Delicious. Exciting. Beautiful. Spring.


I had felt like the spring equinox was late in coming to Portland. For weeks I have been saying that we skipped winter and went straight from autumn into spring. However, this week has unexpectedly seemed more spring-like than the last. Light-filled days, flicking through the springtime in Brambly Hedge storybook, warm early evening sunshine, open windows, picnic baking and blossom sprinkled allover.


It’s been a week of getting outdoors. A hidden gem of a garden located high above the Williamette River, where old trees in relaxed landscaping blossomed and budded. We watched salamanders swim lazily through man-made miniature cascades, scratched the cardboard bark of a giant sequoia and poked at papery petals of blossom.





More soft pinks as we explored the Japanese American Historical Plaza and its hardened backdrop of the Steel Bridge crossing the swirling Williamette.


And then this weekend an awesome waterfall thundering into a lush green creek, wooly moss-loaded trees, pretty wildflowers and sunshine peeking over the top of hillsides.




Delicious spring. Exciting spring. Beautiful spring.


I’m dedicating this post to my very brave sister and brother-in law, who have had a truly awful week.*

Nick and I were talking about R&R’s sad experience and we discussed how different things would have been if we had not moved to America and he had taken a job in the UK.  Chiefly, we would not have Alfie.  We may have had a child and we may even have called that child Alfie but he is totally unique. He was made in a specific moment that could never be genetically recreated exactly. All babies are.

My sister in law commented some time ago how our social media feeds are full of  the antics of friends babies and children. Yet we don’t hear of all of those babies that didn’t make it full term. These precious souls were just as loved, just as wanted and just as much part of our friends lives. They too, are just as special and just as unique as our baby who came kicking, wriggling and crying into this wonderful world. Like him, they were created in one genetically specific moment, another little personality to join the family.

Thinking about this and the events of the past week, it just made me realize how blessed I am to be Alfie’s mum.  I’m not afraid to admit that I have found motherhood challenging. I am a natural worrier, a what if-er, but the joy and wonder that this beautiful baby has brought into our lives overshadows all of it.  I was lucky to carry him to full term and give birth to a healthy little boy.

They are never the baby you thought you’d have; a sleeping, independent, bundle of fun, ready to fit in with your life (come on, we all thought we’d have the perfect ‘angel’ baby!). But you can’t imagine changing this curious, active, whining, sensitive, sleep-fighting and sleep-depriving,  non-stop, mummy-loving smiler for another child.

I am so very lucky that I get to be a part of this handsome boy’s developing personality and am so proud to be his mummy.  R&R’s little nugget will always be remembered by us. They were already, and always will be, part of our unique family.

* I began writing this post some time ago but have struggled with how to express how I feel.

Practice makes perfect


This year I am definitely going to make Hot Cross Buns for Easter.  I have been thinking about it for years, was the closest I had ever come last year (read my Easter 2014 blog here) but this is THE year.  So intent am I, that yesterday I attempted my first batch.  Based on the results, I may well have to bake a batch a week before I perfect them in time for Good Friday.

So, Hot Cross Buns.  Not commonly found in America, therefore baking one’s own seems like the only option.  As an aside, does anyone else always sing the Hot Cross Buns rhyme – ‘One a penny, two a penny’- to themselves whenever they come across these? Poor Alfie heard it numerous times yesterday while I was baking them.

A little history on Hot Cross Buns from Wikipedia:

‘In many historically Christian countries, plain buns made without dairy products (forbidden in lent until Palm Sunday) are traditionally eaten hot or toasted during Lent’. 

I did not know that traditionally they were eaten toasted.  I personally enjoy them both toasted and un-toasted.

The recipe I used, from The River Cottage Handbook No.3: Bread, does include milk, and therefore a dairy product,  so I’d be interested to know what the very first recipe for Hot Cross Buns included.




It is a straightforward recipe and method, I must admit. (I was able to get the majority of it done during Alfie’s nap and then finish the bits and pieces off while he played contentedly on the floor with a wooden spoon.) I also think that using a Kitchen Aid mixer with the dough hook attached makes it a lot easier too.  It’s the kneading that I always find difficult, I must have weak wrists! I used a mix of currants and raisins, although I believe traditionally it is just currants, not an easy commodity to find here. Thankfully I live near a Whole Foods! The other thing that I could not find was Mixed Spice, so I made up my own using cinnamon, nutmeg and a touch of All Spice.  I do find it surprising that there are still things that are so common in the UK that are not available here.  I’m sure Americans living in the UK find it equally hard to find as large a range of cereals and pumpkin pie spice.

The results are not unpleasant tasting.  They are weighty.  I could do with Paul Hollywood telling me what I have done wrong.  It’s either under proved (I actually left it proving both times for much longer than specified in the recipe because it did not seem to be rising as it should) or under kneaded.  Now the recipe did not specify a kneading time frame, which is perhaps what I needed.


Also, as you see, the finish is not exactly pretty. But I know what I need to do.  I need to make a thicker flour and water paste for the cross,  I need to buy some apricot jam to melt and glaze them with and I need to bake them closer together so that they rise together, making the sides softer .  I’ll let you know how I get on next time!

Not a normal Tuesday

An honest moment now.  An admittance.  I did not know that Mardi Gras, Fat Tuesday and Pancake Day were one and the same thing.  I learnt this at…. Alfie’s Baby SingALong class last week, where we had a great Mardi-Gras themed half hour.

Mardi Gras, or Fat Tuesday is the French carnival before Lent, and is celebrated in some parts of America like New Orleans. In the UK, we refer to it as Shrove Tuesday or Pancake Day.  In all countries is a time of feasting before the Christian period of preparation before Easter. I feel ashamed that I never put it all together before.

We’ve been full of colds for over a week, so I’ve been trying to be imaginative with our indoor play, just to break the monotony. As such, this past Tuesday, Shrove Tuesday, I themed our play to reflect Mardi Gras, as it is celebrated in parts of America and Pancake Day as celebrated in the UK.  (Last year I wrote about Pancake Day and enjoyed a crepe.)

NB: Despite the variance in outfits, all photographs were taken on Pancake Day!

Activities for Mardi Gras: dancing around the house to Mardi Gras party music while waving some ribbons as if we were in a parade (well received and inspired by the Baby Sing A Long last week), touch and feel rice play with some Mardi Gras beads and the best mask I could find in the house (the beads were too inviting as a chew toy, so this activity didn’t last long), and playing peekaboo but wearing different hats each time I peeked (did not provoke as much laughter as I thought it might).



Activities for Pancake Day: Mixing ‘batter’ (flour and water) with a variety of batter mixing implements (he loved it but there was definitely lots of the pasty flour mixture heading for his mouth, and both of us had to have complete outfit changes), playing with a tiny frying pan while I made real pancake batter (by far his favourite activity from the day) and finally eating an English-style pancake (he wasn’t a fan, it was swiftly deposited floor-wards).






Perhaps it’s ridiculous to make so much effort for the 8 month old who is teething, full of a cold, grumpy, and who, let’s face it, probably has no idea what it all means, but it kept me entertained at least! And I had to make something good out of my shameful lack of Mardi Gras, Fat Tuesday, Shrove Tuesday, Pancake Day knowledge.

January Brights


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Bright, shining winter days.  Hope and promise.  Little tasters of what the year has in store for us. Not a sign of the January blues for the Farrars.  It’s been so easy to get out and explore.  Each small adventure has been photographic and uplifting.  So often January can feel dull and lifeless but not this year.  I have been revived and refreshed by it, set to embrace the rest of the year.



For the youngest member of the family, there has been so much to explore indoors too.  New tastes and new experiences daily.  It has been a delight to watch him.

Pantry surprise

In October 2013, I had this great idea to pickle my own cucumbers.  This is not a euphemism.  I genuinely did. I had been reading Barbara Kingsolver’s Animal, Vegetable, Miracle: A Year of Food Life and it had inspired me to do some preserving.  “What”, I thought, “Could be more American than a jar of gherkins?”


So I did my research, well I trawled pinterest for a while, found what I thought looked like a fairly straightforward recipe, cleaned up and sterilized a kilner jar and set to work.

cucumbers in jar

This would be the first time I thought about writing a ‘Yes I Can’ blog post.  And yet…. it didn’t come to fruition then.  I did pickle some cucumbers, and I did take photos, but I remember looking at the finished product and thinking, nope, it’s just not blog-worthy.  I put the gherkins away and essentially forgot about them.



