Tag Archives: England

Chocolate Monday: All Butter Caramel & Sea Salt Biscuits

caramel sea salt biscuits.jpgI don’t know why I find it so adorable that people from the UK call cookies biscuits, but I seriously do. During my most recent trip across the Pond, our tour guide was discussing some of the linguistic differences between American English and British English. One that she was quick to point out is the difference in the idea of biscuits. She told us about how appalled she was when she first heard someone from the States talk about biscuits and gravy because the thought of putting gravy on cookies is revolting.

While I would have loved a good breakfast of our biscuits and gravy while I was in the UK, I was just as happy to get to try some truly fantastic version of their biscuits. For the record, they do have cookies in the UK. And they do have something that is sort of biscuit like–at least by American standards. Their “biscuits” are usually called scones (although not really like our buttermilk variety at all and usually filled with fruit). Their cookies are similar to many of our cookies–the soft, freshly baked kind you get out of the oven in America are also called cookies in the UK. In the UK, a biscuit is a hard sort of prepackaged cookie like Chips Ahoy! or any variety of Keebler cookie.

all butter caramel and sea salt biscuitsWhile I was visiting Warwick Castle, which is actual history meets Medieval Times, I found a delicious sounding package of biscuits in the gift shop. Although they were not chocolate, they caught my eyes because they had one of my favorite flavor combinations: sea salt and caramel. I make a pretty mean caramel sea salt brownie and I’ve had truffles and caramels with sea salt, but I’d yet to have any sort of cookie, no matter what it is called with the combination. I had to buy them.

Oh my gosh am I glad I did! They were not just delicious sounding, but actually delicious! The cookies are very rich and buttery. The first bite, which has the perfect crunch, actually left my lips feeling a bit greasy. I know this sounds gross, but it was amazing! It was clearly the real butter used in making these cookies. The butter feel on my lips reminded me of times when I’ve eaten a flakey, buttery pastry. YUM!

Although the cookies was initially crunchy, it basically melted in my mouth. This is no doubt partially due to the butter content and partially due to the perfect texture of the cookie.

The caramel flavor is deep and creamy and just as the taste was beginning to fade, there was a great kick of salt to add a lovely savory component. It is nearly impossible to just eat one of these circle of heaven. Outside of Girl Scout cookies, I am not usually one to eat any sort of crunchy cookie. I’ll do it if I really need something sweet and there isn’t really anything else available, but crunchy, prepacked cookies are always a last resort. Even Girl Scout cookies tend to stay in my cabinet longer than they should (I still have three packages) because I just get tired of these types of cookies. But I don’t think I could ever get tired of these. It’s probably for the best that they are an entire continent away from me. It’s also probably good that despite seeing similar tubes of cookies in other souvenir shops, I never saw another package of these biscuits. I am afraid of how many I might have purchased.

The tin of a dozen cookies was about $5.60, which would be outrageously priced, even by Girl Scout cookie standards, if they weren’t so dog gone good.

Overall:

Taste: 10/10
Appearance: 8/10
Value: 9/10

 

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Teaching Tuesday: Student travel

travel picture.jpgI’ve just arrived back in the states after traveling for nine days in the UK with 18 students and 3 other adults. This is actually the fourth trip I’ve planned and led to the UK and although at the end I was exhausted and so ready to be home, I’m already planning my next trip!

I led my first student trip 16 years ago, long before I had any children of my own and when the 23-32 hour travel days were not quite so hard on me. My first trip was through Explorica. We took the London Theater tour and it was a lot of fun. As part of the trip, we got to see two West End productions, Blood Brothers, which all but one person in our group of 13 did not care for, and The Woman in Black, which we all adored and were even rather scared by. My only problem with this tour was that our guide was strangely anti-American. He was constantly making snide comments about America and Americans, which I thought was odd considering he was leading a group of them around London. We also got paired with a middle school group and since most of my students had either just graduated high school or were going to be seniors, the age difference was huge. I felt so bad for the one male student in my group, who had just graduated, who had to room with 3 boys going into 8th grade. He was pretty miserable.

