Missing My Girl At Christmas

Miranda, Asda, ComedyI knew it would be hard to live so far from my daughter when I moved to the UK and I knew there would be times when it would be more difficult, but must the Universe feel compelled to send me constant reminders at Christmas!

There’s a comedian here in the UK who shares my daughter’s name and this holiday season there seem to be television commercials and signs for her everywhere. It makes me want to shout, ‘Enough!’

My Miranda is never far from my thoughts. I generally have a photograph of her as my screen saver on my laptop and images and reminders of her are scattered throughout the house as well.

I won’t bore you with all of them, but some of my favorites are in the photos below. They’re mostly a few quick snaps from this morning taken in a way to avoid the dust and pre-Christmas mess so be advised they’re not my best work.

This photo was taken by my brother-in-law, Leon when Miranda was not much more than one. It’s the first thing I see when I walk into my studio space.

I had this copy of one of my favorite pictures of me with Miranda put on canvas last summer. It was pre-digital and the best copy I could find so it could not be reproduced any larger and keep the sharpness. I love seeing this when I do my hair and makeup in front of the mirror in the hall of my studio.

I have a more recent of photo of Miranda on my desktop, but I try not to put any taken too recently on the blog to give her a smidge of privacy. She was in a friend’s wedding last month and looked so pretty in her role as maid of honor that I wanted to post it, but not without discussing it first.

She made this when she was in pre-school or kindergarten and it sits in an old piece of furniture I rescued years ago from a barn on my grandmother’s property.

I keep a dresser tucked behind the sliding glass doors in my studio that house my closet or wardrobe as they would call it here. ( More can be seen in this post )

It’s here that I keep a few bowls that Miranda made me when she was a little girl and there are some cards from her and photos as well.

The puppy pic is her precious boy and the picture below is from our mother-daughter camp days.

 These dusty images are next to the bed and the bookmark is one she gave me about five years ago.

This was from a Christmas photo taken in 2009. It was my only other Christmas without her and I used a big bowl she painted when she was young to give us an angel in the dining area here. The ornament was only there for the holiday.

Angel Bowl I went through a big angel phase about twelve years ago and Miranda really made me smile when she made this gift for me.

I like to keep a favorite photo of Miranda in the kitchen and I see it every time I come into the house as we almost always enter through the kitchen door.

She’s twelve in this photo taken in Paris when we went for the Millennium New Year in 2000.

Finally, here’s a shot from when I tried to grow Sweet-Peas in the back garden because it was my nickname for her when she was a baby. I need to add that I’m not known for my gardening skills and my poor plants did not flourish or even sprout.

Miranda’s work keeps her too busy to visit during the month of December and she has little time for much else until January. I think next year I may suggest that I fly to see her in January and so we can celebrate Christmas on January 6th, the original date for early Christians.

Anyone else out there having to get creative about how they see family during holiday celebrations?  

More Than Just Turkey – An American Expat Explains Thanksgiving

Turkey & The Trimmings

Since moving to England, I’ve had to explain a few American holidays with Thanksgiving being one. There seems to be a lot of confusion here about why we celebrate it and what it is exactly.

Most people know about the turkey, but not much more than that.  A young woman asked me the other day if it’s like Christmas for Americans only without the gifts.

Suppressing a laugh, I said there were no presents at Thanksgiving and that like others who celebrate Christmas, we save our gifts for the tree, not the turkey.

I told her about the early settlers and how fortunate the Pilgrims were to be fed by the Native Americans when there wasn’t enough food to go around.

I talked about how it’s a celebration of family by most and a gathering of people who sit down to tables loaded with memories created from family recipes passed down through generations.

I forgot to mention how it’s football and alcohol and a chance to over-indulge in more than just food for some folks.

I didn’t say much about the thanks in Thanksgiving or how we talk about gratitude and blessings, generally sharing some of what we’re grateful for before the first fork is lifted.

I didn’t say how it feels to be so far from my other home on days like these or how we really do exchange gifts in a way although not the kind that can be purchased from a favorite store.

I should have talked about the gifts of memory that are mixed in with the pie and family favorites, and the stories of loved ones long gone who come alive for a moment when we remember them, especially when we join hands with those sitting next to us, bow our heads and give thanks.

