Wednesday, November 2, 2011


This weekend, I visited Liverpool, which was a shockingly cool city! In 2008, it was awarded the European Capital of Culture Award. This award basically means it's a place with a lot of culture and potential, that's become a little run down and could use a boost rebuilding parts of the city and generating tourism. And rebuild and re-energize they did! When I arrived at the train station, I walked out in a plaza surrounded by a ornate, old, marble-columned building, a street of shops and pubs, and a large, very new looking shopping center. As I spent the day walking around the city, I saw a ton of very cool and unique areas. First, we stopped by Liverpool ONE, a commercial area, and although it was populated by national and chain stores, it was full of shoppers with bags: they were doing a ton of business! Next, we walked to an older shopping area, this time filled with local and colorful shops, also all filled with customers! We then made our way towards the Mersey and the Albert Docks, passing through a park that has been recently cleaned up as part of the culture award. A beautiful, manicured green space was encircled by nice restaurants and the whole area was full of people walking around, picnicking, and families playing on the lawn. The docks and waterfront, another area fixed up by the culture award, includes the Tate Liverpool, the Museum of Liverpool, The Beatles Story, and the Liverpool eye. Farther from the city center, the vibrancy of the city is still very visible. A street called Lark Lane is filled with trendy bars, gastropubs, shops, cute restaurants, and nightclubs. The area is situated near some of Liverpool's nicest homes and exudes the vibe of a well-off, safe, family neighborhood with an artsy, young, community flair. Near Lark Lane is Sefton park, the site of Sunday's incredibly unique festivities.

The park itself is huge: about 200 acres, with a large green house, fields, a lake, streams, paths, and an area people in nearby apartments can rent small plots of land for gardening. During the day it was full of grandparents, young children, dogs, runners, cyclists, geese, and beautiful swan. (Did You Know?: all swan in England are technically property of the Queen?) On the Sunday night nearest Halloween, the park hosts the annual Halloween Lantern Carnival. This was the festival's fourth year and a fellow attendee told me it gets bigger every year. It is sponsored by the Liverpool Lantern Company who hosts workshops during which, for a five pound donation, you are given the supplies to design and decorate your own lantern. The evening of the festival, the park was filled with people including many kids dressed for Halloween. Large lanterns sculpted as skeletons or animals were carried like floats by 5-10 people while others of the party danced around the outside of the float collecting donations. Then, anyone who'd made a lantern marched them around before stringing them to poles around the park. Throughout the parade, performers, illuminated only by colorful lights, danced while others released store-bought lanterns. Releasing lanterns is an old Chinese tradition apparently symbolizing releasing all of your stress and worry, simply watching it float away into the night. I can't say I'm completely worry free (thanks dad for passing that on to me) but there was a certain magic to watching our lanterns fly off. The festival, which attracted nearly 8,000 people, ended with music and a coordinating light display, culminating in a brief firework show.

Musing over my trip the next day, I found myself pleasantly surprised, and also impressed by the city of Liverpool. Not only was the festival one of the coolest and most unique things I've ever been to, but it truly brought people from all over the city together. Furthermore, the city is a model example of smart regeneration. It has turned itself from a industrial town, to a city simply thriving on the legacy of the Beatles, to an economically vibrant and culturally happening city full of smart planning and lively events.

I know this is supposed to be a blog about food but I really wanted to share about my experience in Liverpool and since we cooked most of our meals there, I couldn't really tie it in through food. But since if is a food blog after all, here's a recipe for easy, cheap, delicious risotto-style rice we made this weekend.

"University Student 'Risotto'"
1 yellow onion
Frozen peas
Chicken stock cubes
Salt, pepper, basil, any spices lying around
Frozen, pre-cooked shrimp

Begin to saute the onions in a wok, add the uncooked rice and water to the wok, stirring constantly. As it thickens, add more water a little at a time. Fill the water to near the top the wok each time you add more water to the rice. When the rice seems about halfway cooked, add a cube of chicken stock. Add the peas and shrimp as the rice is nearly finished. Stir constantly adding more water until the rice is finished. Stir in spices, as desired and enjoy!

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