Monday, June 22, 2009

The Man Who Would Be King: Matt's 1st Father's Day

Wimbledon Park, the newly discovered

"Three summers and a thousand years ago..." the day dawned cloudy, but we were hopeful for the sun as we threw our rucksacks over our backs and continued across the treacherous Indian mountains and desserts to the powerfully alluring Kafiristan in order to claim our place as future kings of the wild unruly natives. It had been days since we'd seen civilization. Roman was exhausted from crawling in the sand, I was nearing the end of my stash of Cadbury bars, but Matt insisted we press on...

* * *

Ok ok so I'm no Rudyard Kipling, and this story is a little less, strictly speaking, "adventurous" than the one taken by the loony but loveable Daniel Dravot and Peachey Carnehan in The Man Who Would Be King but upon returning from our short and impromptu day at Wimbledon Park this weekend to celebrate Matt's first Father's Day, we too felt that we'd made a random but adventure-filled pilgrimage to a land far, far away which held many wonderous and splendid things in waiting.

the two heroes; photo credit

I'd never been to Wimbledon Park, just a short 2 mile walk from our flat, or a short trip on the local bus, but had heard Matt sing its praises ("sounds like an opportunity for men such as we...") many a time based on short excursions there on his bicycle. I kind of wanted to stay at home and tried my best to avoid heading out but the weather was somewhat cooperative, so, against my will, we packed a picnic lunch, a blanket, put Roman into his midge-mobile and headed over.

We missed the bus and so had to walk (trek, really, hence the Kafiristan comparison). Once there, though, it felt as if we'd truly left London. Wimbledon Park is pretty much the opposite if my previous conception of British manicured natural areas of leisure.

wild and snarly alright.

Wild "snarly" (as Matt called them) weeds, trees, shrubs and bushes grew everywhere with no rhyme or reason. Unpruned trees displayed endless branches and leaves that arched and overarched here and there creating a delicate, beautiful canopy over the earth and us. I kept looking for the "green," the opening where people would be lounging, playing cricket, or chasing dogs, but nothing. Just a path leading through forest and more forest.

Eventually we found a hidden spot nestled beneath giant trees and abundant in moss, soft grass and shade. Here we partook in our delicious picnic lunch of leftover KFC (admit it, you too love cold fried chicken!), cucumber salad, and cold baked beans. For a special treat Matt had scooped out
the flesh of a particularly ripe cantelope and added a touch of lime juice to it. Perfection in a bowl.

Even Roman showed his appreciation for the excursion: he was silently mesmerized by the green surroundings. He didn't cry the entire time. Hey, that works for me! And as for the father in question, naturally he felt like a King after such a wildly successful outing. :)

Here are the best pictures from our father's day at Wimbledon park:

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Wednesday, June 17, 2009

A Friendly Summer Salad

A friendly summer salad.

Moving to a new place as a Texan always posed a unique challenge. Finding a home that feels homier than the Lone Star State is hard enough, but finding a city that can come even somewhat close to demonstrating the kind of friendliness you find in Texas - where the state motto is "Friendship" - is even harder. Sadly, I found London to be particularly lacking in this department.

Not that there aren't friendly people in London, or that Texas is simply the best-est place in the whole wide world (*evil grin*) but it's just difficult to find openness, unabashed helpfulness, and willing friendship from strangers in ANY big city. Couple that with the unfortunate reputation for stand-offishness that the British have won themselves over the years, and what you get is a somewhat isolated, and mopey Texan girl going to the Texas Embassy (yes, there is a Texas Embassy in London and for the record, it sucks) for a little love in a bottle: Shiner Bock Beer.

"Tejas," another word for friendship :)

Some days this cheesy, over-the-top tourist haven was the only place I felt like I could get a smile from a stranger. (Plus, on the 4th of July our waiter was dressed up as Maverick. You can't beat that shizzle.)

Luckily those sad days of desperation are long gone. You'll be relieved to know I no longer frequent the Embassy of the Texas persuasion because, strangely enough, fate
has seen to it that I do not go crazy by putting a little piece of home right in front of me wherever I go. Among the many friends I now have here in the UK are 4 Texans! One of them worked with me at cupcake land, and the others I've met through a series of serendipitous events over the course of the past two and a half years. I can't complain.

This weekend we visited our friends Alex and Laura (a Texan couple) for a little comfort food - a BBQ lunch. I was
asked to bring a salad, and that is today's recipe. It's not a Texan salad by any means, but it is quite friendly in its own rite. And it goes great with some barbecued meat, Texan style. :) Today's list is inspired by this salad but also by the inevitable nostalgia brought on by the summer weather...

* * *
Top 5 Summery Things I Miss About Texas
because there's nothing like the pathetic British summer

to make me miss the irrepressible Texas sunshine

5. Real BBQ sauce & Real BBQ'd meat
I don't even know where to begin describing the blasphemous sticky-sweet cumin-spiced God knows whatsits that pass for BBQ sauce here on this Godforsaken isle. Suffice it to say, there ain't no cowboy on the range that would be caught dead using the stuff on his brisket, loin, ribs or kielbasa. Uh-uh. No way. No how. Feed it to the coyotes. (And that's "kigh-oats" for those of you who can't read "Texan.")

