Sunday, 21 August 2016

Train-induced excitement


Mine: limit exceeded :)



Recipe:

Take two sixty-something year old train geeks enthusiasts.
Pour into a Dodge RAM.
Add a thirty-something year old who is exceedingly fond of waving at trains.
Sprinkle with a liberal dose of highways, byways, and railroad tracks.
Chuck in as many trains as you possibly can.
Stir.

That, in short, is how you cook up an awesome road trip.

Rewind to September 2015:



Have passport,
will travel



Sometimes you hit the jackpot. And make friends with a person who has a "drivers license" to this beauty.

And you get to see a railway bridge from this angle:



I'm not saying I wasn't totally cool about it. Of course I was.  Cool af. 

Merely suggesting that I sort of melted into a little puddle of giddy happiness.


One of the old cars from "my"
Empire Builder

Ladies and Gentlemen:
THE HUSTLE MUSCLE 

I think we can safely agree that I reached my excitation limit several times. And this was only the second day of my vacation.

The next day we visited the Minnesota State Fair - and the day after that, we climbed into the car and headed WEST.


And my, oh my.  The West is big place.  I remember when I went from Portland to Chicago on the Empire Builder. It took most the better part of a day just to cross Montana - which was the Rockies, open country, fields, fields, fields, a town, fields, a dirt track, fields, fields, and more open country. It was, in short, awesome.

On this trip we drove through North Dakota, most of Montana, turned around near the Rockies, and came back via Wyoming and South Dakota. 



I'm currently thinking about going to see a
rodeo in Colorado next year. But they are
nowhere near as good at planning ahead
as the good people of the
Testicle Festival in Montana,
so all the 2017 dates are "yet to be announced".
(dear cowboys of Colorado, you may consider
this an open letter. My friend and I would like
to go dancing with you next spring; when should
we book our flights for? :)

Speaking of cowboys,
how many ways can you interpret
Anaconda Opportunity?
(oh ye of pure minds,
how I envy you)

My traveling companions knew all the good places. In the middle of nowhere, they would tell me to take the next exit (not the Anaconda one) and point me in the direction of a loooong, unpaved country road. 

Awesome

Though not always with
good visibility

You might think this was a dead end, and nothing to see...


But you would be entirely wrong:


Yay!!!! Train!!!

There's a special breed of people who take great delight in waving at trains. I proudly count myself among them ;)


One day we met the same train four times (because of signals, road/railroad layout, and driving like ze clappers) and it was glorious.  The train drivers are pretty good at waving back; the fourth time we met the train they went all in with lights, whistles, and what have you.

I'm pretty sure this is the equivalent of getting the guy's phone number (should have practised the Morse Code....)

I've tried counting the number of train pics I took that week.  I stopped when I got close to a hundred....

So yeah. That is one way to have an awesome road trip. Surround yourself with interesting people, keep your eyes open, talk to friendly strangers, and remember to wave at trains.

In fact, always wave at trains.

It's for luck.


Shortcut to happiness (or, a cinnamon roll recipe)


Last weekend I made a batch of cinnamon rolls so sinfully delicious it ought to send any Catholic straight to confession. Not being Catholic, I found redemption in sharing it stuffing it down the throats of any and all who came by over the following days and once they got over the shock of me doing that, they all went mmmmmmmmh, yummy.  So I thought I'd share it with you.  Or, at least, point you to the original recipe, which can be found by clicking HERE.  I halved the recipe and there's a brief recap of it further down on this page, but go read the original. It has ramblings aplenty, and that's always worth a detour.

In Denmark, cinnamon rolls are often quite a depressing experience, with far too much dough and nowhere near enough icing. These are quite the opposite and your fingers will get sticky. You have been warned.

