Tag Archive | vacation in the UK

More Memorable British Meals

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On my annual treks to England to visit my mum, I take every opportunity to enjoy the British cooking.  Snide comments and even entire comedy routines focus on the idea that the English do not have good food.  This concept is a myth, probably born of xenophobia.  Anglo food is wonderful!  I always look for a chance to get in at least one Full English Breakfast.  This meal follows a similar formula no matter where it is served in the United Kingdom.  The name is merely modified to suit the locale:  English, Irish, Scottish or Welsh, and occasionally adapted to local traditions.

The basic menu is two eggs, usually fried sunny side up, or any way the diner desires, toast (lots of toast!) with butter and jams, sausage, the bacon of the UK which more closely resembles Canadian bacon than the American sort, baked beans, potatoes either fried or made into hash browns, grilled mushrooms and grilled tomato.  This is accompanied by pots of tea or coffee and some fruit juice.  The full breakfast is the staple of bed and breakfast morning fare.

More often in Scotland, Ireland and Wales I have been offered black pudding as well, which is blood sausage. Some turn their noses up at black pudding but I enjoy it, especially soaked in juice from the baked beans. The full breakfast is sometimes cooked completely on a grill (except for the beans) and features thick slices of grilled bread instead of toast.  Grilling the bread also is more common outside of England.

The Full English Breakfast pictured above was served at a lovely bed and breakfast, the Denewood Hotel, in Boscombe near Bournemouth.  Black pudding was not in the offerings there.

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For me, a visit of Britain is not complete without a roast lamb dinner.  Lamb is not so popular or well known here in America, although excellent fresh New Zealand lamb and locally sourced lamb is readily available to us.  The best lamb is young, before it develops the strong smell of mutton.  Nothing can beat good, young lamb for flavor and tenderness.  It is truly delicious!  To purchase the best lamb, choose smaller-sized cuts. Two little leg-of-lamb roasts are a better bet than one large one.  The larger cuts are from older animals and more likely to have a sheep odor.

The British roast typically served includes the slow-roasted meat with its drippings gravy and large pieces of roast potatoes.  b3On the side are massive bowls filled with a wide variety of carefully segregated cooked vegetables including carrots, turnips, parsnips, string beans, peas, squashes and various members of the brassica genus (my favorites are broccoli and savoy cabbage,) and occasionally Yorkshire pudding–pop-overs to us Americans.

After eating my fill of a roast dinner, I can never do justice to the dessert offerings.  Just as well, since I should not have too much sugar.  The roast dinner pictured was served at The Acorn pub and restaurant on The Square in Birchington, England.  Sadly, this establishment will be closing soon as the owners are retiring.  I can also heartily recommend the roast dinner at The Smuggler, another fine old eatery located on the Canterbury Road near the square in Birchington.

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Jurassic Coast

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Cliffs at Swanage beach

 

While visiting England this month, I took a quick trip with my mum down to Bournemouth and from there across the chain ferry at Poole to Swanage, the beginning of the Jurassic Coast.  This 95-mile section of coastline along the south-west edge of England is designated a World Heritage site–right along with Stonehenge, The Sphinx, and the Taj Mahal.  The coast is special because in this area the exposed rock cliffs date to the Mesozoic Era, including the Jurassic, and are loaded with fossils of the time.  A leisurely beachcombing walk can yield a treasure of stones containing the fossilized remains of plants and animals that lived 250-65 million years ago.

The cliffs at Swanage Beach date mostly to the Cretaceous Period, 125-90 million years ago, the end of the Mesozoic.  The oldest rocks, from the Triassic in the 250 million year old range, are found at the far west end of the Jurassic Coast in Devon.  The land feature is unusual because the layers of earth were tilted in this area of England, lifting and exposing very old rock that is usually hidden far below the surface.

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Four small stones containing fossils, found on the Swanage beach. The largest is about 4″ across.

I strolled the long, yellow sand beach at Swanage for two hours and hunted near the cliffs for fossils, with some luck.  The cliffs of the Jurassic Coast are quite unstable and tend to collapse, especially after big storms cause erosion.  This can make for unsafe conditions.  The day I visited was sunny and dry, with no large amounts of water running off the cliffs and the tide was at the lowest ebb.  I felt fairly safe getting a close-up view.  All the erosion causes stones from the cliffs to be broken apart, pulled onto the beach and smoothed by the waves to produce fine small specimens.

The best fossil remains are reported to be at the far north end of the beach in the chalk cliffs.  The chalk also represents the youngest rock formations.  I wanted older fossils so I searched farther south.  I found several very interesting small rocks and an area where larger sandstone boulders had fallen to the sand, revealing the fossilized seabed trapped within the rock.16567205450_ceac282587_o

Some of the fossils I collected include what seem to me to be small members of the coral family, echinoids, possibly gastropods and mollusks, and perhaps crinoids.  I am no fossil expert.  16568319569_6222dd4c52_o16753374182_53d0629f0b_o

The large sandstone boulders that have broken open appear to contain crinoid fossils, the long tubes could have been the stems of the animals.  The small pale yellow sandstone rock specimen, in the bottom left of the photo of four stones above, could be the fossilized remains of the feathery tops of crinoids.  16728761966_47cecc0441_oThe tube-shaped creature in the hard blue-gray stone I found washing in the surf zone is a common form of fossil that I have seen in the UK and on the US west coast.  I am not certain what this life form was and prefer not to speculate for fear of being mistaken.

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Preserved tree, possible soft jet, the longest piece about 6″.

Another rare find were bits of wood that the waves had broken from a small tree buried in the cliffs.  If this placement is to be believed, the tree became entombed millions of years ago.  Yet, the fragments appear nearly wood-like with the grain still visible.

The specimens seem to be a type of soft jet, wood that was preserved under severe pressure and not turned to stone, or petrified.  The wood is inundated by veins of harder sandstone mixed with pyrite.  The pyrite is so bright and shiny that is is easy to see why it is called fool’s gold.  16134753673_bf7243d670_oIf the location of this ancient log (encased in hard sandstone at the base of a fifty foot tall cliff) is any indication, then the wood is millions of years old.  The color is a brownish-black and the texture is fragile, easily crumbled.

This perfectly preserved wood may be my favorite find of the excursion.