Scenes from an Austin Burns Supper

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This weekend we were fortunate to be invited to the home of our friends Kevin and Mary to celebrate Burns Night in high style. Not only is Kevin an accomplished piper, but he and his lovely wife have a deep love of British food and culture, as well as an impressive collection of single malt scotch whiskies. We celebrated the birth of Scotland’s national poet with an abbreviated form of the traditional order, followed by much poetry reading, feasting, and merry-making. It was a lovely evening. Here are some of our photographs–and a bonus video of the piping in of the haggis!

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Our sacred text.

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Starters.

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The haggis. It’s actually quite tasty.

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A selection of some of the delicacies on offer: baked salmon (before going into the oven), pork pies, and bangers.

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Our host surveys his Scottish spread.

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The haggis, festively decorated.

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Just a few of the fine selection of whiskies we gratefully and enthustically sampled (I plan to purchase a bottle of Scapa as soon as possible).

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The dinner (clockwise, from top): pork pie, baked salmon, bangers, baked beans, haggis with whisky sauce, and neeps and tatties.

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Eric and I (notice the haggis is in focus–priorities). Eric’s enjoying some Belhaven ale.

And, finally, the promised footage:

If you’d like to book Kevin for your next event, let me know, and I’ll get you connected.

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The Great British Food Series: Part Four, Northumberland and Liverpool

Fourth in a multi-part series. Also see Part One: London and Brighton, Part Two: York, and Part Three: Edinburgh.

We spent four nights in Edinburgh, but on day two in Scotland, we hopped back across the English border in a runaway shuttle bus, on a little castle and coast tour.

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Bamburgh Castle, perched on the Northumbrian coast, overlooking the North Sea.  Quite the windswept, romantic spot, as you can see.

We also went to Alnwick, but, since we’re not Harry Potter fanatics, we skipped the £14.50 tour and spent two and a half hours in a pub.

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The Black Swan, Alnwick, Northumberland.

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Eric had roasted leek soup.  It was really good.

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I had steak and ale pie; it was deconstructed, and one of the very best beef pies I have ever had.

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Extreme closeup.

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A pint of Worthington’s.

Our final stop on the tour, and the real reason we went on it, was Lindisfarne.

Have you been watching Vikings, the new series on the History Channel?  The Vikings’ arrival in England in 793, at Lindisfarne, was fresh in our mind, thanks to the show.  I’ve always wanted to go there, but because of its remote location, I never made it while I was living in England.  Eric is also a history buff, and was fascinated by the story of the Anglo-Saxons “first contact” with the Vikings, so this was a real highlight of our trip.

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Guess what Eric found first.

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We also bought some mead on the island!  A bit sweet for regular consumption, it made a nice birthday dessert drink back at our Edinburgh B&B.

Our next stop was Liverpool.

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Upon arrival, it was too early to check into our room at the Heywood House Hotel, so we decided to try the attached restaurant, The Bank Bar and Brasserie, owing to its convenience and positive reviews.

It was passable, but overpriced.  The cheeseburger above was from frozen, and the bun was burned.

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Eric’s tomato soup was just okay.  The upscale, urban atmosphere of the place was great, but the food disappointed.  I supposed our first clue should’ve been that we were the only patrons at lunch time on a weekday in the center of Liverpool.

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But Mr Whippy never disappoints!  Albert Dock.

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As you may recall, I am a bit of a Liverpool FC fan.  So, of course, we went to Anfield.

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Eric was tired.  We had large coffees in the Anfield Boot Room Cafe.

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Though I was very tempted to order this:

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After spending the day exploring Liverpool on foot, we ended up at Thomas Rigby’s, near our hotel, for dinner.

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I had the last of many steak and ale pies.  I suspect they’re not even making full pot pies anymore, because I didn’t see a single one the entire time we were in Britain.  This is another “descontructed” one.  It was very good, too!  This was a great little spot.

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That’s it for the road trip portion of our UK adventure.

I’ll be back soon with a final post featuring a few more London noms, and then it’ll be back to your regularly-scheduled taco-related programming.

Fourth in a multi-part series. Also see Part One: London and Brighton, Part Two: York, and Part Three: Edinburgh.

