Notes from an unheated room above an Italian restaurant in a town barely charted on Google Maps.

1. When one does not own a car or a television or a raincoat, a good deal of time is allocated to reading.

2. No amount of imagination can turn Original Curry Style Pot Noodles into what is desired after four hours of reading Momofuku.

3. There are still places that have bus service only once a week.

 
4. I understand the tide in theory, but have yet to grasp how one reasonably plans their day around it, hence why I still haven’t taken a ride on the SeaTractor.

5. Drinking is starting to seems like a reasonable pastime.

6. Those who insist choice be an economic necessity have not been marooned in Devon with only one store.

7. It is amazing how much money one can spend at said store every day and still have nothing to show for it.

8. Devon’s way of dealing with snow was to dig out the roads. I’ve been told it doesn’t really snow here.

9. Having never owned a dog their nature has always confused me, however I can now say that I understand them to a certain degree: car rides are sheer delight.

10. It’s never been so easy to get to bed by 11pm.

11. I think the fact that the entire South of England hasn’t been devoured by a giant mould spore is proof of a higher power.

12. A surprising number of houses still have thatched roofs, considering only three thatchers remain in the whole of England. 

13. When one plays darts and a shot ends up in a wooden cross beam in the ceiling, perhaps one requires more practice or more likely the pub is too old (it seems in the 1200s, 6ft ceilings made sense).

14.“Proper” cider is skunky and gross.

15. Garbage is dealt with…differently.

16. 200 year old windows are painted shut for a reason.

 
17. In the country, what is deemed “excellent cuisine” varies significantly from that in the big city.

 
18. Despite being careful and hardly venturing anywhere, mud manages to make it onto most things.

 
19. Pricing can vary. No one seems to care.

 

20. People are much nicer here than in the big city.

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And now for something completely different.

It wasn’t that I didn’t like London.

I did. My decision to leave was based on several things, one reason being that so many people dream of living there, myself included, because of all that it has to offer culturally. The galleries, museums, festivals, the fashion, food, and incredible architecture. London does have something for everyone. And it’s tiny, too. It seems enormous and daunting, but it is in fact rather small if you are willing to walk it.

I couldn’t appreciate London, which is different from saying I didn’t appreciate it. It is in no ones best intrest for me to moan about how kitchen work is long and hard and tubing it to and from work is boring and exhausts you further so I won’t but it only took a month before I had to give up exploration during my days off for sleeping in, getting laundry done, and watching tv. Staying off my throbbing feet was my main priority.

London also kept me from my main hobby, this place. Working a job that forces you into a box is one thing, but not being able to express yourself creatively in the manner that most suits you in your spare time is beyond frustrating. I didn’t feel as though I was gaining much; I learned how to manage but I was so nervous about my imperfections that I lost all the confidence I had built up over the last year. And confidence is terribly important in doing things properly and efficiently.

Money was a bit of an issue, though I suspect it was mostly in my head, which wasn’t London’s fault.

So all right then, what now?

There is a job waiting for me in Plymouth, Devon (yes, sconeland). Wait, that’s not right. I am waiting for my Plymouth job in St. Anne’s Chapel, which is 1/2 a mile from Bigbury, which is 2 1/2 miles from Bigbury on Sea. Never heard of it? Neither had I.

The English countryside is something I have longed to travel since childhood. The tiny cars on the narrow roads, kindly pulling over and arguing cheerfully about who should go first, the sheep wandering around in the distance. Baaaaaah!

Yes.

This is real.

Except the English country dwellers know how to drive these roads so they take them at high speeds. Yes the roads absolutely narrow suddenly to one lane just as you pass a sign that reads “Oncoming traffic in centre of road”.

 

Wild ponies.

Sheep are not afraid of cars. They probably don’t even know they are there. And like cats they are fine until you point a camera at them and then its all ass for you.

Everything is damp always. Clothes do not quite dry ever and moss covers the trees. It is always chilly, but in the way that makes you feel alive.

This is St.Ann’s Chapel. There is one building I haven’t included in this photo, along with four houses and an oyster shack. But this is the town centre. 

The view…of the only place to spend money (and the other side of the city centre, said building mentioned above. I will still fret about money, I know it).

Now it’s all about adjusting. Going from 8million peeps to maybe 500 is a bit of a jump. The internet is extremely sketchy and may involve sneaking down to the restaurant in the middle of the night to blog or chat. Cellphone reception is sporadic. I can get it at the bar, but randomly, and if I sit in the middle of the bed and don’t move. And even then I can’t text my parents. Guess I’m going to get to know this guy, which ironically does not accept coins:

This is the way to town…

Not as busy as Oxford street.

Maybe there are pigeons around here I can train. Guess I have to figure out which way is Canada.

Sweet Hallelujah.