On my second trip, I decided to try out EF tours. I was immediately impressed with their service. We went on the Discover England trip and it was amazing! Granted, we had a slightly rough start as our flight out of Indy was cancelled. We spent quite a bit of time trying to figure out how to get all 12 students and 5 adults to the new flight they’d managed to get us on in Chicago, but eventually EF got us a bus service and instead of flying to O’Hare, we rode. This meant a rousing game of balloon volleyball in the Indy baggage claim area waiting for our bus to show up and then some rather amusing races in O’Hare as we waited for the terminal to open so we could go down to our gate. We arrived there about 3 am and the terminal didn’t open until 5. The kids never once let the delay get to them. We had a blast.

The tour was also really fun. This time our guide was an aspiring actor and not only were several of the girls drooling over him, but he was entertaining and seemed to like Americans. Plus, on this trip we got to see a show at the Globe theater, which was just awesome. I’d wanted to do it on the first trip, but hadn’t quite known how, so this time, I worked with my EF tour consultant and he’d arranged it for us. Even though we had to stand to watch the show, my students LOVED it.

Three years ago I branched out a bit and took students to England, Ireland, Scotland and Wales. The tour that we went on The Britannia, is one that no longer exists. My group had an absolute blast. We got to visit Platform 9 3/4, stay in a haunted hotel in Wales, did a haunted underground tour in Scotland (even if it wasn’t remotely scary), and ate absolutely delicious bon bons while touring the Ring of Kerry in Ireland. We were paired with a rather obnoxious group from Texas, but we all bonded over just how obnoxious the Texas mothers were (it wasn’t really the students who were the issue). We saw some amazingly beautiful places on the trip, but trying to squeeze 4 countries into 11 days was a bit much. We spent way too much time on a bus and hardly saw anything of Wales or Scotland. One issue of student trips is that they are sort of “tastes” of countries, so a lot gets missed.

Our most recent tip was a bit more limited in scope. This time we decided to explore only England and Scotland. We spent 9 days moving from Edinburgh down to London and it was pretty fantastic. We never spent more than 5 hours on a bus (and that was a hard day) and got a chance to really explore more of the cities we stayed in. The kids definitely got a taste of very different cities and life styles and it was cool to talk to them on the way home because some absolutely adored the fast paced life of London and others much preferred the slower pace of York or Edinburgh, but they all found something to love. When I asked for their favorite moments, they had trouble narrowing it because they’d loved so much of it. Even at their most exhausted, they were thrilled to be on tour.

Traveling with students is pretty phenomenal. I love getting to see them out of the classroom. They are more relaxed and let their guards down, so they really share their personalities with me. They laugh so much more. They confess their quirks and love to be silly. They geek out over places they’ve learned about in history classes or sights they’ve seen in movies (we saw several places where various Harry Potter movies were filmed). They marvel over how much they enjoy visiting places they knew nothing about and maybe weren’t even initially enthusiastic about seeing. They develop new friendships. They learn about other cultures and really listen to people they meet from other countries, which is so cool. Their feet ache and they are sleep deprived, but they still laugh and sing on the tube as they ride back to the hotel after being out for 15 hours. They try bangers and mash and haggis and fish and chips. They eat more ice cream than any human should consume. And they love it.

I can’t explain how much I love seeing the looks of joy on their faces when they see something they’ve always wanted to see. I can’t explain how much I delight in giving them a piece of the world so far removed from the tiny little town they come from. I can’t explain how much I adore seeing them interacting with people from other countries, truly enthralled in their experiences. And I won’t lie, I really enjoy how appreciative they are to me for giving them the experience.

