Blog Archive

Saturday, June 5, 2021

Is this a good place to park?

We noticed that in England, there seems to be a pretty lax attitude about parking. So here are a few examples we've spotted.

Is this a good place to park?
On the walking path, fenced off from the street, on East Road near Newtown. 

Is this a good place to park?
Double parked on sidewalk under the M27 in Port Silent directly in front of No Parking signs. We regularly saw a parking enforcement officer sleeping in his patrol car, under this bridge, in broad daylight!

Is this a good place to park?
Parked on the grass next to the sidewalk.

Cars parked in odd places are a hazzard to drivers and pedestrians. Parking enforcement is nearly non-existent based on our observations. Be careful out there.

Sunday, May 9, 2021

Back in the U.S.A.

Coupeville Wharf in springtime

After six months of living in the U.K., we are back in Washington! This was a bittersweet journey for us to make. It was super hard to leave our sweet grandsons behind and say goodbye to our daughter in-law, knowing that they will have another 6 or 7 weeks before our son returns from his deployment. But, we had reached our 6 month limit and had to leave. We also had to leave our newly refurbished apartment and a way of life we had come to accept. The good news, we hope to be back in August.

This is the second blog about traveling during Covid.  If you read our early blog post about traveling to England, we wrote about how surreal it felt. How it felt like traveling in a Sci-Fi novel, empty airports, closed shops and restaurants. There was a certain thrill of seeing a historical time of our lives up close and personal. It also seemed like people working at the airport were happy to see us. We were travelers and maybe we were a sign that things were going to get better soon. This time traveling, it was so much the same and so much different.

Flight Cancelled! 

Our travel struggles started the night before our departure. David was online trying to check us in but our reservation said we were cancelled. What did this mean? We had been watching our flight to Seattle and it stilled showed that it was flying so how could we be cancelled. I immediately went into panic mode, thank goodness David kept a clear head. First, David tried calling Delta only to be told there was an hour wait time. I next tried to call another Delta number, a number that is reserved for Delta frequent fliers. I was told that there was a wait time of 35 minutes but they would call me back. Somewhere in all this, David reached out on Twitter to the airline for help. 

Twitter for the save! 

After 2 hours, no one had called back and David was still on hold but he was having a conversation with someone from Delta, via Twitter. Long story, Twitter came through and whoever was on the other end got our flight reinstated. It was about another half an hour before I finally got a call back. Thanks but too late. What we think happened, but we are not sure, there was an equipment change, that caused a flight number change that somehow cancelled our reservation. It was now coming on midnight and we had an Uber picking us up early the next morning. We had scheduled an Uber since our normal train and bus method of getting to the airport was not running costing us an extra $100.

Uber ride to the airport

Next cause for concern, nobody gets on an international flight without a negative Covid test. I knew I wasn't sick, I knew that David wasn't sick but we still had to take tests at the airport. The reason I was concerned? I have heard that there are a fair amount of false positives. What if this happens? Do they retest? Do we have to head home again and wait 14 days to travel again? Luckily, our test were negative and that was another extra $95.00 each.

Covid Testing Center at London Heathrow

 We have made it this far, now on to checking in and airport security. This was relatively painless since there were so few people traveling but this time it just felt different. Gone was the excitement of seeing travelers replaced with the constant interrogation of why were we traveling. Maybe this has something to do with leaving the U.K. since it is illegal for their citizens to travel on holiday but it still felt like something out of the Cold War era. Once we told them our story explaining that we were part of support bubble to help our son and his family during his deployment they were all sympathetic but the fact I constantly had to  explain this felt wrong. I had bought a ticket, I had jumped through their hoops to fly and I was going home! Stop asking me! I was already feeling very emotional at leaving so much behind and to constantly have to tell the my story almost brought me to tears.

Empty security scanning area

Sadly, the airport was just about the same as 6 months ago. Most of the seats were blocked from using, stores and restaurants were still closed and everyone who was traveling seemed to be sad and exhausted. There is a sadness to traveling when there are no families on holiday, there is no laughter or excitement. Our airplane only had 47 passengers. During normal times you would be happy and excited if your airplane only had 15% capacity but now it just another reminder at how far we away we are from feeling or acting normal. 

Airport waiting area at London Heathrow

I am sorry if this blog post has a certain sadness to it. I really want to document what we saw and how we felt because I am sure at some point in my life, this will all feel far away and hopefully hard to remember. I am sure that life will resume, families will travel and laughter and excitement will return. One thing this has taught me, never take those mundane, happy moments for granted!

