Romance and Mushy Peas

I’m a bit of a romantic at times. I don’t mean the roses and perfumey kind. I mean the idealizing kind. The kind that, on a whim with my significant other pops off to London at the last minute with basically no plans and thinks that it’s a good idea. The kind that really believes that it’s fun and spontaneous to just show up at Heathrow with the notion of catching a cheap flight somewhere sunny in Europe for two days before we need to be back to watch the Prologue of La Tour de France make its way through Hyde Park. Unfortunately, I’m not enough of a romantic to think that spending $2000 for that flight is a good idea nor do I really think its romantic to spend another four hours on a plane, after I’ve just spent 10 hours on one. But, there we were, Cam and I, at Heathrow on Wednesday morning, with no idea of what we were going to do next. And, clearly we weren’t the only loons doing this… the line at the British Airways ticket sales counter was about 100 people long, and after about 20 minutes waiting in line and moving about 5 steps, followed by running around to other airlines checking on flights to Cyprus, Lisbon and Reykjavik, we decide train travel must be the right way to go.

Of course, the fun doesn’t stop there. Trains go all over the place in the UK. How do you go about picking a destination? You grab a book at the bookstore and read it on the way to Paddington, of course. So, we grab a London Getaways book, and start leafing through, talking out the pros and cons of each destination, hoping we can nail something down in the 15 minute Heathrow Express trip. There are too many options, but we do agree on three choices… a small down in Wales that is known for its book markets, and two small coastal villages in Norfolk. Cam’s done enough research in the past to know that Kings Cross Station is the most likely place to get a train, and when we arrive at Paddington, we quickly run to catch the tube and are pleased to find that the direction we need to go isn’t running 20 minutes late “due to a customer issue.”

At Kings Cross, it’s just a matter of figuring out the right train. As we scan the boards, we start to get worried. We don’t seem to be able to get to any of our destinations via the GRE. A quick check at the information booth, and indeed, the trains we need run out of, yep, you guessed it Paddington. We decide to consider it a sign and choose a new destination. A bit of scurrying around, flipping through more guide books, and we finally decide on Cambridge which has a train departing in just 15 minutes. The train ride is quick and pleasant, and we catch a cab from the train station to the local tourist information shop in the town center. We are a bit tired at this point, having travelled and run around quite a bit already, so you can imagine the look I gave Cam when the nice woman behind the counter’s response to “Do you have any rooms for tonight” was laughter, followed by, “No, none.”

After confirming with her several times that she wasn’t pulling our leg, we headed next door to an internet cafe to consider our options. I started doing frantic web searches for rooms in Cambridge and close destinations that might be interesting. Cam ran around to 4 or 5 different hotels and B&Bs, in the rain, just to make sure they didn’t have any last minute cancellations. Finally, we settle on heading over to Bury St. Edmunds, a quaint village “founded on beer”, and most importantly, with an available room at a pricey, but nice looking Inn outside of town. From there, luckily, things started going our way.

The Ravenwood Hall Hotel is just what you might imagine if someone told you to picture an English country inn. A lighted path through a short wooded area leads to a splendid lawn, gardens in full bloom and enormous old tree. The front room of the hotel was full of old English kitsch, and our room up a steep set of Tartan carpeted stairs was enormous by European standards.


Dinner at the Inn’s restaurant was wonderfully prepared from seasonal, local produce and meats. I had the simply roasted spatchcock and Cam went with the fish and chips which came with the most delicious side of mushy peas. Perhaps it was the tiredness, and the glee with finally being somewhere we could relax and settle in, but the dinner, especially the mushy peas, had me simply giddy. Fate had led us to those mushy peas, and I was going to enjoy every second of them.



The town of Bury St. Edmunds itself, described by Dickens as “a handsome little town, of thriving and cleanly appearance” is home to some spectacular ruins of an abbey from the 1400s, as well as beautifully kept gardens that are lovely to wander around, even on an overcast day. Lunch was at the Dog & Partridge, a pub that serves the local Greene King beer as well as a beef & Yorkshire pudding wrap…yep, that’s a wrap with the beef on the inside and yorkshire pudding wrapped around it. With a bit more wandering, we found The Nutshell, reportedly England’s smallest pub, at just 2 by 5 meters.


Then, it was back to Cambridge (with a room booked ahead this time), and a day of wandering through the colleges, cows and markets and a few more pints in the pubs.


Finally, it was time to return to London, to meet up with our friends for the opening morning of Le Tour, and then home again, where of course, I would make some mushy peas.

Mushy Peas
I like these peas plain, made from just-shelled peas. But try them with herbs, like mint or lemon thyme for a change of pace. Just add the finely chopped herbs in with the peas.

1 T butter
1 T chopped onion
1 cup green sugar peas
2 T water
2 T whole milk or half and half
salt

In a heavy bottomed pot, heat the butter and chopped onion on low heat until the butter browns. Add the peas, water and milk and give them a quick stir. Cook for 10 minutes on medium heat at a low boil. Remove from heat and season to taste.

Spoon about half the peas into a food processor, and process a bit until they are pretty smooth. Spoon the other half of the peas (leaving any excess liquid in the pot) and mash them by hand. I do this because I like a few pea chunks, rather than a completely smooth mixture. But, if you want them completely pureed, you can skip this, and just process all of them. Then, combine the two different mashes. Best served immediately.

