Monday, 8 July 2013

Traveling to Dundee

Ok, ok, I know that Dundee might not be top of the list of exciting places to go in Scotland.  (It might, in fact, be nearer the bottom.)  But I have a conference in Dundee with travel and hotel paid, and if I’m going anyway, why not make it a fun adventure instead of a boring work trip?

The advantage of travelling to less well-known places is that, rather than walking Edinburgh’s Royal Mile or visiting the golf courses at St. Andrews, you get to know the real country.  I hate the word authentic.  It’s the most overused hipster word of the 21st century.  (Followed closely by curate.)  But that’s what traveling to somewhere like Dundee gets you – a more authentic look at a country.

I took the train, not because it was faster or cheaper (it wasn’t really, and I wasn’t paying anyway) but because I adore taking the train through England and Scotland.  I love the green fields and the rolling hills and the sparkling blue or ominously grey of the North Sea and we fly past.  Maybe it’s the product of growing up in a place where no one ever took the train.  But either way, with a good audiobook on my phone, I watched the miles go by, and in six hours, had made it to the city. 

The first thing you notice when you step off the train is that T
the town, built along the Tay River, offers fantastic waterside views.

They also have the RRS Dicovery, the ship that Captain Robert Scott took on his 1912 Antarctic Expedition.  We didn't have time to visit, but the discovery center looks like a great afternoon. (History nerd, I know.)

Our hotel, the Apex (£73 a night) was a decent business hotel with a spa and offered gorgeous views out over the city and the quays.

Most of the (gorgeously sunny) weekend was spent in a conference room, but we managed to wander through the city and enjoy the town (and the whiskey).  All Dundee’s medieval structures (like the castle) have been replaced by Victorian structures from the 19th century, when the city became a center for the trade in jute and whale oil, as well as marmalade production.  The town still has a quaint downtown, however, and the building site in the center of the city will be a new Scottish V&A by 2015. 

Built in the early 20th century, Caird Hall offers concerts and events.  Saturday they had a festival with Scottish pipes and traditional dancing.  The whole town came out to enjoy the sunshine.

Dundee also has many of those little details which makes a town unique.  If you're looking, the city has a plethora of old and entertaining statues scattered through the streets.

While it still might not be my first choice for Scottish travel, Dundee is a pretty little riverside city worth the visit.  

Cost (if traveling there to attend a conference): FREE!

Thursday, 4 July 2013

Wedding Inspiration: Red White and Blue

Happy 4th of July!  I would say Happy Independence Day, but it's really more of a "Happy you don't have to worry about your colonies anymore" Day.  So how am I celebrating our (my?) nation’s independence?  On the train from London to Dundee.  For a conference.  What a glamorous life I do lead.

In honor of the holiday, however, I thought I’d do some wedding brainstorming.  See, M likes the idea of a red, white, and blue wedding.  He’s British, I’m American, we’re celebrating the coming together of two nationalities, so what better way to honor this than with a color scheme that works for both of our countries?
I’m less enthusiastic.  It’s not that red, white, and blue weddings can’t be adorable – they can.  It’s just that I’m not sure if they’re really us.  We’re more than just an American and an Englishman, we’re individuals and a unique couple.  I want the wedding to be about us as a couple, rather than nationality (of which there will be plenty already).

But it seems unfair to dismiss his wedding ideas out of hand, just because they’re not mine.  So in the spirit of the day, I’ve been thinking about how we could make a red and blue wedding work.

Here are some of my favorite examples:

This wedding uses a full red with a more purple-y blue, keeping it looking fresh and summery.  I also adore this Telephone/Guestbook sign.

The use of a dark salmon or Nantucket red with the lighter sky and teals works wonders here.  You get the feel of red and blue but it's personal as well.  Adorable chair tags too.

This airmail stationary almost has me convinced that these should be our wedding colors.  So perfect for a destination wedding. 

So gorgeous.  It's almost pink and purple, but still maintains that red and blue look.  Loving the roses.

I think if I were to do red and blue, this is how I would manage it.  A lighter navy with darker and lighter salmon pinks make for a classic summer wedding palette.

These work well too, and have a cute pink and blue with red accents look.

One really popular way to do red and blue is a deep red with teal or Tiffany blue, like these examples.

