Downtown

Today John and I ventured out of Headington to centre city. We hadn’t been there in a while (going to work doesn’t count), and I think part of the reason we were hibernating was to avoid the usual crowds that nice weather brings. Considering that today was another British summer day, the people traffic was surprisingly tolerable. And I’m glad we got out, because it led to some nice photo opportunities. John might be made at me for this, but…

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We went to the newly-opened H&M, and that happened. We also went to the Botanic Gardens, which of course were closed, but at least I got a good shot of this punter.

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Punting is one of those activities (I won’t call it a sport) that looks fun, but is only enjoyable if you’re the puntee rather than the punter. Pushing a little boat down a canal with a metal pole is much harder than it looks. And even if you’re the puntee, you’ll either get bored after 10 minutes or feel guilty that someone else is doing all the heavy lifting. I could get into a much more detailed rant about punting, but let’s save that for another blog post.

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This is the Magdalen College tower (I think), and as I took this picture, I thought back to last spring, leaving work early and cycling over the High Street bridge to meet my aunt and uncle who were visiting from Italy. It was when I still liked my first job, and felt excited about the possibilities that Oxford had to offer. I was a tourist that day, showing other tourists around. Somehow, seeing this tower looming before me made me feel lucky to be here, and by “here” I mean more than just the geographical location. Seeing the tower again today, I felt the same spark. As much as I complain (to myself, mostly) about where I currently “am” (in terms of a career, and countless other categories by which we measure success), it feels good to let go of that once in a while in favor of being a tourist again in your current hometown. The city still has much to offer and I intend on soaking it up…on those rare occasions I decide to leave the house.

Overdue for a pancake post (flapjacks, actually)

I was going to write a blog post about how I don’t like my job anymore and maybe never did, how I make laughably dumb mistakes (bringing flip-chart markers to write on a whiteboard tops the list), and how I feel like I’m going backwards on the career progression ladder by being an admin assistant (again). But that wouldn’t be very fun to read, nor would it help me feel good about how I spend 35 hours of the week, which is the ultimate goal, right?

So instead, here’s a pancake recipe. This one’s a winner (which I could have predicted as soon as I saw cocoa in the ingredient list. And because I’m feeling generous, I’ll follow it with a (British) flapjack recipe for comparison. Those were a hit at the office this week. Probably because the main ingredient is butter. To clarify: American flapjacks are thick pancakes, and British flapjacks are basically thick squishy granola bars. 

Warning: these recipes contain coconut because I just bought a lifetime supply at the Indian grocery store. You can omit if you hate it, but we can’t be friends if you do.

 

Cocoa-nut Flapjacks

Adapted from this.

  • 1/2 cup whole milk
  • 1/4 cup mineral water (the fizzy stuff)
  • 1/2 cup flour (I used this gluten-free brown bread mix that I love)
  • 1/2 cup desiccated coconut (un-sweetened and finely ground)
  • 1.5 teaspoons baking powder
  • 3 tablespoons cocoa powder (use the Dutch-processed dark stuff)
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1 tablespoon sugar
  • 1 tablespoon butter, melted
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla

Preheat your temperamental electric hob to slightly-too-hot (medium-high for normal stovetops).

Mix dry ingredients together with a fork. Add butter, vanilla, and milk; lightly mix again. 

Add a tablespoon or so of butter to your pan and let it melt, swirling it around with a spatula. When drops of water sizzle in the skillet, lower heat to medium.

Add a little sparkling water (makes pancakes fluffy!) to thin the batter a bit; then and add scoops of batter to the pan. I can get about 3 small pancakes in my 12″ skillet. Cook for approx. 3 minutes, or until the edges look dry, then flip and cook for 2 additional minutes. Transfer to a plate and make your second batch.

Serve with a variety of toppings (John had peanut butter and honey, I had greek yogurt/black currant jam/more coconut).

 

White chocolate coconut flapjacks (the British version)

Adapted from this, and converted into NORMAL (read: American) measurements.