The Great British Food Series: Part Three, Edinburgh

Third in a multi-part series. Read Part One: London and Brighton, and Part Two: York.

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Edinburgh New Town and the Firth of Forth from Edinburgh Castle.

I’d been to Edinburgh several times, but always in the winter, but Eric had never been, and I knew he was going to love it! Imagine my surprise when we arrived on June 27, and it was about 55 degrees and pouring rain! (I wasn’t surprised.)

Luckily, our bed and breakfast was only a fifteen-minute walk from Waverley Station; on the way, we stopped in to the first decent-looking pub we passed to dry off, grab a bite to eat, and kill some time until check-in.

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The Theatre Royal Bar.

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Leek and onion soup!

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The Royal Mile.

After checking in and dropping off our bags, we walked back across the park to the Royal Mile, and walked the entire thing. After peeking into Holyrood, we doubled-back and, still near the bottom of the hill, popped into another pub, the No. 1 High Street Bar, for dinner.

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The starter: focaccia and delicious dippings.

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Eric ordered… more fish and chips! Haddock, this time.

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And I had… more bangers and mash! This was the best plate of bangers and mash of the whole trip: prime Scottish sausage from award-winning local butcher Crombies of Edinburgh, served with onion gravy, mashed potatoes, and market vegetables.

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The malt of the moment!

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Just because.

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Our bed and breakfast, Adria House, was amazing. Not just the immaculately restored, quiet, neoclassical New Town digs, but the attentive and friendly service! Our hosts made us packed breakfasts for the two mornings on which our schedules necessitated an early departure: yogurt, cheese, clementines, apples, granola bars, and juice! I highly recommend this B&B!

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Of course, a leisurely breakfast in the dining room was even better!

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I turned 34 while we were in Edinburgh, so we went out for a nicer-than-usual dinner. Our Scottish friend Alan recommended Rose Street, and so off we went!

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Look, it’s my tattoo! Made of pebbles! On a street! In Scotland. Wait, what?

We went to The Rosehip and had a lovely, lengthy, decadent meal.

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First course: prosecco!

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My main course: Local lambshank served with a leek and savoy cabbage mash and coated in a red onion, rosemary and onion jus. It was so, so good.

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Eric’s dinner: Scottish venison steak with mashed sweet potatoes! YES.

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Did I mention they also had an impressive whisky collection?

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I toasted the Blair ancestors with a wee dram of 1997 Blair Atholl.

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The dessert course: chocolate cake and cappuccinos.  Mmm.  It was actually a bit too cold outside—on June 30!

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Window display, Royal Mile.

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We also went on quite the pub crawl in Edinburgh.  We went to three folkie pubs recommended by KUT‘s Ed Miller (who hosts our favorite radio program, Across the Water).  We visited several pubs on the Royal Mile, in the heart of the touristy center of Edinburgh.  We got lost in Canonmills and wandered into a pub packed with spaniels, showing Wimbledon live, and serving real ale.  We went on the aforementioned Rose Street walk.  We drank the pint above at The Doctors, next to the University of Edinburgh, on graduation day; the place was packed with be-robed graduates in white tie, happy families, balloons, and crusty British professor types.

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And we bought obscure local brews to take back to the sitting room at our B&B!  So relaxing.

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Butchers’ window, Canonmills.

One of the pubs recommended by Ed Miller was the Canons Gait on the Royal Mile. We’d also hear they had good food, so we decided to go there for dinner.

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Eric had the fresh salmon and scalloped potatoes with salad. It was really good. But what I had was even better.

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I ordered haggis!

I’d never had haggis before; I had enjoyed an amazing, lentil-based vegetarian “haggis” at the George Hotel in Inverary, when I went there with my mom in 2004 (in fact, it was so good, I ordered it for every meal!). I calculated my chances at the Canons Gait: 1) recommended by Ed Miller; 2) reassuringly short, obviously seasonal menu; 3) the Scottish lady at the next table over ordered the haggis. I decided to go for it.

And I’m glad I did! This was one of the tastiest meals of the entire trip. The haggis was flavorful and decadent. The neeps and tatties were creamy and addictive (especially the tatties—I think they were half butter, to be honest). Washed down with a pint, it was a meal to remember. I’d even eat it again.

I think that’s a great note to end on, don’t you?