What else have I been up to?  ....hmmm. I've been exorcising Moaning Myrtle and am progressing nicely. I've taken up yoga again and thrown in aqua yoga as well, and that is really good. I've started having regular massages and lemme tell ya, it is the most awesome thing to throw money at. I've been to the cinema, visiting friends, and looking at train time tables. Oh yes, and working. My holiday ended 3 weeks ago, and it seems like a small eternity already.

Yesterday was a really nice day.  First I went with a friend to an old state prison which is now open to the public (the prisoners have moved elsewhere, save for this one guy who has been gainfully employed there since his release).  We started out with a sandwich at the café and intended to go all in with cakes etc for dessert when suddenly a herd of children descended upon the place and instantly turned us into grumpy little ladies, so we hastily departed to the ticket office and thus saved ourselves a considerable calorie intake (I'm now baking bread to compensate for that)

After our tour behind bars, which was quite interesting, I drove halfway across the country -which, this being Denmark, only took an hour and a half - and met up with a guy who helped me out with some tricky bookings a while back and was now due for repayment in the form of beer and grub and sparkling conversation. We had a really great time and I have now added one more destination to my list of places-I-want-to-go. Win-win, all round.

Anyways, the cinnamon rolls....

The recipe, as I made it:  You start by heating 

2 cups of milk (for Danish readers: that's about 5 deciliters and please, use whole milk, because that is just soooo much better all round)
½ cup vegetable oil (DK: 1.25 deciliters)
½ cup sugar (DK: 100 gram)

Heat it up, but don't let it boil. And then let it cool to lukewarm.

Sprinkle 2-3 teaspoons dry yeast on top, and let it sit for a minute. 

Add 4 cups flour (DK: 500 gram), stir it all together, and let the dough rise for an hour.

Go and read a book.

After an hour, stir the following into the dough:

1 more cup of flour (DK: 125 gram)
1 teaspoon baking powder
½ teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon salt
...maybe a tiny bit more flour...


And then, on a floured surface which isn't too difficult to clean afterwards, roll the dough into a large rectangle. The book said 30x10 inches, and I have no idea what that is in metrics, or at all really, so I just rolled it out until it was fairly thin and looked like it would roll up nicely without falling apart.

Now we come to a delightful bit: 

Melt 1 cup butter (in Denmark, a standard pack of butter is 250g which is a bit more, but I just melted the whole pack because butter)

And pour most of it over the dough and spread it lovingly with your fingers so everything is covered in butter.  (You'll want to keep aside some of the butter for greasing the pans, and around 3 tablespoons for the icing)

It's a very nice feeling...

Mmmmmmmh, BUTTER

Then you sprinkle the dough with sugar and cinnamon. The recipe (halved) says 1 cup sugar + a couple of teaspoons of cinnamon, but just do what you like here I think.


And then you roll up the dough fairly tightly, cut it into slices, and put the slices in a greased baking tray. Leave them to rise for 20 minutes, and if you forget and they rise for 35 minutes then no harm done.

Fortunately, this seems to be a very forgiving recipe.


And then you bake them at 190 degrees C (which google reliably informs me is the same as 375 degrees F) for 15 minutes, +/-, until they are golden brown and smell delicious.

15 minutes, incidentally, is also enough time to make the icing, which you pour over the rolls while they are still hot.

The recipe (still, halved), calls for 1 pound powdered sugar (which I start by sieving because otherwise I never get rid of the lumps), 2-3 tablespoons milk, 3 tablespoons melted butter, 3 tablespoons coffee, and a tiny bit of salt and a teaspoon of maple flavouring.

I freestyled this a bit, but as long as you have a deliciously thick, pourable icing that tastes good, I think you are good to go.  Maple flavouring isn't something you easily come by in Denmark (I have some that I bought in the US and I make a point of not looking at the sell-by date), but more coffee or perhaps vanilla flavouring works well.

When the cinnamon rolls look like this, they are ready to come out of the oven and be drenched in icing.  Leave them for a couple of hours (hah) and either eat with a spoon or have plenty of tissue on hand for your greasy fingers.