-Becky

More empty corridors at London Heathrow








Waiting for boarding

Empty seats on Boeing 767


Constant mask reminders on flight entertainment screen



Tuesday, April 20, 2021

Baking in UK: Part 3 - Staffordshire Oak Cakes

It has been a long month of no new baking. In my defense, my kitchen looked like this for a good part of the time!. Notice no oven, cooktop and no sink so that meant no cooking. I hope you have taken time to read David's posts about the remodel and have seen my beautiful new kitchen. So on to cooking.

Kitchen chaos



 As a reminder, I am taking my recipes from, "Paul Hollywood's British Baking" cookbook. Todays recipe is Staffordshire Oatcakes. Staffordshire is from the Midlands, in the area of Birmingham. Again, one of those areas I would love to explore more when life returns to normal.

This recipe caught my eye from the very beginning and was recommended by one of David's friends as a a local food we should try while we are here. It is a griddle cake using relatively simple ingredients with the addition of yeast as the leavening agent. The only preplanning necessary was the ingredient, "fine oatmeal". I was not sure what this meant. I figured that it was like oat flour but when I looked in the grocery store I couldn't find anything that was called fine oatmeal. I did hear that some of the porridge oats are pretty fine but I decided to take matters into my own hands and make some oat flour. This did require the use of my daughter in law's blender. After a few whirs in the blender I had fine oatmeal. If you are looking at the picture of the ingredients, that is what is in the glass jar and the oats I used are behind the jar.


Ingredients

Also notice that I switched to salted butter but since the recipe called for salt I used a bit less that the amount of salt that was called for in the recipe. The other thing to notice is the fact there is no sugar in this recipe. If you are like me, you think pancake when I say it is a griddle cake but these are more like a crepe than a fluffy pancake, with the exception that this recipe has no eggs.


Batter

This was an easy recipe. It did require some planning ahead. After mixing all the ingredients, with the exception of the melted butter, it needs to sit for 1 1/2 hours for the yeast to do its thing. This wait period gave me time to think about what fillings to roll into my griddlecake. Paul recommends crispy bacon and cheese. I am not sure where Paul shops but I have yet to find anything that resembles "crispy" bacon. There is a bacon here called 'streaky bacon" which I suppose is the closest a person can find to American bacon but I would not really call it crispy. I also looked at the photograph in the cookbook and to me it looked like traditional English bacon, more like Canadian bacon, so that is what I used.

Cooking
In keeping with the tradition of crepes, the first attempt at cooking one was not pretty and was used to tear apart and sample and while none of them came our perfectly round, they were acceptable with the last one being the best of them all. (This picture is of attempt number 3).


Take a minute to listen to the bacon frying in the pan. After years of innkeeping, I can't smell and hear bacon cooking without thinking of one thing.....eggs. So while I did eat my first oatcake with Paul's suggestion of ham and cheese, (as pictured below), I also added eggs to my second and it was also delightful. David, not forgetting they are like crepes, rolled Nutella and jam into one. I am pretty sure he liked it by how fast he ate it. 

All in all, I would definitely make these fun oatcakes again. They were a light, slightly fluffy way to wrap up food and eat. Thanks Paul for another great bake. (Can I call it a bake when no oven was used?)



With bacon and aged English Cheddar Cheese

Becky


Monday, April 12, 2021

Kitchen Remodel: Part 2

 This is the rest of the story on the kitchen. This is the area that was so in need a of an upgrade. There were so many problems with the space originally, we struggled with how to start over. Let's review the status of this kitchen when we moved in. 

First the obvious code violation; directly above the cooktop or "hob" as they call it here there is a full size upper cabinet - no vent, no hood.  So anytime you cook a pot of spaghetti (or anything moist) the bottom surface of the cabinet collects all the steam until it literally rains back down on the stove. If you ever have a chance to design a kitchen don't do this!  Apparently they are quite lax about inspections over here.  Yes before you ask, we did get full approval from our town council to renovate the kitchen.

Next, the wasted space and total lack of any usable work surfaces.  Notice how the corner space is wasted and blocked by the cabinet with the double-oven.  Even the upper corner on that side had no cabinet, just a make-shift shelf and the narrow gap in the dead corner.  You can't really tell from this angle, but the cooker is off-center and probably too-close to the left side. Also notice that the sink is a single bowl with no drain-pan and the dishes are simply drying on a towel directly on the counter-top. Of course when we dismantled the cabinets, we noticed that this corner had an obvious moisture problem that we had to fix.  See the details in the "Before Picture" below. 



