Thursday, 22 December 2011

England October 2011

Three days before Christmas and I am realising that if any of 2011 remains unblogged-about after today, it will probably remain so for evermore.  So I'll fly back a couple of months and give you a quick scattershot tour of our latest trip to the UK.

To start with, our flight was cancelled and we had to come home and try again the next day.  Fortunately Toby regarded DFW Airport as a super-huge playground filled with nice people who smiled at him.  We just had to prevent him from throwing himself under luggage carts.

Toby at the airport
Toby slept like the proverbial baby on the aeroplane, but once we arrived he started sleeping like a real baby - that is, up and screaming half the night.  Our friends Naomi and Steve suffered through one night with us, although we were told they had a giggle at us desperately intoning, "You are feeling sleeee-py", in harmony, at 2 am.  With very little effect.  Our one consolation was that their baby didn't wake up and join the party.

Naomi and Luke, me and Toby
We enjoyed the sweeping chalk hills of the Chilterns, the unruffled expanse of the Severn Estuary, the willows delicately dipping their branches into the Thames, the weathered red brick of a house over a century old.

At Clevedon
Near Hughendon Manor

Admiring a grapevine in Streatley

Graham, Toby and Dad on Streatley Hill

By the Thames

Taplow Court

We played on tombstones and swings.



We visited hedgehogs, and saw seven swans swimming.

Rescue hedgehog at Tiggywinkles Animal Hospital
 
Their hedgehog museum...
...had quite a range of exhibits!

We spent time with family.





And a small boy celebrated his first birthday!





It was fun!

Monday, 12 December 2011

Sand, slides and stepping stones

You will probably remember me blogging about Granbury and Dinosaur Valley State Park before - it's a favourite place of ours to take family when they come to visit, or just to hang out ourselves.  Normally we would just do a day trip down there, but this time we decided to make it a weekend.

Maddy, Graham and Toby in Granbury

Granbury town square was all dressed up for Christmas, with cowboy-hatted Christmas trees and wreaths in every window.  Anthony and Maddy picked up some Texas souvenirs in the stores and we ate lunch in our favourite 50's-themed diner, Rinky-Tinks, with a bit of Elvis on the juke box.

In Rinky-Tinks

Venturing outside the square for a change, we strolled along a pleasant street and found a park.  Standing in a playground for the afternoon would not previously have been high on our list of weekend-away activities, but having a one-year-old kinda changes your perspective on these things.  Toby discovered slides for the first time and went right on down, head-first, giggles all the way!  And again.  And again.  And just as many times as we'd lift him back to the top, which we were quite happy to do, giggling almost as much as he was.

Swings are an old favourite, of course

Wheeee!

After all that hard work it was definitely time for an ice cream!

Back to Rinky-Tinks again

And then a visit to the beach.  Somebody had dumped a few truckloads of sand at the edge of Lake Granbury, adorned it with palm-roofed huts and labelled it City Beach.  It certainly wasn't a tropical paradise, but it wasn't a bad little spot to watch the sun setting over the water.  We let Toby loose on the pier and in the splash park (dry for the winter) and got a few atmospheric shots.



I know it's hardly top-notch cuisine, but should you be travelling in Texas with a one-year-old, I can highly recommend Spring Creek Barbeque and the free breakfasts you get at motel chains.  Spring Creek, for a start, has highchairs with trays, which makes life so much easier, and serves meals with unlimited sides.  Since Toby can eat beans and potato salad till the cows come home, all I had to do was keep refilling my plate and passing it on to him, and we were both happy.  Next morning at the motel, the buffet offered almost all his favourite items - bagels, cream cheese, bananas, milk - he just kept on stuffing it in, while we tucked into our favourite - a nice big Texas-shaped waffle.



To work off all that food, we went down to the Paluxy River for some dinosaur footprint hunting.  We should hardly be thankful for the drought, but the river was lower than I've ever seen it, leaving the stepping stones to the main footprint area high and dry.  Even Maddy, who was nervous about river crossings, had no trouble at all.  We hiked up to an overlook to admire the surrounding countryside, and then it was back down and time to find some lunch.