Check back next week for part four: Northumberland and Liverpool (I’ll explain!).

Third in a multi-part series. Also see Part One: London and Brighton, and Part Two: York.

The Great British Food Series: Part Two, York

Second in the Great British Food Series. Read Part One, London and Brighton or Part Three, Edinburgh.

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York Minster, the heart of the medieval city, historic capital of Northern England, and final destination of this post.

But first…

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Eric at King’s Cross.

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On day four, we rode the train from London to Doncaster, where we stopped to see friends, then on to York (my favorite place in the UK, and where I was lucky enough to go to graduate school). The onslaught of English comfort food was amazing. And the cool weather didn’t hurt, either.

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Our stop in Doncaster included a private tour of the Mansion House, which was fascinating. Since the Doncaster City Council built a new chamber in the aughties, the Mansion House has become a historical property and event venue. They keep the rooms set up for banquets, to give you an idea of what it would be like to host your wedding or party there.

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Our next stop: York Brewery. (That’s Eric. And he’s not wearing a Yorkshire costume; he always wears that hat!)

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Operational since 1996, this local brewery produces a fine line of real ales.  We went on an afternoon tour—and tried them all in their cozy tap room!

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Yorkshire maltsters!

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My hands smelled like hops for two days.

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Our favorite was the Centurion’s Ghost Ale.  Mmm.  I loved this little half pint glass, too.

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After the tour, we saved a few quid by popping into the nearby Wetherspoons pub (a chain) for a quick afternoon “dinner.”  I had the £7.00 bangers and mash; though this dish is no doubt from frozen, it still tasted prettttty good.  I have to admit here, I’m a sucker for potatoes-from-a-box.  Don’t get me wrong, I prefer freshly-mashed, homemade potatoes with real butter and cream; but I do love me some instant potatoes.

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In York, we stayed at the Acer Guest House, just south of the city wall, a lovely, five-minute stroll from Mickelgate Bar. I highly recommend it.  Not only was our host, Karen, extremely helpful and gracious, but the place is immaculately clean and beautifully decorated, as well as quiet and relaxing.  Plus, the breakfast was excellent.  I could’ve stayed here for weeks.

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Requisite half-timbering photo.  Stonegate.

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Shop window in Stonegate.  Look at all those Yorkshire ales!  Pretty much heaven.

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Next stop: the Guy Fawkes Inn.  And this isn’t just a gimmick, folks.  It’s where the notorious Catholic plotter was born!  A stone’s throw from York Minster, his house is now an inn and tavern.  It’s super atmospheric, and the beer selection is great.  The food is good, too, though we didn’t eat here on this trip.

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This busker is leaning up against St. Michael le Belfrey Church, where Guy Fawkes was baptised!

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One Yorkshire Blonde; one Dark Force Treason.

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Our corner table at Guy Fawkes’ house.

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Another view of the Minster, just down the street from Guy Fawkes’ house.

We had a trip-highlight of a lunch at the Black Swan, one of York’s must-see pubs.  Built in 1417 (you read that right), this historic spot has authentic half-timbering, fireplaces of medieval brick, wood-paneled walls, portraits of stern Tudors peering at you as you eat your meal, and very, very good food.

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Oh, and did I mention that the best thing about the Black Swan is that they serve Theakston’s?  Meaning I could have a big, imperial pint of Old Peculier (one of my top five favorite beers; probably top two) with my giant Yorkshire pudding.

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Seriously, this thing was nine by thirteen inches!  And so delicious.  I can’t even explain.  Well—I’ll try.

It’s a giant Yorkshire pudding, made in a casserole dish (often they are round, just a larger version of a regular pudding; but this one, as you can see, was rectangular!).  Then it’s filled with a Sunday lunch: roast beef, onions, carrots, peas, and beef gravy.  You eat it with a knife and fork, sopping up the leaking gravy with pieces of pudding.  It is so good.

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Eric’s BLT and pint of Old Peculier.  Also freaking delicious.

Read the history of the Black Swan here.

Next on our pub crawl was the first of two stops at the King’s Arms, conveniently located on the east quayside of the River Ouse, nestled right next to the Ouse Bridge.  This is a Samuel Smith’s pub (makers of the other of my top-two favorite beers, Taddy Porter), so there’s really nothing not to like.  Situated as it is right on the Ouse, it floods every year—sometimes more than once—and there’s a handy flood chart on the wall right inside the door.

