Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Garden Greens!

These are the first greens from my container garden ; watercress, radicchio, spinach and arugula.

They went into this delicious salmon sandwich on Terra Breads Pizza Bianco Bread (new and o so delicious)

Sunday, April 19, 2009

England 2009 Part 3

Saturday April 4th, we got up early, packed ourselves up for a day trip and headed out to the train station. The train to Warwick from Lapworth was a 12 minute ride and cost us 3.60GBP (wish I could figure out how to do a pound sign) round trip. While waiting on the platform for our train, a proper steam train sped through ~ so cool to see!

Once in Warwick, we hiked up the hill from the train station to the castle. I lived in England for a while and I have been to a lot of castles, but none of them were as intact as this one. Also, none of them charged as exorbitant a fee to get in (70$CAD for the two of us). It was worth it though. We passed an archer warming up for his daily show and then entered the main gate. Several hours were spent wandering through, around and up and down the castle, including a climb to the highest tower as well as a climb up to the oldest section of the castle.
Once we had exhausted ourselves with everything that Warwick Castle had to offer, it was time to find a bite to eat and then do some grocery shopping. We found a fancy pub just off the market square called the Rose and Crown. Rob had the seemingly inevitable fish and chips and I had a charcuterie board with some cheeses, meats, chutney and bread.
Everything was top notch, even the tartar sauce with Rob's fish and chips was obviously housemade (and very good).
As we enjoyed our lunch, we looked at the train schedule to return to Lapworth. Being a weekend, the train only ran every two hours so our window of opportunity was pretty small. After lunch we hit the Saturday Market, scoring some of the best (and cheapest) produce yet including my new favourite vegetable, purple sprouting. From there, it was on to Sainsburys for the basics. We wrapped up the shopping and noticed that we had exactly half an hour if we wanted to catch the next train. Thinking it was totally doable, we stepped up the pace, but my legs were not doing to well on the uphills after the 500 stairs climbed at the castle in the morning. Still, we tried. It was 13:58 as we arrived at the train station and watched a train pull away. You guessed it, the 13:59 that we wanted to catch, missed by literally 30 seconds. We found a nice quiet garden to sit in, enjoyed some ice cream and tried to keep the groceries in the shade until the next train.
Back at the boat, we unloaded and then cruised up the canal for an hour or so, found a turnaround point and tied up for the night.

THe next morning found us up and cruising back on to the Startford Canal where the locks going down seemed so much harder than that first day going up. We did get to cross two aqueducts, one very short, the other a little daunting for me in its length and height.
As we tried to tie up for the night in a beautiful section of the canal, we found we had run aground. Fortunately, we were in a spot we wanted to be in, so we just left it till morning ~ it only meant that the boat didn't rock every time one of us rolled over in bed...
Pushing off was easy in the morning and we continued our run down to Stratford. An older gentleman was running one lock ahead of us and doing it all singlehanded with a much larger boat than ours ~ I was so impressed.
Because of our early start, we were in Stratford by lunchtime and tied up just before the basin that leads to the river Avon, setting off on our mission to find a very rare landmark...... a laundromat! On the edge of downtown, we found one called Sparklean Landrette where we had the pleasure of paying 8GBP to wash our large load of laundry and 50p/minute to dry it. Time went fast as we chatted with a couple from New Zealand who were also on holiday before wandering off to find a butcher and a pint to kill the last few minutes.
The butcher talked us into some Old Spot pork chops and we decided to eat dinner in instead of trying out one of the 3 restaurants that were heartily reccommended to me...

Next time old friends, getting older, heading out on the river and much much more...

