A Field Guide to British Christmas Dining

If you're new to England this Christmas, have found yourself visiting family in the U.K. or are simply looking to decode some terms from your favourite British Christmas movies, use this handy guide to help you navigate your way around the Christmas dinner table like a local.

1. CHRISTMAS PUDDING | The Christmas Pudding is the queen of all Christmas desserts- though, confusing to Americans- it's not a "pudding" like you may think of in all it's Bill Cosby-piano-playing glory. Pudding refers to dessert here, so this is a cake that has dried fruits and is soaked for months in booze. It is covered in some sort of cream and then, for dramatic effect, lit on fire when served. 

2. MINCE PIE | A Mince Pie. Not a "Mince Meat Pie," because meat in this pie is disgusting. Even if my Southern grandfather may have loved it- something about the idea of meat in a pie always made me gag. Now that I eat (too regularly) the real mince pies, the idea of meat in it really makes me shudder. A classic mince pie is nearly bite-size and full of dried fruits and spices. They're best served warm, in quantity of 2-3, and alongside a big mug of tea. These appear in every store in late October, are eaten by the millions in the lead up to and on Christmas, and then magically disappear from existence by the start of the New Year. 

3. BRANDY BUTTER
 | This is the aforementioned cream that is poured on top of Christmas puddings- but, as the name may imply, has brandy worked into it. Typically, the final product is served alongside a glass of brandy. 

4. TRIFLE | There isn't one specific recipe for a trifle, but assume it will come from a general pool of ingredients including: fruit, whipped cream, jell-o (or "jelly" as it's called here) sponge fingers and sherry. Imagine it layered up in bright layers and served in a big glass bowl to show off each layer.

5. GOOSE-FAT POTATOES | While much of the British Christmas dinner seems similar to a US Thanksgiving- they skip mashed potatoes and roast theirs in chunks in a pool of goose-fat. The result is a crunchy, golden potato that resembles a hoof more than a vegetable. It's the perfect consistency for absorbing gravy.

6. PIGS IN A BLANKET | These aren't the same crescent roll stuffed hot dogs you might be thinking of... but they are slightly similar. Small sausages ("chipolatas") are wrapped in bacon ("streaky"- just like us Americans like it) and roasted. These are served alongside the turkey to add saltiness to, what some consider, a bland meat. These are often also served as nibbles in the holiday season.

7. WASSAIL | This warm holiday beverage can either be alcoholic or non-alcoholic. The non-alcoholic will typically be a version similar to our cider. (Though ordering a "cider" will get you a cold, alcoholic beverage- so beware!) It can also be mulled wine which is wine that is cooked over the stove and, often, has fruits, cinnamon sticks and other spices added to it. It's for sale in most pubs and passed at most holiday events.

8. CHRISTMAS CRACKER | This isn't a pretty tin of saltines that is passed around- a Christmas cracker will sit on the the place setting of each guest. At some point in the meal (often debated as when the official time is- though I prefer sometime around the arrival of the main course!), these will be cracked with a loud bang, and everyone will then rifle through the insides of their cracker and share their findings with the table. The standard lineup of contents include: a paper crown (mandatory to wear), a silly joke that everyone loves to groan at, and a cheap toy or gift.

9. BREAD SAUCE | This is a sauce not for bread- but made of bread. It's really thick and clumpy, but it actually goes really well with roast chicken or turkey. Combined with cranberry sauce- it's definitely worth trying.


After you've made it through the meal, pat yourself on the back and get ready to cozy in for the Queen's Christmas address which broadcast every year on Christmas Day. The Queen will discuss the year gone by and it, somehow, makes the day feel perfect. (Even if you do quietly chat through the whole thing with your sister.)


Spending the holidays in England? Find my travel guide to London here and my guide to London with kids at Christmas here.


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Posted on December 1, 2016 .

Pack Your Bags: Christmas (with kids!) in London

In travel consults, I'm often asked if coming to Europe at Christmas is a bad idea. My answer is- most always- not at all! Christmas in Europe feels so magical. You simply can't beat the charm of a German Christmas market, sipping chocolat chair from a tiny cafe after shopping in Paris, or being absorbed into the grandeur of a carol service held in a candle-lit Westminster Abbey.

While so many destinations in Europe are steeped in various traditions, I'm biased to the way that London celebrates Christmas. It's a style that would make Dickens proud and Hugh Grant smile. In a big way, the city embraces the "festive season" and splashes out weeks of fun, holiday events full of the quirky items you've heard of in movies and books: mince pies served with mulled wine, nativity plays, potatoes roasted in goose fat, Santa's Grotto, and of course- the Christmas pudding.


You'll find no other time of the year to have so many great options for kids, either. Days out for families are all just waiting to be enjoyed during the run up to Christmas. I've put together a list of my favourites- the ones we share with our own kids and make into a yearly tradition.

CHRISTMAS TREE LIGHTING CEREMONIES | Each year, the major areas of town will have tree lighting ceremonies in early November to kick off the season. The bigger areas will often have celebrity performances and tons of festive fun. The largest ones are typically around Oxford Circus and Regent Street.