I think the key is to vary the tones and combining salmon with a darker or purply-er tone, or red with teal or tiffany blue. This keeps it looking more like a wedding and less like a fourth of July picnic.

Recipes: Baked Salmon and Vegetables

I’m not going to lie, I’ve never been a huge vegetable fan.  To be honest, I’ve despised everything with even a hint of green in it for the majority of my life.  It’s only been in the last few years, with much encouragement from M, that I’ve even considered trying most vegetables.  Roots were pretty easy, but I’m still hesitant about green things, and broccoli is the final frontier.

Part of the reason that I’m slowly becoming a vegetable convert is surely age – many people’s taste buds change around their mid-20s, as their bodies start craving vitamins along with protein and carbs.  But I’ve also discovered roast vegetables in the last few years.  Everything tastes better roasted in olive oil and covered with gravy or lemon juice.

This is one of my favorite summertime roast vegetable recipes because it’s cheap, easy, and really fast.  I just pick up the ingredients on the way home and stick it in the oven.  If I’m feeling frugal I’ll go to ASDA but this is one of those recipes where high quality ingredients (especially the fish) make a big difference, and I’ll spend the extra pound or two for a really good dinner. 

I’ve chosen to makes this partly because I have lots of cherry tomatoes waiting to be eaten and based the prices of the things I bought on Waitrose (oops!  I love Waitrose).

Baked Salmon with French Beans, Cherry Tomatoes, and Artichokes

Ingredients (for 2)
2 Pieces of Salmon (I like fillets, but whatever)
10-12 cherry tomatoes (or really however many you want)
5 oz French beans, blanched (boil them 3-4 minutes, then plunge into cold water for 10 min)
½ small jar artichoke hearts, drained
1 lemon
olive oil

Put vegetables in a roasting pan.  Coat them in olive oil and the juice of half the lemon, then salt and pepper to taste.  (I will often marinade the salmon in white wine while waiting for the beans to blanch, but only if I have some open).

Put the salmon on top of the vegetables and add a splash of lemon juice, salt and pepper.

Bake at 220 for 15 minutes or until the salmon is done.

I serve this with wedges from the other half of the lemon, rice (so cheap), and a bottle of wine.  Enjoy! 

COST- salmon: £5.98 (on sale), beans: £1.60, lemon: £0.34, artichoke hearts:£3.29 (on sale)

Total for dinner: £5.61 per person, though this actually makes us meal and a half, so M will have salmon for dinner tomorrow while I’m away.  This makes the cost £.374 per individual meal.  Cheap, healthy and delicious, even from Waitrose.

I also bought a bottle of wine for £6.29, and if you factor that into the 3 meals it comes to £5.81 with wine.  Not bad!

Wednesday, 3 July 2013

An Evening at the Candlemaker

One of the hardest things about trying to save money is that it’s much cheaper to stay in than go out.  But I love going out.  I love crowded streets and cozy pubs and the buzz of being surrounded by other people.  I think this technically makes me an extrovert. 

It also means that I want to go to the pub on a Tuesday.  We don’t need to go far or stay too long, but after a day of working alone, I want to be WITH people.

SO, last night M and I tried the Candlemaker – the recently refurbished pub on Battersea High St.  It got the name from the candle factory which (along with a variety of other light industry) used to operate along the river here in south London.  

I was pleasantly surprised – while not packed, the pub had a quiet Tuesday hum, with couples and groups of friends scattered among most of the tables. The décor was 60s chic with pop-art all over the walls, mixed with fun pieces like this suit of armor:

and there is lots of outside seating for those summer nights… oh right.  Well, for the smokers anyway.

Drinks wise, the pub is affordable but not cheap.  I had a small viognier for £4.85 (DO NOT DRINK the house Sauvignon Blanc, awful) and M tried one of the local pints for £4.50 or so.  (Which one – I don’t remember.  Next time.)

All in all, a fun find for less than a fiver each.  Good beer and a fun atmosphere.  Apparently Monday is the night to go, with a comedy quiz and two-for-one burgers.  Maybe next week.

Groupon – Military Fitness

I admit it: I LOVE groupon.  I love opening my mail in the morning to find out all the fun ways that I could be “saving” money today.  I love that moment when I realize that the hot yoga voucher or discounted afternoon tea I’ve been waiting weeks for has finally arrived.  It’s like a little present in my inbox every day.

