8/21/14

The Upper Hall: Meat and Potatoes

Life in Cambridge quickly fell into a routine. Classes started, and I grew familiar with the University's beautiful architecture and life beside the Cam. As students of Christ's, the college provided us with two meals each weekday. Breakfast was served promptly from 7:00-8:30 (not kidding) and we were given dinner around 6:15-8:00. All of the meals was served in the Upper Hall, a long wood-paneled room with rows of tables and cumbersome benches.
   I love breakfast. It's my favorite meal of the day by a long shot. So no matter how late my classes were scheduled, I happily dragged myself out of bed for it. In the morning the tables were always laden with a fancy array of cutlery, plates, cups, coffee, tea, marmalade, and juice. Which was kind of a bummer because by August there was only like six people showing up at all.
 A classic Full English Breakfast is a huge affair, one that is of great pride and joy to the English. It normally consists of bacon, eggs, sausage, grilled tomatoes, mushrooms, tea, marmalade, black pudding, baked beans, and toast. How you were expected to eat all this at once, is a mystery even to me. But a cafeteria version of this was made for us everyday (thankfully minus the black pudding). I nixed the sausage and bacon (which is nothing like American bacon), but helped myself to toast and eggs daily.
Dinners were slightly different affairs, for two reasons. One, the menu changed daily so you never really knew what to expect, and two, everyone showed for dinner. We were left to our own devices for lunch, which we were all too cheap/busy to buy properly, so each night we swarmed the doors at exactly 6:14. The dinners (referred to as supper or tea there) always had meat, fish, and vegetarian entrees, served with various sides. I was impressed by the scope, variety, and overall regularity of the potato options served.
 Again, I really appreciated the consistency and quality of the vegetarian options. Here's a particular good veggie curry and samosas, which was a pretty common vegetarian dinner:
Puddings were also served, of course. This tiramisu made me so freaking happy I snapped a picture to remember its glory forever. An above average treat for dorm food, I thought.
Eating there was always quite a mixed bag; some days you wanted seconds, others you found yourself asking the staff politely for milk for your cereal. But eating at the Upper Hall was really the meat and potatoes of our days. It saved us all a lot of money on food, and gave everyone a chance to eat together everyday.

8/20/14

Grantchester: Tea in the Orchard


For our first weekend in Cambridge, our noble professors led all forty-something of us to a famous teashop, the Orchard Tea Gardens in Grantchester, made famous by the Rupert Brook poem, "The Old Vicarage, Grantchester".
It was a lovely cool and cloudy day in England, so we walked through the public meadows to get to Grantchester (took around 50 minutes).
The teashop itself was small; most of the seating consisted of lawn chairs scattered around the orchard. It was also full of local families and groups of friends enjoying their Sunday afternoon, in fact we were the most tourist-y people there. A terrific first tea experience!
"I only know that you may lie
Day long and watch the Cambridge sky,
And, flower-lulled in sleepy grass,
Hear the cool lapse of hours pass." -Robert Brooke
While ordering, I kind of got over-excited, and helped myself to a pot of Earl Grey, a scone* with strawberry jam, and a brie and cranberry sandwich (I didn't know this at the time, but it's a very common combination in England). It was great sitting in the orchard, sipping tea and chatting with everyone. And after all the food, I was grateful for the long walk back!

*A note on Scones:
English scones are soft, with a close and crumby texture, very similar to American biscuits**.

** A note on Biscuits:
English biscuits are dry and crumbly things, very similar to American cookies.

I know, none of it makes sense.

The First Day in Cambridge: Pub Grub

Christ's College First Court.
After a long day of traveling, I arrived at Christ's College hungry, sleep-deprived, and jittery from adrenaline and coffee. But I was in Cambridge! I was in another country! I was going to pass out any second! But no, no I had to fight the sleep.
To avoid passing out, I busily unpacked all my things while eating the bagged lunch that was graciously given to us William and Mary kids.
This simple sack lunch was itself a curiosity: an egg and watercress sandwich, Walkers crisps in Cheese and Onion flavor, and a Chocolate Chip Flapjack? What the hell's a flapjack? (Delicious.) Even the Kit-Kat tasted slightly different.
 I would later come to know these foods very well, as they were served to us on the various bus trips we took while in England, and it was the first time I really appreciated the vegetarian options offered.
I spent the afternoon unpacking, greeting the other excited girls in my dorm, and taking a short walk through the streets of Cambridge. Once the day started tilting towards evening, the lot of us gathered together to find a Classic English Pub for dinner.
It was a struggle.
Partly because everyone hadn't slept in 36 hours. Partly because no one knew where they were going. We wondered around the beautiful medieval streets in a huge group before splitting up to avoid swarming any one place. After a while, some of us stumbled upon a little pub called The Maypole, which I sadly didn't get a picture of.
In pubs, you order and pay at the bar, so after I quickly scanned the menu, I ordered my pie and took a seat with a pint. The British are known for their delicious savory pies, so I was excited to try one as my first big meal in the UK.
My pie was stuffed with goat cheese and sweet potato, served with mashed potatoes, roasted carrots and parsnips, and all smothered in gravy:
Needless to say, I was in heaven. All of the food was hearty and fresh and unlike anything I'd had before. The pie was particularly unusual, with a tough outer edge unlike the weak, crumbly pot-pie crusts I was used to. It was filling and delicious and good lord I want one right now.
My first pint of beer in England! Please don't ask me what it was, I can't remember.  
After we all stuffed ourselves senseless, we turned in for the night, like, immediately. But even with the early end, it was a great first night in England.

Heathrow International: The Stroopwafel

This was to be my first extended stay in another country, and I was excited to have the time to try all the unique English classics. Crumpets, Victoria sponge, pork pies, custard tarts, bangers and mash. I was ready baby!
But first I had to get there. As a bit of a nervous flyer, I held a deep (metaphoric) breath for the entire seven hour flight. But everything went smoothly and safely, and I even got a solid 45 minutes of sleep.
I arrived in Heathrow exhilarated and in desperate need of coffee, since it was four in the morning on the East coast. At the airport coffee shop, I discovered my first delicacy, something nearly impossible to find in the States: the Caramel Waffle.
I rested it on my oversized heavy-ass suitcase.
A caramel waffle (also known by the hilariously wonderful name of a stroopwafel) is a layer of caramel nestled between two thin crisp wafers. Each is perfectly sized to rest on top of your cup of tea or coffee. You set the waffle on your mug, and the steam melts the caramel into warm, gooey perfection.
This nearly made up for the impending three hour bus ride awaiting me.
Oh yeah, I was liking England already. Any place that sells stroopwafels on the regular is a place I could live in forever. I would try to learn how to make these, but I think there is some magic in the mystery, don't you think? However I will be waiting not-so-anxiously for these to be sold in a Starbucks near me.

An English Summer


England baby!
This summer I was blessed to spend my entire July in England, studying and living at Cambridge University with my fellow William and Mary-ians (?). So for the past six weeks I have been out of the kitchen, but while abroad I made sure to document all the wonderful experiences I had with food. I meant to keep blogging everything I was up to while running into such delicious cuisine, but due to the crazy schedule of trips and classes, I hadn't gotten around to it till now (sorry mom).
More posts to come!

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