HYDE PARK WINTER WONDERLAND | This is our family's favourite Christmas tradition- Tyler & I have gone every year since we moved to England! Set up in Hyde Park (on the East side- between Hyde Park Corner & Marble Arch), is Winter Wonderland. Think of a State Fair and a German Christmas market having a baby. A really big baby. Entrance is free, but rides aren't. (You pay with tokens purchased in endless kiosks in the park.) Food is paid for in cash and most stalls now accept credit cards.

Come early in the day with kids to avoid the really long lines... and come hungry! There are so many great stalls and things to do- you're going to be glad you have room to eat.


FESTIVE AFTERNOON TEAS | At Christmas, tea rooms around London will swap out their regular afternoon tea menus for a Festive Tea. These teas are afternoon teas with a Christmas twist. Expect to get all the standard items like tea, scones and sandwiches:.. just with some seasonal items tucked in to the menu: turkey and cranberry sandwiches, mince pies and miniature Christmas puddings... and most will have a sweet children's version, too.

This is one of my favourite things to do in London with a little girl at Christmas, as it typically involves dressing up and strolling through picturesque streets for window shopping when you've finished.

CAROL SERVICE AT WESTMINSTER ABBEY | In the Advent Season, most of the churches will have carol services. We like to take guests to Westminster Abbey for their big one on Christmas Eve when we can get tickets. The service on the 24th is ticketed so you'll need to get tickets in advance. Tickets are free, but allocated in advance.

However, they have a few other services which do not require tickets. The full schedule can be found here on the Abbey's website.

ICE SKATING AT THE NATURAL HISTORY MUSEUM | This is a great example of how doing something ordinary can become cooler when it's in a pretty place. Book tickets for ice skating in the courtyard of the Natural History Museum and you'll not only have fun- but some gorgeous photos to look back on.

You don't need to be a good skater to skate- most people there won't be! For the little ones, there are helpful little penguin/standers to push along!

SANTA'S GROTTO AT HARRODS | Again, this needs to be booked- but you can book a special trip to see Santa. When you enter, Santa will be waiting for your child(ren) and will speak to him by name. As they wait to see Santa, the children get to play games and explore his "workshop." It's really sweet and feels very fancy! See our visit here from last year. 

CHRISTMAS CAROLS AT TRAFALGAR SQUARE | This is a great free option for families on a nice day. Throughout the month, various groups and charities will sing carols in Trafalgar Square throughout the day. Take a seat on the steps in front of the National Gallery and enjoy the sounds of Christmas and Big Ben in the backdrop. It's best to bring a warm drink and some mince pies with you, too!


Looking for more ideas of what to do in London? Find my travel guide here or book a travel consult.


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*images original to Aspiring Kennedy
 

Posted on November 28, 2016 .

Take Your Kew | Our Day Out with Fiat

When I shared about our day out with Fiat, I realized that I actually didn’t really share anything that we did on that day. I mean, in broad strokes, yes… but the actual details of the day were washed over by the bliss of having our own car to get around.

So how about this time around, I give you a bit more detail so that you can craft your own day out in at Kew Gardens, too. (Because I lived here for 6+ years without going, and no one else should wait that long.) We were lucky enough to go with friends who are annual pass holders, so they took us straight to the good stuff. I’ll try to be that friend for you, too, and get you right to what you want to know.


A DAY OUT AT KEW GARDENS | What to expect

 

ALL-NATURAL EATING | If you’re going to head out to Kew, I’d recommend eating there, too. There are so many food options on-site, that you can really make a day of it and have lunch there. We opted for lunch in the Orangery and were so pleased with the gorgeous food being served there. It was hard to resist getting one of everything!

If you’re on a budget or restricted by dietary issues, you could also pack a picnic and sprawl out somewhere on the grass or under a tree, too. Heck, if the weather is nice- it may just be the perfect space to plop your kids with their food and not worry about crumbs and spills.

If nothing else, just promise me that you’ll get a slice of cake and a hot beverage and sit somewhere for a while with a view. You’ll inevitably have some curious things wander your way… whether it is a proud peacock who struts over your way or a over-the-top Englishman decked out in tweed and wellies feeling just as smug.

BEE ONE OF THOSE PEOPLE | You definitely don’t want to miss the Hive when you visit Kew. This is an enormous modern structure that was built to mimic a real-life bee hive. The sounds are supposedly based off what a real hive would sound like, if you were a bee. Standing in the middle of it and looking up and down feels amazing. (And I promise, your kids will think it is very cool.)

 

GO GREEN | You’ll definitely want to stop and visit the greenhouses along the property when you visit Kew. Trust me.

Not only are the muggy interiors a nice relief from the chilly weather, but the insides are just stunning. With tropical plants growing up and down the interiors of these historic greenhouses, you can actually visualize what so many of the spices that we daily use start as… and get an aerial view of the greenhouse when venture up the wrought-iron stair cases.


