29 September, 2011

Ode to Butternut Squash

My love affair with butternut squash began late in life...three years ago when I was really starting to cook for myself. It's now one of my favorite things to cook; it's versatile, delicious, and a sure sign of autumn. London is experiencing downright summery weather this week, but in the kitchen I'm trying to usher in the best season. I wanted to share this wonderful butternut squash soup recipe I discovered on Greedy Gourmet, because it's a fantastic and easy basic formula with endless options for flavor directions...You could add curry spices and chickpeas for some protein, then top with a dollop of yogurt, chopped peanuts, and shredded coconut. You could stir in some chopped apples, drizzle with cream, and top with croutons. Or you could spice it up with sweet red chili and a garnish of coriander. So many options! It's also quite a healthy base since it uses stock rather than cream (though I did add a bit of Greek yogurt to thicken it up slightly). Enjoy!


24 September, 2011

In Which I Love Greenwich and Stalk Robert Downey, Jr.

For most of my life the name "Greenwich" has prompted these kinds of thoughts: "So that's where the western world decided time starts?" "Greenwich must be the end of Interesting London, because that's where all the tourist boats and Thames dinner cruises terminate." "Greenwich...Sandwich...I'm hungry..."

 Greenwich has always been a Great Unknown to me, an abstract magical other world that has something to do with time but doesn't have much else going on.  Today I did the grown-up thing and actually went to Greenwich to see what the fuss is all about.  It's just two stops down the river from me, so I couldn't ignore it forever.

Well, in short: Greenwich is my new favorite.

I alighted from the Clipper and strolled through the downtown area, which oozes as much charm and as many Cute Little Shops as your heart could desire.  If I hadn't been on the way to meeting a friend, I surely would've stopped and become a few pounds poorer (because I clearly need another tote bag and some custom stationery and a few loaves of artisan bread).

Anyway -- Surviving the lure of the shops, I arrived at the main attraction: the expansive complex that is the Royal Maritime Museum, the Royal Observatory and planetarium, the Meridian Line, and Greenwich Park.  Walking through the park up the formidable hill to the Observatory, I asked myself numerous times why I had never come to Greenwich before.  The park alone was worth the trip, for me; in a city such as London it's a truly restoring thing to lose yourself in leaves and grass and the open air for a while.  London has its faults, but it cherishes green space better than any other city I've seen. I can't wait to go back as the leaves change over the fall.

At the top of the hill I got an incredible view of the city from a whole new perspective:
My friend and I checked out the [free] exhibits and took photos, then wandered back down the hill toward the Maritime Museum.  There was something exciting going on there, judging by the enormous trucks and filming equipment and extras wandering around in "Victorian beggar chic" while chugging Starbucks.  All became clear when I noticed two directors chairs with "SHERLOCK HOLMES" across the back!

We were snapping photos and keeping our eyes peeled for celebrities, when we came across four men sitting by one of the trucks.  Three of them were dressed in worn-out work clothes, but the fourth - a grey-haired, rosy-cheeked, twinkle-eyed, and every other cliche sort of gent - was dressed in nice slacks and a blazer with a kerchief tucked in the front pocket. He made eye contact with me and said hello. I said hello and stopped to ask how they were all doing. We chatted with them for about ten minutes, talking about the movie and about London.  We learned to our shock that we were actually speaking with the producers of the film! They proceeded to tell us that the shiny, retro-style trailer around the corner belonged to "The guy -- you know, ehm, he's in Ironman..."  "Oh, Robert Downey Jr?"  "Yeh, that's the one!" Not only did they point out his trailer, they told us which pub he's haunting whilst here and where they'll be filming tomorrow. The producers of a major motion picture basically gave us instructions on how to stalk their star...

From the outdoor ramble to the history to the stars (both terrestrial and earthbound), Greenwich was unexpectedly delightful. I'll be back!

22 September, 2011

In Which I Did Not Bring a Baby

Today for the first time I went to the Thursday morning Bible study held by the church I'm attending whilst here.  It's hosted by the pastor and his wife in their beautiful riverside flat.  I arrived at the same time as another woman holding a baby (1) on her hip and toting a stroller up the steps.  She rang the bell for the same flat I was headed for, so with my cunning wit I deduced that she must also be attending the Bible study!  I introduced myself and held the door for her.  We were greeted at the flat by a tiny tow-headed person (2) with an impish smile and a complete knight's costume...Adventure awaited!

Crossing the threshold I was warmly greeted and introduced to another woman and her baby (3)...Walking past the kitchen I saw a roly-poly toddler (4) eating breakfast in his highchair.  It was at about this moment that these sort of thoughts began floating through my head:

"I will probably be the youngest one here."
"Oh, no - I didn't bring a baby..."
"I will probably be the only unmarried one here."
"Where can I find a baby to bring next time?"
"They're all moms - Will they want to talk to me?!"
"Oh, no - I didn't bring a baby!"
"I wonder if she'd let me keep hold her baby?"
"I didn't bring a baby!!"
"They're SO CUTE.  Lord, give me strength..."

 As more women trickled in the Official Baby Count shot up to 7, all of them adorable and named things like Jemima and Reuben.  The Lord sends us these trials to make us stronger, I thought somberly as I fed Daniel animal crackers and raced trucks across the carpet with Benjamin.

