Category Archives: London

April in London (Part 4) – Shakespeare ‘s Birthday Tour

By sheer coincidence, our visit to see my daughter during her semester studying Shakespeare at RADA occurred during the week of the Bard’s birthday, making her class production of All’s Well That Ends Well seem even more special than it already was for us. Even more coincidental was the fact that we had tickets to see King John in Stratford-Upon-Avon on the day that town was celebrating their most famous son, and chanced upon the Globe Theater’s birthday celebration the following day while heading to the Tate Modern! If we had joined a Shakespeare’s Birthday Tour group we could not have planned it better. In fact, I’m thinking we should do this again next year and call it the TBTAM-SBT. Who wants to join us?…


The Bard’s birthplace is a reasonably priced, lovely two-hour train trip from London’s Marylebone Station on Chiltern Railways.  Train tickets can be purchased online and retrieved at the station’s kiosk with your credit card. (I bought ours a good three weeks before we left the US.)

At Marylebone, we also purchased a very reasonably priced and delicious breakfast of cappuccino and sandwiches for the trip from one of several purveyors that were open that hour on a Saturday morning.

The train cars have seats with tables, so we ate our breakfast in a leisurely fashion during the train ride while gazing at the lovely English countryside, which was brushed with swaths of bright yellow rapeseed fields,

and the occasional sheep or cattle pasture.

We divided the remainder of the time between napping and reading, and arrived rested and raring to go at Stratford-Upon-Avon. From the station, it’s a short walk along the road into town (just follow your fellow travelers up the low hill), along which we found a lovely little antique store (you see why I want to come back, right?…),

and a Polish grocery and pastry shop.

Then – O my rapturous heart! – we came to Rother Street Marketplace, where the Warwichkshire Farmer’s Market – held between 9am and 2 pm on the 1st and 3rd Saturday of every month, year round – was in full swing. (How ever did I plan this trip so perfectly???)

The veggies were gorgeous

the offerings unusual

and practically every booth was giving out samples.

We tasted the most delicious cheeses, pates, sausages and jams, purchasing gifts to take home and some pastries for later.

To see more photos of the Market, click on the thumbnail images across the bottom of the slide show below. (Click FS to view best in full screen mode, then esc to return to this post.)

[flagallery gid=3 name=Gallery]

After the market, we headed further into town towards the Bard’s Birth house.

By this time, the town’s birthday celebration was in full swing, with a parade, a live band playing American classic rock songs ala’ Jimmy Buffet (???) and plenty of activities for Shakespeare lovers of all ages. The town center has a bit of a Disney atmosphere, and the price of admission to the Birth house was too steep for our taste. But we did stop for tea at the cafe overlooking the Birthplace gardens, and visited a small museum there for free.

Next we walked on to Shakespeare’s school

where we encountered the locals in full birthday parade regalia.

And then it was on to the Swan Theater

where we saw a most amazing production of King John in previews with the Royal Shakespeare Company.

Set in time around the 70’s at a hotel ballroom party (think Bar Mitzvah or family wedding reception), complete with karaoke singing and a perfect rendition of the final dance from Dirty Dancing (we Yanks in the audience went wild – I think the locals didn’t quite get it), this production was powerful, edgy and utterly fantastic.

Don’t let the party  atmosphere fool you – there’s a severed head, a child’s death and a full-out war between England and France taking place here. Alex Waldemann (with whom we had a lovely conversation outside after the show) was brilliant as King John. In a magnificent switch of gender roles, director Maria Aberg cast Pippa Nixon in the pivotal role of the Bastard, adding a whole new layer of heterosexual tension into her relationship with John. The Archbishop was also cast a female – Paola Donisatti – who plays the papal representative with an androgynous air, large sunglasses and a real mean streak. The rest of the cast, male and female, is equally stellar. This production should come to New York – I’m sure it would play to sold out houses at BAM.

Having missed the rain shower that occurred while we were in the theater, we emerged to sunshine and decided to walk along the Avon River,

past Wisteria clad cottages

and a small “on the run” production of Romeo and Juliet,

to Holy Trinity Church, a real working parish,

where, for two pounds, you can enter the chapel where Shakespeare and his wife Anne Hathaway are buried.