Monday, 15 August 2016

Left luggage



It's always the little things. People in your life leave tiny imprints on it, and even if they leave, the marks are still there. Little things that, out of nowhere, will remind you of someone, sometimes someone you haven't thought of in years.

My best friend changed the way I prefer my "leverpostejmadder" (open sandwich with a sort of liver paté; very much a Danish thing). I now actually prefer them with tomato slices on top - before I became friends with her, it was always-always cucumber. (She also taught me that true love is best shown by making pancakes early in the morning)

An ex boyfriend inspired me to change from monthly to daily disposable contact lenses (and thus improved my life without even knowing it).  Another ex gifted me (not deliberately I'm sure) with a profound aversion to men who have nicknames for their member.  An unsolicited dick pic is one thing; actually being formally introduced to it is quite another. I mean, what are you supposed to do? Shake hands with it (how??) and say "pleased to meet you; I do look forward to working with you??"    Yet another ex left me with an expensive taste in alcohol and a slightly more adventurous palate (though nothing beats the guy who treated me to my first taste of frogs legs, steak tartare, and escargots, all in one hedonistic weekend).   And for years, I would habitually buy a certain kind of chocolate whenever I saw it on sale, only later to wonder why on earth I'd done that when I didn't even like it.

You may not even notice the subtle ways in which people influence you. And you can't really get rid of the memories, even if you may want to.  You can purge your life of the physical evidence - stuffing old pictures into a drawer, deleting old e-mails (or filing them away so efficiently you'll never find them again), looking at an old poster and then deciding to leave it up because, sod it, you like it more than you miss him. You go through all the motions, and you feel better for it, and then a tiny thing - something you didn't even share, but maybe saw in a shop and thought he might like - will send you reeling.




I once had a love ring (you might have called it an engagement ring, but that would imply a certain question having been asked, and yes having been the answer, and we never got quite that far). I wore it on the ring finger on my left hand. I still have the ring stashed away somewhere, in a place so secret even I cannot find it. And to this day, whenever I think about a love that didn't last, I have a dull ache in my left ring finger. Like a phantom pain in a lost limb, except it isn't the limb that is missing. 

Sunday, 14 August 2016

Postcard from England, part III (subtitled: punting on the Thames)

Remember when we sent actual postcards, in the post, when we went on holiday? They always arrived long after we came home but that was part of the charm, sort of (what wasn't so charming was writing dozens of them, trying to write something different in each one as if the recipients were bound to compare them and would be disappointed if the same phrase appeared on different cards...)

This is the modern version; it also arrives long after my return, so there's a bit of nostalgia for you right there.

On my last vacation day I went up to Henley-on-Thames. They had a "traditional boat festival" going on, however, I was seeing a friend who was participating with a vessel that was neither traditional nor a boat.

And I totally forgot to take a picture of the thing,
so this is a pic I stole from his facebook page, 
totally without permission
(hope I'm forgiven? :-)


I did, of course, remember to take a selfie.
Goes without saying...

That, my friend, is an Alvis Stalwart - an amphibious truck used by the British army from the mid-sixties onwards. Very cool thing to have sitting on your driveway.  And it lets you see the town from a different angle:


The Stolly wasn't the only amphibious vehicle around. There were quite a few, including this stylish one: 


aaaand into the water she goes


This makes a nice change from the usual
Sunday drive down to the pub, I think

One thing I love about England is they do events like this so well.  You can always be sure to see a couple of elderly gentlemen, totally dressed the part.   And find a nice place to sit down for a cup of tea. Or a glass of Pimms.  And there is always, always catering for your canine friend as well :-)




Alas, end of journey. The evening was spent on the terrace of an airport hotel, wine in hand, interrupting an otherwise interesting conversation every 2-3 minutes with "ooohhhh, LOOK - a PLANE!!!"

