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Thursday, November 24, 2011


We are out of practice in celebrating this holiday after so long abroad, in fact the end of November snuck up on us when we weren't looking.  Some Seattle cyclists participate in an annual Thanksgiving day ride to raise money for Northwest Harvest. With fond memories of the London Christmas Day rides, we put it on our calendar.  While discussing when we should reassemble the tandem and take it on a shakedown cruise before the big day, it occurred to us that it was a little over a week away.  Yikes! 
The Saturday before Thanksgiving we put the bike together and after making sure the brakes worked, went flying down the hill. It was a bright, sunny, and cold as we headed for the farmer's market with only a vague idea of what we wanted. It's amazing what will fit in a large backpack and two saddlebags - potatoes, apples, beets, quince, several types of green food, smoked salmon, and a ten pound bag of organic potting soil, (for an oregano plant that was on its way from Cape Cod) with room to spare.  All systems were functioning perfectly and by gum, those eight extra gears sure make a difference on the hills.
We were pleasantly surprised that it (just) fit in the elevator. We used to have to keep it in its collapsed state for storage under the bed, and to get up and down in the tiny elevator at our previous residence.  Fine Sunday mornings often found us reassembling the bike in the lobby of the building, much to the amusement of our neighbours.  Now we can roll it out in a matter of minutes.

The forecast was rather grim: wind, rain, more rain and not very warm.  Flooding and mudslides were in the local news.  It should be just like Christmas in London we said as we dug out the waterproof booties in anticipation. We were up before the sun, breakfasted, swaddled in man made fabrics and out the door around 8 am. We pedalled off to parts of Seattle we'd never seen before.  Leschi was the starting point, and as we swooped down the long hill and pulled up next to the crowd of cyclists, I had the feeling of being distinctly underdressed.  No, we weren't cold, and no they weren't wearing formal wear, but I had an uneasy feeling as I eyeballed the expensive matching cycle clothes.  They went with the expensive ultra light bikes with skinny tires, unburdened by so much as a handlebar bag. Uh Oh.  The information on the ride said, 'Pace: Social'  and that the ride would keep together (instead of everyone going at their own speed). It was not an organised ride per se. There was no route sheet, and we only had a rough idea of where we were headed - a 25 mile loop around the bottom of Lake Washington and back via Mercer Island. 

So far, much like the London Christmas ride.  Except  in London, ostentatious cycles and athletic wear are generally absent. For example, a woman rode through the pouring rain one Christmas on a rented bike in a wool coat. At least we had our booties on, but the rest of our outfit was more sensible commuter than Lance Armstrong. We started out near the head of the pack of about 100,  only to be passed by every last one of them.  There are fast tandems out there, but ours is built for long leisurely rides, carrying a reasonable amount of luggage; not for speed.  We still have the bomb proof tires on it (for riding over London's shrapnel strewn roads) that have a fairly high degree of rolling resistance.  Their idea of a 'social pace' was about five miles an hour above our top cruising speed.  It wasn't long before they were out of sight. We compounded the problem at Seward Park when we zigged and the route zagged.  Deciding there wasn't much point to a 'social' ride when we'd been left behind without so much as a backward glance, we turned around and went the other way around Lake Washington until we were back in familiar territory. At that point the drizzle started and the wind picked up and we gladly pointed ourselves in the direction of home. Not long after we dried off the bike, tucked it into the cupboard under the stairs, and hung up the wet gear it started to rain heavily.  It was not our happiest cycling experience, but we saw some pretty back roads near the lake, contributed to a worthy cause, got some exercise and were in home with plenty of time to cook dinner.  
Blackened Tarte Tatin

We suffered from indecision about the menu. No turkey, no sweet potatoes,  and no pumpkin pie, but I absolutely had to have cranberry sauce (cranberries being extremely expensive and exotic in London, I really missed them).  Ours was a rather unorthodox meal:
Mackerel (from a Japanese supermarket)
Mashed potatoes with fresh horseradish
Cranberry sauce with orange and ginger
Creamed pearl onions and peas (pearl onions were also very rare in London)
Tarte Tatin (despite consulting several conflicting recipes it still turned out rather tasty, if a little blacker in places than is traditional).
When all else fails, consult the GPS

There are so many things to be thankful for:
After all the stress and upheaval of moving we're still glad we did it (and still speaking to each other).  I am also thankful for my family. I am lucky  to be related to such a kind, loving, and talented bunch of people. And then there are my friends, without whom life itself would be impossible. Chief among them is my beloved, the captain of a slow, but comfortable tandem.

