This is a blog featuring my personal stories of food, gardening, yachting, photography, travel and life.

Tuesday, January 22, 2008

Home Again!

Notice the new photo of me in the upper left hand corner of this blog site? No, I haven't become a rabbi, though admitedly it does look a bit like I may have made the conversion. It is a recent photo of me taken by my beautiful wife while I ate a delicious meat pie at the Pieminister's pie shop in Bristol, England during our recent trip to see our daughter, her boyfriend, Nick and many of his friends and family. What a trip! We look forward to our new family to come visit us. First up, Kate and Nick will be here in March and April. Nick's folks have let us know they will try to visit us before the end of the year. We certainly hope so and look forward to showing them as much hospitality as they showed us. The welcome mat is out!

So we are home again in our beloved Bellingham and back in our usual routine--school, church, etc. Along with that I will return to my Chef Michael blog entries. So stay tuned and let's cook something up!

Monday, January 21, 2008

Bristol & Back Home

On our return trip through the brilliant green hills and winding roads of Wales to Bristol, we stopped at the Cistercian Tinturn Abbey. This abbey ruin is stunning and worth a stop. It is famous to many American poetry lovers as one of William Wordsworth's poems. We also spotted and stopped by a farmer's stand where we purchased some amazing local cheddar cheese that we took back to the flat and nibbled on for the next few days.

Returning to Bristol, Nick was needed back at his office in Bath, a 15 minute train ride away. So he headed back to work and Kate took us on a day-long tour of her newly adopted city. We lef the house and began the walk arounf town in very cold weather. We hiked past the University of Bristol where she attends as a grad student in International Development. She showed us her primary classroom building and the music building where she is part of the choir. We wandered through some very cute neighborhoods and the shops.

We walked through Clifton and the Westend and over to the Clifton Suspension Bridge towering over the Avon River gorge. Leslie and Kate walked across. It had a stunning view but I don't do heights well so I stayed behind and watched them walk the span.

We had a fantastic lunch at the Pieminister, a meat pie shop located in an historic market place. The meatpies were just scrumptious! They come served on a bed of mashed potatoes and topped with minty peas and groovy. The last two ingredients need some explanation. The traditionally cooked to mush peas were cooked with mint which gave them a fresh taste and they were prepared in a way so that they were not mushed entirely and were a bright green color. The groovy is actually gravy but pronounced and spelled in the west country accent so it comes out groovy! Delicious and cheap.

We walked down into the harbor area and over to St. Mary, Redcliff, a beautiful church overlooking the harbor area. By this time I had about had it and was ready to relax. Lealis and Kate dropped me by the Contemporary Art museum on the harbor and headed off for a couple of other sites. I sat with a cup of tea, then wandered into the free museum and had a look around. It was all very experimental. There were a few exhibits that were interesting. It had become dark and I wandered outside along the quay where I found a bench overlooking some barges tied up. I sat and watched one barge in particular with windows along it's side and where a family were living there lives. I could look in on their lives as if they were on a TV without sound. I love people watching and found this spot extraordinarily fun.

A while later, Kate and Leslie returned to fetch me and we headed over to a very cute pub called the Shakespeare for a drink before heading to our dinner spot. We had given Kate and Nick a Christmas gift of dinner at Bordeaux Quay, a restaurant we had seen and read about in Gourmet Magazine. It is a two-story place along the quay over-looking the water. Lots of windows, amd a beatiful view. We met Nick there after he arrived from work and had a quick drink before going upstairs for dinner. We received great service and a very nice meal, we were also about the only people there. Nick said that it was almost impossible to get in on the weekends. It was nearly empty the night we we were there.

The next day we had dinner at Kate and Nick's flat. Andy and Kate also came over. Nick prepared a "roast", an English tradition with beef and plenty of roasted vegetables. Delicious!

Our final day in Bristol was spent in Bath, a nearby ancient city dating back at least to Roman times as evidenced by the Roman bathes, hence the name. It was just perfect! Picturesque! We met Nick and his boss, Tony, at the White Hart for one of our best meals of the trip. Few travelers would ever have found this place since it was on the other side of the railway station and the river from the part of town tourists would visit.

