I’d put up with English weather for this…

Whether it’s a picnic with friends, a stroll for two, or some alone time on a bench with a book, there are few things lovelier than time spent in London’s many wonderful parks.

As enjoyable a time as I had exploring the city’s food, museums, and palaces, I probably miss the wide, green expanses of the city’s Royal Parks the most.

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Green Park

 

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St. James’s Park

 

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Regent’s Park

 

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Regents’ Park

 

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St. James’s Park

 

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St. James’s Park

 

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Regents’ Park

 

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Regents’ Park

I’m starting to feel an actual ache in my heart just looking at these pictures.

I’d be willing to put up with the crazy, unpredictable weather if it meant that I get to spend the lovely days lying in the grass with a book at any of the parks. I can’t believe I just said that, but it’s true.

God, I miss London’s parks.

 

Salmon Baked in Foil and Sauteed Spinach

One of the things I was excited about during my three month stay in the UK was shopping in the supermarkets. I looked forward to the array of produce and ingredients I did not have access to in Manila, at least not at reasonable prices.

As excited as I was to shop and cook, though, I had to be more thoughtful about what I chose to make at home. In the Philippines, I had at least five other people to feed, so baking pans full of baked pasta or chicken thighs were not an issue. But the same approach would not work for me in England. It’s not possible to cook just half a lasagne without having to either buy a brand new baking dish, risk a half-open box of pasta going bad, or eat the same thing for a week straight. Hence, I had to look for recipes that were adaptable and practical to cook for just me and my roommate.

I zeroed in on salmon recipes, as fillets of Scottish salmon were available in convenient pairs at Waitrose and Tesco. Maybe because I’ve seen them cooked that way in some cooking show, I Googled “salmon baked in foil” and the first search result was this recipe by Giada de Laurentiis.

The flavors were right up my alley so I decided to give it a go. I’ve never cooked salmon before this, so I was a little nervous, but I figured things couldn’t go that bad with tomatoes, lemon, thyme and oregano.

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I was right. The result was tender, moist, flaky salmon infused with all the flavor from the herbs and lemon. Despite zero marinating time and a short bake in the oven, the fish is quite flavorful. Another plus is that it takes only about 45 minutes to make this dish from start to finish.

To accompany this dish I chose  Garlic Sauteed Spinach from Ina Garten because the the Food Network site said it only took 10 minutes to make. It’s as straightforward as it sounds, it’s spinach sauteed with a lot of garlic, but with the special Ina Garten touch: butter. As much as I adore butter, I wasn’t too sure about how well it would go with spinach, of all things. But I never should have doubted Ina. I now make amends for my lack of faith by adding more butter than the recipe calls for.

 

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I make the spinach about fifteen minutes into the cooking of the salmon, so that they are both done at the same time. If the salmon is done before you’re finished making the spinach, don’t sweat it, just take the pan with the foil parcels out of the oven, the fish will stay warm as long as you don’t open the packages. I’d rather have the fish waiting for the spinach than the other way around, because the veg is best when served immediately.

But both are so easy to make, though, you’ll probably work out the timing to have them done at the same time by your second or third go at them. The other wonderful thing about these dishes is that making them for two or six doesn’t really result in that much more work and time, you’ll just have to slice a bit more tomato and garlic.

These two recipes make for a very quick, easy, and, lovely meal (I would’ve said “healthy” too, but I think the amount of butter I top my spinach with prevents me from saying that). I was surprised at how something that took so little time and effort could yield such elegant results.

Now if only finding fresh, affordable salmon in Manila was just as easy and quick.

Chatsworth House, part 3

Chatsworth’s grounds and gardens are as well-known as the actual house, and it’s not hard to see why.

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This is one of the many beautiful statues on the grounds. In the distance, you could see the famous Cascade. Unfortunately for me, the Cascade was being repaired while I was there (you can see the bright blue tarp) so even if I was able to get up close, I didn’t take any photos of it.

 

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Fans of the 2005 Pride & Prejudice movie will remember this spot for the awkward yet utterly charming conversation between Darcy and Elizabeth when she visits Pemberley, not knowing Darcy was home. It is one of my favorite scenes in the movie with both actors playing their embarrassment and awkwardness so well. Unfortunately, this was as close to the spot as I could get, as the steps and the entire southern front of the house is restricted from visitors (you’ll see why later).

