Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Week 28: Eat, Travel, Shop

Dalston Open Air Market around the corner from James & Adric

Getting to London on Friday morning wasn't so easy. The Eurostar is prone to delay when the weather is inclement, as it was this past week. Luckily, we had chosen a travel weekend well before the holiday rush, so even though several trains were canceled due to snow, competition for available seats was not so stiff as to prevent our journey. In fact, we were able to leave on an earlier train, which in the end got us to London only a bit later than we had originally planned. The high speed train must slow way down when there is ice and snow.

We traveled with Emily, Jos and Quinn. The idea was to see James and Adric's new apartment and to celebrate a belated Thanksgiving together. Emily and Jos participate in a house exchange program which they have used several times. They were able to find a family in London who live in the same general neighborhood as James and wanted to spend the weekend in Paris, so they swapped houses. It worked out extremely well. It is a cost-free solution to world travel lodging!

The house where we stayed was in a wonderful neighborhood on a quiet street. We had a row house, very typical of London's residential areas. The houses, all connected, have tiny front yards and small backyards. They are built  tall, ours had three and a half levels, as well as a cellar, but rather narrow. The use of space is very efficient. We had a nice living room, game room, kitchen on the ground floor, a bathroom on the second floor, two bedrooms on a half floor above and a third bedroom and bath on the top floor. It was charming and entirely comfortable.

Row houses in Islington

Quinn was delighted with the quantity of toys in the house and enjoyed meeting the two family cats.

Quinn likes playing with Ziggy and Stardust, our host family's cats. They're more skeptical.

It was about a half hour walk to where James and Adric live, in the down-market quarter of Hackney called Dalston. It is an neighborhood not unlike Le Pré St. Gervais where Emily and Jos live, originally an industrial area that is becoming trendy as artists, students and bohemians move in. Old factories are converted into lofts and cute restaurants and shops pop up. There is a large outdoor market just around the corner from James' place which is bustling and exotic during the days, with lots of African, Caribbean and Turkish delicacies for sale. We saw a fox there one evening after hours. Apparently lots of foxes live in London.

A very urban school house in James' neighborhood

Hackney has beautiful old buildings


On our first evening in town we dinned at a very celebrated restaurant called Ottolenghi. The food was exactly to my liking. They serve small plates of ultra fresh and beautifully crafted food. There is a cookbook available with their specialties and an awesome blog and recipe web site for committed foodies. James knows the manager of one of the new Ottolenghi locations and will be working as a waiter there after the first of the year.

James, Adric and me at Ottolenghi Restaurant


Food and eating was certainly one of the major themes of the weekend. The Stoke Newington Farmer's Market was right around the corner from our row house. We visited it for last minute ingredients for our big Sunday evening feast, even though the temperature hovered around freezing.

Stoke Newington Farmer's Market (be sure to read the vendor's entertaining sign)

We also experienced lots of the public transportation options. London is enormous, more than twenty times the size of Paris! We traveled by train, the tube (with precipitous escalators that seem to plunge down to the center of the earth), and double-decker buses that drive on the wrong side of the road.

On the train into London

Riding the Tube

London buses are so much fun to ride

The train stations are beautiful


We did get a little sight-seeing and shopping in while visiting. My primary mission was to visit an art store where they sell certain supplies not easily found in France. The store was located in the West End, the theater district. Jos, who lived in London for over ten years and was a founding member of Theatre Complicité, made a great guide. He had lots of stories to relate about this neighborhood that he knows so well.

The West End

Neal's Yard was characterized by Jos as "the Haight-Ashbury of London." At least in the sixties and early seventies, it  was apparently the center of the hippie scene. I loved the vividly painted buildings.

London's Haight-Ashbury

Another thing one has to love about England are all the funny names. We decided that The White Hart is probably the most popular pub name, but a few others caught my eye.

Near Covent Garden

 One of London's many famous pubs

Shopping in the West End

Jos wanted to show us the Neal's Yard Cheese Company, the most celebrated cheese purveyor of the British Isles.  I had no idea there were so many gorgeous cheese varieties available.

Neal's Yard Dairy

Who says the British can't make cheese?


Theoretically, we were to share in the preparation for our Thanksgiving dinner, but in the end, other than chopping a few vegetables and washing some dishes, James did the lion's share, including choosing the menu, gathering the materials and cooking most of the dishes. Emily prepared a cranberry sauce and relish. 

The menu included:

Cider Brined and Glazed Turkey 
Apple, Sausage, and Parsnip Stuffing with Fresh Sage
Cran-orange Chutney with Cumin, Fennel, and Mustard Seeds
Cranberry Apricot Sauce
Potato and Fennel Mash with Jerusalem Artichokes
Runner Beans and Kale with Almonds, Smoked Paprika and Garlic
Roasted Red Onions with Pomegranate, Orange, and Parsley Gremolata 
Pumpkin Pie with Brown Sugar Walnut Topping
Bramley Apple Pie with Cheddar Crust

 Cooks at work

Gluten-free and normal stuffing variations

Two beautiful and delicious pies made by James


As well as the seven of us, James invited Omar and his girlfriend Laura to dinner. James met Omar at school, and we know him well, as he participated in the theater festival which Emily directed for several years. He was born in Dubai, grew up in Italy, studied in Paris and is now working in and around London.

Omar and Laura

Quinn dressed up and we all enjoyed an incredible dinner. 

Quinn, looking smart for Thanksgiving

The extended weekend was over far too quickly. We returned to Paris on Monday evening and stayed over in Paris. The voyage between the two great cities has become very convenient. We hope and expect to visit London often in the next few years.


  1. This was a beautiful post to wake up and read on a Sunday morning! So many beautiful images and happy discoveries! I wish I were in London to hit up Neal's Yard-the cheese is that good!!! HAPPY HOLIDAYS!

  2. Love travel through Europe & GB with you. Your Thanksgiving menu sounds sooo good!
    Have a wonderful Holiday season!!

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