When I left Oxford, England I wanted only one souvenir for myself: the head chefs recipe for sticky toffee pudding. I like to think that this recipe is as old as the relatively young Brasenose college nestled in the heart of Oxford. When I say relative, I do mean that; a mere 500 years compared to those other more renowned colleges that boast 900 years or more! Though this quaint little college has nothing to be ashamed of in any way, despite lacking in historic academic semesters; a beautiful vintage library, stairwells that twist around and creep up behind you like ghosts that undoubtedly haunt them. Even Jane Austen had the privilege to study under the headmaster's wife's instruction for a summer. She is the very reason I even ventured to Brasenose college. I left on a five week study abroad program specifically for the discovery of all things Austen, but I seemed to have returned with much more than just a tome full of Regency trivia and a habit for saying "cheers".
Tuesday, December 16, 2008
I approached my trip to England with severe caution, after all I am a pseudo vegetarian ( no reds, nothing bloody). All I had heard was ghastly tales of sausages bobbing in pools of muck and baked beans with bits of mystery meat and ,worst of all, the utter indignation for anything with the slightest bit of spice. I contemplated packing a stealthy package of salt and pepper in my luggage but found myself nervously laughing away the idea.
I arrived in the afternoon, starved, parched and exhausted, terrified by the idea of never finding a diet coke. I remembered that I only packed one box of Kashi pumpkin spice flax bars and wept quietly in my 17th century dorm room. When dinner arrived, though I was not excited about the menu, I was at least thrilled about eating "harry potter style". The dinning hall was exactly thus: gilded portraits leaning forward from their tacks so as to get a better look at their guests below, massive solid wood tables with notches and scratches as deep as the college is old, and a high arched ceiling with windows reaching up to its corners. This was to replace my pathetic little bought-in-a-box dining room table, that possessed painted wood laminate and no trace of the real stuff. The tables were set with pitchers of water and the most amazing squash (english for juice) that tasted like boysenberry candies my old french teacher used to pass out. There was real pats of butter, though they were packaged in little gold foils it was unlike any butter I've ever tasted. Fresh rolls of every sort from the bakery down the street. Every dinner was served by students of the college who were working over the summer to earn some extra money. The students would one by one, dressed in white button down shirts and black trousers, bring us our courses. Sadly I do not remember my first meal, perhaps it was the jet lag. Though I do recall that it desperately needed seasoning. Disclaimer: I am not a compulsive salter. The salt was ordinary table salt, like one finds in many American pantries but the pepper, oh the pepper, was a fine dust that resembled and smelt of decaying mummy and made one cough like breathing the the first smoke from a bonfire. Being an immense fan of peppercorns, I held a private funeral for my taste buds that must endure the following weeks.
After dinner, I sauntered outside the hall with my fellow UT students when we were motioned towards a little basement staircase. The Buttery. Brasenose's own private pub. Being from Texas I am accustomed to alcohol and drinking, but in the school's basement! I am also not one to drink and beer or concocted beverage that some upperclassmen might hand me. I like to think of myself as a budding enthusiast when it comes to such special libations. Though, not wanting to be left out, I followed the other girls downstairs. I expected the moldy stale stench one usually encounters in the numerous bars in Austin and throughout Texas. I did not expect, tidy little dark wood tables, dust free stone floors, or the same Oxford boys who were our waiters to be drinking enormous pints while playing a game of raunchy Jenga. Then the smell hit me, a beautiful sweet and dulcet collaboration of wheats and billows of what I can only describe as yeast puffed clouds. The mere odor of local beers and ales had permeated this tiny stone basement pub making it my new favourite haunt, sadly I only had the red wine.
Posted by Katherine at 3:43 PM