As we left Holy Trinity, we were serenaded by the screams of Juliet, who, having wandered in with her on the run production, awoke from her drugged sleep to find her dead Romeo in the corner of the main chapel.

Emily now insisted that we needed to have genuine fish and chips, and so we did, at Barnaby’s Fish Restaurant and Take Away just past the theater.  I smelled a tourist trap, but it was a charming little place, and we had managed to get ourselves inside the restaurant just as another storm broke yet again, so it was a welcome stop despite what turned out to be a rather mediocre meal.

We were rewarded with a rainbow as we exited the restaurant, a sure sign from the Bard himself that this was truly a day to remember. Soon enough, we were back on the train, where we were washed by the setting sun as we headed back to London. Our ride back was a bit longer than the way out, but no matter. We slept, and read, and dreamed of a city by the river where 448 years ago, a writer was born.

I could just as easily have spent the entire weekend at Stratford-Upon-Avon, and just may if I do the SBT again next spring. According to our cab driver at Stratford, who of course knew the play we had seen, there are plenty of places to stay, and the town is a popular weekend home location for Londoners.

The Globe Theater

The next morning, Shakespeare’s actual birthday, as we headed to the Tate Modern on SouthBank, we were approached by a young woman who offered us free admission to the Globe Theater museum and a marathon reading of Shakespeare’s Sonnets. This was the grand opening of the Globe to Globe Shakespeare Festival, in which Shakespeare’s plays will be performed at the Globe in 37 different languages by theater troops from all across the world. The sonnets were read in those same 37 languages, most of which were represented by at least one or more theater goers in the gallery.

We felt part of this amazing worldwide community of people who have been touched by the writings of one man.

It was magical. Next week, Emily will be back at the Globe, seeing Julius Caesar performed in Italian. I wish I could be with her.

So there you have it

The TBTAM Shakespeare’s Birthday Tour. I couldn’t have planned it this perfectly if I had tried. And while I am sore tempted to try it again next year, I wonder if that is tempting fate?  For, as Shakespeare has been quoted to have said (though I do not know from which play it comes) –

Good luck is often with the man who doesn’t include it in his plans.

April in London (Part 3) – Old Spitalfields Antique Market

It’s not Portobello Road, but it’ll have to do for this trip.

On other days Old Spitalfields Market is a mix of new, crafted and retro chic in the midst of a neighborhood known for its trendy shops – a destination for those in search of whats hip and what’s hot.

But on Thursdays, it’s just antiques.

And that’s hot enough for me.

Believe it or not, I bought nothing.

Having arrived at the end of the day after a late lunch across the street at St John’s Bread & Wine, some stalls were already beginning to close.

So I decided to just putter around among the remnants of lives once lived instead of spending my time looking to find that perfect thing.

A new experience for me,

and one that I highly recommend.

Oh yeah.

I forgot.

They also had cookies.

So I guess you could say I did buy something.

Up Next – April in London (Part 4) – Shakespeare’s Birthday Tour

Old Spitalfields Market

April in London (Part 2) – Where We Ate

We did not eat here –  The Churchill War Rooms Kitchen

On my last visit to London, I was overruled by my kids whenever I tried to plan a meal at a special restaurant – they insisted we allow serendipity to rule when choosing where to eat. This time, with Irene on my side, and half the child contingent at home (sadly, but in this case…), I actually planned a few meals ahead of time, letting the restaurant location drive what else we did that day.  Thanks ever so much to pastry chef and blogger Shuna Fish Lydon, whose London fave restaurant list served as our personal Zagat guide to the city.  I’m hoping this post will serve as helpful to my readers as her post was for me.

St John’s Bread and Wine
94-96 Commercial Street, London E1 6LZ.

Our first dip into Shuna’s list yielded the best meal of our trip – Lunch at St John’s Bread and Wine on a rainy Thursday mid-afternoon.  St Johns specializes in what is called “nose to toes” eating, a traditional British way to use all of the animal, which is why the menu was rife with offal dishes, offal being the word used to describe organ meats such as kidney, tongue and liver, which despite what you may think, do not necessarily taste awful. (Sorry, I just had to do the obvious…)

We played it safe just in case and started with the salted beef broth with dumplings. Irene, who readers know is the best home cook in the world, declared it the best soup she’d ever eaten. (Anyone who has ever tasted Irene’s chicken soup will appreciate just how stellar this beef broth was…)

I think I agree. Next up was the best appetizer I’ve ever eaten – Fois Gras and Duck Liver Toast with a side of cornichons.

