Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Where did this come from???

I looked outside the living room window yesterday and saw a strange object in our yard....
Upon closer inspection, I saw a large MUSHROOM and stump growing....
This mushroom really looks THAT large in person too.....
Now I just wonder why on earth it is growing in the middle of our yard!

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

From Scratch

One of the things about living abroad is the absence of familiar products and/or brands. The absence of these familiar sights particularly plays out for me most when shopping at the grocery store. I know I have posted before about having no brand loyalty or pre-conceived notion about which brand to buy here in the UK. (although now after a year of living here, I have become loyal to some UK brands I have to admit....)
The lack of familiar brands really is the lack of American specific goods. For example, certain brand of cake mixes, Cheez-Its, Velveeta, Jiffy Corn Muffin mix, Ranch dressing, etc. - are just not available over here. The question is - what to substitute when a recipe calls for Velveeta? Or when a recipe calls for one packet of Lipton Onion Soup mix? I still have not found an appropriate substitute for either of those two items. 

To be fair, I was never a pre-made cake mix or dinner kit kind of shopper in the US, so I knew I would not miss certain items when we moved here. However, in our last year of living in the US, I did become quite addicted to Trader Joe's and some of their "pre-made" products, including their Caesar Salad Dressing and their freshly made pizza dough. 

I was excited to recently find an American salad dressing for sale on the shelf of the grocery store (Caesar salad dressing with an American flag and all...) but I was quite disappointed when I made our dinner salad and tasted the dressing. It was not tasty!

So, I went back to basics and decided it was time to make Caesar salad dressing from scratch. It will probably be difficult to buy a bottle of the dressing off the shelf again because this home made version is really a winner in our house these days..... Courtesy of Ina Garten, here is the recipe:
  • 1-2 large garlic cloves
  • 2 tablespoons fresh flat-leaf parsley
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons anchovy paste
  • 1 teaspoons Dijon mustard
  • 1 1/2 tablespoons freshly squeezed lemon juice
  • 1/2 cup good mayonnaise
  • Romaine lettuce, chopped
  • Cherry tomatoes, sliced
  • croutons
  • Parmesan, shaved


Place the garlic and parsley in the bowl of a food processor fitted with a steel blade and process until minced. Add the anchovy paste, mustard, lemon juice, and mayonnaise and process again to make a smooth dressing. (Refrigerate the Caesar dressing if not using it immediately - I think it actually tastes better after it has been refrigerated for a while.)

Maybe by the time we move back to the US, I will be at 125% scratch cooking! Or....more likely I will have familiar products back at hand so I'll "cheat" and use them again every once in a while! 

Friday, September 25, 2009

Candy Bar Craving

Today I had a craving for a candy bar and I had to stop at the grocery store, so I decided to indulge and buy a candy bar treat for myself. Recently I had a meeting with this British lady who lives in the US and she was talking about how she missed WISPA bars by Cadbury. When I saw the Whispas on the shelf today, I thought I would give one a try. 
A WHISPA candy bar. 

The inside looks like a lot of little chocolate holes. It is called and "aerated milk chocolate bar" and by looking at the inside of it, you can see all of the holes there.
At first bite, I thought it was going to be crunchy, but it was not - just really aerated and a bit hollow on the inside. I would almost compare it to a 3 Musketeers in the US but without the goey-ness of the 3 Musketeers on the inside. It was pretty much just all milk chocolate in taste. It makes me anticipate all of the Halloween Candy that should be out in the US but of course is not out over here.....

Thursday, September 24, 2009

Ladies who brunch...

When we first moved here to the UK and I was not working, I thought I might relish in the opportunity to be one of the "ladies who lunches" because she has all of that extra time on her hands. As it turned out, I realized that I am not someone who enjoys so much extra time on my hands and I felt like I was lacking a purpose since I had nothing on my daily agenda. The excess of time made me a bit unproductive in many ways because I just had no sense of urgency for tasks since I had so much time to waste! 