Last week, while cleaning out the pantry (oh, the exciting life of a stay at home mom) I found the gherkins.  They looked murky and unappealing.  I pulled them out and left them on the side, thinking I would probably dispose of them and clean out the kilner jar, ready for my next canning adventure.  However, before emptying the jar into the waste disposal, I thought it would be wrong not to at least test one.



The smell was not horrible upon cracking the jar open. “Hmmm”, I thought, “At least they’re not mouldy.” I pulled one of the cucumber strips out and inspected it closely. It wasn’t floppy like I had feared. It looked a little pallid in color and not as green as I have perhaps come to expect from shop-bought gherkins.  I nibbled the end. Crisp. Tart. A hint of spice. A warm, garlicky- undertone. Actually, delicious.

The gherkins are now in the fridge and serving very well as a healthy snack or a sandwich accompaniment.  I’m now researching ingredients and method for my next batch – I’d like to make some a little subtler in fast, in time for grilling (and therefore burger) season.  Another string to my canning arsenal.

2015/ A week in


When the decorations come down, it always feels time.  Whether its December 1 or December 6.  Something about them looks tired. The room looks overcrowded again, like it did when you first put them up but without the excitement of why they are up.

That’s not to say that there isn’t excitement. It’s excitement of a different kind, a different sort of promise.  It’s just one that is less immediate.

The first few days of the new year can be so promising and so anti-climatic all at once. What will the next 365 days hold and how will you feel during them? This has felt more true than ever this year.  One day was crisp and bright with sunshine that makes you squint and a long walk, with rosy cheeks and limbs that feel tired when you sit down. The honking geese flying overhead as the sun begins to set. Another day it’s damp and drizzly, a day for layers, hot coffee and writing.  Today the park will be quieter, flatter, subdued. The honking geese will still fly overhead though. They have been the soundtrack to winter.


In the main, this first week of 2015 has afforded us beautiful sunny days.  Our backyard water feature has frozen overnight, only to be melted and flowing by lunchtime. We’ve enjoyed time as a family indoors and outdoors.  Once Nick returned to work, Alfie and I have had busy days filled with swimming classes, playing on the swings at the park, our daily neighborhood walks, fitness classes (for mum), and music and reading at the library.  We have delighted in each others company, as well as the return to routine.

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I’ve set goals for 2015.  Small, hopefully achievable ones, for different areas of my life. I hope they continue as positively as they have started.  It’s been a beautiful start to 2015, happy new year to you all!


2014 in review

I have been thinking over the past few weeks about the life-changing 2014 we have had.  It really has been quite a year.

My resolution and goal for last year was to create a healthy and happy home.  I like to think that we have managed that in some measure – I may not have kept to the smaller resolutions I set but then the adventure of parenthood took hold half way through the year – and nothing can quite prepare you for how you will deal with that!

The year started slow in January with some fun wintry excursions around Portland, and some great intentions to better my blog (see my point above about parenthood!).

Metlako Falls

Then in February I got a job and loved heading out to work everyday.

In March, during a beautiful spring time, at almost 6 months pregnant I developed a new-found respect for my changing body and enjoyed welcoming a colleague from a previous job for a visit to Portland.

Camelia 1

A Spring morning at the Japanese Garden.

In April, we were delighted to welcome JRob to Portland.  She and my dad had holidayed in Oregon and Washington State a few years ago but she had not seen Portland.  I loved showing her around our city and we enjoyed a weekend at the coast, along with a host of day trips.  However it was the little things like going out for lunch and coffee or doing the supermarket shop together that seemed most special.

Finished product
At the start of May we loved welcoming some friends to Portland from Kansas. We also  bought our house and after spending a few weeks cleaning, decorating and re-carpeting we moved in to the 4 bed detached property at the end of the month.  The whole process was quite different to that in the UK and we really enjoyed working with the realtor to find and subsequently buy the home.  (It felt a bit like being on Location, Location, Location!)
The new house
And we moved in in the nick of time,  Just over two weeks later, in June we were surprised and delighted to welcome our beautiful son Alfie James Mortimer Farrar into the world, just a little earlier than expected. After the excitement of the first half of the year, we have since concentrated on being parents to this amazing new family member.
Family Farrar
But things haven’t stayed too quiet. In the second half of the year, we continued to welcome visitors, keen to meet our baby boy and it has been a joy to host them.  JRob made her second trip of the year to Portland in July and met Alfie when he was a tiny three week old.  Her trip wasn’t nearly as action packed as her first visit, but it was so nice that she was able to spend a month with us in our new home and help us as we adjusted to being a trio.
Grandma JamJar singing to Alfie
Grandma JamJar singing to Alfie
 As a complete surprise to me, my brother Nic flew out in August, to visit during my mum’s last week of her stay, which was a wonderful treat.  He loved meeting his nephew and I loved getting even more family time.
Our final set of visitors came out in September. Nick’s mum and dad came out for three weeks to meet their second grandson. As Alfie was three months old by this time, we were able to really get out and show them the sights and sounds of Portland and Oregon.  I think I can safely say they loved their first trip stateside.  In fact, all of our visitors from this year are planning return trips for 2015.  This time I’ll try and make sure that the house is finished with a full complement of blinds and beds!  In September I was also able to catch up with another old work colleague during her visit stateside.
Another trip to Cannon Beach
Another trip to Cannon Beach
We spent October getting into a family routine and enjoying an absolutely beautiful Oregon fall.
In November, we made the ten hour flight back to the UK to spend three weeks seeing friends and family, introducing them to Alfie and having him christened. It was a wonderful, tiring and bittersweet trip.
Alfie + JamJar
In December we spent our first Christmas in Portland, enjoying some relaxing and quiet time as a family of three.
I cannot believe how quickly this year has gone by, and once again, how much has happened in it.  Without a shadow of a doubt it has been Alfie’s year.  He is simply the best thing to have happened to us – despite how tired we are as we head into a brand new year! Last night we spoke of how excited we were to see how his 2015 will be, what developments he will make and how our family life will alter over the next 12 months.  I suspect 2015 will be Alfie’s year too!

Bring on the Bundt!


As you know, I follow a few Portland blogs.  One of them is the beautiful Local Haven.  I couple of months ago I saw her blog about an olive oil cake with slow roasted balsamic blueberries. We had just done the olive oil tasting at the Oregon Olive Mill and returned home with some amazing olive oil and balsamic vinegar.  How better to use them than in a cake?!


The bundt cake.  Based on the shape of the European Gugelhopf cake, I associate bundt cakes with America.  You don’t get lots of them in the UK, but they always look so effective and they are commonplace here.  So I invested in a bundt tin one and set to making my first olive oil cake in the distinctively shaped tin.



I was really quite impressed with the cake.  I switched out the blueberries for strawberries, because we had some in already – but it still worked and tasted pretty good.



I’ll be making more olive oil cakes and getting much more use out of my bundt tin I have no doubt.

The recipe I used is here.


Guest Blog: We’ll be back!

In March of this year we booked our flights to Portland to visit Nick, Laura, and as then, our unborn grandchild.   And so it was that in September we arrived in Portland to meet the totally adorable 3 month old Alfie.

Even from the air it was evident that in Portland, and Oregon in general, I was going to be able to indulge my love of trees, because here they were, in abundance.

During our stay we saw so much and visited so many beautiful places.  I am only sharing some of my favourites.

Portland from Pittock Mansion, which is a lovely house to visit.

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Columbia Gorge from Vista Point

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Mount Hood reflected in Trillium Lake. We spent a lovely family day there and I still day dream about it!

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We went to the coast to the lovely Manzanita and Cannon beaches, calling at ‘Camp 18′ for breakfast and my first taste of pancakes with maple syrup and bacon!

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We did so much, and everywhere we went there were trees!

We spent almost three weeks with Nick and Laura who made us so welcome in their home.  Here we enjoyed lovely family time and got to know Alfie who seemed to change daily.
Cuddling him was definitely at the top of my list of favourite things!

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Nick and Laura made sure that we enjoyed every day of our visit, not just as tourists, but also by sharing a taste of their everyday lives in Portland with us.    We visited supermarkets with them, a real eye opening experience given the the vast  array of goods and choices. The Farmers Market with so much varied and homemade local produce. We went to their favourite cafe’s and coffee shops, where I developed a taste for BLT’s ( why can’t someone make them like that  here in the UK ?!)  and to Cold Stone Creamery for delicious ice cream!   Does it sound a little like England?  It is, but vastly different at the same time.