If you have any doubts as to how good this really was, just look at this bread.

Irene insisted that we guild the lily, and while I only did this for one bite, that bite was such stuff as dreams are made of…

Finally, a salad that I plan to replicate at home very very soon – cauliflower, leeks and chickpeas with capers and a light horseradish dressing.

The crowd at St Johns that late afternoon was mostly hip bald British chef-types and young male foodies with an occasional woman thrown in for color. The owner of the place was holding court at a table near us and there was lots of wine flowing. I felt a bit like I had crashed a private party, but we were treated quite well despite being the only non-locals in the place.

St Johns is worth making a special trip. Go on a Thursday and combine it with a visit to Spitalfields Antique Market just across the street, which is what we did.

Olivelli Ristorante Paradisio
35 Store St, London WCiE 7BS

This unassuming restaurant on Store Street in Bloomsbury was around the corner from our hotel, and we popped in for lunch on Friday after my daughter’s final performance at RADA (Did I mention she was wonderful?….).The service was excellent, and while the pasta and risotto were quite fine though not especially memorable, the mussels were probably the best I’ve ever eaten. On the smaller side, which I like, perfectly cooked and seasoned and teeming with garlic. If you’re looking for a good meal in Bloomsbury, this place is a sure bet.

Chez Marcelle
34 Blythe Road, London W14 0HA

My sister-in-law Nancy, who frequently visits London for work, recommended this lovely restaurant in Olympia for delicious, well-priced Lebanese food.  It was our first meal in London, and set the tone for what was a great trip food-wise. The #10 bus took us practically there from our hotel in Bloomsbury, making it not as out of the way as one might think.

Chez Marcelle is a one woman show starring Marcelle herself, who hosts, cooks, hosts and serves, along with only one assistant the night we ate there. We arrived on the early side, about 6:30 pm, and had Marcelle’s undivided attention until the place began to fill up, afer which we had to share her with the other diners. That meant we had to wait until she was finished preparing our neighbor’s meal before she could write out our check, but that was fine with us. This is not haute cuisine, but home cooked authentic Lebanese food, every dish freshly prepared by Marcelle and every dish delicious. Here are some examples from our meal –

  • Bazinjan Rahib  – Grilled aubergine peppers, onions, tomatoes and parsley dressed w/ lemon, olive oil & garlic. Like baba ganoush, but better, and added to my list of things to learn to make.

  •  Grllled Halloumih Cheese

  • Jawaneh – Grilled chicken wings with garlic and lemon juice

  • Kebbe Maklieh

If you love Lebanese food, Zagat has compiled their top 5 London Lebanese restaurants, but they don’t list Chez Marcelle. Someone needs to let them know about this special place.

Gourmet Burger Kitchen (GBK)

Okay, I admit this restaurant is part of a chain, but the burgers,”made from 100% West Country beef”, are fabulous, the price is right and there’s a branch on Maiden Lane, making it a perfect place to grab a quick bite pre or post theater.  The service on Maiden Lane was not as good as at the Putney branch, where we ate the last time we visited London.  But the atmosphere was lively, our fellow diners friendly and talkative, and the burgers tasted just as good, if not better than the ones we ate at the more sedate Putney branch. Great fries and milk shakes, too. With branches all around London, GBK is a one place to keep in mind when you need a reliably good meal fast. Or just crave a fabulous burger.

The Modern Pantry
47-48 St John’s Square, London EC1V
4JJ 020 7553 9210

The Modern Pantry was another recommendation from Shuna that I wish I could say I loved as much as she did, but…

Any menu that takes a paragraph to list the title of a single dish is probably making cooking more complex than it need be.  Other than a delicious scallop on a bed of parsnip puree, I found the food overly fussy, with competing flavors and no rhyme or reason as to why certain ingredients were paired.  I know this is called fusion cooking, but it seemed more like mishmash cooking to me – almost as if I had filled my plate with several different dishes from a buffet rather than ordered a single dish. For example –

  • Confit duck leg, sweetcorn, black beans, sugar snaps & coriander, plum & Bramley apple relish
  • Fig, apple & raspberry oat crumble, goats curd sorbet, runny cream

That said, the service was fabulous, the wine absolutely incredible (such legs!…), the atmosphere warm and inviting and the location on St John’s Square – perfect.  So if fusion cooking is your thing, you’ll love The Modern Pantry. The place was packed, so you won’t be alone. Tell them I sent you.

