Sunday, October 23, 2016

They Know My Name: UK 2016 Post 11

We spent a few quiet days with my in-laws where we did nothing but eat delicious pub food, watch mock zombie horror films, go through old photos, and of course my favorite: visit a big mall.

By this point in our journey I needed a break from castles. If you know me, you'll think that wasn't me typing that last line. Leah, tired of castles? Is that possible? Yes, my friends. Yes, it is. Only if for a little while. My head was crammed full of facts, dates, and architectural styles and I needed a break. If I was at home this would be the time I would cook or bake and then Netflix and chill. Since I wasn't in my own home or a home where I felt that I could take over the kitchen we decided the solution was a big mall for shopping and then we went to a cinema.

I didn't really document these days very much because we were just being mellow. This is the only photo of the shopping part of the trip, but it illustrates quite well how the day went- a big bag from Topshop with another big one from H&M joining it later that day.

I have such a patient husband. We are pretty lucky in our relationship because we reserve a lot of patience for each other- we both have quirks and anxieties that would drive other people batty but we're very gracious with each other and that spills over into frivolous things like shopping.  Daniel puts up with me when I have my "mountain out of a mole hill" meltdowns and he also utters no complaints when I drag him along shopping. In fact, the mall was his idea because he knew it would make me happy. Score 1 for husband! 

When it came time to say goodbye to my in-laws it was on an absolutely freezing morning, which meant no lingering goodbyes. I suppose it's best to rip off the bandaid quickly in these circumstances anyway. When you say goodbye to family that you might not see again for years it's best to do it quickly or you could be there for hours. We left them waving to us from their front porch, feeling like the trip truly was coming to a close even though we still had a few more days before we needed to board the plane. 

There were still so many things we wanted to see but down to just 2 days to see it all, which meant something had to give. We originally had planned to spend our second to last full day touring Chatsworth House but found as we packed up at my in-laws that it wasn't open for season yet. Then we decided Warwick Castle, but couldn't find an inexpensive hotel there with parking. Next on the list, Stratford-upon-Avon just in time for Shakespear's 400th birthday, but you guessed it, expensive hotels and very little vacancies. So we settled on a leisurely drive to our cheap hotel in High Wycombe via the small town of Grantham, and picturesque Stamford. Where I live, if my name is on it then it's most likely something I own, so I get really excited by things like towns that share my last name, both maiden and married. This is where my husband's above mentioned patience comes in yet again. I requested that we make a detour to the town of Grantham. We had run out of time earlier in our trip to make stops at the various towns that bear the Houghton (my maiden name) name so I was determined to at least get Grantham in there.

We pulled into town and per usual I missed the opportunity to take a photo of the cute illustrated sign for Grantham. I missed this at almost every single town we went in to, it was one of my biggest disappointments from the trip. We were always driving too fast to get a good photo and I almost always forgot to take the lense cap off the camera in time. Amateur or what?

Grantham isn't much to look at, it doesn't have darling cobblestone streets or medieval charm. It isn't a Disneyland English village, it's definitely a place where people live and work; it probably only rarely sees a tourist.  Let me tell you what it does have though: history. You can't go anywhere in the UK without running into a town/village/city with a deep and thrilling history; Grantham is no exception. 

Grantham is the birthplace of Margaret Thatcher, it schooled Sir Isaac Newton, witnessed Oliver Cromwell's first advantage in the English Civil War, hired the first female police officers, produced the first running Diesel engine and the UK's fist tractor, and my personal favorite: was a site of one of the 12 Eleanor Crosses. Unfortunately the Eleanor Cross erected in Grantham is no longer there but the history is. 

Castlegate, Grantham

Castlegate, Grantham

Photo: Grantham House, built in 1380. Castlegate, Grantham. Once housed Cardinal Wolsey and Henry VIII's sister Margaret Tudor who became Queen of Scotland as guests. 

Photo: Base of the statue of Newton as we flew by. 

The Eleanor Crosses have an incredibly romantic story. The crosses were erected by King Edward I in memory of his wife Eleanor of Castile. Eleanor died in 1290 at Harby, near the city of Lincoln. Her marriage to Edward was known to be a happy one and they were exceptionally close. This was rare in the time of arranged political marriages. Edward and Eleanor's marriage in 1254, at the tender ages of 14 and 13 respectively, was one of alliance but blossomed into a great love story. She accompanied her husband on the Eighth Crusade, helping tend to him when he was wounded at Acre in modern day Palestine. In the couples 36 years of marriage Edward remained completely faithful to his wife and by all contemporary accounts they were devoted to one another. After her death Edward wrote to the abbot of Cluny in France asking him to pray for the soul of his recently departed wife, "whom living we dearly cherished and whom dead we cannot cease to love." Edward ordered that a stone cross/monument be constructed in each location that her body rested overnight on its funeral procession from Lincoln to London. Although Eleanor and Edward had 16 children that were recorded (though it is very likely that there were more pregnancies than 16 and more children that did not survive infancy that went unrecorded), only 6 survived to adulthood and only one of those male. Edward needed to remarry to secure the succession and provide more male heirs to prevent a possible war if his only surviving son by Eleanor died. He waited nearly a decade to remarry though and thank goodness he did, as I am descended from his son Thomas by his second wife Marguerite of France and wouldn't be here if that marriage didn't happen! He attended memorial services for Eleanor until the end of his life, honoring his first wife and true love until the very end. 