So there you have it… a day out at Kew Gardens. Expect a posh-but-curious crowd and plenty to keep you entertained along the way. I guess you could say the same thing about our ride, too. Getting to check out the Fiat 500 Lounge was seemingly straightforward, but each time we hopped back in the car- we seemed to find something else we liked about it. Whether it was being able to sync our phones up to the Bluetooth in under 30 seconds (seriously- is it ever that easy? Not for me!), quickly folding the rear seats down when we needed to run car seats between our friends house and ours, or just the unexpected amount of leg room we had in the front!

Our friend Reuben expected to feel crammed in the front, but even he was pleasantly surprised by how roomy it was when he drove it! 

So all in all… well, it was a day that packed a punch. It might haves seemed small and insignificant to zoom out of the ordinary weekend routine with Fiat, but it ended up being such a great day. I guess it all comes back to the old adage that good things really do come in small packages.

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*images original to Aspiring Kennedy
*this post was sponsored by Fiat

Posted on November 24, 2016 .

My Notting Hill | Continental Pantry

I used to look for quiet, independent places to work when we lived off Westbourne Grove in Notting Hill. I searched for that magic Bermuda Triangle of productivity where good food, quietness and wifi magically aligned.

I'm sad to say that I could never quite find the right space just out the steps of our flat... until now, when, of course, we no longer live there.

At Continental Pantry, you'll find a small (but mighty!) menu offering light breakfast and lunch items. Don't expect heavy cooked options- no eggs or pancakes- but lighter choices like yogurt, homemade granola and berries or avocado toast buried under tomatoes.

The coffee is good and the quiet room in the back is surprisingly sunlit and very well designed.

The front of the store has dry goods from all over, you guessed it, "the continent." French mustards, Italian meats, and all the other essentials you may need.

And luckily, it's next door to my favourite chocolate shop in London/the galaxy, MELT... so not only can you get a great space for working or meeting a friend, but you've also got the perfect route for picking up one of their popcorn bars (incredible!) on your way home. That may not contribute to the end-goal of productivity... but surely, it can't hurt?

Continental Pantry | 57 Ledbury Road, Notting Hill, W11 2AA


Find all of my favourite places in Notting Hill in my travel guide to the neighbourhood here


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*images original to Aspiring Kennedy

Posted on November 23, 2016 .

A Day (& Some Knights) With Fiat

Having a family in London gives us access to so many wonderful things-  world class museums, some of the finest eateries, and endless opportunities to experience major events in person (Wimbledon, the Olympics, the Royal Wedding, etc.). Sometimes I think about the things my kids have seen or do on a normal basis, and it blows my mind a bit. What seemed foreign and exotic to me at 25 is everyday life for them before they’ve even started school. London is an incredible place to have a young family in so many ways.

But the truth is, life in the city with kids is also physical in a way that I can’t explain. Every outing comes with the challenge of physically getting us there. Each fun weekend plan comes with nearly equal parts of transport to get us there- which normally results in a cocktail of buses, trains and ubers that is pretty exhausting.

We are finally at the point in life when we crave to get out of the city in free time- hoping for some space to run free and explore with the kids. Just at the same point in time that we’ve been seriously talking about getting a car, Fiat offered us one of their iconic Fiat 500 series cars to drive for a day. We, in all our middle-aged-yuppie delight jumped at the opportunity faster than you can say “Organic flat white” and started scheming up how we would spend our day gliding around without fussy bus drivers or uber drivers crunching on potato chips as they drive you.

We opted for heading to Kew Gardens- which, until this moment, had felt like too much of a hassle. Google Maps has it as an hour away from our home by public transport… or a measly 20 minutes by car!

When our car was dropped off, we all stared out the window at it non-stop. I could hardly get the kids dressed, but finally- we had all our clothes on, tossed some diapers and snacks in a bag, tossed our stroller in the boot (read: “trunk, ” if you’re American) and cheered as our friends pulled up to join us on our day out to Kew.

And then from there? Well, I wish I could give you a monumental break-down of the journey there. but the truth Is, it was just really easy. The kids chattered and sang in the back, I navigated and played DJ, and Tyler drove.

Because we had a car, we suddenly had the best of both worlds- access to an amazing city without the standard hassle of doing them. Plus, when you’re in a cool car like a Fiat 500- getting there becomes a fun part of the adventure, too.

It was tiny enough to squeeze into a small parking space on our street, and yet roomy enough to fit in two car seats and a stroller. Oh, and you can get an automatic car… which is really handy if you’re an American and/or need a free hand for trivial things like passing juice bottles back to kids in the back. It was the perfect fit for our family to get out and go.

And while it may not have broken our backs to get out to do something fun this time, it may have just been the final straw to break the proverbial camel’s back and push us into finally getting a car! (Because let’s be honest…. Going out with kids has enough challenges and it’s nice to take a shortcut when you can!) 

Looking for an escape from the urban burden of public transportation? Check out the Fiat 500 line here!


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*images original to Aspiring Kennedy
*this post was sponsored by Fiat

 

Posted on November 18, 2016 .