Since I started working part-time last winter, my focus has shifted and I am back in a position where I am MUCH better at managing my time, and am able to spend my free time doing things I enjoy. The majority of the other American wives over here do not work, so on my days off I will sometimes do things with either the American Club or just the other ladies in the area. Yesterday I decided to host a brunch at my house since I like to entertain and since the mornings tend to be the best time to see the ladies who have small children in school during the day. I used the homemade frozen potato hash browns that I conquered early in the week and I think the potato casserole was the hit of the brunch!
Here are a few photos since I am a nut and take pictures of my set tables and often times food....
The coffee service tray. It was the first time I used this beautiful monogrammed silver tray we had received as a wedding gift. I did not bring many of our wedding gifts over with us but I sure was glad to use this one. It made such a pretty display for the sugar & cream! I also used the new silver sugar holder (an England antique store find!), my Emma Bridgewater Heart Set, and my new pretty heart hammered tea spoons. 
Can you tell I was excited about it?!?!?
The fruit platter. Nothing fancy but I had fun displaying the cut-up fruit in a design!
The brunch table set and ready for the guests to start eating (minus the potato casserole which was still cooking in the oven)! On the menu was: Ham & Swiss Quiche; Mushroom, Pepper & Cheddar Quiche; Crunchy Potato Casserole; Cranberry Muffins; Chocolate Chip Scones; Orange-Almond Poppy Seed Bread; Pumpkin Gingerbread; Fresh Fruit; Orange Juice and Coffee

Monday, September 21, 2009

You Say Potato....

I say my mom is the best sleuth and my hero! Ok, that's not quite the rhyme that comes to mind, but it is the truth today.
I am hosting a little brunch this week for some American ladies at my house and I wanted to make this potato casserole dish of my grandmother's as one of the side dishes for the meal. It is a pretty standard cheese/potato/cream of (your choice) soup/cornflake topping all American potato dish. So, as I was preparing my menu and grocery list this weekend, I saw frozen hash brown potatoes on there. I thought to myself that I had not purchased such an item since we have been living over here, so I best check to see if the product is even available. 
After three grocery store visits (Waitrose, Sainsbury's, and Tesco), no frozen hash brown potato cubes were to be found. Mind you, I found aisles of frozen chips (aka french fries) in about 20 different varieties but no potato cubes! So, I googled my options and did not find a suitable substitute for the American version of frozen hash brown cubes.

I phoned my mother to consult. She said she was headed to the grocery store in the US and would take a look at the frozen potato section there. Upon her return she let me know that she could not find much information on the bags of the potatoes, so she took it upon herself and emailed the Ore-Ida potato manufacturer to find out if the potatoes are cooked before they are frozen, if they have special seasoning, etc. Then, this afternoon, I received an email from my mom saying she had called Ore-Ida and asked to speak to someone in their product department. She consulted a product specialist and he said that the potatoes they sell in the US are flash-cooked in hot water between 180-190 degrees for 3 minutes before they are flash frozen and packaged for sale (no seasoning). He said I could probably just use raw potatoes in the casserole, but htat it might be better to cook them a little in boiling water or in a skillet, just to soften them a bit. 
I had to chuckle to myself because I am not sure I would have taken the step to actually call the company to consult with a product specialist about frozen potatoes but of course my mother did because she is the best sleuth out there! 

And now, on to the making of "Frozen Hash Browns" over here in the UK:
I purchased a very large bag of baking potatoes, peeled them, and chopped them into cubes. 
I then boiled them in 180 degree (F) water for 3 minutes as the man at Ore-Ida suggested.
After I drained the potatoes from the water, I let them dry out a bit on paper towels.
I then "flash froze" batches of them in a single layer on a cookie sheet in the freezer.
After the potato cubes were frozen, I measured them out into bags of 4 cups each (approximately 20 ounces of potatoes - bags in the US are sold in 32 ounces at the moment, but my recipe calls for 20 ounces so I wanted to have an extra supply for the recipe I will be making) and then I put them back in the freezer until they will be needed later this week. 
I will report back on how this home made version of the frozen hash brown works later in the week, post-brunch.