As we were leaving the town of Grantham to make our way to Stamford to see the remnant of their Eleanor Cross, we found ourselves in the wrong lane. In a rather fortuitous turn of events the normally polite English drivers wouldn't make way for us to change lanes so instead of going straight like we needed to we were forced to turn left. We took the very first right we could take to get us back to where we needed to go and lo and behold that road was Houghton Road. For those of you that don't know me personally, or only know me after my marriage, my maiden name (as mentioned above) is the always mispronounced, always incorrectly spelled English name: Houghton. I couldn't wait to change it when I got married. It's not that I disliked it as a surname but I hated the fact that it brought along unwanted attention. I always prepared myself for the first day of school because inevitably when the teacher got around to my name they always misprounced my first and last name and everyone would turn and stare at me. I was painfully shy as a child so this was torture. A few people have mispronounced my married name but that happens a lot less often, which is probably due to Downton Abbey whose main characters are Lord and Lady Grantham. A little side story here: I have been asked by more than one person in all seriousness if I'm related to the Downton Abbey family. Am I related to a ficitional TV family? Why no, but thank you for asking. I tend to walk away from those conversations with a whole new opinion of that person.

After making Daniel screech to a halt in the middle of the road so I could take a picture of the road sign we were on our way to the picturesque town of Stamford. This town looks like a film set, which I have been informed is a common use for it. Stamford was rated "the best place to live" by the Sunday Times in 2013. This is definitely a place for the "haves" and that is very evident by the abundance of Range Rovers and BMWs. It felt very wealthy, like a place that you could look at but not touch. The town of Stamford is a conservation area, which was left virtually untouched by the industrial revolution. Most of the town was built in the 17th and 18th centuries, but its roots are found in the Anglo-Saxon period when Stamford was chosen as a main hub after King Edgar took it from the Danes who had settled there. Originally a center of pottery making, by the Middle Ages Stamford became famous for its production of wool and woolen cloth. In modern times it is a haven for tourism and film. I didn't know all of this as we pulled in and parked near Sheep Market where the Eleanor Cross stood. You could tell it was an absolutely lovely and well cared for town by the fact that the car park was right next to the River Welland and a beautiful park called Town Meadows. Plenty of people were out and about enjoying the park. I decided I could live here and said so out loud. Daniel laughed because once again I had chosen a place far out of our league that would require a lottery win if we wanted to become residents. 

We didn't spend too much time wandering around Stamford as we were anxious to find our hotel in High Wycombe in daylight, but we did take the time to look at the Eleanor Cross, which is actually a replica built in 2008 from descriptions of the original found in the 17th century writings of Richard Butcher and of Captain Richard Symonds. Only a fragment of the original cross remains which was destroyed sometime between 1645 and 1660. A plaque sits near the monument, but from my research it seems that the original cross was located just outside of town, although it's exact location is still up for debate. 

The modern interpretation of the Eleanor Cross in Sheep Market, Stamford

All Saints' Street, Stamford.

Melbourn Bros., All Saints Brewery with the spire from All Saints' Church in the background.

Queen Victoria's head on a building located on St Mary's Hill in Stamford, dated 1886.

The George of Stamford hotel sign.

 Saint Martins, Stamford.

Eventually we found our way to our hotel in High Wycombe, the Premier Inn High Wycombe/Beaconsfield- a super cheap hotel with self check in and a maze of hallways and stairways. It had an odd feel to it, situated in a strange mix of residential and commercial space. The hotel had free parking however, which was the reason we chose it.  We got lucky when we arrived that there was an employee working that actually took us through the self check in process so that was easy but she put us in a room that was so far away from the entrance and parking lot. We had to go through a maze of hallways and up and down short stairways and heavy doors. We were wondering if we had offended her when we check in to have been assigned a room so far out in the boondocks. I don't think anyone else was even staying in that wing of the hotel. To make matters worse, the previous guest had clearly been smoking in the non-smoking room and it reeked. We had to open the windows to try and get the awful smell out. The room did have a lovely deep bathtub and all the hot water you could want, so there was that.

I can't even tell you the sadness we were feeling about our holiday coming to a close. I was definitely in denial that we only had one more full day in England before our long, arduous flight home. Daniel was so happy to be back in his native land, and the Anglophile in me felt so totally at home that our 2 weeks there was definitely not long enough. We were already planning our next England trip to cheer ourselves up. Someday we might find ourselves buying one way tickets to England, but until then we're hoping to visit more often.

But, before we packed those bags one last time we had an appointment with royalty and this, we wouldn't miss. 

Sunday, October 16, 2016

Triple Chocolate Toffee Cookies

photos copyright: @cheerupoldbean, Leah Grantham

If you thought my last cookie creation was decadent be prepared for these sumptuous, rich chocolate cookies! The original recipe is from Tanya Burr's cookbook: Tanya Bakes, Triple Chocolate Cookies page 38. I have modified her recipe just slightly, a little bit for personal taste and a little bit because she's in the UK with different things available to her. I will put her in original instructions/ingredients in case you want to try hers or make your own modifications from the original- I indicate wherever I've modified the recipe. Tanya uses grams as a measurement for all of the ingredients- I've noticed this is common in UK recipes and that the ingredients are measured with a digital food scale. I happen to own one (you should too- great investment for the kitchen! You can get one for well under $40 HERE), so I follow the recipes as they are written but I've researched and added the US cups/tablespoons/teaspoons equivalents for my US readers or those without a food scale.

