Category Archives: Life in the UK

Looking Around Lichfield

A few weeks ago, we took a “staycation” and ended up doing more sightseeing and exploring than we have done on many trips to far more distant locales. It was fabulous. I’ll be writing it all up (been slack on that, I know) but in the meantime, a summation of our day trip to Lichfield, Staffordshire, UK. That’s without a “t” for those of you who might confuse it with Litchfield, CT.

It was as lovely as I had heard it would be. The people were delightful, the cathedral impressive and full of helpful guides, the streets and sidewalks almost bizarrely tidy and we experienced what may have been the world’s greatest chips at Pom’s Kitchen & Deli.

Until I get a chance to go into more detail, have some pics from one of the lovelier days (all pics courtesy of and belong to dungeekin, Modern Parlance’s fave photog)

Spring has Sprung in Banbury!

According to Tennyson, ‘In the Spring a young man’s fancy lightly turns to thoughts of love’ – and that’s as may be but come Spring, this girl’s fancy turns to long walks, farmer’s markets, the garden and cheese.  At TransAtlantic Towers, we can tell that Spring has sprung because we have been replanting beds in the garden. Behold!

newbed_sideview

Between that, the fruit trees – we now have five! – and the “herb potting” marathon we have planned for next weekend, I feel very seasonal. Spring planting in NYC was more a case of sweeping the balcony off, cleaning the chairs and moving the jade plants back outside. Not that there’s anything wrong with that – it was a lovely spot, as you can see below, and I enjoyed it thoroughly.

balcony

I do miss having jade plants but we just do not have the right window for them here for wintering.

Another thing I miss about NYC in Spring – the ‘long walks’ season along the river. And when I say long, I mean long. It was not unknown for me to go from 72nd & 1st over to 110 & West End then turn down along the River to the Village all in one go. Still, plenty of walks around here – more rural than urban, of course but no complaints there.  I have a lovely canal to walk along here in Banbury.

banbury_canal

In theory, I could follow the canal and walk from here in Banbury to Oxford though I think that’s a bit far even for me. I’ll break it into sections, thanks very much and tackle it that way. Luckily, walking is a bit thing around here and the local council even produces a set of scenic walk brochure/maps for some of the more popular ones. So does the Walking in Oxfordshire website. All downloadable and free!

Spring is also when I once more became a frequenter of those staples of the Manhattan street scene – I love  the ‘one of a kind’ or ‘not often seen’ items you get at the outdoor markets. One of my favorite regular days out when in NYC is the Union Square market – the best place to get apples in all of Manhattan – or (if I can’t be bothered to go that far) the St. Stephen’s Market up on 82nd.

Union-Square-Fall

Luckily, Banbury comes up trumps for me there as well.  The canal walk will wait until we’ve had a few more days of good weather so the footpath can dry out a bit more but the weekly markets are only a short, dry stroll away.

Banbury has two markets – the Banbury charter market on Thursdays and Saturdays then the farmer’s market on the first Friday of every month. Both markets take place in – wait for it – the Market Place. There’s also an additional antiques market that runs along side the charter market on the 2nd Thursday of each month.  I’d also seen news that an artisan cheesemonger would have a stall for the first time. I love living in a place where the word cheese monger in in common usage. And so as this past Thursday was a 2nd Thursday and the weather was fine, I figured it was worth a wander in.

And I was right! I mean look at that fruit and veg!

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    market3a

market4a

I also scored the most amazing pair of cheeses from Curds & Whey, the cheesemongers. Well, they were amazing and so are these cheese: a black truffle cheese and an extremely mature gouda. That black truffle cheese is going to be made into an extra special risotto tonight.

cheeses

Rather than rush immediately home with my score, I also decided to check out the antiques market and see what the percentage of antique to junktique they had. And by saying so – I am in NO WAY dismissing junktique items as worthy. Some of my favorite things are such things. “Junktique’ – by my definition – is that which is old, vintage-y and/or perhaps something someone else would have just tossed. Not garbage by any means – just not ACTUALLY antiques. And I have to say, I saw quite a lot of things I might have picked up if I wasn’t walking home with two ENORMOUS wedges of cheese and a tiger bread baguette (and let me give a two thumbs up to Isla Jane Bakery for that AMAZING bread) .

junktique1

junktiqueA

There will more on the delights of Spring in Banbury to come but that will have to wait – for I have some cheese to indulge in.

