Tuesday, October 30, 2007

Noel Coward's "Present Laughter"

"What is love? tis not hereafter;
Present mirth hath present laughter;
What's to come is still unsure:
In delay there lies no plenty;
Then come kiss me, sweet and twenty,
Youth's a stuff will not endure."
Shakespeare's Twelfth Night
Our second theatre performance took us to London again to see Present Laughter written by Noel Coward. The title comes from a song in Twelfth Night which urges a "seize the day" mentality. Garry Essendine's (the main character) often outrageous concerns about aging and mortality makes the idea of living for the present aptly ironic.
The plot, regarded as semi-autobiographical, enfolds during a few days in the life of Garry, a successful and suave matinee actor who is about to embark on a tour in Africa. Within the short span of the play, Garry entangles himself with three women (1. a starstruck young girl, Daphne Stilington; the devious wife of his manager, Joanna Lyppiatt; and his own estranged wife, Liz Essendine), is stalked by a crazed amateur playwright named Roland Maule, and must face his impending fortieth birthday.
Although set in 1939, it was quite refreshing to see a more modern play (compared to Shakespeare). Some cultural references that were supposed to be humorous got past me but the play lived up to its title.
Alex Jennings was a superb Garry, delivering his melodramatic monologues with exaggerated finesse. My favorite character, however, was the fawning Roland Maule. Perhaps his slightly unhinged personality hit a little close to home after a certain train acquaintance turned out a little unstable. Regardless, Pip Carter was hilarious. It wasn't just me that thought so - someone behind us would occasionally let loose a deep snort. Didn't seem to disturb the old lady in front of me though who practically bent over in REM sleep except during the applause.
Well worth the 2.5 hour journey into London - that traffic....

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

British Candy Tasting

My housemates and I have been wanting to try all the British sweets that are novel to our American palettes so we staged a Candy Tasting last night. After a trip to Sainsbury's we came up with 11 candies we had never seen before.

Jelly Babies: a soft confectionery shaped to look like babies, similar to sour patch kids, but these gummy candies are not sour. About an inch tall, the babies have a soft texture and an unsavory powdery substance (corn starch I suspect) dusted on the surface.
  • Rachel - "The texture is disgusting. Tastes like raw squid in my mouth."
  • Katherine - "Sick, kinda like these weird rice candies from Japan."

Fun Fact: Each Bassett's Jelly Baby has an individual name, colour and flavour: Brilliant (red - strawberry), Bubbles (yellow - lemon), Baby Bonny (pink - raspberry), Boofuls (green - lime), Bigheart (purple - blackcurrant) and Bumper (orange - orange).

Milky Bar Buttons: These little white chocolate rounds weren't very special. Turns out, Milky Bars are just a white chocolate candy bar produced by Nestle so it tasted exactly like the white chocolate crunch bars (sans the crunch) we have in the States. Smooth and sweet though.

  • Katherine - "Tastes like an Easter bunny."
  • Brie - "I would put the whole bag in my mouth."

Fun Fact: The Milkybar Kid has been used in television advertising promoting Nestlé Milkybar in the countries where it is sold. The Milkybar Kid is a blond, spectacle-wearing young boy, usually dressed as a cowboy, whose catch phrase is "The Milkybars are on me!".

Turkish Delight: The package of these chocolate covered squares of Turkish Delight reads "Full of Eastern Promise" - the promise of nausea. None of us had eaten Turkish delight before. It's a mixture of sugar and corn starch, often pinkish in color. This particular version looked like red jello wrapped in chocolate. No one in the group took more than one bite. Rather tasteless but revolting at the same time.

  • Rachel - "Like Jello mixed with gummy bears." (about the consistency)
  • Brie - "That was like poison."

Revels: We thought this bag of chocolate covered spherical things would be like bridge mix. I think it evolved out of the same concept but the components are different. The bag read "milk chocolate with assorted centers." The centers included: malt balls, raisins, peanuts, hard caramel, and a powdery orange substance similar to pixie stix. We weren't overwhelmed by the good factor but it saved our taste buds from the Turkish Disgusting.

Happy Hippo: made by the Ferrero company, Happy Hippo's are a thin crispy wafer cookie shaped like a hippo filled with two creams. We had the original which has milk flavored cream and hazelnut cream. The cocoa flavor replaces the hazelnut with chocolate cream. It tasted like white chocolate Nutella - a good thing in my book. The bottoms are dipped in a crumbly frosting/meringue mixture.

  • My Opinion - Super sweet. Good balance of textures with the crispy cookie and smooth center. Overall a pleasing treat.

Fun Fact: Happy Hippo were made famous by a smash-hit commercial where an animated Hippo sang "The Lion Sleeps Tonight" while a dog tried to distract it/catch its attention by dancing to the music in increasingly funny and bizarre ways. It has an unusual name for a biscuit, stemming from the character "Happy Hippo" (a cartoon hippopotamus) created by the french designer Andre Roche for the Ferrero chocolate hit "Kinder Surprise Eggs".

