or butter croissants. If I’ve learned one thing in my few trips into Paris, it’s that there is no breakfast more worth experiencing on a slightly chilly and overcast morning than a pain au chocolat straight from the oven. Ooey, gooey, and oh-so-buttery, not to mention filled with nearly melted chocolate, the pastries were as well worth the extra 8 minutes and vastly improved our Tube ride to the Atomium.

The Atomium was right next to BruParc (the Brussels version of Knotts Berry Farm perhaps?) in the outskirts of the city. As the name implies, the Atomium is a gigantic model of an atom–I think it’s supposed to be iron, but Dan and I had some debates about that factoid–entailing nine twenty-feet-diameter aluminum looking spheres connected with more silvery tubes that house the staircases and escalators connecting the balls. I think the balls are supposed to be the protons of the atom?

The Atomium

Anyways, it is a pretty noticeable structure, as we realized when Dan asked where the Atomium was in relation to the stop we had just passed through, only to have the atom model zip past us barely a half second later. A comedy writer couldn’t have planned that timing better.

On a whim, I decided that we should splurge a little for our last day and tack on a trip to Mini-Europe in addition to the Atomium. I had read that the Atomium will take no more than an hour unless you want to/can afford to eat at the panoramic restaurant, and we had multiple hours before we even needed to consider being at the train station. So Mini-Europe seemed like a novel idea.

Mini-Europe…obviously

It could have easily gone one of two ways: lame, reminiscent of Legoland where all the models are hokey and there is nothing entertaining for anyone over the age of six, or it could have been just a cool diversion probably still not worth the money but at least we could say we went. I never considered that it would become one of the highlights of my trip.

Mini-Europe is a project that spans across the entirety of Europe (obviously). As you walk through the winding paths, you pass 1:25 scale models of some of Europe’s most iconic and treasured buildings. Broken up by countries who are full members of the European Union, the models cover everywhere from the famous Eiffel Tower to the lesser known saunas of Finland.

Standing next to Lithuania, significant only because I’m a quarter Lithuanian

Each country region began with a sign with some basic statistics and a button which when pressed proudly played the country’s national anthem. There was a group of school children who ran around pushing all the buttons solely because they could, which was a little distracting for those of us trying to appreciate the cultural experience. Also it was particularly difficult for me as I was trying to memorize all the national anthems prior to the Olympics! Not really, but it was a funny joke to tell Dan. The chosen locations really tried to evoke the individuality of the country and involved some wonderful cultural elements, like the cheese fair in Brussels or the knocking down of the Berlin Wall in Germany. At the entrance we were given a booklet of information about each model, essentially describing what we were seeing and why it was significant to the history or identity of the country as well as some fun facts about the creation of these insanely detailed and intricate models.

Brussels’ Grand Place

If you hadn’t known that you were looking at a scale model, and you saw a close up picture, you would have no idea that I was taller than the Arc du Triomphe.

Arc du Triomphe

We became so absorbed in the “All Hail the EU” experience that we realized we would run out of time for the Atomium if we didn’t pick up the pace and stop lingering over each model for 10 minutes apiece. I can’t wait to peruse the booklet more; it definitely rebit my travel bug before I had even left this new country!

After the incredible Mini-Europe, the Atomium was kind of anticlimactic. It did afford some stunningly expansive views of city snaking out below us (on a clear day it is said that one can see all the way to Antwerp) but the haze did put a tad bit of a damper on what we were seeing. Then it started raining and the damper became a bit more literal. Inside the other “protons” were exhibits explaining Expo 58, less commonly known as the World Fair of 1958, which was the whole reason for the building of the Atomium in the first place, and then something about water but we skipped that one because it didn’t seem very interesting. I think we made the right decision on that.

The Atomium

An exact reverse journey on the metro later and we were heading back to the Grand Place in search of a light lunch and waffles. We refused to leave the country only having experienced one waffle when we must have had about 200 pieces of chocolate. It just would have been a little too unbalanced and unfair to the waffle makers having been such loyal patrons of the chocolatiers. But real food first sounded like a good option, so we found ourselves in Little Greece (the restaurants really seem to clump in the same block here) for pitas yet again. Then we made the decision to seek out a waffle van instead of the touristy windows surrounding Mannekin Pis, so we headed to the PLace du Grand Sablon yet again searching for the waffle van that had been parked out there for the last two days.

Where’s the falafel in this falafel?!

Of course waffle vans seem to be like Starbucks: everywhere until you are looking for one and then they all disappear into thin air. The waffle van was gone! And we had made such a special trip for him! Dan consoled himself with buying macarons (totally got him addicted to these amazing french cookies 🙂 ) and I just pouted. Guess we would have to settle for Grand Place waffles after all, especially since we were rapidly running out of time before we needed to be on our way. We finally found a place that didn’t seem to be as mass produced as the rest –meaning we could actually see them ironing the waffle batter not just reheating previously made and frozen waffles–and found a random curb to sit at since we discovered that walking and attempting to eat these sugar crusted waffles was impossible with the mini knorks that were really just glorified three pronged toothpicks. Chocolate and banana for Dan, white chocolate strawberry for me (I decided to resist the Speculoos addiction) and a whole lot of messy smiles and giggles. And a subsequent sugar high, but we needed the energy for the trek back to our hotel and then through Little Morocco to Gare du Midi.

Sadly this marked the end not only of the incredible trip to Brussels, but also my time in the UK and now my stories all revolve around the sunny skies of California, where I already think I may be getting a sunburn as my skin has totally adjusted to the wintery haze of England.

Oh and recheck back on this post later tonight for a list of all the chocolates we tasted on the trip! I don’t have my notebook with me as I’m writing this so I’ll update it later.

[UPDATE]

As promised, the list of chocolates consumed on this whirlwind weekend!

  1. Earl Grey dark chocolate
  2. Raspberry ganache dark chocolate
  3. Caramel with toffee bits
  4. Peanut praline
  5. Dark chocolate grapefruit
  6. Grand milk chocolate
  7. Chocolate dipped Speculoos cookies
  8. Dark chocolate hazelnut praline
  9. Four spice
  10. Praline nougat
  11. Raspberry nougat
  12. Lime and dark chocolate
  13. Dark chocolate with dark chocolate ganache
  14. Lemon and Basil (my favorite)
  15. Lemon Peppermint
  16. Dill and dark chocolate
  17. Chili and chocolate (I skipped this one)
  18. Cardamom