Harry Potter Play Anything But Cursed

IMG_7094Our Harry Potter holiday was planned around the Wednesday performances of Harry Potter and the Cursed Child, Parts One & Two.  The tickets said Part One starts at 2:00 p.m. and to arrive an hour early to get through security.  We met up at my hotel, Mimi’s Hotel Soho. We had a short walk to the Palace Theatre on Shaftesbury Avenue. We didn’t know what to expect but we thought it might be best to eat a light lunch to avoid feeling sleepy or hungry. I suggested the cafe at Foyle’s Books and we had a yummy kabab with salad. When we arrived at the theater it took a few minutes for us to realize the line to get in already wrapped round the building. Good thing we had assigned seats!

The play is based on JK Rowling’s story. I’d read the script when it first came out and didn’t remember the plot. UK Sarah had just read it. We both were most curious about the staging and how the director will portray the magic.

IMG_7100The play is now in New York City as well. The Palace Theatre is a beautiful older stage with steep rows in the balcony. We got to know our neighbors well as we helped each other navigate to our seats. In our row everyone was committed to both parts on this day. We all bought our tickets for March 13 at the end of November.

I don’t want to spoil it for anyone, so I’ll just say that it was a hugely satisfying experience. We loved the staging and the special effects. The play was well-acted and much more entertaining when performed (than when read as a script).

Some actors stole their scenes–Ron and Moaning Myrtle–overall it was very entertaining. The break in the middle was about 2.5 hours, and again we had to return an hour early to go through security again. We had about 1.5 hours to sort out dinner.

IMG_7104UK Sarah was craving soup so we walked 15 minutes to Shoop Soup. We had a lots of choice and we were able to score two seats on the limited bar seating at front. There is also outdoor seating for fair weather. The soup was yummy and the sourdough bread just right. We enjoyed a conversation with a taxi cab driver who regularly stops here for dinner.

We returned for the second half and cheered for the performers at the end. The walk to our hotel was easy and we were full of happy chat over Harry Potter characters.

I recommend this play for any fans of Harry Potter. I am not sure how it’d go down if you had not read the books. I also am not sure if children under 11 would find it too scary. We were frightened a couple of times ourselves (and we are too old to politely ask our age.)

It was an excellent start to our Harry Potter holiday.

London in Brexit Time

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Watching the latest Brexit vote on BBC in my hotel room.

The countdown is underway. March 29 is the drop-dead date. If the British Parliament does not approve Prime Minister Theresa May’s deal then the UK will leave the European Union without an agreement and this is likely to result in chaos in trade and travel. Most of the people I talked to shared that they feel that the uncertainty is already costing their economy and that they expect more of a bill to come due (and that the average person will pay it–not the politicians or the wealthy). I arrived in London on March 12th and watched the Parliamentary debate as covered on the BBC on my hotel room television.

The motion to pass the Conservative Prime Minister May’s negotiated principles for political divorce went down in flames–another historic losing vote. No one seems able to explain why Theresa May hasn’t lost her job yet.

IMG_7086Later in the week, I anxiously listened to the March 18th podcast Talking Politics. “Can this go on?” was the title and Cambridge professors David Runciman and Helen Thompson are bewildered. They made references to the English Civil War and joked at the end that all that is left is the Queen intervening.

A day or two later I discovered the FiveThirtyEight political podcast from March 15 focused on Brexit. Galen Druke interviewed David Runciman and Helen Thompson. It was helpful to have Druke’s questions to unpack some of the nuances. At that time Runciman gave May a 50-50 chance of getting her deal passed. At that time they thought the next steps would be for the Prime Minister to bring a clear choice in two votes to the Parliament on March 19. Things continue to evolve including the EU ministers expressing that the only way the UK can have an extension for an orderly exit is if the Parliament approves the negotiated deal. You can get up to the minute information on the BBC website.

You might wonder why an American should care so much about Brexit. Partly because I have friends in the UK who will be impacted. And because the United States is inexplicably still connected to Britain. In 2016 the UK voted for Brexit and the US electoral college gave Trump the nod. It feels like much of a muchness. We are both struggling with how we maintain a functioning democracy in the social media age and with growing economic inequality and insecurity due to climate change.