Banbury’s Foodie Landscape

I’ve mentioned previously (quite a while back and I apologize for the delay) that one of the things we most love doing here in TransAtlantic Towers (as I always did back in NYC), is a bit of culinary exploring.

We discovered the delights of Daylesford Farm, I’ve talked about some of our favourite eateries and food shops in the area in Boppin’ Around Banbury, and mentioned some of the historical places to grab a bit in Bits and Bobs About Banbury.

But a new fabulous foodie find – Bakergirl – has brought me back to you once more.

breakfast_bakergirl

Looks yummy, right? Well, hop on over the my food blog – Fabulous Foodie and share the delights of a morning bun (think super light and delicious cinnamon roll but not), fantastic coffee and a space that would make a New York Real Estate agent weep for the commissions that might have been.

bakergirl_interior

Bakergirl Bakery in Banbury  is my first review of the growing and increasingly impressive foodie scene in Banbury.

 

Bits and Bobs About Banbury

Get Out & Explore,” Apartment Therapy said as part of their Guide to the Perfect Summer. As one of their prompts, they asked “What is Your City’s History?”

Well, there I had a dilemma of sorts. I could have done NYC (where I lived for decades) or Houston (where I grew up) or Banbury (where I live now). Upon reflection, I decided that New York City’s history had been done many times over and by far better folks than I. Houston’s history probably has too but as I recall its origins lie somewhere between a swamp and a land swindle, which while it SOUNDS good isn’t exactly edifying.

So – Banbury. And of the three, it is by far the oldest so I have lots of information I can play with. Being an American who a) travels extensively and b) lives in the UK, I am frequently in the position of being in places older than my entire home country. It entertains me as I “bop around Banbury.” Possibly I find these things more interesting than the locales as a result. After all, they live with it all the time.

Did I say old? You bet. I present the facts as I find them:

  • Founded : Iron Age. In 2002, the remains of a British Iron Age settlement were found – including buildings dating back to 200 BC
  • First settlers: If we mean a proper settlement – what we might consider approaching village or town status and not just a scattering of Iron Age circular dwellings – then the Saxons. 500 AD or so. The spelling as changed quite a few times since then (it was ‘Banesberie’ in Domesday) but the town’s name originates with the Saxons –  “Banna,” a 6th century Saxon chieftain  and “burgh” which means settlement.
  • Oldest Building: Well, apparently huge areas of town were wiped out in a fire in 1628 so only a handful would qualify I suppose. The Old Auctioneer pub (1570) describes itself as “the third oldest building in Banbury, having survived the great fire of 1628.” Guess I’ll have to find out about the other two.
  • Oldest Building, Take Two: Take your pick, really. Ye Olde Reinedeer Inn says they are the oldest pub In Banbury and that parts of the building (largely post English Civil War) date back as far as the medieval period. The Globe Room at the Reindeer is a panelled room which is of “historical significance” from an English Civil War perspective. Cromwell used as a base of sorts while laying siege to Banbury Castle (the last of several on the spot of the same name) and several Royalist trials were held there. When the original paneling was removed in 1912 (for shipment to a museum – it was later returned), a double barrel pistol was found behind it and it had an inscription that read, “Presented to Dick Turpin at the White Bear Inn, Drury Land Feb 7, 1735”

reindeer_inn

Globe Room at Reindeer Inn

  • Oldest Building, Take Three and Four: St. John’s Priory School in Priory Road is reputed to be all that is left of the Hospital of St. John the Baptist, founded early in the 13th century so that’s one contender for oldest building in Banbury. And if the markings on the Wine Shop are to be trusted (it says 1537), that’s another.

stjohns2

old_wine_shop

So my conclusion is that Banbury is full of Very Olde Things that predate New York and Houston by ages. It even had a castle – the not so imaginatively named Banbury Castle. Which survived (in one form or another) in place until Cromwell laid siege to it. Castle Quay shopping center now stands on on that spot.

