Whisky Notes: Aultmore 12

Many of you know that Jen and I were on the committee (USA language: officers) of the Cambridge University Whisky Appreciation Society (CUWAS) – Jen was the Vice-President and I was the webmaster/IT guy. Let’s be honest though; work sometimes kept me away from maintaining the website, so Jen definitely stepped in to help when something needed to be done in a time-dependent manner.

If you live in the Cambridge, England area, definitely check out the society and go to one of their events. Each tasting is an opportunity to try six whiskies, generally along some sort of theme. This term’s events look really varied:
Introduction to Whisky – this event is great for those who may not know much about whisky but still great whisky for those that do
Liquid Gold – some of the “best of the best” whiskies currently available
Out of its Element – if I had to guess, this would include whiskies that don’t generally fit into their own genre: a smoky Speyside or Highland whisky or an unpeated Islay)
The well-loved Christmas tasting – whiskies that just make you want to settle in and enjoy the winter season
They also snuck in a Brandy tasting this term, which shouldn’t disappoint!

Both Jen and I receive a lot of questions on what whiskies we recommend or normally drink (or in Jen’s current state (pregnancy), what she used to drink or what she’s looking forward to drinking in 15 weeks from now). Since I have the “chore” of trying to drink all of our opened bottles of whisky in the next several month before we move again, I thought it would be fun to give you some tasting notes on what I’m drinking. I guess that’s the least I can do!

Without further ado, here is some general information on the Aultmore 12, why we have it in our possession, and my tasting notes*:
Last fall, Jen bought a couple of bottles of whisky that were released by Dewar’s as part of their The Last Great Malts series. There was some sort of online contest that required participants to purchase two bottles in the series to be registered to win all eight of the series. The series included three bottlings of Aberfeldy (12, 16, and 21 year olds), Aultmore (12 and 25 year olds), and Craigellachie (13, 17, and 23 year olds). She loves a good whisky contest and/or deal; this is the reason of why we have a bottle of the Aultmore 12 in our whisky collection.
Aultmore of the Foggie Moss, as the label reads, is non-chill filtered and has no added colorings. Hence its lovely pale caramelly-yellow color. The whisky is bottled at 46% ABV and can be found at various places for just under £45 per bottle.

Nose: Fresh grass, orange chocolate, sponge cake, aromatic and floral undertones. Jen said it smelled like salted caramel-covered apples.

Palate: Vanilla, spice-cake (possibly cinnamon notes), floral notes continue. The overall mouthfeel is spicy and warming.

Finish: Clean and inoffensive. Slightly floral notes. No lingering flavors here. This whisky has a very short finish.

At the price point, this is a very classic example of a Speyside whisky that could be a daily drinker for those who don’t particularly like peated or overly complex whiskies.

*Note: The tasting notes provided here are my own thoughts. Unfortunately, neither Jen nor I were given whisky to review.

Baby Gifts

Hello everyone,
The military family has really set us up for success for having a baby. I know some folks are eager to start working on a shower for Jen, so in an effort to consolidate all the baby things, here is what we already have:

Chico KeyFit 30 with base (US spec carseat)
Spare Keyfit 30 base
Graco Junior (UK spec carseat)
Mothercare bouncy seat similar to these with sound and vibration
Babytrend Nursery center playpen
Medela Breast Pump (Pump In Style with backpack carrier and cooler – 
UK voltage)
Kiinde twist 80 pack
Bumbo
Saplings Bethany Swinging Crib (UK sheet size 840-430 mm)
Nursing pillow
Prince Lionheart wipe warmer (UK voltage)
Vera Bradley diaper bag (so last season… I can’t find a link)
1x moustache pacifier (don’t judge me!)
High chair
Bouncy seat

Please do NOT buy us a baby monitor, as the US/UK frequencies are not compatible, and anything you buy in the US will be illegal in England.
This generally applies to anything that needs to be plugged into the wall – due to the differences in voltage.

No age clothing
9x blankets
9x bibs
12x burp cloths

Newborn
5x hats
1x shoes
10x socks
2x sleep sack
1x long sleeve onesie
1x short sleeve onesie
1x trousers
6x pajamas

0-3 Month
10x short sleeve onesie
2x long sleeve onesie
7x trouser
4x pajama

3-6 Month
1x Shoes
1x 3-6 mon sleep sack
9x onesie
1x pajama

6-9 Month
5x trouser
6x onesie
3x sweater

> 9 Month
2x trouser
5x short sleeve onesie
8x long sleeve onesie
2x long sleeve shirts

Shower date and details are still up in the air. Given the distance between us and almost everyone we know, we made an amazon.com registry. If you would like to purchase something for us, you can find the registry here. We didn’t list too many books or toys, but we’d also love books (and we don’t mind your second-hand ones)!

It’s also worth noting we will be moving sometime next summer and don’t know where we will be living next, thus what climate clothing we will need. At 6 months, baby will be preparing for a UK summer, an Alabama summer, or something in between. We expect the movers will be here to pack us sometime in June (maybe sooner), so portable stuff for the 4 months we will be living out of suitcases would be greatly appreciated.

If you want to ship something to our UK address, please contact us and we will give you the address.

USAF 69th Birthday Ball!

Joining many others from around the local area, we celebrated the 69th birthday of the United States Air Force last night. It was a great reason to put on fancy clothes, eat, drink (soda water and lime or a cranberry and orange juice cocktail for me), dance, and celebrate.

We also celebrated that our baby boy is developing well and healthy. We’re happy to announce we’ll be adding one to our family this winter, and even took our “first family photo” at the Birthday Ball!

69th Birthday Ball

69th Birthday Ball

A new year, a new post

Hello!

Long time, no updates. I know you want to know more of our adventures. Wondering what we have been doing, where the wind has blown us, and the adventures we have experienced.