*(By the way, I was re-reading her recipe in preparation for this blog post and I noticed in the introduction to these cookies she mentions adding Rolos. I promise this wasn't the reason why my last cookie recipe (HERE) has Rolos in them- I didn't read this recipe until a week after I made those cookies- just pure coincidence, I would have absolutely credited Tanya if she had inspired the addition of that candy to the cookie mix, but alas it was my husband who gets all the credit. But, I like to think that great baking minds think alike!)

What you need:

200 grams of butter. (I used salted Kerry Gold)- for those of you that don't have a digital food scale this equals approximately 13 tablespoons of butter. 

300 grams of caster sugar *300 grams= 1 1/2 cups (this is fine baking sugar. You can create this out of granulated sugar by putting it in the food processor. You can find this sugar easily at the grocery store though.)

1 large egg

275 grams of self rising flour. *275 grams of flour= 2 cups. If you don't have self rising flour use 2 cups of all purpose flour, 1 teaspoon baking powder and 1/4 teaspoon salt. I found this ratio worked well for me and created the cookies in the above photos.

75 grams of cocoa powder. *75 grams= 2/3 cup. 

100 grams each of white, milk and dark chocolate. *100 grams= 2/3 cup of each. This is one of the modifications that I made- I left out the milk chocolate. White chocolate is quite sweet and with the addition of toffee I didn't want to overpower this cookie by adding another sweet addition. I used half a bag of semi sweet chocolate chips and half a bag of white chocolate chips. You can obviously use more chocolate if you want- do it to your own taste. 

A dash of milk. This is an optional method. It's only recommended if your dough mix is too crumbly. I'm not a fan of adding milk to my cookie recipes so I left it out. I didn't find my mix too dry without it. 

3- Dime (Daim) bars. This is a UK candy (found HERE). I researched it and apparently it's very similar to Heath Bars and Skor bars here in the US. I was planning on buying Heath bars but noticed that Heath makes just the toffee bits which can be found in the area where you find chocolate chips. I used half a bag of these toffee bits.

Maldon flake salt- (completely optional)
Parchment paper

What you do:

Preheat oven to 400 degrees F. (For those in the UK it'll be 200 degrees C or GM6)

Line cookie sheets with parchment paper. This is optional but SO recommended. I won't bake cookies without it.

Cream the butter, then add sugar. Beat until smooth. Add egg and again beat until smooth and kind of fluffy.

In a medium size bowl mix the dry ingredients together. (Flour, salt, baking powder and cocoa powder). Slowly add the dry ingredients to the creamed butter mixture. This is where Tanya recommends adding a splash of milk if necessary.  I did not add this. 

Add chocolate and toffee to dough on low speed or by hand. 

Tanya says to divide dough into 10 balls- this would be quite big cookies so I didn't do that. I made smallish golf ball sized balls and gently squashed them a little. On some of the cookies I added toffee bits and flake salt to the top before baking. This is optional. The cookies are delicious both ways.

Bake in preheated oven for 8-10 minutes depending on the size of cookie you are baking. I baked mine for 10 minutes and then kept them on the warm cookie sheet for anothe minute after I took them out of the oven. Transfer to a cooling rack and enjoy.

These were a hit and sure to make any chocolate lover happy! Thank you Tanya Burr for the inspiration and original recipe! Tanya has also featured this cookie recipe on her YouTube channel (with different chocolate bars) if you'd like to see how she makes the original recipe. (found HERE)

Want another truly scrumptious cookie recipe? Try my Salted Chocolate Chip Rolo Cookies!

Thursday, October 13, 2016

Outfit of the Day: Faux Leather Knockoff

It's been quite a while since I've done an outfit/fashion post on the blog. Lately I've just been doing them as Instagram posts and leaving it at that, but this time around I decided this particular one deserved a blog post about it.

I have been coveting an absolutely glorious leather jacket from Madewell called the Washed Leather Swing Jacket (also drooling over the regular Washed Leather Jacket too). I love the little snap pocket and the overall look of the jacket- though I must admit I don't love that it doesn't have a collar. I can't justify spending $500 on a jacket at this time- especially seeing as California is in a historic drought and we just don't get cold often and long enough to warrant a warm coat/jacket. My solution?  A faux leather knock off. I've been trolling the internets far and wide (Zara, Express, H&M, Target, etc...) for just the right one. I was narrowing it down between 2 from Zara when I decided to hit up our brand new H&M in San Luis. This is where I hit the jackpot! I found a pretty good knock off that even had the little snap pocket I was coveting in the Madewell one. You know what's even better? The H&M jacket has a collar! Bam! Oh and it was only $60 and I don't have to feel bad about wearing real leather. A win-win all around!

I'm not gonna lie, I still want the one from Madewell and if it goes on sale with a significant discount the odds are I'm going to grab it. But, in the meantime I've got a rad alternative that I'm completely stoked on!

Here's the jacket that started it all! The glorious Madewell Washed Leather Swing Jacket.