Just an insight into life at TransAtlantic Towers – when I saw that Castle Quay sits on the site of Banbury Castle, I turned to Dungeekin and remarked that if I were Cromwell besieging said castle, I’m not sure putting my base for that a few doors down at the Reindeer Inn would be strategically sound. “Shouldn’t it be,” I suggested, “SLIGHTLY at a distance?” This led to a discussion of historical battle tactics – as it does. At least, it does here.

And yes, Banbury is the same Banbury from the English nursery rhyme “Ride a Cock Horse to Banbury Cross

Ride a cock horse to Banbury Cross,
To see a Fyne lady ride on a white horse.
With rings on her fingers and bells on her toes,
She shall have music wherever she goes.

And that – as they say, is that. I shall definitely have to stop in again at some of these spots next time I venture into the town centre. These are just a few of the buildings that have caught my eye on piqued my interest but now I know a bit more about them, I may need to dig a bit deeper into some of the others pictured below.

sweetshoppe

coal_coke

cargo

abraxas


Sources:

  • History of Banbury on Wikipedia: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/History_of_Banbury
  • Banbury-Cross Website http://www.banbury-cross.co.uk/banhistory.htm
  • http://www.british-history.ac.uk/report.aspx?compid=63789
  • http://www.localhistories.org/banbury.html
  • http://www.bbc.co.uk/oxford/features/2004/09/secret_oxford_01.shtml
  • http://www.banbury.gov.uk/Banbury-Town-Council/history__and__traditions-5569.aspx
  • http://www.banburymarketplace.co.uk/the-old-town/
  • http://www.britishlistedbuildings.co.uk/england/oxfordshire/banbury/map
  • http://www.hooky.co.uk/content/our-pubs/reindeer-inn-banbury.ashx
  • http://timesmachine.nytimes.com/timesmachine/1912/07/18/100543292.html
  • http://www.ye-olde-reinedeer-inn-banbury.co.uk/pages/the-globe-room.php

Echoes of Gotham

Lots happening, lots happening and that is – in part – why there has been a delay since my last post. More details to come on all that but in the meantime, I went to Scotland on a road trip and look what I found!

newyork_villagesign_blog

Hilarious! Not in Scotland (we hadn’t gotten there at that point in the trip) but on the way up via Scarborough. Also on the way up, I found a bookstore that had me homesick for The Strand (though I admit, this one had a lovely cafe as well and the space was spectacular. It’s called Barter Books in Alnwick  and I can’t recommend it highly enough.

barterbookblog
I’ll be posting some more details on the roadtrip soon but I just HAD to share these two finds.

Gettin’ in the Grind @ TransAltantic Kitchen

Well, it has happened. Dungeekin has purchased a spice grinder. He had talked of doing so for some time, looking at various manual and electric versions. We even seriously considered buying a vintage one we saw at Brackley Antique Cellar but determined that parts of it would never be able to be cleaned properly due to age and delicacy and it was best left as a decorative item.

Brackley is one of my favorite places to go on a lazy weekend – I always used to go wander the Manhattan flea markets (and Brooklyn on days I felt like getting up earlier) but the boot sales here aren’t quite the same. A much higher percentage of what is referred to here as “tat” at the boot sales. Antique Fairs are more the thing but the prices are ABSURD. Even at the NYC flea markets you could find a bargain or two. Anyway – Brackley is one of those large spaces with various dealers taking space within in. Wide range of stuff and an equally wide price range. When Spring comes and the herb garden gets re-established for the warmer weather, I’m going to Brackely to grab some crates and wire mesh stuff. I made quite a respectable start on the herbs last year. I have PLANS for this year.

This visit the garden stuff would wait because this time I found an awesome cast iron pig – a smaller, darker colored version of one I already had and dirt cheap. Isn’t he ADORABLE?

pigs!

