Summer!

I promise you I have not completely disappeared … I just took an unplanned break … doing some summer things …

… like sitting with my hubby drinking wine, chatting and enjoying the evening sun coming through our windows …

… witnessing glorious sunsets …

… eating lots of fresh asparagus (between you and me I think L might wake up one morning and find his wife has turned into a stalk of asparagus πŸ˜‰ ) …

… reading books on the Cathedral Green …

… attending the lovely wedding of lovely friends …

… and taking photos of fresh, juicy, bright red tomatoes! Not really a must-do summer activity, but come on, the colour has got to make you smile, right?! πŸ˜‰

What are you doing with your summer?

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Diamond Jubilee Tea Party!

This weekend people have been celebrating Queen Elizabeth II’s Diamond Jubilee all over England!

There have been massive celebrations and events over the last four days and we were given an extra bank holiday today, in addition to the normal June holiday yesterday.

I love the Queen and admire her very much and I have loved seeing the way communities have come together to celebrate our nations’ Queen 60th year of reigning as our monarch!

There have been concerts, parades, street parties, picnics, village lunches, commemorative services and gun salutes galore!

For my celebrations, I chose a wonderfully English Tea Party!

When organising things like this, I tend to leap in with a ‘all or nothing’ attitude. I get obsessed with the details, think about little tweaks and improvements even when I’m meant to be concentrating on something else, research the shops and web every couple of days, plan, plan and re-plan.

I started thinking about the tea party in March. The invitations were in the post by the middle of April.

Sadly, this didn’t stop me from becoming overcome by life and convincing myself I had two weeks preparation left … when I actually had just one … πŸ˜›

However, with the help of the wonderful man who is my husband, and the un-ending assistance of my dear friend K, who was staying that weekend, we made it to this point:

I went for a high tea theme of savouries as well as cakes.

I just had to have the traditional cucumber sandwiches and threw in a childhood favourite of Marmite and cress – yum! I was rather pleased with the mini quiches, which is something I’ve wanted to have a go at for a long time.

This wonderful cake stand – complete with coloured dots! – was a wedding present from my friend A and her husband. Doesn’t it look splendid all loaded up with sweet treats?! I was quite pleases with the sponge fancies I made – I decorated them with card-making decorations! πŸ˜‰

A made this scrummy chocolate cupcakes, which embraced the English Jubilee theme hook, line and sinker! Aren’t the decorations so cool?! I had a Big Ben!! πŸ˜€

One of my closest friends, R, baked scones and brought the essential clotted cream and jam to go with them. They were absolutely scrummy and the party would not have been complete without them!

I loved planning and setting up the details of napkins, tea cups and saucers, napkins, flowers, little decorations …

I snagged a beautiful vintage-style table-cloth from Ebay for a bargain price and dissected a wedding candle wreath to add some rose-like elegance to the setting.

All three of my sisters came, so plus my friends K, R, a and myself, we were a comfortable seven round our games-chest-come-coffee-table.

My final little thing was a favour bag, containing each girl’s favourite kind of chocolate – or as near to that as I could come! πŸ˜€

I’m so glad I threw my Jubilee Tea Party and hope that everyone who came had lots of fun!!

What did you English readers do to celebrate the Diamond Jubilee?!!

Bluebell woods

Last weekend L and I were visiting his parents.

We had a lovely, relaxed weekend being looked after, fed delicious food, poured tasty wine and getting to go for some glorious drives and walks through some beautiful English countryside!

Sounds like a pretty good weekend to me! πŸ™‚

On Sunday afternoon, when we had an unexpected burst of clear sky and sunshine, L, my Mum-in-law and myself went in search ofΒ  some bluebell woods …

… and we found them! So beautiful!!

After a few weeks of heavy rain, massive puddles on the pavements, grey views from the windows, wet socks after grocery shopping and that heavy feeling that comes with a constant half-light, it was so freeing to be out in the country, with blue, lightly cloudy skies, warm sunshine, fresh air, birds singing, grass and wildlife sounds all around.

Ahh …

A wood full of bluebells – for me, the photos say it all!

