Saturday, March 13, 2010

My new sweet-tooth fix: Welsh cakes

I'm just back from Wales and will put up some longer posts about my trip soon, but in the meantime I had to share my latest pastry addiction with you: Welsh cakes.
Yummy-looking, yes?

They're a bit like flattened scones and they are maddeningly addictive. I came to crave one at every tea break during my conference.

In case you'd like to sample them yourself, here's a yummy-sounding recipe for Welsh cakes from

But when you can't stop eating them, don't say I didn't warn you.

By the way, what fattening habits have you come back with after travelling? Let me know in the comments section.

Licensing information for photo:
This image has been (or is hereby) released into the public domain by its author, Moochocoogle at the wikipedia project. This applies worldwide.

Disclosure: My trip was partially subsidized by Visit Wales.

Sunday, March 7, 2010

What I love--and loathe--about the U.K.

I've been in the U.K. for a few days now, and my likes and dislikes are becoming clearer by the minute. My likes are legion and my dislikes are few, and I'm passionate about them all.

First, a few of my favourite things.

1. Teakettles

I'm a tea drinker, partly because I can't abide coffee. So it drives me crazy when I check into a North American hotel room and find a container of lovely tea bags on the dresser...and a coffee maker. Tea made with water run through a coffee pot is an abomination. Not only is the water not hot enough, but it tastes like coffee. What a delight to find a full-sized teakettle in all three of my U.K. rooms so far. Granted, coffee drinkers are probably put out by the lack of a coffee maker. I feel your pain, my friends. But I'm still pleased about the teakettles.

2. Expressions
I first fell in love with U.K. expressions while listening to my Northern Irish cousins as a child. (To this day, I think "brilliant" is a wonderful exclamation of delight.) On a trip to County Down at age 12, I decided "dual carriageway" sounded much classier than "four-lane highway." Years later, while on a cruise run by a British tour packager, my husband and I decided on a cruise that "Do you fancy a boogie?" (used in a promo for the ship's disco) was eminently more fun than "Would you like to dance?" And one of my great joys in reading British home decorating magazines is the line, "Ring [phone number] for stockists." Stockists! Much nicer than "Where to buy."

3. Trains
In the U.K., passenger trains apparently don't have to pull over to a siding every time a freight train needs the track, as is the case in Canada. As a result, the trains actually run on time--at least the ones I've been on so far. And those Victorians knew how to build train stations that really made you feel like you were off on a momentous journey--like this one in Manchester.

4. Funky buildings
OK, maybe these buildings in Manchester's redeveloped Salford Quays area are garish. And over the top. And not to everyone's taste. But I have to admire the ambition and bravery behind them. At least they're not boring mirrored glass boxes or brutalist bunkers, which seem to be the two favoured styles in most Canadian cities. These are from Manchester's redeveloped Salford Quays.

5. Lambs
Ah to be in England (and Wales), now that spring is here. On the train from Manchester to Cardiff today, I saw wee lambs everywhere, playing in green fields with their mums. Too darn cute.

OK, now to a scant few but passionate dislikes.

1. Stairs
OK, I understand the Underground stations. After all, they're underground, and many were built long before elevators were common. But why, why, why does every hotel entrance have a pointless set of steps? And why are there odd little staircases partway along every hotel corridor? Is it some sort of national endurance test? Was it a way to keep servants fit, back in the days when no one lugged their own suitcases?

2. Plumbing
Admittedly, it has improved from the days when toilets were operated by long chains dangling from the ceiling. But I have yet to hear a plausible explanation for showers like this.

Why not just affix the shower head to the wall? The rod-and-hose apparatus may be designed to accommodate people of different heights, but in my experience, when you try to adjust it, it detaches itself from the wall entirely and whips about like a watery snake, turning any hotel bathroom into a miniature car wash. Or maybe that's just me. Perhaps I should drink the tea first and get a good caffeine fix before attempting to shower.

3. Fire doors
Yes, I know the Great Fire of London was tragic. But it was almost 350 years ago. Do you still need to install massive great doors every few feet along every hotel corridor? And in front of all the elevators? Inquiring minds want to know.