So – anyway. Spice Grinders. We went back to the idea of a new one and as we were headed over to PuddingFace Coach and Horses for lunch (our new favorite home town place), we stopped by our local cookware shop, Abraxas – Banbury. We love browsing in Abraxas and very often end up finding something we need or want even if we didn’t know it. We’re not gadget hounds or anything – the size of the kitchen is good but doesn’t give us room for whirly-gigs that we don’t REALLY need. But the shop is chock full of the useful as well as the aspirational (not to mention knowledgeable and helpful staff) so we end up doing our part of the local economy 🙂

This time was no exception – they didn’t have a huge range of grinders but as we looked at the one we thought would suit us the best, we chatted with one of the staff who we’ve chatted with before – another American in Banbury as it happens (though she’s obviously been here longer than I have). She also uses a spice grinder at home and once she said she got a decently fine grind on fenugreek, Dungeekin was sold. I really MUST get her name next time – she is always helpful, clearly cooks quite a bit herself and can speak from first hand experience about a lot of the items in the store.

As soon as we got home – out came the spices and the grinding began. The fenugreek was first and the spice grinder delivered just as we were told it would. Spice mixes began happening at a far greater rate than they had happened before (he loves the mortar and pestle but it DOES take time with some of these harder whole spices.

The man is spice mad. In a good way.

spice_cab

Speaking of which – we also made a “spice run” into town on Sunday and it never ceases to amaze me how much more “bang for the buck” you get going to the small oriental grocers for some things. There must be such places in Manhattan but I never came across them somehow. I don’t mean Kalustyan’s on Lex. That I know about and it’s HUGE! I mean smaller, stuck in corner places that look TEENY from the outside but end up being massively well stocked inside. They must be down in Chinatown – or out in Queens?

And finally –  I just discovered that George Washington was born 20 minutes from TransAtlantic Towers. I guess there really is no getting away from those “George Washington Slept Here” signs.

The Delicious Delights of Daylesford

When I was living in New York City, I always made a point of popping in at the greenmarkets – usually the Union Square Farmer’s Market as it’s quite sizable and meant I was almost sure to find something I wanted but occasionally at the smaller ones. There was one in a school yard – on 70th or 69th between 1st and York, quite close to home that I perused now and again. There was some quite good bread there but the jams and veggies at Union Square always drew me back down there.

Of course, it’s a bit far for me to go these days but I have a new version of “going to the greenmarket” and that is “popping to the farm shop. I’d seen mention of Daylesford Farm Shop and wanted to check it out so – as we had a free day and it’s only a short drive (the area is AWASH in farm shops), off we went. It’s a whole complex – farm shop, cafe, cookery school, “wellness center” and it was all beautifully laid out and presented. The prices for some stuff – not everything – made us gasp but it was top notch stuff, no question and while I wouldn’t do my regular shop there, that’s not what it’s for. It’s special occasion, company is coming stuff.

dayles

GORGEOUS stuff and very well thought out. The prepared stuff looked delicious as well. The bakery almost had me at hello. As did the world’s most gorgeous brioche. Next time I’ll fill you in on some of the more “everyday” farm shops but this was too yummy a visit not to share.

Size Matters: US/UK Housing Edition

This is one of those posts that is focused on the “… and beyond” part of Greater Gotham. It’s been a busier year of moving, bedding in and – not unsurprisingly decorating. Moving from an apartment into a house usually means you don’t have NEARLY enough furniture from the former to fill the latter. But in this case, because I moved from the US to the UK, space didn’t work out that way. Why? UK houses are smaller than your average American expects.  A few years ago, the BBC had an article on JUST this point. In brief, average home sizes around the world work out something like this:

  • US: 2,300sf
  • Australia: 2,217sf
  • Denmark: 1,475sf
  • France: 1,216sf
  • Spain: 1,044sf
  • Ireland: 947sf
  • UK: 818sf

So if I’d been moving from a New York City apartment into a house and if both of those places were in the US, I might well have found myself wandering around in empty, furniture-less rooms. Even if, as was the case, my apartment was a pretty good sized two bed for Manhattan (approx 1190 sq ft). But I wasn’t moving within the US. I moved to the UK and the furniture from my two bedroom, 1190 sq ft apartment filled my 4 bed (they called it a 5 bed but we’ll debate that later) up quite nicely.

Other things that I had to wrap my head around (and which watching years of decorating shows prepared me for) – the closet issue. Now, my apartment in New York had closets, having been built only 20 some odd years ago but I knew plenty of people who lived in older, mostly pre-war apartments who struggled with one closet or no closets. The creativity displayed in the face of the adversity was tremendous and I salute everyone who carved a closet out of a niche, organized entire wardrobes into under bed bins or found ways to make their clothing part of the decor.