Most Americans, with me included, tend to make a big to-do about the turkey and the trimmings, but in the end I think we just want a little more time with those we love and whether it’s in person, or in memory, Thanksgiving forces us to focus on what really matters.

Happy Thanksgiving to friends and family who celebrate this day.

If you have a gift of memory you’d like to share, I’d love to read about it. Please leave a link if you have one on your blog today or tell us a family favorite that comes up each year. 

A Sweet Send Off At Sublime Doughnuts In Atlanta

Sublime Doughnuts In Atlanta Georgia

I know it may seem strange to follow the previous post about spinning and weight loss with one about my favorite place to go for doughnuts, but hey, like most people I’m striving for balance and my balanced life has to include doughnuts. So … let me show you what I was doing this morning while the rest of you were having your oatmeal and fruit cups.

Within walking distance to my home in Atlanta, there is place that sells a sweet treat so mouth-watering that you’ll be planning your next visit while you’re still licking the crumbs of your last bite from your fingertips.

In the photo above you can see what I sampled this morning. I had a Caramel Apple Fritter which had been my number one until I tried something called a Chocolate Wildberry Fritter that I laughingly described to my friend Kimberly as a Chocolate ” Crackberry ” Fritter because it was so good I thought I might easily become addicted.

The Red Velvet Cake doughnut was tasty and sweet, but after polishing off the Caramel Apple Fritter and half of the Crackberry, I mean Chocolate Wildberry, all I could manage was a bite-size slice of the Red Velvet Cake doughnut and wrapped up the rest to share later with my daughter.

I was already living in the UK when Kamal Grant decided to put his creative culinary skills, education, and experience to use in a business of his own called Sublime Doughnuts and while his success is no surprise to those who flock to savor the fresh-all-day treats, you might be surprised to learn that he opened Sublime Doughnuts when he was only 28. You have to admire a man who leaves a good job in down economy and cashes in his 401K to go after a dream.

Chef Kamal Grant - Owner Of Sublime Doughnuts

He’s had loads of well deserved awards and great reviews and I found that success hasn’t gone to his head as he graciously posed for pictures not once, but twice with me this morning. I was having a photo snapped with him when my friend Kimberly Krautter arrived and after she and I had a chance to eat doughnuts and catch up, we took a few more shots with Kamal to remember the day.

Kimberly and I were students in the Theatre Department at the University of Georgia in the 80s and had not seen each other since 1987. She’s been pretty busy following her own dreams and you can learn more about her by clicking on her name.

Elizabeth Harper & Kimberly Krautter with Doughnut Wizard, Chef Kamal Grant - Owner Of Sublime Doughnuts

I’m in Marietta for a few last days packing my life into more bags than I arrived with when my plane landed in April. I’ve managed to accumulate quite a bit of stuff during my unexpected extended stay, but I just might have room for a few doughnuts for the plane if I can convince my daughter to stop on our way to the airport early next week. I think I can find a bit of room to carry them on the plane, but the real question might be will they last long enough to arrive?

Spinning For England

Elizabeth Back In Her Spinning Days (Note My Smaller Size)

When my husband John wants to say someone is a champion at whatever activity they are engaged in, he uses the expression “ ________ for England!”  You can fill in the blank with what ever works for you. The other day we were discussing his childhood and he said his younger brother could sleep for England when he was a kid and I thought of that this morning after my spin class.

Spin class! I know you’re probably thinking, what is Elizabeth talking about and where is she? I’m still in Atlanta with what looks like a summer here before me and while I’m doing more than just trying to diminish the extra girth gained during my halcyon days of sausage, chips and egg meals in Cornwall, getting fit has also become a priority.

While I wouldn’t exactly admit to eating for England, I have put some real effort into sampling a variety of food combinations I would have likely avoided while living in the US. Before moving to Cornwall, I generally counted fat grams like a deep-sea diver would the remaining air in her tanks, but I will admit that sometimes I strayed from the path on my own so I can’t blame it all on my move to the UK.

I found my inner baker in Cornwall as some of the folks in my village could tell you and I discovered that sharing whatever I was whipping up in the kitchen with my neighbors was better alternative than freezing it for later. Anyone with a decent sized sweet tooth can tell you that frozen cookies taste almost as good going down as those eaten hot out of oven. You just have to exercise a bit of caution so you don’t chip a tooth as you sneak a cold one on your way past the freezer.

