Wild Rice & Chicken Soup

Posted in Cooking, Food, Home Cooked Food, recipe, soup with tags , , , , , , , on December 15, 2010 by helenphillips
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From this.... (the raw condition)

Wild Rice (which is actually a grass) grows in abundance in Minnesota, so it is unsurprising that it is a favourite in local cuisine. I had my first taste several years ago when we first visited the Twin Cities as part relocation decision making process. We spent a day being taken around various residences by a Real Estate agent so that we could consider where we would like to be living, and importantly, what we needed to budget for. At lunch time, we were taken to Lucia’s in Uptown. Lucia’s is a small restaurant that changes it’s menu weekly in tune with seasonal produce. On this particular day I did not feel like a large lunch, and fortunately for me the Soup of the Day was Wild Rice Soup. Just delicious.

So, when we moved here, wild rice was one of the first store cupboard items I bought, but it’s taken me longer than planned to do anything with it. My husband likes to have soup to take to work for lunch, so I like to keep a stock of various flavours in the freezer – roasted tomato, lentil & tomato, chicken & sweetcorn.   The soup I had at Lucia’s was a creamy one, but here I have left out the cream. It makes a lovely chunky soup, so if you are feeling virtuous you can always omit the side of bread and still feel satisfied. This makes 2 portions suitable for lunch or even an evening meal appetizer.

  • 1/4 cup uncooked wild rice – this gives just under 2 cups when cooked
  • 1 chicken thigh, diced
  • 1 small onion (or large shallot) sliced
  • 5 mushroom – chopped into small pieces
  • 0.5L chicken stock
  • Seasoning

There are 2 ways you can go about this – cook the wild rice ahead, or bung it all in together. I went for the former, because having never cooked wild rice before, I didn’t really know exactly how much it would expand by. You need to use 4 x the amount of water, so in this case 1 cup. Slightly salt, bring to the boil and simmer for around 50 minutes until the rice is cooked and water is absorbed.

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...to this.... (cooked rice)

Using a non-stick pan, I cooked the chicken pieces over a medium heat until sealed. Next I added the onions, and cooked for a few minutes, before adding in the mushrooms. Once the vegetables were soft, I added seasoning, and then the stock. I briefly raised the temperature to bring the soup to the boil, and then reduced to a simmer before adding in the cooked rice. I left it simmering for about 20 minutes, before decanting into pots ready for my husband to pack away for his lunch.

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...to lunch (wild rice soup)

 

Turkey Pie

Posted in Cooking, Dinner, Food, Home Cooked Food, recipe with tags , , , , , , on December 1, 2010 by helenphillips

Mention pie to the average American, and they will think Apple, Peanut, Pumpkin. Basically anything that can be (optionally) served with cream or ice-cream. Mention pie to the average Briton and they will think Steak & Kidney, Beef & Onion, Chicken & Mushroom. It’s not that we don’t have sweet pies too, it’s just the savoury kind takes precedence in our culinary culture.  I don’t think I’ve seen any savoury pies on sale since we moved here, though of course that doesn’t mean they don’t exist.

With Thanksgiving just last week, I have been left with the inevitable pile of leftover Turkey to try and use ‘creatively’. I find the downside of Turkey is no matter how juicy and moist it is when it’s served fresh, once it has been carved and refrigerated, it has a tendency to dry out. This is why I prefer to use the leftover meat in dishes with some sort of sauce or gravy. The last time I was faced with a similar mountain of Turkey, a pie was top of the list, and so it is again. Tonight we dine on Meat Pie & proper thick cut deep fried chips (not fries!). With malt vinegar.

As usual, I have just thrown in quantities of each ingredient that looks about right so the amounts are approximations. The filling can be used immediately, or prepared in advance.

Gives 4-6 portions.

  • 15 oz / 425g Shortcrust (or pie) pastry (I cheat and use ready made and rolled stuff)
  • 500g Cooked Turkey, cut into small chunks
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1 medium onion (I used a red one today)
  • 16oz / 500g mushrooms
  • canned sweetcorn
  • 300 ml Stock (I used stock made from the Turkey carcass, you can substitute chicken or vegetable stock)
  • Tarragon, Thyme, Parsley
  • 1 tablespoon Cornflour / Cornstarch, dissolved in cold water
  • Seasoning
  • 1 egg, lightly beaten

Heat the olive oil in a non-stick pan, and then fry the vegetables until they have softened. Next add the herbs, and seasoning, followed by the stock. Bring to the boil, and then reduce to a simmer for 20 minutes, which should reduce the liquid by approximately half. Stir in the Turkey and then the cornflour & water.