The only downside (aside from extreme exhaustion) is that it is a LOT of work. Sure, I got a mostly free trip to the UK (except for lunches and souvenirs), but I put in more hours than I can count getting ready for it. There were recruitment meetings, parent emails, pre-tour meetings, more emails, paperwork to collect and organize, health issues to memorize and plan for, dietary issues to plan around, packets of information to put together and go over, tip money to collect, more emails–and that was all before we even left. Once we got there, I was responsible for 18 students for 9 days. I had to make sure everyone had their money, passports, tickets, and luggage at all times. I had to make sure everyone was up in the morning and in their rooms in the evenings. I had to make roommate assignments that pleased as many people as possible. I had to make sure no one got lost and made it on to all forms of transportation, including the London underground during rush hour. I had to make sure that during “free time” all students were with a chaperone. Since we were paired with two other school groups, I also had to make sure my kids didn’t get lost on walks to attractions. I cannot even count the number of times I counted heads to make sure they were all accounted for. When kids had medical or dietary or personal issues, I had to deal with them. I had to miss out on a few things I would have liked to do because a student wasn’t feeling well or a few of them didn’t want to go on one of the walking tours. And, I had to take and post pictures of our trip on Facebook, Tweet about our trip and send daily Remind messages so parents could be at ease that the kids were having fun and ok. I’m not sure I got more than 6 hours of sleep the entire trip.

It was worth it though. Traveling with students, while very stressful, is so rewarding. I’ve built relationships with those kids that will thrive and grow. I’ve inspired a love of travel in them. I’ve given them a real glimpse into the world outside their tiny neighborhood and they will never forget it. They may not have been happy with every moment of our trip, but they arrived home with overwhelmingly great memories. They grew in so many ways and really, as a teacher, that is what I live for.

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Chocolate Monday: The Cake Shop (Oxford)

Oxford cakes.jpgOne of my absolute favorite parts of traveling is trying new types of chocolate. I just got back from the UK on Thursday and I wish I could say the majority of my souvenirs were not of the edible variety, but alas, I spent more on chocolate goodies than on anything else. In all fairness, this was my 5th visit to the UK and I’m not someone who wears t-shirts or sweatshirts very often nor am I someone who collects shot glasses or random tchotchkes of Stonehenge or Stratford or Edinburgh Castle…no matter how cool I may find the actual places.

Instead I spent my money on a few Harry Potter gifts for my children, magnets for my classroom whiteboard (I’m always in need of them) and chocolate. Lots of chocolate.

making cakes in OxfordOne of the coolest chocolate stops I made was at the Cake Shop in Oxford. When I set out to look for fun and unique chocolate treats in the UK, I was thinking more along the lines of candy bars, truffles and cookies. The idea of buying a cake never crossed my mind. That is until I saw the absolutely adorable cakes on display in the window of this shop. I knew I had to have one.

The shop, which is located inside The Oxford Covered Market, had about 100 small square cakes on display. Some of them were extremely elaborate like the ones in the picture at the top of this post. I really, really wanted to buy that octopus cake in my picture, but knew there was no way I would want to eat all that fondant. Fondant may be beautiful, but it is not tasty. Most of the truly gorgeous small cakes for sale were also English fruit cakes. Try as I might, I have never been able to develop a taste for fruitcake. My grandmother, who was a disaster in the kitchen at anything except desserts, made fruit cake every year. Every year I would try it and while others raved about how good it was, I couldn’t stomach it. So, despite really wanting one of those beautiful designs, I had to make another choice.

close up Oxford CakeThey had simpler sponge cakes that just had expressions like “It’s a boy!” or “Happy Birthday” on them. I didn’t want an occasion cake though. Luckily for me, there were also blank sponge cakes in chocolate and vanilla available for sale. There was also a whole shelf full of fondant decorations that could be added onto any cake. My choice was easy: a chocolate sponge cake with an adorable book (in green, my favorite color) and a sunflower. It might not have been the cutest cake they made, but it was one I thought I might actually like.