I promise to provide you updates on the following things in the next few weeks:
My adventures in Australia (I did spend nearly a month there)
Touring London with former colleagues and giving Bury St Edmunds a proper visit
Deployments while living abroad (my ode to whisky and friends)
Cambridge Beer Fest 2015: the 42nd year of amazingness
Visiting the US: meeting a friend’s new baby and celebrating weddings
Why we love visiting Edinburgh
My mom, Amy, Tom, and Spencer visit England and Germany
Titan arum (Amorphophallus titanum) – our opportunity to see two within weeks
Kate and Darren visit Cambridge
Touring Buckingham Palace and the Queen’s Estates
Camden Brewery: a story of how we fell in love with UK craft beer (it involves Shakespeare)
Kristen, Emily, and Megan visit Cambridge and celebrate the Buffalo Bills playing in London
Celebrate Guy Fawkes Day
Mill Road Winter Fair
Christmas Markets in Germany, France, and Spain: accidentally falling in love with the work of Gaudí
Our second Christmas in England
Why we love Garmisch-Partenkirchen
New year, new hobbies: how we keep entertained when the days are long but dark
El’s first trip to Belgium
Fe and Bo’s visit to England, which included celebrating the Chinese New Year
Celebrating 150 years of Alice in Wonderland
Our trip to Belgium with friends: here’s to beer and chocolate!
Our guide to seeing the most and best of Cambridge
Discovering Portugal: Lisbon and Porto

I can’t wait to tell you more about each adventure!

Salsa – the 2011 garden variety

We lived in the ‘burbs, just outside of Omaha, Nebraska for a few years. Our agreement was that I’d make peace with suburb-life-in-general, the long commute to work, the cornfield literally across the street, and the mice that always appeared in our garage at harvest time, as long as I could have a giant garden and make a huge mess in the kitchen whenever I wanted to bake at 10 o’clock at night.

I convinced El that the garden space from the first summer that I lived in this suburban house was not large enough. The second summer garden was a nice sized one; approximately 3 feet wide and 10 feet long (1 meter by 3 meters). We had an appropriate sized garden full of tomatoes, hot peppers, zucchini, lettuce and carrots. I got a taste of gardening that summer – but I wanted more. The next summer while El was deployed, I enlisted the help from many people to dig and till up a massive garden space with me approximately 10 feet by 40 feet (3 meters long by 12 meters wide). This is what happens when El isn’t there to help with making decisions. We grew watermelon, cantaloupe, string beans, snow peas, habanero peppers, serrano peppers, red/yellow/green bell peppers, eggplant, basil, pumpkins, cucumbers, zucchini, lettuce, carrots, garlic, and five varieties of tomatoes. We learned about garden spacing that summer. We also learned about what to do with gallons of tomatoes at a time.

One way was canning tomatoes – a recipe that is from my good friend Erin (who received the technique from her dad). This “recipe” is to be done in the evening when you don’t need your oven. In Nebraska summers, the answer to that question you may be having: you never need your oven to be on; it is just way too hot.

Before you begin making canned tomatoes, sterilize all of your canning supplies: jars, lids, rings, and canning equipment. Preheat the oven to 250°F. The basics of this are to blanch tomatoes: boil tomatoes until the skins begin to crack, place tomatoes in an ice cold bath until cool enough to touch, peel off the tomato’s skin, and cut out the stem scar and core. Erin and I refer to these peeled and cored tomatoes as “naked tomatoes” – I know, we really ARE crazy people who both happen to be scientists that like to bake and make huge messes in the kitchen that spread to the rest of the house (exhibit A: salsa; exhibit B: sprinkles, exhibit C: apples). For El’s sake, being separated by an ocean has led to a cleaner kitchen and house in general.

Add a 1/4 tsp of canning salt to the (quart-sized) jar, then take those naked tomatoes, quarter them, then stuff as many as possible into a canning jar. While quartering the tomatoes, collect any tomato juice in a sterile bowl. You’ll want to push and squeeze the tomatoes into the jar to get rid of any air in them. The juices from the tomatoes will be filling the remaining space, which is perfect. You’re canning the tomatoes in their own juice. Wipe the jar opening with a paper towel, then use sterile technique to transfer lids and rings to the jars. Place a cookie sheet with sides on an oven rack, set the jars on the cookie, then close the oven door and allow those jars of goodness to bake for 1 hour at 250°F for 1 hour. Turn off your oven after 1 hour, and leave the jars of tomatoes in the oven overnight.

NOTE: You should technically place the jars in a large pot of boiling water (at least 1-inch of water over the jars) and process for ~15-20 minutes (this is called “processing” in a water bath) instead of baking them. I usually don’t “process” them this way – I bake ’em. I’m not an expert, so please use your own discretion for canning.

In the morning, transfer the jars to a countertop or table and ensure that the lids are sealed. Any ones that haven’t sealed properly now need to be stored in the fridge and eaten within the next few days. These tomatoes should last stored in a dark, cool place for up to 6-8 months.

Another way we used up the mountains of tomatoes was finding a salsa recipe that I could be canned and stored for at least a few months. I turned to the internet and canning books for help. What I ended up stumbling upon at the time was a fun website that was entitled “Reclaim Simplicity” who’s author was hilarious. Her name (at least on the website) is Sis. She had some really interesting stories and recipes. I can no longer find the “Doing the Salsa with Sis” recipe – sadly, I am under the impression that this site no longer exists. Because I can no longer find the recipe online and because many people have asked for the recipe over the last few years, I’ve decided to share it. The first year we made this, I’ve adjusted the amounts of a few ingredients to my liking. However, it still is roughly that of Sis. Please modify the recipe to your preference of salsa.