Tea at the Tate Modern Level 7
Bankside, London SE1 9TG

The Food at the Tate is well-priced, with views of St Paul’s Cathedral and the city that alone are worth the visit, and more than made up for the lack of decent art on display downstairs on the day we visited. (Don’t get me started on Damien Hirst..)

The scones with clotted cream were surprisingly and unnecessarily large – but they were moist and delicious and the tea was lovely, served in little tea-press pots. My cheese platter was a bit disappointing – nothing special about the cheeses they chose to feature. The tea sandwiches and baguette were fine. But the views – I could have sat there forever.

Store Street Espresso
40 Store Street, WC1E 7DB

Best place for coffee in Bloomsbury, according to my barista-trained daughter. My one cup of takeaway cappuccino was perfect, so I’d agree. Not to mention great atmosphere, free wi-fi, decent food and a book exchange.

More London Restaurant Reviews 

Up next – Old Spitalfields Antique Market 

April in London – Part 1

One of the best parts about having your daughter do a semester abroad is that you have an excuse to cross the pond. Put that child in RADA’s Shakespeare program, then realize your visit coincides with Shakespeare’s birthday, and you begin to feel that the Bard himself has conspired to make that visit one of the most memorable, if not short, vacations you’ve ever taken.

It was just my mother-in-law Irene and I on this trip, and while we had a marvelous time together, we missed Mr TBTAM and my other daughter, who would have loved every minute of this vacation.

Where we stayed

The Academy, 21 Gower Street in Bloomsbury

If you want to hang with the locals, but still be close enough to walk to Covent Garden, Trafalgar Square and the British Museum, with easy access to buses or the tube to take you anywhere else you want to go, then Bloomsbury is where you want to stay. It’s the home of the University of London, the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine and The Royal Academy of Dramatic Arts, so the streets are teeming with students and academic types. Needless to say, I felt right at home.

Our hotel was absolutely wonderful – a linked series of five townhouses, with small but lovely rooms, a conservatory and garden for relaxing or taking your morning coffee, and a restaurant.

Not to mention free wireless internet, great towels and fresh bottled water left at your door each evening by the small, personable staff.

However, in typical British fashion, the place had its quirks, with smallish rooms, a tiny-tiny bathroom, a shower that never really got hot-hot, and perpetually cold hallways due to ill-fitted front doors in the townhouses that let the air in all day and night. (I really think the Brits just don’t feel the cold the way we Yanks do…) None of which took away from the charm of the place, and I’d stay there again in a heartbeat.

The Weather

It rained every single day, but only intermittently, rarely heavily and apparently not enough to halt drought warnings.  The rapid changes in weather, while unpredictable, brought some amazing skies and light –

Spitalfields streets before the rain fell

St Paul’s Cathedral and Millenium Bridge between the rains

Store Street after the rain

And in Stratford-Upon-Avon

we even saw a rainbow.

The Little Things that Make London Different

As always, when traveling I love the little things that remind me I’m not in Kansas anymore . Like the bathroom stalls

the rented opera glasses,

the different words they use

and of course, the people.

The Big Thing That Makes London Different

You really know you’re not in America when it comes to transportation. Taxis are quite expensive and cars pay a fee to enter the center of London. As a result, public transportation is central to the busy life of this international city and puts every American city, including New York, to shame. I’ve never seen more buses in my life, one very few seconds it seemed on the busier routes.

And the train stations! Gloriously bright and beautiful  – Liverpool Street,


and Charing Cross Road.

And although London is not yet Amsterdam, it’s getting there. We saw hundreds of bikes parked overnight at the train station,

ready for retrieval by commuters in the morning rush.