Pre-heat the oven to 200°C / 400°F. Grease a deep pan, approx 9″ in diameter.  If necessary, roll the pastry into 2 equally sized pieces, and line the bottom and sides of the pan with one.

Fill the pastry with the prepared filling, and then use the 2nd piece of pastry, and press the 2 pieces together around the edges. Brush the surface with the egg.

Bake in the oven for approx 50 minutes, until the pastry surface is golden brown. Enjoy with vegetables and potato product of your choice.

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Thanksgiving Feast

Posted in Cooking, Dinner, events, Food, Home Cooked Food, recipe with tags , , , , , on November 23, 2010 by helenphillips

So this Thursday is Thanksgiving, and as we have only been in the US for 7 months, it’s our first.

New England,  Autumn 1621 – the early settlers that had managed to survive the first harsh year (as a whole, they had arrived unprepared) gathered together for a celebration that was to consist of 3 days of eating, drinking, dancing and playing games. They were joined by their neighbours, the Wampanoag tribe, who had dropped by to see what all the shooting was about. However, Thanksgiving didn’t become an annual tradition until the 1780s, and became a national holiday in 1863. And now Thanksgiving is the day of the year (always the last Thursday in November) dedicated to eating copious amounts of food, and settling down to a game of football.

Thanksgiving is also a time for parades, the most famous (and largest) of which is the Macy’s Thanksgiving Parade in Manhattan. Here in Minneapolis, Friday sees the start of the annual Holidazzle celebration, which will continue every weekend through December.

The day after Thanksgiving is known as Black Friday. As gloomy as it sounds, it actually marks the start of the Christmas shopping season, and is famous for it’s sales madness (people have been know to be trampled in the rush to get to the bargains). One chain of stores has been advertising that they will open at 3am on Friday, but I am determined to stick to internet shopping.

Our Thanksgiving Day will be spent with just the two of us eating and drinking more than is usually sensible. Having done some research into traditional dishes (most of which seem to involve copious amounts of butter and/or cream), I think it’s safe to say that the most traditional part of our feast will be the Turkey and the Cranberry Sauce. The trimmings are mostly influenced by our own British Christmas favourites – for this year at least. So here’s what’s on the Menu –

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The tomato soup recipe comes from Gordon Ramsay’s Secrets, and is the first of his recipes I ever tried. I remember being quite intimidated by the book back then, but excited by the beautiful and colourful images. Over time I have gained more confidence (and a roomier Kitchen), and the recipes don’t seem so daunting now. The soup has already been made, making life a tiny bit simpler on Thursday.

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The Turkey will be roasted – I’m not inclined to try the other method that is traditional in the US, which is deep frying. As there are only 2 of us eating on the day, we bought the smallest crown / breast we could find, which is still around 5lbs. I expect to be making lots of use of leftover turkey recipes in the months to come.

The Cranberry Sauce will the same that I’ve made for the previous 2 Christmas dinners. This year, we’ll also have Lingonberry sauce. Lingonberries come from Sweden, where Eddie spent most of his working life before we moved to the US, so an extra sauce was his suggestion after spotting the berries in the supermarket.

The Chestnut Stuffing will be based on a recipe from Nigella Lawson’s Feast. Unfortunately I am currently having difficulty obtained canned puréed chestnuts, so some modification may be required!

The rest of the accompaniments will simply be roast potatoes (the American favourite seems to be creamy mashed), parsnips, savoy cabbage (this at least will be buttery), peas, and pigs in blankets. For those not familiar with the term, these are sausages wrapped in bacon, and the omission of these would cause great consternation.

Finally (possibly after a break, and a walk), dessert will be Crème Brulee (Aha! There will be a creamy dish). This will be the most challenging dish of the day for me, as it is my first attempt. If it’s a success, maybe I’ll even blog about it….

Happy Holidays!

