Saturday, December 18, 2010

Holiday Recipes From Across the Pond

Nothing says "The Holidays" more than stuffing your face full of baked goods and sweets! Here are a few recipes that may or may not have tried that would be great to bring to the table this holiday season.

Stollen is a traditional bread dating back to 15th century Germany. The shape of the bread is said to have originally represented Jesus in swaddling clothes, though I honestly only see delicious marzipan wrapped in a crusty, fruity, sugary, bread. This is a very easy recipe to follow, though if you are short on time you can use self raising flour instead of AP but STILL USE THE YEAST AS WELL.

(recipe from Seona Chapman)
1/3 cup warm milk
1 T yeast
2 1/2 cup flour
1/3 cup sugar
1/3 cup softened butter
1 large egg
1/2 t salt
1/3 cup mixed raisins
1/3 cup dried cranberries
1/3 cup candied peel
6 oz marzipan

Dissolve yeast in warm milk and let set until creamy (about 10 minutes). Add 2 cups of the flour, sugar, butter, egg, and lastly salt and combine. Add the remaining flour 1/4 cup at a time until dough forms. Turn out onto a floured surface and knead in fruit and peel. Continue kneading until smooth (about 8 minutes). Lightly oil a large bowl and place the dough inside. Place somewhere warm and cover with a damp towel. Allow to set until dough doubles in size (about 1 hour). Turn dough out onto a greased cookie sheet and spread flat (does not need to be properly rolled out). Taking your marzipan, create a long cord and place it in the middle of the dough. Wrap the dough around the marzipan, being sure to pinch all the seams. Place cookie sheet someplace warm and allow to proof for one hour. Preheat oven to 350* and bake for 10 minutes. Reduce heat to 300* and bake for 40 minutes or until done. Sprinkle with confectioners sugar, if you have some handy, and serve!

Gingerbread has a bit of an odd history. It's said that the original recipe was brought to Europe in the year 992 by an Armenian monk by the name of Gregory Makar, when he traveled to France. The recipe then traveled northward to Germany and Sweden (the nuns discovered that it aided with indigestion!), and eventually made it's way to Shropshire, UK, a town that prides itself on it's famous gingerbread. The earliest recorded mention of gingerbread in the UK is 1793- that's 801 years after it's original creation! I suppose word didn't travel as fast back then! There are many recipes for gingerbread cookies out there today, and believe me I have tried many. So far this is my favorite. If it's rolled properly it is very sturdy for gingerbread houses, as well as perfect for gingerbread men, or any other shapes you'd like to cut out!

Gingerbread Cookies
(recipe from here)
6 cups all-purpose flour
1 tablespoon baking powder
1 tablespoon ground ginger
1 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1 teaspoon ground cloves
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1 cup shortening, melted and cooled slightly
1 cup molasses
1 cup packed brown sugar
1/2 cup water
1 egg
1 teaspoon vanilla extract

Sift together the flour, baking powder, ginger, nutmeg, cloves, and cinnamon; set aside.In a medium bowl, mix together the shortening, molasses, brown sugar, water, egg, and vanilla until smooth. Gradually stir in the dry ingredients, until they are completely absorbed. Divide dough into 3 pieces, pat down to 1 1/2 inch thickness, wrap in plastic wrap, and refrigerate for at least 3 hours. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F (175 degrees C). On a lightly floured surface, roll the dough out to 1/4 inch thickness. Cut into desired shapes with cookie cutters. Place cookies 1 inch apart onto an ungreased cookie sheet. Bake for 10 to 12 minutes in the preheated oven. When the cookies are done, they will look dry, but still be soft to the touch. Remove from the baking sheet to cool on wire racks. When cool, the cookies can be frosted with the icing of your choice.

Bûche de Noël is a traditional French cake made around Christmas. Others may know it as "yule log" or "giant Swiss cake roll" but I think everyone can agree on one thing- they are delicious! While I haven't been able to dig up much history on the baked good, my sources unanimously associate it with French tradition. I used a recipe from Martha Stewart, but even though it was very simple, I didn't agree with her "pinch" of baking soda because it was very vague and my genoise turned flatter than it really should have been. For that reason I have altered the leavener in the following recipe, though I cannot take credit for the recipe, itself.

Bûche de Noël
(from Martha Stewart)
5 tablespoons unsalted butter, plus more for parchment and pan
2/3 cup sifted cake flour (not self-rising)
1/3 cup sifted cocoa powder, plus more for dusting
1/2 t of baking soda
6 large eggs
3/4 cup sugar
2 teaspoons vanilla extract

Heat oven to 350 degrees. Butter a 10 1/2-by-15 1/2-by-1-inch jelly-roll pan. Line with parchment; butter and flour paper, tapping out the excess flour. Sift flour, cocoa, and baking soda together twice into a medium bowl. Set aside. In a small saucepan over low heat, melt butter. Skim off white foam, and pour clear yellow butter into a bowl, discarding white liquid at the bottom. Set aside in a warm place.