And of course, there’s Barclays’ Bicycle Hire  – launched in 2010 and still expanding. (Pic from Wikipedia)

The Best Thing About London

But the best thing about London? It’s where I got to spend time with two of my favorite people in the world – Emily and Irene.

A fine pair of traveling companions indeed.

Up Next – Part 2: Where We Ate in London

London 6 – An (Almost) Perfect Day in London

If you are in London on a cold, sunny Saturday in early January, then this is where you must go and what you must do (and in this order) –

1. Visit the Portobello Road Antique Market

Get there early, say by 9 or 10 am, to beat the crowds. Take the tube to Notting Hill Gate and follow the flow of people – you’ll find it, it’s not far.

Today, we’re only doing the antique part of the market. (If you want to give it a whole day, you can do the whole thing. It’s fun. ) This means you will need a plan. The plan is to do the right side of the road first, then when you hit the green market stalls, you’ll know you are at the end of the antique section of the market. Turn ’round and head back up the other side – it is the better side, with gallery after gallery filled with stall after stall of antiques.

Make sure that you walk through each and every market or gallery (and there will be many…)

Enjoy looking at all the wonderful antiques and talking with the dealers, who have time to talk since it is very cold today and the market is not as busy as usual. There is so much to see. Do your best to see it all.

Do not buy a pith helmet. But do take a picture of it, even though they don’t seem to want you to.

When you start to get tired, have a coffee and a sit at the downstairs cafe with the dealers at the Admiral Vernon Antique Market .

Make sure to find one or two things that you love, and buy them. (I happen to love old African and Asian antiques, so I got a wooden statue from Tonga and an old ceremonial cloth from Bali, but you should get what you like).  Sadly, you will not be able to buy everything you want, including that nifty ceremonial headdress, because some things are just too big to take home on the plane.

Keep walking, and looking, and sometimes buying.

By now, you are getting a bit peckish. Have a sausage or a crepe at one of the many stalls lining the market. Even so, you will still have to stop at the Hummingbird Bakery.

There, you can get two cupcakes for later, because you know you will want them at some point. (We got Nutella and Carrot cake cupcakes, but you should get whatever strikes your fancy.)

You are almost done. Just another block or two of wonderful things to see. The crowds have gotten much thicker, just in time for you to head on. If you like, you can stop and get some shoes or second hand clothes on the road back to the tube stop.

No time to stop at Arancina , but what a cute little cafe! (Hmm, next time maybe you should have lunch there instead of a sausage…)

Take the tube to Charing Cross Station and walk to Trafalger Square.

2. Trafalger Square and the National Gallery

The steps of St Martin in the Fields provide a great place to watch the crowds. Stop downstairs below the Church and get tickets for tonight’s concert. (Don’t worry – the rest of the tourists will be at Jersey Boys or Spamalot – You will be able to get tickets at the last minute.)

Now head into the National Gallery . Check your bags and coat – you’re tired! (Don’t worry – there are plenty of places to sit while looking at the paintings.) Wander through the galleries, using the museum’s map to find your faves. It’s almost like a treasure hunt! Make sure you see the Camara Obscura in the same room with Vermeer’s paining of the Girl at the Piano.  And Van Gogh’s Sunflowers. And the Gaughans. And the Renoirs. And the Cezannes….

Oh yeah, and the gift shop….

3. Dinner and bronze rubbings at St Martin’s Crypt

Now you are really tired. But that’s okay – we’re done walking for today. Head back over to St Martin’s Crypt. Do a brass rubbing. Visit the gift shop. And have dinner in the Cafe in the Crypt . A little odd, perhaps, supping over gravesites, but hey, this is London and the food is fine. (By the way, they also have lunchtime concerts in the crypt if you decide to come at a different time.)

When you’re done, head upstairs for your concert.

3. Concert at St Martin in the Fields

If you are lucky, it will be a chamber concert of violin music by Mozart, Vivaldi and Bach. Or something equally as wonderful. The kids read their books and sketch while you listen to the music.  It gets very cold at intermission when they throw open the doors to the outside so you may want to head downstairs for a cup of herbal tea and those cupcakes you bought earlier. Or perhaps you already ate them. Oh well…

Do you like that wacky stained glass window? It’s been called  “a gynecological” rendering. I guess they’re referring to the vaginal-type light filled opening in the middle. I like it. Very futuristic for such an otherwise simple old church.  Here’s a better photo .