Friday, April 17, 2009

England 2009 Part 2

It is now Thursday April 2nd. We moored overnight near the town of Alvechurch, and in the morning we walked back into town to explore the local church, graveyard and butcher shop. Rob managed to score a beautifully aged spring lamb shoulder and then we returned to the boat. Or pace was much more leisurely than the first day, only 4 locks in the whole morning. Then I noticed Wast Hill tunnel on the map. I had to do a double take at the length ~ more than 2400 metres!!! That means 40 minutes underground, in the dark with only a weak headlamp and your interior lights to illuminate the situation. It was probably the least fun part of the whole trip. The ceiling constantly drips on you, the air is a little hazy from the diesel fumes of boats that were there before you...

Once we cleared the tunnel, we were on the distant suburbs of Birmingham. The canal was full of garbage, the occasional shopping cart and the views were none too picturesque. We waited until we were well away from the city before we stopped for a lunch of ham and mature cheddar sandwiches and beer looking out over the horses on Dickens Heath.

On with the day, we completed a few more locks before mooring for the day. Dinner was slow roasted lamb shoulder, minted potatoes and fresh peas.

The next morning, we decided we were going to change our plans slightly and veer off the Avon Ring briefly and onto the Grand Union, just for a few days. We tied up around lunchtime and walked into the village of Lapworth to get supplies. Everyone was so friendly; the owner of the village shop wanted to emigrate to Victoria, the woman working at the post office had to show me pictures of Grizzly bears from her recent trip to BC. We also scoped out the train station as our plan was to take the train the next morning to Warwick and visit the castle. Errands finished, we had a delicious lunch at the Navigation Inn, which featured a cozy fireplace. I had a ploughmans lunch and Rob had Fish and Chips.

After the hearty lunch, we needed some exercise, so I gambled a bit and used my canal map book to plan a trek to a local National Trust site, Baddesley Clinton.
We walked on a part of the Heart of England Way, a public right of way footpath that took us through farmers fields. The manor house and grounds were beautiful and the walk invigorating. Back to the boat and a simple supper of roast chicken legs, salad and potatoes.
Next time, Warwick Castle, missed trains and the ever exciting Laundrette....

Thursday, April 16, 2009

England 2009 Part 1

We arrived at Heathrow Airport 10:30 am on March 31st. A driver was there to meet us and he whisked us off to our B&B in Bromsgrove. Arriving at the Wellington Lodge at 12:30, we unloaded our bags, tipped the driver, waved him off and went to ring the bell. No answer. We are in the middle of a residential neighbourhood, no maps, no cell phone and no innkeeper. Also, no food and no toilet. After travelling for ten hours.... So we waited. And waited.

3:30pm, now almost 24 hours since we last slept, the car crunches into the gravel drive. Ros, our hapless host, is surprised to see us. "I wasn't expecting you till 4:30" she says. I am exhausted, so being nice is a challenge, but I do my best as I suggest that I may have made an email agreement with her for an early arrival, but perhaps there has been a misunderstanding. She immediately shows us to our (sumptuous) room and disappears. When I search her out to try and make a dinner plan, she is apologetic and completely mortified. Our email conversation had slipped under her radar. A taxi is arranged to a local pub serving food, she calls ahead to make sure that they actually are serving and we head off to find some eats. I can't say enough about how nice and friendly the driver was. But the good times were not to last. After being dropped off at the pub, Rob and I pushed our way inside and asked about having a bite to eat. "We don't serve food till 6" was the reply. I felt tears coming....
Another taxi was called and we ended up on the Bromsgrove high street. Our culinary options were seriously limited and we found ourselves at the Slug and Lettuce. I have no idea what I ate, Rob had fish and chips and we both had a pint ( Strongbow for me Guiness for him). The food was terrible, but the company was entertaining. I have to relate the conversation I had (remember, I am overtired, hungry and frustrated).

Bar Patron to me: "You look like you're from Redditch."
Me: "ummm, no, I am from a lot further away than Redditch"
"Really!! You look like you're from Redditch. Where are you from then?"
"Canada! Well, you look like you are from Redditch. Do you want to sit with us?"
"ummm no, I am actually here with someone." at this point I gesture to Rob sitting at the table.
"Oh, who's he?"
"my husband"
"really? is he from Canada too?"
"Well, he could sit with us too I guess."
Thank you, but we are really tired and wouldn't be any good for conversation."
"If you change your mind, we are sitting over there. You sure look like you are from Redditch..."