Saturday, September 19, 2009


Wandering the aisles of Sainsbury's this past week, I stumbled upon this display. How can it already been time to display Christmas cakes??? Furthermore, who will eat one of these cakes when December arrives....only after it has been sitting on the shelf at the grocery for over 4 months!?!?!? 
Note to self: Politely refuse a store bought Christmas Cake if offered a piece by anyone this upcoming holiday season.

Sunday, September 13, 2009

A Sunny Saturday in London

The weather here in England was fantastic this past weekend. What a nice treat! On Saturday, I celebrated a special birthday and so Scott & I decided to spend the day in London. With the weather being near perfect, the day was one of the most enjoyable we have had thus far. We took the train into the city and then hit our favorite lunch spot, La Fromagerie.  
In front of La Fromagerie. 
Our DELICIOUS lunch - the cheese platter of the day, the meat platter and a special salad along with some celebration beverages! 
We spent the afternoon wandering around the city and doing a bit of shopping. We ended up in the Notting Hill neighborhood and I wanted to explore the Saturday market at Portobello Road. Scott was a sport and let me browse until my heart was content! 
In the middle of the Portobello Road market, hunting for antiques.
After the shopping, we met some friends who live in London for drinks and dinner. We landed by chance at an American diner in Notting Hill - LUCKY 7 DINER - and the burgers were excellent! The restaurant even had root beer and real KRAFT American cheese singles on the menu. What a find. 
Scott (sporting his post-vacation look still) and me at dinner. Yes, that's a milkshake in the photo!
Scott was very sneaky and arranged for our friends to pick up some cupcakes from a great bakery, The Hummingbird Bakery, to dinner for my birthday. The red velvet and carrot cake were the best! 

Wednesday, September 9, 2009


Since we flew Emirates Airlines to the Maldives, we had to connect through their main hub, Dubai. Emirates allows passengers on their flights to stop over in Dubai without extra costs or penalties, so we decided to break up our return flight home and stayed over in Dubai for 3 days. Dubai was not really on our list of places to see (on its own) but since we had to connect through there, we decided to take the opportunity to see why everyone talks about this booming city in the middle of the desert.

Thoughts about Dubai include:
- Desert
- Man made attractions
- Construction EVERYWHERE
- Lots of Traffic

