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24 December 2013

Advent and Ebelskivers ● by Jess

Although most of my (and Jon's) ancestry is English, our most recent ancestors to move from Europe were Danish. For me, my most recent immigrant ancestor Ane Sophie Hansen, came over in the 1890s. She immigrated to Utah where she married Walter Francis Bingham, and then had my great-grandfather. Ane brought several Danish traditions with her, but one of the few that has really withstood the test of time in our family are Ebelskivers, which are little puffs-- kind of like a mix between a doughnut hole and a pancake.

Traditionally, Ebelskivers are eaten on Advent. Jon and I have resurrected the holiday somewhat in our family and celebrate in December.  Last year we celebrated with a big party, and this year it is just a quiet holiday with the two of us.

The image above shows my great-grandmother Nona (who learned how to make Ebelskivers from her immigrant mother-in-law, Ane) and her Ebelskiver pan, which I inherited. 

So now here is my Advent present to all of you... the official Bingham/Young Family Ebelskiver recipe:

Bingham/Young Family Ebelskivers

3 Eggs
2 Tbs Sugar
1/2 tsp Salt
1 tsp Baking Powder
1 tsp Baking Soda
2 cups Flour
2 cups buttermilk
3 large bowls

1) Take the first two bowls and yolks and whites. Mix the yolks with a fork and set aside. Next, whisk the egg whites until you have stiff white peaks, then set aside.

 2) In the third bowl, mix together all the dry ingredients. Then, add the dry ingredients to the bowl with egg yolks, then add the buttermilk. Mix until ingredients are just barely blended together. 

3) Take a small amount of the batter and add it to the egg whites (this allows the whites and batter to mix together more easily). Then gently fold in the remaining batter into the egg whites. 

4) Pre-head your Ebelskiver pan on the stove. Melt a half stick of butter and brush each cup thoroughly before pouring batter in. 

5) Let puffs cook for a minute or so until they start bubbling and the edges get slightly brown. Using a knitting needle, toothpick or other similar long, thin tool, push the tip into the middle of the batter to the bottom of the cup and gently lift the ebelskiver so that it turns and the cooked part is lifted out of the pan. Flip it so that the golden cooked part is on top and the raw batter is underneath. 

6) Make sure your pan is not to hot, otherwise you'll end up with puffs that are a little raw in the middle. 

7) Serve with syrup, berries, nutella, or anything else you'd like!

The way we celebrate Advent (which may not be totally authentic, but who cares! Its fun!!) is to have each person light a candle while someone reads the book of Luke. I love this holiday because it gives us a chance to focus on the real reason we celebrate Christmas. At least for me, the glitter of Christmas makes it hard for me to give little baby Jesus the attention he deserves, so this is one of my favorite days in the season. :)

Happy Advent!

22 December 2013

Christmas Concert ● by Jess

Last night Jon and I went and volunteered at St. Paul's church at Covent Garden with an organization called NYMT (National Youth Music Theatre-- the organization Jude Law started his career in). It was INCREDIBLE! The kids that are apart of the symphony and choir all seemed to be prodigies. Jon and I were both really impressed by the caliber of the performances. Afterwards we handed out mince pies and mulled wine to the guests and mingled. 

21 December 2013

Carnival at Night ● by Jess

Is there anything better than spending oodles of money on carnival rides? Maybe, but not when you are hanging out with the coolest French couple in all of London! We've been trying to plan this night out with Clément and Sarah (specifically to ride the much anticipated 'Blizzard') for awhile now, and it was definitely worth the wait! Such a fun night!

Yes darling friends, the image above does indeed show a woman unwrapping a KINDER CHOCOALTE BAR onto an enormous crepe (be still little heart!). Basically it is heaven all bundled up in European yum-ness. 

Jon has a pretty serious fear of heights, so I was very proud of him for braving through this ride! The Blizzard is by far the most terrifying ride in the park. The large arms swings you round and around while you do flips. Crazy! Also a very fun way to see the entire city all lit up at night. 

13 December 2013

When Diplomats Elope ● by Jess

I just had the weirdest day.

Around 2:45pm an email pops into my inbox from a really fabulous designer friend of mine, Chenca. She wrote, "I HAVE A BRIDE THAT URGENTLY NEEDS A PHOTOGRAPHER!! SHE'S GETTING MARRIED AT 3:30PM-- CAN YOU SHOOT IT?"

Since I was just editing images, and conveniently had a full set of lenses rented (after last weeks debacle), I happily hopped around the corner to Chenca's shop. I walk inside, past a small crowd of security and a wide-eyed Chenca started gushing-- apparently the groom was a well-to-do diplomat and the couple was eloping (Intrigue!).

I slipped in the fitting room to find the bride-- a sweet looking girl, who very much had the soft pudge of youth still about her. She was spouting French on the phone excitedly as Chenca and her assistant put together the finishing touches.

Almost as quickly as I was brought in, I was ushered out-- out the door and into a private town car where we were whisked across town the courthouse.

Once inside the hall, I realize that, despite the superb flowers and gown, this was REALLY an elopement. No family, just two or three friends from each side of the bride and groom had come.