I celebrated my birthday on our last day there,  and what better way to end a wonderful holiday.  Laura worked her magic in the Kitchen and made me a truly unique birthday cake, my favourite Cinnamon Roll!    It not only looked lovely, but it was absolutely delicious and totally irresistible.  After a final relaxing, but fun,  family day out it was back home for more birthday cake!  A memorable birthday, a memorable holiday that will stay with me throughout the years.


All too soon it was time to say goodbye, which I always hate, but it was particularly poignant because now we were leaving half of our much loved family 5,000 miles away.

I will miss them so much; I will miss the stunning scenery and big skies; I will definitely miss the polite and friendly people of Oregon;  And I  will miss those trees!!

Yes, I will miss my family but I also envy them the amazing opportunity they have to live in such a beautiful part of the USA.

One thing is for sure,  WE WILL BE BACK !!

I’ve become an apple snob

IMG_1276First Portland made us beer snobs.  Now, it’s made me an apple snob.  It started with tasting a red-fleshed apple at a Farmers Market two weeks ago. Then, last weekend we truly embraced Portland’s obsession with good quality – and seasonal- produce and I officially became an apple snob.  We went to an Apple Tasting Festival at Portland Nursery.  Yes, that’s right.  A festival dedicated to the humble apple.  There was apple tasting, pear tasting, cider tasting (cider drinking), caramel apples, apple- themed crafts and apples to be bought by the bushel.

Today while walking around the supermarket and deciding what fruit to get I realized that my apple snobbery was fully formed.  Today I was not seduced by a shiny Granny Smith, or lured by a Fuji.  At the very least, I thought I might entertain the HoneyCrisp.  You see at the apple tasting we tried over 40 different apples – some Oregon natives, some old fashioned, some we’d heard of and some we hadn’t.  Trying so many different apples made me think more about what I actually enjoy eating rather than simply picking the apple that is on offer in the store.


We enjoyed the apple tasting.  It was fascinating to try so many varieties one after the other.  I simply didn’t realize how different apples could taste.  I had a few favorites: the Calville Blanc, the Jonathan and the Liberty. Interestingly, these all had a tart taste and were crisp in texture.  This does make sense as I favor the Granny Smith and Discovery apples that are easily found in the stores.  (The red fleshed Mountain Rose apple I had enjoyed at the farmers market tasted to me like a cross between a Granny Smith and a Discovery, which is probably why I so enjoyed it.)



With the tasting we were given a sheet of information telling us the origins of each fruit and what they are best used for.  We learnt that the reason there are so few varieties available for general consumption is most likely to do with how well they keep.  All the apples that are in the stores keep well: Braeburn, Fuji, Granny Smith, etc.

We did buy a selection of apples and pears at the festival so I only needed a couple more from the supermarket today and I did indeed splash out on the Honey Crisp – which is a really popular one in Oregon and only available in the autumn.  I suspect the reason that they taste so nice is because they are in season.

So, yes.  The humble apple has now been raised in my estimation and it is highly likely that I will no longer just choose the one that is on offer.  I may even seek some of my new favorites out at the local farmers markets instead of relying on the supermarket so heavily.

Guest Blog – A trip within a trip

Helen, Dave, Robbie & Andrea
My yearly trip to visit my sister in California usually includes another trip once I arrive. Last year we visited Fort Bragg in California, somewhere I had always wanted to visit to see its famous glass beach. This year’s trip was an exciting visit to Portland.
Keeping in touch with Laura and seeing her photos on Instagram kept me up to date with her new life in Portland and the journey she is having with her husband and of course the arrival of her baby. I was motivated by Laura’s talent of being a mum and new home maker while still sending out updates using Instagram. If only I had such technology and time when I was a young mum!  It would have been amazing to show my family and friends what I was doing. So I decided I must grasp the challenge. Using my new iPad (courtesy of my employer) I too could start my journey of using this technology which is so useful and powerful and can reach so many people. I asked my colleague, “Show me how to use this, I want to be like Laura!” He did and now I am addicted.
Back to my trip… fell into place so easily that It was meant to be. My sister Andrea’s friends who were previous neighbours of hers had moved to Portland several years ago and were very happy to accommodate us both. Having looked on google earth I saw their home was in a very nice part of Portland, which strangely enough was an area that I had visited (using google earth) and told Laura , ‘Go visit Nob Hill it looks really nice!” (This was before they had moved there and were just visiting the city.)
My sister’s children would be looked after by Daddy for three days, which was a really kind gesture from Paul to let us have some time together.
We flew into PDX and loved seeing Portland from the Max train – it was so easy to hop on and get to our stop where Dave was waiting for us. He and Robbie gave us a tour, showing us some of their favourite shops, eating places and even the wine store where they keep their wine. Their house was lovely; it had a very clam feeling about it. Apart from the two cats. One was like a magpie, stealing and hiding jewellery. They were cute despite one being caught red handed like a burglar with it’s head in my handbag.
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The following day Laura arrived with Alfie to take us for coffee and then a walk somewhere. It had rained the night before and was still a little wet. We had to borrow men’s coats just in case it rained again. Laura arrived looking just the same as the day she left Yorkshire Housing. Did I say that’s where we met?…Anyway we headed off for coffee and a good chat. I was keen to hear about her new life and Alfie. He was asleep and slept for what seemed most of the morning. He slept through the noise of the lovely French bakery – St Honore Boulangerie Patisserie – the visit to the nearby shop to buy wine to take back to our friends and the drive to the Japanese gardens. He slept through being carried up the stairs to the gardens in his buggy and the walk around the wet but amazing garden.  Finally he was woken from his slumber for his feed!
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Later that day after saying goodbye to Laura and Alfie we went for a picnic with Robbie and Dave to sit, eat and drink while watching thousands of swifts fly into the chimney of Chapman Elementary School. It was amazing to see and there were so many people there having a great time waiting for dusk, while kids were sliding down the grass bank on old cardboard boxes, pizza boxes and even a huge flat screen TV box.
I loved Portland very much and would love to go back. To explore and visit new areas, to go to the ‘Goonies beach’ and see the haystack rocks. My sister has never seen the film. I was shocked. She will have to watch it with her children very soon. I challenge her to see it before Christmas!
The best things about my trip were
  • Seeing Laura and Alfie..not forgetting Robbie and Dave.
  • Finally a view of Mt Hood on our last day, it had been so misty it was hidden.
  • Salt & Straw ice cream. Amazing flavours and atmosphere.
  • The food carts and the range of food.
  • Having a relaxing time being with my lovely sister Andrea.
  • Flying for the first time with Andrea.
  • Enjoying a lovely meal with Andrea at the airport due to our flight being delayed
  • The Japanese Gardens
  • The view from Pittock Mansion
  • Seeing Robbie’s amazing photographs for his exhibition very soon in Portland.
It’s just an amazing place and I would love to back. Thank you to my sister for arranging for us to go…and to Portland for welcoming us!
California 2014 trip 123
California 2014 trip 123
A note about the author: Helen and I were colleagues at Yorkshire Housing.  I loved working with her and am so pleased that she was able to come and visit me in America.  When she returns to California, I’m heading down to visit her there!!

Farmers Market Chutney


In our 18 months of living stateside, we have discovered that chutney is not a commodity sold or eaten in America.  As many of you will know, the Farrars love a chutney so this year I was determined to make some for our winter sandwich & cheeseboard requirements.  Now is a great time of year to make our well tried and well tested courgette chutney and with the abundance of amazing fresh local produce, I was very excited to get on chutneying.

I bought the ingredients from our local farmers market in Beaverton.  (As much as we love the big Farmers Market at PSU, we have found the Beaverton one to be very stroller-frendly and it has some really great producers there too.)

I love an excuse to get the maslin pan and funnel out and I even bought some new jars for the occasion.  3 delicious jars of seasonal chutney. Bring on the cheese and crackers!


Change of season

This week marked the change of season from summer to autumn, or fall.  What a summer it has been. It seems to have lasted for such a long time.   For me, it began at the beginning of June, when I started my maternity leave, and the weather began to get warmer. We are now saying farewell to our last visitors of the season and my cardigans have made a reappearance from the depths of my closet.

I love autumn, and I wrote a blog post saying just that this time last year. Once again, after  a life-changing summer, I feel like the start of autumn signals getting back into a routine and holds so much promise. Re-reading my plans for last autumn, I am surprised (and at the same time not surprised) how similar they are for 2014:  autumnal walks at the Arboretum and eating locally sourced and seasonal produce. This time the main difference is that I will not be job hunting and instead will be hunting for fun things for Alfie and I to do together during the week and for interesting family weekend trips.