It was surely interesting to see this city but I am not sure we are in any rush to return. Our visit was probably not timed the best, as we were there during the middle of Ramadan. Since the country is a muslim country, out of respect to the locals (and by local law for that matter) we were required to follow local rules, such as no drinking or eating in public during day light hours. Imagine being outside in the middle of a 104 degree desert and not being able to walk around with a bottle of water so you can stay hydrated....this was the scenario we experienced! 
We were allowed to eat and drink as normal on our resort grounds, but we really wanted to explore the city since we had just spent a week on a small island. We did get to see quite a bit of the city but we tried to do as much as we could at night so we could bring a bottle of water with us since it was after sun down!  
The baggage claim area at Dubai's International Airport. It was the LARGEST and most beautiful baggage claim area we have ever seen! I will say that Dubai's Airport is AMAZING and I would fly back through there anytime. They have basically a full mall inside the airport that is top notch and also has great dining options. 
The sights of Dubai - construction, construction, construction everywhere!
More construction....buildings going  up everywhere...
Cranes, Cranes and more Cranes....
The view of our resort (The Westin - very nice!) from our room. 
More of the view from our hotel balcony - the Atlantis Hotel in the distance - hard to see the hotel because of the heat during the day.
Another shot of the view from our room - the Palm Islands is part of this view.
Guidelines for Ramadan given to us upon arrival at our our hotel. Lots of "do not"'s for the month long holiday. 
Because it was SO HOT outside in Dubai, we figured we would go spend some time indoors at the Mall of the Emirates. Dubai has a few very large malls - the Mall of the Emirates is one of them - and it is not only huge but a fabulous mall. They have US, UK, French, local and more stores within the mall - a shopping paradise really. Since we were there on a weekend and the mall is air-conditioned, the place was hopping. However, it was very odd to be in a mall and see no one eating or drinking in any capacity. Even in the air-conditioned mall, we were quite parched and ready to go back to our resort after about 2 hours without any water!
The indoor ski slope. Lifts, skiing and all inside this area. I think due to Ramadan, the ski place was really dead.
The completely empty food court area at the Mall of the Emirates - a strange sight! 
The world's tallest building - the Burj Dubai. 
One evening we went to the "old" part of Dubai - the gold souk and spice souk markets. We purposely went after sundown so we could bring a bottle of water with us. Despite the sun being down, it was still stifling hot! We started looking around in the gold souk area. 
A store front of the gold souk market. LOTS of bangles and gold everywhere!
A row of stalls in the spice souk area of the market. 
Spices were on display outside each stall in big plastic bags. It smelled quite nice!
I had Scott take a photo of me while we were at the outdoor souk area but this photo doesn't even show how HOT and gross we both were after dark. The heat in Dubai was just terrible. Clearly we chose the wrong month in which to visit! 
I just thought this was an odd only seen in the middle east. 
One last view of the city in the middle of the desert - Dubai - from the air. 
Emirate is a fantastic airline. If you have the chance to fly them, do! Even economy was an incredible treat. Not only do you have your own personal video system with OVER 1,000 choices of on-demand entertainment, but they serve a proper afternoon tea on long haul flights. Scones with clotted cream, tea or coffee, tea sandwiches and cake. It was great!
Time to go least we had a great time flying Emirates so we had plenty occupy us on the flight home. 

Monday, September 7, 2009

A Vacation in Paradise

We have returned from a true vacation in paradise. We spent a week in the Maldives on the island of Komandoo in the Northern Atolls, and it was pure heaven! There really isn't too much to see with these photos aside from a lot of beach photos and some stunning sunsets. We spent a week just relaxing and enjoying the beauty of the island and the Indian Ocean. 
Ironically upon our return home to the UK, the newest issue of a travel magazine was waiting for us and it lists the Maldives as one of the top 10 beaches to see in the world. We couldn't agree MORE! The sea plane flight we took from Male to our island was amazing - the sights of the various atolls down below looked like little dots in the middle of the ocean. It was a great getaway and one I am sure we will not forget! Hopefully the sun and warmth will reach you through these photos...
Upon our arrival in the main capital, Male, we then took a van to get to the sea plane area, which we took to our island resort. 
When we were up in the air, we could see the "proper" runway on which we landed on from our mainland flight from Dubai. 
The sea plane we took from Male to our island. It was an interesting and cramped ride....
Scott on the sea plane. Can you tell how close we were due to the small plane? Note the jet-lag but we were both excited to get to our final destination! 
We could see the cockpit and the pilots up close during our ride! 
The plane's air conditioning...
A few of the atolls we passed during our flight.
Another atoll with vegetation on it. 
There were so many atolls - they were all just a bit different. 
A small local island we flew over, with local inhabitants. 
When we arrived at the island of Komandoo, the plane landed next to a raft in the middle of the ocean (pretty far away from the island). We then de-boarded the plane and stood on this "raft" while our luggage was unloaded on to it as well. A boat from the island then pulled up on the other side of this raft to take us up to the island. 