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Unfortunately, due to said flooding, the conditions in the cellars are quite unpredictable, and, therefore, the King’s Arms is unable to serve real ale (from casks).  They do, however, have an impressive selection of the aforementioned Samuel Smith’s served up from kegs.  When we were there, we counted no less than 12 brews available.  As Samuel Smith’s fans, this was amazing.  And there are other pubs in York, several of which we visited, that do serve cask Samuel Smith’s.  Here’s a map of all the Samuel Smith’s pubs in the UK.  Wowza.

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The King’s Arms has lovely outdoor seating right on the River Ouse, but we chose to stay inside and soak up the atmosphere while writing postcards.

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The campus lake at the University of York.  If you’re not already following the Duck of the Day because of me, YOU ARE NOW!

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Because HA HA HA.

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Another pint, another pub.  I don’t even remember which one this was, though it was inside the historic medieval center.  We went to about ten pubs in York over two days.  And there are still several I want to take Eric back to visit!

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Also highly recommended is the Lamb and Lion Inn (above right), a 17th century building tucked right next to Bootham Bar and in the shadow of the Minster.  They also have great food.

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Late night Sainsbury’s run.  (We didn’t buy this.  We were there for the cheese and onion sandwiches.)

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The Minster Inn is a neighborhood Marston’s pub in an Edwardian building on Marygate, just outside the city wall, where we enjoyed a couple of pints in a tiny, secluded back garden.  This is a great choice to get away from the throngs of tourists, and they serve real ale, to boot.  I had the Marston’s Oyster Stout.  Mmm.  Ale.

So, maybe we spent more time sampling local ales than eating food while in York…  Priorities.

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Me and e. on the River Ouse at sunset. ❤

Those are just the food and beer pics.  To see how beautiful York really is, check out my Flickr set.

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Sunset on the River Ouse.

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This is the second post in the Great British Food Series.  Read Part One, London and Brighton.

The Great British Food Series: Part One, London and Brighton

I finally finished editing all the photographs from our recent trip to the United Kingdom (2,000 photos!), so here’s that belated UK food post I’ve been promising. I’m going to split it up into a few posts, because there are just too many pictures!

Our tour was June 22 through July 7, and included London, Brighton, Doncaster, York, Edinburgh, Bamburgh, Lindisfarne, Liverpool, and Chelmsford. I’ll explain why we went to each of these places as we explore their foods. I lived in England from September 2001 until June 2005, and only came back against my will. It’s a long story involving a terrible relationship, youthful stupidity, and lots of heartache; but my four years there were also filled with adventure, atmosphere, learning, and joy. I love the UK—especially England, and particularly York—and going back for the first time in eight years, after an abrupt departure, proved to be both a blast for me and Eric as tourists, and some much-needed (if expensive) closure for my 25-year-old self. Someday I’ll write more about that.

But right now, let’s talk about some mouth-watering British food!

People are wrong about British food. I already wrote a post about that a couple of years ago. British food is delicious, healthy, diverse, and filled with history. Did you know, for instance, that fish and chips originated with 17th-century Sephardic Jewish immigrants? Or, check out the history of kedgeree. Or, consider the many historic and delectable varieties of British cheese. I could go on.

Since it was Eric’s first trip to the UK, I made sure we hit all the high spots: fish and chips, giant Yorkshire pudding with roast beef, curry take-away, bangers and mash, real ale, hog roast, Mr Whippy… And, despite the fact that we walked six to eight miles per day, and drank mostly half pints, I actually gained six pounds. Oh, well!