After lunch we wandered into the central part of Bath and to the square where the abbey, quaint shopping and the bathes are to be found. We toured the abbey and the bathes. Incredible! Kate had been feeling a little under the weather since dinner at the Bordeaux Quay, though she had been doing a good job of hiding it. It was getting dark and had started raining, the only rain of any consequence the entire trip. We decided to head back to catch the train back to Bristol. When we got to the Bristol station the rain really started in. So, we caught a cab with a crazy Cornish driver who swore a blue streak telling us all about his miserable family. It was worth it though as he dropped us off right in front of the flat.

We hustled into the flat and began drying off. Kate laid down for a nap while Mom and I got started on our birthday dinner for Nick--my famous Baked Zitti. We had a frustrating time trying to locate all the correct ingredients so I was convinced it would not turn out right. In fact I had no idea how it would turn out. We made a huge pan of it hoping we'd leave behind some leftovers for Nick and Kate's dinner the following day after we had left. Turns out the Zitti wasn't anything like my recipe, but it did turn out great. Anyway, Nick ate it like it was great which was the goal after all. I'll try it again when they come visit us using the correct ingredients. We gave Nick his birthday presents, a bit ahead of time, and toasted his 30th.
Another great night's sleep. Got up the next morning, finished last minute packing and pointed the car towards Heathrow and home. We gave the kids big hugs before hauling the luggade down the front steps to the car. The bags were considerably lighter on the homeward journey having eliminated the gifts we had brought for everone.

The trip to the airport was uneventful. We dropped off the car and caught the shuttle to our flight. The security checks were easy as the lines moved along smoothly. We had time for a quick bite before boarding our flight back to Seattle. The flight was a bit bumpy at times but otherwise no problems.

We arrived in Seattle about 8 pm, shuttled over to the hotel where we had left our car and headed home. We arrived back in god old Bellingham about 10 and almost immediately headed for bed. Our own bed never felt so good.

It was so good to see the kids, where they live, meet family and friends. It was interesting to see that part of the world in a season other than summer, when most travelers see these places. But best of all, it was so wonderful to be able to see Kate and Nick, to get to know Nick better, and to see how great they are together.

Sunday, January 20, 2008

Happy New Year!

We returned to Erw Fair, our B & B in Abbeycwmhir and a short nap before the evening festivities began.

The photo at the left is of Andy, Nick's sister's significant other, Kate, Nick's sister, our Kate and Nick.

We were invited to a dinner buffet at the house several of Nick's friends were staying in. We were plied with drink and a great dinner. Crackers were passed around and we were shown how to pull the ends off of them by crossing arms, grabbing the end of our neighbor's cracker and at the count of three we pulled. Out came prizes and the traditional colorful crown-shaped hats. We played a game of dice to earn the priviledge of selecting a wrapped gift. Most were gag gifts which were traded as the game went along.

At left, in the pub several ciders later and feeling the effects very nicely thank you. You mean to tell me that stuff is "hard" cider?

The Happy Union Pub was only a few steps away so after a while we wandered over to find the place quickly filing up with the locals. We were handed drinks which never seemed to empty all night. We weren't allowed to buy any rounds though it was traditional. A few locals came dressed in costumes but most were in regular clothes. A small pool table was kept busy all evening in a side room where we sat. We had lots of opportunities to talk and get to know many of Nick and Kate's friends. At the stroke of midnight a bell rang behind the bar and everyone locked arms to sing Auld Lang Syne, kiss, hug and drink to the new year. One of the locals, an older lady dressed to the nines, went from person to person kissing them. These are great people!
The characters at left were locals dressed up as Scooby-Doo characters. The cute on in the orange top and I flirted from across the room.

About 12:30 we all wandered back over to the house where the dinner was held. Champagne glasses were filled and handed out and Ben, Nick's best friend and a birthday boy (his 30th) was toasted and we all sang happy birthday. Next, Ben opened gifts and Esther, his wife, brought in a birthday cake and passed pieces around.
We were winding down by about 1 am. We said our goodbyes and thanks and slowly meandered down the lane under a blanket of stars to our Erw Fair and our waiting beds. Sweet dreams waited after an evening we will never forget.