Another big obstacle we faced was the floor. When we removed each of the three pantries (larders), we found that the floor tile was missing below the cabinets!  We had to do something to fix these gaps because we weren't putting anything in their place. At first we thought we would just rip everything out and replace the entire floor. The tile was throughout three of the four rooms in the house, so it was going to be a big, messy job ripping everything out. Since we were also living in this flat while remodeling, we became dissuaded from this path.  

Missing floor tile

Another option we considered was putting in floating laminate click-lock planks directly over the existing tile floor.  It can be done, but making sure everything is perfectly level first can be a challenge. If there are any bumps, the planks can chip and break their tabs, creating a mess. These planks add another 1/4 inch to the floor, which also means that all the baseboard trim must be redone and possibly some of the interior doors may need trimming.  If instead you use a thinner, flexible vinyl, the bumps and seams will show through. 

So after much deliberation, we kept coming back to the need to just patch holes with matching tile. How hard could it be?  We found a couple of tile contractors who were willing to do it for a reasonable fee, but none of them had any tile that matched. We spent about a month trying to locate some matching tile and ended up finding some about 2 hours away. We made the four-hour round-trip drive nearly to Wales during the lock-down to retrieve the two boxes of matching tiles. It was just enough!  The tile installation turned out to be the only work we hired out to a local contractor. I just didn't want to deal with that part of the job. He came in and was done in a few hours, so we could move on.  

The existing kitchen was obviously an Ikea kitchen. I had previous experience doing a full Ikea kitchen back at the blue house in Washington, so that seemed like the natural place to start.  I was already familiar with their 3D design tools and the core technology (Google Sketchup), so that is where we started. We quickly ran into some problems with the space. Ikea cabinets only come in a few fixed sizes and they have only one option for corner cabinets. They also aren't designed with any off-set from the wall to allow for plumbing behind the cabinets.  Finally their upper cabinets are only avialable in either the standard 70cm or the the extra tall 100cm height, which we didn't have room for. Finally during the lockdown Ikea stores were closed and with the recent implementation of Brexit, many of the Ikea parts and components were delayed as much as six months!  

Trucks backed-up waiting for permission to cross the border at Dover after Brexit

We found a local big-box DIY shop here similar to Home Depot called B&Q that did these flat-pack kitchen cabinets.  They manufacture almost everything here in UK, so there wouldn't be any problems with bringing stuff over on the trucks.  B&Q also seemed like they were more adept at fitting kitchens into the English style of small flats. They offered many more variations of cabinet sizes and had offsets for the necessary plumbing that runs on the walls behind the cabinets. While they were more expensive than Ikea, we decided to go with the B&Q "Goodhome" brand for everything in the kitchen. 

The main kitchen arrived in two separate shipments. The first shipment was just the uppers and included 38 separate boxes that we had to stack-up in our lounge while we worked to install them. The second shipment for the lowers came about 3 weeks later and included 54 boxes!  It was quite a mess in the house wile we were installing. As we progressed, I kept discovering that there was just one more special tool I needed and had to make many additional trips back to the hardware store for these tools and extra items. Isn't that the way it always goes?  The hard part for me was, knowing that if I had been doing this project back in the states, I already had all the tools I needed. It was hard for me to buy a tool just for one job, knowing I can't bring it back and will probably never use it again.  

After much hard work it all finally came together. We decided to skip the vent-hood (not required here for electric cooktops, if there is an opening window nearby). But did leave the space open for the air to circulate above the stove. We used that space as an accent wall to match the color band of the existing back-splash (that we kept).  We also reused the existing cooktop which was in good shape. Becky was so sad to give up the double oven, but we replaced it with a very nice single multi-function convection oven, which we centered in the wall. We replaced the sink with a new composite (like quartz) black sink with an integrated drain pan.  The biggest change was in freeing up the extra counter space. The worktop space flows seamlessly into the breakfast bar so that can double as workspace when needed. 




















We discovered a hidden power outlet after removing the double oven, which was a big bonus since we had decided not to upgrade the electrical for budget reasons. We installed new kickplates (plinths) which had been missing from the original kitchen and due to the clever size options of B&Q, we gained a few extra cabinets, making better use of the space with no dead-zones. The kitchen is so much brighter and more usable now and all the teal is gone!  

