Look Left

Hot, hot, it’s so hot, that’s what everyone was saying when we got to London, and it’s going to be even hotter tomorrow. The temperature had been rising steadily since Christie and I left Chipping Campden for Oxford, and only continued to climb as we made our way to London.  We sat sweating in the heat of the Tube, and the sun beat down on us as we towed our roller bags through crowded city sidewalks like tugboats parting a sea of pedestrians.  Our tiny rooms weren’t air conditioned, either, in our grandly scruffy hotel near Victoria Station.

In the stifling evening heat, I made my pilgrimage to 221b Baker Street, the erstwhile lodgings of Sherlock Holmes and his loyal Watson.  I stood on the hot sidewalk and craned my neck upwards, imagining Holmes sitting at his window with pipe and violin, looking down on a foggy, gas lit winter street.

The next morning, I stuck my head out of my 4th floor hotel room window.  The noises of London greeted me—cars whizzed by, sirens wailed, conversations drifted up from passersby, and music blared from somewhere down the street.  I smelled exhaust fumes and breakfast.  Morning sun gleamed off of the white façade of the Georgian townhouses opposite.  I looked up at the sky.  The morning haze was already burning off.

Immediately after breakfast we started out on foot.  We had a lot of ground to cover and no time to let the grass grow under our feet.

Everything seemed a little more in London.  More cosmopolitan, more diverse, more crowds and hustle and traffic and different languages being spoken on the street.  It was intense and a little overwhelming.  But just when one is really in a daze, there is a helpful British sign to keep you out of serious trouble.   Mind the Gap.  Look Left.  No blinking lights or beeping warnings, just an understated but well-timed reminder before you step off of a curb and into oblivion.

It was a wonderful day.  We saw Buckingham Palace, and walked through the pleasant shade of St. James Park, then past the Horse Guards & Cabinet War Rooms to Parliament and Big Ben.  “Listen,” Christie said, and we stopped in our tracks as that famous clock chimed the hour.  We gazed in wonder at Westminster Abbey, and bought fast passes to jump the daunting (but orderly) queue for the London Eye.  We went on to St. Martin-In-The-Fields, where we had a late lunch in the crypt café and made brass rubbings.

We parted ways in Trafalgar Square.  Christie set off for the National Portrait Gallery, while I walked to Piccadilly Circus, and then on to Fortnum & Mason, where staff circulated with trays of tiny iced teas and I imagined that I was a character in a 1920’s British novel ordering a picnic hamper for a motor trip to the country…

but I really only bought a lot of rich tea biscuits and little cakes for souvenirs, all the while thinking, I am really at Fortnum & Mason! and squealing with excitement inside my head.

And finally, a ride on top of a red double decker bus.

After this whirlwind day of walking around London, the English custom of afternoon tea seemed not only civilized, but an absolute necessity.

We met up, hot and tired, and found a tea shop near our hotel that was nothing like the lace curtain variety found in the Cotswolds.  It was sleek and modern, but served all the expected cream teas, cakes, sandwiches, cookies, and scones.

I dropped my shopping bags, sunglasses, and hat and lifted the damp hair off my neck.  My tea and scone came, along with strawberry jam and cream.  I slathered the scone liberally.  I’m talking equal parts scone, jam, and cream.  We compared notes on our separate expeditions, then fell into a companionable silence as we ate and drank.

That was the best scone I have ever had.  Dense but not heavy, it was both creamy and flaky at once.  Jam and cream dripped down the side of my hand and I licked it–surreptitiously at first, then openly, so as not to miss a drop.  The sweet strawberry jam tasted twice as red as any other jam that had come before it, and contrasted beautifully with the light, slippery, tangy, slightly salty, buttery cream.

I stretched out my tired feet and gazed out the open windows of the tea shop, savoring every bite as I reflected on the kaleidoscope of images and sounds filling my mind from our busy day.  I am really in London eating scones! my brain said. Squeal!

Maybe the scones really are better in England.   Or could it be that I was just hungry and blissed out and high on sightseeing?  Or  both?  It’s hard to say for sure, but I’ll never forget the delights of that place, and that scone.

Fortified by my tea, I had the energy to make it back to the hotel, to shower and change, and go out again for dinner and more Pimm’s.