4. The way home

You’ve had a wonderful day and an even more lovely evening.

Do NOT ruin it by refusing to speak to your husband because you are cold and want to take a cab home and he wants you to take the tube. And definitely do NOT refuse to help him find the tube stop on the map because you are still mad and since he’s Mr Subway Guy he should know where the tube stop is, right? If you do do these things, then you must offer a make-up kiss on the subway home. Don’t worry – It will work.

However, if I were you, I would instead do what we did the night before and take a long double decker bus ride home.

Then it will have been a perfect day.

Portobello Road

London 5 – New Year’s Eve Dinner

We celebrated with a dinner and terrace firework watching at our apartment in London (Thanks again, Val – Don’t forget to come to our place soon!). We picked up provisions earlier that day at the Borough Market. The fact that we were going straight from the market to the theater limited our purchases to non-perishables, so we chose to make a mushroom risotto the main course, with assorted cheeses and dried meats for appetizers. I think we did pretty well under the circumstances.

Appetizers from Borough Market

The cheeses are Spenwood, a goats mild cheese made by Anne and Andy Wigmore in Eisely, and  a Gorwydd Caerphilly made by the Trethowan Family in Wales, both purchased at Neal’s Yard Dairy. (Click the cheese names for more info about the cheese makers.) The wonderful Balsamic Fig Sauce comes from Apulia Blend. I don’t know the name of the stall where I bought the salamis, but they were delicious.

And how about those cheesticks? They’re called “Red Leicester Cheese Straws” and they’re from the Flour Power City Bakery stall at the Borough Market. Like air they are. Look how light – What I’d give for that recipe…

Mushroom Risotto with Thyme

For this entree, I used mushrooms and herbs bought at the Wild Mushroom Company in Borough Market. The recipe is a basic risotto, with a few additions such as thyme and mushroom stock.

4 tbsp butter
2 tbsp olive oil
1 lb assorted mushrooms, sliced thin (I used chantarelles, cepes from South Africa and button mushrooms from France)
1 medium onion, diced small
2 cloves garlic, chopped fine
2 tbsp chopped fresh tyhme
1/2 cup white wine
2 cups risotto rice
4 cups chicken broth
1 cup mushroom broth (I used a dried mushroom stock cube, but you can make your own from dried porcinis, straining the stock before using and chopping the porcinis to add to the mushrooms)
1/4 cup grated parmesan cheese
1/4 cup chopped fresh flat-leaved parsley
Salt and pepper to taste

Combine the broths and heat to boiling, then turn down to a low heat to keep warm.

In a large heavy pot (I use a le Cruset French Oven), melt 1 tbsp butter with the olive oil over medium high heat. Add the chopped onion and saute till soft and translucent. Add the mushrooms, garlic and thyme and saute, stirring frequently, till the mushrooms give off their water and just start to brown. (About 10 minutes).Add the rice and stir, cooking for 2-3 minutes till it is opaque. Add the wine and stir till evaporated (about a minute).

Now turn down the heat a tad and begin adding the hot stock to the rice, a laedful or two, and stir. Continue stirring and adding the stock a ladleful at a time, waiting until the liquid is absorbed each time before adding more, until the rice is tender and creamy yet still a little al dente.

Remove from heat. Stir in the remaining butter, then the parsley and parmesan cheese. Season with lots of fresh ground pepper and a little salt. Serve with a side green salad and sauteed root veggies (recipe follows).

Sauteed Root Vegetables with Salsify

I discovered Black Salsify at the Wild Mushroom Company at Borough Market. The propietor suggested I treat it like a root vegetable, so that’s what I did, combining it with a few gorgeous carrots, leeks and fennel I found at the same place.

Salsify is sometimes called “Goat’s Beard”, which I suppose describes what the small roots look like coming off the end of the stalk. (This is black salsify – there are other types as well.) Salsify is also called  Oyster Plant because of it’s flavor when cooked. In this dish, that flavor did not come through, probably because of the stronger flavors of the carrots and fennel that accompany it. I’ve seen recipes for sauteed salsify with apple, and if I ever find salsify again,  that’s the recipe I will try.

