Sunday, July 03, 2022

On Safari


No, I didn't actually go to Africa, but this past week I did go with Sweetie and our grandson to a local nature preserve, Safari West.

The experience is so different than going to a zoo. The animals have acres to roam in but are safe as well due to many fences. The staff tend to them at least twice a day, which is especially needed now. We are in the third year of a severe drought so their natural food supply is constantly supplemented as needed.


We got around, veeerrryyy sloooowly, in a old vehicle that had been outfitted with three long seats behind the driver, plus another one on top of the canvas roof...supported by sturdy metal pipes. The seats are stair-stepped up so everyone has a good view. We were in the last seat so we were in the shade and as high up as you could be without being on the roof seat. It was 93 degrees, but there was a nice breeze, so it wasn't too hot. I think that part of the reason that we went so slowly was to not disturb the animals more than necessary...plus the vehicles were old.



Turns out that many of the animals have babies in May, so we were able to see the parents and their young. For up close viewing, the giraffe enclosure was probably the best, but Sweetie enjoyed the Cape buffaloes. I enjoyed the antics of the female emus (or ostritches...it was hot)...they just wanted to flirt and be admired. 



Below are some photos of the animals. I confess that I didn't take notes, so I'm not going to identify them. I would probably get it wrong!







I think the last two are an African White Rhino and a zebra that has both black and beige stripes...never seen either of those before.

If you are going to be in the Santa Rosa, CA area (an hour north of San Francisco), do consider visiting this safari park. Their animals and birds are primarily from Africa so that saves you a trip there, in a way. If you want to hear the animal sounds at night, they also rent out tent cabins, plus they offer meals and specials. Their Safari West website has all the deets. 



I have to say that our guide was amazingly informative and probably had volumes more information in her head if we had asked other questions. This place is a class act and well worth a visit!





There were also birds and fish. Below are a black swan, flamingoes, and koi. There were others, but we skipped the final part where we would have seen more birds and some other small animals...I was overheated by then. If you can go in the morning.

Monday, June 27, 2022

Strawberry-Nectarine Galette with Raine



The tree of us visited the Pacific Coast Air Museum near the Shultz Airport in Santa Rosa. We took Fulton towards home, but did a few errands. We stopped at the farm stand on Hwy 12, just west of Llano Rd. outside of Sebastopol for some freshly picked strawberries. There is often a line because lots of locals know that these are some of the best strawberries anywhere. They are grown just up the drive and over the hill in the land that gets richness from seasonal flooding some years. They must throw in some magic, too, because they are juicy and ripe and so fragrant, plus sweet enough that you don't need to add any sugar...which is what we did with this freeform pie.

Raine took off the greenery at the stem end and then quartered the berries while I cut the nectarines into slices and then pieces to roughly match the size of the berries. After that it's really easy.

We put a baking stone in the oven and started the oven pre-heating to 425 degrees F. If you don't have a baking stone, you could try and upside down cast iron skillet or just put in an upside down sheet pan. The reason for the upside down instructions is that we are going to slide the galette sitting on parchment paper into the oven, so we can't have any sides of pans sticking up getting in the way.

Next we cut some parchment to roughly a square, about  12" wide and long. Some pre-rolled pie dough from the refrigerator case in the market (I use Pillsbury ReadyCrust) had been sitting out of the fridge long enough to soften. It was a simple matter to roll it out onto the parchment, use a rolling pin to flatten it about another inch all around to about 10.5-11 inches in diameter.

Next we took the prepared fruit and added a teaspoon lemon zest and a tablespoon all-purpose flour, then used clean hands to mix it gently into the fruit. When you want to do gentle but thorough mixing, clean hands are your best tool!

Raine poured the floured and flavored fruit into the center of the dough round. He left about 2.5-3 inches bare around the outer edges and mounded the fruit in that center area. Then he pleated the edge dough up and over the mounded fruit filling all around.

