Category Archives: Living in Europe
January and February have come and gone. The weeks keep slipping by, some feel much longer than others, but still they slip away. It’s starting to feel like spring here in England; daffodils and crocuses are blooming, stormy afternoons come after blue sky mornings. We’ve just passed the six month mark of living abroad. For Kyle, who’s been working long challenging and stimulating hours at the brewery, the time has passed quickly. For the girls and I that six months seems to have gone by very slowly. As we enter into Spring with more time outside exploring the area around us, visiting new friends, and feeling more and more at home here, I can literally feel time speeding up. The girls are doing wonderful homeschool work, Roux is growing quickly and is such a cuddly, happy boy, and the days go by in a rhythm of naps, lessons, meals, and more laundry than seems possible.
We’re loving cozy pub afternoons, walks in local parks to feed ducks, geese, and swans, hanging laundry outside instead of on the radiators inside, getting the backyard ready for lots of spring and summer play time, exploring local churchyards and neighborhoods, baby cuddles, homeschool lessons, and solitude. It’s ironic that the hardest thing in this move is how much we miss our friends and family on a daily basis, and that one of the things we are most appreciating is the about this move is the solitude, and the freedom that comes with that. It’s hard not having many play-dates, evenings with friends, invitations to family events, but it’s also kind of wonderful to be so completely in charge of our time and our calendar.
Here’s to the next six months, to spring, to solitude, to adventures and to quiet days at home… and to baby cuddles.
A few weeks ago we piled into our little car and drove to The Cotswolds. We’d planned to leave early in the morning, adding half an hour to our estimated leaving time because newborns somehow add at least that to your estimated leaving/arrival time. We also planned to head home early as to get the kids home in time for dinner and normal bedtime. Neither of those things happened. But, because we had to stop and change diapers and nurse, and because our pub lunch took so much longer than we thought it would, and because we’re learning that for every hour the directions allot for you actually need one and a half, we got to really relax into our day in The Cotswolds. Sometimes it’s a gift when things don’t go according to plan, and schedule and structure have to take a back seat to spontaneity.
It was freezing cold, but sunny and it felt wonderful get get some fresh air in our lungs and sun on our faces. We tucked Roux into his cozy Solly Wrap and Lulu into our new Nuna Ivvi Savi stroller – loading the base of the stroller with extra layers of clothes, water bottles and snacks for the kids, and all of Roux’s diapering supplies and burp cloths, etc., and we… strolled. I put a lot of thought into before choosing the Ivvi Savi stroller which is a big luxury stroller vs. the Nuna Pepp Luxx which is a sort of luxury umbrella stroller.
Our main complaint when we are traveling is that we feel bogged down by stuff, which is honestly a bit claustrophobic and cumbersome. It seems we are always carrying a few bags, plus my purse, my camera, a kid or two. So, we opted for this stroller because it’s heavy enough to hang bags on, and the basket underneath is large enough for all the things we need to be out and about as a family of five. If our kids were older and needing less stuff like diapers, back up clothes, and the like, we would have opted for the more lightweight stroller. The Ivvi Savi stroller is also great for “off-roading”. It has substantial tires, and a base that’s high off the ground which makes it great for muddy footpaths or bumpy cobblestones.
Anyway, as I was saying, we mostly just wandered through the streets in Stow-on-the-Wold, meandering through fleece alleys, narrow passages designed for counting sheep as they paraded by on their way to Sheep Street (the site of a medieval sheep market), popping into a couple shops, an art gallery, and a St. Edward’s Church.
We paused for a bit letting Kyle nerd out about this door on the backside of the church which Tolkien fans (which I am not) believe is the inspiration of some Hobbit-y place called “the entrance to Moria”… again, I’m not a fan myself, and I feel that watching Lord of the Rings is a form of torture, but the door is very old and very beautiful, and that was impressive enough for me.
After meandering through the little town, we got in the car and headed to find a pub for lunch. One thing we are learning with quite a few disappointments under our belts, is that you really should make a reservation at pubs especially if it’s a Sunday, and especially if it’s within a week of a holiday. We were very kindly turned away from The Fox Inn, but quickly found ourselves seated by a cozy, crackling fire at The Horse and Groom. Kyle ordered the Sunday Roast and I got Fish and Chips; I seem to have a hard time straying from this pub classic. A nice glass of red wine, a warm fire, people coming in with their dogs and their boots caked in mud, and a baby snuggled up on my lap? That’s a pretty great way to spend an afternoon.
Afternoon gave way to an early winter evening and we loaded ourselves back up for the drive home. We headed out at golden hour and the landscape was incredibly magical. At one point Baby Roux was crying, so Kyle pulled the car over and I got out to nurse him on the side of a side road. I stood for a bit nursing him next to a field of sheep.