Everyone experiences moments when they know they don’t fit in. It’s awkward, uncomfortable for everyone, and mildly embarrassing. I’d avoided this experience for months, knowing I would have to do it eventually, but finding every excuse possible to put it off.

At the last moment possible, I gave in, knowing I’d regret it if I didn’t just suck it up and do it. Unfortunately, I’d packed my party dress and nice shoes.

So, dressed in a Smiths t-shirt, skinny jeans, a black toque and Converse sneakers, I made my way to Belgravia to have cake.

Belgravia is in the borough of Kensington. It is posh. Clean. Inhabited by bankers and lawyers and CEOs I assume. The cars here are shiny, new, and expensive.

My destination is Peggy Porschen’s Boutique, a cake shop that perhaps sells the best cake in London. In my time here I have eaten a good deal of cake. Not because I want to of course, out of professional curiosity. My time in London has perhaps booted me onto the road to Type 2 Diabetes; it was only recently I realized that my search for the best sweets in town has been the result of not having the time or energy to produce anything at home, something I have been doing for the last six years. The satisfaction however was always in the process, no wonder my London tour never left me feeling felt truly satisfied.

Before I talk about the good stuff, let’s review:

The cake at the famous Bea’s of Bloomsbury was good. They specialize in “American style” sweets: cupcakes, giant cookies, tall layered cakes, and cheesecake. The Chocolate Guinness cake was good, a bit underbaked, it was fudgy but stuck to the rood of your mouth, which wasn’t especially pleasant, but the the cream cheese frosting was surprisingly light and not sugary, as they tend to be. Overall, it was good, better than most, but far from perfect.

Peyton & Byrne, a well-known establishment, served up a decent Victoria sponge, though it was what could be expected from a place that often shows its face in train stations and museum foyers. This one was a swiss-roll style, and used fresh (but out of season — it was October after all) strawberries to complement the rich cream. The sponge was sticky, but not dry, and they used real vanilla in the cream, which bought them back the points they’d lost by serving it on a paper plate with a plastic fork. The take-away banana cake, studded with toasted hazelnuts and chocolate and available in lovely pink or blue tins, was extremely disgusting.

A necessary stop was made to the Primrose Bakery, a teeny but welcoming shop located a walk down the Camden canal, away from the tattoos and cheap tourist shops, to a quaint residential area near Mornington Crescent station. This cupcakery has one or two cookbooks widely available in Canada, so I assume it is well-known. The cupcakes were not dry and actually flavourful (as opposed to the Hummingbird Bakery, but I’ve already ragged on them so I won’t repeat myself). I won’t lie, I fell for the bubblegum cupcake, even as an adult I am such a sucker for this incredibly unnatural flavour, but it was actually kind of delicious. The frosting was a bit sweet and the cake a bit on the dry side, but overall the experience was pleasant, like going to a bazaar and buying a cupcake at the bake table. And Bazooka Joe gum? A nice touch.

And finally, the last stop.

I’d seen photos online of the shop; it appeared much larger on the outside, in photos and reality. I didn’t take an establishing shot for this stop, I actually dislike taking photos, but I love having photos. Sometimes, I discover that my photos are a bit unfocused because I’ve tried to be a bit to quick getting it back into my pocket. It comes back to that feeling of not belonging; I don’t want to appear to be a tourist, even if I am one.

Walking through Belgravia was something akin to strolling through the City, where I worked until recently. I’ve already mentioned the city is new and shiny as the previous incarnation was bombed quite a bit during the war. Everyone is in a hurry, usually dressed in black suits, talking on their cellphones. The City feels like somewhere far away from London.

I actually always anticipated hover crafts to come zipping around the corner. It will most likely look like a scene from Blade Runner in the next, say, forty years.

Back in Belgravia I see ladies with giant sunglasses (okay, me too, but keep in mind I’ve misplaced my Chanel suit) doing their errands in four inch heels and carrying Birken bags. Sigh. I’m surprised they run buses out here, but how else would the plebs get to their coffee shop jobs?

This is the first thing I see when I approach this pink-beacon:

I think I might die.

Let me go back. I can’t recall when I discovered Peggy’s books, but I bought one not because the pink, white, and black sugar cookies and handbag cakes were remotely close to the style I wanted to eventually produce once I started making cakes for a living, but because the cakes were executed in a technically perfect way. Having read and worked through the book for the three or four years I have had it, I had to know if they were so perfect (albeit extremely girlie) in reality. That cake in the window, covered with roses (and a bit of dust, such is life), blew me away. They were that perfect.

But how would they taste?

The display counter was smaller than I’d thought. I had perused the menu online and decided I was going to bite the bullet and try a slice of the fruit cake, with its marzipan and fondant covering, despite fruit cake not being my taste. If her more elaborate cakes are fruit cake, I wanted to know what they tasted like.

But there was her famous Victoria Sponge. And the Strawberry and Champagne cake. The Dark Truffle Cake. Ahggg, what to try?