Salsa – the 2011 garden variety

Some upfront notes:

  • “Naked tomatoes” are blanched, peeled, and cored tomatoes
  • A “rough chop” of ingredients equates to the size that vegetable can fit into your food processor. The smaller the vegetable, the easier it will be to blend. However, do not waste too much time perfectly chopping up the ingredients – you’re about to use a food processor to chop them up.
  • How I sterilize canning supplies (jars, lids, rings, and all things needed to can): I like to wash them all in the dishwasher. Place them upside down in a skillet of water. Add a splash of white vinegar to the water, crank up the heat to low-medium. Don’t forget to add the rings and lids to the pan. And don’t forget to watch the water/vinegar levels over time.
  • For the canning: you’ll want to work in an area of your countertop where the hot jars are able to stay until they cool (usually overnight). Trust me, you don’t want to be transferring hot jars full of boiling hot salsa to another location.
  • If some of your jars do not seal properly, eat those jars of salsa first!
  • Some people like to add a little cilantro in their salsa. I recommend adding cilantro after opening up the canned salsa. I don’t can salsa with cilantro in it because the herb ends up kinda slimy in the finished product.
  • All units are in US measurements.
  • By using this template for “lazy canning,” you are doing so at your own discretion.

~1.5 gallons of “naked tomatoes” cut into halves or quarters
(this amount is a rough estimate – you need a ton of tomatoes; you can use a mixture of tomatoes: plum, roma, beefsteak, etc)
2-3 small bell peppers, seeded and roughly chopped
3-5 jalapeño peppers, serrano peppers, or habanero peppers – depending on what spiciness you’d like to achieve, seeded if you’d like (depends on the spiciness you desire), roughly chopped
1 head of garlic, peeled, roughly chopped
2 angry red onions (or 3 normal red onions), peeled and chopped into quarters
3-5 green onions, ends removed and roughly chopped
1/3 cup lime juice, fresh squeezed is the best
2 Tbsp cumin
2 Tbsp black pepper
3 Tbsp canning salt
2 Tbsp sugar (optional)

  1. Gather, wash your ingredients. Put on some great tunes to dance to while making salsa!
  2. Wash and sterilize your canning equipment, jars, rings, and lids
  3. Blanch and peel your tomatoes – working with naked tomatoes is better for canning!
  4. Next, chop your your tomatoes in the food processor. This will probably need to be done in batches. Transfer to a large, non-reactive pan
  5. In a food processor, chop your onions, garlic, and both kinds of peppers. Transfer to the same large, non-reactive pan that contain tomatoes
  6. To the tomato mixture, stir in canning salt, lime juice, black pepper, sugar, and cumin
  7. When no one is looking, give the salsa a taste – Go ahead! Try it on a tortilla chip. Adjust the flavors to your liking – including spiciness of the salsa.
  8. Bring salsa to a boil. Stir occasionally to reduce the scorching
  9. As soon as the salsa is boiling, it is time to can it. Fill hot jars with boiling salsa. Continue to keep the remaining salsa boiling on the stovetop.
  10. After filling the jar with salsa, wipe the top of the jar with a clean paper towel. Ensure there is approximately 1/2 inch of headspace at the top of the jar.
    11.Sterilely transfer the lid on the jar and screw on the ring (finger tight)
  11. You should technically place the cans in a large pot of boiling water (at least 1-inch of water over the jars) and process for ~15-20 minutes) before moving onto the next step. I usually don’t “process” them in the a water bath.
    I let the jars sit on the counter until they’re completely cooled and sealed. You will hear the lids pinging when they seal.
  12. Store canned salsa in a cool, dark place for up to 8-12 months (though ours never lasts that long).
  13. Enjoy your fresh, homemade salsa!

First Expat Christmas

Let’s first start with a new-to-me word:

Expatriate: (noun) often shortened to expat; A person who lives outside their native country.
I had never heard this word before moving to England. And based on our patriotic-ness, I definitely thought it referred only to Americans. Yes, I know that I am typical American, where everything literally revolves around us. I am wrong; the world doesn’t revolve around Americans. Because I lived in Nebraska for almost 30 years and never truly adventured too far from home, I never thought globally before moving abroad or adventuring away from home. I’m still learning about new cultures, foods, and words.

Now it is firmly the summer months in England, where the weather varies week-to-week or day-to-day. The temperature ranges from roughly 50°F (10°C) to nearly 90°F (32°C). The sun is either out in full-force or hiding behind a blanket of clouds. Yesterday was a new one for us: it literally rained all day.

A few weeks ago when the sun was always around (from 5 a.m. until 10 p.m.), I had some nostalgia for winter! When the sun is never really out but the mood is bright and warm; full of holiday festivals and welcoming pubs. Winter, but specifically Christmas time, always warms my heart regardless of the temperature outside.

However, this past Christmas was difficult for me. At the time, we had only lived in the UK for 6 months, and I had only been at my job for 5. I felt like I couldn’t ask to take more than a few days off work to go home for Christmas. Any time less than a week just isn’t worth the cost of the plane tickets nor the intense jet lag. And to be honest, El also couldn’t take that kind of time off work. Instead, we made the best of our time over here! We put up the [fake] Christmas tree that sprinkles needles everywhere, adorned it with our favorite ornaments, and blared Christmas classics on Spotify (because Pandora doesn’t work in the UK). After a trip to B&Q (the British version of Home Depot – with the orange aprons and friendly smiles), we decided to use our American lights plugged in a transformer – at the time, we couldn’t justify buying new lights for the tree – they’re so expensive here.
Christmas Tree

O’ Christmas Tree!

