I was remembering England today, especially those first few days when the rain poured down day after day, a lot like the weather here these past few weeks. I don't know why I thought of it again, must have been missing the friends I made throughout the summer, as well as the simplicity and the enjoyment I got out of being so free - to do what I wanted, and without stresses and dramas to tie me down.
One of my favourite days in England, when patches of clouds brought heavy waterfalls of rain and then dispersed to short lengths of sunshine scattered on the cobbled streets, my aunt and uncle brought me into London by train, and we spent the entire day exploring museums, having cream tea, and ending with a performance at the Apollo Victoria Theatre.
We awoke early to get ready and make our way to the train station, not too far from their house, which would bring us into downtown London, or the ever-expanding Waterloo Station. Since it was a few weeks before the opening of the Olympics, construction workers hammered and drilled above us, and security personnel milled about, watchful. From the station we went down a few flight of stairs, swept up in the force of commuters hurried by their sense of purpose, and arrived at the platform for the underground. It was all a bit confusing for me; the busyness was overwhelming at times, and everyone looked above each other's heads, oblivious to the people around them and absorbed in the importance of their own world.
On trains men talked loudly on cell phones, shouting above the noise of wheels on the tracks as the train lunged then retreated, as if it were an animal itself. Some read, some stood, and one woman knitted, her bony fingers moving faster than my eyes could follow.
We arrived shortly and made our way above ground with a mob of other people, who quickly dispersed as if they were late for an important meeting. They would not remember many of the faces they had just seen, despite sharing a hand grip or ledge to lean on to prevent tumbling with the movement of the train.
My aunt, uncle, and I made our way along the street, and I gazed at the architecture of the old buildings. We don't have buildings like that here, our oldest have been knocked down to make way for modern structures, or preserved as 'ancient' once they reach one hundred years of age, no where near the history that buildings in London posses. Extremely intricate details line the walls and windows of most buildings, although some have begun to fade from age.
We started in the Victoria & Albert Museum, situated across the street from the National History Museum and among others in the same area. Straightaway, we made our way to the Fashion section inside, weaving among sculptures preserved in glass boxes and explained with small plaques stuck below.
Inside, mannequins wore beautiful ballgowns from as far back as the 1800s, and petite shoes, intricately embroidered, were placed delicately beside, too small to be worn by any woman today. They were extremely narrow, and I have no doubt that they were not worn for comfort, and definitely not for the working class as they would not be suitable for outside wear, and perhaps not even for activity. They are a perfect indication that the phrase, 'beauty hurts,' has been a motto for fashions designers throughout the centuries. Pieces form famous designers were also displayed, such as my favourite, a velvet black jumpsuit designed by Coco Chanel. I loved the simplicity of the garment, and the beautiful detailed put into every aspect of it, including the layering and embellishment of the white collar and cuffs. A perfect antithesis to the black of the jumpsuit.
I love fashion, and was in heaven wandering around the passages lined with ensembles and styles from history, and dresses worn by royal figures, such as a suit worn by Princess Diana - a white skirt and matching blazer, covered in tens of thousands of tiny pearls - or celebrities; created for special occasions by famous designers such as Alexander McQueen, Vivienne Westwood.
I noticed a girl, not much older than me, was sitting beside the dresses from red carpet events and sketching in a thick black notebook. She must have been a student at one of the nearby universities, studying fashion perhaps, or maybe she had a passion for the beauty in clothes. If I had more time, I think I would have enjoyed doing the same.
By the time we had finished the exhibition, we ventured outside and to the courtyard of the museum, where families milled about in the hot sun, now free from behind the clouds. Children splashed about in the pond, and vendors sales of cold drinks must have suddenly risen as people became parched from the rising heat. Eventually, after walking around in earnest for a spot for lunch amidst the crowds, we decided that a hot lunch in one of the ornately decorated rooms inside would be more suiting to our day, where the walls were designed with colourful stained glass windows, drawings and letters of another language, and some lines of Shakespeare, in the centre of the dome-shaped room, a large chandelier hung by a thick chain.