I’m praying for us all. May cooler heads prevail and may people dig deep for the kind of leadership needed at this pivotal moment in history.

Happy St. Patrick’s Day!

IMG_6204I used to be intentional about celebrating St. Patrick’s Day on March 17 each year. I learned to travel solo in Ireland and I love this celebration of all things Irish. While I don’t like cornbeef and cabbage, I do love Irish stew and Guinness. So any excuse…

Learn more about St. Patrick–an Englishman called to save the Irish after his Christian conversion–by reading Thomas Cahill’s How the Irish Saved Civilization. If you are traveling through Ireland, stop in Downpatrick in Northern Ireland and check out the St. Patrick Centre.

If you can’t get to Ireland, never fear. Several Irishmen have shared over a pint that the best St Patrick’s Day they’ve ever had was in Chicago, New York or another US city.

IMG_6208Raise a pint and toast the man and the saint! “Sláinte,” (pronounced “slawn-cha”) and translates to health or cheers.

Gutted for Christchurch and New Zealand

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This is an emergency blog to express my dismay at the Mosque attacks in Christchurch by white supremacists. Part of me doesn’t want to believe it because the New Zealand people I know and love are so far removed from this hate. Just look at the example of the Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern’s leadership in the days following the attacks.

These fellas were hanging out in St Heliers on my last visit. Chillin’. This is what I believe better represents the Kiwi spirit. IMG-0783

I heard people make racist remarks in bars and in unguarded moments–made by much older people and never with any intent to do physical harm. I’d heard worse in the US, but as we witness in the United States, these attitudes are pernicious and difficult to change without real effort by everyone in society: education, neighbors, political and business leaders.

IMG-0793One of my favorite memories of New Zealand was in the community hall in St Heliers. They adopted the USA for the 2011 Rugby World Cup and the town was festooned in stars and stripes. The village hosted a celebration with the US Consulate and everyone was invited. A young woman sang the New Zealand national anthem and it was the first time I’d really listened to the words. I was so moved. It summed up the complicated beautiful people that I met throughout the North and South Islands. It is always sung in both English and Maori before the rugby test matches. Tonight I am saying it as a prayer for Aotearoa.

English “God Defend New Zealand” Māori “Aotearoa” Māori “Aotearoa” translated

1. God of Nations at Thy feet,
In the bonds of love we meet,
Hear our voices, we entreat,
God defend our free land.
Guard Pacific’s triple star
From the shafts of strife and war,
Make her praises heard afar,
God defend New Zealand.

2. Men of every creed and race,
Gather here before Thy face,
Asking Thee to bless this place,
God defend our free land.
From dissension, envy, hate,
And corruption guard our state,
Make our country good and great,
God defend New Zealand.

3. Peace, not war, shall be our boast,
But, should foes assail our coast,
Make us then a mighty host,
God defend our free land.
Lord of battles in Thy might,
Put our enemies to flight,
Let our cause be just and right,
God defend New Zealand.

4. Let our love for Thee increase,
May Thy blessings never cease,
Give us plenty, give us peace,
God defend our free land.
From dishonour and from shame,
Guard our country’s spotless name,
Crown her with immortal fame,
God defend New Zealand.

5. May our mountains ever be
Freedom’s ramparts on the sea,
Make us faithful unto Thee,
God defend our free land.
Guide her in the nations’ van,
Preaching love and truth to man,
Working out Thy glorious plan,
God defend New Zealand.

1. E Ihowā Atua,
O ngā iwi mātou rā
Āta whakarangona;
Me aroha noa
Kia hua ko te pai;
Kia tau tō atawhai;
Manaakitia mai
Aotearoa

2. Ōna mano tāngata
Kiri whero, kiri mā,
Iwi Māori, Pākehā,
Rūpeke katoa,
Nei ka tono ko ngā hē
Māu e whakaahu kē,
Kia ora mārire
Aotearoa

3. Tōna mana kia tū!
Tōna kaha kia ū;
Tōna rongo hei pakū
Ki te ao katoa
Aua rawa ngā whawhai
Ngā tutū e tata mai;
Kia tupu nui ai
Aotearoa

4. Waiho tona takiwā
Ko te ao mārama;
Kia whiti tōna rā
Taiāwhio noa.
Ko te hae me te ngangau
Meinga kia kore kau;
Waiho i te rongo mau
Aotearoa