In the UK, the winter season comes with Christmas markets and decorations throughout the city and country. Cambridge was beautifully lit up and the daily market and stores had Christmas-themed items. A specific kind of cheese that El now loves made its first appearance, but we learned that it is only available during the winter season. There was also a special Christmas Market Day along Mill Road in Cambridge; the street was closed down for the day and evening, vendors were outdoors  on the street selling everything from decorations to gift items, antiques to clothing, and of course food and drinks were available everywhere. Just thinking about the mulled wine that was available makes me almost wish for winter Christmas to return soon. But could I please request a bit more sunshine during winter this year?
Let’s discuss what mulled wine is exactly. First of all, when said aloud it sort of sounds like you’re saying “mold wine.” I promise it isn’t moldy at all! Composed of red wine, sugar, orange juice, and seasonal spices (e.g., cinnamon, star anise, and cloves), mulled wine is another reason, or maybe THE reason, that I can’t wait for Christmas this year. It’s warm and spicy, cozy and spirited! Some recipes I’ve seen call for the addition of bay leaves and brandy. I think it is just wonderful, especially on cold, dark, rainy days. One of my co-workers even has spice bags (think tea bags) that she used to prepare homemade mulled wine while we baked Christmas cookies for our workplace. I also learned how to say Merry Christmas in German from another co-worker and found imported Christmas tins of cookies and liquor that could possibly help me get through a British winter.
Christmas cookies, German: Merry Christmas, Spice sachet, Christmas goodies at Lakenheath Commissary, German Apple Liquor

Christmas cookies, Merry Christmas (in German), spice sachet, imported Christmas goodies, German Apple Liquor

I partook in a ladies-only trip down to London to explore the Christmas Markets. We visited the markets in Hyde Park and near the Tate Modern Museum. More mulled wine. More food. More Christmas goodies and gifts. Next year, I wish to visit Christmas Markets in both Germany and in other parts of the UK besides Cambridge and London.
Hyde Park Christmas Market

Hyde Park Christmas Market

El and I also had to make other tough decisions regarding celebrating Christmas. Both of our workplaces had fancy Christmas Parties, which happened to be on the same night, so we compromised. We chose to attend the Postdocs Of Cambridge (PdOC) Society’s Christmas Party this year; next year we will attend El’s work Christmas party. The Christmas Party for the PdOC was held at St. John’s College, one of the 31 colleges associated with the University of Cambridge. There were drinks, speeches, Christmas crackers, and a fancy dinner in the formal hall that made me think we were in a Harry Potter film. The dining hall was decorated for Christmas, complete with a gigantic Christmas tree.
IMG_20141211_195757

At our first British Christmas Party.

We took a short holiday just after Christmas. There are so many choices of where to go and what to see, but we opted for going skiing in the southern part of Germany. We made our travel plans very simple; we flew from Stansted Airport to München (Munich) then hopped on a train to Garmisch-Partenkirchen. Neither of us speak much German (please and thank get you far though in any language). We found that traveling to, from, and within Germany easy to figure out and extremely on schedule.
Mountain view from lunch

Oh, the Alps! The view from one of the ski slopes.

Jen mountain top post lunch 2

Lunch on the ski slopes.

Kindergarten 2

Learning on the “Kingergarten” slope.

Prior to this ski trip, El and I had only ever skied once. In Iowa. For those of you keeping track, Mt Crescent, Iowa is not a mountain range. It is barely a bunny hill. Let’s just say that the ski instructions in Garmish-Partenkirchen were well worth the money spent. We skied for several days at Zugspitze on the Garmisch-Classic. We picked up the sport quickly and have plans to return! El has even proclaimed that skiing is his new favorite sport. By the end of a ski-cation (our fourth day of the trip), El went down the face of the entire mountain with our ski instructor, Jon-O. I gleefully took the ski lift down the mountain with my eyes tightly shut most of the way down, humming songs to myself to preoccupy my brain. Heights are scary for me. And I was alone in the cable car with no one to distract me.

Jen and El skiing

Selfie on the slopes

We were told that our timing for our vacation was impeccable. The schools would be starting on our second day on the slopes, so the ski lifts would be relatively empty. They couldn’t be more right! On that second day, the weather was perfect and there were very few people on the mountain. It was blissful. Being able to see the whole town and Munich from the ski slopes and lift was priceless. The next time we go to Garmisch-Partenkirchen, we’ll try to stay for a full week and book it just after kids are back in school.

I can see for miles!

I can see for miles!

After the ski-cation was over, the rest of the time we spent in München. We stayed near the Marienplatz and Viktualienmarkt in a wonderful bed and breakfast. The lady who ran the B&B was so inviting and made some of the best breakfast platters on our travel adventures so far. If you’re ever in the München area, contact us and we’ll give you the name of this cute B&B.

In München, we did plenty without having a real agenda or itinerary. This El’s style of vacation, not mine. However, we agreed to it prior to going, so I made due without knowing where we’d be going (wherever the wind blew us that day), what we’d be doing, or when (and what) we’d be eating that day. Overall, it was great! Even without knowing, we essentially saw most of the city. The first night we were in München, we stopped by the Haufbrähaus for an “obligatory” brezeln und biers (pretzels and beer).

The outside of Haufbrahaus.

The outside of Haufbrahaus.

We also toured the Schloss Nymphenburg (Nymphenburg Palace) and strolled through the Englicsher Garten (English Garden) complete with watching crazy surfers on the river.

Nymphenburg Palace

Nymphenburg Palace

We also toured the Residenz München (Munich Residence) and Neus Rathaus (New Town Hall) – with the Glockenspiel am Rathausturm. We climbed the tower of St. Peter’s Church to get a bird’s eye view of the Glockenspiel and plaza.

Inside the Neus Rathaus, there is an American stained glass window.

Inside the Neus Rathaus, there is an American stained glass window.

Bird's eye view of Neus Rathaus.

Bird’s eye view of Neus Rathaus.

I smiling even though terrified.

I’m smiling even though I’m terrified.

We also visited München’s Botanical Gardens and ventured over to the BMW Museum and Welt. Somehow, Elliott was able to talk me into going up the Olympic Tower in the Olympiapark. The top of the Tower a great view of the city and the stadium while having some really awesome pictures and signatures from famous artists.

