Saturday, January 29, 2022

Looking back at 2021 is tough as it was filled with a never-ending lockdown in the United Kingdom and several losses.

Volunteering, sourdough baking, making restaurant meal kits and cooking helped fill the voids, but those were temporary fixes. Losing a loved one is always difficult.

2021 started with Britain officially leaving the European Union, and some crazy Americans storming the U.S. capitol 2 weeks before U.S. President Joe Biden took office.

We celebrated Biden’s inauguration from London with homemade hamburger buns, hamburgers, mac-n-cheese from a box and freshly baked apple pies.



Another Zoom cooking class from Africa to London.

On March 26th, we celebrated another wedding anniversary in lockdown by cooking up a Caribbean feast at home. We made jerk chicken and Jamaican peas and rice. Hey, might as well try to “travel” somewhere, right?

The UK lockdown dragged on until April 12th when pubs and restaurants with outdoor seating could FINALLY reopen – after being closed since mid-December 2020. On April 12th, I also received my second Covid-19 vaccine that day, and we left London as fast as we could. We were itching for a break from the city, so we hired a car and headed to North Yorkshire for almost 2 weeks. Our holiday was filled with long walks and afternoon/early evening pub visits so long as we were fully bundled up in layers. It was pretty chilly out.

You don’t realize how much of your UK life revolves around the pub until you can’t go anymore. Not that we were total boozers, but we often went on long walks or bike rides on the weekends and then stopped at a local pub for a drink and food.

During our Yorkshire staycation, the locals at the Fox & Hounds Inn in the wee village of West Witton made us feel welcome.

At the end of April, we had a family emergency in the US and we flew back for nearly a month. It was a very sad and devastating time for us all.

Summer 2021

The summer of 2021 was filled with many summer BBQs with friends in London, fine dining experiences and as many English side trips we could fit in…because it was to be our last summer in London.

In June, we visited Stonehenge and, on the drive, back to London, we booked a tour at the Bombay Sapphire Distillery. Living in the UK for five years taught me to enjoy gin. Sitting in the sunshine enjoying our gin cocktails and eating a picnic box filled with local cheeses and charcuterie felt like perfection!


Having been deprived of restaurants for so many months, we decided to treat ourselves to a few Michelin-starred lunches and dinners.

We booked a belated birthday lunch at Marcus where we enjoyed 3 courses for £55. Highlights were English asparagus with roasted chicken fat mayonnaise, roasted salmon with Cornish new potatoes and a buttermilk panna cotta with cherries for dessert.

Then, we joined our Turkish friends at Murano, Chef Angela Harnett’s one-Michelin starred restaurant in Mayfair, for a fabulous five-course dinner. Highlights included crispy veal sweetbread with artichoke and fennel, risotto with summer truffles and a perfectly-cooked beef fillet with bone marrow and black garlic.

In July, we managed to squeeze in one last trip to Scotland to sightsee and visit our friends in the Scottish Highlands. On our first night, we stayed in a 19th-century manor house that looked like a castle called the Kincraig Castle Hotel, just north of Inverness. Our lovely dinner included local scallops with pickled samphire and roast apple, Scottish lamb with watercress pesto and local cheeses for dessert. Delicious!

At the end of July, my husband moved back to the US to start his new job, I stayed on in London to wrap up our international move and to spend more time with friends. I was reluctant to leave. We had lived abroad for 11 years and now we were returning to the US. I felt like a foreigner in both places, but London had been my “home” for the last five years.

One special goodbye lunch was with my pastry girlfriend the elegant Hélène Darroze, a three-Michelin starred restaurant at The Connaught Hotel. There were too many dishes to remember, but highlights included my main of roasted Welsh lamb and the desserts. Dining here is a definitely an experience that you won’t forget!

TIP: Often, fine dining restaurants like the ones I’ve mentioned offer incredible lunch deals, which are usually a fraction of the cost of dinner. Also, look for special menus posted on restaurant’s websites or through reservations sites such as Opentable.

Looking back, I had a lot of delicious meals with good friends during my last few weeks in London. Whether we were having sushi, fancy cocktails or market hall lunches or country-side pub lunches, it all seemed special.

Moving back to the U.S.

