Tuesday, April 30, 2013

The Saltburn Steps

I told you, it's just like a little slice of Los Angeles beach life up here, it really is. Who needs the legendary Santa Monica steps, when we have the Saltburn steps?

The Santa Monica 'stairs' are 189 steep steps running up the side of a sundrenched canyon, overlooking the sparkling Pacific. I haven't counted the Saltburn steps but they too provide a lovely seaview at the top. Unlike the Santa Monica steps, the Saltburn steps are not usually thronged with hardbodies in lycra, stretching ostentiatiously or bounding up them, shiny ponytail swinging with each step. In fact the only other person who appears to run them regularly - according to Strava - is my favourite little sister.
The Santa Monica Steps
The Saltburn Steps
I know all this because I am on a major health kick. The 'just had a baby' excuse won't wash any more, and I miss the ability to wear all the clothes in my wardrobe. I have been not a little shocked by the impact of pregnancy and childbirth on my body, and have found looking in the mirror rather uncomfortable lately. So I'm on it. It's time to shed those pounds before I start shopping in this size.

We're going away for a wedding and a week on a beach in a few days, and that was enough to motivate me to start running up those steps. Sadly I started too late, and won't be back to my former self in time to wear a bikini next week. But if I hit those steps frequently enough when I return, I'll be bikini ready by the time summer hits Saltburn, I hope.

Monday, April 29, 2013

Gems of a bygone age

Saltburn's heyday was in the Victorian age. As the Stockton & Darlington Railway developed, local rail tycoon Henry Pease saw the potential of what was then a sleepy hamlet with a dark smugglers' history. A grand hotel, The Zetland, was built, along with terraces of seaview villas, a pier, and a funicular lift to take day trippers from the station on top of the cliffs down to the beach.

Many of these gems still stand proud in Saltburn.
Saltburn's 'Italian Pleasure Gardens', that mainstay of Victorian bathing resorts

Lady P admires the old school planting
The funicular cliff lift and the pier - treasures of Victorian engineering

The rather grand Zetland Hotel

A sweet Victorian station, originally built to bring day trippers out from smoggy old Middlesbrough

Victorian shopping arcades (this shop is now, usefully, a Boots)
And down by the seaside some old fashioned seaside entertainment prevails, including donkey rides.

Look closely at that last picture and you'll see something else you may have thought was a relic of a bygone age: child labour. We watched this kid picking up the donkeys' poo for a good while last weekend.
I know, amazing what passes for children's entertainment up here, isn't it?

Friday, April 26, 2013

Outdoor Pursuits

TLOML, Lady P and I took a run out to the North Yorkshire Moors at the weekend. It is lambing season so the moor road is lined with cute signs like this one:
 And the fields are full of lambs baaing and shaking their little tails and generally making us both think of roast dinners.

It was a gorgeous sunny day, and we headed to a little village known for its long stretch of daffodil-lined river bank. You pay for your parking in an honesty box and follow the guidance given to take a very pretty walk along flagstone and wooded path.
NCP this aint

Lady P studies the route

Some daffodils
Hordes of people were doing the same thing, some just ambling like TLOML and I, with Lady P in her chariot - others looking a little more serious, with hiking boots on and walking sticks. On our drive we also saw tonnes of mountain bikers, plenty more hikers, and lots of campers too.

It struck me that in some ways this part of England is not so different to Norther California. Both are blessed with wonderful people and a beautiful coastline. You might think that's where the similarity ends. But they are also places where a large chunk of the population enjoy outdoor pursuits.

TLOML and I are the only ones within our little social circle here who don't like to spend our weekends mountain biking, rambling and camping. He does at least surf, I suppose, and I do enjoy a light jog along the seafront. But compared to most people we know here we are rather sedentary.

Just like their crunchy cousins across the pond, the good people of North Yorkshire like to get outdoors.
The North Yorkshire Moors. Mile upon mile of rugged beauty inspiring mountain bikers, hikers and pub lunchers.

I think the biggest difference is that while after a good hearty hike, the people of the Bay Area might enjoy a frozen yoghurt or a quinoa burger, over here they reward themselves with a bacon butty or a slice of cake. If anything could persuade me to cycle up Saltburn Bank, or hike around Blakey Ridge, it's that kind of reward. I'm afraid those healthy Californians are missing a trick.

Wednesday, April 24, 2013

Keeping an open mind (aka 'Whatever Works')

As a naive parent-in-waiting I was confidently clear on where my boundaries would lie as a parent. Determined not to form bad habits, but also keen not to be hard on Lady P too quickly, there were some things I thought I'd never do.

Funny how it goes, isn't it?