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Stocking Up

Clotilde Dusoulier, author of the delightful blog Chocolate & Zucchini wrote in her book of the same title: " As a little exercise to flex your creative muscles, try this: open the fridge, look through your pantry and improvise a dish."  
She makes this sound as if unplanned meals were a novel experience, but it's how I cook all the time. Hopeless at creating menus and coordinated shopping lists, I'm often faced with an odd assortment of food items and no specific dishes in mind.  I'm pretty good at whipping up meals out of whatever is on hand. Of course, this works better when you actually have something in your pantry besides a few empty containers and paper goods. 

International moves wreak havoc on the contents of a pantry.  Most of the time, due to cost, or import and export regulations, you have to get rid of all the food. Tea is exempt (maybe the Boston Tea Party had something to do with this?), and depending on the shipper, or your destination, you might get away with  dried spices (but not this time). I couldn't face cleaning out the spice cupboards, carefully accumulated from years of exploring the ethnic shops in London, the markets and shops of Europe, and frequent gifts from a Japanese friend. Turkish red pepper flakes, mushroom and truffle paste, furikake, saffron, Indian spices, honey from a friend's beehive. . . it was too painful for me to throw it out.  Some we gave away, and while I was out at the British Library, D. discretely eliminated the rest, saving the glass jars.
Our kitchen in London

During a previous move, I sought expert advice on how to stock a pantry. You often find this in cook books of a certain type. In my case it was Delia Smith's How to Cook II.   I methodically went through her list, and ordered it all to be delivered from one of the supermarkets.  A couple years later when we moved again I still had unopened containers of things like  redcurrant jelly,  cornichons, golden syrup and half a bottle of cheap, formerly fizzy, cider.  Obviously, I'm not your typical British cook. 

For the past three months we've been managing with very basic kitchen equipment, so there wasn't much need for elaborate ingredients. Our first shopping trip included dijon mustard, olive oil, white wine vinegar, salt, pepper, oregano, butter, Old Bay, sugar, peanut butter, and Tabasco. It's amazing how much you can do with that. Gradually, we've been adding items, not always in a logical fashion, but generally not buying anything until we need it.  I get a notion to make something and then spend the rest of the week accumulating ingredients and bringing them home in my bike bag. Hence the cupboard is still mostly full of empty containers.

After living in different countries, you end up with non-local tastes. We found ourselves importing Triscuits, Nestle's chocolate chips, vanilla, anise, and Old Bay (Tabasco seems to be an international condiment these days) in our luggage every time one of us made a trip back to the US.  We couldn't bring ourselves to spend the extortionate prices the import shops charged for such exotic 'delicacies'.
Now that we're in the US, it's nice not to horde every last cracker till they go stale.  We were surprised to find several familiar UK food items on the supermarket shelves here, such as PG Tips tea.  I brought a small, precious canister of Marigold Vegetable Bouillon in my suitcase, which is nearly gone now.  It was already on my mental shopping list for the next trip back to the UK, but luckily it is available online for a reasonable price. I was also thrilled to find a very well stocked Asian supermarket in the International district. 
Seattle is an interesting mix of cultures, and we are looking forward to learning about the influence this has had on the local food.  Meanwhile, I'm learning how to make my own muesli, because this European breakfast staple is nearly as expensive as gold dust around here.

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

The invasion of the evil movers

At long last, the day had arrived; our household goods and furniture were to be delivered. D. spent hours with an ancient piece of CAD software building up a floor plan and populating it with replicas of our furniture.  It's much easier to move pixels than sofas. We had a plan of where all the furniture would go, and were looking forward to a smooth transition from indoor camping to living.

