Thursday, December 31, 2009

A Beer and a Sandwich

Off to the Cape today to spend New Years Eve. We have a room booked at a hotel in the town of Sandwich, and are meeting up with friends. The good thing about the hotel is that its next door to the local British Beer Company pub and restaurant, so we can celebrate without having to worry about who is driving. Cheers!

Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Happy Birthday Stella!

Many Happy Returns to Stella. Enjoy your day!

Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Stone the Crows!! It was bloody freezing!!

We spent the day in Boston today. Every year there is a display of ice sculptures on Boston Common, they are usually very large and extremely impressive, and I decided that today may be a good chance to see them before it got too crowded. I knew that the ice had been delivered to the Common and the ice sculptors had only just started work, but I thought they may be further along than they actually were today. In fact, all we saw was a huge block of ice with a very cold man chipping away at it. He looked freezing, must want his head read to be doing that on a day like today!

Here's a picture of how good the ice sculptures can look when they are finished and lit up at night:

Did I mention how cold it was? 15 degrees F with a "real feel" temperature of zero degrees F (0 degrees F is -18 degrees C to those that use Celcius). In fact it was colder than a polar bear’s pyjamas on the shady side of an iceberg. It was so cold the one armed bandit had a glove on. We were so cold we had to stop in every coffee shop and bookstore we passed to warm up. And in every department store to use the bathrooms after all the coffee we'd drunk; it was very slow going...especially after Tony insisted we warm up in the new 3-storey Apple store on Newbury Street! On Boston Common we watched a surprisingly large number of brave/foolish people ice-skating on the Frog pond trying not to get blown off-balance by the strong winds.

On the way home we stopped at the British Beer Company for a bite to eat. The crackling log fire in the entrance was very welcome, as were the fish and chips and beer. Warmed us up a treat!

Monday, December 28, 2009

Those Welsh sheep are smart

I must be the only person who had not seen this YouTube clip before, but just in case I'm not, take a look. Set on the hillsides of Wales and featuring a large number of sheep. Very entertaining.

Sunday, December 27, 2009

Christmas TV

I have enjoyed the UK Christmas TV this year. Gavin & Stacey was excellent. Series 3 is primarily set in Wales, and it is very funny to see how accurate the portrayal of the Welsh is! To hear phrases such as "I'll be there now in a minute" cracks me up because I hear myself saying it. I think I am of the wrong generation to use the term "Lush" though! My favorite line of the show was when Staceys next door neighbor Doris was describing to Mick how Barry Island was not the same since "they" all came and took all the jobs. "What, from Poland you mean?" asked Mick, "No, Newport!". LOL (Newport is my hometown, next door to Barry).

We also enjoyed watching the 3 part mini-series "The worst Christmas of my life". Very funny. We didn't realize that there was a whole series of these shows, so we'll have to get hold of a copy and catch up. Not sure what was the funnier scene, spearing the turkey to the wall with a torpedo gun or scalding the vicar's nether regions with the mulled wine. Excellent!

Then obviously there is always a cliff-hanger episode of 'The Street'; this year it was centered on Kevin Webster and Molly Dobb's affair - their decision to tell their other halves was halted when Kevin's wife Sally announced she had breast cancer. I wonder if the actress (Sally Whittaker) is planning on leaving the series? That will dictate whether she survives chemo or not....

The best the American channels could offer for the Christmas season was a re-run of an old House episode.

Saturday, December 26, 2009

Too much of a good thing?

It happens every year at this time. All year long I crave cakes, cookies and chocolate, especially the stuff from the UK. Then along comes Christmas, I get bought sackloads of it, its OK to eat it because its Christmas, and I totally lose my appetite! Being surrounded by sweet food actually puts me off it - which is a good thing I suppose....?

I know that this is only temporary, and the urge will come back. The biggest problem I have now is hiding all my stuff from the rest of the household otherwise there will be none left by the time I recover.....

Friday, December 25, 2009

Merry Christmas!!

Merry Christmas to all that celebrate it, or "Happy whatever" to those that don't. May your turkey be well cooked, and your wine glass regularly filled; Cheers!!

Monday, December 21, 2009

Brunette Blogger

I've been asked to post some pics of me as a brunette.