However, I have been looking back on our incredible summer filled with a baby and our amazing family and realizing what a blessed life we lead. I was also thinking how lucky Alfie is to have experienced some awesome Oregon sights in his short, summer-filled life.

Alfie at the International Rose Test Garden
Alfie at the International Rose Test Garden
Alfie at Cannon Beach
Alfie at Cannon Beach
Alfie in the Pearl
Strolling around in the Pearl
Alfie enjoys a barbecue
Alfie enjoys a barbecue
Visiting the Columbia River Gorge
Visiting the Columbia River Gorge
Lavender picking on Sauvie Island
Lavender picking on Sauvie Island
Among the peach trees on Sauvie Island
Among the peach trees on Sauvie Island
At our local park
At our local park
At Erath Vineyard
At Erath Vineyard
At Arcadia Beach
At Arcadia Beach
Another trip to Cannon Beach
Another trip to Cannon Beach


Checking out the view at Cooper Mountain Nature Park
Checking out the view at Cooper Mountain Nature Park
Kicking about at Trillium Lake
Kicking about at Trillium Lake
Enjoying the trains at Shady Glen
Enjoying the trains at Shady Glen in Molalla

I wonder what fabulous fall and awesome autumn activities await him – and us?

Guest Blog: The best photos this blog has ever seen!


As soon as I found out my Pseudo Twin (PT) (she can explain) and Nick would be moving to Portland, Oregon, I wondered when my first jaunt out there would be and what I would see and do while there. I had no real knowledge of the area however, after reading the PT’s blogs, Facebook posts and our countless conversations, I built up a firm idea of what I would want to experience. Largely this revolved around food, (as is the family way) but almost equally, I wanted to get out and explore the city, the countryside and the Oregon coast.

With the looming arrival of baby Farrar, and knowing that the mothership would be having a month out in Oregon around the time of the due date, I decided to book a flight and head over myself to surprise my PT at a time when I knew the baby would have arrived.

Keeping the secret was quite a challenge, even more so when Alfie ‘Wriggle Pants’ Farrar arrived 3 weeks early! I couldn’t wait to meet him and spring my surprise, but I had the extra couple of weeks to wait and also 2 days in the USA before arriving in Portland. I’d given myself a night and day in Seattle followed by a drive (in a convertible Mustang…..when in Rome) down to Mount St Helens for another night to revisit my GCSE Geography knowledge!

After jumping out of the kitchen pantry chez Farrar on a hot Friday afternoon, I spent 10 days getting to know Alfie, hanging out with the PT, Nick and the mothership (and catching up with an old uni friend) as well as cramming in a bucket load of sight seeing, eating and exploring. Although the PT was like a broken record apologising for not getting out more and doing stuff, we did far more together with a seven week old Alfie in tow than I ever expected. And when she wasn’t able to get out I followed her advice and went off on a solo mission or two. Memorably, I also drove to ‘The Goonies’ coast with the mothership, stopping off for a behemoth of a cinnamon roll en route! (Camp 18 for you Oregon locals.)

This year I have been enjoying photography, and even undertook an adult learning course so I could be more confident in taking the slr off auto mode…….so, here are a selection of my favourites whittled down from a good few hundred (might be nearer 1000).

I’m now looking forward to (hopefully) returning next summer with the mothership….and brothership…….for more of the same. I’m just not sure all the luggage will fit in a Mustang……. maybe we will have to get a Camaro too!

The Farrar Three
The Farrar Three
Sundown behind the Olympic Mountain Range from the Space Needle
Sundown behind the Olympic Mountain Range from the Space Needle
Downtown Seattle from the Space Needle with Mount Rainier in the background.
Downtown Seattle from the Space Needle with Mount Rainier in the background.
Rusting Steel at the Olympic Sculpture Park
Rusting Steel at the Olympic Sculpture Park
Mt St Helens from Spirit Lake Highway
Mt St Helens from Spirit Lake Highway
Grandma JamJar singing to Alfie
Grandma JamJar singing to Alfie
The mighty Columbia River Gorge
The mighty Columbia River Gorge
he pool at the bottom of 542ft top tier of Multnomah Falls
The pool at the bottom of 542ft top tier of Multnomah Falls
The Mothership on Indian Beach at Ecola State Park
The Mothership on Indian Beach at Ecola State Park
Goonies never say die...across Cannon Beach to Haystack Rock
Goonies never say die…across Cannon Beach to Haystack Rock
View south from sunset highway on the drive back from the coast
View south from sunset highway on the drive back from the coast
Rust and peeling paint on the Hawthorne Bridge
Rust and peeling paint on the Hawthorne Bridge
Hawthorne Bridge, Portland
Hawthorne Bridge, Portland
View of Mt Hood from Pittock Mansion
View of Mt Hood from Pittock Mansion
Sleepy Alfie
Sleepy Alfie

A note on the author.  My brother Nic is exactly one year younger than me, born on my first birthday, and therefore my pseudo twin.  I was thoroughly surprised by his visit to the Pacific Northwest and just loved hanging out with him while he was here.  Having family so far away when you have a baby is hard, because you want to share the physical joy of this new life with them.  I didn’t think that I would be able to and Nic’s visit meant that I could for a short while.  Love you, PT!

Eating my words

photo 2-9Only one month ago I wrote a blog about how my world had got smaller because the centre of my world was now the small person in my life.  Our baby boy is three months old today and I have been thinking about how I may just have to eat my words. For somebody who felt like their world had shrunk, the past four weeks have offered me lots of new experiences and the opportunity to meet lots of new people.

Since going along to a weekly New Mom’s Group at the hospital where Alfie was born, I’ve met fellow new moms and they have introduced me to all kinds of other groups.  Alfie and I have been taking a mother and baby pilates class, I’ve started to learn infant massage and we’ve also been walking in new parts of Portland with a group called Hike It Baby.

Hike It Baby trip to Cooper Mountain Nature Park
Hike It Baby trip to Cooper Mountain Nature Park
Hike It Baby trip to Mt Tabor Park
Hike It Baby trip to Mt Tabor Park

My world has changed drastically and daily and weekly there are new moments of wonder for Alfie and for me.

Wine Time

We have lived in Oregon for well over a year now and I am sorry to say that we have only just got around to exploring Oregon’s very local (perhaps too local?) wine country.  What a delight… even on a day when we had our first bit of rain in pretty much a month.

I can’t say that we took full advantage of wine country – we only stopped at two wineries/vineyards – but goodness me if it didn’t make me want to get right back out there for a proper tour with full tastings and good sized glasses of delicious local wine.


Oregon is famous in wine terms for it’s Pinot Gris, Chardonnay and Pinot Noir.  Gris, is similar to the more commonly known Pinot Grigio, an often clear and always crisp, refreshing white. The Chardonnay is not like Chardonnay I have previously tasted, I don’t think that it is quite as sweet.  And the Pinot Noir is a very palatable, soft red wine.  When we first moved here I really enjoyed sampling local wines and would often choose a Pinot Gris while out for dinner.

Before this weekend, we had been to a friends vineyard and winery, (Archer Vineyards) right on the edge of ‘Wine Country’ in an area known as the Chehalem Hills.  Here, there is beautiful rolling countryside, big skies and big views.  This year, at Archer Vineyard we especially enjoyed a rose that they had grown which looked almost white in color but was delightfully sweet and all too easy to drink.


When Nick and I talked about heading out for a day trip, I thought about how beautiful the wine country – essentially on our doorstep – was and did a little research to plan a route and some stop offs.  Having a baby – and breastfeeding – meant that our wine country day was likely to be a little different than if we had gone a year ago, but it was simply lovely.  And that is largely to do with the simply stunning scenery which we explored.  We drove through the Chehalem Hills, through Newberg and headed for the Dundee Hills where we stopped at Durant Vineyard.  But here, we were not tasting wine, we were tasting olive oil. Oregon Olive Mill grow and press their own olive oil and it is delicious! We tried 5 different oils and a couple of balsamic vinegars and were genuinely surprised at how different the tastes were.  It may seem a funny thing to taste but we were really impressed.  And we treated ourselves to some as a bread dipping treat!


From here, we headed to the nearby town of Carlton.  This is such a sweet, sweet town.  It is all about the wine – with a number of tasting rooms and wineries located on the main street – but we stopped for lunch at a really great cafe called Horse Radish.  I chose a cheese plate, making my own selection of three from a menu of around 30 locally made cheeses and served with warm bread, olives, almonds and fig chutney.  It was outstanding!  And Nick couldn’t say enough good things about his ham sandwich – which had “ham like you get in the UK, nice and dry”. I wanted to save my alcohol quota for the tasting at the vineyard, but with a nice glass of wine, my lunch would have been pretty near perfect.