Ours was a 'princess move' - where the packing and unpacking is done for you.  Usually I pack  and unpack the CDs and some of the books to maintain control over things, but due to customs regulations, they preferred to pack it all themselves. 
Thursday dawned bright and sunny with no sign of a moving van . . . When they arrived mid-morning, there were only two of them, neither of them particularly strong. The third person didn't show up until late the next day when the heavy work was done.  They struggled with the boxes and big lumps of furniture, leaving nearly all of it on the lower level to the extent that we could hardly move. 
The corridor to the bathroom
They left and said they'd be back the next day to unwrap and set up the furniture and unpack.  Thank goodness for the Murphy bed, or we would have had to sleep on the balcony. I started in on the kitchen boxes, a process made tedious by the reams and reams of paper to unwrap.  Six sheets of paper to wrap one plastic chopstick seems a bit excessive. Some of D's colleagues were building a maze for Hallowe'en so he wanted to collect as many boxes as we could empty that afternoon and take them down to work. But it was slow going.

D. was eager to start assembling the furniture, especially our computer desk units and bookshelves before the unpacking began in earnest. Thanks to a couple of borrowed screwdrivers he started to make some progress, but was stymied by the critical parts missing from the 'parts' box.  Inaccurate box labels did not help.  A kitchenware box held a scanner and other electronic gizmos.  A box marked tools contained shoes (ok, a spirit level was in there). The screws and a screwdriver turned up eventually in another box marked kitchenware.  We still couldn't find the rest of D.'s tools. Then he realized he no longer owns a drill (different voltage, we gave it away).  He went out to buy one in order to anchor the shelving units to the walls. After he returned we unwrapped the sofa, ordered a pizza and collapsed in front of the TV for the exciting 6th game of the World Series (I must confess I slept through part of it).  We had to dig out the Murphy bed so we could crawl into it.
Kitchenware boxes more than half full of paper

Friday we were up early, I finished unpacking the kitchen before the mover (yes, one!) arrived to help unpack and move furniture.   She didn't have any tools; the others were bringing them.  We have lots and lots of flat pack shelving, and a four-poster bed that completely disassembles. This was not good.  We also don't have any dressers (the last place had lots of built in furniture). So I said, "hold off on the books till the shelves are up, and don't unpack the clothes because we don't have anywhere to put them". I was busy unpacking glassware and cutlery in the main room, D. was valiantly trying to put up shelving by himself and the mover was off somewhere in the front room . . . Like a toddler when things get very quiet, you know trouble is afoot. She was unpacking everything and piling it on the floor, because their remit is to unpack and put it on surfaces (floors, tables, etc., but not shelves). When it's stacked up knee deep in a confined space, you can't even get to the shelves.  Late in the afternoon the other two arrive, and like a demented tornado, start moving furniture around and emptying the rest of the boxes.  I became extremely stressed out at the increasingly terrifying, chaotic mountains of stuff everywhere I looked. 
A librarian's worst nightmare

D wisely took over the CD unpacking and sent me out for some fresh air before I could commit murder (only averted because I couldn't find any of the knives).  When I returned they were gone, having run out of floor space on which to dump the contents of the remaining boxes. Exhausted, wet (it was raining) bruised, scratched and filthy from the day's work, I decided a nice hot bath would be the ticket.  Except the bathtub needed cleaning and I was too tired.  Ok, a shower then.  But I couldn't even find my underwear. Gentle readers, this was the last straw.  D. found me, reduced to a sobbing sniveling heap on the closet floor surrounded by jumbled mounds of clothing.  He carefully shifted the teetering stacks of books so I could find the clothes I'd brought with me in August. Miraculously, we located linens and bedding and managed to sleep in our own bed for the first time in three months.

Mostly off the floor
After a weekend of picking things up off the floors, I am able to get dressed in the morning, prepare food, and sit at my desk and type this.  I dare not look closely at the shelves, cupboards and closets, as their randomized contents only make me depressed. I cringe each time I see the damaged furniture and smashed picture glass, and I have yet to muster the courage to inspect the musical instruments.  I'm not sure I could face a shattered fiddle right now. This has been one of the most difficult moves we've had. But with patience and a lot of hard work we'll get our place set up properly. . . Until the shipment arrives from storage in Connecticut. I just have to remind myself of our friends who lost all their possessions when the ship with their container on it sank. Though lately, I catch myself envying them.