Wood Pellet Stove

After months of waiting, we finally have our wood pellet stove installed and working. I had originally wanted a gas insert to replace the open fireplace, but it was too difficult to run a gas line to the back of the fireplace. I had never heard of wood pellet stoves before but they are a good compromise between the convenience of gas and the look of a real fire. Its a sealed unit with a glass door, you feed wood pellets into the top, and the fire automatically takes in as many as it needs to operate. It ignites via electricity so no hassle of trying to get it to light, and it operates on a thermostat so you can have it come on and off automatically to keep the temperature constant. Wood pellets also happen to be one of the cheapest, most efficient and cleanest forms of fuel, so its a win-win situation. The cat certainly seems to like it, which is a good indicator of the heat that it outputs. She would never sit in front of the open fire because of the cold draft that came down the chimney, even when the fire was at full roar, but she loves stretching out in front of this fire.

Looks good enough to eat

The finished article!

Friday, December 18, 2009

PO: Post Office or Pissed Off?

I went to the local Post Office this morning to send a few last-minute Christmas cards, and to pickup a parcel. What should've been a quick in-out ended up taking forever. It never ceases to amaze me that, on the Friday before Christmas when everybody is doing the same thing as me, and the line of customers is out of the door, the local Post Office assumes they can manage with only one counter open. And the cap it all, the girl being served at the counter had not even bothered to seal up the parcel she wanted to send or write the address on it. And the Post Office worker waited while she did all that, without serving anyone else in the meantime! Very annoying.

Thursday, December 17, 2009

Its a bit nippy

Right now (10pm Thursday night) the temperature is 5 degrees F, with a "feels like temperature" (with wind chill factor applied) of -5 degrees F. To my family and friends in the UK who use metric units (i.e. Celcius), that is the equivalent of -15 degrees C, "feels like" -21 degrees C. In England, another way of expressing this is "cold enough to freeze the balls off a brass monkey", or in the US "Colder than a well digger's ass".

Do blondes have more fun?

I have had blonde hair (with the help of a few chemicals) since I was 16 years old. A couple of weeks ago I decided to go back to my natural color (or as close as I could get to it) for a change. It is now quite a dark brown color and I am amazed at how much I like it. More amazing is the number of compliments I have received. Maybe I should've done it years ago?

So.....I guess now I can include these jokes:

What do blondes and beer bottles have in common?
They're both empty from the neck up!

A beautiful blonde walks into a bar. A guy walks up to her and says "Hey, those jeans are pretty tight. How do you get into those?"
"You can start by buying me a drink!"

A blonde says to the bartender, "Excuse me, but each time I sip my drink. I get a shooting pain in my eye."
"Well maybe you should take the swizzle stick out of your glass." brunettes can have fun too!!!

In my neck of the woods, its a dusting

Browsing through the BBC News I saw an article about heavy snow expected in the SE UK on Friday, with up to 20cm of snow expected and gale force winds.

My initial reaction was "Wow! thats amazing!" and my next thought was "How much is 20cm?". After getting my ruler out and realizing its not much more than 8 inches, I went back to playing Bejeweled Blitz.....

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Oh what fun we had!

We had our department "Holiday lunch" yesterday. It was all very refined and respectable. Somehow it did not seem the same as the Christmas "do" we used to have in the UK. Whether it was because it was the UK, or whether it was because I was much younger then, I don't know. But somehow it seemed more fun. People had too much to drink and did things they were probably glad to forget. I even recall someone (who shall remain nameless-and it wasn't me) walking backwards into the canal. Ah, those were the days!

I like a good tune

I have been watching University Challenge over these past few weeks and came to realize how little I know about classical music and the composers. So tonight, while doing the jigsaw puzzle that I'd started with Emma and will end up finishing, I decided to listen to some classical music. I dug out my "Polygram Essential Classics" CD and was amazed that I actually recognized quite a lot of them; "Last night at the proms!", "the Exorcist!", "Nescafe!", "Hovis!", "Emerson, Lake and Palmer!" I shouted out. I knew them all. See, I'm not a heathen when it comes to "the Arts"

Sunday, December 13, 2009

Christmas Cake recipe

My cake has come out nice, looks good enough to eat! Here is the recipe I used:


8 oz currants
8 oz sultanas (golden raisins)
4 oz raisins
2 oz of mixed cranberries, raisins, etc (from Trader Joe's) to add some variety, or you can just increase the quantity of one of the 3 dried fruits above instead
4 oz glace cherries, chopped in half
Grated rind of 1 lemon
Grated rind of 1 orange
3 tablespoons of whisky, brandy, rum or sherry (I used brandy)
5 eggs - room temperature
2 sticks butter - room temperature
1 cup soft brown sugar (or caster sugar)
1 cup of self raising flour
1 cup of plain flour
Half a cup ground almonds (I used blanched almonds chopped up small in a blender)
2 teaspoons of mixed spice
1 tablespoon golden syrup or corn syrup
Optional 2oz walnuts or blanched almonds chopped.