-David 



Sunday, April 11, 2021

Kitchen Remodel: Part 1

When we moved in, we understood the kitchen in our little flat was in serious trouble. Always eager for a project, we wanted to make it our own and redesign the kitchen. We started using the 3D design tools from Ikea from the first week we arrived in UK as a way to make use of our time in quarantine. This redesign began before we ever saw the flat! We were working only with photos and measurements taken by our son and daughter-in-law.  

First, let's look at the back-side of the kitchen. This is where you can see three full-size pantry (larder) cabinets. It's a little hard to see, but in the before photo below, the pantry cabinets each have a teal lower door and a beige upper cabinet door. There is one on the far left of the image, partially blocking the back door and blocking the boiler and plumbing in the corner. Number 2 is on the far right side of this before image. It was blocking the entrance to lounge. Finally pantry number 3 is directly to the right of the washing machine in this photo. 


Now these three pantries were shoe-horned into this tiny kitchen so that anytime you opened the cabinet doors, they would bang into another door or cabinet. They blocked the light and reduced the amount of counter space - they had to go.  We took all three of them out and actually sold them on Facebook marketplace. 

There were a few other problems with this side of the kitchen. For example, there was only 2 square feet of usable workspace. To the left of the original microwave, behind pantry #1, there was also a drop-off that would swallow anything that slipped off the edge of the counter into the pipe and plumbing zone below the boiler. The only way to recover such items was to remove the dishwasher!  

We reshaped this space by removing all three pantries. Removing pantry #1 exposed the boiler and the pipes. We fitted an extra tall wall cabinet here that worked out to be just tall enough to hide all the pipes and allowed us to recover some of this previously unusable space. We added a shelf on top of this cabinet to hold the microwave, just below the boiler, completely hiding all the pipes. We also added a barrier to keep anything from falling back there. Moving the microwave off the counter also doubled the usable worktop space on this side of the kitchen. 


We intended to put a blank panel to the left of the tall cabinet holding the microwave, but we found it was a perfect place to store our step-stool, so we decided to leave it open. We also expanded the upper cabinets by using extra tall cabinets that go all the way to the ceiling and adding an over-fridge cabinet. In the photo below, the new breakfast bar can be seen where pantry #2 was previously and we placed a new more compact fridge-freezer where pantry #3 was previously located. This shift also moved the fridge out of the lounge, expanding the usable space in that room. Finally, we placed a 4-drawer cabinet in the space where the old dishwasher was located. The original kitchen actually had no drawers anywhere!  




Comparison of space before and after renovation. 

This view (above) shows the dramatic difference of this space, when viewing from the lounge area. Notice the old (black) fridge extended the kitchen a full 3 feet further into the lounge area. Also notice that the old breakfast bar, was fully within the lounge area, up against the half-wall that separates the kitchen. The new breakfast bar is fully within the kitchen, freeing up more space for the furniture in the lounge area. 

In the next installment, I'll provide an update on the sink, oven and cooking side of the kitchen. 

-David 








Tuesday, March 23, 2021

Baking in UK, Part 2: "Goosnargh Cakes"

 Time again for British baking with Becky. Today I will show you my attempt to make Goosnargh Cakes. This recipe originates from the village of Goosnargh, in Lancashire, which happens to be the first area I visited over 30 years ago. It is a particularly beautiful area in England and hopefully after the world opens again, I can return for a visit and see several friends still living up North.


So, on a side note, I should take this time to explain that any baking attempted right now is difficult. We are currently in the middle of a kitchen remodel, that I am sure will be its own blog. When we made this recipe, I knew that in just days I would be having the oven pulled out and not replaced for several weeks. The kitchen is also in a state of flux with dishes, pans and utensils being constantly moved around as a cabinet is removed and another installed. I am not saying this to complain because I am excited about the remodel, but as a reminder that my love of baking will overcome a few inconveniences. 

As a reminder, this recipe is from "Paul Hollywood's British Baking", cookbook. I will once again be relying on him as my mentor.  I would classify the Goosnargh Cakes as a biscuit or cookie in the fact that they are round and flat. 