Time for getting this beauty into the oven! I have a long-handled bread baking peel so I used that to transfer the pie laden parchment from the counter onto the hot baking stone. We set the timer for 10 minutes. After that 10 minutes when the hot oven was crisping the bottom and starting to cook the dough, we turned it down to 350 degrees F and baked it another 20-25 minutes...I confess I didn't time it, but took it out when the top was browned and the filling was bubbly...plus the crust and sprung a leak and I needed to get it out before any more juice headed to the oven bottom! With fresh fruit it's hard to know how much flour to add to thicken up the juices...should have used 2 tablespoons!

It made a beautiful rustic pie and it was so delicious. No sugar was needed...it was plenty sweet from the ripe fruit.



Strawberry-Nectarine Galette

Serves 4-6

1/2 box ReadyCrust pie dough (1 round), at room temperature
1 pint fresh strawberries, hulled and cut in quarters
2 nectarines, washed, sliced, pit removed, and cut into smaller pieces (to match the strawberry sizes)
1 teaspoon lemon zest (from about 1/2 a lemon)
1-2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
sugar if needed...if your fruit isn't ripe add a tablespoon or so
parchment paper

Preheat the oven to 425 degrees F. If possible add a baking stone, pizza stone, upside down cast iron skillet (12" diameter), or upside down baking sheet.

Place a parchment paper square, about 12 inches wide and long, on a baking peel or on the counter.

Roll the pie dough out onto the center of the parchment paper. Use a rolling pin to increase the size all around so that it becomes about 10.5-11 inches in diameter.

In a large bowl combine the prepared strawberries, prepared nectarines, lemon zest, flour, and sugar if using. Use clean hands to gently but thoroughly mix the ingredients together for the filling.

Pour the filling into the center of the prepared dough circle. Mound in the center, leaving about 2.5-3 inches along the outside edge with no filling. Fold that outer edge of dough up and over the mounded filling, pleating as needed, until all around had had the dough folded over the filling.

Use the peel, or an upside-down baking sheet, to transfer the parchment and galette to the oven, sliding the parchment onto the baking stone/skillet/baking pan already in the oven. Bake for 10 minutes.

After 10 minutes, turn the oven down to 350 degrees F. Bake for another 20-25 minutes, until filling is bubbly and crust is browned.

Remove to a cooling rack and let cool at least 10 minutes before serving. The filling will be firmer and less drippy as it cools. In our photo we hadn't even waited the 10 minutes, so it was messy...but delicious!

Friday, June 24, 2022

Three Weeks Later ...


At the very beginning of June I posted with photos of my just-planted veggies...two kinds of zucchini and one tomato.



 It's been three weeks of mostly very hot weather. Sweetie hooked up the drip irrigation before I planted so they are getting a bit of water each day. Between the heat, water and the fact that I planted them in fresh potting soil, they are doing really well. Have seen a couple of flowers on the zucchini and the tomato looks ready to flower any time. I'll bet that I have zucchini to go on the grill before we hit another three weeks! The tomatoes will take longer, but they are usually well worth the wait.



The daisy plant got bigger and bloomed, too. Soon we will have lots of lilies. More photos then. Happy Summer! (It was official a couple of days ago.) 

Monday, June 20, 2022

Gooseberry Tart


When I was watching the first season of Bridgerton and Lady Bridgerton was tempting the Duke to come to dinner so that he could get to know her eligible daughter Daphne, I remember that she said that her cook was well known for her excellent gooseberry pie, knowing that the Duke love a good gooseberry pie. That's what came to mind last week when my brother-in-law surprised me by telling me that I had gooseberries and that they were ready to be picked.



The gooseberry shrub was the result of a neighbor giving me a cutting. I planted it in a wine half-barrel a few years ago, watered it regularly and watched it grow, but I couldn't remember the name of the plant. Last year we had a few flowers which turned into berries. I tried one but it was tart and had seeds, even when soft and reddish. There were too few to do anything with, so I promptly forgot about the berries.

This year the crop was much better. After Mark let me know what I had, I decided to make a gooseberry pie for Sweetie for Father's Day. After picking almost all the berries, I realized that he was going to get something smaller than a pie...perhaps hand pies or maybe a tart.