From Carlton we headed to our winery stop, Erath Vineyards.  Erath is one of the most popular and well known Oregon vineyards – their wines are certainly available in the local grocery stores.  Nick and I shared a tasting flight of 6 wines; two pinot gris’, a rose and three pinot noirs. We sat on their outdoor patio, under a flowering arbor and enjoyed the view as acres of vines clung to the rolling hills.  It was just lovely.


I am no wine connoisseur but I really enjoyed sampling the wines and considering the subtle and not so subtle differences. It was this, more than anything, that made me want to head back out there for a full tour and tasting session. Watch out next year wine country, watch out!


Guest Blog: There and back again


It’s been three weeks more than two three months since Andy and I returned home after our first trip from the heart of the Midwest to the alluring Pacific Northwest — specifically Portland and Seattle. (You know, those cities you’ve been told you would love. By literally everybody. So cool, so progressive, so outdoorsy, so laid-back…)

I intended to pound out a guest blog post for Laura within the first week back home, before all my travel-inspired illuminations faded away like dried-up leaves that have dropped, dusty and overlooked, on the windowsill. So many thoughts crowded my head during and immediately after that trip! They’re growing fainter by the day. Overtaken by bills and daily work commutes and weeding the yard. That’s how life goes.

Travel is a curious thing. It knocks you out of the routine you are used to. Alters your receptivity. Stretches you to look at the people, places and things around — including yourself, especially yourself — with different eyes. I’m not saying they are more accurate or incisive eyes than the ones you were using back home. But suddenly your attention is heightened. You marvel at ways of living and being that you hadn’t previously considered. Wander around as you never would on streets at home. Reconsider long-held assumptions and expectations.

It’s certain that you only get a sliver of the sense of a place when traveling. But it’s enough to matter. I think the act of taking each trip changes a little piece of you forever.

As a Midwesterner, I am accustomed to my part of the U.S. (and the faint inferiority complex that comes from living in what most people deem “flyover country”). I may not entirely even appreciate its particular beauties and expanses. Probably get stuck too often pondering its perceived limitations instead. (How about a preposterous lack of public transit service, for starters.) Visiting parts of the Pacific Northwest — with its appealing vistas seen through an admirer’s eyes — surfaced many searching questions about the choices I’ve made in my life.

  • What makes a place a home?
  • Why do I live where I live? Does it offer what I want?
  • Is it still where I want to live? Should I actively recommit myself to this place? If so, how?
  • What do I value in my city? What would I proudly show off to others who came to visit?
  • What is most important to me about the way I live and whom I do that with?
  • How can I commit to really and truly doing all the stuffI say and believe I want to do?
  • How can I try to be more present in each distinct day (instead of being overtaken by the blur of each week) finding more moments of connection and purpose and passion?

Even though I’m solidly back home and humming along in my daily rhythms once again, I want to hold fast to these questions and revisit them. A little mental kickstart now and again can be a very good thing, no matter how and where you live.

Seattle Library
Seattle Library


Portland's Japanese Gardens

A note on the author:  Julie and I met 12 years ago during an intense 9 months working as interns at a theater in the other Portland! We have remained friends and I’ve been delighted to welcome her into my home in the UK and now in Portland.  I am totally ashamed to admit that I am still yet to visit her in Kansas City.  It’s on the list of things to do while we’re Stateside. After reading her blog, I would be absolutely fascinated to see what Midwest sights she and Andy would introduce us to, as they both speak so fondly and knowledgeably about their hometown – and to my mind, that kind of enthusiasm is what makes you desperate to visit a place.

It’s a small world


I’ve been a mummy for just 9 weeks and I am coming to realize that keeping this blog is going to be a little harder.  Not simply due to a lack of time.  Lots of people who have infants keep blogs and work and do lots of other things too.  My concern is that my exploration of Portland, Oregon and the States just slowed down massively (if only for the short term).


In some ways, you might say that my world got a little smaller.  Routine has become important.  Providing a safe and secure home environment has become a priority. And, frankly, right now, simply getting out the house in clean clothes before noon is quite an achievement. With the smaller world that I am inhabiting being a new thing to me, I am not sure what direction this blog will take or how regularly I will feel  that I have something interesting to share.


So, in the meantime, here are the things that I have learnt in the past 9 weeks – and rather than being about Portland and the US/UK cultural differences, they are about being a mother, because right now, that is my all encompassing world.


1. You won’t mind leaving the house without drying your hair or putting on make up.  Because at least you are out of the house.

2. Breastfeeding is hard.  It’s like doing a dance that you don’t know the steps to.  And it continually changes.

3. You will worry all the time about whether you’re doing the right thing or the wrong thing.  Everyone tells you to follow your instinct and you do and then feel that could have been wrong too.


4. You don’t think you’ll be the type of woman to wander around the house in the middle of the afternoon mad-eyed, with baby sick in your hair and lactating breasts, asking yourself over and over where you left the burp cloth.  But you will. It is a humbling experience.

5. Singing Ironic by Alanis Morrissette through your own tears as you and your baby cry at each other will be the extent of your sense of humor.

6. You are unlikely to have any concept of what is going on in the outside world. (See blog title.)


7. You can function on a lot less sleep than you ever thought possible.  Not at a high level.  But you can care for your newborn and hold coherent conversations on 2-3 hours of sleep.

8. Although you think that all your friends managed beautifully when they had their children the reality is you didn’t see them in the first three weeks of their children being born and it is unlikely that you saw them outside their house.  That all came later, you just blocked it out.

9. You will talk about bodily fluids openly and in any situation.


10. You will cry.  Oh, how you will cry.

11.  You will be continually amazed at how your baby grows, changes and develops every single day.

12. Your world will be smaller but you are totally fine with that. The world for your newborn is unbelievably big and all you want to do is make it one of comfort and wonder and exploration for them.


And please don’t misunderstand me…. I’m more than happy with my world right now!

[The photos included are all images of the small world that we inhabit and were taken by my talented brother, Nic J M Robinson.]


Having a baby the American way

Alfie in hospital

Alfie is now eight weeks old and this is a blog post that I have been intending to write since I was just 20 weeks pregnant! I thought it might be interesting to consider the differences in the process of having a baby in the US and the UK. Of course, I don’t have personal experience of preparing for and giving birth in the UK, but with many of my friends having children I feel that I have a general understanding of the British way.

I really enjoyed being pregnant. I spent a lot of time worrying about whether I was doing the right thing in terms of exercise, what I was eating, how much I was taking on (moving house in your third trimester is not the most sensible of actions) and whether I should have been doing more or less of all the above. But one part of being pregnant that I didn’t have to worry about was the care I was getting from my doctors.  I felt that it was excellent and wondered if I would receive the same standard in the UK. Of course here in the US you pay for your medical services.  We are lucky enough to pay into a good medical insurance scheme which does make the whole process cheaper but it’s still not the NHS.

I had monthly check ups with my doctor, a specific OB/GYN of my choosing (you get recommendations on which doctors to use here), and then at 30 weeks they went down to fortnightly checks and then from 36 weeks they would be weekly.  (I never got that far!) So I felt like my doctor was keeping good tabs on me and through our regular meetings I really felt that I was able to build up a good relationship with him.  This was a big difference about having a baby in America.  The OB/GYN that I saw at the doctors surgery would be the one to also deliver my baby.  You can choose a midwife-led birth here but they are not the norm like in the UK.  (As it turned out the nurse looking after me during my labour was in fact a midwife so I felt as though I was in doubly good hands!)

A big difference that I think applies between having a baby here and in the UK is the vitamins and immunizations that are required.  I was prescribed a pre-natal vitamin that the doctor strongly recommended.  I actually ended up taking multiple vitamins instead of the prenatal one as we were unhappy about the levels of Vitamin A it contained.  I was and still am, taking calcium, iron and folic acid.  Like in the UK, I had to have a flu shot as soon as I found out I was pregnant, and like in the UK, I had to have an immunization against whooping cough.  But this is where there was another difference.  Here, I had TDaP (Tetanus, Diptheria and Pertussis), Nick had to have it and I was advised that my mum (visiting for a month) should also have it. In the UK, only the mother is advised to have the vaccine.

