Tag Archive | holiday celebrations

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.

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!

Irish Holiday Weekend

And the next stop on our tour is Killarney, Ireland! Though we really spent no more than four hours in the actual town of Killarney, but I’ll get to that.

Oh, and Happy St. Patrick’s Day! (Remember that this was intended to be posted on the actual day but I didn’t have a computer. Use your imagination people!) We missed all of the festivities because we spent most of our day driving from Kilkenny to the Cliffs of Moher and then down to Killarney. It was raining when we arrived at the cliffs, and this was actual rain not spit. As in needed windshield wipers rain. Hoping that it would stop after a bit of time, we went inside the visitor’s center and walked around/ate lunch instead of going straight out onto the cliffs. Good decision too, because the rain stopped and the sun began shining (and it warmed up!).

Cliffs of Moher

Sunlight made the cliffs even more stunning that they already would have been. I would say that it was something out of Harry Potter, but it actually was used in the sixth film so that would be cheating. Again, the views are indescribable, even for me, so I can’t say anything other than it was an awe-inspiring scene. I can’t believe how lucky we were that the sun came out the entire time we were out there. Luck of the Irish strikes again!

Upon arriving in Killarney, we couldn’t remember the name of the woman who ran the place we were staying at, Margery or Marese (ended up being that one) and we basically dropped the bags and drove into town. I think the parade had just ended because the city centre was packed with people decked out in crazy amounts of green and orange and shamrocks. I kind of wish we had gotten to experience one of the parades, just to say that we did. But instead we found a girly and adorable tea shop to grab a TMO of tea and lemon cake. MIss COurtney’s Tea House was one of those über feminine places where all the china is mixed and matched and the waitresses wear pastel sundresses.

Such cute decor!

Apparently they had just been cleaned out in the aftermath of the parade by anyone who either didn’t want to or couldn’t get into a pub (every pub was already filled to the brim with people). So they only had a few cakes left, no scones, but the lemon cake was delicious so I was fine with that. And I got a picture of the boys in there for humor’s sake.

From there we just walked around Killarney, which as it was full of only pubs and shops just screamed tourist town; apparently tourism is Killarney’s primary industry. There really was nothing else to do but wander until it was an appropriate time for dinner and we picked a place.

Shopping in Killarney

The Porterhouse’s food wasn’t great but we ended up talking to the manager over a few drinks and he was a lovely man, very friendly and personable. So that made up for the food. Then it was just another early night in a comfy bed where I was wonderfully warm and toasty, finally.

Our last day in Ireland also happened to be “Mum’s Day” in the UK and Ireland, and I am so lucky that I could spend a form of Mothers’ Day with Mom. I obviously won’t be home for the American one in May, but spending this one in Ireland with my mom more than made up for it. This day we were driving the Ring of Kerry, the Irish version of the Road to Hana only with less waterfalls and more sheep. It was also less twisty and turny and motion-sickness inducing. The views were once again incredible. I know I say that about a lot of Ireland, but this is a stunning country and I have yet to see a part of the countryside that doesn’t make me gasp from its beauty. We made a couple of stops along turnouts so that Mom and I could run out and get pictures, braving the wind and the cold for that perfect shot of coastline. We also made a stop at an ancient fort that was pretty cool as well, but I was speechless at so many of the views that they win. I must have taken over 100 photos.  We also stopped at this luxury resort called the Parknasilla for lunch and tea (it’s Mums’ Day after all!), again paling in comparison to the cream teas in England.

Back in Killarney, Mom and I ditched the napping boys (I don’t understand how you can nap on a vacation like this!) and walked back into town. We walked further along one of the roads and ended up at another St. Mary’s Cathedral and actually a convent as well. I stupidly was shocked at there even being convents anymore, stupid because Mom reminded me that I’ve seen nuns before and there wouldn’t be nuns without convents. I think this alone time with Mom was the highlight of my day 🙂

Now to leave the Emerald Isle, but I hope not for long as it was a fantastic place and I am looking forward to visiting again.

Wine, Champagne, and Chocolate

That’s one trio to beat the 5th week blues. I really cannot believe that I am in my fifth week of my second term! Technically this means I’m halfway done, though it certainly doesn’t feel like it with another essay always right around the corner. Though this does mean three weeks til Mommy comes 🙂

Last night Kelsi and Janosz took me to a Wine Circle wine tasting. I’ve never gotten to go to one of the tastings because I’m usually in Latin rehearsal, but as this was a Monday I was free. The wines were all from Schloss Grossburg vineyard in Austria. Almost all of the wines were white wines or rieslings, and I’m not really a huge fan of the lighter wines (totally a red wine girl myself) but it wasn’t so much about liking the taste of the wine as learning about discerning it. And as much as the presenter talked way too much, I enjoyed hearing about the history of Austrian winemaking and this vineyard in particular.