Poor John has more than a time or two gone in search of a little home-baked goody he saw go into the deep freeze only to discover after a through search of the contents, that some cookie monster had been there before him.

Going back what I said earlier about spinning … to maintain my sanity while I am sweltering through endless days of temperatures in the high 90s, I’ve joined a local gym so I can spin on their bikes in classes designed to work the weight right off your backside and other tubby places.

So far, it’s been great!  The instructor said this morning that I was doing really well and that my body seemed to have good muscle memory. I know she meant that I had picked it back up as if I’d not been away from it for so long, but it’s actually been about seven years since I was on a spin bike with any real consistency.

Thank goodness my muscles can remember what a good workout feels like because I think I had pretty much forgotten. That said, I am loving the classes and as John might say, “ I’m spinning for England! “

And just in case you’re wondering … I’m down seven pounds so far and my cycle shoes haven’t even arrived from Cornwall yet.

Saying No To Pork Pies And Other Meaty Topics

John Thinking Of A Roast Pork Dinner

Let me begin by saying that while I am not a vegetarian, I do tend to eat far less meat than most people I know, and will usually order a non-meat dish when having a meal out. I don’t mind chicken so much if I don’t have to cook it first, but if I have to handle raw meat, I struggle to get it down later. I think I’m best described as someone who likes to pretend that meat is grown in the garden along side the cauliflower and the peas. (two of my least favorite veggies)

There are some generous people in our village who like to share their wealth when it comes to a good hunting day and one man in particular who frequently offers me fresh rabbit and pheasant for the ‘ soup pot. ‘  I always decline politely and he must think me an odd one passing up fresh game. Even if he gave it to me cleaned of fur or feathers, I know I would not be able to manage a bite.

I even have trouble with the smell of some meats as they cook and John very courteously closes the kitchen door when he has a taste for one of the cute creatures below. Cuteness can have an impact on my digestive capabilities and I would not be able to get past the memory of the pink eared smiling lamb pictured below. John always jokes about mint sauce when I linger on a walk to photograph sheep, but we both know it’s not really a joke to him.

Smiling Sheep (Click Twice To Enlarge)

Last night we had some sausages made by a neighbor who provided regular Facebook updates on her growing piggies from point of purchase as piglets, to turning them into sausages for the skillet. John bought some not long ago and last night cooked them for dinner in a chili/veggie/ pasta stir-fry.

While it was a tasty meal, I ended up pushing most of the meat to the side. I knew too much about those pigs and could not pretend that I was eating something other than what it was. I do sometimes enjoy sausages with eggs, but I don’t like to cook them myself and they must be over-cooked to the point of being crunchy.

The photos below are not the pigs I mentioned earlier, but I can’t help but think of these porkers when considering a bacon butty or a pork pie for lunch.

A mama pig with her piglets.

I know these are hardly in the same cute category as the lambs, but look at those eyelashes … who knew pigs had eye lashes for pete’s sake! I feel a distinct hiatus from meat coming on.

Compassion Cake, A Sad & Sweet Recipe

Normally a woman with a ferocious sweet tooth, my lack of  interest in the extra cake I made today surprised me. It was a new recipe and I made two to be sure it was a good one.

If you read my post yesterday, then you know our neighbor’s husband died suddenly at home on Sunday. I deliberated a great deal about how I might offer support based on the different customs here in England versus my home in the American South and slipped a card through the door on Monday following the guidance of some close to me locally. Still … I felt as if I needed to do more.

After writing about my feelings yesterday, I received many helpful comments most of which seem to suggest that it would be okay for me to follow my heart rather than the generally accepted behavior here. Thank you for that. I appreciated all who took time to comment or to email me privately. It was just what I needed to make me dust off my cake pans and look for the right recipe.

Watching the cakes baking today made me sad and no amount of sugar could change it for me. The extra cake John and I sampled tasted fine, but I wondered aloud to him if he thought it was too dry. He said that it was as light and fluffy as it looked and that it was certainly not dry. After another bite, I decided that it must be the sadness I was feeling that made seem as if it was sticking in my throat.

As soon as the other cake cooled enough to wrap it, I walked next door and knocked softly. I introduced myself to a relative and after explaining briefly who I was, gave her the cake and said that I made it to say we cared and so our neighbor might know we thinking of her.