You need to peel salsify before cooking it, after which you keep it in water with a little lemon juice to prevent it from turning color before cooking it.

1/2 lemon
Large bowl of cold water
3 salsify roots, peeled and julieened
2 large carrots, peeled and julienned
1 large leek, halved lengthwise, rinsed, sliced again lenghtwise and the into 2-3 inch strips
1 medium fennel bulb, sliced into thin strips 2-3 inches long

Squeeze the lemon into the cold water. Peel the salsify, then julienne. Keep in cold water till ready to cook, then drain and blot dry before cooking .

Slice the leek lengthwise and rinse well in cold water. Drain. Cut across the length, and then again lengthwise. so you have strips about 2-3 inches long.

Melt butter in heavy skillet. Add carrots, fennel and salsify, and saute over medium high heat till just softened. Add leeks and continue to saute till soft and veggies start to brown. Season with salt and pepper and serve.

London Diary 4- Borough Market

If you are lucky enough to have a kitchen while visiting London, you must visit the Borough Market for provisions for a great meal. On second thought, even if you don’t have a kitchen, you still have to visit. You’ll have to be content with just eating the fabulous food from the stalls or surrounding cafes.

Think Union Square Greenmarket mixed with Reading Terminal Market, add in the ever-chiming bells of the Southwark Cathedral and the hum of the trains heading over London Bridge overhead and you’ll get an idea of what a marvelous experience a visit to London’s Borough Market can be.

Our first stop, Neal’s Yard Dairy.

Neal’s Yard sells cheeses from farms all over the UK. Because many of the farms are too small for a cheese-making operation, Neals has their own aging rooms at their central warehouse. Every cheese is labelled with the name of the farm and its owners from whence it came. I purchased the Spenwood and Caerphilly.

On to the Wild Mushroom Company, where our main course is inspired.

and where I found these babies:

and saw some beautiful fruits and veggies.

This is salsify, which the stall keeper tells me is a tasty root. I’ll try it!

Let’s wander some more, shall we?

Boar Pie, anyone? No? How about pheasant?

Okay, then how about some Ostrich Salami? Try it! It’s French!

No? Okay, we’ll just get some more mundane pork salamis. And balsamic-fig syrup to serve with the cheeses. (Can you visualize tonight’s appetizer plate yet? Wait till you see the cheese sticks I got!)

Hungry yet? Let’s have some freshly made fish curry. (It tasted great!)

We’ll try to be good and pass up the truffles.

But maybe just some dried fruit and chocolate covered nuts for the Theater later…

We need to make a matinee, so there’s not enough time for bread and jam at the Monmouth Coffee Shop. (Put it on the list for next trip).

Unfortunately, the Market had only limited hours and not all the stalls were open on New Year’s Eve, plus the Raclette Guy was off. But you can see more photos and get more info about the market by browsing the links below.

Tomorrow’s post – What we made with what we bought…

Borough Market Links

The best of Borough Market  (according to Enrica Rocca)
Borough Market Website
Borough Market Vendor Map
London Eater has has a Two Part post on Borough Market.
Great pics from Not Another Big Menu
A nice Flicker Set of Borough Market photos
Liz does the Borough Market

London Diary 3 – The Food so Far

As much as I wanted this visit to be a gourmand’s tour of London, my kids refuse to have their eating itinerary dictated by Mom’s must-visit restaurant list. They value spontaneity and self-discovery above all else in their dining experiences. As long as they are in on the choice, they will love the meal, whether we eat at a local hole-in-the-wall with a family-run kitchen or a tourist trap Italian eatery in Covent Garden.

Fortunately, we’ve eaten well for the most part. While I wouldn’t make a special trip just to eat at any of the following places, if you find yourself in the neighborhood, you won’t go wrong to stop in. (I’m leaving out the Covent Garden eatery – you’re on your own in that neighborhood. Good luck.)

Our local spots here in Putney Bridge include –

The River Cafe
. A throw-back restaurant with a family-run kitchen, original tile walls, formica table tops and home-cooked food. Has a Barney Greengrass kind of feel, without the lines and with immigrant Brits behind the counter (The cook, an older gent, seemed to have some sort of French accent). If you go in for retro dining, as we do, this place may well be worth a special visit.

