Smoke And Fire – Letting Go And Staying Open

A few days ago I wrote a piece called ‘ Up In Smoke ‘ if you missed it, take a minute and go back for a quick read through. What follows will make more sense if you do.

Now that you’ve caught up, take a look the beach bonfire where the ceramic containers went into fire on New Year’s Day so the strips of paper inside could be turned to ash and the wishes and burdens released.

Here’s shot from a distance to give you some scale for the rockiness of the area.

Remember when I said there would be sausages roasted over the fire … well, that is Tina’s brother in the foreground with a sausage on a stick. He was there with his wife and daughter and wrote about his bonfire experience in the comment section here. I’ve included it below as well. (Thanks, Pablo)

” Ari, Amber and I really enjoyed the wonderful new years day bonfire on Baby Bay, watching the urns get hotter and hotter as we cooked hot dogs and sausages. After about an hour the urns got so hot that the wishes and burdens caught flame and made a whooshing sound as they exhaled fire and smoke from the egg like urns. It reminded me of the celebration of lights that signal the coming of longer days and rests at the heart of our solstice inspired christian midwinter festivals.”

Ahhh … Cornish sausages over an open fire. I have to eat them with American mustard though. I carry it with me when I know I’ll be eating some especially at our village pub. Nothing says American like pulling a BIG bottle of French’s mustard from your handbag.

Big thanks to Amyra Bunyard who documented the process and gave me permission to use her images here.

Full As A Tick And Other Thoughts About Food

Christmas 1960 - Elizabeth Harper - Looking Full As A Tick

It’s early 9:15 in the morning here and I still feel full from all the food I’ve eaten over the last few days. John and I may have had a quiet Christmas with just the two of us, but lord did we eat!

More than a time or two the words ‘ I’m full as tick, ‘ may have crossed the lips of one of us and you won’t need to wonder which if you remember I’ve got southern roots. Our different geographic histories were also clearly illustrated by the foods that filled our plates.

John made all of his traditional English side dishes and I made the ones that have graced my family’s southern dinner table for as long as I can remember so that in the end it looked as if we had both made a complete Christmas dinner with only a shared turkey and gravy between us.

While I’m talking turkey, I have to say that John’s turkey this year was amazing! On big holidays like Christmas and Thanksgiving, turkey tends to be more as an accessory item to me, something I’m supposed include but don’t want too much of as there are more exciting choices to be had. This year the turkey was perfect in taste and texture and I stuffed down more of it than usual.

Speaking of stuffing, John made his in the bird and I did a cornbread dressing in a pan like my family does in Georgia. I used cornmeal carried over on my last flight since I haven’t been able to find any in Cornwall.

Have a look at our dinner plates on Christmas day, they may look like they have the same food, but if you look closely you can see the difference. John has more of the roasted root veggies along with his stuffing and the English version of a ‘pig in a blanket.’ Here it’s a sausage wrapped in bacon while in my family it would be a cocktail weenie wrapped in a biscuit.

John's Christmas Dinner

I had one chance to grab a quick shot of John’s plate as he had his knife and fork in hand and was waiting impatiently to begin. Multiple shots were not a possibility so this one will have to do. Notice all the plain ‘healthier’ veggies … there’s only a small dibble of my contributions seen at about 9 and 10 o’clock on the plate. He did compliment me on my broccoli bake (we’d call it a casserole) but that means something less special here.

My Christmas Dinner

My plate has a mix of both of our dishes. A good southern girl is raised to be polite and eat a of bit of what’s offered, but I focused mainly on things I made like my sweet potato casserole which is always heavenly and the previously mentioned broccoli which I successfully modified slightly by substituting regular bread crumbs with cornbread crumbs instead.

The pink stuff as John likes to call it, is what we refer to as a congealed salad and it’s made from a recipe Cullene has had for many years. I love this cranberry, cream cheese and jello concoction, and no holiday meal is complete for me without it. John likens it to something here called Blancmange which sounds as if he’s saying Blamonge.

The end result was the same for both of us with empty plates and overfull bellies. In a time where many people don’t have enough, I was acutely aware of how fortunate we are to have so much.

The taste of special dishes served only once or twice a year acts as a link for me and probably many of you too reminding us of past holiday meals shared with family and friends and perhaps, it’s the feelings triggered by memory along with a mix of sweetness and spice that makes us overindulge at times.

Here’s hoping your heart was a full as your tummy and that your meal was shared with someone you love.

' Cheers ' from John Winchurch At Christmas

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.