Here is my inexpensive H&M alternative. (Outfit details and links found below)

Jacket: H&M Biker Jacket in black (imitation leather) 
Shirt: H&M Cotten Shirt Dark Blue/Dotted
Pants: Target Mossimo black jeans (similar)
Shoes: Franco Sarto Venezia D'Orsay flats.

Wednesday, October 12, 2016

Entering the Barbican: Return to York: UK 2016 Post 10

As we made our way south away from the Scottish border we put our heads together to decide where our next adventure would be. We knew we were heading back to my in-laws and we both had a desire to go to York again so we decided it was on the agenda for the day.

Photo: entering York from the south through the Micklegate Bar- this was the traditional ceremonial gate for monarchs entering the city. 

In previous posts I've mentioned that I had been to England 12 years before this trip so I had some places I wanted to revisit. York was the top of the list. It's an enchanting walled city steeped in ancient history. If you're in the medieval walled portion of the city with the Minster and the Shambles you would never know you were in a city with a population of 200,000, which is my kind of city indeed. The city was founded by the Romans in AD 71 as the capital of the Roman providence. York has always played an important role in history. Not only was it the Roman capital city, but later it was also the capital of the kingdoms of Northumbria and Jorvik, as well as the major wool trading center in the Middle Ages, 19th century railway hub and to this day is the northern seat of the Church of England.

Photo: Me in 2004 on the city walls with the York Minster in the background. 
Photo: me in front of the Minster, 2016

The site of the original Roman military fortress which housed 6000 soldiers now lies under the foundations of the York Minster. The important site which witnessed the death of Constantius I,  the proclamation of Emperor Constantine the Great, and hosted the court of Hadrian and Septimus Severus was all but abandoned by 400 AD due to periodic but disasterous flooding. While it stayed inhabited (namely by the Angles who moved in after the Romans abandoned York), it wasn't properly reclaimed until the 7th century under the direction of King Edwin of Northumbria. In the 9th century York was captured by the Danish Vikings and became their major river port for trade with northern Europe. In 2017 you can explore this part of the city's history at the Jorvik Viking Centre, which immerses you in 9th century life in York (complete with smells, ick). We were fortunate enough to experience this in 2004, but it is currently closed due to major flooding in 2015. Even modern York can't escape flooding.

In 1068 the people of York rebelled against the Norman conquest of England by William the Conqueror, which was futile, though they tried it again in 1069. This rebellion badly damaged the first stone minster church, which proved fateful as it directly caused the construction of the cathedral that in time would become the current Minster. The York Minster is truly awe inspiring. At this point I've seen quite a few cathedrals and it's actually not my favorite because it's too crowded, but its location and the way it dominates the enclosure of the walled city is lovely.   

I think my favorite things about York and the reason I will return again and again are the medieval warren of narrow streets and the city walls which you can walk. There are beautiful views all along the walls and ocassional benches and skirts (there is probably a proper name for these widened areas in the walkway but I coulnd't find it.), where you can stop without hindering traffic on the narrow walkway. Parts of the walls date from the Roman times but the majority of what we see and walk today date from the 12th-14th century, which is pretty impressive when you think about the fact that thousands upon thousands of people have been walking and climbing those walls for 900+ years and they're not a crumbling mess. I'm in awe of the history and grateful that it has been preserved, like much of England has. The thing that really struck me as we walked the walls was seeing ancient history and the modern world living side by side. There are homes that butt up against the walls- like the ancient walls are the boundary for their back garden-and I just marveled at the fact that people live so close to something so old and so historically significant and it's no big deal. I know that modern life needs to move along and that the business of life needs to exist without much thought to this or nothing would ever get done, but I kept thinking about the people who live in those houses; who probably pay no mind to what's outside their back door and take for granted that they live, literally live, on a historic site. I would lose my mind if I was ever able to live in one of those houses- or live that close to a historical site- Daniel would probably start wearing noise cancelling headphones to block out my exclamations of, "Can you believe...?" And "have you looked outside...?"   I suppose that's the difference between an American whose town was founded in 1913 and their closest historical landmark/building was completed in 1813, and a European that has spent their life most likely only be a stone's throw away from an ancient landmark or structure. 

Walking the narrow city walls

Modern York just outside the wall. You can see part of Multangular Tower- the most intact structure from the Roman walls

View of the street and hillside while leaning over the city walls

Approaching Monk Bar, which houses a Richard III museum.

Photo: view of the York Minster from the city walls. This is somone's back garden which extends al the way to the city walls. What a living space! Their Minster in front of your house and the ancient city walls to the back!

Photo: View of the Minster from the city walls

After walking the walls and enjoying the elevated view of the Medieval city of York we decided to wander down The Shambles towards the market at the heart of the walled city. The Shambles is a Medieval street mentioned in the Domesday book making it over 900 years old. It is Europe's best preserved Medieval street and certainly York's oldest street. The word shambles derives from the medieval word "shamel" which mean booth or bench. It was also once referred to as Flesshammel, a word meaning "around flesh"- this was due to the fact that the Shambles was historically a street of butcher shops and houses. The street was constructed for practical purposes; the pavement is raised on either side to create a channel down the center from which the waste and byproducts of slaughtering livestock could be washed away. Also, the buildings lean into the middle of street with their roofs practically touching, creating an overhang from which the butchers wares would be hung as well as sheltering the meat from direct sunlight; some of the buildings still have their meat hooks attached. 