The light was gold and lavender and I felt that if I was wearing a long dress and my hair in a bun and walked far enough out into the field that I might happen upon Mr. Darcy. I knew better than to wander out into the field pretending to be Elizabeth Bennet on her way to Netherfield Park from a lesson I learned once when I was feeling very much like Audrey Hepburn in Funny Face being photographed by Fred Astaire, and I fell on the marble staircase in the Louvre. So, I just stood by the field, imagining for a moment what it would be like to live in the little cottage down the lane, and then we buckled back up and made our way home.
We’ve spent that last few weekends at home, chipping away at making our rental house more comfortable and home-like, but we’re getting antsy to explore more of England in the coming months, particularly the coasts, countrysides, and National Parks. Any suggestions are welcome!
Time is flying by so quickly. It feels like Roux was just born, and it feels like he’s been a part of our family forever. It feels like we were just unwrapping Christmas presents, and now we’re getting ready to have a cozy Valentine’s Day weekend. A week from today I turn 34, and then there’s Valentine’s Day to follow what I assume will be a very quiet birthday. I’m genuinely looking forward to a nice birthday/Valentine’s weekend with my little, slowly growing family. I’m soaking up all these sweet newborn days with the knowledge that they’ll pass too quickly. You’d be surprised how many hours a day can be spent smooching a sweet baby face.
Just before Roux was born I whipped up a batch of homemade Almond Roca. The recipe came from my friend, Linda, along with her special Caramel Corn recipe. She taught me to make the caramel corn, but was too fatigued by her battle with cancer to make the Almond Roca with me. She gave me her recipe and talked me through it. I made it on my own last Christmas, and again this Christmas. I meant to share the recipe around the holidays, but since I was 5,000 weeks pregnant I never did. We also meant to send out Christmas cards, but that didn’t happen either. The Almond Roca is incredibly rich and sweet, it’s decadent but actually quite easy to make.
Last week, Kyle said, “Why don’t we send out Valentine’s Day cards to our family and friends like Paul and Julia Child did.” Did I marry my perfect match or what? For those who haven’t read Julia Child’s memoir, her biography, or watched Julie and Julia two dozen times, Julia and her husband sent out Valentine’s cards every year from wherever Paul was stationed at the time to their friends all over the world. Slightly off-topic, but this (hilariously) edited version of Julie and Julia called Julia Sans Julie is pretty wonderful.
Anyway, when Kyle suggested we make cards, I immediately reached out to Artifact Uprising to see if they’d be interested in collaborating with me. I’ve admired their gorgeous cards for a long time. I decided to make a custom card so that we could combine a Valentine’s Day card and a birth announcement for Roux. Sending Valentine’s Day cards is something we’ve decided to make a tradition for our family since I never seem to be able to get Christmas/holiday cards out in time! If any of you want to make cards Artifact Uprising is offering a 10% code: KAAU13 – if you’re in the UK/EU you may need to select priority international shipping to get the cards for Valentine’s Day.
The cards I created, and the Cork + Brass print stand arrived here in England surprisingly fast. Over the weekend I addressed and mailed them out. For our local friends, I made a batch of Almond Roca to be delivered with their cards, and since we have a grand total of maybe five friends here we still have more than enough Almond Roca to have with our afternoon tea through this week and into next. In fact a quiet weekend of board games, tea, and Almond Roca sounds just about right for easing into my 34th year.
HOMEMADE ALMOND ROCA
1 pound unsalted butter
2 cups granulated sugar
1 cup chopped raw almonds, toasted
6.5 oz milk chocolate (preferably Hershey brand)
10 oz semi-sweet chocolate chips
1/2 cup ground/very finely chopped raw walnuts, toasted
vegetable or canola oil
Grease a rimmed baking sheet (a baker’s half sheet size is perfect) with a bit of vegetable or canola oil.
Boil sugar and butter on high in a heavy medium sized saucepan. Stir constantly for about the first five minutes. Add the almonds all at once stirring to thoroughly combine.
Reduce the temperature a bit and continue to boil the caramel, stirring often and watching closely, until it turns a rich caramel color and your candy thermometer reaches between 300-310˚F (the crack stage).
Working quickly and carefully pour the caramel out onto the greased baking sheet, and use a rubber spatula to spread the caramel evenly onto the sheet. Allow the caramel to cool completely.
When the caramel is cool, melt the chocolates together in a double boiler. Once the chocolate is melted remove it from the heat but leave the chocolate over the hot water while you work to frost the candy.
Frost the top side of the candy with the melted chocolate, sprinkle with half of the ground walnuts, and pat the walnuts gently to set them into the chocolate. Allow the chocolate to set and cool completely.
Carefully flip the candy out onto a clean surface or cutting board. You may need to flex the sheet a bit to get it out. Don’t worry if the candy cracks in half. Frost the second side the same way you did the first side. Allow to set and cool completely before breaking the candy up into small pieces.
