Friday, November 28, 2008

Thankgiving in London

Shaun carving the bird

Just some of the many sides including my homemade cranberry sauce
The Bird

We are very thankful that yesterday we were able to attend a wonderful Thanksgiving dinner! Hosted by Tamara and Shaun at their beautiful home in Kingston, dinner was a typical Thanksgiving feast with turkey and all the trimmings. I think there was at least one full dish per person! Oh, did I mention the 7 pies (and cookies)?! Although we missed our families and friends back home, it was great to celebrate the holiday with a large group (I think there were 12 of us!). We had an incredible evening of eating, drinks, and converstaion! I even watched my first NFL game of the season via slingbox.
Tomorrow, we are off to the Canary Islands, a small group of island just 80 miles from Africa. We are looking forward to some sun and warm weather. Stay tuned for details and pics of our trip!

Thursday, November 27, 2008

Happy Thankgiving (and Birthdays)

It is early on Thankgiving morning and instead of sleeping in and enjoying the laziness of the day, Jignesh is getting ready for work! I have to admit that it is hard to be so far away from home the holidays...especially one that is not celebrated here. Turkey Day has always been one of my favorites holidays as it is about spending time with family and friends without the fuss and stress of giftgiving. Although we are getting together with some American friends this evening for a traditional Thankgiving meal (I am in charge of cranberry sauce and a veggie dish) there is just not the same feeling in the air. There is no talk of Thanksgiving travel and grocery stores are not filled with turkey trimming displays. There is no Macy's day parade or football previews. And all of those store advertisements are non-existent.

Yes, there are many things I am going to miss about today (arguing over Scrabble with Jen, running with Lauren, watching football with Dad, and pulling out the Christmas decorations with Mom) but I am still extremely thankful for so much in my life. Jignesh and I both have amazing families that we love and cherish. We have been given an opportunity to explore a different part of the world! Most of all, we have each other. Oh, and don't forget about our son! We are simply very lucky for all things that we have in life and this is the time to recognize and remember that.

To all our friends and family who are spread throughout the world, we want to wish you all very happy Thankgiving! Have a wonderful day and enjoy this time with each other. We love and miss you all!

Ok, now there are couple of turkey babies out there that need some special mention. My older sister Lauren, Jignesh's brother-in-law Bob, and our good friend Eyal (whew...there must be something in the water 9 months before this day!) will all be celebrating their birthdays today. Lauren is currently living in Ecuador as a Peace Corp volunteer so I have no idea how she will celebrate Turkey Day or her birthday. Maybe she will get a marriage proposal or two?! Bob will be having a huge gathering in Chicago with family and friends! I am sure that Eyal will be enjoying the day with family as well. Happy Birthday to you all. Cheers!

Sunday, November 23, 2008

Conversation Overheard on the Underground

Using public transportation, you see and hear just about everything! Here is a recent conversation that Jiggy recently overheard on a crowded lift (elevator) leading to the exit of the Belsize Park (a nice but not posh area of London) underground station.

Young, attractive woman: "Why do we have to live here? This area is such a dump."

Old, white-haired partner (spouse) of young woman: "This is one of the top areas in all of London!"

Woman (with frustration and disgust): "No it's not you bloody moron!"

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Chili for Dummies

Over the past few weeks, Jignesh has had a craving for chili. If we were in the US, I probably would have driven to one of the 5 gigantic grocery stores within 1 mile of my house and picked up some fresh chili from the salad bar or headed to a reliable restaurant like Panera Bread. Being that there are very few big grocery stores and none of them have salad bars (yet alone fresh Brits even know what chili is?), that was not an option. Growing up, my family never ate chili and I have always been somewhat scared and skeptical of it...scared of the taste, scared of the ingredients, and definitely scared of cooking it. I was secretly hoping Jignesh would forget about this chili idea but after he mentioned it several times, I knew that I was going to have overcome my fears and make the darn stuff. Unlike my Mom, I cannot just look in the refrigerator and throw together a tasty meal with whatever happens to be laying around. Ok, let's just lay it out there...I am not a good cook or even a cook at all. I am usually rely on ready made (but healthy) meals. I will even admit that I have arrived at more than one potlock with with a store bought dish that has been transferred to a personal serving dish and then passed off as my own cooking! Needless to say, I was quite daunted by this task. After finding a healthy recipe on the internet that seemed somewhat simple, I dragged Jignesh to the grocery store to help me collect all the ingredients (Is celery seeds the same as celery salt?). 45 minutes and 40 gpb ($60.00) later, we emerged with a plethora of ingredients (What I am going to do with the rest of those cumin seeds or 3 extra hot peppers?) and hauled them home. Not wanting to mess up the recipe, I followed the instructions word by word and measured everything with the careful eye of a scientist. I even researched the proper way to cut an onion and mince garlic (gotta love the internet). Well, the result was surprisingly easy and successful! Although there did seem to be too much meat (umm... maybe I did not convert my kilograms to pounds correctly) and not enough zip (maybe I should have used those other peppers afterall), Jignesh gave it a thumbs up (or maybe the gobs of cheese on top masked the real taste) and I have to admit that I am quite proud of myself. I even have some ideas on how I can tweak the recipe for improvement! Since I have more free time here, I am definitely going to try and expand my cooking skills. Who knew that moving all the way to London with a kitchen the size of my bathroom back home would inspire me to cook? If you have any good recipes with 10 ingredients or under (little steps at a time folks), then pass them along!


Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Short Days, Chilly Nights

When we decided to make the move to London, one of the first things that our good friends (we miss you Lewis and Minde!) warned us about was the short winter days. At the time, I did not think much about it and was more concerned with other things. I am now discovering what all the fuss is about. While the sun still rises fairly early in the morning (something that I am told will change), it does get dark very early in the day. Today, it looked
like midnight by 4:45pm! I have been further warned that as December and January approach that time is only going to become earlier. It is hard seeing the light disappear so early in the day. It is difficult to motivate yourself to participate in afternoon/evening activities. At 7:00pm, my mind and body want to go to bed instead of to running club or out for a bite to eat. As you can see in the picture above, we have even had our first winter snowfall. Snow is actually not all that common in London but I was delighted to discover a good 1/2 inch one late October evening (this as the first snow London as seen seen in October since 1936) as I let Schlopy out before bed. Those of you living in Chicago or Boston may think I am crazy but I actually enjoy snow. Mabye it is because I have been living in the warm climates of Charlotte and San Diego for the past 5+ years but I love big, wet flakes as they blanket the ground. I love the sound of fresh snow crunch as you walk along the streets. I love the look of a fresh snowfall void of footprints and tire marks. I can even live with chilly temperatures. I have no problem throwing on a winter coat and scarf (a must in London, both for fashion and warmth!) and trudging through the rain. I, however, am quickly learning that I do not like short days. Winter has hardly even began and I am already wondering when Spring will arrive!


Wednesday, November 5, 2008

A Few More Pics from Belgium

The Burg, Brugge

The Grand Place at Night

The Manneken Pis

The Royal Palace

Monday, November 3, 2008

A Weekend of Chocolate, Beer, and Waffles

The Burg, Brugge

Another Belgian Speciality

Chocolate, Chocolate, and more Chocolate

Add Image The Grand Place, Brussels

This weekend we escaped London and headed to Belgium. Our trip started with an early morning ride on the Eurostar. This was our inagurual ride on the Eurostar and we were quite impressed with the ease and comfort of the train. The only bump in the ride was a minor disagreement with some coffee that caused me to walk around Belgium all weekend with coffee stained coat. While there is some security, the procedures are not nearly as complex and frustrating as the airlines. There are no limits on baggage and all your luggage is stored near your seat. The loading and unloading time is minimal and there are no annoying safety speaches! Reaching speeds of 186 mph, the Eurostar delivered us to Brussels in just over 2 hours. It is amazing to think that we crossed the English Channel on a train.

After a short nap (we did get up at 4:30am!) and a quick lunch, we headed out to explore Brussels. After passing about 50 chocolate shops and just as many waffle stands, we finally found our way to the Grand Place. The Grand Place is the focal point of the city with a large square sourrounded by rows of former guildhouses. As we start to travel more, I become more aware of architecture and am quite impressed with many of the Eropean just don't find buildings like these in the States! These particular guildhouses were built in the Flemish Renaissance style of the late 16th and early 17th centuries (according to our trusty guide book). Needing a break from the cold temperatures (that our excuse and we are sticking to it!) we headed to a bar to sample Begian beer. Jignesh especially enjoyed Fraimbois, a light beer with a slight raspberry flavor. Full of beer and slightly warmer, we meanadered the streets and strolled down the Galeries Royales de Saint-Hubert, a magnificent shopping gallery. The day ended with dinner and an evening out at O'Reilly's, an Irish pub near both La Bourse (the stock exchange) and our hotel. For an Irish bar in a French and Dutch speaking region of Europe, they sure do love their American tunes.

Saturday morning we took a 55 minute train to Brugge. Brugge, a small medievel city with canals and narrow cobblestone streets, is the ultimate tourist destination. And despite the cold, rainy weather, the tourists (us included) were out in droves. Brugge is the ideal city to just wander with no agenda in mind. And that is just what we did! Of course, we covered all the major sigthts including the Burg (Brugge's own charming square), St. Basil's Chapel, and the Basilica of the Holy Blood (an impressive and lavishly styled church). We also endulged in the best waffle (covered with Belgian chocolate sauce and vanilla ice cream...see picture above) of the weeked at Sweet Brugge. Because of the weather we skipped the popular canal cruise and opted for the warmth of the local bar instead. (do you see a theme here?). We sat outside under heaters and enjoyed the sound of the rain as well as the company of a local who was babysitting his "grand-dog" while the rest of his family enjoyed the city. Oh, did I mention that we also overdosed on Belgian chocolate?! The day ended with a return train ride to Brussels and dinner at a Greek place near the Grand Place.

Sunday was our final day in Brussels we were surprised to discover a different part of the city that we had not seen on Friday. We first headed to the Manneken Pis. This statue of small boy cheerfully pissing into a pool below is wildly popular with tourists depsite its very small size. On special occassions, the boy is even dressed up in costumes that can be found at one of the local museums. We thought the statue is extremely overrated but joined the crowd and snapped a few pics anyway. We did not, however, purchase one of the many cheesy Manneken Pis bottle openers that can be seen in tourist shops. Next, we passed the art and antique district and finally ended up at the Musees Royaux d'Art et d'Historie (Royal Museum of Fine Art). Although we did not see the whole museum, we did check out the paintings and sculpters in the lobby (I only have the patience for art museums in small doses). We then passed by the Royal Palace (it is not no longer the residence of the royal family and, thus, has become somewhat dilapidated), the Parc de Bruxelles, and Palais de Justice, and the area home to the European Union. Oh, did I mention that we once again overdosed in Belgian chocolates, beer, and maybe a waffle or two! After a light dinner, we headed to the train station to catch the Eurostar back to London. We are now trying to detox from chocolate, waffles, and beer and plan our next adventure.