The view from the Olympia Tower.

The view from the Olympia Tower.

Sign2

How far is Garmisch?

Olympia Tower at dusk.

Olympia Tower at dusk.

BMW Welt.

Outside the BMW Museum and Welt.

Dear Santa,
Below is my Christmas list for this year. I promise that I’m on the nice list!
1. A real Christmas tree to decorate
2. A week in Garmisch-Partenkirchen to refine my skiing skills
3. Attend Christmas markets in Germany
4. More sunshine during the British winter
5. World peace
Love,
Jen

Funny phrases

Living and working in the UK has led me to laugh a lot. My British co-workers have come to learn that while conversing with me, my laughter indicates that either I didn’t understand anything they came out of their mouth or that the words they said were pronounced in a very British way. Most of my giggling is due to confusion and misunderstanding of what people are trying to say in general. It definitely makes conversations with me lighthearted.

Here is a collection of twenty phrases with American English translations that I’ve learned since moving here:

1. “Away with the fairies” = Daydreaming.
Example: Tara hasn’t responded to your e-mail? She must be away with the fairies. I personally would say, “Tara is in la-la land.”

2. “Bob’s your uncle” = There you have it. OR And there you go.
This is usually used at an end of list of instructions.

3. “Swings and roundabouts” = It all evens out in the end.

4. “Sixes and sevens” = Refers to a state of confusion
Apparently this is based off a game.

5. “The dawn chorus” = Refers to the chirping and singing birds at dawn.
I tried to sleep in today but was woke up by the dawn chorus.

6. “Horses for course” = Different people are better at different things.
I would say “different strokes for different folks.”

7. “Chin wag” = gossip or gossiping

8. “Donkey’s years” = a really long time
Example: I haven’t seen you in donkey’s years!

9. “To have a butcher’s” = To have a look.
This is derived from Cockney Rhyming Slang of “butcher’s hook” to mean look. When people start throwing cockney rhymes into sentences, it gets incredibly complicated in no time!

10. “It’s monkeys outside!” = It is really cold outside.
This sentences is derived from the sentence, “It is cold enough outside to freeze the balls off a brass monkey.” The etymology (or so I’ve been told) of this phrase that ships used to store cannonballs in brass trays called “monkeys.” Whenever it became very cold outside, the monkey would contract and the cannonballs would thereby fall off. I’m fairly confident that this is just urban legend though, but the phrase is still funny!

11. “Up the wooden hill to Bedfordshire” = To go to bed.
The Cockney Rhyming Slang for this would be: “Up the apples and pears to Bedfordshire” in which “apples and pears” translates to stairs.

12. “Her majesty’s pleasure” = In prison

13. “A cockup” = To mess up

14. “Up the duff” = A lady is pregnant. (I think a lot of my friends say, “bun in the oven.”)

15. “Easy peasy” or “Easy peasy lemon squeezy” = really easy
My co-workers and boss say this expression a lot.

16. “Know your onions” = I believe this is a saying based on a French expression. It means to be knowledgeable

17. “A one off” = One time only

18. “The dog’s bollocks” = The absolute best. Americans and Aussies say “awesome.”

19. “Nice one” = It is good. This is a completely underwhelming compliment that isn’t sarcastic, but it definitely feels like it could be. It really is a compliment.

20. “Lose the plot” = This roughly translates to either meaning that you have lost focus or that you’ve gone crazy (or irrational).
Sam used to known his onions but lost his plot. He ended up making a right wrong cockup and is now living at Her Majesty’s pleasure. For those still needing a translation: Sam was knowledgeable but then went crazy. He messed up and is now in prison.

And Bob’s your uncle!

I would love to know other British phrases. Leave them in the comments for us to enjoy (and for me to giggle at for awhile). I’ll test them on my British co-workers!

London: the one day tour guide

This is my “tour guide” of how to see the best touristy things in London in only one busy day. As this is my opinion, the list is not all-inclusive but represents what I think are the most fantastic tourist things to do and see in London.

I would recommend this for those who do not generally like cities (but wants to see some British history and is forced to be in London for a day), are passing through London (with a one night stay-over) on their way to the rest of Europe, or for those who recently arrived in England and now live within a short train ride from London. This is a jam-packed full day trip, requiring the following: at least 12 hours, a positive attitude (that you’re trying to see an amazing city in only one day), and a great pair of walking shoes. And maybe a nice weatherproof layering jacket.

We usually buy an “open return” train ticket from Cambridge that includes using the London Underground during off-peak times for the entire day. Off-peak is before 6:30 a.m. and after 9:30 a.m. The open return part of the ticket allows for the user to return to their origin of destination any time after 7 p.m. on the same day.

Platform 9 3/4 at Kings Cross Train Station
Generally speaking, El and I take an express train into Kings Cross Station when going to London. Therefore, this area is a fun stopping point for us. There is a cart to take pictures with (including a scarf representing your favorite house) and a store for all of your needed Harry Potter accessories, including wands, tasty treats, and clothing.
Time: 5 minutes, unless you really do want your picture taken with the cart that is “going into” the Platform area. There’s always a queue for that. I honestly believe that the British do enjoy a good queue.