 

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Really, how beautiful is that lane? I can’t tell you how long I stood there, just staring and taking it all in.

 

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Art installations tucked away in surprising corners of the grounds.

 

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The view of the estate from the bottom of the Cascade.

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A wider view: The Emperor Fountain, the house, the greenhouses from the Cascade.

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Despite my disappointment that the south front of the house was closed off from visitors, I understood why they did it when I was taking the above shot. It’s a much, much better picture without random people dotting it.

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But this is the money shot, no? The house, the Canal Pond, and the Emperor Fountain. If only the sky cooperated.

Overcast skies notwithstanding, my time at Chatsworth was some of the most memorable of my entire trip. The House, the grounds, the gardens, and the entire estate were even more beautiful than I have imagined them to be and that’s saying something, as I’ve idealized it as Pemberley in my head. But even without its associations with my favorite book, movie, and fictional characters, Chatsworth’s sheer scale, grandeur and, natural beauty make it worth the detour to Derbyshire even for those who have never seen or read Pride and Prejudice.

I daresay it will even be worth a second visit.

 

 

PS: I have an entire album of photos from Chatsworth on my flickr, in case you want to see more or if you want to see the panoramic shots better.

 

Of Tea and Scones

I have complained about the English weather and now, I am writing about tea. Obviously, my time in England has made an impression on me.

I used to not like tea. I wrinkled my nose at it and called it “flavored water.” Then I had a cream tea at the quaint  Copper Kettle Tea Rooms in Bamburgh, and my opinions on scones and tea have been changed forever.

First, on cream teas. They are not, as I first thought, tea poured with cream instead of milk (although that sounds like that could be delicious). A cream tea is a pot of tea served with one or two scones, cream (preferably clotted cream) and jam. While a full afternoon tea spread is quite lovely for a special occasion, I prefer cream teas, especially when it comes with an excellent scone.

And an excellent scone… well. I used to think that the ones I used to get at the poorly named chain French Baker were quite good, especially the chocolate chip one. They were hefty and doughy, and I actually liked that about them. But as I found out in the UK, those were not scones, not in the true definition of the word. Because proper scones are anything but hefty and doughy.

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The Copper Kettle Tearooms, Bamburgh, Northumberland

They are light, moist, and crumbly. They break apart at the slightest tug of your fingers, but they stand up to the light pressure of cream and jam spreading. And the ones from The Copper Kettle Tearooms were rounds of tender, buttery perfection that I will measure all scones against.

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Afternoon tea from Jesmond Dene House, Newcastle

The scones from afternoon tea at Jesmond Dene House were not up to the Copper Kettle’s standards, but the rest of their afternoon tea spread was quite nice. I particularly loved the traditional sandwiches: egg and cress, roast beef with rocket and horseradish, salmon and cucumber, and cheese and pickled apple. Afternoon tea is not something I would do on a regular basis because it is quite indulgent, but it is quite a lovely experience. I see why it’s such a popular thing to do, especially between groups of girlfriends. It’s bonding and chatting over dainty food and (typically bottomless) drink, in picturesque, refined settings. What’s not to love?

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Cavendish Hotel, Baslow

But if I’m being honest, I have the tea to have the scones to have the clotted cream and jam (because clotted cream is awesome and it deserves its own post). But that’s not to say that I haven’t changed my mind about tea, because I have (I only love clotted cream more). As it turns out, I only needed a healthy pour of milk and some sugar to appreciate tea as more than “flavored water.” To my tastebuds, at least, the flavors of tea come to the fore with the creaminess of the milk, and, to my surprise, I’ve come to love those flavors.

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My surprisingly excellent DIY cream tea at the Newcastle International Airport lounge

So even if I don’t have rich, thick, sweet clotted cream or the soft, buttery scones to spread it on, I’ll have tea anyway.

Chatsworth House, part 2

As beautiful as my first visit was, the highlight of my time in Chatsworth was of course my tour of the house and garden. So in my second post on Chatsworth, I take you with me to my favorite parts of the house.

The tour of the house starts from the northern side of the building. You are welcomed to the tour by some very friendly guides and by this imposing Weeping Ash tree.

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I can only imagine how pretty this tree is with all its leaves. I’ve only ever seen Weeping Willows and I’ve never seen one that goes as high up as this Ash.

From the main entrance and ticketing area, your tour starts almost immediately in what is the most remarkable room of the house, the Painted Hall.