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  • http://www.davidlebovitz.com david

    Lara: You could’ve been in Paris is 2 1/2 hours by train (well, after you got out of Heathrow). We don’t have any mushy peas, and it’s not as sunny as Cyprus or Portugal right now–in fact, it’s pouring rain–but there’s plenty of mushy cheese, butter, and chocolate.

  • http://joannasfood.blogspot.com Joanna

    I love this story, and I love the mushy peas. But next time you’re wanting to travel on the spur of the moment, start by looking at seat61.com, the most marvellous website which tells you all about train travel all over the world (including a lot of tricks to get the best out of the UK rail network). There’s NO OTHER WAY TO GO!

    Joanna
    joannasfood.blogspot.com

  • http://web.mac.com/tannajones Tanna

    A great train trip lara and what a story!
    Sue & Karen & I enjoyed our mushy minty peas when we were in London recently and I’ve been thinking I should try some. Thanks for the recipe!

  • http://jessthomson.wordpress.com Jess

    This is fabulous! What a fun adventure! And the Tour?

  • http://everybodylikessandwiches.blogspot.com kickpleat

    what a great story! we’re planning our first trip to europe in september and besides booking a flight and the first night’s accomodations, we’ll be flying by the seat of our pants too. i love the little joys you find by accident. lovely! and the mushy peas look great too…definitely something we’ll try in the uk.

  • http://www.mostlyeating.com Sophie

    I’m very impressed that you’ve managed to make our crap English summer weather look so stylish! Mushy peas have to be one of the high points of English cuisine, and quite right too not to mess about with them too much. I’m sure mint would be very nice but they just wouldn’t be proper mushy peas then :-)

  • http://www.cookandeat.com/ L

    David – you are right! But one goal I forgot to mention was that we were looking for somewhere we have never been, and that we may not actually make it to otherwise. It was a bit of a “bonus trip”… but no worries… we will definitely be back to Paris for plenty of mushy cheese!

    Joanna – Ah, I wish I’d known about that site! I will know for next time!

    Tanna – I was a bit trepidatious in trying them, but the ones at the Ravenwood convinced me I had nothing to fear!

    Jess – Thanks! Cam will be posting on the Tour sometime this week. I am so buried in photos from it right now! but the short story is that it was a beautiful sunny day, and there were lots of guys in spandex going by really fast :-)

    Kickpleat – Thanks!I’m sure you will have a great time. Our “adventure” was fun, although it would have been much less stressful if we had either a) a bigger budget or b) more time. Either of those make it simpler to not worry about little glitches along the way.

    Sophie – You forget, I’m from Seattle! I’m used to grey skies with intermittent sun breaks. Thanks for your note!

  • http://myfrenchkitchen.canalblog.com/ Ronell

    You have a beautiful blog…plenty to read and wonderful recipes and stunning photos…so much so that I(who don’t like mushy peas at all) am drooling by just looking at your photos.
    Your adventure sounds wonderful. I feel like packing a bag and take off in search of the sun. It obviously doesn’t know that there is a place like France on the map this year…
    Ronell

  • http://www.ceresandbacchus.com Mary

    I would have never believed that a person could write a romantic story about mushy peas. You amaze me.

  • http://www.travelerslunchbox.com Melissa

    Glad to hear it all worked out in the end, even if it did mean missing your chance to see Scotland! I’m sure you’ll have another opportunity someday, and chances are you’ll get better weather than you would have now. By the way, I’ve never been to Cambridge – is it worth a visit?

  • http://www.taryndomingos.com Taryn

    Hah! Funny we had the same idea. We hopped on a plane last week to Manchester and I can concur that an 8 hour flight preceeded by a five hour flight is definitely NOT romantic. I’m jealous that you were more lucky with the weather than Joe and I were…it rained most of the week, the 7th and 8th were a bit sunny though.
    There were some very wonderful moments though, between all the desperate searching for food and shelter and those horrible security lines at the airports! And I’m about sick of those little orange striped rail passes!

    But I’m glad you had a good time!!

  • http://www.salistudio.com Natasha

    The hotel photos are ab-fab. Much nicer then the hotel web site. Makes me wana pack my bag.

  • http://desertcandy.blogspot.com Mercedes

    This is so wonderful, I always wanted to do this but never had the courage! So glad you did, and those peas were meant to be!

  • http://www.steamykitchen.com Steamy Kitchen

    I love the photo with rainbow…what a wonderful little vacation you had!

  • http://www.preserveless.blogspot.com Ales

    I recognised the Eagle sign!!! Did you know it is the oldest pub in Cambridge? We are moving back there in September and I cannot wait to roam the streets of Cambridge again myself : )

  • http://nookandpantry.blogspot.com/ Amy

    Absolutely stunning photos as always! Looks like you had a great time.

  • http://www.mattikaarts.com Matt Wright

    I am British, and moved to the US about 5 years ago.. Bloody hell, do I miss the mushy peas! I used to like nothing better than going down the local pub, having a pint, a pie, and some mushy peas of course on the side. Blimey. good stuff.

    If you enjoyed Cambridge, you should also check out Oxford. Another great college town, ozzing history and character.

    Cheers!