Thanksgiving – Squared

It would appear that the UK is beginning to embrace Thanksgiving with quite a passion. I can quite understand why – pumpkin pie deserves to be added to the British menu and it’s always good to say thank-you. After last year’s inaugural Thanksgiving experience, this year I manage to double my thankfulness with a Matryoshka Haus Thanksgiving the weekend before the official date; and a Thanksgiving/Christmas with the St George’s students nearly a week after the occasion.

There can never be too many opportunities on which to eat pie.

Chocolate coins may now be my favourite table decoration – pretty and tasty.

In true Thanksgiving style, it seems only sensible to reflect upon the season via thankfulness…

Obviously, I’m thankful for Matryoshka Haus, Shannon and the Thanksgiving tradition she’s built up in London. We’ve written a fair bit about it on the In Da Haus blog, but suffice to say, Thanksgiving is all about community and the communal table – which Matryoshka Haus epitomises.

I’m thankful that other people will usually cook the turkey and that I was only left in sole charge of the bird for 20 minutes. (For the St George’s crew we compromised with Waitrose rotisserie chickens. God bless Waitrose!)

All I had to deal with was the foil and an initial blast in the oven. 
Thankfully, this year’s turkey went un-named.

On a Saturday afternoon full of cooking and a little bit of stress, I was very grateful to discover that I’m not alone in my love of singing along to musicals while working in the kitchen. I may now never be able to listen to Les Mis without remembering some admirable falsetto efforts from a male member of the community…

I am inordinately grateful for Shannon’s family egg-nog recipe (I blogged it last year). It’s delicious and boozy and generally wonderful. I’m also thankful for the tip to serve it only in plastic cups, which saved me a lot of glasses when the students came round; and hugely grateful that when I made it for the second time in just over 2 weeks, I had a proper electric mixer with which to mix it. I’m also grateful that I managed to separate 12 eggs without incident, despite having spent the previous three hours drinking mimosas while cooking. Thankfully, I also halved the recipe for the students, so I didn’t have to drink 3 litres of it on my own.

My contribution to the MH Thanksgiving: mini pecan pies & mini apple crumble pies.
Almost everything’s better in miniature… 

I thank the internet and its myriad pie recipes – particularly this pecan pie recipe that’s American, yet incorporated that most British of ingredients: Golden Syrup. I also thank the students who made two different varieties of pumpkin pie and a pecan-apple one too. (God bless Waitrose again for stocking tinned pumpkin.)

Thankfully well-risen Yorkshires and the remnants of fabulous student pies.

I’m thankful for a church that supports me in a sometimes ridiculous ministry. Especially when it lets me ransack its kitchen for extra plates, jugs, glasses and even a table, so that I can successfully feed 12 people around the same table in my lounge. I’m also rather thankful for the marvellous flat the church provides me with. This meal would have been impossible last year.

A selection of well-fed students. 
(Bless the guys for their persistance with paper hats.)

An alternative to chicken soup

Thursday night is always a highlight of my week. Forget ‘Thursday is the new Friday’ – when your weekend is Friday & Saturday, it literally *is* my Friday. On top of that, it’s usually the night when the women of Matryoshka Haus gather for a convivial Thai curry, a bit of wine and a glorious hot chocolate. It’s an opportunity to catch up, moan, pray and plot. It’s a thoroughly restorative process.