More travel to follow. Autumn plans include Hamburg, Berlin and, of course, the United States.  Can't wait :)




Tuesday, 9 August 2016

Postcard from England, part II (subtitled: all the pics I didn't take)

Waaaay back in the days - 2006 or thereabouts - my then-boyfriend gave me a camera. A pink Sony point-and-click thing, which proved remarkably durable.  It got clogged up with sand in Dubai which messed up the shutter mechanism; then about a month later I dropped it on the medieval streets of Carcassonne in France which not only did the camera survive; it fixed the shutter thing as well. Awesome little pink gadget.

The pink camera and its blue successor were my trusty companions on all the trips I took the next 6-7 years. But then I strayed. I bought an iPhone. And the camera mostly stayed home.

I love my iPhone to bits and pieces, and where would I be without Instagram, Snapchat, etc. etc. etc. - but I've never quite mastered taking good pictures on the run (mostly when driving) the way I did with the camera. Or at least, the successrate is remarkably lower.  Also, I'm way better at taking pictures on the sly when I'm using my camera instead of my phone :)

So whilst driving around the Cotswolds in my own terrific company, there were hundreds of pictures I didn't take.

And therefore, you won't see

...the lady who had lunch with her cat in a pub (it had its own plate and everything)
...the man who trimmed the edge of his lawn with scissors (a variety of garden pedantry I invariably associate with the English although it may be more widespread than I realise)
...the impossibly beautiful landscapes that are everywhere
...the pile of horse dung advertised for sale at the edge of the road, and the horse that made a contribution to it the very moment I drove past
...the man who told me he was in room number 4x4 (and no, I didn't go. Not only was I not tempted; I also didn't quite catch whether he said 404 or 414 and with my luck there is no doubt I would have ended up in the wrong room) (which would have made for a very interesting blog post indeed - but, no. Just no)
...the Indian family who had dinner at one of the hotels I stayed at. Never have I seen such gorgeous saris; never have I had a heartburn so bad as the extremely spicy curry they shared with me resulted in. Hot food and me clearly don't mesh well.

But you do get to see the gorgeous market hall (1627) in Chipping Campden





And the NatWest bank in Evesham (now, why doesn't my bank live in a building like this??)



You can see the canal in Lower Slaughter...


And one of the houses I might buy there


This WWI memorial totally reminds me of Downton Abbey.  I have no idea where it is - downside to driving around without an actual plan or route is that you tend to forget where you've been :/


....and ze family butcher (which always makes me want to pop my head round the door and ask, "how much to do mine?"   (please tell me I'm not the only one with such a bad sense of humour)  (hello??) 




Monday, 1 August 2016

Postcard from England, part I (subtitled:because I'm worth it)

I don't usually travel much during the summer months. Something to do with the garden being too lovely to leave, something to do with being intoxicated by the very thought of three whole weeks with absolutely zero schedule to adhere to, and something to do with every man Jack and his extended family also being on vacation and crowding hotels, flights, and any sights I may want to see.

But not so this year. Related mostly to the previous post's "hearts broken:1 and hearts mended: .25"; the latter hovering more around .05 at the time, I felt very much in a shampoo commercial because I'm worth it frame of mind and decided to cash in some miles for a ticket to London.

A similar train of thought had me on a hellbent I'll show him  myself the whole world I can do whatever I put my mind to mission and with that particular thought in mind I abandoned my trustworthy (ahem) ally British Rail and rented a car.

It isn't so much the whole driving on the left thing. I've done that before - albeit ten years ago, and in New Zealand. But I've spent more than my fair share of hours in the passenger seat in Britain and I know that many of their roads (at least, the ones I like to explore) date back eons. Well before anyone had thought of cars, much less two cars passing. What they had thought of was hedgerows. Tall, beautiful hedgerows, hugging the side of the roads snugly.  In other words; English country lanes are NARROW.

....so I went out and rented the least narrow car I could get my grubby little hands on. But of course.



And now that I'm safely home, I can say with total confidence and more than a smidgeon of pride (possibly a dash of arrogance as well): aced it.