Platform 9 3:4

Platform 9 3/4 at King’s Cross Station

The British Museum
This Museum contains global antiquities, including Greek, Roman, and Egyptian artifacts. On occasion, The Great Wave Off Kanagawa by Katsushika Hokusai is supposedly on display. We keep stopping by to see if it is being displayed – not only is it our favorite piece of artwork, it is never on display in museums when we are there. We missed it in Paris by a few days.
The other reason why the British Museum has become our normal first stop is because our commuting underground tickets don’t work until off peak hours, and we are usually aiming to get into London before 9 a.m. for a day trip. Therefore, El and I think it is an easy way for us to spend at least a half hour before being able to use the Underground. And after riding the train for 45 minutes, we think it is nice to walk about a mile from the train station to the museum. Bonus is that you get the luxury to walk through Russell Square (a lovely park) and the University College London campus on your journey from the station. The British Museum also has a nice selection of teas in their cafe area.
Cost: Donation suggestion of £5
Time: I could spend most of a day inside the museum. We generally only spend 30 minutes or 1 hour in this one because it is part of our normal London routine.
Closest Underground Stations: Russell Square, Holborn, Tottenham Court Road, and Godge Street

Trafalgar Square and The National Gallery Museum
This is a public space in central London that is used for many ceremonies (New Year’s Eve, Christmas, Silence in the Square (Remembrance Day),  St. Patrick’s Day Parade goes around it, etc) in addition to a place for protests and a general meeting or gathering point. Because I particularly like people watching (sorry, I know it sounds a little creepy), Trafalgar Square is a place for me to sit, relax, and watch the world go by. I particularly like watching how people interact with each other and their reaction to street performers.
There are four plinths within the square, which are home to three statues: General Sir Charles James Napier, Major-General Sir Henry Havelock, and an equestrian statue of King George IV. The fourth plinth is used to showcase commissioned artworks. At the time of posting this (and unveiled at the beginning of March 2015), the current piece of artwork is Hans Haacke’s Gift Horse, is a skeletal and riderless horse. Tied to one of the horse’s front leg is an electronic ribbon that displays a live ticker of the London Stock Exchange. It is said to link money, power, and history together in one piece. You can see and read more about this display and past displays here.
Next to Trafalgar Square is The National Gallery Museum, which contains many fantastic pieces of artwork. The website boasts 30 highlighted paintings that are a must-see. I personally believe that the two most popular works housed in this museum are The Virgin of the Rocks by Leonardo da Vinci and Sunflowers by Vincent van Gogh.
Cost: Donation suggestion of £5
Time: I could also spend a lot of time inside this museum as well. I try to limit my time to only an hour in this museum too.
Closest Underground Station: Charing Cross

The fourth plinth was the Hahn/Cock by Katharina Fritsch from July 2013 until February 2015.

The fourth plinth was the Hahn/Cock (blue rooster shown at the far left side of the picture) by Katharina Fritsch and was on display in Trafalgar Square from July 2013 until February 2015.

Horse Guards Parade at Whitehall
From Trafalgar Square, the Horse Guards Parade is a large parade ground less than a 10 minutes walk. Many people (crowds!) take pictures of the two guardsmen on horses outside of the area. If you time it correctly, you can watch the Changing of the Guard ceremony.
Time: Ceremony occurs at 11 a.m. daily, except Sundays at 10 a.m.
Closest Underground Station: Charing Cross

St. James’s Park
Behind the Horse Guards Parade is this wonderful park. In addition to the pelicans (given by a Russian ambassador over 350 years ago), there are wonderful fauna and flora here. I recently learned that the pelicans are fed fish at 2:30-3 p.m. on Duck Island within the park. The walk through the park leads up to Buckingham Palace. There is also a Princess Diana Memorial in the park.
Time: Under an hour
Closest Underground Stations: Westminster and Charing Cross

St. James Park Lake with the London Eye in the background. Photo taken by Gloria Borgstahl.

St. James Park Lake with the London Eye in the background. Photo taken by Gloria Borgstahl.

Buckingham Palace
At the other end of St. James’s Park is the residence of HRM Queen Elizabeth II. Four foot guards indicated that Queen is in residence, two guards indicates she is not. The changing of the guards also occurs here at 11:30 a.m. and lasts approximately 45 minutes. During the spring and summer, this occurs daily. In autumn and winter, this occurs every other day. When it is wet or cold, the guards wear grey coats instead of red. From late July until late September, you can tour parts of Buckingham Palace.
Cost: Free if you stay outside of the palace. If touring the palace, prices vary from £20 up to £75, depending on what you see and if you get a private tour.
Closest Underground Station: Victoria, Green Park, Hyde Park Corner

E&J Buckingham Palace 2013 2

The Palace of Westminster – also known as the Houses of Parliament
This palace is the home to the Elizabeth Tower and is widely known for its iconic bell inside: Big Ben! This palace and its tower are well known to people outside of London. The parliament debates and hearings are open to all visitors to attend. Permanent UK residents can book tours of the Elizabeth Tower to see Big Ben up close and personal.
Cost: Free – for the tour, you must contact your MP
Closest Underground Station: Westminster

20150314_122212

The iconic Big Ben

Westminster Abbey
This is the church for weddings and coronations of the United Kingdom’s Royal Family. It has a lot of history within it and is the burial site for over 3,000 people – from monarchs to scientists to poets. No pictures can be taken inside the Abbey, but you can purchase a tour booklet with pictures of the abbey for £2 as you enter. There are also free audio guides in many languages available. On Sundays, Christmas, and Easter the abbey is only open for worship.
Cost: £20
Time: Expect to spend 2 hours touring with the audio guide.
Closest Underground Station: Westminster