I am not a very good baker, generally.  But the  baked goods that I can reliably produce are scones.  I have been using the recipe below successfully for years.  Thus, I conclude that it is foolproof.  The raisins are optional and the scones are just fine without them, or you could also substitute currants to good effect.

The resulting scones are biscuity and substantial.  Obviously they are best just out of the oven, with lots of fresh butter and maybe a little jam.  But they will keep reasonably well in a sealed container for a day or two.  Reheated and generously buttered, you won’t find the day-old version desiccated or disappointing.

Good scones are good.  Bad scones are bad.  I think I’ll stop there, because doesn’t that pretty much sum up all scone lore and wisdom?

Raisin Scones

(from The Frugal Gourmet Cooks American)

  • 2 cups flour
  • ½ tsp salt
  • 3 tsp baking powder
  • 2 tbsp sugar
  • ¼ cup cold butter
  • ½ cup raisins, soaked in hot water for ½ hour, drained (optional)
  • ½ cup half-and-half or cream
  • 1 egg, beaten

Sift the dry ingredients together. Cut the butter into the dry ingredients, using a pastry blender. Add the drained raisins to the flour mixture. Mix the half-and-half with the beaten egg and stir into the flour mixture. Use a fork and do not overmix. It should take only a few turns to get a dough. Divide the dough into three balls and pat each out into a 1/2-inch-thick circle. Cut each into four triangular scones. Bake on an ungreased baking sheet at 450 degrees for about 12 minutes or until golden brown. Serve with butter and jam. Makes 12 scones.

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11 thoughts on “Look Left

  1. Sarah

    Yet another example of how we took the same vacation: we also ate at Cafe in the Crypt! I just had to laugh. Were you by chance using Rick Steves as your guidebook?

    I know what you mean with the squealing. I was pinching myself a lot too. Though baking is my favorite cooking method, I have not tried scones yet. They intimidate me for some reason. I will add your recipe to a few others I have collected and try it someday when I pluck up the courage.

    1. The Rowdy Chowgirl Post author

      We were using Lonely Planet, but I guess great minds think alike!

      I’m a terrible baker, and I can make scones, so I’m sure you can too–you’ll have to let me know how they turn out!

  2. Chef Dennis

    what great pictures….I took my son to London and Paris a few years ago…..thank you for rekindling some great memories!! Keep having fun and take more pictures!

  3. Priscilla - She's Cookin'

    I don’t recall sitting down and having a proper tea in London – we were too busy trying to see as much as we could in 4 days. Your beautifully written account of the day has me reminiscing – we loved the double-decker bus tour – seems so touristy but so iconic of London, how could you not? Well said about scones – we slowed down enough to indulge in high tea and scones with clotted cream in Edinburg at the luxurious Balmoral.

    1. The Rowdy Chowgirl Post author

      We never did find time for a full-on high tea. We only had about 48 hours in London…next time! And Edinburgh is on my list for someday, too.

  4. Natalie

    Stop, stop, stop, you are making me want to go to London (again), there is so much to see and so much to do. Did you manage to take a trip on a Thames boat, I went on one last year for the first time and it was great, it really gives you London from another angle. I am going to try your scone recipe, I usually rely on my mum in law to make my scones which are beautiful but a change is as good as a rest.

    You should smell the smells coming from my oven….beef – a la Julia Child…..

    1. The Rowdy Chowgirl Post author

      Natalie-We didn’t get a chance to do a Thames tour boat, but we did see them from above when we were up in the London Eye. It looked wonderful to be out on the water on such a hot day!

      And I hope I’ll see a blog post on your site son about your wonderful smelling beef!

  5. Monet

    What a wonderful day in London. Your pictures and descriptions have transported me there! I love a good scone, and I can only imagine how delightful it must be to enjoy one in England with a cup of tea in hand!

  6. Tami

    I know what you mean about “squeling” in Fortnum and Mason. I visited there last year a couple years ago and loved it. I especially remember the candy counter and the teapot I still dream of. I say, dream because it was 500 pounds. sigh…

    1. The Rowdy Chowgirl Post author

      The only reason I didn’t come away with a suitcase full of candy from F&M was the weather. It would have all melted before I got it back to the hotel!


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