 

I didn’t get to eat the cake right away. We had some VERY long days on our tour of London and I actually didn’t get to eat the cake until the morning we left for home. Yes, that’s right, I ate the cake for breakfast. My students laughed at me, especially after I teased one for eating sushi for breakfast, but I didn’t care. It’s not the first time I’ve eaten cake for breakfast and it will not be the last I’m sure.

The cake itself was moist. It had a layer of chocolate cream on the inside that was rich and delicious. Since it was covered in fondant, it did take a bit away from the taste of itself. It was lovely to look at, but it was mostly just a bit of chewy tastelessness. Although when it was eaten with the cake, it was fine and actually tempered some of the sugaryness of the cake. Still, I ended up sort of picking the cake out from under the fondant and leaving a rather large chunk of fondant on the cake board. I ate the sunflower, but not the book. I wanted to, I really did, but instead I pawned it off on a student. Even she could only eat part of it.

I’m glad I took the chance on this little cake because it was a truly fun experience, but it was a bit pricey. My cake ended up costing about $12.50, which was definitely a fair price for the artistry that went into the cake, but since the artistry was all fondant, it’s not a price I would pay again.

Overall:

Taste: 6/10
Appearance: 10/10
Value: 7/10

 

 

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Chocolate Monday: Dream Dinners Scones

Dream dinners sconesDream Dinners has become an obsession of mine. For those who have not heard of this amazing place, it’s one of those meal prep places. You place an order for at least 12 meals and then schedule a time to come in and prepare all of the meals at once. They have everything chopped and all the measuring tools conveniently placed at each recipe station. Over the course of an hour or two, you follow the very simple step by step instructions, measuring everything into baggies, placing all those baggies into a bigger baggie, pop some cooking directions in and voila…easy to cook weekday meals that taste like you spent hours on them.

Although I was a bit skeptical about how much time going to Dream Dinners would actually save me and about the quality of the recipes, I am a complete convert. My least favorite part of cooking is all the slicing and dicing needed for meal prep, so the fact that this is all done for me is brilliant. I have no food waste and can spend extra time with my family each evening. It’s a complete win and worth the $5 or so a portion.

In addition to being a great time saver, a food waste reducer and a social outlet for me (I go each month with one of my best friends), Dream Dinners also has levels I can unlock, which makes it into a bit of a game for me. The more meals I prepare and review, the more points I earn. The more points I earn, the more freebies and fun stuff I get. As part of their November promo, not only did the meals I ordered earn me double prep points, but I also got a free package of their scones. Of course, in order to get the scones I had to purchase one extra meal,  but I as soon as I saw there were white chocolate raspberry scones, I was sold.

When I went to do my November meal prep, the scones were already in the package waiting for me. There were a dozen triangular pastries just waiting to be baked. I didn’t even have to thaw these bad boys, just preheat the oven, break them apart, put them on a cookie sheet and bake for 25 minutes.

The smelled heavenly.

I am a HUGE fan of scones. I have not only made my own super tasty strawberry scones from scratch, but also tried several different mixes for drop scones that I have really liked. I’d be lying if I didn’t say that the Dream Dinner scones were better than the mix scones and almost as good as my homemade ones. According to my husband, they were even better.

GRRRRR.

Seriously though, these little pastries are fantastic. The raspberry is the perfect blend of sweet and tart and quite clearly a mix of both raspberry jam and real raspberries. There are white chocolate chips throughout to help balance out the tart and add the perfect amount of creaminess. I love how mixing white chocolate with raspberries gives the perfect berries and cream taste. The scones are light and perfectly blended so they do not taste too doughy or too floury, which can be a real problem with scones. Texture wise they remind me of scones I’ve had at tea time in several small English tea shops on visits to London.

Everyone in my family adored them. I know that I will have to buy more of these and I may even branch out and try some of the other flavors. Although this one is so tasty it’ll be hard to convince myself to get a different one.

Overall:

Taste: 10/10
Appearance: 8/10
Value: 10/10–but only b/c they were free. I actually don’t know how much they are (and can’t find a price on the website), so the jury is still out on this one.

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