But last Thursday night, things went up a notch and we discovered that our great Thursday evenings had the potential to become even greater…
…when an hour of karaoke is included. 
Ah yes. The power of karaoke is never to be underestimated! I’ve waxed lyrical about its benefits many a time, but of late, my karaoke opportunities have been limited. My one-time favourite sleazy karaoke bar shut down just weeks after I moved within walking distance of it last year and it’s been a while since the last frenetic SingStar party. However, after last week, I think it’s likely this is going to have to become a regular activity.
[Yes, that’s a Dave Walker original.]
Last Thursday, there was a lot going on amongst the group that met for curry. Jobs are changing, houses are being sought, lives are altering in dramatic ways – heavy conversations were being had over the table. You might have thought us a little subdued if you’d seen us in our Brick Lane curry house, but things could not have been different at 10pm when we tumbled out of our karaoke room in a singing induced euphoria. 
We only had an hour in our booth, but we made the most of it. Shoes were immediately shed and sofas jumped upon. Jugs of margaritas were ordered [though I insist that the alcohol was a minimal factor in the euphoria that followed]. A playlist of appropriate songs was formulated and the singing of them was entered into with gusto. The mics didn’t work properly, but we didn’t care – we just sang and sang and sang. 
Being the karaoke lover that I am, I was slightly anxious about singing for the first time with this particular group of friends. I needn’t have worried. It wasn’t about impressive solos (as was often the case in the public karaoke bar of old), it was about being there together and singing simultaneously. As ever, some noteworthy discoveries were made:
  • Björk’s It’s oh so Quiet is a brilliant karaoke track. Shhhh! Shhhh! 
  • Yazz’s Moving on Up is not. Can you remember how the verses go? No. Neither could we.
  • Always choose a really long song just as your time in the booth is expiring. Don’t Stop Me Now was a good choice, given its theme, but Bohemian Rhapsody would have given us longer. 
  • Don’t bother complaining that your mics didn’t work properly until the end of your session as you’re then likely to get a decent discount on a subsequent visit. 
  • Most of all, ensure someone you know is regularly checking the deals available via Living Social – which was how we managed to get a bargain hour complete with cocktails. 

Seriously, forget chicken soup. When it comes to healing souls, there is nothing that surpasses the power of an hour’s raucous singing.

Karaoke booths may sound like an expensive option for a night out. As mentioned above, you can score deals via offer websites, but some chains also do offers. Lucky Voice (one of my favourites as it has Wicked tracks on its database) offers a free hour of singing to groups that include at least one person who ‘does good’ in their job (i.e. medics, teachers, social workers, charity workers) on two nights a week. Others do discounts for local residents, so it’s well worth doing some research. [I have actually, in the course of writing this post, sent an email entitled ‘Karaoke Research’. I take this stuff seriously. And obviously feel a need to get another karaoke date in my diary.]

If you go down to the woods today…

…you’d better be well prepared.

One of the many marvellous things about London is that fact that you can take a short tube journey (20 minutes in fact) and travel from the urban East End to the edge of Epping Forest – a proper forest in which it is very possible to get well and truly lost.

I fully accept that I’m an out and out urbanite. However, I love a good ramble (in the truest Chalet School sense of the word) and quite honestly, is there any better way of spending a damp, chilly May Bank Holiday than tramping through mud with friends and an assortment of children?

As far as I was concerned, I was fairly well prepared – there was water, fruit, biscuits, sweets, an extra jumper & an umbrella in my backpack. I was wearing decent footwear – it was a toss up between wellies or new boots, boots won as the Hunters aren’t great for long treks up hill – but I had forgotten my waterproof. Though it seems my sister was still concerned. I quote her tweet at the end of the day:
“Why in god’s name did you wear your brand new, expensive boots? Didn’t want to get the Hunters dirty? *Bangs head on desk*”

Left, clean shoes on the tube (mine are the mahogany beauties on the top.)
Right, when the day ended.

However, I was thoroughly ill-prepared in comparison with our walking companions – the Jordan clan and friends. In total, we had 10 adults and 8 children (aged 2-14), that’s quite a pack. All the children were clad head to toe in waterproof material; they had rope with which to make a rope swing while having lunch; heck, they even had lunch with them (we invested in sausage/bacon rolls at a bikers’ cafe – I think we won on that score). They also had technology.