*Candy can be stored in an airtight container at cool room temperature for a week or two, but it’s best in the first week.
HOMEMADE ALMOND ROCA
We’ve been pretty much homebound the past couple of weeks, which is par for the course this time of year. Last weekend I had a round of preterm contractions that left us all a bit rattled and motivated; nothing will kick you into gear like thinking your little bundle might just arrive sooner than you expected! I should know by now that that’s a possibility since I had similar experiences with the girls. But, alas…
We don’t have so much as a bassinet, diapers, or baby wipes in the house – although I do have a laundry basket of clean, folded, newborn clothes tucked away in our closet. It’s strange because as much as I want to nest and prepare for our baby’s arrival, we still feel somewhat-not-at-home here, and that has made it hard for me to nest and for me to create a space and prepare for the baby. So, while we still have a completely bare nursery with wall to wall mauve carpeting, I allowed those six hours of contractions to motivate me to log in to our Amazon account and get the basics lined up. Slowly but surely the deliveries have started arriving and by the end of the week we’ll have our stash of newborn diapers, a new booster seat for Gigi so the babe has her carseat to ride home from the hospital in, and baby wipes. The basics will be covered, and we’ll figure out where to go from there as needed. Even though this is my third baby, in so many ways it feels like it’s my first.
Another cause for our current lay-low-lifestyle is that the kids have gotten knocked down by their first major cold of the season. High fevers, coughs, and sore throats call for spending lots of time in our pajamas, making chicken stock, binge watching Curious George, lots of essential oils rubbed on chests and backs, and early bedtimes.
In the midst of our quarantine, we managed to pull together a little Thanksgiving dinner for the four of us on Sunday, and so have been nibbling at leftover stuffing and apple cobbler into the start of the week. But today the Thanksgiving leftovers are gone, and I’m mapping out what to make for the remainder of the week. I have no idea what’s for dinner tonight, but I do know that we will be making a loaf of banana bread this afternoon, an activity that has brought me untold comfort in our few months here in England.
Finding little comforts is what I’m all about at the moment. The baby’s nursery might not be complete (today or ever), but there will be banana bread. Aside from the one proper cookbook that made the suitcase cut (Mastering the Art of French Cooking), only a few food memoirs came along for the journey. Most notably, and most in rotation, is Molly Wizenberg’s wonderful A Homemade Life. I’ve made her banana bread recipe at least a dozen times since we moved. The recipe calls for chocolate chips and crystallized ginger, and it’s great with both, one or the other, or without the edition of either which is how I find myself making it most of the time.
There’s something resourceful and comforting about making banana bread – even if you find yourself buying extra bananas just to let them turn overripe on the counter, or find yourself marking perfectly edible bananas with a marker with phrases like “Don’t eat me!” and “I’m for banana bread!”
I love the way that banana bread smells when it’s baking. I love the way that the recipe for it has become so familiar that I almost don’t have to look at it. I love that the ingredients are always on hand as long as you have those bananas at the ready. Mostly, I love that the girls love to make it with me and I feel so much like a “mom” when we are making it together, and even more like a “mom” when we’re sitting together eating warm, steaming, fragrant slices of it with glasses of cold milk in the middle of the afternoon… as we will be doing, yet again, about one hour and a half from now.
MOLLY WIZENBERG’S BANANA BREAD
6 tablespoons (3 ounces) unsalted butter, melted and then cooled slightly
2 cups all-purpose flour
3/4 cup sugar
3/4 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
3/4 cup semisweet chocolate chips
1/3 cup finely chopped crystallized ginger
2 large eggs
1 1/2 cups mashed banana (from about 3 large ripe bananas)
1/4 cup well-stirred whole-milk plain yogurt (not low or nonfat)
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
Set a rack in the center of the oven, and preheat to 350F. Grease a standard-sized (about 9 by 5 inches) loaf pan with cooking spray or butter.
In a large bowl, whisk together the flour, sugar, baking soda, and salt. Add the chocolate chips and crystallized ginger and whisk well to combine. Set aside.
In a medium bowl, lightly beat the eggs with a fork. Add the mashed banana, yogurt, melted butter, and vanilla and stir to mix well. (The same fork works fine for this.)
Pour the banana mixture into the dry ingredients, and stir gently with a rubber spatula, scraping down the sides as needed, until just combined. Do not overmix. The batter with be thick and somewhat lumpy, but there should be no unincorporated flour. Scrape the batter into the loaf pan and smooth the top.
Bake into the loaf is a deep shade of golden brown and a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean, 50 mins to 1 hour. If the loaf seems to be browning too quickly, tent with aluminum foil.
Cool the loaf in the pan on a wire rack for 5 minutes. Then tip out onto the rack, and let it cool completely before slicing – unless you absolutely can’t help yourself, in which case, dig in.
MOLLY WIZENBERG’S BANANA BREAD