Chicken Sliders

Posted in Dinner, Food, Home Cooked Food, recipe with tags , , , , , , , on November 17, 2010 by helenphillips

16th November 2010 - Chicken Slider

For the Non-Americans among you, sliders are simply miniature burgers. And as with most food in miniature, there’s something quite special about them. Inspired by the mention of chicken burgers in Gordon Ramsay’s Healthy Appetite, I decided it was time to break out the slider pan. Rather niftily, this press and pan in one makes 6 sliders at a time, which are around 2.5″ in diameter, and around 0.5″ in thickness. Very cute.

Usually home-made burgers are used by mixing minced meat (of whichever variety) together with the rest of the ingredients. I don’t have a mincer, so used the food processor to both chop and blend ingredients. So feel free to experiment!

The following ingredients were used to make a total of 12 sliders. I would estimate that the same amount would make 4 ‘normal’ burgers.

  • 3 chicken thighs
  • 1/2 red onion
  • 1 teaspoon minced garlic
  • 1 teaspoon each of parsley & chives
  • 1 egg
  • Seasoning

First of all I used the food processor to finely mince the red onion. Next I added the minced garlic, herbs and chicken thighs (rather lazily I threw these in whole, but the blades easily coped!). Once I was satisfied with the chicken was adequately chopped, I added the egg, and seasoning, and ran the food processor long enough to blend the ingredients.

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If you are making burgers the traditional way, then the next stage should be to fashion the mixture into patties, wrap tightly in cling film, and then put them in the fridge for an hour to firm up. Luckily for me (as my burgers ALWAYS fall apart), using the combined press/pan eliminates this. I was able to simply scoop the mixture (using the provided measure) into the pre-heated pan, press, and cook away for about 5 minutes. Of course, there are several alternative ways to the cooking stage – oven grill, outdoor grill / barbecue, griddle. Whichever way you choose, I find brushing a little olive oil on the burger (or the griddle) before cooking prevents sticking. Depending on how thick you make the patties, they should take 5-10 minutes to cook using a medium heat, but as this is chicken, please ensure it is cooked right through before serving!

All that remains are the final touches – add the sliders/burgers to buns loaded with your favourite items. In my case, I had green salad, tomato, burger relish and ketchup. These sliders fit perfectly into just half a small bun! Out of view is the huge pile of oven cooked potato wedges that I served as a side dish.

Baked Eggs

Posted in Breakfast, Brunch, Cooking, Food, Home Cooked Food, recipe with tags , , , , , on July 13, 2010 by helenphillips


I’ve been needing a break in my breakfast routine, so I was excited to come across Baked Eggs in Gordon Ramsay’s ‘World Kitchen’. Apparently it’s a British recipe that in my 30-odd years has thus far bypassed me.  However, a quick Google shows me that there are billions of variations – from plain eggs cooked in ramekins without any added ingredients, to some with more exotic ingredients, to eggs baked in edible cups. Some are single portions, other use bigger ramekins for double eggs.

Gordon’s recipe uses wild mushrooms and cream, of which I had neither, so I improvised and adapted. I had some ordinary white mushrooms, and milk in the fridge, so they would have to do. I have ramekins that are 3.5″/9cm in diameter (perfect for soufflé!) and as I was hungry (and possibly a bit greedy), I filled 2 of them. Whilst preparing the ingredients, the oven was pre-heated to 375°F / 190ºC.  The step I forgot was to lightly grease the dishes to avoid sticking (so take this as a tip!).

I sliced the mushrooms into small pieces (I used 3, but could have used a few more to really pack out the dish), and one very small onion (it was actually the size of a large shallot). These were then pan fried with some melted butter (obviously a bit of olive oil would be a bit healthier). Be careful not to cook the mushrooms for more than a few minutes, as they will continue to cook in the oven. The mixture was then divided into the 2 ramekins, and I used a spoon to create a hollow like a volcano crater. The eggs are then broken into the hollow (for once I managed not to break either yolk!).

I then spooned a little milk around the edges of each bowl, and added some seasoning, and then put the pots into the oven. I started checking progress after 10 minutes, but it actually took 15 minutes before I was satisfied. This resulted in properly cooked egg white, but a lovely runny yolk.  I served with some slices of hot toast, and a spoon to scoop the contents onto the toast, or directly into my mouth. I think this is a dish that is a bit fiddly to do every morning, but is one I definitely will be experimenting further with in the future.

