Sunday, 20 July 2014

July 2014 - Birthday Week

I have obviously been failing to keep up with my blog posts recently, at least partially because I often don't feel like I have anything new or exciting to say. So I'm going to change the aim or purpose of my blog a little. Instead of primarily focusing on letting you all know what we have been up to, I am going to write about what has made me happy in the past week. This will have the dual purpose of keeping you all up to date, and remind me of all the good things happening in my life to make me smile when I'm feeling super homesick. So let us begin...

Monday 14th July - I spent the evening making the sponges for my birthday cake. I made this one from BBC Good Food.

Tuesday 15th July - My 27th birthday! Unfortunately I spent most of the day in the lab, but I was able to leave a little early to come home to all these lovely cards and pressies!

I am so spoilt! Thank you everyone, especially husband-face! We also went out for dinner, and I assembled and iced my cake.

Wednesday 16th July - The Rileys arrived! My Uncle Steve, Aunty Ann and my cousins Jo and Em came to stay! We had a nice lunch before I went back to work while they explored the Inner Harbor, then Nick made a burger bar for tea, and we looked at all the wedding photos!

Thursday 17th July - Worked for most of the day, but managed to escape early to meet my family in the Inner Harbor, then we went out for crabs in Fells Point at Riptide By The Bay, which I think was an experience for everyone! The food there was great, especially the appetisers, and awesome service too!

Friday 18th July - The Rileys left to continue on their journey to DC and the west coast :( That did not make me happy. But this was my awesome view for the evening when we went out to Barcocina in Fells Point for (what turned out to be birthday) drinks and food with our friends from the Hopkins Postdoc Association:

They even brought me cupcakes, which I failed to get a photo of before we dived in! After some awesome chips & salsa, and incredible tacos.

Saturday 19th July - A lovely relaxed day spent with my awesome husband, during which I got a lot of satisfaction from getting a lot of jobs done! And then took a hot walk up Federal Hill, to further remind myself what is good about Baltimore.

We rounded out the day with a game that N got for my birthday, Forbidden Desert, which is a sequel of Forbidden Island, a game we got a couple of years ago that we love! This new version is just as good, and different enough to be fun :)

Sunday 20th July - Another relaxing day chilling with N, including a trip to the Farmer's Market, resulting in a major haul of nectarines & apricots! And got lots more done too, feels good!

Note to self - must take more photos if I'm going to start blogging again!

Please leave a comment and tell me something that made you happy this week!

Gem x

Sunday, 6 April 2014

March 2014 - Winter goes on... and on... and on...

March was a pretty quiet month, characterised by the remains of what felt like a never-ending winter, not helped by the clocks going back way too early meaning that we went from it starting to get light when the alarm went off, to getting up in the dark again. But that's past now :)

We started out with an ice-skating trip with the Hopkins Postdoc association at Patterson Park. It took me a while to find my feet after a few years of not skating, but it was so much fun! N meanwhile was just an orange blur speeding round and round the rink.

We followed this up with a trip out to Catonsville for a leaving meal for one of N's colleagues at the best Chinese restaurant ever! Apparently it was very authentic, and the two Chinese people in attendance made excellent choices for us!

And of course we couldn't start March without Welsh cakes to celebrate St David's Day.

Pancake Day saw us at N's boss' house for a traditional English-style celebration, complete with lemon and sugar :) I even flipped one for the first time!

The night before the clocks went back we headed north-east to try out the Hamilton Tavern with some friends, to try out the reportedly awesome burgers. We turned up with seven of us on a Saturday night to this tiny, popular bar which doesn't take reservations, so needless to say we had a bit of a wait! It was fine though because the atmosphere and the company were great. Although unfortunately the food did not turn out to be worth the wait

Probably the defining theme of March was wedding planning! With only three months to go things really stepped up a notch (I must admit to getting a little stressed for a minute there) and we got a lot of stuff sorted. My dress arrived and I've already had two fittings, I bought shoes, we got our rings, and made lots of other decisions too. It's all getting very exciting now!!!

What with the dress picking-up and fittings I did a above average amount of driving in March, including a trip out to Roland Park to try the brunch at Johnny's Downstairs. It was sooooooo good! I had a chai latte that was so good I practically downed it, and gobbled up my omelette before everyone else had barely even started!

That day was book-ended by fun meals with friends (we won't mention the hour and twenty minutes I waited for a bus in between...), as we headed back to N's boss' house for a dinner party to celebrate his promotion to associate professor! Congrats Dr Edden!

Shortly after this N headed off to Berlin for a conference but was back within a week. In the meantime I went to the roller derby to watch the Charm City Roller Girls compete in their home league, again a Postdoc Association event, which as always was a lot of fun.

Oh and a couple of sweet treats courtesy of my awesome colleagues this month. Firstly I finally tried the legendary holiday treat, Peeps. Very intriguing, basically scary marshmallow shapes covered in coloured sugar. And a pot of gold at the end of the rainbow for St Patrick's Day, so cool!