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Fans of the 2005 Pride & Prejudice film will remember this as the starting point of Mr. and Mrs. Gardiner and Elizabeth’s tour of Pemberley, led by the housekeeper. Elizabeth almost got left behind by her group because she was staring in awe of this room. I don’t blame her one bit.

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The tour includes a visit to the State Apartments created for the visit of King William II and Queen Mary II, which never happened. The State Apartment windows face the Emperor Fountain and the Canal Pond and, of course, the verdant landscape of the estate.

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The view from the windows of the State Apartments. Can you imagine waking up to this?

The other room in the house of historical significance is the State Dining Room, where Queen Victoria once dined.

 

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Look at that ceiling!

But because I am a bigger bookworm than I am a history nerd, I was far more impressed by the library, one of six in the house, housing the collection of 17,000 volumes amassed by the first seven Dukes. This collection includes books from half a millennium ago, so the room is always kept under low light. Access is restricted and visitors are only able to survey the library from the door. If I wasn’t afraid of being kicked out of the house, I would have loved to walk along the shelves to just look at (not even touch!) the books.

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Just down the hallway from the library is my favorite sculpture in the Chatsworth collection, if not in the world. Not that I know a lot about sculpture, but I think the Veiled Vestal is stunning.

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Carving stone to realistically look like soft, flowing fabric must be difficult enough. To work it and make it look like a thin, delicate veil over the gentle features of the vestal virgin is just amazing. You can even make out the waves of her hair on her forehead under the veil.

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Isn’t she breathtaking?

But the Veiled Vestal is just one of the many remarkable sculptures in Chatsworth. The Sculpture Gallery is the last part of the house tour, and it showcases the Devonshires’ collection rather beautifully.

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The room used to be more heavily decorated with rich tapestries and curtains which were removed during filming for Joe Wright’s Pride & Prejudice. Inspired by the changes made for the movie, the Duke and Duchess of Devonshire decided to make them permanent. They redecorated (or, to be more accurate, un-decorated) the Sculpture Gallery to match the 6th Duke’s original and simpler designs for the room. I think the bare walls and almost monochromatic scheme (I do dislike those pink boxes) rightly puts the focus on the pieces of art.

 

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The Sleeping Endymion by Antonio Canova

 

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Hebe by Antonio Canova

 

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There was one key bust that was missing from the gallery. In the movie, Elizabeth gets lost in thought in front of the bust of Mr. Darcy in the Sculpture Gallery. While it is no longer alongside the more notable pieces of art, it is still in the house. Chatsworth retained the bust as a souvenir, and it is currently displayed in a corner of the Orangerie shop, beside the Austen-related items for sale.

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It may not be by Antonio Canova and may not have been deemed worthy of a place in the gallery, but this definitely has a special place in my heart. As tempted as I was I did as I was requested and did not kiss it, though.

A little Darcy/McFadyen ogling was a fitting end to the visit to (his) house. The next part of my tour was a visit the magnificent gardens, which I’ll try to do justice to in my next post.

Chatsworth House, part 1

 

They gradually ascended for half a mile, and then found themselves at the top of a considerable eminence, where the wood ceased, and the eye was instantly caught by Pemberley House, situated on the opposite side of a valley, into which the road with some abruptness wound. It was a large, handsome, stone building, standing well on rising ground, and backed by a ridge of high woody hills;—and in front, a stream of some natural importance was swelled into greater, but without any artificial appearance. Its banks were neither formal, nor falsely adorned. Elizabeth was delighted. She had never seen a place where nature had done more, or where natural beauty had been so little counteracted by an awkward taste. They were all of them warm in her admiration; and at that moment she felt that to be mistress of Pemberley might be something!

- Pride and Prejudice

Chatsworth House, the real Derbyshire estate of the Duke and Duchess of Devonshire, is believed by some to be Austen’s inspiration for Mr. Darcy’s fictional estate. The above description seems to fit, as you’ll see later. But it is certainly Pemberley for the millions of fans of the 2005 Pride and Prejudice adaptation (including myself), and it has been my dream to visit the estate since I saw Joe Wright’s film.

That dream came true three weeks ago.

There was so much to see on the estate, and everywhere I turned, there was a picture-worthy vista. To be able to even come close to doing Chatsworth justice, I’ll be doing multiple posts on the estate.

For convenience’s sake, I chose to stay at the Cavendish Hotel, located within the estate.