Contentment.

The Royal Mile – Edinburgh Part 3

I have read about the Royal Mile in story and history books and tried to imagine what it might be like. I think I based it on the nearest “big city” to where I grew up (it’s just a town really, nothing like a city!), then enlarged it in my town … combined with quite a bit of Bath (a city which features a lot in Jane Austen books/movies) … threw in the tiny amount of London I’d seen … much to my shame added some of the older parts of Washington DC (sorry for offending your sense of English or Scottish nationality … ) … and came up with something vastly different and vastly inferior to the regal and historic reality that is the Royal Mile, Edinburgh!

The Royal Mile begins at Edinburgh Castle and runs downhill, where it ends at Hollyrood House.

We started at the Castle, but didn’t make it all the way down to Hollyrood House. It’s just a mile, right? Trust me, psychology conferences and academic talk take it out of you! πŸ˜‰

The views were amazing and apparently it’s pretty unusual to get such amazing weather in Edinburgh in the spring – must have been saved up especially for us! πŸ˜‰

I especially loved the views from this side of the Castle, as there was so much green and springyness!!

I fell in love with all the daffodils and took many more photos of them than I’ll force upon you! πŸ˜›

But don’t worry, L made sure flowers were not the only local beauty that got caught on my camera! πŸ˜‰

Tonight my hubby and I are going to a whiskey tasting evening (including a 5-course meal – um, you’re meant to fit that much food inhow?!) with some friends. L’s friends clubbed together and bought this and a night’s stay in the inn for us for his 30th – we’ve been looking forward to this generous present for a long time! For those of you who might worry, photos will follow!! πŸ˜›

I am the gratified recipient of a blog award, so a post with the various instructions which come with it shall soon be coming your way … and check your comments, as some of my lovely readers will shortly be given the award as well!! πŸ˜€

Talk of Haggis – Edinburgh Part 2

I’ve spent most of the last week and a half looking after a sick husband, who’s cold gave into a call for antibiotics – which, I can’t stop myself from mentioning, too a whole 2 hours (yes, that’s right! TWO HOURS!!) to get out of the pharmacy five minutes up the street … but that’s an entirely different story right there …

For now, let’s talk about Haggis.

The ingredients of this traditional Scottish dish might make the vegetarians ans squeamish among you … well, squirm.

Sheep liver, heart and lung is combined with onions, oatmeal and various herbs and spices, before being stuffed into a cooked sheep’s stomach and boiled for about 3 hours.

Don’t say I didn’t warn you!

Traditionally served on Burn’s Night (a day in February which commemorates the famous Scottish poet Robert Burns) with “neeps and tatties” – mashed potatoes and sweed to us – Haggis is eaten all year round in Scotland.

Apparently it also makes up an essential part of a traditional Scottish cooked breakfast – being hungrily tucked into by my hubby, soon after he had given his 8:30am presentation at the conference! πŸ˜€

Whether or not this plate of Haggis, Black Pudding (blood pudding), sausage, bacon, beans, eggs and potato scone is genuinely a Scottish cooked breakfast, I’m not convinced about, as it was eaten in a Turkish greasy-spoon-cafe …

I didn’t consider myself equal to devouringΒ  a plate of Big Meat Breakfast, so I had my haggis with some toast – yes, I really do like Haggis!! πŸ˜› Cook it like a bugger, stuff it in a bread roll with cheese, ketchup and lettuce, don’t think about the ingredients and it’s amazing!! πŸ˜‰

Two wonderful things about this cafe: they gave you proper big mugs of tea, instead of a couple of mouthfuls in a little cup and they spelled toast “toasts”! πŸ™‚

For those of you are seriously beginning to doubt my good taste in food, presuming that you ever thought I had any in the first place! πŸ˜‰ …

That very same evening we had the most amazing steak, chips and grilled tomatoes with fiery peppercorn sauce for L and mushroom sauce for me – It. Was. Delicious.

This restaurant was one of the best I can remember visiting – a wonderful atmosphere, beautiful flowers, warm candles, red walls, quirky cellar building, live piano music and the most discreet staff ever!