Prepare the cake ingredients
The quantities in this fruit cake recipe must be baked in a deep round 8-9 inch tin or square 7-8 inch tin.

1. Before you mix up the cake, SOAK the dried fruit and the halved cherries in the alcohol for about 4-8 hours

2. Heat oven to 140 degrees Celsius or Gas mark 1 or 275 degrees Fahrenheit

3. Butter and double line your baking tin with greaseproof/baking parchment paper.

4. Place the tin ready on a flat pizza or other baking sheet – this helps in removing it from the oven.

5. Chop the nuts if you are using them and lightly whisk eggs in a jug.

6. In a large bowl sift the flour with the mixed spice. Add the ground almonds and the chopped nuts to that bowl.

Mix the Cake
In another very large mixing bowl cream the room temperature butter with the sugar. Next add the lightly beaten eggs teaspoon by teaspoon to the sugar and butter, beating well to mix them in between additions. If you add too much egg too soon and it curdles, just add a tablespoon of flour and mix in.

Now add the golden/corn syrup. Dip a tablespoon into piping hot boiling water and remove the spoon of syrup from the tin, drop it onto the cake mix and stir it in.

Next fold in the spiced flour and ground almonds and nuts. Add all the soaked dried fruit. Stir it all together until mixed well

Spoon the Christmas cake mixture into the tin and smooth the top absolutely flat with a spatula. This cake should not rise in the middle, but be flat.

Drop the tin from about 10 inches in the air onto the floor to make sure it has no air bubbles. Replace it onto the pizza support tray

Bake the cake

Bake for 3 hours. A piece of greaseproof paper with a 1 inch circle cut from the middle placed over the top of cake will help retain moisture and prevent too much crusting. It is done when a skewer inserted into the center comes out clean.

Remove the cake from the oven and leave to cool completely in the tin. The next day remove the paper wrap. You can either eat the fruit cake immediately as it is or "feed" the cake for a month until a few days before you are ready to decorate. To feed the cake, make some skewer holes on the underside. Pour over 2 tablespoons of alcohol (sherry, brandy, port, whiskey etc). Do this about every 5 days. Each time wrap the cake in double greaseproof paper and then aluminum foil and store in a plastic container.

Decorate the cake
For a traditional finish cover with almond paste/marzipan and icing or fondant. Or instead use a simple glazed topping of crystallised fruits or nuts and encase in large ribbon band. Alternatively, decorate the cake with glace fruits and an apricot jam glaze made from heating 3 tablespoons of apricot jam with 2 tablespoons of brandy or sherry. You could also use a quality selection of various nuts such as brazil nuts, pecans, almonds, walnuts and hazelnuts in rows or circles.

Saturday, December 12, 2009

Its not just any old fruit cake

I've decided to make myself a Christmas Cake this year. Its not a tradition in the US, so its impossible to buy a ready-made one like I used to when I was in the UK. Tescos or Mark'siz were always the best in my opinion. I have discovered that its not all that easy to get the ingredients either, so I will have to improvize a bit. First of all a sultana does not exist. I think that a "Golden Raisin" may be the same thing so I'm taking a chance on that. Mixed peel...nowhere to be found. I could see candied ginger but I don't think that's the same thing. I did manage to find glace cherries after much searching. I gave up on looking for ground almonds for the marzipan, it appears I would have to grind my own if I want some. So I paid some extortionate price for ready-made marzipan, something like $6 for a tiny stick of it - I needed 3 of them (at least).

I have left it a bit late though so won't be able to do the traditional knitting needle and brandy/sherry thing. So far it has taken me ages to find the ingredients, it will take hours to make, then to marzipan, then to ice. And I bet I am the only one who will eat it when its all done. Never mind, I still think its worth it.

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

St Winifred's school choir

In my previous blog entry I mentioned an awful song that made the top of the British charts over Christmas in 1980. For those of you that have not had the pleasure of hearing this song, here it is. Enjoy!