4. The Ice Cream Truck
Unlike these sad excuses we have in London, the ice cream trucks in Texas are the next best thing to an ambulance when suffering from a little summer heat attack. They stop for you if you yell or run after them (unlike here) and they have the coolest frozen snacks ever.

None of this "flake" BS; w
e're talking serious pink panther bar - rocket bomb - rainbow snow cone - banana chocolate bullet - cone with the peanuts on the top and the chocolate at the bottom - Bluebell ice cream sandwichy - goodness. Oh yeah. Mmmmm.

3. Summer Clothing That You Actually Get to Wear
I always tell Matt that clothing companies in the UK should be sued for
false advertising when they put their summer clothes on display. You can't wear flipflops or tank tops or swimsuits in the UK for more than a cumulative 7 days a year, if that. There are just as many cardigans and long-sleeved shirts in my (and Roman's) wardrobe right now as there are short-sleeved and skirts. Forget shorts. You wear those and people think you're going to the gym or you're weird. You go to the park decked out in your summer best when the sun is shining and you are just as likely to come home shivering and wet from the surprise rain and wind storm that came upon you (unsuspecting, optimistic fool!) as you are to come home with a yellowish, pathetic excuse for a tan.

In Texas, you're weird if you don't own at least 5 types and colors of sandals - and that's if you're a guy. Girls have coordinated flip flops and open-toed shoes to match each and every halter top, tube top and summer dress in their closet. And if you don't have a pair that quite fits the occasion or attire, all you have to do is run to the nearest clothing store and they'll have a selection of every imaginable type of summery footwear on the shiny, happy, summery face of the Texan earth. Plus, in Texas, shorts and baseball caps are considered adequate dress for a night out on the town. The real accessories are the rosy cheeks and margarita glass.

2. Air Conditioning
Having sung the praises of Texas sunshine, let us now be honest and sing the praises (almost loudlier!) of that God send we all know and love (if you've grown up in a hellaciously hot and humid place): Air Conditioning. No, we don't call it AirCon, no matter what this D-bag says (see 1st commercial) and no, I'm not talking about those useless lame-looking window units you Yankees buy. I'm talking about the bonafide outdoor unit - central air with a built-in thermostat that the guy has to come and install.

I don't care how much of a hippy you are, or how much you might complain that A
C gives you a cold or smells unnatural or whatever. If you've lived in Texas (or been there on a hot day) you will know what I mean when I say that AC is straight from God.

So you have to carry a sweater in your car because the office gets cold even when it's 120 degrees outside. So you feel like you might faint when you leave the AC and enter the desert-like heat. So you can't open your front door for more than 10 seconds at a time without addin
g an extra $20.00 to your energy bill. So what? AC still rocks.

1. Public Swimming Pools
Growing up in Texas there is one thing every child looks forward to the minute May begins: the opening of the public swimming pools. Back in my day $1.50 got you an entire day at the deluxe water-slide-outfitted public pool. You could buy snow cones, chili dogs, nachos, or even frito-pies. All your friends were there (even that guy you had a crush on!) and it always seemed like noon to 7 went by in the blink of an eye. Playing marco polo, washer dryer, running across (and subsequently biting it) on the giant plastic lily pads in the pool. Getting sunburnt, eating sandwiches in the summer breeze on the picnic tables wrapped in a giant beach towel, and showing off your new flipflops. These are the things Texan summers are made of.

Lily pad lane at my hometown public pool; ah the delight of running across!
photo credit

*Honorable Mention: The Texan Margarita*

I maintain that margaritas are better in Texas than even in Mexico. Whether you go to On the Border, Ninfas, Texas Roadhouse, or just make them at home with a little Cuervo and some lime, they are the summery drink of choice for men and women alike in Texas. And they do the job - if by job you mean get you wasted and refreshed at the same time.

They also get bonus points for going well with the aforementioned BBQ'd meat while also making a trip to the public pool in your air conditioned car that much more fun. Just kidding. Kinda. >:)

* * *

CousCous & Arugula Salad
A Fresh & Friendly Summer Salad Indeed

Serves 4

I decided to make this couscous salad for the BBQ with Laura and Alex because it's easy, fresh, and really delicious. To my surprise, Laura had also made couscous, so we had a lot of it with lunch. :) Nevermind, the different ingredients and textures in here complimented the pork loin perfectly and we enjoyed her version just as well!

1 cup couscous (I use preflavored packs sometimes; lemon and coriander works great!)
1 cup water (or chicken broth for more flavor)
3 plum tomatoes, chopped into medium chunks
Arugula, cleaned (about 50g or 2 cups worth)
mint, small bunch chopped roughly
1 lemon, juiced and zested
1 tbsp red wine vinegar
1-2 tbsps olive oil
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 medium ball buffalo mozzarella, roughly torn into chunks
salt & pepper to taste

1. Make couscous by bringing water to boil and pouring over the couscous in a heat resistant bowl. Cover and leave for 5-10 minutes. Fluff and flake the couscous with a fork until it is fluffy.

2. Add the garlic and mint to the cous cous and mix.

3. Make a dressing with the oil, vinegar, lemon juice, zest, and some salt and pepper.

4. Add the tomato, arugula, mozzarella and toss everything lightly with the dressing until combined.

*Best done while the couscous is still a little hot or warm so the arugula wilts just a bit.

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