The sea plane pilots were flying barefoot! 
Another photo of this "raft." It was not really my favorite experience.
Scott on the boat from the raft towards our island.
The Island of Komandoo
The sight we saw as we walked from our boat along the boardwalk towards the resort. The hut is the island's bar. 
Upon arrival, there was a team of staff waiting for us, and playing a musical welcome with drums in the reception area. 
Welcome drinks! 
The reception area - sand floors! 
The boardwalk onto the island from where we arrived. 
A view of the bar and ocean from the reception hut/area. 

Scott in front of our beach villa. 
The view from the porch of our beach villa.
The inside of our beach villa. 
The outdoor bathroom. I was a bit shocked by this at first - once you stepped out into the bathroom there was no air conditioning! 
The sink area in the outside bathroom. There was an overhang that covered this area in case it rained. 
We had a jacuzzi area outside with this chaise type bed under the hut and next to it was a jacuzzi tub - again, all outside. 
The beach view from our villa on our side of the island.
Baby sharks! We saw them in the water daily. I was quite paranoid about them at first but they really didn't bother us if we were in the water. 
More baby sharks swimming around close to the shore. They would swim up to the very edge of the water towards the sandy beach. 
Scott on the side of our beach villa, in front of the porch. 
We watched the sunsets every evening. Here was the view from our porch.
Scott taking a wander towards the ocean during the sunset. 
Getting ready to watch another evening sunset on the beach. 
In the mornings, this was our view from the villa. (shades did not really seem to be that private! However it was such a quiet island and everyone had their own view of the sea, so we did not see many people wandering by during the early morning or evening hours)
Scott walking to a meal on the inside of the island. 
Another boardwalk on a different side of the island.
Our meal time view looking outside. 
More scenes from the island.
A view of the over-water villas at the resort. 
Getting ready for time at the beach! It's hard to tell where the sand ends and ocean begins here...
The water was so clear! I could look down and see my feet without any problems - perfect for snorkeling. 

Scott enjoyed every bit of the snorkeling on our trip. I enjoyed it too but didn't last nearly as long as he could every day as he swam around the island to explore the reef that was just 20 feet out from the shore. 
All geared up and ready for a snorkel adventure. 
Off he goes...
And I turned around and saw this sight of the beach and the villas from the water, and turned back to shore. 

The meals at the resort were nice. By the end of the week we were tired of eating because we felt like we had eaten such big meals for breakfast, lunch and dinner every day. The restaurant had a sand floor as well so no shoes were needed anywhere on the island! 
Scott using the cool towel they provided before a meal. We were spoiled with the nice service touches such as the cool towels before every meal and even sometimes on the beach. 
Enjoying another long lunch! 
Scott at dinner one evening being silly with his napkin. 

Getting ready to kayak. The resort had a few kayaks and we took them out to paddle around. 
Scott heading for another snorkel. 
I moved my chair into the water so I could sit there for a while. It was heaven! 
And then retiring on the beach during sunset for some relaxation. 

Dinner outside on the patio one night. 
A pelican found its way onto the porch to check out the water bucket, intended to clean off our sandy feet before entering the villa. 
Sights around the island...

We watched a storm roll in towards us one afternoon. Luckily we only had one afternoon of rain. We checked into the spa that afternoon to pass the time. 

An attempt at a self-portrait photo while kayaking around the island. Can you tell Scott did most of the work? 
Scott watching for the baby sharks....or maybe he's looking for shells. 
Outside our beach villa. 
Scott heading out on the boardwalk to watch a sunset. 
Watching the sunset at the end of the pier on the boardwalk. 
Our sea plane waiting for us for our departure home. :( 
The raft again. 
This man was on our sea plane ride and he stood on the side of the plane to untie the rope that was holding the plane to the "raft" and then would jump back into the plane once we were moving. I would not want his job! 
The island of KOMANDOO, our resort, from the air. It was a beautiful place! In this photo you can see the reef area around the entire island which is where we would snorkel right off the shore. 
Another atoll along the way back towards Male. 
Scott as we are about to board our plane to leave the Maldives and head to Dubai. What a great vacation we had!