Beef Skewers with Stuffed Peppers…

Posted in Cooking, Dinner, Food, Home Cooked Food, recipe, Summer with tags , , , , , , , , , , on May 20, 2010 by helenphillips

…as well as corn-on-the-cob and a bit of salad.

Despite the lack of barbecue equipment, the hot weather means that summer themed dinners are high on the agenda. The best way to cook kebabs or skewers is always going to be over charcoal, but they are still delicious cooked by indoor methods such as the grill. I use a grilling machine, which also means that they can be cooked pretty quickly. You do have to keep a close eye on them, and keep rotating them so that they don’t dry out.

Beef Skewers with Red Onion

These are very simple to put together. Firstly, the beef needs to be marinaded for an hour. If this can be done overnight, then even better. Prepare the beef by cutting into even sized cubes (I used around 240g / 0.5 lbs for 2 servings). Put the cubes into a bowl with 1 tablespoon of soy sauce, and some chilli sauce. How much chilli sauce depends on personal taste, and what sauce you are using. We are currently using Sriracha hot sauce (no, I don’t know how it’s pronounced, and yes, it is hot). I’m a bit of a lightweight, so added just 1/2 teaspoon to the sauce, and put the bottle on the table so Eddie could add extra to his.

Once the beef has stewed in it’s own juices for a while, it’s time for the impaling. For tonight’s feast, I simply alternated the meat with some red onion (I used 1/2 a large one). Cherry tomatoes are always delicious on skewers, but awful to clean off the grilling machine afterwards. Other alternatives are mushrooms or peppers, but I used both in the accompanying dish.

Stuffed Peppers

They say that everything in the US in bigger (whoever ‘they’ may be). If the bell peppers (aka sweet peppers) in my local supermarket are anything to go by, then ‘they’ are correct. So big, I felt that half a pepper per person was quite adequate as an accompaniment to the skewers. To keep it simple, I decided on a filling of spring onions (aka green onions) and mushrooms. There are several ways of cooking a stuffed pepper, but as I’d left it rather late in the day, I opted for a quick and dirty method.

  • Pre-heat the oven to 375°F / 190°C
  • To prepare the pepper, remove the stalk, but cutting around it, and then chop in half. Remove the seeds and the white ‘seams’ (what’s the real name for these?). Bring some water to the boil, add the peppers to the pan, and boil for 5 minutes.
  • Chop 3 or 4 mushrooms, and 2 or 3 spring onions, and dry fry in a non-stick pan. Once they have started to soften add 1/4 cup (60ml) of rice, and enough water to cover. Bring to the boil, and simmer until the rice is almost cooked (it should still have some ‘bite’ as it will finish cooking inside the peppers). Season to taste.
  • Once all components are ready, carefully spoon the rice mixture inside the peppers. This is the part I find most difficult due to my distinct lack of grace! Wrap the peppers in foil, and bake in the oven for around 15 minutes. The foil parcel keeps everything nicely moist, and cooks the rice.

Comically Good

Posted in events, Food, Home Cooked Food, Information, News with tags , , , , on May 19, 2010 by helenphillips

As a fan of Gordon Ramsay, I follow his posts on twitter. Earlier this week he posted about ‘Seriously Good‘, a range of sauces that he has done in conjunction with Comic Relief. I don’t use cooking sauces, but if I did, I’d probably use these, especially if they ranted at me like the ones on the website (hold the cursor over each label to see what I mean).

To paraphrase the official website, you (the buyer) get a great tasting sauce, developed by Gordon and his Chefs. The charity (Comic Relief) gets a minimum of 10 pence from each jar, and Gordon gets nothing apart from a warm fuzzy feeling.

For readers who are not already aware, Comic Relief is a UK based charity that was formed in 1985. Fund-raising is continual, but the major event is held every other year. All over the UK, the public take part in events to raise money, in conjunction with an evening of televised events featuring celebrities who supply comic entertainment. All the money goes to projects based in the UK, Africa, and anywhere else poverty is a problem.

So, please, next time you are looking for a new cooking sauce, try this and contribute to a very worthy cause.

To conclude, here is an awful photo of me with Gordon in Nonna’s Deli at the York & Albany restaurant in London.