I suspect that one of the reasons I don't remember seeing gooseberries in the market is that they are very time consuming to prepare. When picking them I found that they usually didn't come off the shrub easily like other berries do when ripe, so even the picking took more time than I had thought. Then each berry has to be handled again as you 'top and tail' them, which means that you remove the shriveled flower on one end and any remaining stem on the other end. It takes hundreds of the berries to make a pint. I ended up with a bit less than a pint, so I adjusted the recipe I found online to accommodate the smaller amount and found a smaller tart pan, too.


For the tart shell I used some ready-made pie dough, as I often do. I fit it into the tart pan, pressing the dough to the sides of the pan, then I folded the excess over so that it touched the bottom of the pan, and pressed that to the sides as well. This way you have a single crust on the bottom, which bakes quickly, and a double layer on the walls of the shell, which gives stability. I used a rolling pin the flatten the top and knock off any excess that was higher than the pan sides. This 'leftover' dough was used to create the thin pastry decorations on the top after the filling went in.

For the filling, you take the prepared gooseberries, sugar, and a small amount of water and simmer, then add butter, simmer a bit more, then add the flour and egg yolk and stir over low heat until the mixture thickens a bit, like pudding. I tasted the filling and found it too sweet, so I added a tablespoon on fresh lemon juice. That made it just the right amount of sweet and tart! Once I took the filling off the heat, I put a layer of plastic wrap directly on the filling to avoid a skin forming while the mixture cooled.


After the mixture cooled I poured it into the prepared tart shell and then added the pastry decor. A bit of egg white brushed on the decor and around the edges of the tart browned up nicely during cooking.

The tart gets baked briefly at 425 degrees F and then for a longer period at 35 degrees F. Once the crust is browned and the filling starts to bubble, it's ready to come out and cooled on a wire rack to room temperature.

Sweetie really loved this tart...he even had a piece for breakfast!

The recipes I read online seemed to indicate that you can find canned and frozen gooseberries. I've never seen either for sale, but if you find them,  or if your find these at the farmer's market, do try this. It makes a delightful tart and it's quite pretty, too.



Gooseberry Pie
recipe from Blackberry Girl blog,

 adapted by me and made into a tart

Ingredients

·         3/4 pint gooseberries

·         ¼ cup water

·         1 cup sugar (but I would use less...probably 2/3 cup)

·         1 tablespoon butter

·         tablespoons flour

·         1 egg yolk

·         1 tablespoon lemon juice if needed for tartness (optional)

·         1 6-inch prepared tart shell (see below)

Pie crust topping

·         1 egg white

Instructions

1.      In a small saucepan, add gooseberries and water. Simmer for 2-3 minutes. Drain off 1-2 tablespoos of the excess water, then return to the burner.

2.      Add the sugar, butter and flour, continue to simmer.

3.      Beat egg yolk and pour slowly into saucepan. Cook on medium-low heat until thick. Remove from heat and lay a piece of plastic wrap on top of filling to prevent a skin from forming.

4.      Preheat oven to 425 degrees F.

5.      Let filling cool to barely warm.

6.      Pour filling into pre-made tart crust.

7.      Top with thin lattice strips from another pie crust circle, or re-use leftover pieces from first crust for create minimalist topping.

8.      Brush the tart crust edges and any decorations or lattice with egg whites.

9.      Place tart on a baking sheet and bake for 8-10 minutes. Reduce heat to 350 degrees and bake an additional 15-20 minutes. Tart is done when edges are browned and tart filling bubbles some.

10.  Remove to a wire rack and cool until room temperature. Serve at room temperature. Store leftovers, covered, in the fridge.


Thursday, June 16, 2022

Babes Steam Buns (with Fillings)

It's the 16th of the month...just barely...which is traditionally the day that the bodacious Bread Baking Babes, of which I am one, post the bread of the month. This month Judy of Judy's Gross Eats challenged us to make steamed yeasted buns...with or without fillings.