In a medium-size heat-proof bowl, whisk together eggs and sugar. Set bowl over a pan of simmering water; stir until mixture is warm to the touch and sugar has dissolved. Remove from heat, and beat on high speed until mixture is thick and pale and has tripled in bulk. Reduce speed to medium, add vanilla, and beat 2 to 3 minutes more. In three additions, sift flour mixture over egg mixture, folding in gently with a spatula. While folding in last addition, dribble melted butter over batter and fold in.
Spread batter evenly in pan, leaving behind any unincorporated butter in the bottom of the bowl. Tap pan on counter to remove air bubbles. Bake until cake springs back when touched in center, 15 to 20 minutes. Don't overbake or cake will crack. Let sit in pan on a wire rack until cool enough to handle.
Dust surface with cocoa powder. To make rolling easier, trim edges of cake, and cover with a sheet of waxed paper and a damp dish towel. Invert onto a work surface, and peel off parchment; dust with cocoa. Starting from one long end, carefully roll up cake in towel, and leave until cool

To assemble, unroll the cooled cake and slather with chocolate frosting (MS suggests chocolate mousse, which would be delicious, but I used buttercream). Re-roll the cake carefully and frost the outside (again you could use buttercream, but more traditionally ganache is used). Assemble on a platter and sprinkle with confectioners sugar to give the appearance of snow. If you'd like, create some mushrooms or holly out of marzipan or fondant to decorate. Or just go crazy and make a bird, like Jake did!

Saturday, December 4, 2010

Executing Your Cross-Continental Adventure part 1.

Now that we have completed the "planning," let's begin a new series with our first edition:

Executing Your Cross-Continental Adventure
Part 1: Five Ways to Document Your Trip

There are a lot of different ways for you to keep track of the adventures you have during your cross-continental adventure. Most of these are fairly common, though there are a couple that you may not have considered. Some require a bit more packing space than others, so if you are traveling light you may enjoy the ones marked with an *asterisk* (this does not mean that you shouldn't do these if you have plenty of room, we are actually doing four of these methods and we are currently only carrying one backpack and one shoulder bag between us!).

*Creating a Sketchbook*
Our most recent method of documentation has been our investment in a sketchbook. While it was the cheapest of all these mediums, it does require the most time. Basically, we use this book to draw and write in whenever we feel inspired. The subjects thus far have never been of places we have been or people we have met- just ideas that whirl through our brains as we travel. Of course, this is not the highest recommendation if you dislike drawing, but if you consider yourself artistic, it is a fun and unique way of compiling all of your inspirations in one. Ours has been a great way for Jake to practice calligraphy and for me to practice drawing and watercolors.
the plus side: Very inexpensive, especially depending on the tools you choose to work with. While you may choose to bring paints, pastels, etc., if you choose to bring only a pencil you will not need to worry about them take up much space in your luggage. Keeping a sketch book and dating your work is also a good way to see how your style and skill progresses throughout your journey- especially if you are just beginning.
the negatives: This is the worst possible option for those who dislike drawing or other types of art. Keeping a sketchbook also requires a bit of care to keep it from getting stained, wet, or otherwise damaged. If you carry paints or other mediums, you also run risk of them spilling and/or staining your other items.

*Keeping a Journal*
Our original intent was to record our thoughts and stories in journals that we had made for us. It was quite nice during long layovers and bus or train rides, but we haven't kept up with it like we had planned to. Journals are a great way to record memories as well as vital information such as addresses and phone numbers hostels, flight times, bus schedules, etc. It is better if the journal is small so that it may easily be carried from place to place.
the plus side: Journals can be a very nice way to record everything you have done, and information about people you have met. It is nice to read about your adventures post-journey, and is something that is easy to share with others.
the negatives: depending on the quality of your journal, it could quite easily get torn and stained throughout your journey. It might also be difficult for some (like myself) to properly keep up to date with entries, especially if you record them another way (such as online).

Collecting Items
This is quite vague, I know, but I didn't feel I should get too specific in the title. Some people have items that they already collect- shot glasses, glass elephants, spoons, postcards, brochures, magnets, etc., which could be added to during their journey. What we have started to do (thanks to Kevin!) is collect beer coasters from every pub we go to throughout Europe. On the back we write the date, town, and name of the pub. We aren't sure what we will do with them when we get home, but we will probably frame the group of them with tags under each one with information about where it came from.
the plus side: Collecting things can be a fun way of keeping track of where you have been, and are great to show off on display when you return home
the negatives: This can add a LOT of extra weight depending on the type of item you are collecting and how many places you go. Also, if you are doing a lot of traveling, the items you are gathering with likely be crushed, broken, or mangled...which is fine if the integrity of the items does not matter (we don't particularly care if are coasters are frayed or stained just as long as we have them!).