The Road to Employment

Posted in Immigration, Information with tags , , , , on May 18, 2010 by helenphillips

Leaving my old job in order to move to the US was a big deal for me. I’d been with the company (through many changes) for just over 9 years, ever since graduating from University. When Eddie was offered his transfer, one of my first questions was “Will I be able to work?”. And fortunately, due to the visa type, the answer is yes.

As an L-2 spouse, I am eligible for an EAD (Employment Authorisation Document).  Of course, this isn’t received automatically – forms need to be filled,  evidence of eligibility supplied, all with a fee of $340. It’s taken me longer than originally planned, but last night I finally had everything gathered together in an envelope ready to go. Surprisingly (to me anyway), the most difficult part was getting some passport photos, but I’ve already blogged about that. It is possible to file the form electronically on the USCIS website, but I have heard from other ex-pats that this takes a little longer to be processed for some reason, so I opted for the old-fashioned paper system.

The main form is the I-765, which at first glance seems simple enough. It’s just one page long, so not too daunting. The most perplexing question is #14 – Manner of Last Entry. After some research, I concluded the answer in my case is L-2 spouse. I used the same answer for #15 – Current Immigration Status.

Accompanying the form is an 11 page instruction document. This needs to be read very carefully as you need to know which eligibility category you fall into for question #17. There are a LOT of choices, 4 pages of them in fact.  I found mine on page 4 – ‘Spouse of an L-1 Intracompany Transferee – (a)(18)’. Then page 6 tells you everything else you need to include with the application. In my case, this was:

  • A copy of my I-94 form (the form that I filled out when I arrived in the US and is stapled in my passport), both sides.
  • A government issued ID documents, so I used a copy of the page in my passport showing my picture, name, DOB
  • A visa issued by a foreign consulate – so a copy of my L-2 visa
  • Two identical passport photos, in colour and taken within the last 30 days. These need to be marked on the back with name, and much to my amusement, Alien Receipt Number. I don’t have the latter, so just stuck to the former!

Page 8 of the instructions onwards tells you where to send your form. After carefully reading all the categories, I determined I fell into ‘all other Form I-765s’. As a resident of Minnesota, my form goes to the USCIS lockbox in Phoenix.  As an added bonus, I was able to submit an extra form (G-1145) that allows be to receive electronic notification that my application has been accepted.

DISCLAIMER – this article is based on my own experiences and circumstances, and the application has not yet been approved. If you are looking for more information or help on this subject, please visit the USCIS site – they have all sorts of stuff on there!

Summer Pasta

Posted in Cooking, Dinner, Food, Home Cooked Food, recipe with tags , , , on May 17, 2010 by helenphillips

What’s this? A food post? It’s been a while, but it’s about time this blog returned to it’s roots. Unsurprisingly, moving across the Atlantic has taken over everything. My cookbooks and kitchen equipment are all in a container waiting to be shipped across the ocean, so I’ve been pretty much sticking to well known recipes. But today I fancied something different. The sun has made a comeback to Minnesota, so something summery for dinner was called for. We had roast chicken for dinner yesterday, so the other requirement was to use some of the leftovers. Beth at Jam and Clotted Cream blogged a fantastic looking Lemon Carbonara a few days back, which obviously planted some seeds in my mind, and I was fancying pasta. I don’t often do pasta with chicken, as it usually means a creamy sauce, and I’m not a huge fan. My husband is even awkwarder, and doesn’t do cream or cheese! I also had some asparagus, which always goes nicely with chicken. I’m going to leave quantities to viewer discretion, as I didn’t measure anything as I threw in ingredients, so please, adjust to your own tastes!

First off, I pre-cooked the asparagus. I would have steamed it, but my lovely silicone steamer basket is in the aforementioned container, so they were boiled.

The other ingredients included sliced onion, and sliced mushrooms, which were sautéed until soft. The next additions were a jalapeño pepper (which actually failed to give the dish any heat), and garlic. These were followed by halved cherry tomatoes (to make the sauce a bit juicier), and then basil and seasoning.

The final additions to the sauce were the cooked chicken and asparagus. The pasta only took 5 minutes to cook, so just enough to make sure the final ingredients were heated right through.