I chose to fill my buns with bbq pork since we had some left over pulled pork shoulder and that flavor has always been my favorite for this little bread (don't they look delicious?). We used to have them as part of a dim sum lunch when we lived in Berkeley. The Oakland China town area had several very good dim sum restaurants and I had a friend who worked in downtown Oakland for Kaiser, which wasn't too far away. These delicious fluffy buns bring back memories of good times with Sweetie, with my friend and with other friends and family.

Although I'm posting at the last minute practically, these buns are fairly quick to make. I started mine about noon and was sitting down with Sweetie enjoying the first batch out of the steamer at about 4:15. If you start earlier in the day you could have them for lunch. Another plus, especially in the summer, is that making these doesn't heat up the kitchen like oven baking does.

We were asked to roll out each of the 12 dough balls and then pleat them after adding the filling. I did this once and then gave up on it.  Although I admire people (like my talented daughter) who enjoy this kind of repetitive baking, it's really not my thing. I streamlined production by making a dough ball, flattening it a bit in my hand, with a fairly thick rim of dough,


adding the filling, 

then pulling the dough by the rim over the filling, going around the ball, until all had been covered and the dough pinched together.

Then I set the pinched side down on the parchment square. 

Probably not as pretty, but they looked round and shiny and tasted just as good.


It really helps to have a steamer for this recipe. I had a double stacked bamboo one, with a lid. I started with my wok, added water, set it to boil, turned it down to simmer, then set the filled bamboo steamer in the wok to steam for 10 minutes. Then I turned off the heat and let it sit for 5 minutes. That worked well. I was able to fit three buns in each level. the remaining 6 buns were kept in the fridge, lightly covered with oiled plastic wrap, until it was their turn in the steamer.

I encourage you to try this recipe. Judy has given us a wide range of suggested fillings, including custard! You can also just steam the plain balls. Sweetie liked the plain part of the bun, which was soft and fluffy and had a nice plain bread flavor. I liked dipping mine in soy sauce.

If you do make these and want to be a Buddy, just e-mail Judy with your URL, a photo and a short description of your bake. She'll send you a Buddy badge and will feature you in the round-up. Deadline to get your e-mail to her is June 29th.

Also be sure to visit the blogs of the other Bread Baking Babes to see how they did this month's steamy buns!




Fluffy Steamed Buns with Filling or without Filling

Makes 12

Dough:

300 g all-purpose flour

50 g sugar

1 tsp instant yeast

½ tsp baking powder

¼ tsp coarse salt

160 g warm water (about 110˚F)

Oil for greasing bowl

Place dry ingredients into a bowl of an electric mixer and whisk to combine.  Attach a dough hook, and, with the mixer on low, pour in the warm water and mix to form a shaggy dough.  Knead at medium-high speed about 8-9 minutes until the dough is very smooth and slightly tacky.  Transfer the dough to a lightly floured surface and form into a smooth ball.  Place into a lightly greased bowl, cover with plastic wrap, and proof in a warm spot until doubled in size, about 1 to 1 ½ hours, or in the refrigerator for at least 6 hours or overnight.

Once the dough has proofed, deflate the dough and place it on a lightly floured surface.  Form into a smooth ball.

Unstuffed buns:

Cut 12 4-inch squares of parchment paper.

Divide the dough into 12 equal portions, form each into a smooth ball, and place on a square of parchment paper.

Cover the buns with either a damp towel or lightly greased plastic wrap, and let them proof until they are about 1 ½ times larger, about 30-45 minutes.

Set up a steamer, bring water to a simmer, and arrange the buns on the steamer basket, about 2” apart. (If you have to work in batches, keep the remaining buns in the refrigerator to keep them from over-proofing.)  Steam over the simmering water for 10 minutes.  Turn off the heat, and leave the buns in the covered steamer for 5 more minutes to prevent them from collapsing.  Remove the buns and let them cool slightly before serving.

Stuffed buns:

Cut 12 4-inch squares of parchment paper.