Taking Photographs
This is a given. I don't know of ANY traveler who has not brought a digital camera with them. Taking pictures is the fastest way of documenting memories and sharing images with people back home. Most folks choose to go with digital photography, as we did originally, but Jake ended up having his film camera sent to us so that he could take the kinds of pictures he wanted rather than just run-of-the-mill tourist shots. While carrying many cameras isn't wise if you are traveling light, it is a great way to bring contrast to your photos. Also, if you travel with a friend or a group, you also receive different styles and perspectives throughout your journey.
the plus side: Fast, easy way to document memories. Photos can be used in a variety of projects post-journey such as prints, scrapbooks, postcards, calendars, etc. Also a great way to get creative if you have some time to focus on certain shots
the negatives: Batteries are the biggest downside to cameras. If you have a rechargeable battery, you are always hunting for a place to juice it up, if you rely on AA or AAA batteries, you are carrying a lot of extra weight and spending a lot of money. Cameras are also more likely to be broken or stolen in crowded areas.

Making a Blog
Blogging is becoming more and more popular by the day. While it may seem that "everyone is doing it," I still find blogs to be one of the most accessible sources of information on travel, reviews, and ideas. When I am planning to go someplace, I love reading about what others have done when they were there, how they likes where they went, and what they recommend I try. Creating a blog is very simple, and can be a fast way to record the daily (or weekly) events of your trip. When I blog about my adventures, I typically will type them when the inspiration hits, and then just save them in a text document until I have internet access again.
the plus side: Blogging is an easy way to share your adventures "as they happen" (or almost, anyways) by sending the link to friends and family where they can read about what you are doing and leave feedback. It is also a great way to share the photos you have been taking throughout your adventures.
the negatives: Unless you spend a lot of time in internet cafes, you will need to bring a netbook or laptop. This could add extra weight to your luggage, and unfortunately it makes you a slave to electricity again (which can be a pain if both your camera AND laptop die at the same time...priorities!). It can also be a hassle to some to be updating all the time, or they could feel bothered by others wanting more information than time allows.

*note: due to laziness, none of the pictures were taken by me therefore I take no credit for any of their beauty, ugliness, otherwise adjectively described presences. These images can be found on along with many others. Thank you.

Friday, December 3, 2010

Getting Around the UK

I am by no means an expert on this topic, but I have been working very hard to try and understand transportation in the UK. And I still don't. It is obscenely more expensive than transportation throughout the EU, and you reaaaally have to dig deep to find cheap results. For example, today I spent my afternoon on the hunt for cheap transportation to London from Witham. I thought it would be very cheap, it's literally two hours away. WRONG. Not only that, but prices were changing drastically by the minute! I would type in the same search criteria every half hour and be presented with different results. It was frustrating and confusing, and I still don't really understand how I went from having a 48£ ticket to a $69£ one in half an hour.

Therefore, I am going to provide you with a serious of links that will hopefully be of assistance. I generally open every one of these in different tabs and search them all at once. This is helpful especially if you are not picky about the mode of transportation and/or the amount of time it takes you to travel.

This has been a lifesaver, really. Instead of having to go to every single cheap-airline website (e.g. ryanair, bmibaby, jet2, easyjet, thomascook) you can type your information into this website and it will search them ALL at once. You can even be as vague as saying "United Kingdom to Anywhere" if you are really just looking for the cheapest flight out. I have seen results for as low as 2£ doing this.

National Express
There are a lot of special parts of the National Express website where you can get cheap deals, but you need to look for them. Fun Fares are very cheap (they say some are as low as 3£ but I generally find them for about 7.50£ ) but you need to book in advance.

Berry's Coaches
I don't know very much about this website, because I literally only discovered it today. As I said, I spent most of the afternoon researching my own transportation and would not have come across this one had it not been for Seona. I haven't discovered it's in's and out's yet, but I'm sure they have some.

There is a special place in my heart set aside for my loathing of megabus. Not for any particular reason, really, except that I never have any luck with it. They require specific routes, and sometimes they are not even very affordable. I feel like it would be nonsense if I didn't include them, however, just know they aren't my number one recommendation. Along with them, you can also check Megatrain and Megaplus for other "great deals."


I absolutely BEG that you ignore my advice to use It is the largest rip-off ever, only second to the official Eurail website. Of course different websites are better for different countries, but these are some of the best for the UK.

National Rail
While prices are still usually in the hundreds, they are not nearly as obscene as the others.

This is the website that I used to book my tickets to London. While I was incredibly frustrated by the drastically fluctuating prices, the fact that the registration page is annoying as hell, and the stupid 3.50£ charge for using a credit card (even though it won't let you use the free debit card option when you ARE using a debit card!) it was worth the hassle for the price of the tickets. I wasn't able to find my journey for any less than 70£ on the other websites (not without additional fees, anyways) but was able to on this one. I was also very happy to have the option of buying my railcard for the Tube in the same purchase- very handy and time saving in the long run!

I hope these links are helpful to you when planning your journey around the UK. My biggest piece of advice is book your tickets early! WEEKS EARLY! if you really want to save money. If you have done some traveling through the UK and have some links you'd like to share, please leave a comment and I will include them in the post! As I said, I am far from an expert, and I would love to hear about more transportation options within the UK.