Thursday, July 17, 2014

Rock Cakes, Cathedrals, & the English Coast

We'll get back to these bad boys in just a moment. 

I carry a planner around with me all the time and it's been incredibly helpful in my day to day life. I took notes in my phone on the first two days of our honeymoon about what we did all day but then I slacked off for the rest of the trip. I really regret not capturing the rest of that trip so I could remember details I'm sure we've lost over time.

I wasn't going to let that happen again. While we were in England, whipped out my planner at the end of each day and quickly jotted down the events, and food, of the day. I highly recommend taking five minutes out of your day on your vacations to do this. 

On our first full day in England, Paul and I took time to meander the city and take in the sites, getting our bearings and visiting places that were a part of Paul's life when he was younger. As an American I can tell you that Norwich looks just like the picturesque English city you see in your mind when you think of England. 

We took the long way around the river and headed to the cathedral the back way. There were large trucks everywhere and groups of people wearing period clothing. I got very excited thinking I was about to see a BBC production in the works. We spotted some fabulous nuns from a distance who were happy to ham it up for the camera. We introduced ourselves and learned from these lovely ladies that they were filming a movie called "Tulip Fever," starring Christoph Waltz and Dame Judi Dench (along with a LOT of other recognizable folks). After a few minutes we parted ways with the nicest fake nuns ever to keep wandering and seeing how they'd changed the cathedral for filming. There were plants, animals and nuns EVERYWHERE!

We popped in the small gift shop, which is at the back of the nave, and Paul headed straight for the back corner where all the books were kept. I followed but quickly got distracted by some shiny objects and took a few steps backwards accidentally bumping into one of the many costumed nuns around the cathedral that day. I apologized and she waved acceptance without turning around. About a minute later she turned around and I could see that I had indeed stepped on none other than Dame Judi Dench

I slowly turned to Paul, mouthing and (what I hope was subtally) gesturing for him to look behind me until he figured out what I was trying to tell him. We had a quiet debate and decided not to bother her for a picture. She was in costume, fairly incognito, and seemed to be enjoying a few quiet moments picking up some souvenirs. She was positively tiny and flawless and I will not soon forget what may be my only brush with that much English greatness. 

To round out our church tour we headed to the stunning Catholic church in Norwich.

Isn't that amazing? I thought most of the time that I was looking at a church with gorgeous marble all over, but it turns out the stone is full of fossils! Once I saw it I couldn't unsee it. The stone is used in so many design elements throughout the church and it is truly awe inspiring. 

We didn't spend the whole day in churches! We explored Elm Hill, the only fully cobbled street left in Norwich, and spent an inordinate amount of time in the old used book shop there. We went to the arcade (NOT like the American kind) where I found a luscious macaron shop and bought a small box to indulge in. We finally completed our river walk before heading to dinner at The Belgian Monk and then to the Theater Royale for a showing of Pygmalion starring Alistair McGowan, who was brilliant. As a technical theater major in college, I often have a hard time sitting through theater productions without picking them apart and not actually enjoying the show. The acting was good, the set was fantastic, and the costumes were on point. But what else would one expect from British entertainment?

The next day we headed to a charming coastal town called Cromer (pronounced "Chrome-ah" for us Americans) where we went "putting" alongside a stunning view of the water before having a picnic lunch in a sweet little secret garden and walking two miles along the cliffs.

Even though I didn't want to leave this view, it was time to have tea. We kept walking a bit further until we found a tea shop with a great view. I got a little self conscious at times being an American in England, and this was no exception. Tip: if you order tea you don't need to order it with milk, just expect that it will come with it. Otherwise you get funny looks, even if you're trying to do it properly.

Adding to my self-consciousness was the fact that a local was staring me down the whole time we had tea:

We walked back to Cromer along the beach and headed back to Norwich. Paul and I had a fabulous evening visiting our good friends Dan and Naomi, catching up and having a fantastic dinner together. (A recipe I hope to share with you all if I can locate the ingredients.)

My in-laws have really turned tea into a ritual. Whether we were at home or out at particular times of day, we had to stop and have tea. It can be a very nice way to slow down for a few minutes and appreciate your surroundings or to be intentional about taking time for yourself.

Tea was never something offered on it's own, there was always a cake or biscuit to go with it and they were always handmade by my mother-in-law. When she offered us Rock Cakes, my I'm-just-not-a-dessert-person husband was abnormally enthusiastic. I knew I had to get her recipe.

The original recipe called for lard, an ingredient I'm not familiar with using and am a little freaked out by. After some research I decided that butter was a reasonable substitute. They turned out quite delicious. A tip from my MIL - do not smooth the top of the cake down! Let it be clumpy and textured.

The cakes turned out just brilliantly and were really delicious. I think the inherent Americanness in me saw this as a perfect opportunity to use chocolate chips instead of raisins. I loved it with chocolate but Paul still prefers his with raisins, the way his mom makes them. (Sorry, his mum...)

I hope you enjoy this recipe as much as we do. It's simple, quick, and great for entertaining and gift giving. I might make another batch to bring to Gordon.

Classic Rock Cakes
from New to the Table
Yield: 12 / Total Time: 25-30 minutes


  • 8 oz. all purpose flour
  • 4 oz. butter
  • 2 tsp baking powder
  • 4 oz. sugar
  • 4 oz. raisins (or 3 oz. chocolate chips)
  • 1 egg
  • 2 tbsp milk
Pre-heat oven to 375º.

Add flour and baking powder to a medium mixing bowl. Add butter (if it's cold, chop into pieces first) and rub into flour with your fingers until the mixture becomes crumbly and the butter is fully incorporated. 

Add sugar and raisins (or chocolate) to flour/butter mixture and mix well. Add egg and milk and mix well. 

Distribute globs of dough evenly into a 12-count muffin tin. Don't smooth the tops! Bake for 15-20 minutes, until the tops begin to lightly brown. 

Cool in pan for a few minutes, then tap pan and turn over to release rock cakes. Cool before eating and store in an air-tight container for several days.

Rock Cakes are featured in the Harry Potter books and have sort of gotten a bad rap - Hagrid makes rock cakes that are literally hard as rocks, break teeth, and are graciously accepted but avoided at all costs. I promise you will see rock cakes in a whole new light with this recipe!

I can't wait to show you photos of our time in a beautiful town called Keswick and our scenic climb up Helvellyn. 

To be continued...

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