At the end of August, I said a tearful goodbye to the good friends I stayed with my last week in London and joined my husband in Charlotte, North Carolina. I’ve written about NC before on the blog because that’s where my in-laws live. Since we’ve lived outside of the U.S. for 11 years, we decided that was probably time to live closer to family for a while.

So far, Charlotte seems like an alright place to live for a few years. The metropolitan population is around 2.6 million people, so it’s a small city for us. We’re having fun checking out the local breweries and restaurants. Two dining highlights from 2021 revolved around smoked meat. Since we’re in the South, we’re taking advantage of all the really good barbecue joints.

In October, we dined at Supperland, an old church that’s been converted to a barbecue restaurant, for hubby’s birthday. Highlights included grilled oysters with burnt ember butter that was poured out a ceramic teapot (outstanding!), charred broccoli with bone marrow butter and grilled lamb neck. We’ll definitely be dining here again.

That same weekend, we also had a friend visiting us from Austin, Texas, who had read about a popular barbecue place about 45 minutes outside of Charlotte. Jon G’s Barbecue, located in the rural town of Peachland, is only open on Saturdays and serves BBQ until it runs out. We arrived at 9:30 a.m. with our camping chairs and cooler in tow. This was one of the strangest, but also coolest things we had done all for the sake of good food.

Basically, everyone hangs out in an orderly line, talking to your neighbors and then you get to order your BBQ. We waited in line a little over 2 hours, but so far, this has been the best damned BBQ that I’ve ever had. We ordered a little bit of everything off the menu – pulled pork, smoked turkey breast, homemade sausages, mouthwatering brisket and side dishes. Even the “cowboy candy” – jalapeno slices cooked in simple syrup – was a delight!

Well, 2021 was an interesting year – filled with a lot of highs and lows due to the ongoing pandemic. I’m hoping that 2022 will be a little bit kinder to us and that we’ll continue to eat well. 

 

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Thursday, December 30, 2021

Earlier this month, I tried to get in a festive mood and check out some local gingerbread creations. 

The Ballantyne Hotel hosted its annual Gingerbread Lane event which featured handmade gingerbread houses made by local children and amateur and professional adults. to view an enchanting display of gingerbread creations from Friday,  Attendees could vote on their favorite entries with $1 minimum donation per vote. All proceeds will benefit Atrium Health Levine Children’s Hospital (LCH).

Two of my favorites were a Dr. Seuss-looking tree house as well as a pink confection reminiscent of an old English house. Here are some photos for your enjoyment. Maybe next year I'll get motivated enough to make my own gingerbread house. 

Tuesday, November 30, 2021

For the past decade, I have usually celebrated Thanksgiving with friends in Istanbul, Warsaw, Germany or Melbourne. But this year was the first time in about seven years that we actually celebrated this American holiday with our family in the U.S.
In August, we re-patted to America to make a new home in North Carolina. Hubby's new job took us here, and we also chose the location because his family lives in the same state. I'm very thankful we got to eat a celebratory meal together, but it also felt a bit strange. I feel like part of me is still missing. London was a huge part of our lives for five years, and now it's not. 

I guess I shouldn't dwell on what was, but there are a lot of emotions during the holidays. And lots of food as well.

Tuesday, August 31, 2021

Since living in Istanbul for three years, I’ve enjoyed cooking Turkish food usually once or twice a week at latest home in London.

 

Sometimes, I need to find some special ingredients or Turkish products that I enjoy using such as Turkish olive oil, beyaz peynir, pomegranate molasses, spices etc. Fortunately, we actually do have two small Turkish markets in our neighborhood of Battersea where we live. One of the owners even proudly displays a Turkish flag in his small shop.

 

But awhile back, I decided to venture out to a special Turkish market called Cheam Arena, located in North Cheam, about an hour south of where we live by bike. This store also is close to the London neighborhoods of Morden, Kingston and Epsom. My Turkish friend, Ozlem of Ozlem’s Turkish Table, had recommended going to Cheam Arena. But if you don’t live in this area and don’t own a car, then it’s not so easy to reach.