The Shambles was also home to a Saint. St. Margaret Clitherow was beatified in 1929  by Pope Pius XI though her martyrdom (by the horrendous act of being crushed to death while pregnant with her 4th child) occurred in 1586. Margaret converted to Catholicism during the reign of Protestant Elizabeth I (who criticized the citizens of York after the execution and condemned the act as a horror) and risked her life to harbor priests who performed secret masses. Her home is located at what is now No. 10 Shambles, which currently houses a cuff links shop, although there is a shrine to her in a house which was originally thought to be hers. Apparently the numbering of the houses on the street was changed in the 18th century which led No.s 35-36 (Margaret's home) to become modern day No. 10, so the current 35-36 which houses St. Margaret's Shrine is not actually her home. A small green plaque denotes the Shrine and I'm sad to say that I completely missed it and missed the opportunity to tour it. Another thing to add to a future visit.

The Shambles Market.

The Shambles. If you look closely at the window for the W.Hamond store you can still see the meat hooks. W.Hamond is at No. 9, next door is No. 10 the original home of St. Margaret Clitherow. (I had to lighten this photo as the original is quite dark from the tops of the building being close together.)

The Shambles, Via Vecchia Bakery is at No. 6

Leaving The Shambles. Bootham Bar in the background.

Photo: The Hole In The Wall restaurant/pub and Bootham Bar. The Hole In The Wall was originally the "Board Inn" which is said to be haunted. In 1816 excavations revealed a hole which lead to a dungeon with chains and manacles. A bricked up tunnel was also found. 

During this trip I threw my usual healthy eating out the window and decided that I would eat fish & chips, Cornish pasties, and sausage rolls at every opportunity, so with this in mind when it came time to eat lunch we made a beeline for a Cornish pasty shop, called The Cornish Bakery on Colliergate St. It was located across the street from a little square with benches and open space- the perfect place to eat. Daniel got lamb and mint- a popular English flavor combination- and I got cheese, mushroom and mashed potato. Here's a word of advice when purchasing Cornish pasties- pay close attention to which flavor is handed to you. They look identical from the outside. I am not a fan of lamb, or mint unless the mint is with chocolate so I really didn't want mine mistaken for Daniel's. He tucked in right away and was halfway through his before I even took a bite of mine. Almost at the exact moment that I took my first bite Daniel said something like, "These all taste the same. I can't even taste the mint.", to which I replied as I chewed, "Funny, mine tastes of mint." I couldn't get that taste out of my mouth fast enough. I looked with real sorrow at my half eaten pasty in his hands and his nearly whole one in mine. We did our unequal trade with the promise that he would buy me cookies later to make up for the fact that I was only getting half of my lunch. At least the half I got was delicious.

Photo: looking towards the Minster from our spot on the little square where we ate our Cornish pasties.

After our pasty fiasco and some very unimpressive cookies from a chain bakery we decided to walk back to our car which happened to be parked in the lots directly next to Clifford's Tower. On our previous trip we got to have Clifford's Tower almost completely to ourselves, but this time there was a group of schoolchildren already there, making it way too crowded to go into. I was satisfied this time with just taking photos. I've often seen photos of Clifford's Tower surrounded by hundreds of yellow daffodils but have not seen it that way in person. The first time I visited York it was in May of 2004, there were no daffodils in sight, but here we were in mid-March and they were everywhere. What a glorious sight! So bright and cheerful, which is in stark contrast to the tragic history of this lone tower on a hill. In 1190 Clifford's Tower (the surviving keep of York Castle) was the site of a pogrom (a massacre of an ethnic or religious group) of 150 local York Jews.  The 12th century was a period of rampant anti-semitism throughout Western Europe; stoked by the fervor of The Crusades and riots were common. At the time of the massacre, rioting had already wrecked havoc on the towns of Norwich, Stamford and Lincoln. Fearing for their safety the local Jewish community of York sought refuge in the castle keep. Once in the keep the Jews locked out the royal constable, warden of the castle, fearing he would turn on them once inside. This was seen as a hostile act and a direct insult to the king's authority. The royal constable charged with protecting the Jews from the angry mob now demanded the castle be captured by force. The day ended in mass suicide of the Jewish community who, rather than surrender and convert, set fire to the keep after killing the women and children. King Richard I held a royal inquest, which did not result in any of the instigators being held responsible for the massacre, but the city of York was levied a very heavy fine and had to live with the shame of that day. A plaque commemorating that sad day was placed at the tower in 1978.

Clifford's Tower as seen from the car park. Yes, this is how close you park your car.

The daffodils on the hillside

Clifford's tower, the vibrant daffodils, the many stairs and the plaque commemorating the 1190 Jewish Massacre.

Another view of the tower and daffodils

Photo: Me in 2004 inside Clifford's Tower

We decided to wrap up our time in York and head back to my in-laws in Scrooby/Bawtry for a few days before it was time to say goodbye to the UK this visit. I wasn't sad to leave the beautiful city of York because I know I'll be back. It's one of those special places that will just always be on our list when in England.

Previous Post: Good Afternoon Edinburgh! (Edinburgh Part II): UK 2016 Post 9.5
Next Post: They Know My Name: UK 2016 Post 11

Sunday, September 25, 2016

Salted Chocolate Chip Rolo Cookies

photos copyright @cheerupoldbean, Leah Grantham. 