Cafe NuNu. An adorably funky little place with a casual hippie feel and excellent croissants (not so easy to find in London). Think East Village 10 years ago. Dinners look interesting, in an early Moosewood kind of way – though it is not vegetarian, you get my drift.

Gourmet Burger Kitchen – a fabulous slightly upscale burger joint chain, where one can have a cappucino or glass of wine along with one very delicious burger. They’re all around town.

Other places we’ve eaten –

Preem & Prithi. We had a very good and reasonably-priced meal at this well-known Bangli curry house on Brick Lane. I finally tasted (and loved) Masala Dosa and discovered coconut chutney, a condiment I shall have to have again. Unfortunately, Brick Lane has gotten very touristy since we last visited it over 15 years ago, and I don’t think I’ll go back. Next time, we’ll head to Southall for a more authentic London-Indian experience.

Westminster Arms. The kids, starving after our tour of Westminster Abbey (Jeremy Irons’ narration of the self-guided audio tour is itself worth the visit), insisted we eat at the first place we passed on our way to the Churchill War Rooms (a must-see). Which was how we found ourselves eating lunch at the tourist-packed Westminster Arms, where I am amazed to report that I had the best sausage and onion sandwich I have tasted. Really. And I want to go back and have another. Right now.

Borough Market.One thing I did insist upon was a visit to the Borough Market to shop for ingredients for dinner on New Year’s Eve, a holiday we always celebrate at home rather than by going out to a restaurant. Despite my disappointment that a fair number of stalls were closed and the Cheese Guy was off for the holiday, the Market was well worth the visit. And it’s own blog post.

So stay tuned for photos of dead pheasants, a recipe for mushroom risotto and everything you ever wanted to know about salsify.

London Diary- Day 2 – Music Underground

Want to perform for tips in the underground? Want to avoid a fine? Apply for a licence, audition before a panel of judges, and get on the schedule. Now you’re an offical underground “Busker”. (That’s the word for street performers here. It derives from a Spanish word meaning “to seek”.)

Nice stuff.

London Diary, Day 1 – The Little Things

One of the most enjoyable things about traveling, aside from seeing the sights and meeting the people, are the little things that make life in a different country feel, well – different.

Those wacky electrical outlets.

That cool radiator in the bathroom. (Could it also be a towel warmer?)

The electic tea kettle.

The under-counter washer-dryer combo, which would be perfect in my tiny NYC kitchen. (Although it takes 2-3 hours to finish a very small load of laundry.)

And the built in wine racks in the fridge.

These are the little joys of travel that make every minute special. Minutes that in our normal lives pass us by as we make that morning cup of coffee the same way for the thousandth time, turn on the shower, half-asleep, or absently swipe a metro card while heading onto the subway.

You don’t swipe cards here, by the way. You touch them to a sensor.

And did I mention the practically empty ladies room at intervals (that’s London-speak for intermission) at the theater tonight?

Actually, that’s not a little thing. That’s a really big thing.

Diet Update, a New Resolve and a Cheerio

I’m down 33 pounds and holding. Just barely.

Folks are starting to notice, which is nice, and I really should buy new clothes. But I have no time right now to shop. Plus, I really don’t want to reward myself just yet. I’m not being good enough right now.

Dinners with friends, Thanksgiving and Christmas have given me excuses to slack off just enough to maintain, but not lose significantly more weight for over a month now. And the cold weather has stopped the long weekend bike rides that were giving me the exercise I needed.

Although I dropped below the snore threshold about 20 pounds ago, I cleary have not yet passed the point where reflux and hiatal hernia symptoms disappear. Smaller meal sizes on my food delivery program have helped my symptoms somewhat, but they remain bad enough that I finally went for an endoscopy and upper abdominal songram last week. Despite the fact that all was okay, I’m annoyed at myself. Because if I had just stayed a little more true to the diet and exercise plan, I might have dropped below the reflux point by now and saved myself and the US healthcare system an expensive medical procedure. Now I am determined to get a move on with this weight loss.

The encouraging news in this regard is that we’re heading off to London for a week (the girls can’t wait!), and if my tradition of always losing weight on vacation holds, I expect to a few pounds thinner when I return. Just in time to start off the New Year with another push downward on the scale.

Expect upcoming posts from across the Pond.