5. Tōna pai me toitū
Tika rawa, pono pū;
Tōna noho, tāna tū;
Iwi nō Ihowā.
Kaua mōna whakamā;
Kia hau te ingoa;
Kia tū hei tauira;
Aotearoa

1. O Lord, God,
Of all people
Listen to us,
Cherish us
May good flourish,
May your blessings flow
Defend Aotearoa

2. Let all people,
Red skin, white skin
Māori, Pākehā
Gather before you
May all our wrongs, we pray,
Be forgiven
So that we might say long live
Aotearoa

3. May it be forever prestigious,
May it go from strength to strength,
May its fame spread far and wide,
Let not strife
Nor dissension ensue,
May it ever be great
Aotearoa

4. Let its territory
Be ever enlightened
Throughout the land
Let envy and dissension
Be dispelled,
Let peace reign
Over Aotearoa

5. Let its good features endure,
Let righteousness and honesty prevail
Among the people of God
Let it never be ashamed,
But rather, let its name be known
Thereby becoming the model to emulate
Aotearoa

From Wikipedia.

Darjeeling Express Delights

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Darjeeling Express is on the 3rd level of the Kingly (food) Court in London

I just ate the most wonderful lunch of comfort Indian food at Darjeeling Express. I made the reservation for the day I arrived in London. The only time available for a lunch for two was at 2:00, 2:15 or 2:30. That suited me because I was arriving at 10:30 at Heathrow and would need to drop my bags in Soho. Fortunately my hotel was just an 8 minute walk from the restaurant (plus a few minutes for finding Kingly Ct–Google maps got me there but the entrance to the courtyard feels positively secretive.) I selected 2:30 and subsequently learned that this is the last seating for lunch service. The reservation form didn’t give an option for solo diners so I hoped they’d forgive me for saying I was two people!

I came in out of the rain and shed my coat and umbrella at the door. The restaurant was still mostly full when I arrived. It is more casual dining and very comfortable. Within a few minutes the three tables for two closest to the kitchen were full and I was at the middle table. I sat facing the kitchen so I could watch the women preparing food. I have not eaten Indian food often and when I have it has been mostly at the type of place where there is a buffet or a more limited menu. The beverage was an easy decision as the Tamarind Spritz sounded so refreshing. As I studied the menu and the specials of the day I noticed that the young couple next to me were enjoying an easy banter and as they were Indian might have some helpful suggestions.

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When you step into the courtyard off of Carnaby Street you’ll find this oasis of dining establishments and a yoga studio, of course.

I asked them if they have eaten here before? Yes! Did they have any favorites? Yes! They were eating vegetarian but I was open to mixing it up. I accepted their suggestion for Bihari Phulki as a starter. A generous portion arrived with two sauces–I loved the tamarind sauce best, the other was a bit spicy for me and still delicious. They explained that this is the kind of food they would eat at home on a day like today. I wasn’t sure if they meant eat at home as in home-cooking or if they were from India. They did both grow up in New Delhi but met in London. They meant it was the kind of comforting food that ticks lots of boxes on a cold, blustery day.

While I waited for my main, they were served Puchkas. I’m sorry I don’t have a picture of it. It looks like a circle of eggs shells broken at the top around a small ceramic pot of sauce. You pour the liquid into the shell of pastry and pop it into your mouth. The flavors crash in a series of delicious waves. I know because this lovely couple offered me the seventh one, assuring me that I would keep them from fighting over it.

For my main I chose the Calcutta Chicken Chaap that comes with bread or rice. My dining friends suggested the bread as it is the kind of bread your mother would make at home or you could get on the street in New Delhi, albeit the street version is greasier. It was amazing: light and fluffy and a great compliment to the chicken. So good that I broke my rule of taking a “doggy bag” when I am on the road. I wished I had taken the chicken too as I ended up giving it to a homeless man outside Hatchard’s bookstore. The number of homeless people in London on this visit surprised and saddened me.

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Chef Asma Khan

I planned my trip to London around Harry Pottering with my friend UK Sarah at the end of November when I got a screaming deal on Air New Zealand. Then a few weeks ago season 6 of the Chef’s Table debuted on Netflix. I was intrigued by the episode featuring chef Asma Khan and her London restaurant Darjeeling Express. And thrilled when I discovered I could afford to eat there and a reservation was possible.