Divide the dough into 12 equal portions, and form each into a smooth ball.  Roll each ball into a 4” circle, making sure the edges are thinner than the middle.  Fill with the desired filling and pleat the edges closed.  Place on a square of parchment paper, either pleat side up or pleat side down.

Place the buns on a baking sheet or cutting board, and cover with either a damp towel or lightly greased plastic wrap, and allow them to proof in a warm spot, until they are about 1 ½ times larger, about 30-45 minutes.

Set up a steamer, bring water to a simmer, and arrange the buns on the steamer basket, about 2” apart. (If you have to work in batches, keep the remaining buns in the refrigerator to keep them from over-proofing.)  Steam over the simmering water for 10 minutes.  Turn off the heat, and leave the buns in the covered steamer for 5 more minutes to prevent them from collapsing.  Remove the buns and let them cool slightly before serving.

Dough flavor variations:

Matcha dough:  Add 7 g food-grade matcha powder to the dry ingredients.

Spinach dough:  Puree 3 cups of spinach leaves with ¾ cup warm water.  Strain the puree through a sieve, keeping the water and discarding the pulp.  There should be about 160 g of warm spinach water.

Sweet Potato dough:  Reduce the warm water to 113 g, and add 120 g of sweet potato puree along with the dry ingredients.

Whole Wheat dough:  Reduce all-purpose flour to 225 g, and add 75 g of whole wheat flour.

 

Possible fillings:

Red bean paste

Black sesame paste

Char Siu, or BBQ pork

Chicken and vegetables (chopped rather finely)

Tofu

Minced, cooked mushrooms, sautéed with onions and seasoned with soy sauce, salt, and pepper

Egg custard

Egg Custard Filling:

2 large eggs

65g sugar

20g cornstarch

150g heavy cream

1 tsp vanilla extract

Pinch of salt

In a small saucepan, whisk together the eggs, sugar, and cornstarch until smooth.  In a measuring cup, whisk together the heavy cream, vanilla, and salt.  Whisk the liquid ingredients into the dry ingredients until smooth, then place over medium-low heat, whisking constantly until the mixture starts to thicken.  It’s ready when it coats the back of a spoon.  Transfer the mixture to a bowl, cover the surface with plastic wrap, and refrigerate at least two hours or overnight.  It should have a scoopable texture.

 

If you have a bamboo steamer, go ahead and use it, placing it above the simmering water in a metal pot.  Place squares of parchment, or cabbage leaves, on the surface so the buns don’t stick to the steamer.  If you don’t have a bamboo steamer, you can use steamer inserts that come with some pots, or create a steam environment with a steamer and a wok, or with a pot that’s slightly bigger than the steamer.  Remember to create that non-stick surface (parchment paper works well) so the steamed buns don’t stick!


Wednesday, June 01, 2022

Into The Garden for 2022

 Periodically I do a post about my garden. This year we had a long, cool spring, with short bursts of hot weather. I had some beautiful shows of iris and my roses bloomed, too. The cool weather meant the nights didn't really warm up enough to put in summer veggies until now. That matched up fairly neatly with my ongoing recovery from COVID and then a sinus infection. I finally have some energy and so my garden is finally getting some attention. Sweetie helped me with laying wood chips mulch and with filling up some pots with soil.


Three years ago I was able to get three red flax plants for free and they were the centerpiece plants for a planting area that included a Mr. Lincoln and a Just Joey rose, variegated leaf geranium, plus a perennial daisy plant that has grown huge,


a lilac shrub in a big pot and planting of regular red geranium, plus some bacopa...with small white flowers on a trailing vine. Around the Mr. Lincoln deep red rose a single fan of purple iris has expanded to many iris fans. There is also a pot with a couple of lily plants. 

All of these plants are still there, most of them in pots or barrels, but by removing the spent flax plants, I made room for some zucchini plants, plus one tomato plant...and fresh potting soil (see photo at top). With our drought I'm reluctant to add anything else. 