  • 1/2 cup butter (yes, really. Suck it up, and use a decent organic/grass-fed type like Kerrygold to help you feel better about this decision)
  • 2 tablespoons granulated (caster) sugar
  • 1/4 cup honey
  • 1/2 teaspoon vanilla
  • 2 1/4 cups quick oats, or porridge oats to use the adorable UK terminology
  • cinnamon, sea salt
  • 100 g bar of white chocolate
  • about 1/4 cup desiccated coconut

In a large glass bowl, melt the butter and sugar together in the microwave (about 40 seconds on high). Stir in the honey, vanilla, and oats. Microwave on high for about 3 minutes, stopping to stir after 2.

Spread mixture on the bottom of a lightly greased 8″ x 4″ glass baking dish. Top with cinnamon, a little sea salt, and sprinkle with coconut. Press mixture down firmly with the back of a spoon.

Break the chocolate into pieces and melt in the microwave, stopping to stir every few seconds. When the pieces are almost all melted, it’s likely to be ready (you don’t want burnt chocolate). Stir some more. Spread chocolate on top of oat mixture and cover the dish. Let cool, then move to refrigerator for overnight firming up. When ready to cut/serve, it helps to let the dish come back to room temp. Slice into whatever sizes you’d like, and enjoy.

 

One more month

Yesterday I realized that my birthday is coming up in a month, and got all giddy for about 30 seconds. Not many people seem to get excited about birthdays past the iconic age of 21, but I think they continue to serve as a reliable, yearly milestone. Much more so than January 1st, anyway. I bet you’ve all forgotten your New Year’s Resolution (capitalized because this year you’ll really stick to it, you mean it), just like I have. I suppose I could scroll back through old blog posts to find out what it was – likely something to do with reading more. I haven’t done so bad on that front, actually. My standards are set low, so my one completed book makes me pretty happy. (Snow Flower and the Secret Fan – it was just okay).

I’m particularly enjoying this Sunday because I’m typing this from bed, with a gigantic mug of coffee next to me. The mug says Cipramil in bold green letters. I’ve been meaning to look it up, and finally did – it’s the UK equivalent of Celexa, an SSRI used to treat major depression. I think coffee is equally, if not more, effective. 

But back to birthdays. I remember, in my awkward middle school years, spending the week before the annual cake-for-breakfast day drafting self-improvement plans for the year ahead, usually through something superficial like buying new jeans that would be long enough for my gangly legs or using my grandma’s birthday money to buy the latest JANE eyeshadows (still miss that brand). This would become a tradition, though I abandoned the list-making probably in high school. My birthday became a day for me to think about what I want to do differently, and why.

I don’t think I ever got to the “how” part, though, and this is probably why I spent year after year not really feeling any different. In many ways, I’m still the awkward middle-schooler, looking toward improvement but having only a vague idea of what will get me there (answer: it’s not eyeshadow). 

This year, I’d rather just be happy. I want to spend more Sundays lounging in bed, drinking my big mug of anti-depressant coffee, and appreciating the idea of nowhere to be, nobody to become. John says I’ll change the way I feel about birthdays once I turn 30, but I don’t think so. I have two more years to prove him wrong, though.

 

British Summer

Today I wore shorts and a tank on a 4 mile run, and spent the first five minutes afterwards staring at my red face in the mirror and seriously considering whether it might be sunburn. I was half-expecting to see punters happily punting their friends, champagne, and strawberries down the Thames. It didn’t happen, but will soon enough.

I’m approximately 1000 times happier when the sun is shining and when, if I stand still too long outside, I feel like I’m slowly roasting. Hint to John about looking for the next post-doc in California. Hint. 

It’ll be nice to shift my cooking to warmer weather fare, too. I’m suffering from bacon overload (streaky for breakfast, and a bacon joint stew for dinner…which was way too salty, even for me). It’s time for fresh, green stuff and juicy stone fruit. I think what I like best about spring is feeling fresh and rejuvenated, brought back to life from the depths of the de-thawing ground. Things grow and bloom. It’s an underrated and understated phenomenon, and it just feels good.

In other news, we are babysitting our neighbor’s kitten. The neighbor is in Italy for 1.5 months. The kitten has small-dog syndrome and won’t stop growling at our much larger and rightfully irritated cats. The whole situation would be annoying if that kitten wasn’t so damn cute.