Here in the US, the 12 week scan is optional.  It is the 20 week scan that everyone has to have. And at the 20 week scan, finding out the sex of the baby is far more common than leaving it as a surprise, as we did. In fact, my OB/GYN commented that he had only delivered a handful of babies where they didn’t know the sex.  We were pleased that we kept Alfie’s gender as a surprise but it did make it hard to buy any clothes in advance.  I relied on Marks & Spencer’s and Mothercare international deliveries (and my mum’s luggage!) to stock up on plain vests, white sleep suits and socks.

I was genuinely surprised by the differences in what foods you were allowed to eat in both countries.  Here in the US, it was recommended that you don’t eat deli meats or canned tuna, but shellfish in the main was fair game! Of course still no soft cheeses or liver.  I ate a lot of hard cheese based sandwiches. It’s a wonder I didn’t pile on more pounds than I did.

We attended childbirth classes, organized through the hospital where we would be giving birth. I’m not sure how similar they were to UK NCT classes.  They were certainly not as social as we had hoped they would be.  We saw the class as a way of meeting other local parents to be, and although it could have been, the classroom-like approach simply wasn’t conducive to getting to know each other.  I feel like this is a real missed opportunity.

When it came to the birth, we knew that they wouldn’t let me go very much past term before they induced me. Certainly not like the two weeks allowed in the UK (depending on circumstances of course).  However, Alfie couldn’t wait to greet the world and was 2 1/2 weeks early so thankfully, I never got to that stage.  When my waters broke before any contractions started, I was advised to go into hospital straight away, where I had to stay and where they said that my baby would be delivered within 24 hours. As far as I know in the UK, they give you 24 hours at home to see if things happen naturally before encouraging you to go into the hospital.

So I ended up laboring in hospital.  And here’s a difference, there was free parking! And Nick could stay. There was a bed chair in the delivery room for him to use and then when I was moved to the mother & baby ward, there was a bed for him there too.  We also got a free celebratory meal through their room service. It was like a hotel, except one where they wake you up to take your temperature and blood pressure every few hours.

A big difference – and one which even my doctor and his students were surprised at – was that in the UK, you are offered gas and air as pain relief.  No such thing in America.  You either go natural or you go for drugs (epidural or narcotics).

We were encouraged to stay in the hospital for two nights and as we had our own en-suite room, it felt very reassuring to do so, particularly as Alfie had been in the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit for the first 36 hours. However, unlike the UK, once we were out of the hospital, I felt like we were flying solo.  No healthcare visits to your home here and no drop in clinics available. We took Alfie to the doctors for his check when he was 5 days old (followed by a 2 week check and then his 8 week check) and I had a 1 week and a 4 week check.  I think that this is good and bad.  For the neurotic first time mother, there feels to be no real way of telling how your baby is getting on – you have no idea what to compare it against. Neither do you have any precise idea about how much weight they are gaining. It also means that you have to get out of the house (and therefore be dressed) for a set time just a few days after getting out of hospital.  For me, who had scheduled my 40 minute 1 week check up and Alfie’s 40 minute 5 day check up for the same day (plus the 40 minute round trip in the car) this also included the possibility (and fear) of how I would manage to time his breastfeeds, something both Alfie and I were still learning to do.  Getting to that appointment on time felt like a major accomplishment.

And now, what differences are there?  Well there are a lot fewer classes and resources for parents of young babies.  I am struggling to find baby massage and baby yoga classes that I can go to and those that I do find are really quite expensive.  I hope that once I start really looking into it, I’ll find a wealth of things to do but for now, walking round the park and looking up new nursery rhyme lyrics on the internet will have to be good enough.

The differences have been interesting and I really couldn’t say if I thought one was better than another. Overall I would say that my prenatal and labour care were second to none and although I would have perhaps felt more comfortable having a regular healthcare visitor after the birth, not having that resource encouraged me to use my own intuition and put our parenting skills to the test straight away.

As I said at the start, I don’t know what it’s like to have a baby in the UK, having an American baby is all I know!




Our biggest (and littlest) American adventure yet…

Family Farrar

Two and a half weeks ago we embarked on probably what is our biggest adventure yet: our beautiful baby boy, Alfie James Mortimer Farrar was born.  He is our real American adventure because being born in the US to British parents automatically gives him dual nationality.  Perhaps one day Alfie Farrar could be President of the USA!

When we told friends and family we were expecting and our due date of 5 July we all thought it would be brilliant if he was born today, 4 July – Independence Day. As it turns out, Alfie simply couldn’t wait to meet us. Instead of fireworks celebrating his arrival, Alfie is celebrating Independence Day with us. And what better day to officially ‘blog announce’ the birth of our little British/American boy than such an important day in US history and their declaration of independence from Great Britain.

NB:  This is why there have been fewer blogs from me recently and why I intend on taking some brief blogging time off while I concentrate on learning to be a mum and enjoying time with my new little family. 

Guest Blog: Why I care about sun safety

Back in May, I blogged about sun safety and skin cancer awareness month.  I had been asked by a fellow Portland blogger, A Well Crafted Party, to write a piece for her blog about why I care about sun safety. Jenni recently found out that she has a Basal Cell Carcinoma that needed to be removed with minor surgery. A frightening diagnosis for anyone, it made her think about skin cancer and raising awareness of skin cancer and of course, this is something that I can relate to.

Today, her blog about why people care about sun safety, which I was very pleased to contribute to went live.  You can read it here.

Jenni Bost blogs on A Well Crafted Party and is also CEO & Owner of PDX Bloggers.

Baking with jam


As predicted, there was indeed baking in my future because of the monstrous Kilner jar of strawberry jam that I have in the fridge.  Nick suggested the English classic, the jam tart.  But I’m not a huge fan.  Then I remembered these ‘Jammer’ biscuits that I had seen (but never tried) in a Pacific NorthWest chain of bakeries, Grand Central Bakery.  We used to live opposite a Grand Central Bakery so I had seen them quite a lot.  I don’t know why I had never tried them but they looked a bit like a rough scone with jam erupting from the centre like a volcano.  Quite appealing,


Anyway, I thought that these might be a good way to use up a significant quantity of jam. So I went to the internet to find out if Jammers were a common American baked good or whether they were Grand Central Bakery specific.  Success!  The first link on Google Search took me right to another blog who had used Grand Central Bakery’s Recipe Book to make the original Jammer.


It turns out the Jammer is essentially an American-style biscuit filled with jam before it is baked.

Here I will clarify the American biscuit. Biscuits are not like English biscuits, something crisp and crunchy.  The English biscuit is referred to in the US as a cookie.  The American biscuit is probably more like an English scone.  The biscuit is essentially a bread product. It is often eaten here in the Pacific Northwest with a breakfast but they are synonymous with Southern American food; biscuits and gravy, biscuits and fried chicken.

I haven’t made biscuits before, and although it has been some time since I have made scones, I was intrigued to see what differences there were.  In taste, I think that biscuits are a little lighter than scones and not quite as sweet.


I’m not going to write the recipe out in full.  I used this great blog post for the recipe.  The biscuit  base for the recipe uses buttermilk, which I know my mum has tried using for some successful scones that she has made.

Overall, i was pleased with how the Jammers turned out. To me, they tasted more like a scone than a biscuit, but maybe that’s because you get the jam hit without having to smear it on? Maybe I should make some more to really perfect them?




Yes I can!

Hood Strawberries

Last year, I spent much of the summer in the UK so was disappointed to miss out on summer berry season here in Oregon.  It is a big deal.  And the biggest deal of all in Portland?  The Hood Strawberry. Boy, when that one is ripe and ready for eating, people go crazy for it. But I would say that it is worth the hype.  A little different to the classic British strawberry it is quite sweet but bursting with flavor.

As I’m currently not in a position to be picking for an hour in a field, I cheated a little and bought myself a tray of them at the farmers market.  My intention? Jam.  We don’t eat a great deal of jam in the Farrar household but we do enjoy it and it reminds me of the allotment days – and both my mum and dad making it annually.

Here in America making jam – or any other pickling, chutneying, putting things in jars, is called canning.  For some time I have been intrigued to know how and what makes the canning process different to jam jar-ing, if at all.  I had some ‘cans’ in, so set to my research and got on with my jam making.

It turns out that the difference between canning jam and the UK style of jam making, is that to can something, once you have filled your jar or can, you boil the entire jar and its contents to prevent spoiling and therefore preserve it.  Not something I have ever done before, relying on the old fashioned wax topper and a tightened jar lid!