Westminster Abbey

The London Eye
This attraction comes with a small disclaimer: I must admit that I love Ferris wheels! There is something that attracts me to them, almost like a magnet. I drag El into every single Ferris wheel that I possibly can. I’ve always found them to be fun even though I am slightly terrified of heights. The London Eye happens to be a giant Ferris wheel, so I’m a little biased on the importance of seeing and experiencing a ride on it. This gigantic wheel is located on the South Bank of the River Thames. It is also known as the Millennium Wheel, but I’ve never heard it called that.
When it was built in 1999, the structure (443 ft; 135 m) and wheel (diameter of 394 ft, 120 m) made it the tallest Ferris wheel in the world. Since then, the Star of Nanchang, the Singapore Flyer, and the High Roller (Las Vegas, Nevada; currently the tallest) have surpassed the height of the London Eye. Technically speaking though, the Eye is the tallest European Ferris wheel and “the world’s tallest cantilevered observation wheel” meaning it is supported by an A-frame from only one side (the non-river side). Until 2013, the Eye was the highest public viewpoint in London; the Shard opened in its observation decks on the 68th, 69th, and 72nd stories with the 72nd story to be much higher than the Eye.
In the London Eye, are 32 capsules; each one representing one of London’s boroughs, which can hold up to 25 people. Inside each air-conditioned passenger capsule is seating and room to walk around. When El and I went in spring 2013, there were tablets in 4 areas that provide the names and descriptions of buildings and landmarks that riders can see from inside the capsule.
Cost: ~£21, but discounted tickets of £19 can be purchased online. Additionally, private bookings, fast track tickets (skip the queue), and tour guides are available.
Time: One revolution in this Ferris wheel requires roughly 30 minutes. The rate of rotation is slow enough that it is easy to walk on and off of the moving capsules. However, the Ferris wheel is stopped when elderly or disabled passengers are embarking or disembarking the capsules for safety purposes.
Closest Underground Station: Waterloo

Jenny London Eye 2013

The Tower of London
History at its finest. This Tower was built in 1066 by William the Conqueror as both a palace and defense system. With its unique history (22 executions, prisoners galore, and many exotic animals), quirky superstitions (7 ravens are kept in the Tower of London and are fed a steady, daily diet of 170 g of raw meat and blood-soaked biscuits), fantastic jewelry display (the Crown Jewels are stored and displayed on site) and excellent on-site free tour guides (the Beefeaters), the Tower has so much to offer and is literally a piece of history that you can walk through. Throughout the year, there are different events (performances, talks, activities) that are available at the Tower. For example, if you are great at making plans 5-6 months in advance, you can have the opportunity to see exactly how the Beefeaters lock up the Tower at night with the Ceremony of the Keys!
Cost: £24.50, £23.10 if purchased online; £1 for the Ceremony of the Keys
Closest Underground Station: Tower Hill
Time: I believe the Tower can be an all-day tour. However, it can also be done in under 2 hours.

Poppies surrounding the Tower of London. Poppies were installed from August until November 2014. After Remembrance Day, the poppies were removed and mailed to those who had purchased them.

Poppies surrounding the Tower of London. Poppies were installed from August until November 2014. After Remembrance Day, the poppies were removed and mailed to those who had purchased them.

The Tower Bridge
The Tower Bridge was built in the 1880’s and is a combination of a bascule bridge and a suspension bridge. Like many other attractions on my list, the Tower Bridge is an iconic symbol of London. It consists of two bridge towers with two horizontal walkways connecting them. They were designed to allow people to walk from one side of the Thames to the other, even when a bridge is drawn for tall ships to sail through. Under the Tower Bridge Act (Corporation of London Act), the city is required to raise the Bridge to provide access to and egress from the Upper Pool of London for registered vessels with a structure of 30 ft or larger. This service is free, only requires 24 hours’ notice, and can happen any time during the year. You can find out the next time the bridge will be raised hereClosest Underground Stations: Tower Hill, London Bridge, Bermondsey
Cost: free, £10.50 if you go to the top walkway of the bridge and get a tour
Closest Underground Station: Tower Hill

Tower Bridge

Learning English

The more time I spend at work, the more [British] words and phrases I learn. Here is a collection (part 1 of many, I hope) of new-to-me words and phrases I have learned while living in England. I have provided the American word(s) that are the equivalent.

AA: the Automobile Association (equivalent to the US version of AAA)

A&E: the accident and emergency department of a hospital (emergency room or ER)

Aggro: aggressive or problematic

Aubergine: a purple vegetable (eggplant)

Bits ‘n bobs: various things; a way of saying “this and that” or “stuff and things”

Blimey: a word used to exclaim surprise (However, I sometimes feel that this is used sarcastically at times.)

Bonnet: the panel on a car that covers the engine (hood)

Boot: the rear storage compartment of a car (trunk).

Bubble and squeak: an English dish with pan-fried leftover vegetables, typically from a roast dinner (or Sunday roast). The main ingredients are usually potatoes and cabbage, but any leftover vegetables are fair game. The dish apparently gets its name because it makes bubbling and squeaking sounds while you’re cooking it.

Bucket loads: a large amount. For example, my co-worker told me, “We have bucket loads of data!”

Bum bag: What Americans call a “fanny pack”

Car hire: car rental

Cheers: a way to say thank you, but it can also be used to say good-bye

Childminder: a person who looks after babies and young children while the parents are working (childcare)

Chips: fried potatoes (steak fries)

Cooker: the kitchen appliance that can be gas or electric used to cook food (stove)

Courgette: the green summer squash (zucchini)

Crisps: thin potato slices that come in a bag (potato chips or chips)

Diary: a book with spaces for each day of the year that one notes appointments or information (Americans would call this a daily organizer or a personal calendar or an agenda book)

Earworm: a piece of music that repeats in a person’s mind, even after it no longer playing (or being sang by your co-worker)

Elephant roll: a roll of paper towels

Fanny: ladies private parts (pro tip: never say fanny pack in the UK)

Flat: apartment

Footpath: the area adjacent to the street where pedestrians walk (sidewalk)

Fringe: the collective strands of hair that cover all or parts of the forehead (Americans call them bangs)

Full stop: the punctuation mark at the end of most sentences (period)

Gherkin: a pickle made from a cucumber (pickle)

Green fingers: to have talent for being able to grow plants (green thumb)

Half-#: thirty minutes after the hour. For example: The seminar begins at half-nine.

Hire: to rent something

Hob: the heating element on a cooker; what Americans call a burner on the stove.

