Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Oh, to be (back) in England...

...now that August's practically here in New England. We returned from two weeks in the land of scones, cider and fluffy sheep this past Saturday evening, only to be assaulted by withering heat and humidity, neither of which are at all to my taste. There's a reason I spend my summer holidays in a country famous for its supposedly wretched climate: I like cool, cloudy weather. To wake each morning knowing that the day will include the drinking of cask-conditioned ales, the casual use of medieval buildings, and the sight and sound of literally hundreds of those aforementioned sheep more than outweighs any theoretical inconvenience associated with carrying an umbrella!

Anyway, we had a terrific visit, and did so many wonderful things: country life stuff, medievalist stuff, playgoing stuff (King Lear at the Globe was a high point), beer-related stuff, etc. The food stuff was not without its challenges, especially - alas! - in those country pubs so dear to my heart, although the look on the face of the barmaid at the Fox in Loxley as she processed the concept of not eating meat OR dairy was worth the price of the whole trip. "So...no cream? No butter?" We had some bread, salad, two excellent pints of the local bitter and were perfectly content, but the poor woman was clearly discomfited by the whole business. Fortunately, we had a kitchen most of the time, so we evolved a strategy of eating a big breakfast at home, drinking pints and maybe salad and/or the ubiquitous chips at lunch, and either cooking or going to veg-friendly places for dinner. 

Putting aside the fact that the British pound is currently using the US dollar as a particularly beloved chew toy, we had terrific meals at 222 Veggie in London, the Gardener's Arms in Oxford (a cool pub with an all-vegetarian menu: O, gladsome day!),  and some great Thai and Indian dinners as well. On balance, my favorite meal of the trip was at the Warehouse Cafe in Birmingham, which not only serves delicious food but has a lovely, mellow atmosphere and is run by people with a very admirable and positive outlook. I'm going to try replicating that rhubarb crumble with soy cream as soon as my jet lag wears off; if ever you find yourself in Digbeth, which could conceivably happen, it's well worth a visit. http://www.thewarehousecafe.com.

As far as cooking goes, I used a lot of mushrooms, asparagus and wee yellow potatoes, all of which are in plenteous supply at any village shop. Rental cottages carry inevitable challenges for those who would actually cook, but these are the times I become what my partner calls "the McGyver of the Kitchen." I've figured out how to turn on the cooker, located one semi-sharp knife and a bashed-up skillet. I have a can of stewed tomatoes, some dried rosemary, a quarter jar of peanut butter, mushrooms, olive oil and a few potatoes: let's see what I can do. If I say so myself, we came up with a few decent things, and it's fun to do that sometimes, but as much as I love being in England, it's always good to come home, which I see as a nice testament to my good fortune in having such a happy one. After a blissful reunion with Lucy, the World's Greatest Dog, we slept like rocks in our very own beds, and the following day I spent the afternoon grocery shopping, then chopping, mixing and stirring up an elaborate Thai dinner while slamming back splendid carrot juice-based martinis. Sigh: there really is no place like home.

And on that note, I give you: a cocktail recipe! You have to admit that it is such Evelyn Waugh-like fun to get out the cocktail things. I freely confess my love of cocktails: pretty colors, nifty stemware, alcohol, what's not to like? I also love carrot juice, so one night I decided to combine the two and came up with the following. The gentle reader should bear in mind that we use a big shaker that makes 4 martinis, so proceed with caution if you don't like 'em strong. And with that minor caveat I present to you what we affectionately call...

Bugs Bunny in Drag

In a cocktail shaker, combine:
~ 8 oz. vodka
~ 4 oz. Cointreau, Triple Sec or other orange liqueur
~ 3 oz. carrot juice
~ 3 oz. orange juice (pear juice works nicely, too)
~ 1 tbsp. freshly grated ginger
~ 4-5 ice cubes

Shake until your arm hurts and your hand goes numb from the cold; it will only taste better if, during this part of the process, you picture Bugs fluttering his eyelashes seductively at the Tasmanian Devil. 

Pour into your swanky martini glasses and enjoy!

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