However, cans is what I had so canning is what I did.  First you have to submerge your glass jars in water and sterilize them by heating them on the hob. As I don’t have a water canner I used a pasta pan because you don’t want your jars to be in direct contact with the base of the pan. Some people also recommend using a trivet or even a dishcloth on the base of the pan.  I prepared these first and just left them on the hob while I did the rest of my jam making so that they would be thoroughly sterilized. In the UK, my preferred method of sterilizing jars was always to put them in the oven for 20 minutes or so.


Onto the jam making.  Prepare the strawberries, then mash them up!

Mashed strawberries

There seems to be no such thing as jam sugar here (perhaps because jam is referred to as jelly?) so I had to use regular granulated sugar and liquid pectin. After mashing the strawberries, I added the juice of two lemons and stirred in the pectin while bringing the fruit to a rolling boil. Once boiling, I added in the mountain of sugar required, always a sobering sight. Then you just have to stir it in until you get to the rapid boil stage (being careful not to reach the jam volcano stage of two years ago, as told on Farrars Field).  Let the jam boil vigorously for a minute or so.

Adding a bit of sugar

During this time, I pulled the jars/cans out of the boiling water and set them to the side, so that they would cool very slightly before I put the jam in them.  At this point, I realized that my six small jars were not going to hold the vat of jam I had just made.  I quickly threw an enormous kilner jar in the oven to sterilize.

I filled the jars with jam, using the jam funnel that I love, and added the rings and lids to the cans, closing them so that they were ‘finger-tight’ as per the canning instructions.  Then, the filled jars go back into the boiling water bath.  They have to be totally submerged and then have to be boiled for ten minutes.  I had to do this in two batches due to the small width of the pasta pan.  But this gave me time to sort out the leftover jam and kilner jar situation.  I knew that this wouldn’t be properly canned, but thought we could eat this as more of a ‘refrigerator jam’ (which really means quickly and in larger quantities). It will keep fine in the fridge for a few weeks (due to the significant amount of sugar) without the boiling process but would not keep outside of the fridge without spoiling.

Kilner Jar of jam

After 10 minutes of boiling, I carefully removed the cans from the boiling water and must now hope for the best!  The bad thing about the refrigerator jam is that it means we have to put off the actual testing of the canned jam for some time.  The jam in the fridge has turned out really well and I couldn’t be more pleased with it.  However, I am concerned that the canned jam will be too runny (submerging finger-tight lids in water?) or too thick (I mean technically it’s been boiled for a lot longer).  I’ll have to let you know how that one goes.  And until then, it’s lots of toast and jam, jam sandwiches (PBJ’s if we’re feeling particularly American) and probably some jam-based baked products in our future.

So, how was the canning experience overall?  I felt that I would have done much better with the proper equipment: a good sized canning pan, or at least a wider based pan that I could have fitted a trivet in the bottom of, and a pair of can tongs suitable for lifting hot glass jars out of boiling water.  I also felt like the process took an awful lot longer than the jamming I had done previously. I was genuinely exhausted – and very hot from standing over pans of boiling jam and boiling water – by the end of the experience.  However, I am pleased with the jam that I have tasted (and my family will account for last year’s very poor product made from Robinson’s Ranch produce) and I do feel confident that the jam will keep for the full year it should do without spoiling.

It turns out that yes, I can and yes, I probably can do again.  Bring on the rest of the berries Oregon!

Canned Jam

We moved!

The new house

We are living the American Dream!  After just under a year of renting in Portland last month we bought a house! In suburbia. When we moved out here, we didn’t have intentions to buy a house, we figured we would just rent.  However, the cost of renting here really surprised us and when we looked into it, buying just seemed to make better financial sense to us.

So we started looking for a house and looking into how you go about buying a house here in America.  It is a pretty different process.  We started looking around online at properties and realized that first we needed to find out what kind of a mortgage we could get.  Off we went to the bank, just like you might in the UK.  However, here you get a pre-approval letter so that you can get looking for a home straight away and use your pre-approval letter to put an offer in immediately.

The next step is to employ a Realtor.  This is one part that is very different to the process in England.  We met with our realtor and discussed what we were looking for and where we were looking for it.  Then, she went ahead and sent us very regular updates on the houses that came up based on our preferences.  Anything that we saw and liked, she arranged for us to view and she took us around, guiding us through specific things that we were looking for or should be looking for. It was really nice to have someone else there to bounce ideas off.  She also knew areas a lot better than we did and could give us information about what the local schools were like, and which pockets of which neighborhoods were good and perhaps not so good.

The major difference about viewing properties here is that you have to move fast.  You can’t arrange on a Monday to go and see a house at the weekend.  You have to go that evening, and ideally, that afternoon if you can.  The reason for this?  The market moves fast.  It is very tight indeed in Portland and you just can’t hang around. So you see a house you like, you view it, and you have to put an offer in that day.  The realtor will advise you about what kind of offers would be appropriate – a bit like Kirsty and Phil might on Location, Location, Location – and will also have details about any other offers that may have been made on the property.  We were lucky in that we were the first to view the house and there were no other offers, but due to the market, we didn’t haggle on amounts, we offered the asking price; the sellers had clearly priced to sell.

Should the offer be accepted, you do have a 10 day period following the acceptance during which you can withdraw your offer.  However, during this time, you have to get your Inspection, or Survey, done. Depending on how that goes, you may change your offer, withdraw your offer or request that the seller makes the necessary changes before you complete the sale.

We were lucky, our offer was accepted and the inspection didn’t turn up anything major or anything that the seller’s weren’t happy to fix.  So then it’s a case of getting the mortgage officially arranged and having an appraisal done too. The completion date is set for 30 days later.  Yes, that’s right, it only takes a month!  If all goes to plan, there is no back and forth between solicitors, vendors and buyers, as long as everything is in place to start with.

We did do things a little differently to most Americans, we ended up getting the keys at the start of May and as we knew that we would have to pay rent for the entirety of May anyway, we used the full month to make the changes on the house that we wanted to (decorating throughout and new carpets) before moving in at the end of May.  When one of you is 7 1/2 months pregnant,  and the other spends a week working abroad during this time, having a month overlap is a major benefit to the whole cleaning-DIYing-packing-moving-cleaning-unpacking process.

Technically, we’re still on that last stage of the process, two weeks post moving day, but it will all be sorted soon and ready for public viewing and a full house tour (we hope).

And we love the house.  We love having a space that we can change to be what we want it to be and we are so excited to be able to start our new family life here.  It’s like yet another new stage to our American adventure. (Just one that is perhaps not quite as adventurous and a little more settled and suburban!)

In the meantime and until we feel ready to give you a full house tour, here are a few sneaky peeks…


Kitchen Table


Dining Room



Family Room



Working Stateside

I really missed working – something that I knew that I would do and most feared – when we moved to Portland last year. Although I felt like it took a long time to find a job and I felt like I had been out of work forever, I now realize that I was fairly lucky: it took me just five months of serious job hunting to get a position.  When I first took this role, through an agency, it was due to last maybe 2-4 weeks.  I’m still here four months later! However, the project that I was brought into support is almost completed and it’s time for me to take some maternity leave, so this is my last week in post.

I thought it would be interesting to reflect on some of the key differences that I have found between working in America and working in the UK. My position here is a little different to roles I have previously done, and the type of business is quite different to ones I have worked in before so I can’t say that all of these differences are definitely cultural.  Perhaps some of them would have been different anyway.  Perhaps someone else can enlighten me!

I guess the biggest difference I have found is in the relaxed nature of the working style here.  (This, I think is quite a west-coast/ Portland thing.) It is probably also the thing that I have found it most hard to adapt to.  I work in a pretty formal way. I like the boundaries that working formally can provide and I find it easier to be organized as a result.  Here, it has taken me a while to be more relaxed around colleagues, take a more casual approach to time schedules and deadlines and even get used to wearing casual working attire.

I have really tried to adapt to this style and have enjoyed being free of set meeting time limitations, taking a more stand-up meeting, ad-hoc briefing and as-needed approach to catch ups. However, behind the scenes of this I have still employed some key organizational techniques to make sure that I have stayed on track. I have still written my weekly to-do lists, have used a multitude of spreadsheets to keep up with project changes, have produced project and communication strategies and written a couple of very useful flow charts.  I do feel that in this way, I have been able to keep my personal working style quite formal but then felt confident enough to act in a relaxed working way with my colleagues.