It was an absolute beauty to drive, and boy-oh-boy you should have seen me confidently gliding through rush-hour traffic, roundabouts, roundabouts with traffic lights in the middle, and double-roundabouts (because that's how the British roll - you can't really have enough of a good thing).

Of course, sticking mostly to aforementioned country lanes, I didn't have to worry too much about keeping to the right (left!) side of the road, there only being space for one car.

(So when I came up to this farm vehicle which had blown a tyre and dropped hay bales all over the road, I graciously told the farmer I had all the time in the world and did not at all mind waiting while they crawled back to the farm at snail's pace.  Well, it was either waiting or reversing a quarter of a mile down a winding lane, so not a difficult choice ;-)


First real stop was the teeny tiny village of Slad. Mostly because I liked the name and also because it was the home of the writer Laurie Lee whose book "Cider with Rosie" I read many many years ago and don't really remember anything much from, except the inexplicable longing for England it awoke in me.

I had lunch at The Woolpack (don't you just love the names of British pubs!), caught a glimpse of a lady sharing her lunch with a kitten, and chatted to a man who used to live on a house boat but now owned a tiny cottage in the middle of nowhere and kept chickens (instant friend!) and did odd jobs for a living. And then I drove on, with the sat nav off.


'

This area, the Cotswolds, is awash with rolling hills - decoratingly dotted with flocks of sheep -, cottages built in Cotswold stone which has a certain yellow-ish hue to it so that even on a rainy day they seem to radiate a quiet sort of glowing coziness, and village after village with enchanting names. Broughton Poggs. Great Rollright. Shipton under Wychwood. Lower Slaughter. (And Upper Slaughter of course)



My travels took me fairly close to the Welsh border and I was thus able to enjoy the melodious tunes of BBC Cymru. Very delightful; of course I didn't understand a word of it but it was thoroughly fascinating all the same (I have fond memories of Wales. One time I climbed Mt Snowdon wearing sandals. Not 100% sure why I'd embark on something so foolish, but someone told me it would be an easy stroll and that I might be able to catch a glimpse of Ireland from the summit. Of course, it was so foggy at the top that I couldn't even see the path, nevermind Ireland, but I made it. Then I caught a tiny, rattling train back down again, went to the station where a drunken Welshman I'd met earlier was loitering (with intent). He snogged me and made a number of interesting suggestions not suitable for mentioning here -or in fact anywhere-, whereupon I caught the first train out and ended up in a very rainy Birmingham. As I said, I like Wales)


It's been said that if you have a garden and a library, you'll want for nothing more. I would submit that a passport should be added to that list. But then I reckon you'll be just about covered.

Sunday, 31 July 2016

Summer holiday 2016 - crunching the numbers


Bottles consumed: ten, give or take - mostly wine but also a rum that tastes of sugar canes and cabana boys 
Cigarettes smoked: far too many 
Hearts broken: 1
Hearts mended: 0.25 (rough estimate, but making progress)
Handsome men snogged: 1 (not the heartbreaker I hasten to add)
Indecent proposals received: 3-4, depending on definition 
Kilos shed: maybe 4, not sure as I don't own a pair of scales (and I haven't been dieting) but let's just say a certain pair of jeans now fit me again 
Nights spent sleeping outside: 2, plus a couple of all-nighters with no sleep 
Cleaning rampages: 2; still recovering from the last one
Trips taken: 1, and I must say that large cars and business class travel really suit me rather well
Resolutions made: more travel to be done in autumn; I bloody well deserve it
Massages had: 2, and more are in the calendar 
Haircuts: 1
Eyebrows plucked: 2, obviously- it still astonishes me that I pay good money to have pain inflicted on myself but it looks much better than my DIY attempts 
Cups of coffee consumed: not many; I ran out at the beginning of summer and only just got round to replenishing stocks 
Flower bouquets received: 1, and it came at just the right time (thank you, S)