Later that afternoon we came for tea at the same location, venturing into another room that was equally as intricately decorated. At lunch we had been enticed by the smells of freshly cooked scones and clotted cream, and since it was before I became gluten-free, not yet aware of the problems it caused my skin, we indulged in the sweet taste of clotted cream tea, and the perfect tranquility of the rooms in an old English building. It was my first clotted cream tea since my previous time in England - three years or so ago - and I enjoyed every moment of it. From people watching, and listening to the different conversations held within my range of hearing and deciphering the stories of those around me, to the decadent Darjeeling tea in my cup and saucer and the mouth-watering scone in my hand, topped with raspberry jam and cream.
Since it was so late in the afternoon, nearing five o'clock, the museum staff were cleaning up the last remaining dishes and washing floors while one man personally informed each party that we were expected to pack up and head out. Luckily, outside was still warm as the sun still shone as we headed out the grand doors and onto the street. We explored the streets of London for some time, killing time until the doors opened for our performance that evening, "London's 'Best Night Out'", Wicked.
The sets were amazing, and the theatre was packed with all ages, little kids came dressed in fancy clothes, boys in smart pants and collared shirts, and little girls in cute dresses with bows in their hair, and some adults dressed to impress. Lights moved across the stage throughout the performance, parts moved to create new scenes, all automatically, such as bridges and new backdrops.
Wicked is the story of the Wicked Witch of the West from The Wizard of Oz, also known as Elphaba, and is a detailed account of her life, from childhood to her death, caused by Dorothy. My favourite character was definitely Galinda, a friend of the witch's from university, who later becomes the Good Witch. In the musical we saw, she was ditzy and hilarious, drawing huge amounts of laughter from audience whenever she spoke.
At the end of the musical, everyone poured out onto the streets, some hailing cabs while we, and many others, took the stairs down to the underground and traveled back to the train station, and then caught the train back to my aunt and uncle's house, where we suddenly felt the exhaustion from the day, and were suddenly all very ready for sleep. We needed the next morning all to ourselves, where we could lay in bed until about ten o'clock, and later shuffle around the house in pyjamas until the tea kicked in, readying us for another busy day.
I feel that its a lot like that here, on Saturday mornings, when the whole week, and the loss of sleep that comes with such an early start for school, catches up on you. We read, we watch movies, we have a late breakfast, we have tea, and we get a few chores done.
And I bake. My relaxation method, simply at peace I can cook.
Gluten-Free Chocolate Chip Cookies
I was amazed by the page views on my last cookie recipe, Gluten-Free Peanut Butter Cookies, and as the last of the cookies were eaten I missed them extraordinarily. They were always there when I came home, and were the perfect accompaniment to any tea time.
Decadent and sweet, but not overpoweringly so, these little delights are soft and chewy; the perfect recipe for that perfect chocolate chip cookie, they'll remind you of every good childhood memory, in and out of the kitchen.
Makes 12-14 cookies
1/4 c shortening, or vegan shortening
1/4 c butter, or vegan replacement
3/4 - 1 c brown sugar
100g vanilla yogourt
1/2 tsp vanilla extract
1 2/3 c Nana's Gluten-Free Flour Mix
1 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp baking soda
1/4-1/3 c water
2/3 c gluten-free chocolate chips
Preheat the oven to 350°F and line a baking sheet with parchment paper.
In a large bowl, cream together shortening, butter and brown sugar.
Add in the vanilla yogourt and vanilla extract and mix together.
In a separate bowl, combine the flour mix with baking powder and soda, then pour into the larger bowl and stir until all ingredients are well blended.
Add enough water until mixture comes together, but remains moldable and firm.
Stir in chocolate chips.
With your hands, roll small balls of the mixture in your hands, and press onto the baking seet. Repeat with the rest of the mixture.
With a fork, press each cookie down, making a cross-hatched design across the top of each one.
Bake for 16-18 minutes.
When cookies come out from the oven, allow them to cool for 5 minutes before removing from the tray.
Serve to family and friends.
Labels: chocolate, chocolate chips, cookies, easy, England, flour mix, gluten free, memories, museum, vanilla