I have a great recipe for salted chocolate chip cookies that I've modified from a Bon Appetit recipe, that has been a real go-to for me. This time I decided to jazz it up and modify the original recipe even more. My husband had been eating rolos which gave me the idea to chop them up and add them to the salted cookies I was already making for my co-worker Maggie's birthday. 

My biggest tip before you start this recipe is to freeze the rolos- this makes them easy to chop into quarters (or halves if you want big chunks of caramel).

What you need:

1 1/2 cups All Purpose Flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/4 teaspoon salt (I use sea salt- this is not the salt on top of the cookie, this goes in the dough)
1/4 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 cup butter (do yourself a favor and use good butter like Kerry Gold- you'll taste the difference!)
3/4 cup packed brown sugar
1/2 cup granulated sugar (I use caster sugar, also called baking sugar)
1 large egg
1 teaspoon vanilla
Semi-sweet chocolate chips (I use half a bag of ghiradelli semi sweet- use more if you like)
Rolo candies. I used two of the small individual sized bags of the mini rolos which is probably the equivalent to 2-3 rolls of the regular sized rolos.
Maldon flake salt. (This is the salt for the top of the cookies)
parchment paper for baking on

What you do:

Pre-heat oven to 375 degrees F. 

In a mixer, by hand or hand held mixer cream the butter. Make sure your butter isn't too soft- this will result in flat cookies. I find that my butter is best taken out of the fridge and left for about 10-15 minutes at room temp before I use it. Add brown sugar and mix, then add the granulated sugar. Mix and scrape down the sides of the bowl. Add egg. Mix and add vanilla. 

In a medium sized bowl mix dry ingredients: flour, baking powder, baking soda and salt. I always use a whisk to mix my dry ingredients well before adding them to the wet mixture. 

Slowly add the dry ingredients to the creamed butter mixture. When the dough is fully mixed then add the chocolate chips and chopped rolo candies to the dough. I do this on a low speed on my mixture but you can fold them in by hand if you want. 

Here's my other tip for this recipe: refrigerate the dough (or if you're impatient like me, put it in the freezer). Normally I don't do this and completely ignore it when recipes tell you to do this. I made a batch straight away without refrigerating and some of the caramel leaked out of the cookies while they baked. I put the dough in the freezer for about 10 minutes and made a second batch. This time the caramel stayed within the cookie and were perfect!

My final tip, and this goes for every single cookie recipe: parchment paper on your cookie sheets. I swear by this. 

Scoop cookie dough onto parchment lined cookie sheets and either use the back of a spoon or your clean hand and press the dough ball a bit flat. Sprinkle the cookies with a decent amount of maldon flake salt. Place cookie sheet in pre-heated oven and bake cookies for about 10 minutes. I watch my cookies closely and check them around 8 minutes in case I've made them smaller than usual. They're ready to take out when they start to turn *lightly golden brown at the edges. I take my cookies out and keep them on the cookie sheet for about a minute before transferring them to a cooling rack.     

Let cool and enjoy!

Want another seriously decadent cookie recipe for chocolate lovers? Try my take on Tanya Burr's Triple Chocolate Cookies found HERE

Saturday, September 17, 2016

Good Afternoon, Ediburgh! (Edinburgh, Part II): UK 2016 Post 9.5

Edinburgh, Part II

Walking down the historic Royal Mile from Edinburgh Castle to Holyrood Palace is a walk through its history. Between touristy kitschy shops selling tartan hats with fake hair attached to them you find centuries old pubs, dark and ominous looking alleys called closes that once housed gardens and livestock, churches, and the Scottish Parliment building. It was really hard to imagine that in the 17th century there were 70,000 people living in the vicinity of the Royal Mile in crowded, and in most cases squalid conditions with some buildings reaching 14 stories high. Gone were the charming wood structures and gardens of Medieval Edinburgh, which was destroyed by Henry VIII in 1544 in a not so subtle show of power. Today it feels quaint again, without a high rise in sight, restored and remodeled in the 1880's by Patrick Geddes- inspired by the Royal Mile of 500 years earlier. You can still see today why King David I established the Royal Mile and remodeled the existing hill fort in 1124- it feels like the center of the world, high up on the once active volcano, with an uninterrupted view for miles around- a natural place to put down roots.

Looking down the Royal Mile in the evening

Kilted man outside the Scottish Parliment

Above and below: entrance to Scottish Parliment

I started to have my doubts as we made our way down the slope that is the Royal Mile that The Palace of Holyroodhouse was really there. I thought for sure we'd see it well before we actually got to it- how can you hide a palace from view? Well, my friends you can. You don't see the actual palace until you've entered the gates, it is not seen from the street. After you pass through the stone arch of the gatehouse off of Horse Wynd street and stroll down the Abbey Strand you find yourself in a large courtyard called the forecourt. Behind you is a statue of Edward VII (son of Queen Victoria) erected in 1922 by George V., but most striking besides the palace itself is the 19th century Victorian Forecourt fountain by Robert Matheson. It's mini gothic looking spires, intricate carvings and details are impressive. I learned later that it is a replica of the 17th century fountain at Linlithgow Palace, birthplace of Mary, Queen of Scots and the earliest surviving Scottish royal palace.

Walking towards the gatehouse entrance next to the Queen's Gallery at Holyroodhouse

Statue of Edward VII in the Forecourt

In the Forecourt of Holyroodhouse.