Oh wait.

Hello there.

A tiered cake stand with samples of

ALL THE CAKES.

Yes.

So I was able to try all the cakes.

The girl behind the counter, who told me the truffle cake was amazing, was no liar. It was out of this world.

But I ordered the Victoria Sponge instead. I had to have a slice even though I didn’t want to eat cake. It isn’t normal for me to go into an all-pink cake shop in a posh neighbourhood, dressed like a grumpy teenager, order a piece of pale pink cake and a coffee, and try to enjoy myself without feeling like I should vacate the premises immediately or offer to shine someones shoes. But I did it for my career. And for you, those who have read this far.

I mean, look at that.

That isn’t fondant. I thought it was, but it’s just perfectly frosted, I sat there staring at it for long enough.

PERFECT.

I want to be this perfect.

One day.

I will note I felt a bit more at ease when one of the bakers pushed open the front door, apron crinkled, hair awry, covered in chocolate, and stomped to the kitchen. I don’t normally approve of chefs being seen in the dining room unless it’s the head chef, cleaned up as they tend to be, but this girl showed up at the right time. I wanted to hug her.

Oh yeahhh. Alriiight. North American for Life.

I’m not going to go through a whole thing about how living here has allowed me to fully realize what I want from lifeblahblahblah mostly because it is Saturday and even though it isn’t particularly early in the day, my coffee is quite cold so I don’t feel like going on some kind of spiritual rant.

What I will talk about, however, is pie.

Pumpkin pie, to be precise. Those of you who have access to my more to-the-minute bits and bobs about London Town on the Book of Face may remember my suspicions that someone went into the Whole Foods in Camden and bought all the precious pumpkin puree, leaving me pumpkin pie-less for Canadian Thanksgiving. Fair enough.

I waited patiently for the puree to come back, visiting Camden for something other than ice cream (but also ice cream I admit) the weeks between the two Thankgivings, eventually accepting that the second wave (American-styles) was probably when my luck would strike.

And oh my how my patience was rewarded.

Venturing not to Camden but to the largest Whole Foods in London, Kensington (well known borough that boasts all things fancy-pants like Harrods and Harvey Nichols in Nightsbridge, and Chelsea).

Buy-what-you-need blue eggs. Whole Foods may have the only bulk-style shopping in London.

As a Canadian who does not live in Toronto or BC, I had never actually had a Whole Foods experience until I combed through ex-pat message boards online trying to find somewhere that carried pumpkin puree, and finding that Waitrose was a highly unreliable source.  Whole Foods is some kind of magical foodie playground, but for people who don’t really know much about cooking. For someone who is too tired to cook by the end of a day spent in a kitchen, it was pretty great. Except it isn’t near where I live so living in a Whole Foods world is not an option.

I would love to grind my own flour. But I need to make pie instead.

Shops with an ounce of humour do it for me. You can have all the money, Whole Foods.

The English don’t get sweet pumpkin. I’ve found people who aren’t from North America don’t get sweet pie. Regardless, I chose a recipe from a London food shop, Leon, because I wanted to try their take on it. This is where I make a quick note about how I have been dying to make something, anything, without following someone else’s recipe or being instructed over-the-shoulder how to stir something. It was just a pumpkin pie, and the process lasted for about 7 1/2min, but it was good enough.

Leon Pumpkin Pie

450g Pumpkin Puree

3 free range eggs

100ml double cream

150g light brown sugar

1 teaspoon ground cinnamon

1/2 teaspoon ground ginger

1/2 teaspoon ground star anise

1/2 teaspoon ground allspice

1 teaspoon sea salt

3 tablespoons maple syrup

Okay, so I forgot to add the Maple Syrup. Mostly because after I combined everything the filling was really quite sweet and not quite spicy (I upped the spices to at least 1 teaspoon per, using 2 teaspoons ginger and cinnamon) To be fair, I couldn’t get brown sugar and used Demerara instead.  Also, ground star anise? Nope. I don’t know where or how that happens as I’ve never seen it. Therefore it must not exist. I steeped the cream with whole star anise instead. I must say, I did really like the addition of the star anise, even to the exclusion of the most delicious Nutmeg.

And I admit I committed a bit of a pastry sin…the pre-made tart shell. I have my reasons. I don’t want to get into it. Bake for 35 minutes at 180 (350 in Canadia).

This recipe was delightful, save for the slightly-too-sweet aspect, but I think I’m the only one who complained about that. It had a bit of a texture to it because of the high pumpkin ratio (they suggest you sieve it one or two times, but for serious all my tamis are in Canadia), my favourite part since the pumpkin flavour and mouth feel wasn’t diminished by evaporated or condensed milk that is so often included. Topped with Maple Double Cream, it was like a bit of Canada…err…in my mouth….eh?