Death In An English Village And My American Expectations

Late yesterday afternoon the sound of a helicopter drew me out of the house. It is rare to hear any air traffic over our tiny village and after a quick look at the two emergency vehicles parked on our street, I hurried down to the far end of the road to see where the air ambulance was going to land.

Any time you hear a helicopter hovering low over the village, you can bet it’s here to help someone. We have several elderly people on our street and my first concern was for the welfare of a sweet man in his 90s who lives a few houses from ours near the small car in the photograph.

Some of my neighbors were outside watching to see where the helicopter was landing and who might be needing emergency care.

A few years ago, the elderly man I mentioned had a heart attack and the air ambulance landed in the same field on the other side of the hedge.

It turned out it was our next door neighbor they were coming to help, but after being inside the house for a while, they left without him.

The sky was on fire while we watched what was happening outside their home and one by one the emergency vehicles drove away without taking anyone with them. It was too late to change the outcome and we learned early this morning that our neighbor had died. I think he was younger than I am.

Things are done differently here when people die and today I feel like someone at the scene of an accident unsure about how to render aid. My heart hurts for my neighbor and I want to do something to help, but it has been suggested by several that a card through the mail drop in the door is the best way to offer our sympathy to her.

At home in Georgia there would be no question about what to do. I would be standing at the door now offering a casserole, or a meal of some kind, handing it over to a relative, or close friend tasked with accepting the offerings of those wishing to offer some comfort if only through a favorite recipe.

A death in the American South seems less constrained and more emotional than the three I’ve experienced here and even though I was not close to the couple, I wish I could do more.

I saw a car arrive this morning and a family member stayed the night so I know our neighbor is not alone. People won’t bring food here, John said it is just not done and would be considered odd. I can’t imagine anything more lonely than walking into the empty kitchen of a home visited by death.

It seems more sad to me somehow than countertops covered over with foil wrapped dishes, and plastic containers of sandwiches and cakes, meant to feed people as they come to pay their respects. I know that food doesn’t equal love, but in the south, it does mean we care.

I don’t know how many people will be coming to help her through this sad time, but I think I may hang convention and make a cake or something because odd or not, it’s a better way for me to say I am sorry for your loss than a card through the door.

Hot As A Rocket Turkey Sausage Blues

My husband John is always teasing me about how competitive I am. He likes to say that it’s an American characteristic and lets me know when I get too invested in winning. I have two words for him when that happens, ‘ American Revolution! ‘

Saturday night I might have shown more of my American side than usual while participating in what Helen, our party organizer kept reminding us was meant to be fun. I need to say that even though I was the only American there, there seemed to be quite a few Brits thinking and talking about how the trophy below might look on their shelf.

Helen, the woman I mentioned above for her peace keeping, party planning skills, also makes a great trophy. Last year it was the Pasty Making trophy I wanted to win and this year it was all about the sausage. Sadly, the picture I took while holding the 2011 Best Sausage trophy was the closest I got to bringing it home.

While my entry, Hot As A Rocket Turkey Sausage Blues, did not win or even place, my super spicy turkey with blue cheese was very tasty and there was nothing left on the plate when the night was over.

With only one sausage maker between about 20 or so contestants, we talked and tasted each other’s entries as they came out of the oven while waiting to stuff our skins with the secret mixtures we made at home.

We made eight each with four to going to the judges and four to the table above for peer-to-peer judging.

There were some interesting names and some crazy mixtures. The Chicken Delight was not too wild, but it was tasty.

I’m afraid I had to skip the Fish Pie sausage because I’m not a big fan of fish, but John really liked it.

Now this one was interesting. It looked a bit like something that you would try not to step in if out for walk, but it was actually a Christmas Pudding sausage.

These guys were two of the courageous judges and I have to say, I would rather cook it than eat as much as they had to that night.

Anne moved to the village from London about a year ago and her sausage (I think it was pork) came in first place. That’s the third judge standing behind her. He’s a professional sausage maker.

Ian and Irene tied for second and no, they did not drink all those empties alone. This is Ian’s second year coming in second place. I’m going to have to really watch out for them next year.

If you look closely at this photo you can see John’s head way in the back of the room in front of the woman in orange. John was responsible for the baked beans along with two other men, Steve and Mike, who made mashed potatoes and onion gravy to go with the sausage feast.