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My room was on the ground floor of the building on the left, with the open window in the center.

The hotel was lovely, but the view from its lawn was even lovelier:

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One way to the house was through the gate in the picture, across the field to the left, across a bridge, and on to a path to the main Chatsworth grounds. However, I only took that way on my first day, as the cows tend to take over the nearby field. The cows do get skittish around people, although I was more afraid of the, errrr, souvenirs that they leave on the grass. I took mound-free way on my second day.

The path to the house was as picturesque as you can imagine an English countryside path to be.

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You can almost imagine running into Elizabeth Bennet on one of her famous solitary rambles.
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The walk from the Cavendish Hotel to the house took about twenty to twenty-five minutes. The house is hidden from view by trees for most of the way, and you never really see it until you are quite close to it, which certainly heightened my excitement (and strained my poor neck).

I came up to the house from its northern side and made my way across the River Derwent to take the view of the house from the west.

 

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And from the plain Paine bridge, I got my first full of view of the majestic house.

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The white tarps on the northern side of the house were unfortunate, though.

Visitors are allowed to walk the fields, among the herd of grazing sheep.

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My first though was about how lucky these sheep were to live on the estate. And then I remembered they were going to end up as someone’s dinner eventually.

From that vantage point, you also get a pretty good idea of how expansive the estate really is. Can you imagine having this view from your windows?

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To be mistress of Chatsworth might be something!

 

I was so glad I made the decision to walk to the house and explore the parts of the grounds that I could, even if I knew was coming back the next day. It definitely made me even more excited for my tour of the house and gardens.

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Because the little that I saw was already overwhelmingly beautiful, and surpassed even my high expectations of a place worthy to be used as Pemberley twice. And I haven’t even seen the inside of the house or the famous gardens yet.

 

About the weather

They say the Brits are unreasonably obsessed with the weather. I’ve been living in England for two months now and I get it. I totally and completely get it.

For one thing, it is, most times, completely miserable. In the 70-odd days that I’ve been here, there have been probably been only about five or six truly nice days. And by “nice” I mean sunny, and dry, with not a drop of rain, and with the sky generally visible. I’m not even asking for clear skies, just a day where large patches of blue are visible all through out.

We are supposed to be in the midst of spring, but the clear days have been so few and far in between that even the tiniest bit of sunshine through my bedroom window in the morning is met by a “Oh, yaaaaaaaay!” There was a spell of about six days in April where we saw neither the sun or even the tiniest patch of blue sky. There are still days when the fog is so thick, that I can’t see the building across the street from out office.

Spring? Really?

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Of course I took a photo of our first bit of sunshine since arriving in England

I missed the warmth of sunlight so much, that during our picnic at Regent’s Park, I took to monitoring the direction of the wind and the cloud patterns, just to see where the next gap in the clouds would be, and when the sun would get to peek through it. I got very excited and giddy every time I saw a particularly substantial break in the clouds, as it meant an extended spell of warmth and light. At one point, I clapped.

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Obviously taken during one of the longer spells of sunshine: Regent’s Park

But possibly more aggravating than the misery of it all is the utter unpredictability of it.

Where I grew up, nine times out of ten, this means it’s going to be a beautiful rest of the day:

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That is not quite the case in the British Isles, where a weather forecast of “warm and moderately sunny, with colder spells and a chance of rain” is par for the course. Where you can take this gloomy, overcast (and rainy, if my memory serves me right) photo of Bramburgh Castle

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then take this absolutely glorious one thirty minutes later.

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Thirty. Minutes. Later.

It’s days like the one we spent at Bramburgh that have me checking the weather more times in two months than I have in two years in the Philippines. I have to plan my outfits, layers, and shoes only after consulting the weather app on my phone. I carry a hat and umbrella (there used to be gloves, too!) in my handbag at all times, sore shoulders be damned. I plan my activities around the weather forecast, although even that doesn’t always work out (on the day we planned to go to the Cotswolds, we didn’t push through as there was a possibility of storms. It turned out to be a nice day).

And so I totally get it now, because I, too, am now obsessed with the weather.

 

PS: I know that, given the scorching temperatures in Manila, a post where I complain about the lack of sunshine might annoy some people. I’m sorry. For what it’s worth, I wish the Philippines and the UK could trade maybe 4 or 5 degrees in the temperature. We would all be so much happier (and comfortable) if that transaction could take place somehow, no?