First Trip Through London

We are new to traveling in Europe. We expect (hope) to do a lot of it over the next few years (specifically out of London to the continental Europe), so we need to become professionals at it. When booking our trip to France, we didn’t know that there is a direct train to London Stansted Airport from Cambridge (stops at the airport terminal) and that Stansted Airport flies to many countries, including France. What we ended up doing was spending a full day in London and staying overnight before catching a plane to Paris out of London Gatwick Airport. The benefit was that we were able to explore London.

Live and let live. And, you know, learn a little too.

Our first learning experience was coming to find out that England loves a good queue. Long queues for the subway in the morning are epic in Kings Cross and Victoria Stations. We also learned that we needed to have an “anytime ticket” that allowed us onto the tube (subway) before 9:30 a.m. And so we walked. We walked from Kings Cross to the British Museum, only to learn that they still were not displaying our favorite piece of artwork: Katsushika Hokusai’s The Great Wave Off Kanagawa. However, we stayed and wondered through the British Museum for awhile and grabbed some caffeine for the morning.

After stopping at a few bookstores and going through the National Gallery, we crossed the Millennium Bridge and tried to go for a tour of Shakespeare’s Globe. Because there was a matinée showing, we were unable to tour the Globe (maybe we’ll get to it next trip). We settled for grabbing a pint at the Swan restaurant, which is attached to the Globe. Finding our silver lining: we discovered a new (to us) beer that we both love: the Camden Ink Stout, which is locally brewed in London (in Camden, technically). They have brewery tours, so that will also be on our list of things to do next time we pass through London.

London Eye, as seen from the Millennium Bridge

London Eye, as seen from the Millennium Bridge

Drinking a pint of Camden Ink at the Swan above The Shakespeare's Globe.

Drinking a pint of Camden Ink at the Swan above The Shakespeare’s Globe.

Our next stop was the Tower of London. I read about the ceramic poppies being “planted” at the Tower of London to commemorate and remember the 888,246 British military fatalities during the first world war – each poppy represents one person. The UK entered the first World War on August 5, 1914 – 100 years ago. The last poppy is to be “planted” on November 11 of this year – on Remembrance Day in the UK (Veteran’s Day in the US). You can actually buy and dedicate a poppy, which I think is amazing.

The Tower of London, surrounded by ceramic poppies.

The Tower of London, surrounded by ceramic poppies.

The Tower Bridge.

The Tower Bridge.

This tour of London ended with fantastic Chinese food from My Old Place. We try to note where the locals go – it is usually where the best food is in the city. However, this restaurant recommendation comes from a friend, Lora, who lived in London for awhile. We didn’t make it to her other restaurant recommendations, but we have plenty of time to go back!

Pumpkin Spice Lattes

In the US, I didn’t drink coffee like I drink it here in England. Most weekdays, I would drink a cup or two of tea. When we found out that we were moving here, I upped my tea intake thinking it would help me fit in. I couldn’t have been more wrong. For being known for its tea-drinking, I drink more coffee and less tea now that I live in England. You see, my last job didn’t really allow for breaks into the daily routine. You made time if you wanted to get coffee with a colleague. It definitely wasn’t incorporated into the daily plan. In England, the story is completely different. I drink coffee with co-workers not once, but twice per day. The lab incorporates this into a schedule. You have responsibility to the lab to be a part of the team; there is a rotation of who is making coffee every day for a week. And it isn’t American-styled coffee; it is European-styled: dark and strongly brewed. And my co-workers take their coffee time seriously. Don’t mess up, be off schedule, or miss making coffee; if you do, you’ll be making a cake to please the crowd (cake offense).

As the temperatures cool down and the sun begins to set earlier, I realize that autumn is now upon us. While unpacking, we found all of our autumn decorations (all three of them) and are thinking about turning on the heat soon. Autumn is also marked in the US by the addition of a few things, notably a lot of pumpkins, winter squash, and apples at the farmer’s markets and grocery stores, pumpkin picking with hayrack rides, and by what the coffee stands are turning out: pumpkin spice lattes, spiced vanilla chai lattes, and hot apple ciders. This year, one of those big coffee chains debuted pumpkin spiced lattes at the end of August. I haven’t seen them here yet, so this is my attempt to make them at home. Ultimately, I will say that this is a work in progress and may never completely replace the original. That being said, these are still cheaper and healthier than the real deal.

Single serving of Pumpkin Spice Latte*:
*US measurements used in this recipe

To the vessel of a single-serving blender, add the following:
1 shot of espresso (or concentrated coffee)
2 tsp of pumpkin pie spice mix**
2 tsp vanilla extract
2 tsp pure maple syrup
1 Tbsp pumpkin puree
1/4-1/2 cup almond milk
Optional: 1 tsp cocoa powder

Blend or pulse for approximately 30 seconds, creating a frothy drink.

To heat, place in microwave until desired temperature. Alternatively, add hot water to the blended mixture to warm and dilute it. For me, the blended drink goes straight into a coffee mug, where another shot of espresso goes in along with some very hot water to fill the mug.
Alternatively, you could mix and heat the ingredients over low heat on the stove.

**I use the following for pumpkin pie spice mix:
1 1/2 tsp ground cinnamon
1/4 tsp ground ginger
1/4 tsp ground nutmeg
1/8 tsp ground allspice
1/8 tsp ground cloves

By addicting the cocoa powder, something glorious happens in my kitchen. I feel like I’m eating something that is totally sinful. In reality, this is not the worst thing in the world for you, especially in comparison to its original counterpart. For now, this chocolatey pumpkin spiced latte is my favorite morning drink.

English muffins

I first need to distract you from this post. While writing it up, I couldn’t help but think about a scene in the movie Shrek, in which Gingy (the gingerbread man) is being interrogated by one of the villains, Lord Farquaad (NOT MY GUMDROP BUTTONS!) This leads to further distraction (at least for me) to find the nursery rhyme* about The Muffin Man. Yes, in the US, we learn a British nursery rhyme about English muffins that I’ve discovered aren’t English or muffins at all.

And here we are, coming full circle: muffins and the misconception that Americans have about them.

When I think of muffins, of course I think of the baked pastry that can have a variety of flavors, including such deliciousness as blueberry, lemon poppy seed, chocolate chip, and oat bran. Looking for my favorite (or is it favourite)? I haven’t really found one that I didn’t like. They are sweet but not usually as sweet as a cupcake, though generally made in the same style pan, and are very similar to scones.

Muffins (US)

In the US, there is this other type of muffin that really isn’t a muffin. Americans call them English muffins, which are yeast-levened, small, circular, savory, and not originally from England. (!!) In England, the most similar thing is a crumpet, They are best known for having lots of nooks and crannies (for margarine or sauces to seep into) and made popular to El in the form of a breakfast called eggs benedict (the English muffin is the base).

English muffins (US)

However, I did manage to pick up some muffins at the market the other day, but these were definitely not what I would call English muffins. They were still small and circular but flaky – perfect for jam! I would call these biscuits. Again, El has another favorite breakfast item that is also full of too much fat and calories: biscuits and gravy. In this country and most of Europe, I would be wrong if I called it a biscuit! A biscuit in the UK is what Americans call cookies or crackers, depending on if it is sweet or savory. Most likely, I would refer to a UK biscuit as a cookie.

A plate of biscuits (left, US; right, UK)

What it really boils down to is that we have the same sorts of baked goods around the world, we just can’t agree on what to call them.

*If you’re looking for the tune of The Muffin Man, please look no further: here’s a link. Please note that I am not responsible if this song stays firmly placed in your head for the remainder of the day.