A few quick thoughts before the photo essay: British food was as I remembered it, but more diverse and more consciously foodie. The farmers markets I remember from my time in London and York, for instance, now boast stalls selling kielbasa and injera, in addition to sausage rolls and cloudy cider (indeed, the Saturday market at Royal Festival Hall in Southwark was weirdly similar to the Mueller Farmer’s Market here in Austin, with its artisanal salumi and handmade soaps and stall holders with ironic tattoos of anthropomorphic foodstuffs). The Brits seem finally to have caught on to the quasi-religious experience that is Mexican food—there are now burrito chains everywhere, including Chipotle—but good luck finding a corn tortilla. Local breweries are experiencing a welcome resurgence, much like in the United States. We didn’t find the prices to be that ridiculous, which was a surprise. The bulk of the expense was airfare (especially because we could only go at the peak travel time of late June-early July). For me, the highlights of the trip were: Wimbledon (I’ve been watching for 30 years, and had never gone, despite living 20 miles away for three years); Lindisfarne (though we were only allotted one hour by our tour!); and taking Eric on a pub crawl in York. It was also wonderful to see so many old friends, including the fine folks with whom I used to work at Ottakar’s book store in Chelmsford, Essex.

Okay, grab a snack and get comfortable. Here goes.

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Upon arrival: espresso and Pan di Stelle. It should be noted that our hosts, Tess and Alex, lived in Bologna, Italy, for a while in the late 1990s. Lucky us.

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We wandered through the Saturday market at the Southbank Centre, stopping to grab some Polish sausage and sauerkraut sandwiches and beers. You can’t tell from this picture, but this sandwich was huge. Eric and I could barely finish it between the two of us.

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Southbank market pierogi stand. Eric tried one of these and reported favorably on its flavor profile. Ha ha.

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First stop: the Royal Festival Hall’s Queen Elizabeth Roof Garden, where we enjoyed some Curious Brew English lager and a view of the Thames, Westminster, and London Eye.

After that “snack,” we walked across Waterloo Bridge, down the Strand, and into Soho. Guess where we went first? It was kind of an accident. But maybe not really.

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Eric and Tess having some beer at the Dog and Duck Pub, Soho.

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Alex and me, being silly.

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Tess waiting for her tai yaki.

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Cream-filled fried dough in the shape of a fish. Yeah. Ha.

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Tess made us this warm and hearty baked sausage dish, with pork, caramelized onions, tomatoes, and herbs, baked in a tomato sauce. I’ve gotta try this!

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Served with green beans and a buttered jacket (baked) potato. Mmm.

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A proper fish and chip shop on the seafront, Brighton.

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Your friendly local fish and chip seller.

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Eric gets his first (hot) taste of authentic fish and chips. “Dog and Duck is just as good.”

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While in Brighton, we met up with my friend Andrea, whom I used to work with at Ottakar’s, in her native Essex. She moved to Brighton, but she’s still making movies! Bill’s is a small chain, and a pretty hip place. This is their own beer. We liked it.

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I liked this lemon drizzle cake that Alex ordered even better. That’s sour cream on top. If you know me, you know how I love sour cream. Delish!

With some time to kill before our 5:00pm train back to London, we decided to pop into a pub. The corner where we stood provided a view of no less than three pubs, all traditional in appearance.

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“Hey, let’s go to that pub!”

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Since Eric and I are suckers for anything with a whiff of history, we decided to check out the Battle of Trafalgar.

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Turned out, the Battle of Trafalgar was on the CAMRA 2013 Sussex Downs Ale Trail, and had a nice selection of real ales. Jackpot!

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This one was especially good.

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Back in London, I went full Essex and enjoyed a tall Stella, bag of cheese and onion crisps, and a Gavin and Stacey marathon. British television programming is still a thousand times better than ours, despite the infiltration of “reality” programming.

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I stayed up late into the night to make a batch of midnight sandwiches for our trip to Wimbledon. We knew we’d have to “queue up” for hours (we didn’t anticipate five and a half hours), and we wanted tasty but cheap food. So Alex bought some fixins, and I made a variety of sandwiches, cut into halves for easy grabbing and sharing: salami and provolone; cheese, onion, and chutney; ham and cheese; turkey and mayo. I made ten sandwiches and we ended up eating every single one! Sadly, we weren’t aware that both The Queue and Wimbledon itself were BYOB. You can take a six-pack or bottle of wine/champagne per person! People around us were popping open bottles of bubbly, and we only had blackcurrant squash and water.

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I made up for this oversight immediately upon entering the venue, by getting a Pimm’s! Believe it or not, I had never had Pimm’s before.

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And, of course, we also had to have strawberries and cream on Henman Hill.

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Well, that covers the foods of days one through three. Check out the second post: York. And then read the third post: Edinburgh.