As you can see from the picture, the ingredients are relatively simple with the addition of caraway seeds to add a unique flavor to the cakes. It is also worth noting that there are no eggs or salt in the recipe. This is still mind boggling to me since I consider salt to be the one ingredient that must be in every recipe. Because of this, I have spent time reconsidering my butter choice. In the U.S. I have always used unsalted butter. I have been taught that the best cream is used in unsalted butter since impurities cannot be hidden behind salt but here I have greater faith in their butter. So after this butter is used up, I plan to switch to salted butter. 

So these cakes are basically flour, sugar and butter. Sounds simple enough! They are basically a shortbread with the butter being incorporated with my fingers instead of being creamed into the sugar with a blender. This might be because there is only 1 Tablespoon of sugar in the dough. Don't worry, these are a sweet cookie because the rest of the sugar is sprinkled on the top before baking and again after they are taken out of the oven.


The only struggle we had was the caraway. Paul suggests, "Add a little at first, grinding the seeds with a pestle and mortar to give it a more subtle flavour". (See the last word, "flavour", my computer just tried to auto-correct it to "flavor," but that is how it is printed in the book). Anyway, we don't own a mortar and pestle. I guess that is not true, I own two but they are in Washington so we tried various methods to try and get the right consistency. I first tried my rolling pin in a measuring cup. David noticed me struggling and grabbed the hammer, which he had laying nearby for the kitchen remodel, and gave it an attempt. Both had the same effect so I went with the the rolling pin method. It felt more appropriate for baking.




The recipe calls for lots of butter so the dough came together easily. After a quick chill in the fridge, I rolled, cut and baked them. While still warm, the last addition of powdered sugar is sprinkled on top. How do they taste? Delicious! I loved the caraway giving a subtle flavor. I ate a couple while warm but I also enjoyed them after they had cooled with a cup of tea. That sounds pretty British doesn't it.




-Becky



Wednesday, March 17, 2021

Baking in UK, Part 1: "Chocolate Heavies"

We have been in England now for over 4 months and being self proclaimed "Foodies", we are feeling a bit sad that we are on the downward side of our trip and we have had little chance to explore and eat the local cuisine. It has also been particularly tough on me since my passion is baking and making people happy through food so we decided to do something about this, Bake!



Step one, find a good mentor through a British cookbook. I decided on, "Paul Hollywood's British Baking." Paul Hollywood seemed like a good choice because he doesn't use fancy equipment for his recipes. This is really important because I have limited resources. Now I know those of you who know me well, know that I have almost every baking tool one could hope for. I have a couple of Kitchenaid Mixers, (going to give them a big hug when I get home to Washington), several sets of measuring cups, knives, cutters, scrapers, baking pans, well you get the idea. Anyway, here I have 400 square feet of living space and the biggest kitchen appliance I own is a hand mixer. This is an excellent opportunity to get back to my baking roots and bake like I was taught as a child.....be creative! 

Step two, assemble ingredients. This sounds easy enough but they use different terms here than back home in the U.S.A. Is cornflour cornstarch or cornmeal? Which sugar is caster sugar? Is Fan 180 C. a real temperature? After several questions posed to our Echo, "Alexa" we set off to the store to get the final ingredients needed. One thing I have to say about Britain, the dairy products are amazing and fresh. I have been known to sample the butter before spreading on toast. If I could bring one thing, or several small things, back to Washington with me it would be a suitcase of butter. 

Step three, choose a recipe and bake. I am starting with three recipes that resemble a cookie. By cookie I mean that they are round and somewhat flat.

 The first one we baked is called Chocolate Heavies. This recipe is from the area we are currently living in, Southeast England. It was from the Victorian times and originally had currents instead of chocolate chips. (sounds like a good change by Paul). Notice by the picture, chocolate chips are sold in these small packets that to me look like a snack size and sorry Paul, I added the whole packet, which was 100 g instead of the 75 g in the recipe. This recipe also has lard as ingredient which I have not used in cookies. 



The recipe came together relatively easy. The only issue I had was the instruction that said to "use up to 40ml of milk". I used the whole amount and it still was very crumbly. I didn't want to stray from the recipe so I just carried on. Eventually the dough did come together and I was able to roll it out after the prescribed chill time.




The Heavies, aka cookies, came out a beautiful golden brown thanks to the egg wash before baking. I was pleased at how they looked and I think that Paul would also, they might not be handshake worthy but certainly good enough. 


The last instruction in the book said, "These biscuits are best eaten fresh". I took this quite literally and ate two while they were still warm. All in all, I think they were great tasting. Pretty dry compared to what I am used to but they would be great with tea, or another hot drink.

-Becky