After a quaint civil ceremony, we are off the reception, but the groom wanted to make a stop at Selfridges to pick up a gown for his new wife. She has apparently already had it fitted, so while he went in, I chatted with the bride in attempts to squeeze out a few details to the seemingly tabloid-worthy day.

Without much time, I received little more than the fact that she was a trilingual student studying International Business. Soon, we were off to the Four Seasons for an intimate dinner in a private room.

In the end, despite numerous attempts by yours truly to get either the bride or groom's contact information, no one would give it to me! Ultimately, I was handed a giant wad of cash and was told that I would be paid half now, and half in a week when the diplomat's private driver would come to collect the disk of images. All my communication with the bride and groom is to be with the driver alone.

It was crazy. After a whirlwind of a day, I finally got home sat down at my computer. I realized that today is Friday the 13th and somehow that fact makes every bizarre thing that happened today feel exactly perfect.

The Good, The Bad and The Fun ● by Jess

*whew* These last two weeks have been one major emotional roller coaster. I haven't been blogging much because, honestly, I hadn't really processed it. But here's what's been going on:

The Good: We discovered Richmond.

I had a shoot here a couple of weeks ago and fell in LOVE with it. Jon and I spent the day there and both went gaga over everything. It is our new favorite part of London and I suspect when we eventually have a baby, this is where we will move. It is this beautiful, English town that is really posh (or "leafy" as they call it hear). It even has a Whole Foods people! What more could a yuppy mom ask for?!

The Bad: £4000 worth of uninsured photo equipment damage.

*sigh* I am only barely at the point where I can talk about this one. 

I was at a shoot last week. We had all these amazing couture dresses that the stylist brought in and we were shooting at this phenomenal venue... I started shooting and after the first look my favorite lens mysterious stops working. Like completely will not communicate with my camera so the shutter won't open. This is super weird. 

Then, while I'm changing lenses, my best flash unit suddenly falls off the stand it is securely attached to (for no reason) and smashes into four pieces. 

Then, another lens rolls off the table and breaks. 

It was crazy. One thing after another kept happening, until I couldn't even use my camera anymore. I ran around the corner to the camera rental shop and guess what? IT WAS SHUT DOWN! 

Incredibly disheartened, I went back to the shoot, and we decided we'd just finish it off with an Avant Garde shoot-with-your-phone approach. 

Then, my phone dies (the battery was still at full power). 

It was like there was this poltergeist sucking the life out of everything I owned. We finished the shoot off with the models phone, but it was epically sad. 

The worst part is that I haven't bought insurance on my equipment yet over here and my US insurance has just ran out. AHHHH! 

Anyway, on the bright side it has really forced me to look at where I'm headed and make some positive professional changes in the right direction. 

The Fun: Jon's 29th birthday-- whoo hoo!

Several weeks ago, Jon woke up and said, "Jess, I had this amazing dream where I came home from work one day and you had decorated the apartment and it felt incredible!"

Despite being an art major, I've never bothered to decorate or even purchase any furniture other than a bed, desk and table. The super practical side of my brain prevents me from doing anything in a space I know I won't be in for more than a year. But Jon's dream made it pretty clear that the time has now come! 

For his birthday he got the works-- the art, the bedspread, pillows, rugs, mirrors, lamps, etc. More photos to come... I'm holding out for the day that our stuff FINALLY arrives from New York before sending photos of the apartment. 

Anyway, it was lots of fun. The things he asked for were a triple layer chocolate cake (check!) and a hundred reasons why I love him (gaggy, I know, but we are both pretty sappy romantics). I did the latter as a sort of art instillation on one wall. Lots of fun even as such a quiet birthday with the two of us :)

28 November 2013

Thanksgiving: A Conversation ● by Jess

A conversation I had yesterday with some British friends who had questions about Thanksgiving.

Brit 1: So, why do you celebrate Thanksgiving anyway?
Me: Well, we are celebrating when, after the Pilgrims first came to America, they made it to their first harvest. There was a big feast with the Native Americans.
Brit 1: Did that actually happen?
Me: Uh, I think so...
Brit 1 (winking): So, they celebrated, then kicked them off their land and killed them with disease?
Me: That may be a bit on the cynical side, but.... yes, I guess so.
Brit 2: How do you celebrate it? It's bigger Christmas right? Like with lots of presents?
Me: No, no presents, just lots of eating.
Brit 1: Wow! Do you just eat all day long?
Me: Well, for most families, they watch the parades-- either in their town or on TV. Then the guys watch football-- American football-- and the ladies start cooking dinner. Then we all sit down and eat together.
Brit 1: The ladies just have to cook all day? Gosh, I wouldn't last five minutes in your Thanksgiving-- Well, except for the eating part.
Brit 2: OK, let me see if I've got this... You celebrate Thanksgiving to memorialize an event of questionable origin by perpetuating gender stereotypes and proceed to stuff an already statistically obese group of people.
Me: Hmmm, ok... we're missing the point here. Thanksgiving is about spending time with your family and taking time to be grateful for all the blessings in our lives. Its a great holiday!
Brit 2: Hmmmm.... Did you know we actually have a day of nation thankfulness here in England?
Me: Oh, really?
Brit 2: Yes. It's July the 4th.