The problem with groupon is, of course, that you have to spend money in order to save it.  Had I been planning to have a massage?  No.  But I’ve spent £30 on one (I saved £50, I swear.)  Groupon makes me want things I can’t have and, frankly, don’t really need. Laser skin resurfacing – I’m not 30 yet.  Accounting classes – I can probably do without those as well.  Despite my love of groupon, the worst thing about getting those money saving emails is that I really shouldn't buy any of them.


Today is different.  Today, I get to make that fabulous groupon purchase.  And what am I buying?  British military fitness passes! 

It’s been months and months since I worked out properly, and with regular classes in Battersea Park, there is absolutely NO excuse to not use these passes.  I get 6 passes for £24, or £4 per fitness class. That's a pretty good deal - as long as I use them.

Will I hate these classes?  Probably.  I’m really more of a yoga girl.  But it’s summer (sort of) and I have wedding dresses to try on.  No time like the present.

Monday, 1 July 2013

Day Out: Wandering London

One of my absolute favorite things about London is that, while it can be an incredibly expensive place to spend a day, it doesn’t have to be. 

Saturday started at 10:30, when M awoke to the realization that the British Lions were playing IN HALF AN HOUR and the bastard developers had shut down the only pub with rugby on in easy walking distance.  (That’s another story, or rant, for another day).  After a quick shower, he dashed up to the Northcote (just south of Clapham Junction) to watch the British rugby team struggle valiantly against the Aussies.  As I am neither a happy morning person nor an avid rugby fan, I followed at a more leisurely pace, stopping for a pastry at the market and arriving in time to see most faces in the pub looking like this:

(COST- Pastry: £1.50, Coke: £1, Total: £2.50)

A tough 15-16 loss later, we decided to vent his misery (I don’t entirely understand the rules of rugby, and as an American, still have a healthy skepticism towards sports not played in the good old USA) with SNACKS.  Northcote road has a lively, if not entirely cheap Saturday market, where we picked up tea, a crayfish sandwich, a baguette, cheese, peaches, a cupcake, and macaroons.  After adding a bottle of wine from our rapidly depleting stock at home, we headed over the river, up the Kings Road for some window shopping, through Sloane Square tube, and into St. James Park for a Saturday afternoon picnic.

(COST- Sandwich: £4, Cheese: £5, Fruit: £.50, Baked goods: £5, Starbucks Iced Chai: £2.50, Total: £17)

My little legs were exhausted from all that walking, but after 2 hours of lying in the sun, Martin got restless, so we headed up to Picadilly and into Soho.  There we found an enormous party going on for PRIDE. 

Did we know there was a party going on?  No.  Did we join in anyway (especially after SCOTUS overturned DOMA)?  HELL YES!  The fantastic atmosphere almost demanded that we stick around for another pint. 

After beers and an hour of wandering and admiring the amazing outfits, we decided it was time to head home, back down along the Strand and Villiers St, over the river to the London Eye and Waterloo. 

(COST- Beers: £4.50)

It was a fantastic day of London fun, and we arrived home exhausted, slightly tipsy, and happy to live in perhaps the best city in the entire world. 

Total price for rugby, market, tea, picnic, gay PRIDE, and all the sights that London has to offer: £12 each

I'm Getting Married!

I’m getting married!  After what seems like years of waiting (ok what was actually years of waiting) I finally get to plan a wedding!  Oh also, the man I love more than anyone in the entire world wants to spend the rest of his life with me.  So that’s pretty awesome too.

The only down side: it turns out weddings are expensive.  Like, REALLY expensive.  And weddings in the UK (i.e. GBP) are the most expensive of all.  So how in the world am I going to plan a dream wedding on a shoestring? 

Well first, I guess we should talk shoestring.  The fact is that my parents are successful professionals and extremely generous people.  They’re going to help us out, so M and I got incredibly lucky there. 

But they’re also not the kind of people who are willing to blow $50,000 on a wedding, and frankly, neither am I.  I would much rather buy a flat and take a fantastic trip than spend thousands and thousands of dollars on flowers. 

That being said, I’m not totally willing to give up the wedding of my dreams.  I just have to figure out how to do it for £10,000.  This is going to be fun!