Store front of Cheam Arena in London
Bodrum brand Turkish products

But during the past year of the pandemic, I’ve biked my way around a lot of places in London, so I loaded up my bike with my paniers and went shopping. The first thing I noticed when I arrived at Cheam is that a lot of the produce was a bit cheaper than my part of London. For example, lemons cost 5 for 1 pound in Cheam vs 2 for 1 pound in Zone 2 London. The only way I can buy cheaper lemons or any produce is the Saturday street market on Battersea High Street.

 

lemons and limes

But Cheam Arena also sold special produce like sivri biber and dolma biber (great for stuffing), which I don’t often see in more central London.

Turkish sivri and red peppers

The lovely produce alone is enough to make the trek down here.

 

But inside the store, there are tons of other Turkish products that I like such as sucuk, cheeses, less expensive pine nuts and pistachios and olive oil (1 litre for 6 pounds). I also couldn’t resist the freshly baked baklava section and the tubs of olives. Yum!

By the time, I left the store, my backpack was stuffed and so were my paniers. My bike definitely weighed more going back home. I mean, check out my amazing haul!

 Turkish products in London
With all these delicious ingredients, I couldn’t resist putting together a favorite Turkish recipe: 

Ozlem’s Lamb kebabs with pistachios. I served the kebabs with some roasted vegetables and a Turkish-style tomato-herbed salad. If you can find inexpensive, preshelled pistachios, then the recipe comes together more easily.

Turkish pistachio kebabs

Afiyet olsun!


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Saturday, May 29, 2021

Another sign of spring in London usually happens in mid-April, but the year because of our colder than usual spring, English bluebells didn’t start appearing until early May.

Bluebells are native to western Europe, with the United Kingdom being having the densest population.

·       Did you know that nearly half of the world’s population of bluebells is found in the U.K.?

 

·       But please do not pick or step on the bluebells as they are a protected species.

 

·       Also, according to the National Trust, it can take 5-7 years for bluebells to bloom.

Here are a five spots south of the Thames River where you can find pretty bluebells in London.

 

Kew Gardens

A seasonal favorite of mine is Kew Gardens. Thanks to our annual membership, we visit here often. In March and most of April, we visited the gardens nearly every weekend. Finally, on April 27th, I started seeing bluebells on the western side of the gardens and in the woodlands surrounding Queen Charlotte’s Cottage.


Battersea Park

Close to home for us is Battersea Park. Because of Covid restrictions, we’ve spent a lot of time walking, jogging or cycling through the park this past year. You’ll find most of the bluebells near the southwest entrance into the park.

There's another special spot for bluebells at St. Mary's Cemetery in Battersea. I was cycling past here and could see the vibrant bluebells from the road.


Wandle River

I think I’ve cycled more this past year than I ever had in my life. When you spend most of the year either unemployed or furloughed, you find yourself with a lot of free time. The Wandle River is actually a tributary of the Thames in southwest London and actually has a pretty nice cycle/walking path that runs for 12.5 miles, starting near Wandsworth and leading south to East Croydon.

Back in its industrial heyday, the Wandle River was the “hardest working river in London,” with more than 900 mills along its banks. You can still find two water wheels near Merton Abbey Mills and in Morden Hall Park. You’ll find quite a few bluebells in boths of these locations.

Near the end of the Wandle Valley Park trail, you may find some more bluebells near Carshalton Ponds. 


Lesnes Abbey

Aftter living in London for nearly five years, I finally made it over to Lesnes Abbey, a 12th-century monastery founded east of Greenwich. The ruins of this medieval Augustinian abbey stand near the south bank of the Thames and was one of the first places suppressed by Carnidal Wolsey on behalf of King Henry VIII in 1525.

Behind the abbey site is a large area of woodland known as Lesnes Abbey Wood, created from the medieval monastic parkland. This is by far the most impressive area of wooded bluebells that I have ever seen in London. Mark your calendars to see the bluebells here next spring!

From central London, take the train from London Bridge rail station to Abbey Wood and walk to the parkland.

Wimbledon Park

I wasn’t able to get to Wimbledon Park this year, but in the past, I’ve spotted bluebells while walking through the wooded areas. You can’t miss them, but please don’t step on the bluebells.

 

Where is your favorite area to find English bluebells in London or elsewhere in the UK?


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