I save the water that runs out of the faucet cold while waiting for the hot water to arrive and that is used to help keep the established plants alive. We also have irrigation to the set of plants that now have the veggies. The irrigation is on a timer so that we can limit it to no more than needed. I do hope to keep my roses alive and the lilies. The iris are done blooming, so they don't need much water and even the lilac (see photo above) can go for a while without water because it sits in partial shade. Fingers crossed that I won't lose too many plants this year!

Late June and July should be wonderful because by then the daisy plant will flower, the lilies will be in full bloom, the roses will have started to bloom again, and we will have the tomato and zucchini  plants should be large and flowering, too. I'll try to do a post then to show how it looks in its glory.

Friday, May 13, 2022

Spring Pie


We have been getting some of the awesome strawberries from the farm stand on Hwy 12, just past Llano Rd when you are headed to Sebastopol. They grow them there are so they are picked very ripe and sweet smelling. You get heaped pint baskets, too.

For spring what could be better than rhubarb pie with some of those strawberries mixed in? This pie recipe is from a magazine I was reading on the plane...Southern Living I think...but as usual I mixed it up a bit. First of all instead of three cups of fruit, I used three cups of rhubarb and a cup of strawberries. It's a classic combo for a reason. The sweetness of the strawberries offsets and highlights the tang of the rhubarb, especially if you reduce the sugar as I did. The recipe called for a full cup of granulates sugar in the custard, which would have masked the bite of the rhubarb. I reduced it to 1/3 cup. If you were using all rhubarb, perhaps I would use 1/2 cup. You want that rhubarb zing contrasting with the custard softness but not being overpowered with custard oversweetness.

Another change I made was to substitute a small amount of orange marmalade for the orange zest, mostly because I didn't have an orange to use, but also because using the marmalade to paint the bottom of the pie shell helps prevent the custard from making the shell soggy. You still get the orange flavor.

About the only other change was when I mixed the custard I whisked the sugar and flour into the eggs before adding any liquid...that allowed me to make sure that the dry ingredients were fulling incorporated with the eggs and kept the custard from having lumps.



My experience was that this cooked a bit faster than expected, but ovens vary...just keep an eye on this and don't overcook the filling. Using a thermometer to check the internal temperature is a wise more.

Enjoy this taste of spring! I know that Sweetie did. He said it reminded him of rhubarb pies that his mom used to make in the spring. That's the bonus of baking...it can bring sweet memories, too.



Rhubarb-Strawberry Custard Pie

 1 pie crust circle, raw (I used half of a refrigerated ReadyCrust Pie crust)
 2 large eggs
 1 cup half and half or soy creamer
 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
 1/4 teaspoon almond extract
 1/4 teaspoon salt
 1/3 cup granulated sugar
 3 tablespoons all-purpose flour
 3 tablespoons orange marmalade

3-4 cups sliced (1/2-inch- thick) fresh rhubarb, mixed, if desired, with fresh sliced strawberries
(I cut all my fruit into small cubes or chunks)
1 tablespoon all-purpose flour

2 tablespoons granulated sugar

 Preheat oven to 375 degrees F. Roll pie crust dough out on a lightly floured work surface into a 12-inch circle. Fit crust inside a 9-inch pie plate, pressing into bottom and up sides of plate. fold or roll crust edges under; crimp as desired. Place in freezer for 15 minutes. Remove from freezer and line with parchment paper, then add pie weights or dried beans. Bake 15 minutes in preheated oven, watching to make sure that the edges don't over brown. Remove pie plate from the oven and carefully remove the parchment and its contents. Return the pie plate to the oven and bake for another 5 minutes until pastry is light golden brown. Remove from the oven and cool completely, about 30 minutes.

 While pastry cools, prepare the fruit, then mix together the filling:

Whisk together eggs, half and half, vanilla, almond extract and salt. Add the 1/3 cup granulated sugar (or more if you like a sweet, sweet filling), and 3 tablespoons flour in a large bowl.

 Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Place the marmalade in the bottom of the cooled pie shell and spread all over the bottom with a pastry brush.