The fountain

Clearer view of the fountain with Arthur's Seat in the background 

Entrance to Inner Court

Above and below: Inner Court

In 1501 the royal residence was built on the site of a guesthouse belonging to Holyrood Abbey, built and established in 1128 by King David I. The ruins of this Abbey can be wandered through at your leisure, but first I recommend touring the actual palace. The palace is the official residence of the monarch in Scotland but what interested me most and the purpose for taking the time to tour the structure is its connection to Mary, Queen of Scots. Mary occupied the royal apartments in the north-west tower from 1561 to 1567, when she was forced to abdicate in favor of her infant son, the future King James VI (later James I of England). It was in these private apartments that she witnessed the murder of her private secretary David Rizzio by her jealous husband, Lord Darnley. You can tour these untouched apartments and see the very nook, called her supper chamber,  where she sat at dinner with Rizzio and four other courtiers moments before he was dragged away from her table and stabbed 56 times in the adjoining chamber (his blood stains are still visible on the floor in the room where his body lain).   History comes alive in places like this. The narrow, winding "secret" staircase leading to her chambers, her bed in an ornate room, her cozy prayer niche, the glorious warm wood paneling of her outer chamber, these are the places that felt most intimate and real. The rest of the palace is sumptuous but I found it quite cold. It doesn't feel like the kind of place you can sit next to a fire and read a good book in.  Touring Mary's apartments was the highlight for me and worth every penny of the admission. Of course there were no photos allowed but you can do a quick Google search to see the interior of the Palace of Holyroodhouse and of Mary's rooms in the palace.

We exited the James V tower and entered the ruins of Holyrood Abbey. Partially in use until the 17th century it was left to fall completely to ruin in the 18th century after a storm in 1768 caused the roof to collapse. It has been proposed several times over the ensuing 2 centuries to restore the abbey but so far that has not happened and I would assume it won't. There is something quite beautiful about a ruined abbey, and being able to wander around the roofless nave with only one or two other people present was something special.  

Looking back towards Holyrood Abbey and our only real bit of blue sky that day.

Leaving Holyrood Abbey

Looking at the ruins of this once great abbey

After leaving the abbey ruins you find yourself back in the Forecourt area and at the entrance to the gardens. Unfortunately for us the gardens on the grounds weren't open for the season yet, so we couldn't wander the paths. If you've been following along with my UK blog posts then you'll know that I've mentioned before the pros and cons of off season travel. The biggest "pro" and the reason we do it time and time again is that places aren't as crowded. I've had whole abbeys and castles to myself, not another tourist in sight, I've sat in tiny chapels next to the ghosts of memories of kings and queens completely alone, and read centuries old illuminated manuscripts with only my husband at my elbow. The "con" of off season travel is of course weather that is less than ideal and places being closed or closing quite early. You have to weigh what is more important to you when you travel but my husband and I prefer less crowds and cheaper accommodations at the expense of closed gardens and the ocassional grand house not accepting early visitors. While I was upset to miss Alnwick Castle a few days earlier, being alone in the ruins of Holyrood Abbey made up for it. 

We still had to bulk of the day in Edinburgh to explore but at this point it was nearing lunch time and we were ready to eat. I'd love to say we picked a local restaurant or pub to calm our appetites but in the end we found ourselves at a Starbucks. Of course this was my doing. I wanted a coffee and a bathroom in whichever order I could get them in. Public restrooms are hard to find in Europe unless you are at a tourist spot or train station and once you've left that location, good luck! Your best bet are cafes and restaurants and those don't come free. So we plopped ourselves down with coffees, sandwiches and the all important bathroom code on the receipt. One of the things I really liked about Edinburgh is that a lot of the businesses were actually not at street level. Quite a few cafes we went into were on what we would call the 2nd floor, but in Europe is referred to as the 1st floor. This gave you lovely views as you sipped your beverage and ate your food. This particular Starbucks (Edinburgh Royal Mile) took up both the ground floor and 1st floor (2nd floor in the US). You order on the ground floor and then go upstairs to get a lovely view of The Royal Mile below.  We enjoyed our sandwiches and planned out the rest of our day in Edinburgh. 

Edinburgh Castle and the Palace of Holyroodhouse were the only things that I knew without a doubt that I didn't want to miss while in the city of Edinburgh. I also planned on buying a pair of Dr Martens boots as my souvenir, so that was on the list of things I wanted to do while there. Lucky for me there is a big Dr Martens store right on Princes Street, (... And, unlucky for me they were out of my size in the shoes I wanted- cue sad trumpet sound...)

The World's End pub

We left The Royal Mile, but not for the last time that day, and made our way back across the North Bridge to Princes Street, where the action is. We walked up and down Princes Street so many times that day. Stopping to listen to bagpipers on the corner, taking in the huge monument to Sir Walter Scott, dodging busy city dwellers, and coffee- always more coffee.

Old town Edinburgh with the Castle in the background

Princes Street, monument to Sir Walter Scott on the left

The spires of the monument to Sir Walter Scott can be seen from just about everywhere.