Closets in the UK? Not so much. I was told this was because back in the days of yore, no one used them and the more recent lack of closets was down to square footage. “Closets,” I was told, “made the rooms smaller.” This is true. You know what else makes rooms smaller? HUGE WARDROBES. Don’t get me wrong – I knew exactly what to expect so I didn’t actually say that. I kept it to myself. But I know a lot of the real estate agents got very nervous when they heard the American accent and thought “Oh here we go – it’s gonna be an afternoon of size complaints.”  But I assured them I knew the score and all proceeded well. As it happened, I lucked out and settled on a house described as a 5 bed but which any sane person would call a 4 bed with an odd shaped room that could only theoretically have a bed of any kind in it. That room (to stretch the boundaries of the word) became my closet. I have generously given over the enormous closet IN the master bedroom to my husband.

dressing

But wait – I hear you cry. What enormous closet in the master bedroom? Weren’t you just complaining about a lack of closets? Yes I was. But not in the extension the previous owners put in. Lots of storage in the master bedroom (now master suite after a handy dandy door move). But the other 3 bedrooms? Sans closet. Well, OK – one has an airing cupboard so the linens have a home and I have a guest room with no enclosed hanging space. But never mind – guests are made comfortable (IKEA hacked some hanging space and embraced over-door hooks) but not TOO comfortable thus ensuring that they depart before taking root. 🙂

One more thing. This whole single/double bedroom business. It’s a bedroom or it isn’t. It might be a small bedroom but as most of these “single bedrooms” also lack a closet and require some sort of storage furniture as a result, these rooms would be more accurately labeled closets. Try turning this bug into a feature (as my software developer friends would say). You might find people LIKE houses with closets.

Outdoor Living: NYC v Banbury

Now, I don’t want the title of the this post to give the impression that this is some sort of gardening showdown. It is most assuredly not. It’s more ‘interested musing’ than ‘pointedly comparing and contrasting.’ After all, to compare a balcony on the upper east side to a back garden in the burbs of Banbury is like comparing apples to – well, not even oranges but a canteloupe.

balcony2

That said, each of those spaces

  • served and serve as an extension of the living space of the house,
  • were just the right size to satisfy my need for outdoor space without pressuring me into undertaking more “greenthumbing” than I was comfortable with.

I am not a gardener. I don’t plan out planting beds or deck out my deck out with pots galore. But I like a neat and tidy outdoor space where I can entertain or relax with a cup of coffee and a book.

I was hugely lucky in NYC that I had a balcony big enough to use in that way – though the streets of Manhattan aren’t (I admit) the most soothing view. It faced a relatively quite street, was high enough that I wasn’t being peered at by nearby windows and the when opened up, the balcony made my living room a really exceptional space.

My back yard here in Banbury was also a lucky find. It’s not at all overlooked (except for the far corner). It’s not too big – so my lack of skill or interest in gardening ’causes no real problems and not too small, offering a nice sized square of lawn, hedges along two sides and a lovely large deck big enough for a dining table and chairs plus armchair and BBQ grill. The double doors leading out to the yard also mean that the yard works as an entertain extension for the kitchen.

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When I packed up all my belongings and sent them across the Atlantic, I gave my lounge chair and outdoor rug to a friend with an even bigger balcony (his was more a roof deck, lucky sod) but I did bring two things with:

  • the faux wicker arm chair (real wicker goes bad – faux wicker is forever and was one of the world’s great bargains when Home Depot put them on sale)
  • the cast iron bistro set. It currently serves two purposes. One chair and table make what was a covered storage area into more of a lounge and the other chair serves as an elegant cat perch for when Miss Thing (our resident feline overlord) wishes to survey her domain from something lower than the garden wall.

balcony

I have a confession to make – much as I loved my little urban oasis, my city balcony… I am relishing the chance to really make the back garden here a PROPER outdoor room. Not in the sense that I need an outdoor rug as I did in Manhattan (though if you want to define your deck or balcony as a room city-dwellers, I can recommend nothing more impactful than finding a good, nice looking outdoor indoor rug) but in that it is laid out attractively, with conversation spaces and gathering spots like a really well thought out living room. I love the fact that we have space for herbs – I am not and have no intention of growing beds of my own veg or compete with the local florist for the best and brightest blooms. But herbs? They are useful, inexpensive and easy to grow. We started ours in the kitchen window sill and a year later, they thrive outdoors regardless of the weather. I also love the fact that I can have a BBQ grill. This was VERBOTEN in Manhattan. I totally understood why but it’s nice to be in a position to have one once again.