Our friend Rachel isn’t known for being terribly proficient with her Android telephonic device. She’s had it since Christmas and it still regularly foxes her, so it was with surprise that I discovered that she was using Google Latitude to track her father. Her Dad possesses a trait in common with my own father – the ability to disappear without a trace on family outings. Arriving at our lunch venue minus one adult and one small child, Rachel took out her phone and tracked him down, giving directions in repeated phone calls. It was really quite genius. I’d suggest my parents invest in the same technology, but it wouldn’t work as:
(i) My Dad doesn’t own a smart phone.
(ii) He has yet to fully embrace the concept of a mobile phone being ‘mobile’.

We had technology too. The rather rubbish official Epping Forest map was supplemented with Google maps and a remarkable number of phone compass uses. Yet still we managed to get lost repeatedly – our main map reader would claim that this was because no one listened to him. He may have been right…

The joys of map reading.
(If you look closely, you’ll spot Andy behind the others. The reason? He’s checking Google maps again.)

Ultimately, you know what you need when walking in Epping Forest? A good old Ordnance Survey map and an unlimited supply of plain chocolate digestives.

An interim blogpost from Chateau Duffy

Much fun is being had in France, but it turns out that wifi in rural France is difficult to come by. We have a makeshift hotspot that prevents the uploading of photos, so I have no photographic evidence for you (plus I managed to lose a lot of images – that’s a whole other blog post for you). But a free morning has enabled me to catch up on a bit of writing. Quiet and alone time are difficult to come by on this trip, but I have managed to acquire a morning of it!

If you’re at all interested in the project (and the community involved), there’s the Matryoshka Haus blog that’s being updated semi regularly (usually by me, but we co-opt other writers too), so do take a look at that.

We are making extraordinary progress on the roof – thanks largely to the professional Texans. My love of scaffolding has been rekindled and I have discovered that this year, I’m significantly more adept at scampering up and down the poles – I guess that’s a useful skill to add to one’s CV? The next skill to be acquired is pointing, which I already feel is something I ought to be excellent at…

Oh, and no one’s been maimed or killed yet. Someone fell through a floor within the first 5 minutes of being on site on Friday, but he’d done exactly the same thing last summer, and landed in the chicken coop, so was pretty much unscathed. Cuts, bruises and grazes aside, we’re all doing excellently – I’m just thanking God for gloves, goggles and hard hats!

The return to Chateau Duffy

Just to warn you, I’m about to go awol from the internet (probably – sporadic appearances are a possibility). You may remember that last summer I spent a joyful week helping to renovate a house in France – I learnt how to erect scaffolding, recognise valuable tiles and how to keep my temper in dangerous situations. Plus, I made several new friends. It was so good that by September we’d already booked gites for a return trip this Easter (I say ‘we’, it was ‘I’ – Google translate is my new best friend). This morning I’m off on Eurostar for a brief sojourn in Paris and tomorrows it’s onwards to St Denis de Murs.

There’s a heck of a lot of work still to be done on the house, so I’m looking forward to getting stuck in again. In fact, I’ll need to put in plenty of hours on the site if I’m to ensure that the French diet doesn’t have a negative impact upon my healthy living regime. Most of all, I’m looking forward to ten days of no work [being the geek I am, my essay due in two week’s time is already complete] and of excellent company. Bliss.

Last year I became the noter of all memorable quotes, and that role has already begun again. When Carl and Regina arrived on Sunday (the couple I showed round tourist London and who liked us so much in France that they’re contemplating moving over here), Regina didn’t notice me for a while. She then realised who I was and exclaimed:
“Oh it’s Liz! Without a hardhat! You have hair!”
Love it. (To be fair, she was only with us under 24 hours and for most of that I either was wearing a hardhat or had post hat hair.) I’m confident that there will be plenty more gems and that on my return I will have blog fodder aplenty.

In the mean time, if you could pray that none of us are slain by a falling hammer, tile or similarly disastrous accident, that would be fabulous.

This is what it looked like when I left last summer – I’m hoping that the weather will be almost as good!