I laughed, but I think a little bit of me died inside ;) Anyway, Happy Thanksgiving London!!

27 November 2013

Beggars ● by Jess

When you get into any urban environment, begging seems to be ubiquitous. On the main street near our home, they are a permanent part of the cityscape. It's mostly women. Headscarves obscure their faces as they kneel contritely, bodies bowed. They look down, until that moment when your path crosses their line of sight. Then they look up, and you find yourself falling fast into their watery eyes, their gaze telling their tale of woe so much better than words can. You feel your hand unwillingly slip into your pocket and you suddenly feel lighter, freed from both your greed and your hard-earned cash. You then walk away a little befuddled, beginning the internal debate about how much she really "needed" it, but ultimately forget the experience until the next time around. At least, this is usually how it happens for me. 

Jon's golden heart manifests itself every time we pass one; he is always giving. I usually stand by awkwardly, battling between my desire for him to ignore them and the cold wave of guilt for wishing it. However, last week when it happened again,  I noticed something. Several meters away was a man smoking, observing Jon's exchange with almost too much interest. As he let out a slow stream of smoke, he leaned back in satisfaction, then grimaced when he noticed me watching him. His gaze shot away, then locked back in again on the woman, the way a paranoid babysitter does when she's afraid the kid she's watching might do something stupid. 

He gave me the willies and I tugged on Jon to get moving. We left, but I was never able to shake the feeling of unease. For the next few days I started watching closely. It seemed that for nearly every woman, there was a man, somewhere nearby-- either in a newsstand or puffing on a cigarette -- just watching. 

It's enough to freak a girl out! Who are these guys?! 

Yesterday, I was musing over my observations with one of the teens in our church congregation. She, rather nonchalantly replied, "Oh yeah, its like a slave trade. I just watched a documentary about it in school. A lot of eastern europeans-- mostly Romanians and Bulgarians-- come over now that they are in the EU. They can't really work until they have a year of residency so they become professional beggars. There is like this whole slave ring where these men will just drop off women and children and expect them to beg all day. Then they drive back and pick them all up and take them home. Some of them bank roll up to 100k a year."


This is not the kind thing you want hear, especially when you pay a small fortune to live in a decent area of London. What is terrifying is that PEOPLE KNOW IT! There are men pimping out women and children as beggars in front of my grocery store. What makes me sick is that our income-- OUR POCKET CHANGE-- has subsidized this depravity. 

And what can I do about? Nothing. The police know. I've seen them giving solicitation tickets to the women. What more can they really do? I can ignore the beggars and feel sick. I can give to them and feel worse. Our council (Westminster) even sent us pamphlet imploring people to not give to the beggars. Still, they are out there every single day.

I now find my heart speeding up whenever I see one of these ladies bowed down in the freezing cold with her warden hovering nearby. I just want to punch those men in the face and snatch the babies away and say, "NO! This child deserves more than this." I even dreamt last night that I did this very thing, and dangit, it felt so good.

Now I'm sitting at this computer, baby-less, and overwhelmed with a sense of futility. There is really almost nothing I can do to fix it. 

All I can really do is just shut my eyes and walk a little faster when I pass by.


23 November 2013

Winter Wonderland ● by Jess

So, just a few blocks from our house-- in Hyde Park-- there is this magical amazing place that blows the socks off of every amusement park I've ever been to. It is only there in the winter (it's called Winter Wonderland) and it is EPIC. 

Jon and I spent the day here eating bratworst and steak sandwiches and wishing we had our own little nugget to take on the kiddy rides (really we just wanted an excuse to go on them). There were SO MANY rides and some I've never seen before. There was one where they spin you in an upright barrel, then drop the floor out from beneath you. Centripetal force keeps you plastered to the side, until it stops, you puke and then shell out £8 to go again. Basically, the best thing ever. 

The sheer size of the event was boggling (these photos do not at all convey its immensity-- I got lazy with picture taking after the first 20 minutes). It took us all day to walk through it... and the very best part of it was that admission was totally free! PRAISE!

Although there were many amazing events, rides and spaces-- this one was one of my favorites. It was a cafe/bar that had a carousel built inside of it. Instead of horses, there were standing cafe tables, and the whole thing actually went round and round. Around the carousel were lots of different food booths with different cuisines. Very cool. 

16 November 2013

Southbank Christmas Market ● by Jess

I had heard of the European Christmas markets before I moved here-- I even imagined them as quaint little bavarian stalls all lined up like gift-bearing elves for the holidays. Let me tell you friends, I have now experienced my first and it did not disappoint!

Today Jon and I spent our afternoon at the Southbank Christmas Market. It just opened yesterday and it was marvelous. There were german food stalls and beautiful hand-blown glass and gingerbread and possibly the best Santa known to man. The street food was excellent-- we munched on salt beef, potatoes, candied pecans and hot chocolate (strange mix when put together in a sentence, but it tasted Christmas-y!). It was all so festive; London is definitely doing Christmas right.