Poppets: Katherine grabbed this small purple box of chocolate covered raisins on a whim while we were checking out at Sainsbury's. My mom thinks (and I agree sometimes) that cigarette cartons smell like raisins. Well, these raisins tasted like how cigarette cartons smell - dirty with a burnt raisin undertone.

Fox Echo (mint crisp): I guess the mint Echo is a relatively new Echo flavor (2004). I haven't had the original but I would say stick that. Our individually wrapped sticks consisted of a chocolate biscuit topped with bubbly mint crisp covered in milk chocolate. The biscuit and chocolate were good, but the mint was so overpowering it tasted like you were eating toothpaste. I would recommend a Double Take (chocolate mint kit kat) if you want chocolate mint flavor.

Magic Stars:
  • Rachel - "Dirt cheap chocolate" in small star shapes.

Party Rings: The party ring is a British cookie first made by Fox's Biscuits in 1983. It is a circular biscuit with a central finger-sized hole topped with a thin layer of colored icing with wiggly lines in a different colour. A pack comes with four or five rings in each of the five different color combinations. Tasted like a crispy animal cracker with hard, crackly royal icing on top.

Fun Fact: Party rings were a product of the 1980s fashion for the newly developed chemical food dye system that enabled more lavish colours to be incorporated into the manufacture of biscuits. This made them a very popular choice for children's parties, where not only could the colours amuse, but the holes in the middle enabled them to be placed on a finger, often resulting in "ring races". These involved each child taking five rings and placing one on each finger of a hand. They would then proceed to eat them as fast as possible.

Mistletoe Kisses: Two milk chocolate rectangles filled with soft chocolate and caramel. Nothing too exciting.

  • Katherine - "I'm reasonably pleased."

Cadbury Crunchie: Milk chocolate covered honeycomb toffee. The innards look like a golden sea sponge. Very odd texture - slightly powdery but sticky like a Butterfingers. Neutral taste.

  • Katherine - "Like a cross between a malted milk ball and a Butterfingers."

Fun Fact: In the UK and Republic of Ireland, Crunchie is marketed as "The fun, feel good chocolate bar". It was advertised from the 1980s onwards with the phrase "that Friday feeling", although it also became associated with the phrase "Thank Crunchie it's Friday".

The Verdict:

  • Me - Happy Hippo
  • Rachel - Crunchie
  • Katherine - Mistletoe Kisses
  • Brie - Poppets

Tuesday, October 23, 2007

Hot Air Balloons

I took this photo leaning out my window on Sunday afternoon.

Friday, October 19, 2007

Crepes O Mania

For being such a Francophile, I have never had an authentic crepe - until yesterday.

On my second jaunt around University Parks, I noticed a small mobile food stand boldly advertising sweet and savory 'pancakes.' Intrigued by any gastronomical adventure, I made a point of making my next Uni Parks walk during the noon hour.

Crepes O Mania is a mobile creperie service for corporate events, weddings, etc. with outside units like the one I visited. They offer Crepes, sweet pancakes, filled with tempting combinations of lemon and sugar, maple syrup, chocolate and coconut as well as Galettes, savory pancakes, stuffed with equally enticing fillings.

I had already perused the website and predetermined what Galette I was going to try so I wouldn't expose my novice crepe status to the world. No line (at 12 on the dot) hindered my immediate indulgence of La Forestiere filled with mushroom, onion, bacon, bechamel sauce, and cheese.

The man, who I assume was a France native by his accent) started right away by pouring batter onto a piping hot crepe iron. A great sizzle emitted from the large round surface as he artfully spread the batter about with the twirl of a T shaped wooden tool. Almost instantly, he was able to run a long, off-set spatula under the crepe to ensure it wouldn't stick to the surface.

On went the mushrooms and large clumps of bacon (British bacon so more like diced ham chunks). A large helping of caramelized onion drowned in a thick creamy sauce and a handful of cheese (or fromage as the bucket was labeled) was then folded into a rectangle and left to become hot and gooey.

I stood at the cart waiting for this culinary creation for a few more minutes as my galette finished cooking. It was handed over the counter barely contained in a rectangular Styrofoam container. Plastic fork and napkin in hand, I walked to the nearest bench and dug in!

The crepe is very thin, not brittle, more like a crispy cage holding its filling for ransom until your fork initiates the jail break. Le fromage melts completely into the bechamel, making a rich gravy to suspend the mushrooms and bacon. The filling is salty, but not offensively so. Each ingredient was distinct but the sum flavor was very pleasing.

It won't be long until I head back for round two. The only dilemma - orange marmalade and chocolate or candied lemon and sugar?

Thursday, October 18, 2007

The University Parks Oxford

Located just behind Oxford Natural History Museum, University Park could be the prettiest stretch of green in Oxford.

The parks consist of about 70 acres of parkland on the west bank of the River Cherwell and a 4 acre piece of land known as Mesopotamia because of its location between the Weir and Cherwell rivers.