My current outdoor punch list includes:

  • pottinggrabbing a nice potting bench and a few marble cutting boards to create a proper cook’s workspace near the grill.  Yes, I could splash a bunch of cash on an outdoor kitchen set up or a stainless steel grilling trolley but why? Garden centers have nice solid potting benches made to sit outdoors, made of wood so I can easily add some hooks for hanging utensiles and baskets within easy reach. Thinking this one (right) from homebase might be just the ticket. £29.99? Perfect. And the marble cutting boards? A mere pittance (£8 last time I checked) at the dollar store/pound shop and the very definition of long lasting;
  • Taking all those small pots of herbs and put them in a nice, tidy slightly raised planing bed. This has the dual benefit of a) neatening the area up and b) making it easier to ignore the bricks that may or may not need re-pointing on that low wall. I know there are kits around but I wish they weren’t so pricey. I mean, how hard is it to build a BOX? I may need to see if there’s a hack somewhere I can use;
  • rip out the badly placed evergreen shrubs that offend my sense of symmetry in addition to being in the way of my future herb bed;
  • reposition the even more badly places stepping stones that create a walk way around the edges of the yard. We’ll end up with extras but maybe we can use them along the side of the house where the root ball from the  “buddleia from hell” remains, awaiting removal. Once removed, we’ll level it out and put them in their for easier access;
  • put in a few solar lights so the place isn’t PITCH dark once night falls

Boppin’ Around Banbury

The news from Gotham these days is usually “It’s cold.” Therefore I am focusing slightly less on Gotham in this post (since we all know it’s cold and there’s not a lot we can do about it) and more on the global. As you know, I’m still very much in “explore mode” out here in the northern end of Oxfordshire so I thought I’d give you a quick run down of what and where I’ve been lately. Might as well start close to home and both these local highlights are a 10-15 slow stroll from my own front door.

veritas Had fab birthday dinner early this month at Veritas Wine Bar and Bistro.*  We both thoroughly enjoyed our starters (he had the mussels and I had the grilled goat cheese) and both of us had the Poulet Napoléon which was outstanding. The chicken and chorizo were delicious – the chicken in particular was the very definition of tender. The sauce as as smooth as any sauce I’ve had anywhere in the world and the pasta was cooked to perfection. As it was a special occasion, I treated myself to a special after dinner hot chocolate – the After Eight. This is a particularly strong combination of hot chocolate, Baileys, Crème de Menthe & Cream – and won’t be to everyone’s taste. But if you are a chocolate and mint fan, it’s a must!

booksandinkAlso – I continue to be enjoy the shops in the town centre. Hugely enjoy Books & Ink Bookshop whenever I stop it. It’s one of those used bookstores that has enough little corners and turns to make the browsing feel like a treasure hunt and while roomy enough for the browsing to be comfy and not crowded, it’s still a small enough shop in a slightly out of the way location that so you feel it’s a little discovery in and of itself.

abraxasThere a whole slew of awesome eateries shops in Banbury – even ignoring the not inconvenient presence of the Castle Quay shopping center, which I shall ignore as we all know what shopping centers are about and while useful they are not hugely interesting. I’ll go into more detail about some of these soon – including

  • Abraxas Cookshop (which is a gadget lovers dream)
  • Cafe Mocha (which has one of the best mochas I’ve ever had – their bacon sandwich isn’t bad either)
  • Pinto Lounge (where brunch is properly brunch)
  • Betts Butchers (which is old school and awesome as only a butcher can be)
  • Sugar Rush Sweets (where I get my fix of American sodas like root beer and Pibb).

But that’s for another post (or sets of posts). Right now I’m off to Warwickshire to see a man about a castle.

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* (Ed. Sad to say Veritas is now closed)