And that was March. Obviously with a hefty amount of work thrown in there too :)

How was your March? Was it still winter where you are, or have you been enjoying some beautiful spring weather? Surprise snail mail for anyone who leaves a comment below! :D

Sunday, 2 March 2014

February 2014 - Snow-versary

Heeyyyy! Thanks to all of you who took the time to read my last blog post! You will be pleased to hear that this one will be much shorter with a higher ratio of photos to words! February was all about snow days and baking, working and new friends, dinosaurs and fun! (And exclamation marks apparently. Woo!)

February began with a trip to Wegmans for groceries, because apparently a 45 minute journey to the supermarket is normal for us since the shop downstairs closed! This led to a fun weekend of cooking and baking, with N making a loaf and some brioche buns, and me making some jammy dodgers after promising them to some friends (they went down very well, in case you're wondering, here's the recipe, so easy!) And I cooked a roast chicken, I think for the first time in my life, which was also pretty good, with Chinese five spice and soy sauce. I even used the leftover carcass for soup! So very domesticated!

The second weekend of February saw the arrival of our fifth anniversary, which we celebrated by booking a car and taking a cold walk at the very pretty Cylburn Arboretum, cooking duck for tea, and making an anniversary battenburg! We were so proud of ourselves for that, and it tasted soooo good! I spent the following day helping to sell Girl Scout cookies in the freezing cold, which was less fun, but did lead to me finding us a cheaper and closer supermarket to use. Also, if anyone in downtown Baltimore still needs cookies, we still have some, so get in touch!

The day before Valentine's Day we had a big snow storm which led to a snow day, even for me and I don't even live that far from work! But thankfully it didn't stop our planned Valentine's girls' night checking out some of the bars in Fells Point, which was so much fun! Although it may have ended a little messily for pretty much everyone but me... :) We even stopped by a bar which reminded me so much of a proper British pub that I felt very much at home!

The rest of the weekend was spent recovering (I may not drink, but it was a long time since I've stayed out until 2am!), taking a very snowy walk at Fort McHenry, and, of course, more baking. I made chai tea loaf which is a recipe in the BBC Good Food magazine from Frances who won the British Bake Off last year. Unfortunately most of the filling oozed out in the oven, but it was still very tasty. I also made pineapple and date relish which I'm enjoying very much on my sandwiches right now, and have been giving away to everyone because I made so much! Oh and it was restaurant week so we finally tried out The Helmand, which is the Afghan restaurant just up the road from us. I can't believe we waited so long to go there, it was incredible! Everything tasted amazing, right down to the cardamom tea at the end. It was extremely busy, but that wasn't actually a problem because they were so smooth and efficient.

And then last weekend we visited the Science Centre with our favourite little girl and her mum which was a lot of fun, and so lovely to have some mild weather for a change (unfortunately it's back to being ridiculously cold now).  And on the Sunday I went to the Craft Council Show with our friend, which was awesome. So many beautiful things on the display, but I definitely have expensive taste! Oh and I baked lime and ginger bars which don't look very appetising, but tasted pretty good, especially considering I'm not a huge citrus dessert fan!

Oh and I can't end a February round-up without mentioning that on Friday night I found an Irish pub that does decent fish and chips, it's been just up the road this whole time and I never knew!

So that was February for me! And that's not even to mention all the evenings spent doing Girl Scouts and learning about camp, gatecrashing Hopkins post-doc association events and Friday night happy hours. Busy but fun! :)

How was your February? Did you get up to anything fun? Make any tasty food or baked goods? Like last month, if you leave a comment below I'll send you some surprise snail mail!

Thursday, 20 February 2014

January 2014 - Cardiff Hen Do Fun Times!

OK so yes, I totally failed at updating you on the second half of 2013. In fact all I managed to do before giving up was give a summary of the first half of 2013, which I had already told you about! Needless to say, the second half of 2013 was busy. I've put some photos up here for your perusal, from Independence Day to New Years Eve. If you want to know more about any of our adventures from last year just ask and I'll write about it!

But anyway, onwards to 2014, a year which promises much excitement, and has in fact already offered up some fun times! Instead of trying to do a weekly blog post and failing miserably, I think I'm going to aim for a monthly round-up, with extras as I fancy. Let's see how I do!

Our year started like this:

No, we didn't have people over! XD

This was shortly followed a couple of days later by a lovely meal at Alewife with some new friends.

And then... we got back from a fleeting visit to Cardiff a whole month ago already! Ten days in the motherland certainly made me feel totally homesick for the UK, but I'm feeling much better now that we're back in our apartment. We fit so much into that short time, and I managed to see loads of my friends, in no small part due to my awesome sister being in cahoots with said friends to organise me a fabulous HEN DO! Bur more of that shortly.

We arrived at Lemon HQ on the Sunday afternoon after an uneventful journey. My marvellous friends let us stay even though they're both knee deep in work right now, so a massive thank you to both of them, especially Kate for giving up her bed! We were promptly treated to a proper roast dinner, a great start to our stay.

N was right off to work on the Monday morning, even though he wasn't supposed to be working on this trip, go figure! I spent most of the day chilling over jetlag, but did go in the MRI for the first time in the afternoon for one of N's studies. It was much louder than I expected, but fine really.