I was determined never allow her to sleep with us, for fear of creating an annoying toddler who insists on joining us in bed. Well, it's a long way from that but I must admit one of my favourite ways to wake up is to smuggle Lady P into bed with us and steal an extra half hour's kip while she wriggles and naps next to me.

I was confident I wouldn't want to deposit her in a mechanised swing, at least not until she was much older. Why would I want to put my darling cherub into a large piece of plastic, when I could rock her myself?!

Because sometimes you just want a bit of hands-free, coffee-and-Twitter time. Or, less indulgently, time to pee and empty the dishwasher. That's why.

I was certain that controlled crying, or any kind of encouragement of self-soothing, would be cruel and ineffective before at least 3 or even 6 months old. But the other day, we did it by accident. When TLOML stepped out of a crying Lady P's nursery for ten seconds she silenced her whimper and fell asleep. Now that may be just coincidence, but we'll try it again next time she refuses to sleep, just in case it turns out she can - controversially - self soothe.

I was very clear that we wouldn't let Jack, our obese cat, have access to our room while she's sleeping in there. But he's a pest for scratching at the door, and he'll yowl if we leave him in the kitchen. On the basis he hasn't killed her yet, we let him sleep on our bed. He avoids the Moses basket as if it were a yapping terrier anyway, but I still find it difficult to relax when he's in the room - until sheer sleep deprivation pulls me under and makes 'keeping an eye on him' a physical impossibility.

Lady P is now almost able to sleep through the night. On a couple of occasions now she's woken only once between 7pm and 7am  for a quick feed. I had always thought we'd keep her in our room until she outgrew the Moses basket and maybe even longer. But I'm keeping an open mind about that too. I think when I no longer need to get up to feed her, I might be quite happy to tuck her up in her own room at night and enjoy an adults-only bedroom where Jack can roam without me keeping a paranoid half-asleep half-open eye on him.

We shall see. I feel like the only prediction I can make with certainty is that anything could happen. Isn't parenthood marvellous? Every day is a new lesson in humility.

Monday, April 22, 2013

Bouillabaisse news

The first bouillabaisse in a new home is always special for us. It marks the point at which we've discovered the best place to buy fish locally, and the first time we've been bothered to make a dish which requires the rather labourious task of making rouille. (For the unenlightened - this involves adding a cup of olive oil to some egg'n'stuff, drop by drop. It can easily take half an hour, and that's just to make what is essentially a condiment.)

Back in the days when we lived like there was no tomorrow, bouillabaisse was an extravagant affair. Perhaps that's why it evolved to become the signature dish of our relationship. We'd pony up to the fish counter at Bristol Farms, or Ralphs and pick out several different white fish, some scallops, a dozen clams, and perhaps some king prawn or lobster tail to top it off. We sort of lost sight of the dish's humble roots as a way of using up leftover fish, with items a Marseillais fishwife couldn't even dream of. When we moved to New York, within spitting distance of the Lobster Place with its mile long slab of marble laden with fresh fish, we started throwing in things like baby octopus, and fresh crab meat too.

Well, reality has bit since then and we take a rather more restrained approach. We've got a baby to keep in ribbons and shoes after all. We rarely add lobster tail and are not above bulking the dish out with tinned crab, or even pilchards. Still, we always start with quality fresh fish.

Just about the only thing Saltburn lacks (besides a decent cocktail bar) is a fishmongers. But our corner shop is a treasure trove of local produce, and gets a weekly order of fish in from a local fishmonger. Order by Wednesday lunchtime and by Friday afternoon Picknetts of Redcar will have delivered your selection.

When I say 'your selection' I mean the items you chose from a rather limited range of options. Which means no squid, for that was not on the list. Still, we ordered a dozen mussels as well as some white fish.

Imagine our disappointment when this is how the mussels appeared:

'Dead' mussels, out of their shells, kinda takes the fun out of adding them to stew.

Never mind, they were cheap. And we learned our lesson: next time, specify 'in their shells'. Or better yet, make the 10 minute journey into Redcar and pick the stuff ourself. Easy fix, that one.

It wasn't our finest bouillabaisse ever. But it was a very good start for our new home. Here's to many more - maybe next time our shellfish will be in their shells too.

Saturday, April 20, 2013

Local hazards

Here's a health and safety poster you don't see in every town. Certainly I've never seen one in London, let alone the States.

This poster is displayed in Saltburn Sainsburys, and flyer versions can be found in quite a few local pubs.

It's a warning about the dangers of having a massive night out and then frying up egg and chips when you get home.