 As I've stated in an earlier post, I was a tea drinker on this trip- you can't be married to a native Yorkshireman who hasn't had a proper cuppa in 7 years and not drink pot after pot of tea in these two weeks, but Edinburgh was different- I needed the coffee to keep me going, we got up so early and had to be on the go, go, go until 9pm. Somewhere during our repeat treks up and down Princes Street we went into a Starbucks that arguably must have the best view of any Starbucks. Right there on Princes Street one level up from the road itself was a beautiful view of Edinburgh Castle seen through beautifully ornate huge windows. I also had a funny interaction with the Italian barista who took my order which made it all the more memorable. He was such a cliche with the thick accent and flirtations, telling me I was a beautiful lady with a beautiful name. In over exaggerated motions he wrote my name on my cup with an extra flourish of dots and swirls. Seeing as he was in his early 20's I'd take the compliments and run with them, pretending that he didn't say that to all the ladies.     

The view of Edinburgh Castle from the Princes Street Starbucks

We sat and enjoyed the view in delightfully oversized chairs, sipping coffee, and gleefully using the free wi-if. We planned to watch a movie to break up our day a bit since we still had hours before we had to catch the train so we checked out our options and took screenshots of the maps we found. It's a bit easier these days to not stand out like a tourist with a big paper city map in hand. We could discreetly blend in looking at our smartphones just like everyone else. I can't remember if I mentioned this before but I did definitely notice that Britons are not as enthralled with their smartphones as Americans are. They do definitely use them, but I didn't see a single person take a photo of their food in a restaurant, their lattes in a cafe, or take selfies. It was quite nice to see people having conversations, look ahead while they walked down a sidewalk and not texting while driving. I'm sure all of our bad habits have been imported but I just didn't see it the way that I do at home.  Although, while they may not be as distracted by technology they are naughty little litterbugs, so we all have our faults.  

I'll keep this next part brief as there is probably nothing more boring than hearing someone yammer on about walking down a street and going to a movie theater. This is what I will say: it is very expensive to go to the movies in Edinburgh. Actually it's probably expensive in any city, but wow, it's really expensive there. We went to the Vue Cinemas inside the Omni Centre, saw the prices and walked right back out. We had to weigh what we would rather spend the money on: movie tickets or entrance fees to a historic site. I for one will vote historic site each time, so off we went and left the Cinema in our rear view mirror. 

Looking up the Playfair Steps to New College in Old Town Edinburgh

Edinburgh Castle

Edinburgh Castle

Looking back towards New College

Our next stop was the Scottish National Gallery. No matter how many times I've seen masters like Rembrandt and Raphael in person I still find myself in awe at their work. The artwork is beautiful to look at but I'm most interested in getting as close as possible to see the brush strokes and colors close up. I imagine the painting process and how I might replicate it. The great thing about being an artist married to a fellow artist is that we can both get lost in the art and not have to worry about the other getting restless or bored. We admire very different artist and different styles so we're not often entranced by the same works but we can understand the need to stare for long periods and take it all in. If you get the opportunity to see a Rembrandt up close and personal do yourself a favor and get in close- it will be flawless, I promise you. 

We wandered quite a bit at this point. There are really only two things I regret not seeing/doing while in Edinburgh upon reflection: Arthur's Seat and the Royal Botanic Garden Edinburgh. It was way too cold to hike Arthur's Seat and I'm embarrassed to say that I mistook the Prince Street Gardens for the Royal Botanic Garden because I just wasn't paying attention- and they closed literally as we walked up. I didn't even bother to properly check the sign so there were with time on our hands and only 1.5 miles from the actual botanical gardens. One of these days I will actually check a giant Victorian conservatory off of my bucket list. I'll bring a bedroll, a pillow and just settle in. It just might have to be the Palm House at Kew Gardens. Future trip!

Edinburgh Castle and the Scottish National Gallery lit up at night

We finished out our day eating deliciously naughty Cornish pasties full of mashed potatoes and cheese in the train station. By this time we had walked 17 miles (tracked with my trusty Fitbit) and were tired but surprisingly not achingly so. It never fails that at some point during a long day out in a city Daniel will inadvertently attract the attention of someone who has seen better days, and this day was no exception. I think his kind nature shines like a beacon to those who society shuns. My husband is incredibly generous and will give you the shirt off his back and his last dollar. It's put him in some real sticky situations in the past and makes me very wary. So, there we were like sitting ducks in a semi crowded train station eating pasties when a very, very drunk early 30 something man who was definitely down on his luck planted himself in the empty chair next to Daniel. He proceeded to talk Daniel's ear off, spill his pint of beer and play us some music on his portable boom box (they still make those?!) all the while getting more and more agitated. I had to draw the line when he stood up and was essentially looming over me while I sat and he ranted about various things. He was finally distracted enough that we could make a hasty exit without upsetting him. It was really sad to see- he wasn't that old to be so down on his luck. I suspect he was a nice lad when sober- I wish they'd cut him off a few pints earlier. Daniel never feels threatened in those situations, he's over 6 ft tall and knows how to defend himself, but me on the other hand always feels vulnerable and freaked out. I suppose we balance each other out. He keeps me from yelping at every shadow and I keep him from just walking down dark alleyways. City mouse and country mouse got married. 

The train back to Berick-upon-Tweed was uneventful and we found ourselves back at the Country House Hotel without incident and grateful for a warm bed. We had done our Northern adventures and now it was time to make our way South.

*for videos from our day in Edinburgh please view Cheer Up Old Bean Facebook page HERE