The second difference. Cube working is a reality! We really all do work in a little cube here.  They have windows between them but you’d have to be super tall to talk through them without standing up. It’s good to have space for all your work and not feel like you get in the way of other colleagues personal space, but it does limit the social interaction that I have always enjoyed about office working.

There is a real lack of vacation time, vacation- taking and having time off.  I knew this would be the case when we moved out here, but it feels very different in practice.  Of course, it hasn’t really been a problem for me – I already had time booked off before I started the job (for my mum’s visit) – so it hasn’t felt like a long slog without a break. Plus, I have only been working for a few months. Yet I think that I am the only one in this office to actually have had any holiday in the time that I have worked here. (Classic UK slacker!)

Talking to Americans about this is interesting.  Not only do few people take time off, they also feel like they shouldn’t take time off.  There seems to be a reluctance to do so.  To me, I think vacation or holiday time is massively important.  It refreshes you and relaxes you and I believe, makes you work better and at your full potential.  The lack of statutory holiday days here just doesn’t seem to quite mix with the relaxed nature of the workplace and what I see as a generally good attitude to work/life balance.  (Weekends are incredibly important to Americans and from what I can tell they really do make the most of them.)

Working in communications, there are some verbal and written things I have found it harder to adapt to.  Spelling and Americanisms….. Using a z instead of an s – organise, realise etc. Not using as many vowels in a word – color instead of colour, labor instead of labour. Missing out words – ‘a couple of weeks’ becomes ‘a couple weeks’. There’s also some very commonly used terms that I have found myself using – and hating myself a little bit for using – “I’m just reaching out to you for…”, “I’m just checking in to see where you’re up to”, “If you could keep me in the loop”.  In fairness, I think I’ve got away quite lightly with this in my employment. Nick can come out with some absolute crackers. For instance, “We’re just peanut buttering here.” (What on earth does that even mean?)

In all honesty, I think that I have become so used to some of these Americanisms that I no longer recognise them all.  A friend recently called me out for referring to a buggy as a stroller during conversation.  But this is how you become part of a culture.  I’d never find things I need if I didn’t use the appropriate terms here. If I asked to see a shop’s range of buggies I’m sure I wouldn’t be shown a stroller.  I also think that it’s so rude to move to a different country and not embrace that different culture  At home and in private, of course you should continue to be who you are and who you were brought up to be, but you have to adapt too.

The working differences have been interesting and I think have really helped me to grow as an employee and a colleague.  I’ve had to learn new skills as well as new words and terms, and that can only be a good thing.

Sun Safety


It is exactly one year ago today that my dad was taken into hospital for the first time to be treated for malignant melanoma. Wow, how time flies. How apt – or maybe ironic – that May is actually Skin Cancer Awareness month.

I’ve been thinking about skin cancer and sun safety quite a lot recently, as I follow a few skin cancer related charities and blogs so knew that this was their big awareness-raising month. Also, it’s starting to warm up here in Portland and I’m beginning to replace my daily body moisturizer with a few applications of SPF 30. I have also just been invited to contribute my thoughts on sun safety to a blog that a fellow Portland blogger is compiling – more on that later this month I hope.

When we first arrived in Portland last year, it was really warm and sunny and as I wasn’t working I was able to spend a lot of time outdoors. One of the first things I needed to do was buy sun cream. I don’t know whether you just get used to specific brands, but I really found it hard to find a reasonable selection of sun cream here. So much so that when I returned from my visit to the UK in the summer, I brought back 4 bottles of Ambre Solaire. (Some people bring Cadbury chocolate, some people bring Heinz Beans…..) I have since found a high factor sun cream here that I like – a Neutrogena one – but it is not a large tube, so I can go through it in no time, and it is pretty expensive too.

The thing about the sun here, is that it gets stronger as the day wears on. The mornings are usually sunny but there’s a freshness about them. Once lunchtime has passed, and certainly by the time that I’m finishing work, the sun’s heat is pretty darn hot. And it stays. The evenings can be just as warm as lunchtime. So the whole idea of staying out of the heat during the hottest time of the day (11am-3pm I’ve always heard) doesn’t seem to work as well in Oregon! I certainly got more wear out of my sun hat last year than I ever had before.

Yet despite what I think is warmer sun for a longer portion of the day than you might expect in the UK, and what I seem to think might be less sun cream choice, I see much fewer red-skinned bodies walking round. You see people sunbathing in parks and lots of people enjoying outdoor seating at coffeeshops, restaurants and bars, as well as plenty of outdoor activities. So I wonder why there seem to be so few people getting burned here. Do we have genetically different skin types?  Are people better at understanding how much time to spend out in the sun? Are they keeping all the sun cream out of the way of tourists and hogging it for themselves?

Now of course, just because you don’t burn, doesn’t mean that you can’t get skin cancer, and the US has just as many cases of skin cancer as the UK (relatively speaking). So even if you’re not burning, it is no reason not to practice sun safety – whether you’re English or American. But I’d love to know what the reasons are for this American phenomenon and if, indeed, my observations are correct.

This year, more than ever, I’ll be practicing sun safety, particularly as this will be my first complete summer here: I don’t want to stand out as being the English person with the pink glow. I won’t just be wearing sun cream and a hat, I’ll be far more cautious about the amount of time I spend out of the shade (I’m not going to give up my outdoors time totally) and I’ll try and help to raise awareness of the dangers of skin cancer and the importance of being safe in the sun. Whether you are in England or America, I think that practicing sun safety this year is something that everyone should do.

The commute. Portland-style.

Last week was the first opportunity I had to drive to work, rather than use public transport and Shanks’ pony.  I have to admit, it was quite a treat (thanks to earlier than usual starts and a daytime parking pass provided by my employer).  However, there were some elements of my usual commute that I missed, making me realize how important it is to take time to appreciate the smaller things in life.

I missed my hour of ‘free time’ to read.  I have been flying through my reading this year and I have no doubt that it is because I can sit on a bus for 25-30 minutes and get stuck in to a good book.

I missed the extra outdoors time I get walking to, from and between bus stops. I also missed the opportunity to easily incorporate 20-40 minutes of exercise into my day, simply by walking across the Hawthorne Bridge. (Although I must admit the frequency of this happening is reducing as the weeks go by and I get increasingly heavier and the weather gets increasingly warmer!)

I missed the Portland people-watching opportunities.

I missed my regular city-sights.  The impressively-sized Portlandia, the high rise buildings of downtown, the intricate detailing of the Hawthorne Bridge, the Elk Fountain, the tree-lined streets, peering through the window at the cool hipsters in Coava Coffee, the mannequins posing on top of the Portland Store Fixtures store, the currents (and most recently river traffic) on the Williamette, intriguing activities from County Sheriff vehicles outside City Hall and watching the runners and cyclists along Tom McCall Waterfront Park.


Hawthorne Bridge


elk fountain

tree-lined street


In just 5 months of this same commute, I have seen the seasons change and the city become more colourful and vibrant.  The ease and speed of commuting by car is certainly not something to be sniffed at but the slower pace of a public transport commute has really given me the space and time to enjoy the city and relish in my own interests and pursuits. It seems I’m getting into the swing of the relaxed west-coast attitude.

It feels like a big day


For some reason today feels like a big day. Alfie is 9 months old. So what? I don’t really know what! It just feels significant that Alfie has now spent the same amount of time outside of the womb as he did inside the womb. Did any other mamas feel like this when their baby hit 9 months?

Physically I changed during my pregnancy. It was a gradual process and it fascinated me.  Since having Alfie I have changed emotionally. And that happened seemingly overnight. Quick to be moved or touched by an action, comment or nicety. Protective like I have never felt before.  Lacking strength in my convictions but finding it easier to trust instinct.

When you’re pregnant the amount your baby grows seems amazing, impossible, wondrous and sometimes uncomfortable.  I was not prepared for the same speed of growth and development that continues to take place. Everyone says that time really flies when you have children. I just hadn’t fully appreciated it.

Who is this 9 month old? Who is he growing up to be? Curious, tenacious and strong willed, he enjoys being outdoors, singing and water. (Swimming, bathtime and waterfall watching are fun features of our week.) He likes yoghurt, melon and sweet potato and his favourite books are ‘I Kissed The Baby’ and ‘We’re Going On A Bear Hunt’.  A stickler for routine, he is good at napping in his crib but has yet to treat mummy and daddy (but mainly mummy!) to a full night of sleep.



It seems that every day there is something new he can do; high five, cruise around furniture, chatter away to himself. It is amazing, seemingly impossible, wondrous and on occasion, still a little uncomfortable…. where did that newborn go?