As I said, it's not advice that's needed in New York (why would you drink and fry when you can grab a perfect slice of pizza on your way home?) or Los Angeles ('what's "frying"?'). But up here in God's County the dangers of drinking and frying are very very real. In Saltburn itself all the decent chippies are shut before 9pm, further increasing the risk of a little late night fry up. We consider ourselves duly cautioned.

Wednesday, April 17, 2013

Coming full circle

TLOML and I decided to spend our summer in Saltburn on a bit of a whim. The lease on Fox Corner was up, and my maternity leave meant we didn't particularly need to be in London (plus our income was taking a hit). Saltburn is a lovely place to live, and we thought it would be nice to have family nearby.

I didn't really think about the strangeness of coming full circle, though. I was born in Saltburn. We lived a few miles away but Saltburn baths is where I learned to swim. The Marine is where I drank on a Friday night as a sixth former.  I wooed my first boyfriend in Saltburn, having asked him to teach me to surf  as a way to get to know him better.

All of this was twenty years and more ago. And now I'm back. Seeing my sister almost every day and my parents for Sunday lunch, drinking in the Marine, and so on. Have I regressed? My horizons suddenly narrowed? For a moment, as we drove the familiar road the night we arrived, I thought so. After all, I spent my teenage years longing to live somewhere bigger and more exciting. How strange to be driving 'home' and home be the place I spent my childhood. When I next travel I will write the same town in my 'place of birth' and in my 'place of residence'. Weird.

Despite that brief shuddering moment I actually think it's quite brilliant to be back here. How nice that Lady P's first swim will be in the pool I learned in. And how funny that we're living in a house my mum used to visit 40 years ago. I passed a house called Coverdale the other day. Coverdale is a local name, and the printer to whom my great grandfather was apprenticed was called Coverdale.

At every corner I see something that was part of my formative years or my family history, and I rather like it.

Sunday, April 14, 2013

Saltburn - Yorkshire's answer to Malibu

TLOML and I have missed Malibu since we left two years ago. So we're very happy to be enjoying coastal living again.

In many ways Saltburn is a lot like Malibu.

Like Malibu, it has a pier.
Only Malibu's pier, so far as I know, had never won any awards.
Both towns have their fine seafood dining options. Malibu offered us the irritatingly pronounced Geoffrey's (they call it 'Joffreys', go figure), Nobu for upmarket sushi, and Malibu Seafood for fast food. Saltburn has several chippies.

I doubt you could buy a slap up meal in any of those Malibu options for less than a tenner (say, fifteen bucks). You can in Saltburn.

Both towns have a surf school, and draw keen surfers from many miles around.
But I bet those SoCal softies couldn't handle surfing when the weather is literally freezing. My brother-in-law has walked across snow on the beach in order to surf. That's how tough they are up here.

Both have a diner at the pier. In Saltburn the lady in 'Surf's Up' gives my little nephews a free biscuit every time they visit. I don't imagine that happens at Ruby's, though to be fair I never walked in there with two adorable toddlers to test the hypothesis.

I think Saltburn might just have the edge on Malibu. So long as we don't mention the weather. Year round warmth and sunshine is overrated: that's my position and I'm sticking to it.

Saturday, April 13, 2013

Small Town Life

It's a very small town, Saltburn. So much so that on his second day here, TLOML was approached in the supermarket by a friend of my sister's, with the words 'You must be A--'. My nephews' childminder saw us walking past the cafe she was in and told my sister later she'd spotted us. Newcomers like us must stick out like a sore thumb, with our fancy city ways.

It's true what they say about the North. People are friendlier here. They smile and say hello under all sorts of circumstances: anyone I pass on our street, or on the walk through the Valley Gardens, says hello, for starters. Checking out at the supermarket is not a quick transaction, but involves at least a few pleasantries. When I popped into the pet shop to buy Jack's special diet food the shopkeeper wrote down the name of a cheap website I could order it from, and  recommended a local vet - having asked me if I was new in town (again, I must have that look about me). I was in there for a good five minutes. Nipping into the butcher is an even longer job, though that's in part due to TLOML's willingness to talk meat. But also because, it being a small town, he knows my sister and my schoolfriend/landlady well, and enjoys a bit of a yarn about the joys of Saltburn life and the coming attractions (farmer's markets, airshows, and the like).

Pushing Lady P around starts even more conversations. People up here love a baby. She gets cooed over in every shop and cafe - and sometimes even just in passing on the street.
These two ladies are chucking her cheeks and removing her dummy because 'she looks much prettier without it'. If a stranger tried that in Camden TLOML would swing for them and I'd run a mile, pushing Lady P's chariot as fast as I could. But here in Saltburn we smile and nod. There is a tradition in the North to put silver into a baby's pram, but I promise we're not motivated by that. It's just nice the way the boundaries between strangers are so much lower here.

