17 December 2000, Sunday
After a lie-in—see? I’m already learning the lingo!—we went to church at the very civilized hour of 11:00. I shocked a few British people by singing the harmony line to the hymns (one can do this when one knows how to read music, ahem). There was one little girl, maybe about ten, who kept turning around and staring at me. Well, actually she was giving me the stink-eye. I guess Catholics don’t sing much harmony. 🙂
And then we were home, where the Lambkins prepared the full-on English Sunday dinner. This consisted of oven-roasted chicken, roast potatoes (peeled, parboiled, then placed in the oven to brown slightly), steamed broccoli, cooked carrots seasonsed with lemon (yummy!), and the pièce de résistance: Yorkshire pudding! I’d read about it, but I never knew what it was.
To American readers, the word pudding is misleading. We think of a sweet, milk-based dessert similar in texture to a custard. (Some of us also think of bread pudding. With great fondness.) But in the UK a pudding can be sweet or savory, and is, well, never custardlike.
Anna told me, “Remember, this was originally served in a huge roasting pan, not as individual puddings. My grandfather would be rolling in his grave to see how it’s served now!” That is, in muffin tins. Basically, Yorkshire pudding is bread—a cross, somehow, between a dumpling (in that it is traditionally cooked with the meat’s juices), and a chewy muffin, with a nod to meringue (in that its crisp exterior looks somewhat meringue-ish). They do rise (and can fall). Hard to explain, as we American’s really have nothing quite like it. I found it delicious, and would happily consume it every Sunday afternoon. Eoin made them individually, in a muffin tin he heated first, with a tiny amount of grease, much like we Southerners will heat a cast-iron pan with bacon drippings before making cornbread in it. The secret to Yorkshire pudding, you’ll read in all the recipes, is heating the pan.
Anna made a delicious “apple crumble” (very like what we call a cobbler) for dessert, and thus sated we retired to the living room to relax before our first big event of the trip: Jesse’s Christmas present. And this is what it was: a concert at the Royal Albert Hall!
So we drove back into London.
From an e-mail from Anna: “The Royal Albert Hall has been the ‘nation’s village hall’ since 1871, Albert, Prince Consort, husband of Queen Victoria, had the idea in 1853 of building a great hall as part of a cultural centre to be based in Kensington, southwest London. Inspired by the sites of Roman amphitheatres in Europe, Albert’s concept was originally for an immense ovoid auditorium to house 30,000; this was rationalised due to financial restraints and today the auditorium seats just over 5,000.” (But, oh, what magnificent seating!) She went on, “The hall’s distinctive architecture is a lasting memorial to a remarkable era, an enduring celebration not simply of Victorian vision and creativity but also of the technical brilliance of their engineering skills.” The building is, in a word, gorgeous. Its very name lives in my own personal reference, having been immortalized by the Beatles (as in: “Now he knows how many holes it takes to fill the Albert All”)!
Knowing that Jess is a musician, the Lambkins obtained ticket (actually—box seats) to a concert of Christmas mustic with the London Concert Orchestra conducted by Robin Stapleton. It also included British tenor Justin Lavender, the Capital Arts Children’s Choir, the London Philharmonic Choir, and Crispian Steele-Perkins, the world’s leading performer on baroque trumpet (no valves). The concert included works by Bach, Bizet, Purcell, Handel, Schubert, Berlioz, and others—and concluded with the audience singing along to several Christmas carols. Splendid! We all thoroughly enjoyed it—such a wonderfully thoughtful gift!
And once again, we fell exhausted into bed after midnight.