I am thankful to report that, despite my lack of a baby, I was warmly welcomed and had a delightful time. Furthermore, I did not steal any of them.  Will I be back next week?  You betcha.

14 September, 2011

In Which I Succumb to the Obnoxiously Immortal Fad

Tonight there was one other person waiting for the 10:08 Thames Clipper home.  She was a sixty-something woman with a beautiful grace-filled face, a soft smile, fading blond hair that fell to her shoulders.  She wore a floral patterned skirt, ballet flats, and and a big butterfly broach.  For a while we all sat in silence; R and I were shattered (there's some Brit lingo for you) from the long day, and the woman was flipping through a magazine.  However, at one point I opened my eyes and she said,

"Would you like this magazine?"
"Oh - that's very kind, thank you!"
"Oh not at all -- Here, would you like this cupcake as well?  I was just given it at an event, it hasn't been touched."

I took the cupcake.  It was frosted in pale green icing and topped with pink flowers.  Now, I have reservations about cupcakes.  They're fine, but I wouldn't go so far as to say they're amazing and deserve to be a global phenomenon.  I've stood by in bewilderment as the Cupcake Craze has grown and simply refused to die.  Can anyone help me understand what it's all about?  They're actually rather messy to eat and don't present me with anything I couldn't enjoy in regular cake form, eaten neatly with a fork.  But...when an absolute angel of a woman hands you a cupcake on a night when you are particularly missing your mother, cupcakes...really are...kind of wonderful.

So we fell to talking.  Denise recently moved from peaceful Dorset to bustling London and literally could not be happier.  Her eyes shone as she told us all the things she loves about London.  We boarded the boat and encountered an Australian named Simon and his English wife Heather, who knew R slightly.  The five of us sat chatting, basking in the delight of stumbling upon friendships floating down the river - and my joy was made complete when a woman crossed the aisle and said, "Can I join you all?  You seem to be having such a good time."  So Nicola from New Zealand was added to our merry band.  We all swapped email addresses before parting and plan to have a pub night soon.

It made me happy. ...And also rather annoyed to find myself indebted to a cupcake.

11 September, 2011

A decade noted

The other day I saw this prayer at Southwark Cathedral, by the tomb of Bishop Lancelot Andrews: "Lord, be thou within us to strengthen us; without us to keep us; above us to protect us; beneath us to uphold us; before us to direct us; behind us to keep us from straying; round about us to defend us."
I walked through busy markets and across crowded bridges today, September 11th, and thought about that day ten years ago when we were afraid to go anywhere. I was fourteen and didn't really know anything about life or about how cruel people could be.  I didn't really know very much about God either. I am twenty-four now. There are still cruel people, very wicked people, in fact. I know that on this side of Christ's return there always will be. But there are also a lot of people with the grace of God spilling from their hearts and out into their work, their play, their families, their friendships. They drive city buses without fear, the seek justice in the halls of power, they say "I love you" when they hang up the phone. (We're all hopefully a little bit better at saying "I love you" than we were ten years ago.) They can do all these things because they know that a good God is within, without, above, beneath, before, behind, and round about us. They know the end of the story, and so the painful final chapters do not bring them to despair.

07 September, 2011

Fake Blood and a Bucket

The last several days have been a flurry of activity leading up to the opening of R's play. I'm R's assistant behind the scenes; she is disabled so needs help with costume changes, makeup, various entrances and exits and prop changes...Her character is also the lucky winner of a climactic stabbing near the play's end, so I am now more familiar with fake blood than I ever expected or wished to be! At several points this week I've sat back and thought about the fact that just several weeks ago I was working for the US government...and now I'm a volunteer stagehand for a play in London's West End, applying punk rock eye makeup and mopping up fake blood. I've decided to put off figuring out how I will bring any sense at all to my resume'...

I did have my first "celebrity"sighting on Monday!  Blitzing into the theatre with my hands full of bags and phones and lunch, I nearly collided with the adorable Clive Swift, known to American public television viewers (I know, geek alert) as Richard Bucket, the long-suffering husband of Hyacinth "Bouquet"!

In true Ginny fashion, I sort of gawked like an awestruck fish until he had passed, at which point I turned to the cheery Scottish barista named Angus and said, "Was that -- Was that ---- "  Yes, Ginny, yes, that was.

I saw Clive (we're on a first name basis now, obvi) there again yesterday, and once again was too startled to say anything.  R's play runs for a month, though, so I have plenty of time to come up with the perfect witty, charming, not-too-flattering-but-still-genuinely-complimentary thing to say...

02 September, 2011

Father Cabbie

Tonight we got stranded in SE1 when R's electric wheelchair ran out of battery power. We eventually got a cab that had a ramp, so that she could roll up into it. As we made our way toward home we commented to the cabbie that he must have to deal with all sorts of drama all day long.

"Oh, are you kiddin'? It's a bloomin' confessional box, this is!"

Good cabbies, hairdressers, and bartenders must all possess that same listening ear and talent for giving advice, like a priest hearing confession - because for a handful of minutes, they are trapped in the same space with you and all your problems. But I'd hazard a guess that the priest doesn't get tipped as well.