Holiday: vacation

Jacket potato: a baked potato with the skin still on the potato

Jumper: a sweater

Launderette: a self-service place to do laundry (laundromat)

Learnt: past tense of learn (learned)

Lift: elevator

Lorry: a large motor vehicle (truck)

Miffed: annoyed or irritated

MOT: (pronounced as the letters, not the word) a annual safety and “roadworthiness” test required for motor vehicles over 3 years old

Motorway: a controlled-access highway that has a very fast speed limit and a high volume of traffic (freeway, interstate)

Nappy: the adsorbent garment for babies (diapers)

National Insurance: required payments made to the UK government from earnings to pay for welfare benefits, such as the NHS (national health service – the healthcare system in the UK) and the pension fund.

Pants: underwear

Peckish: a little bit hungry

Pelican crossing: pedestrian crosswalk with stop lights controlled by the pedestrians (crosswalk)

Postcode: the alphanumeric code used to identify an address (ZIP Code)

Quid: the informal way of referring to the pound sterling monetary unit. (Note: the plural form remains quid) – similar to referring to the US dollar as a buck.

Rota: a roster of names with a rotation of duties (sometimes referred to as a monitor)

Rubber: a pencil eraser

Rubbish: 1) literally the garbage or 2) something is terrible

Sat Nav: satellite navigation (GPS)

Sellotape: transparent adhesive tape (Scotch tape)

Sleeping policeman: mound in the road used to slow down vehicles (speed bump)

Solicitor: legal representative (lawyer, attorney)

Telly: television

Tinned: canned as in “tinned soup” or “a tin of tomatoes”

Toliet: refers to the room, not the plumbing device (restroom or bathroom) – it can sometimes be referred to as the loo or the water closet, but I’ve mostly seen “toliet”

Toucan crossing: a type of pedestrian crossing that allows pedestrians and cyclists to both cross the street (named because the two can cross together).

Trainers: athletic shoes (sneakers)

Treacle: a thick, refined sugar syrup (molasses)

Uni: short for university

Wellies: short for Wellington boots, which are waterproof rubber boots

Whilst: another way to say “while”

Windscreen: the window part of a car that the driver looks through (windshield)

Zebra crossing: the area of a road with painted stripes, where vehicles are required to stop if a pedestrian is crossing within them. Note: The Beatles Abbey Road album features a zebra crossing. And yes, if you go to the original place to re-create the album cover, the cars are required to stop for you.

Zed: the last letter of the alphabet (in the US, it is pronounced “zee”)

 

BRCA2 Cycle Path

I love solving mysteries and problems, which is how I would describe what I do for a living. Technically speaking, I am a biochemist – a structural biologist. I like looking at the 3-dimensional structure of proteins and understanding how other things (other proteins, DNA, small molecules, etc) fit into those proteins. And while I have some interest in understanding the biological processes of cancer, I am not a cancer researcher. However, I have been spending a lot of my spare time trying to understanding more about BRCA2 (pronounced as “bracka two” and stands for Breast Cancer Type 2 susceptibility protein). For most genes and proteins, the gene is in italics while the protein remains in normal font.

BRCA2 was discovered in 1995 by Professor Michael Stratton and Dr. Richard Wooster in cooperation with the Wellcome Trust Sanger Institute. This institute is a charitably funded genomic research center and is located about 9 miles south of Cambridge in a town called Hinxton. The Sanger Institute is a leader in the Human Genome Project, which is an international scientific research project intended to map and identify all of the genes of human genome, both physically and functionally. (Sidenote: a genome is the genetic instructions of how an organism is put together and functions.) From the beginning of the even the idea of the project, there have been strong supporters and strong detractors of this project.

Recently, El’s family has undergone some extensive genetic testing to unveil that some of his family members have a mutation in the BRCA2 gene. His family has a history of breast cancer, specifically related to this gene. Some mutations (but not others) in BRCA2 lead to an abnormal function in the BRCA2 protein. To date, researchers have identified over 450 different mutations in the BRCA2 gene. Some mutations (but not all) of BRCA2 correlated with an increased chance of breast, ovarian, prostate, and pancreatic cancer(s). The mutation that several people in El’s family have causes the BRCA2 protein to be truncated; thereby, causing a reduction in the function of the protein. Why does this all matter? Well, the protein created by the BRCA2 gene is involved in repairing damaged DNA. It binds to and regulates another protein (RAD51) in order to fix breaks found in your DNA. Breaks in DNA happen, which is why your body has a system to repair them. It is only when there are (certain) mutations BRCA2 that result in the cells dividing in an uncontrollable way (this is pretty much the textbook definition of cancer).

Being so far away from El’s family, there really isn’t too much we can do as each member of his family has genetic testing done and then determining what to do with those results. I am so amazed at how his family is coping with the results, especially one person in particular. The level of determination and sustained hope she has is so inspiring, and I admire her for how she (and the rest of his family) are tackling the situation. Therefore, when I discovered there was a BRCA2 cycle path, I knew I had to ride it, no matter the distance (for the record, it is approximately 2 miles long). This cycle path is part of the National Cycle Network in England and extends from the Addenbrooke’s Hospital site (where I work) with a nearby community called Great Shelford. At its unveiling in 2005, it was the 10,000th mile of the National Cycle Network. To represent the 10,257 base pairs of the BRCA2 gene, a series of thermoplastic stripes were heat welded in four different colors and represent the nucleotide sequence of BRCA2. The color scheme is the following: green is adenine (A), red is thymine (T), blue is cytosine (C), and yellow is guanine (G). At each end of the cycle path is a metal structure of the DNA double helix.

Double helix of DNA

DNA double helix

BRCA2 cycle path

BRCA2 cycle path

10,000 mile, 10,257 stripes

10,000 miles, 10,257 stripes