It is such a different language to wine. There’s the level of maturity (did you know wines go through puberty?), the different scents, is it heavy or light, weighty or thin, consistent throughout, drops out in the middle (yeah Kelsi!), acidity, oakiness, balance, your head literally spins with all these different dimensions by which to evaluate each sip. Of course, being a newbie, I listened more than spoke, but was able to identify the scent of passionfruit in one of the wines, and medium roast coffee and cloves in the only red.

For the longest time, I kept thinking that everything smelled faintly of raspberry and almost waxy, then I realized that it was my chapstick. Not wearing chapstick to one of these things again! But the highlight of the night was the Eiswein dessert wine that was so good I can’t even describe it. Totally worth sitting through a white wine tasting just for that. Can’t wait to go to another one!

Today was obviously Valentine’s Day and it really didn’t phase me at all, so it was basically the same as any other Tuesday except for that I skipped lecture. Then there was a quick meeting with the Dancesport board to work out some kinks for IVDA (and our captain gave me the prettiest roses, awwwww ❤ ) before a ballroom rehearsal with Partner. The night ended with pink champagne and chocolate with Janosz, Kelsi, and Jordan to celebrate…well, us, duh. We’ve been on a friends-turned-into-family-love-fest kick lately. So champagne and chocolates is the best way to celebrate!

Twas the Night Before the Night Before Christmas

And my mom and I continued our search for the perfect pie crust. Our recipe is quite solid, always a great flavor, but we can never seem to make it roll out without completely falling apart. Every time we make our traditional apple pie, we try a new method and pray to the pie-crust gods that maybe, just maybe, this time our pie crust will retain it’s wonderful buttery flavor and flaky texture without disintegrating and needing to be patched together again as we cover the pie. Pie crusts should not be Humpty-Dumpty!

And this time, it wasn’t! Not only did our pie crust come out beautifully, I also had fun using little pie crust cutouts to make a winter scene of Santa’s sleigh and reindeer flying over a forest in a snowfall. Literally. I made that on a pie. It may have been a little overboard especially since pies get eaten so my artwork wouldn’t last that long anyway, but it’s Christmas Eve Eve, and we all go a little overboard every once in a while.

Because of a wonderfully fair but inconvenient concept known as joint custody, we had my mom’s side of the family over for holiday celebrations two days before Christmas so that my little Emily could be here too. As such, it’s a Friday, meaning Dad is off at work and for the second year in a row getting the holidays together fell on my mom’s and my shoulders. Having done the holidays for the last 30 some odd years, Mom has kind of begun to “pass the oven” on to me. Last year I did the holidays alone because my mom had thrown her back out; this year I took the lead again but I had my sous-chef by my side for most of it. Good thing too, because making the turkey would’ve completely grossed me out so she did that. But the cooking and the cleaning and the making/wrapping the final gifts were finished just in time between the two of us. Except for that darn turkey which as always pushed dinner back an hour.

And whoa that last hour was crazy as all the turkey stuff and the gravy and the sides and things had to be finished with only two ovens and a stove. Talk about coordination! Again though, all dishes were completed at the same time and the dinner was enjoyed by all. Except Brinkley because he had to be outside. Not making the mistake of letting a dog inside with a turkey carcass on the counter again. That was a memorable Thanksgiving.

The two little girls were absolutely the cutest things of the night. Andrea (16 months old) cried any time I so much as looked at her, but at least Emily (7 years) was chatting with me and giving me huge hugs, though anything other than crying would’ve made me feel like a million bucks. She is just a love-muffin. It was pretty funny when I was cooking, wearing a conservative dress that almost looked like something out of the 50s and heels, occasionally a pink apron, and juggling cooking, being a hostess, and talking with a child…my new nickname became Donna Reed! (Which, side note, can you believe Kevin had no idea who that was?!) Of course I don’t think Donna Reed would be talking about wines, cell phone technology, the prospect of alien life and the future of our space program, or the medicine behind repairing a torn ACL on a dog’s leg. Times change just a bit.

I think everyone enjoyed themselves; I know I certainly did, despite how much work it was. And that’s really the point isn’t it? Enjoy your time with your family, end up with way too many leftovers, share laughs and the year’s adventures, and snap pictures of the excitement on little children’s faces when they open up their presents. Oh, and watch a dog attempt to open a present of his own.

So Happy Christmas Eve Eve!