Ghosts of Christmas past

My kids were getting in the festive mood tonight and dug out our one and only Christmas CD. It brought back some memories I can tell you. "Merry Christmas Everybody" by Slade, "Another Rock n' Roll Christmas" by Gary Glitter, "Lonely this Christmas" by Mud, "Little Saint Nick" by the Beach Boys and of course, "Do they know its Christmas" by Band Aid. It got me thinking, does anyone make Christmas songs nowadays? It used to be an expected, and much anticipated thing. What was going to be Number 1 in the charts for Christmas, would your favorite group release a Christmas song? On Christmas Day every year there was a special showing of "Top of the Pops"; it was the highlight of the day (after the pressies and Christmas pud of course!). It was extremely disppointing if the number 1 spot was filled by some god-awful song like "There's no-one quite like Grandma" by the St Winifred's school choir, and you had to finish up the show with that playing, while all the streamers and party poppers were thrown around the set. It just didn't feel right somehow.

See how many people you can recognize in this video...

Saturday, December 5, 2009

They all looked the same!

It was snowing when we drove back from the theater tonight, the first of the season, apparently we are getting about 6 inches. It reminds me of a true story. My friend Lynne left work one evening after it had been snowing all day. The parking lot was full of cars covered in at least a foot of snow. A male collegue offered to clear Lynne's car for her, which she gladly accepted. So he set to it, using his snow shovel and brush. It was only when he was halfway though the task that Lynne had the embarrasing task of telling him that, unfortunately, this was not her car....oops!

Deck the halls with boughs of holly

Just finished putting up the second of our two Christmas trees. Every year until this one we have had an artificial tree in the family room, and a real one in the hallway. Last year however our real tree fell down, not once but twice; both times fully decorated, the second time taking our clock off the wall on the way down. So this year we are doing 2 artificial trees. Not quite the same as a real one, but gone are the days of the gold tinsel tree, they are pretty realistic now. Our new one even has teeny pine cones on it and a squirrel nesting at the top (OK, I exagerated about the squirrel). I've nearly done all my Christmas shopping and I have a total of 9 more days in work, so all I can say is "Fa,la,la,la,laaaa, la, la, la, la"

We had a (nut) crackin' time

I went with Emma to the Hanover Theater in Worcester tonight along with my neighbor and her daughter.We went to see that traditional Christmas ballet, the Nutcracker. I have never seen a ballet before, and it was quite entertaining and enjoyable. The music was fairly lighthearted, and the stage backdrops and the dancers costumes were very colorful so it was a delight to watch.

When the lead male dancer came on the girls cracked up laughing at the site of his almost transparent tights; They were so sheer you could see where he'd missed a bit while shaving his legs. "Mom!" exclaimed my friends daughter,"did you see the size of his pee-pee". She was right...I'm surprised he didn't topple over forwards, there was so much packed in there.

I thought it was particularly clever the way they had incorporated the music from adverts in the ballet. You know the one;
Everyone's a fruit and nut cake, crazy for those Cadburys nuts and raisins...

(OK, just kidding, I'm not that much of a culture heathen....)

Anyway, the question is, why is it called the Nutcracker? Is it because of the small guy in the red jacket with the large mouth? Or is it because of the lead male in tights - I'm telling you his buttocks were so tight he could've cracked a peanut between them....

Thursday, December 3, 2009

The challenge: is it a man or a woman?

Just watching an episode of University Challenge. There's a team on it from UCL (University College London) and the 'spokesperson' is called Woolley. I cannot for the life of me work out whether this person is a male or a female. His/her flowery dress and lipstick makes you think that he/she is a "she", but the deep voice, prominant Adams apple and obviously male chin make me think that he/she is in fact a "he". Its fascinating! I haven't paid attention to any of the questions yet, I've been too busy watching this person!

Blanche - RIP

I was very sad to hear that Maggie Jones, who plays Blanche Hunt in Coronation street, died yesterday. She was an excellent character with some superb cutting remarks usually aimed at her long suffering daughter Dierdre and Dierdre's husband Ken. Here's a few of her best one-liners (shamelessly stolen off the Coronation Street web tribute to Blanche):

Blanche: “Good looks are a curse, Deirdre. You and Kenneth should count yourselves lucky.”

Blanche telling Liz off for leaving her washing drying all over the sitting room. “Kenneth doesn’t want to stare at thongs all day. The man’s an intellectual!”

Ken has just got down on one knee to propose to Deirdre and she’s turned him down. Blanche says: “Well, if you leave it much longer he won’t be able to get up again!”

From the tribute by William Roache who plays Ken: I don’t think Maggie ever realised how much she was loved not only by everyone on the show but by the millions of Blanche fans out there. She will be greatly missed.

Here, here.