Back at the B&B, I was asleep before 6:30.

Up bright and early the next day, we enjoyed our full English Breakfast before taking a taxi to the Black Prince boatyard. The taxi driver was the same nice one we had from the day before. Our boat, Angela, was already for us and we got a quick tutorial from Tony the engineer before being turned loose on the unsuspecting English countryside.

Locks can be physically demanding to work and as I refused to drive the boat initially, I was stuck doing most of the grunt work. This would be a typical lock routine for me:
Check that the lock is in our favour. If it isn't, drain or fill lock as needed.
Open gates (gates could weigh anywhere from 1000 kilo to 4500 kilo, depending on their size).
Close gates after Rob pulls boat into lock.
Use my windlass to open paddles to drain or fill lock (this is a lot harder than it sounds, brute force was often required to get the paddles up)
Open top gate so that Rob can pull the boat out (see previous comment about weight of gates)
Close top gate behind him.
Repeat as needed. (after the first day, we had to rethink the routine so that Rob could help a little)
Our first day, we did roughly 37 locks. I spent more time on land than on the boat, as it is easier to walk from lock to lock when they are close together in a flight as they were that first day (Tardebigge flight and Stoke flight).
After finishing the lock push, we made our way through two tunnels and stopped at the town of Alvechurch around 5pm. Famished (breakfast was a long time and a lot of locks ago), we discovered the local pub didn't serve till six, so we hiked into the town centre first and bought some groceries for the next few days.
The pub meal was delicious, but I think the Strongbow went to my head a little faster than usual because I managed to throw some in my eye.... Don't ask.

Next installment: local butchers, simple lunches and the tunnel of terror, plus much much more....

Wednesday, April 01, 2009

First First Thursday Attempt (Failed)

This is prerecorded. As you read this, I am floating on a canal somewhere in England, exhausted from tackling the 34 locks of the Tardebigge flight

I am terribly addicted to thursday night smackdown. I love the way she writes, honest, funny and painful. Months ago, I had this great plan to play along with her First Thursday event. The challenge that month was to actually follow a recipe, no cheating, no tweaking. A REAL challenge for me!
I chose my Les Halles Cookbook. I have never cooked from it, although I do enjoy reading the recipes, and its about time I gave it a chance.
Today's recipe is palette de porc a la biere. I will be honest, I couldn't get a bone in pork shoulder. The recipe as written below is totally simplified from the book; I would recommend picking it up if you are interested in traditional recipes with an irreverent prose style.

Of course, I never got my @#$% together and here it is almost 3 months later and I am finally getting around to posting the results...

Palette de Porc a la biere

4 to 6 lb pork shoulder, bone in
salt and pepper
4 tbsp olive oil
2 tbsp butter
2 small onions
2 carrots
4 garlic cloves
2 tbsp flour
1/4 cup cider vinegar
12 oz beer
1 cup chicken stock
4 tbsp dijon
2 tbsp breadcrumbs

Season the pork and sear in 2 tbsp of oil and 2 tbsp butter. Discard the fat and add the remaining oil. Saute the vegetables until soft and slightly caramelised. Add flour, cook 2 minutes. Stir in Vinegar and beer and reduce by half, then add teh chicken stock and bring to a boil. Return pork to the pot and reduce heat to a simmer. Cover and cook for two hours or so.
Preheat the oven to 450F. Remove the pork from the pot and place on baking sheet. Brush with half the mustard, then press the breadcrumbs on. Brown for 15 minutes, then allow to rest for 5
Strain the cooking liquid into a sauce pan. Simmer about 15 minutes, check seaoning. Remove from heat, whisk in mustard and serve with the sliced pork.

Oh, and in case you were wondering, the results were delicious...