One of the other reasons to dine at Darjeeling Express is Chef Khan’s commitment to hiring mostly women and supporting charities that lift up women. On my table was an appeal to give to The Lotus Flower Cafe. And on the website there is information on Second Daughters Fund the charity also featured in Chef’s Table, Volume Six, Episode Three.

American Pie Vs. British Pie

Final-Book-Cover_15Dec2011_cropped1Happy Pi(e) Day!

My first plan for today was to read Beth M. Howard’s book Making Piece and then to reflect on the roles pie has played in my own life. I am as my mother reminds me “from a long line of pie-baking women.”

I bought the book (it’s on my TBR shelf) and then I realized I’d be in London on Pi(e) Day.

I am in London in the middle of two glorious days Harry Pottering. I did scope out a shop, Pieminister, where I could try some British meat pies. Alas our schedule is so full it may not happen today. I may have to wait for Ian Leavitt’s pie in the butcher shop in Tollesbury, Essex.

CriscoI recently began watching the Great British Bake Off on Netflix. I am late to the party. I went back to watch from the early seasons and someone in there they gave the amateur bakers the challenge to bake an American pie. I was appalled by how they interpreted our pies. First they all used butter only crust. While there are Americans who use butter only crust, it is more common to use half-butter, half-shortening in the crust. Or as the women in my family do–all shortening, preferably Crisco. (I’m sure Paul Hollywood and Mary Berry are shuddering if they read this.) Second, American pie is served from it’s pie “pan” which is most commonly a ceramic dish especially for pie. The bakers did get right that it is almost always very sweet and can be a cream pie or a fruit pie or a combination.

Watching the show has also reminded me of some of the very delicious meat pies I have enjoyed in England. I hope to eat some today, perhaps at Warner Brothers Studios.

Pick up a fork and celebrate Pi(e) Day with your choice of savory or sweet!

Update: I did get some absolutely fabulous chicken pot pie from Ian the butcher in Tollesbury, Essex. He makes his with a puff pastry top.

Pacific Ocean Lifts My Heart

IMG_6907The Pacific Ocean is such large and magnificent and I’ve lived within a few hours of the ocean my entire life. It has always been a balm to my stress. This visit to Clam Beach met my need for my molecules to be reorganized and synced to the rhythm of the waves.

IMG_6915Taking @DozertheDozerian and Lulu along to enjoy the open space and fresh air made it more fun. Clam Beach allows dogs to run off leash on the wet sand for a limited time in the winter.

IMG_6902Of course the point of my visit was to spend more time with the Watlove family. We learned to play a new board game, Fuse. We ate at our favorite restaurants and cooked at home. Nora baked wonderful lava cakes.

IMG_6916I have traveled to Humboldt County about once a year since my best friend Harriet moved up to Arcata to attend HSU. Now her children are in their 20s and the youngest daughter attends UC Davis, so the Watloves visit the Sacramento area often. I can’t remember the last time I made the 6 hour trek to Humboldt County.  There have been changes to the route. The Willits bypass is completed. It makes stopping for lunch or a bathroom stop so much easier and more pleasant.

IMG_6926The weather was the wildest I’ve experienced driving up with snow in Lake County and in Mendocino near Laytonville. It is always good to check CalTrans to confirm roads are open.

Some other changes include legalization of marijuana, so there are more dispensaries now. Also the price of marijuana has dropped so the local economy is feeling the beginning of the pinch. Nora says that most people in Humboldt County also resent the portrayal of southern Humboldt in the Netflix “documentary” as exaggerating the danger for entertainment.

Some of our favorite restaurants:

Ramone’s Bakery, 1555 City Center Road, McKinleyville, CA; I did a pastry run for the sleepyheads and picked 7 different pastries then cut them up for more tastes. Everything was delicious!

Lighthouse Grill, 355 Main Street, Trinidad, CA; known for mashed potato cone and grass-fed beef burgers; our fav’s this trip included fish and chips and a tuna melt.

The Alibi, 744 9th Street, Arcata, CA; this is a dive bar on the Arcata Plaza that also happens to serve a wonderful breakfast.