When I was there this morning, a University football team was practicing on the large fields in the middle of the Parks. Joggers, dog walkers, and strollers are always out and about. Benches scattered throughout the multiple "walks" within the Parks are perfect for reading or admiring the general splendor.

I've been three times this week and still haven't seen all of the grounds. I did however notice a Crepes O Mania stand...

Thursday, October 11, 2007

Market at Gloucester Green

I finished writing my paper (due today...) ahead of schedule so Kat, Brie, and I took a housemate field trip to the antique market on Gloucester Green that happens every Thursday.

It was the first time I made it down there since we've been here. Most of the stalls were either old books or jewelry. With no Jane Austen to be found, I turned my sights on antique jewelry.

One booth in the middle had a particularly Emilyish array of Victorian broaches and chokers. The man and his wife doing the selling were quite friendly. He said we came on the right day, they were giving discounts to students and people wearing green...

Brie bought a pearl necklace with aurora borealis added to it. I couldn't resist this pin. Twelve pounds, said he'd give it to me for ten. Usually I am too petrified to haggle, but (maybe on a high after finishing my paper?) I said eight and we settled on nine. I don't think I would have paid eighteen dollars for it in the States but the man was nice. He said it's from the 1930s - not sure I'm totally convinced, but I prefer to run with that thought.

Tuesday, October 9, 2007

Saint Mary the Virgin church tower

The tower at Warwick Castle was bad, but it has nothing on this tower. They try to psych you up for the actual tower with a rickety old wood staircase and uncomfortably see through wire stairs. It helped, a little... The stairs are crumbly and skinny, oddly spaced and steep. Somehow the spiral seems extremely tight. It might be because the only thing provided to help you keep your balance are a few limp ropes attached to the middle post.

I made the ascent alone, which ended up to be a good thing. I had time to stop occasionally and talk myself into going a bit further. All the near panic attacks (and two pound admission) was well worth the view. Go in the morning on a sunny day. I was the only one up there and was able to take my time sucking up the scenery.

Once you recover from the harrowing experience of going up, you are faced with the task of making it down - possibly more frightening than the former.

Thursday, October 4, 2007

After Eight

Somehow my pound to dollar conversion doesn't apply when it comes to George and Danvers. Rachel, Katherine and I went there last night for a mid-week fix.

Since I had Baileys last time I decided to venture further afield. I tried one of the petition flavours (flavours that are on trial for regular status) - After Eight. My vote: YES!

After Eight - Vanilla ice cream with chunks of after dinner mints, the kind that have a chocolate coating and a soft minty interior. Nicely refreshing but not overly minty with a steady stream of chocolate chunks.

Wednesday, October 3, 2007


I still have a hard time not making the pounds to dollar conversion when I'm considering how and where to spend my money. This habit makes my love of food and trying different eating establishments a little tricky. I've been wanting to try the Cream Tea at Cafe Loco, an eatery down the road from my house, but haven't been able to fork over 10 bucks for a scone and tea.

A friend and I were commiserating about this and she mentioned that Chocology in the covered market had a tea and cake deal for 2.50 pounds. I popped in around 11 this morning to try it out. A glass case displaying a mouthwatering array of truffles and other chocolate delights greet customers. An intimate set up of table and chairs are settled at the other end of the store. I ordered a scone and cuppa English Breakfast - 2.25 pounds. Not a bad price comparatively. The girl who took my order said she would bring it to me so I chose a table nestled in a corner and took out a book.

Chocology wasn't busy. One older couple was already seated when I arrived and a young woman, who seemed more interested in checking her outfit in the mirror than enjoying her cup of chocolate, spent five minutes flipping through the times. I only waited a couple minutes for my snack to arrive. The tea was good - hot and strong - accompanied by a small square of dark chocolate (nice touch I thought). I was disappointed by the scone: small and obviously not their specialty. It was heated to the point of toughness and constituted only a few bites.

I wouldn't go back for a scone, but I plan to try Chocology again. They have a tempting array of hot chocolates like mint and Baileys. I probably should have ordered something that included the store's namesake.

Tuesday, October 2, 2007

Cowley Road

Kathrine and I finished stopped obsessing over the minutia of our papers and sent them in today! I'm extremely relieved to have it done. Even though I'll be writing 12 more papers this term, none of them have to be that long and I'll actually be interested in the topic.

To celebrate, we decided to go thrifting. Thrift stores are called charity shops in England so I guess I can't say that... Kat brought the Cheeky Guide To Oxford which said Cowley Road was home to the best thrift stores, so we headed that way.

Cowley Road was interesting to say the least. A little bit more grimey than the city center. Sex shops, middle eastern markets, and bars line both sides of the street. The first second hand shop we found was more vintage (meaning pricey) than we had in mind. Two other misses and we had to console ourselves with an Oxfam which is always a winner.

My big purchase: Jane Austen and her world by Marghanita Laski and a fair trade "cotton shopper" (see pic). Grand total: 3.98 pounds