I find it rather intimidating when the servers are constantly coming up and asking how your meal was and if we need anything else to drink! They stand around watching you and fiddling with other table settings and I find it impossible to relax, get very self-conscious and feel pressurized to leave as soon as possible – like I’m inconveniencing them by staying any longer after my last bite is swallowed. As you can tell, I have quite an opinion on this! πŸ˜‰

Ryan’s Bar wasn’t high-end dinning, or posh/formal, so there wasn’t an abundance of cutlery options, napkins laid on your knees by gloved waiters in tails (not the kind of establishment I’m in the habit of visiting by the way! :P), but on the other hand, we only ate there because we had a card which gave us two meals for the price of one!

The food was scrummy the wine was really tasty, but the service was truly outstanding!

They gave us a good while to read the menu and choose our drinks before asking what we wanted to order. They did ask which of us wanted to taste the wine (a custom in many English restaurants), but were relaxed enough to make a joke about it. They brought the meal promptly, only asked once if we liked the food, and the head waiter simply removed the empty wine bottle without comment as he kept walking past the table, so as not to interrupt our conversation – brilliant! I felt genuinely relaxed and they didn’t bring us the bill or come for payment until we asked, allowing us to stay and enjoy our time together and our wine without any pressure at all.

The live piano jazz was the perfect icing on a very yummy cake! πŸ˜‰

If you find yourself in Edinburgh, visit the cellar restraint part of Ryan’s Bar. Go on – you can see how loquacious I’ve got about it!! πŸ˜‰

I went to Scotland!!!

I’ve been kinda silent for a week or so …but with good reason!

The hubby and I have been to Edinburgh!

I have long wanted to visit Scotland (although not as much as my lovely sister N, who adores Scotland, Scottish history and has a calender of Scottish countryside every year – sorry you couldn’t come too 😦 ) and have read about Edinburgh (the capital city of Scotland), Arthur’s Seat and The Royal Mile in books.

L is workingΒ  a few hours a week as his PhD supervisor’s research assistant and very much wants to get into full-time academic research/medical research. He submitted the findings from his PhD (on Traumatic Brain Injury and Post Traumatic Stress Disorder) to the Ninth World Brain Injury Congress and was accepted to present them – in Edinburgh! In academic circles being published, seen presenting at conferences and being introduced to influential people is pretty important in getting jobs and moving on in your career, so for L, this was pretty important.

I don’t think I’ve mentioned on here before (forgive me if I’m being super-boring and repeating myself! πŸ˜‰ ) that my husband is partially sighted. He is registered as blind, but has 10% of normal vision and is so capable that you’d have to study him for a long while to realise he can’t see just as much as the rest of us can. New places are a bit of a curve-ball though, as he can’t read the signs, doesn’t know the area and can’t see enough to get around without a lot of stress.

Enter stage left … er, right:

Dr L’s assistant!

And yes, I do look pretty exhausted! Let’s just say that getting anxious about the trip for a week in advance, followed by flying, map-reading, hours of sitting through nearly incomprehensible lectures (Thank God for a kind friend who lent me her Kindle!!), hours of standing around at a drink’s-reception-come-meet-inportant-people, loads of walking each day, disturbed sleep, meeting and charming (of course! πŸ˜‰ ) so many new people … you get the picture!! πŸ™‚

We stayed in a lovely B&B (Bed and Breakfast) just 10 minutes walk from the conference centre, but far enough removed from the centre of the city that it was wonderful quiet and peaceful – we actually heard more birds than we do here at home!

We were on the other side of the road from this stately place called Donaldson’s College. It’s up for sale and I think we should buy it, don’t you?! πŸ˜‰ Oh, think of all those stairs to vacuum … um, maybe not! πŸ˜›

L has been really ill with a cold/flu since we got back and I’m starting to go down with it too, so I’m going to end this post for now and update you with Part 2 tomorrow! You see, I thought I’d been really good and not taken too many photos while we were away … it turns out I took 90 photos in 4 days … πŸ˜›