Gill tied for second place with Ian and Irene and she had a fabulous Chicken sausage with sun-dried tomato and feta cheese.

Way back in the top middle of this photograph is Rebecca, the winner from last year. She’s the laughing woman in green and purple. She made a venison sausage with pickled walnuts and I think she called it, Pickled Bambi. (Click to enlarge)

Craig doesn’t live in the village, but likes to come by every so often to party with the locals like Mandy who always has something funny to say. She made me put away my knitting and act like it was Saturday night.

Irene and Elizabeth

After our evening of sausage making, eating, drinking, judging, and being judged, most of us ended up at the village pub where we shouted over a great band, had a few drinks, and took a turn on a dance floor barely big enough to turn on.

I’m hoping we will do desserts next January because I have more than a few killer recipe’s, not that I’m feeling competitive, well, not yet anyway.

Home Cooking – Love Southern Style

A Meat & Three

In the American South where I have spent a fair amount of my life, the expression  ” A Meat & Three ” means home-cooking to anyone looking to fill up on food that makes them think of family meals and Sunday dinner after church at Grandma’s house.

Nobody does this type of meal better than my step-mom Cullene and today after years of enjoying her cornbread muffins, I discovered how she makes them so perfectly crunchy on the outside and soft on the inside.

It’s a secret she learned from her mother and I’m glad I took a moment at lunch to find out just how it’s done. I’ve been eating Cullene’s cornbread muffins since I was twelve and only now thought about asking how she makes them so taste so good.

I’ve made them for John a few times and I have to say I don’t think he has been that impressed with mine. Cornbread muffins are not high on the list for meals in Cornwall, but armed with the secret to the crunchy outside I think he may find them more to his liking next time we have a southern style dinner of  ” A Meat & Three.”


Is This How Pioneer Woman Does It?

Pioneer Woman's Chocolate Sheet Cake As Mini-Cupcakes

Unless you have made these yummy treats you have no idea how delish they can really are. What you see here is the result of turning Pioneer Woman’s Chocolate Sheet Cake recipe into mini cupcakes which were perfect for the party we went to last night and the July 4th celebration we’re going to on Sunday with some of our expat community. It was the first time I’ve made them in mini-cupcake form and the success was clear by the clean serving trays we came home with after watching my cupcakes disappear into the mouths of a mostly (except for me) group of Brits.

Several people asked as they complimented my bite-size cakes if they were an American speciality to which I gave credit where it’s due and said, ” Yes, but not a family recipe of mine. ” I told them it belonged to this wild woman out West who went by the name of Pioneer Woman.

Okay … so maybe I embellished a little with the wild woman comment, but as most Brits seem to think they’ve mastered an American accent if they sound like John Wayne when imitating us, (likely having learned their technique as my John did from old western black & white films) I thought wild woman out west would fit the image many seem to have of us as a tough talking, gun-toting, straight shooting, slightly unruly lot.

Passing by the dessert table or puddings, as all desserts are sometimes referred to here was a teenage girl who overheard me give credit to PW and turned to me and said, ” Oh, I read her, did you see what she said about iPad on her blog? ” I have to admit that PW seems to be moving farther abroad than she may realize. Thanks to the internet, not only has she young American followers like my daughter reading her, she’s picking up teen readers in rural England as well.

While PW appears to have a tidy kitchen when making her varied goodies, I must admit that my prep area looks a bit different.

Not Pioneer Woman's Kitchen

Thank goodness for lots of counter space or work-tops as John would refer to kitchen counters.

Messy Cooking With Elizabeth Harper

Gone, these are all gone now.

I call the cupcake closest to you, ” The Half and Half  ” for half nuts/ half not … neat huh? Okay, so I ran out of the frosting with nuts and had to use some without. I bet no one even noticed at the party last night. Creativity is key in marketing. I think I like that … Half and Half … I wonder what I could call my other kitchen mishaps.

My daughter once referred to my turkey meatloaf as looking like cat food, I must say years after that high recommendation by my then seven-year old, it’s one of the things I do best now. (Pssst, I’ll be making my cat food/turkey meatloaf for some American visitors this weekend) I promise I really do use ground turkey … no cat food involved. Cross my heart.

Remember what I said earlier about messy … I wonder who’s going to help me with these dishes!

Maybe I could do a reality show for messy cooks … how about you, are you messy or neat when whipping up family favorites?