After years of living in cities - the past two in London and New York, both places where eye contact is considered an act of aggression - I am really rather enjoying the friendliness.

Thursday, April 11, 2013

Farewell Fox Corner, Hello Saltburn

...with your strange and irritating quirks, your excessive rent, and your permanent gloom. (Warning: never rent a north facing flat on a sunny day. Never again will it seem so bright).

And hello Eden Street, with your lovely view of a church.

Behind this church sits a fish and chip shop - one of the top two chippies in Saltburn.
Hello to my little sister, and her twin boys, and her lovely husband. They live at one of the houses on the right of the below picture. We live a bit further along on the left. Convenient.
And hello to this view, which greets me when I push Lady P's chariot around the long way on my walk to the coffee shop:
All things considered, this move was not too painful. And as I hope my snapshots demonstrate, well worth the minor upheaval. It's going to be a lovely summer by the seaside.

Monday, April 8, 2013

Well, we haven't killed her yet, so...

I've gone all 'hands over ears shouting "la la la I can't hear you la la la" again. A bit like I did at the end of my pregnancy. From lapping up the newborn advice to, frankly, being ungratefully deaf to it.

There's just so much of it about. And again, I solicit it half the time, with all my tweeting and blogging about Lady P. But so much of the advice just seems impossible to follow. Especially the stuff in those goddamn baby books.

The only advice I like are recommendations along the lines of: 'I'd just go with the flow if I were you, you won't kill her' (though as we know, it'd be awfully easy to). I've gone from consulting every baby book available and constantly googling all Lady P's movements and 'symptons' to a rather more laissez faire approach. We recently switched formula, for Lady P's late night top-up feed, based on the fact our nearest supermarket didn't have the brand I had so carefully researched. It's safe to say we're relaxing a little bit here.

I'll leave you with a great example of a piece of baby care advice I am happy to ignore:
A separate baby kettle - because life isn't complicated enough!

Friday, April 5, 2013

Genetic inheritance

Good news! Not only is she incredibly advanced in many ways. Lady P also has royal lobes.

Royal lobes are, according to The (half Korean) Love Of My Life ones where the lobe is separate from the rest of you. Like Buddha, only less exaggerated.

TLOML, whose Korean heritage is a noble one, has them. That's where she gets them from, I suppose.

I, being of sturdy Anglo Saxon stock, have fully attached, serf-like lobes:

Little Lady P is a lucky girl indeed. I hope she picks up his athleticism, spatial reasoning and olive skin too.

Wednesday, April 3, 2013


It's an interesting process, moving house. It makes you look at your possessions in a new light. It makes you examine stuff to see whether it's worth moving. You also reminisce about some objects' former lives, the purposes they've served or the spaces they've filled in earlier homes. There are a lot of sentences that start with 'Do you remember when we bought this..?'.

One item that surprisingly, became the subject of just such a conversation is this:

Yes, that's right, cling film.

We moved it here from New York, in the Spring of 2011. There's also some debate about whether we actually moved it from Malibu too. 'I'm sure we bought that in Gristedes when we arrived in New York.' 'Really? I thought we had it in Malibu.' Weird conversation to have about cling film, isn't it?

Either way, it's been with us for some time, this cling film. It'll run out some day I suppose - and we'll be all nostalgic when it does. Not least because I bet you can't even buy rolls that big here.

Monday, April 1, 2013

Gumbo, Fox Corner style

Readers who remember my attempts to make gumbo in New York may be interested to know that I recently made it again.

It was tricky enough buying the right ingredients in Manhattan  - with the sassafras being particularly difficult to find. Trying to source all the requirements in Gospel Oak, on a whim, during the Bank Holiday weekend, was a bit of a fool's errand.

On reflection it wasn't the best thought out meal. It came to mind because we had a tin of crab meat that needed eating. We're trying to use up food from the larder and the freezer, before the move next week. Translating a surplus tin of crab into an elaborate Cajun was a bit of a leap, I'll admit. To complete the recipe  I needed to buy some shell on king prawns, Andouille sausages, okra, and sassafras (and some other, less exotic stuff). The otherwise excellent Budgens of Belsize Park fell short, unsurprisingly.

So I made do with some Cumberland sausages, frozen king prawns (some of which I boiled in lieu of shells to make the stock), and frozen okra. A generous dash of cayenne made up for the lack of heat from the spicy Andouille sausages.
English gumbo ingredients

It may not have been entirely authentic but it was still jolly good.
Chuck enough okra in and it looks like the real thing

And now, instead of a tin of crab meat which needs eating, we have half a bag of frozen okra and another of frozen king prawns. Brilliant. Really helped clear those cupboards ready for the move.