 Place the fruit in another bowl and toss with 1 tablespoon flour. Pour coated fruit into the marmalade coated pie shell. Level the fruit, then pour on the egg mixture. Sprinkle evenly with 2 tablespoons sugar. Wrap edges of the pie crust with strips of aluminum foil to protect them from over-baking.

 Place filled pie on a baking sheet, then place sheet in the preheated oven and bake for about 1 hour to 1 hour 10 minutes. Pie is done when the center of the filling registers 175 degrees F when a thermometer is inserted in the center.

 Transfer pie to a wire rack and cool completely, about 2 hours. Remove foil shields once out of the oven. Chill pie if desired, or serve at room temperature.


Monday, May 09, 2022

Back From London


My daughter is probably my best friend. We have been wanting to go to London together for years and years, but things, including the pandemic, have gotten in the way. This time we did it. This is a long post because I'm going to pack the whole trip in one post (and you'll understand why at the bottom).

 I was in London for a day before we met up since she was working about an hour away that week. 


That day I visited the British Museum twice, which I really enjoyed. First I visited first thing in the morning to see the one thing I really wanted to see, then I visited later in the day for the rest. So many things that I had only read about, like the Rosetta Stone, make such an impact when seen in person. 



I watched the movie 'The Dig' about the discovery of a funeral boat in a field at Sutton Hoo. At the museum in the morning I was able to see the iconic helmet (see the actual helmet, plus the one created to try to depict what it probably looked like when buried, just above), plus many other items recovered there...such a thrill. I walked around, being somewhat awed by the truly huge dome (see above, photo at top of post) over the central entry area and the library. The bookshop is excellent, too, and I enjoyed a section on clocks as well as another section that has this lovely musical instrument, a kind of a lute I think. 


I often take photographs to record the design of things and watching design elements repeat in different eras and countries is fascinating. Look at the amazing work on this celtic brooch, gold clasp, and carved bone or ivory crozier topper.






I had to get back to the hotel to check out, and then I visited a bookstore near the museum - the London Review Bookshop, so I browsed there and had a delicious vegan lunch in the attached café before returning to the museum.

 I had the pleasure of watching one of the employees use different colors of chalk to write out a fairly long quote by a poet she liked on the prominent chalk board near the door to the outdoor seating area. It really is an art.


The afternoon included viewing of many other sections of the British Museum, although I barely scratched the surface. I was just finishing viewing the treasure in the section that has many of the earliest items the museum collected which included Greek vases, Egyptian statues, rare books, and treasures from China,



and was ready to do some souvenir shopping, when a fire alarm rang and we had to leave the building! Fortunately I was able to return to the delightful bookstore nearby, and sit in the courtyard with some lemonade and enjoy the British spring, then walk the neighborhood and enjoy Russel Square.

Walking around the city is the best thing...so many beautiful terraced homes, parks, and people watching. There were white lilacs blooming in the Russel Square Park near the British Museum and the daffodils had just finished. Lots of walking the first day, which I loved.






The next day we were together and our first stop was the Borough Market on the Southbank. My first time using the London Underground or Tube. I was impressed with how efficient and clean it was, how quickly people moved and what a complex system it is, but the signs were there when you needed them.



 Lots of people were in London for the Bank Holiday weekend, so lots of people everywhere we went and no one wore masks or acted like the pandemic had ever happened. That lent it a festive, positive energy. Highlights of the market were an amazing spice stall, delicious Greek food, a stall that had everything lavender, and one in the Borough Market Kitchen that had fruit crumbles with proper pouring custard (although we didn't have the appetite to try it). These photos show some of the market and crowds.




The days kind of run together, probably because I'm still running a slight fever, but we had a fine time, especially the first few days. We kept exclaiming, 'We did it!' since truly it has often seemed like we would never make it together to London. We had some lovely dinners out, including our first one at Andrew Edmunds near our hotel. The lamb was delicious and we had an unusual and delicious white. 




A highlight was on Saturday when we saw the musical Wicked at the Apollo Victoria, and the two lead singers were probably the best singers I've ever heard in a musical.