On the Tuesday we met a friend for lunch at one of our favourite cafes in an arcade in the city centre, The Plan, which serves the most amazing salmon baguettes. Then spent the afternoon relishing the novelty of shopping on a high street, before collecting my friend from the train station who had awesomely taken a couple of her days off to come down from Sheffield to see me :D We had sushi for dinner at our favourite Japanese restaurant in Roath, Tenkaichi. I wish I'd taken more photos!

The Wednesday involved much chilling and shopping - my friend and I both bought new phones! And a lovely lunch at another favourite arcade-based cafe, Madame Fromage, where I indulged in ginger beer and a panini featuring chorizo. Then of course it rained (similar to every afternoon we spent in Cardiff) so I had fun picking up the hire car and driving back to Roath through the rush hour traffic, before having to put my friend back on a bus to the train station :(

On the Thursday I drove N & I down to Dorset for the day so that he could visit our wedding venue for the first time. We made it through some torrential rain on the M5 and trudged through some mud, and thankfully N loved it! Yay! We also met our photographer who was sooooo lovely! Excitement! Then we headed for Montacute House to meet my lovely aunty for lunch, before driving back to Cardiff through some more rain. Great day!

Friday lunchtime saw my little sister arrive in Cardiff. We spent the afternoon shopping for bridesmaids dresses which was incredibly unsuccessful. Apparently our wedding colours are absolutely not in fashion right now! Once we were allowed back to the flat I was greeted by this:

Haha, oh dear! Hen do had begun! I had a surprise bake-off to judge, I was crowned Mary Berry for the evening! Amazing cupcakes and iced buns, and plenty of 90s pop. But best of all were these incredible mugs, one for every guest of the weekend (and N), all hand-drawn by the two fantastic residents of the Roath outpost! As if they didn't have enough to do! Thank you guys!

After not a huge amount of sleep we were all up bright and early for a mystery trip! After spending a not insubstantial time heading west on the M4 we eventually ended up near Tenby and met up with some more friends - we were doing high ropes! My sister is awesome, she had organised exactly what I asked for. Unfortunately I was waaaayyyy more terrified than I expected to be, as in, actually hysterical! But I am so proud of myself for facing my fears and doing 2/3 of the course, and hopefully everyone else had fun too! Unfortunately I was too busy to take photos, but one of friends who was waaaayyy too pregnant to do high ropes took lots for us, which you can see here. We followed this with some well-deserved (and long craved for) fish & chips and pots of tea in Tenby before heading back to the Roath outpost for pizza, and a quiz all about me! Which felt pretty narcissistic, but at least I didn't write the questions. Thank you Kate for putting it together (with N's help), they were great questions and it was fun to find out what all my crazy friends know and don't know about me! Everyone did pretty well though :)

The pace on the Sunday was entirely different as we headed for a spa in the countryside for a lovely chilled day of swimming, jacuzzi, steam room, sauna, sitting, drinking tea, lunch, reading magazines and having afternoon tea. But unfortunately the hen do had to end, with some sad goodbyes, but happy memories :)

Unfortunately there was no time for a lie-in on the Monday as it was time to do what we'd come for: the wedding license appointment! We had stayed our required seven consecutive nights in Cardiff so just had to show up and prove identities and we were set, as long as no-one came forward with any legal impediments before February 5th! We took some photos in Sherlock's mind palace (aka Cardiff University main building, which just happens to house the lab in which I did my PhD :D ), then I headed into town, spending some time saying goodbye to the city centre and buying British stuff to bring back, before a final meal with our lovely hosts.

And then Tuesday N and I headed to Cardiff Bay, to go to the Doctor Who Experience initially, which turned out to be closed on Tuesdays :( So instead we had a nice walk across the barrage and back, and some Wagamamas, before going to Starbucks to check in for our flight. The rest of the day was spent drying off, packing and basically waiting for our trip back to Baltimore, which started early on the Wednesday morning.

Everything went smoothly, although it was a long flight because of the wind. This did mean that I was able to watch four full films though! About Time (loved it!), We're The Millers (very funny), Blue Jasmine (meh) and Austenland (brainless, but fun to fill the couple of hours at the end of the flight when I couldn't think any more!)

But the January fun didn't end there! We were straight back to work on the Thursday, and then on the last Saturday of the month we headed out for brunch at our favourite spot, City Cafe, with our wonderful friends, and my favourite little girl :) It was actually the best brunch ever: I couldn't decide whether I wanted savoury or sweet so our friend suggested we get one of each and swap halfway through, it was the perfect balance of Croque Madame & French toast! That weekend was also filled with baking and cooking and tea: N made rolls, I made pork, chorizo & bean stew; and bara brith for St Dwynwen's Day, and set out afternoon tea with one of my new Christmas teapots and the milk & sugar set from my aunty, and I also tried out one of my Christmas flowering teas! So much excitement!

Anyway, that was a lot of writing, so well done if you made it to the end. I'm sure you didn't want to read every little detail of my month, but it turned into a bit of journalling so that I wouldn't forget the fun time we had! More pictures here. I hope you had a lovely January! What did you get up to? Any New Year's Resolutions? How are they going? Leave me a comment and I promise to send you a surprise item of snail mail! :D