Anthony, Maddy, Martha and Toby on the banks of the Paluxy

Intrepid explorer in socks

Crossing the river

Paluxy from the viewpoint

Well, you know, we wouldn't want anyone to go hungry or anything!


 Not that that's likely to happen at the Loco Coyote, where you get to overdose both on fried catfish and Texas rustic chic.  Or whatever the appropriate label is for sawdust on the floor, graffiti on the walls and drinks served in Mason jars.  Rustic probably fits, but chic... maybe not.  It's a fun place to eat, though!

At Loco Coyote

We were there, too

From the outside

Heading home with our bellies full, we swung off the highway for a few minutes to drive through Glen Rose's quaint town square, and discovered a new attraction: Big Rocks Park.  It has, um, big rocks.  How and when they arrived is probably an interesting geological question, but one we didn't feel like engaging right then.  Maybe next time...

Big rocks and a seriously depleted river





Cracker? No?

Well, I'll eat it then.

Monday, 5 December 2011

Hosting Thanksgiving

OK, I have to confess.  This will be a very boring Thanksgiving story.  Everything went right and it was a lovely day.  For an interesting story you need a few things going wrong.  I heard a couple of interesting stories this year - like the one about mis-measuring bourbon to go in the stuffing.  Apparently if you put far too much in, all the alcohol doesn't boil off.  Or the one about going to cook dinner at an Asian friend's house, and discovering at the last minute that she doesn't have any baking trays, and it's quite difficult to roast a turkey in a wok.  But as I said, we didn't have so much as a lumpy gravy panic.

Where's my food???

We're working on it, baby!

So what do you want to know?  Well, it was my first Thanksgiving dinner cooked on American soil.  Back when I was free and single and shared a house with lots of people who liked to eat, I got into the habit of celebrating the American feast for a few years, until the number of people we wanted to invite outgrew the available space rather badly.  Then I moved to Texas, where the generosity of the natives ensured that we did nothing but turn up and eat other people's food for several years.  Until this year, where we had guests ourselves, in the shape of Graham's parents, and felt like it was about time we repaid some hospitality.  With Anthony and Maddy and my friends Sharon and Jan, there were six of us plus the little one.  Not too ridiculous a number to cook for.

Look, the table's laid and the starters are ready.

And here's all the food, ready to eat.

We had turkey, of course.  And stuffing cooked in little balls, and roast potatoes (because as Brits it is unthinkable to have roast dinner without the best bit), and mashed potatoes, and sweet potatoes (not with marshmallows on) and green beans and carrots and cranberry sauce and... are you getting hungry yet?  If you are, there's one recipe I want to share, if only because I made it with kale from my very own garden.  And it could go with lots of things, so you don't have to wait till next Thanksgiving to make it.

Kale with Currants, Lemon and Olives
1/4 cup / 2 oz dried currants (or raisins)
1 lb kale
1 tbsp butter
1 tbsp olive oil
1 medium onion, thinly sliced
1/2 cup / 4 fl oz chicken stock (or turkey stock if you've already made some from giblets)
1/2 cup / 3 oz sliced pitted kalamata olives
zest of one lemon and 1 tbsp of its juice
salt and pepper

Cut your kale leaves off the plant and throw straight into boiling water for 5 minutes until cooked.  Tip a bit of the hot water over the currants in a bowl, to soften them, and chop the kale coarsely.

Get a fairly large frying pan / skillet, and heat the butter and olive oil.  Cook the onion over a moderate heat until soft.  Add the stock and kale, cover and cook for 3 minutes or so until the kale is hot and sizzling.  Stir in the drained currants, olives, lemon juice and zest and keep stirring till it's all heated through.  Season with salt and pepper.

Aaah, finally!

Toby fans will be pleased to hear that he got his own bowlful and enjoyed it very much.  Except perhaps the green beans, many of which were found hiding in unlikely places afterwards.  He was also enthralled by the Macy's Thanksgiving Parade.

Look at all those people!

Watching this on Thanksgiving morning is a bit like watching the fireworks in London at New Year - it has to be on the TV, even if just to provide some background music.  After lunch Toby himself was the main entertainment.  Who needs TV when you have a baby in the house?

Mine, Grandma!

Aren't I hilarious, Grandad?