I saw Hyde Park  and Mayfair a few days later and discovered that it's not always easy to get a cab in that area.




We had a most unusual tea near Leicester Square. It was a ten minute or so walk from our hotel, through the weekend crowds. There were some amazing buildings around the square, too, plus more being built.  The venue for the 'tea' was Simmons Bar, the decor is kitschy, and the afternoon tea is the usual tiered tray of tea treats (with delicious vegan ones for me), but the teapot holds a mixed drink instead of tea, plus there was prosecco. It was a lot of fun and surely different. Very popular with the twenty-somethings, especially groups brides and their bridesmaids getting started on an evening out bachelorette party. They mostly played loud music from the 80s, but I guess that's nostalgic or something if you're 30. Since it was a weekend it was loud and crowded and very high energy and fun.




Unfortunately, the end of our trip wasn't as delightful as the beginning since COVID came anyway. I tested negative and was able to fly home, but tested positive later. My daughter tested positive, so she was stuck in London an extra six days until she tested negative. We knew it was a risk to be around all these unmasked people, but that apparently is the plan...we should all get COVID or something. 

Just to make things even more interesting, on the flight home I had to change planes...but they lost my bag. Once I got to San Francisco (and this is after about 18 hours of travel, with the time being in the wee hours London time), I had to go to baggage claim and they found out that the bag never made it on the plane! Fortunately it made it to SFO the next day and got here before bedtime. All's well that ends well. Much as I fell in love with London, it's good to be home.



So I have to tell you that the two places I stayed are highly recommended if you get to London. The Bedford Hotel is a short walk from the British Museum. It has character and very kind staff, they serve a delicious and filling full English breakfast buffet, but I had lunch there, too, and it was also delicious. The bathroom was tight, but well designed and the room seemed spacious since it had a bay window and view of the garden and across to the skyline many blocks away. The bed was perhaps a bit too firm for my taste, but the price of the room was reasonable by London standards and service was impeccable. They have a sense of whimsey, too, with a abstract rabbit print wallpaper in the small elevator and metal butterflies on the wall into the dining room.


The Resident Soho, where the two of us stayed for the rest of the trip is a more modern hotel with a beautiful lobby, wine reception in the evening, very comfortable beds and huge, soft bath towels. It's price point is higher, too, about a third more than the Bedford. Fortunately, considering we ended up quarantining there, it was larger and also comes with a small kitchen behind doors, complete with small fridge, microwave, and sink, plus a coffee service, electric tea kettle, and plenty of plates, glasses, and cutlery. It is nicely located, too, about two blocks from Oxford Street for shopping, and a block from Starbucks for lattes for my daughter! Probably the priceless part of The Resident Soho is the excellent, and very kind and thoughtful staff. They did everything possible to make my daughter's extended stay comfortable, considering that we didn't want them to come into the room and be exposed. 

London is such a cosmopolitan city. I met people from all over, from the hotel manager from Italy to the wheelchair woman from Romania who is worried that Putin will invade her country, too. Overall, the most impressive people I encountered throughout the trip were the service providers, of all sorts, many of whom were immigrants, most for over 10 years. The black cab drivers were often Brits by birth and generally over 50, amazing both for their driving and for their knowledge of all the many byways of London. Uber drivers were younger but quite efficient. Everyone at the airport (Heathrow) that I met were interesting people as well as fine at their jobs. I learned with kindness that you purchase your bag to carry home your grocery shopping, that credit cards are used almost exclusively rather than cash, and that Oyster cards are great for all kinds of public transit, so do purchase one. 

It seemed like the Brits were glad that people were coming again. With the way they are so kind, everyone should visit...just be prepared that you might get COVID because no one behaves like it is a thing anymore. Of course that's true in the U.S, too, now. Bring (and wear) plenty of N95 masks to protect yourself! We wore ours a lot but took them off to eat and while walking were there weren't crowds, which I guess is enough time to be exposed, although it's possible that we were exposed earlier. Masks were rare on the flight to London and in the airports, too. Here I am on the flight home, one of the few with a mask.