For the past few years I have always bought fresh pasta, rather than dried. I haven’t seen any here yet, so may have to make my own once my pasta machine makes an appearance with the rest of our goods. The pasta of choice today was Angel Hair, and a low carb product which I haven’t seen before. Dreamfields make a range of pasta which are low in carbs, lower GI, and higher fibre. And it tastes great! Bargain. The second photo shows the cooked pasta shortly before I dropped the fork in the boiling water. And then on my bare foot.

To make this dish perfect, add some parmasan. Then pour yourself a glass of white wine (Pinot Grigio?), and take your plate outside and dine alfresco.

Things what I have learnt (part 1)

Posted in general, News, Uncategorized on May 16, 2010 by helenphillips

One of the strange things about moving to the US from the UK is that things are so familiar, yet still so different. Simple things like supermarket shopping can be an adventure, as labels need to be scrutinized to determine exactly what the product I’ve just picked up is. The following is a list of some of my observations – some of them are new, others may just be labouring well established facts.

  • The weather in Minnesota is prone to as much change as the UK. The extremes may be a bit more, well extreme, but the temperature easily changes by 20°c from one day to the next. Except around these parts, that’s about 68°F. Learning a new temperature scale is one of the many challenges I face. The thunder & lightning storms are awesome, and definitely something I look forward to attempting to photograph.
  • Minneapolis is the 8th most likely place in the US to experience Tornadoes. I knew that they had them in the area, but didn’t realise we were so far up the list. At 1pm on the first Wednesday of each month, the city tests it’s tornado warning sirens. The nearest one is very close to our building, so there is no way we’ll miss the shrieking if a tornado does come our way. However, there is a chance my head will explode before I make it to shelter.
  • The air is much drier here. For the first couple of days, we constantly got static shocks off just about everything. Even now, sparks fly when I insert my key in the front door lock. It’s also meant dry skin and hair, but I seem to be adjusting to it now. I’m told that soon the dry air will change to humid air, and so another challenge to look forward too!
  • Driving is scary, but only when you first arrive. It isn’t just the fact that we are on the other side of the road, but the road systems are so different. Yesterday I drove for the first time, after 6 weeks as a passenger. It wasn’t so bad, but I’m glad I waited to get into the mind set. Now all I need to do is memorise the driver’s manual, and take my test….
  • There is always something going on in the Downtown area of Minneapolis. Sometimes it’s organised, like the pep-rally for the start of baseball season. Sometimes it’s political, like the group who like to hang out opposite the Christian Science building. And when the sun shines, the buskers come out in force. When the Twins are playing at home, the streets are bustling with people in their Twins shirts, I often feel a bit left out.
  • The library system is fantastic, and free and easy to join. I’m allowed 100 items at a time. Yes, that’s right, ONE HUNDRED. I brought home 2 books. It was all I could carry.
  • Ponds Dry Skin cream smells different. Exact same product according to the labelling, but a different smell.
  • As already mentioned, a trip to the supermarket can be an adventure. Shoppers witnessed my triumph yesterday when I finally located Risotto rice – not in the rice aisle, but in the health food aisle. And we’ve already experienced puzzlement over noodles, that weren’t quite what we expected. Beer can be purchased in Supermarkets, but no  wine or liquor. Gone are the days of our ‘3 for a tenner’ deals along with the food shop. On the plus side, Tetley Teabags were very easy to locate, and so I am able to enjoy a morning cup whenever the fancy takes me.
  • Getting Passport photos done has been quite a challenge (I need them for my EAD application). I suspect (though have not confirmed yet) that my error has been looking for an actual photo booth, which can be found in most supermarkets in the UK. I had some done in a CVS pharmacy yesterday, where the photos were taken by an actual person using a digital camera, manipulated to the correct size  and then printed off. Possibly this is the norm here.
  • Everything requires a form to fill out (apart from joining the library). I think we’re making good progress on that account, now that bank accounts, social security numbers, health insurance, and my EAD are in hand. I don’t think I’ve quite seen the end of it yet though…..

The final thing I learnt this week, is that Apple Customer Services are fantastic. On Monday, the hard drive failed in my laptop, which is almost 3 years old. Due to an extended warranty program, they not only replaced the hard drive for me, but they also replaced the edging around the screen, and fitted a new keyboard. It’s all shiny and new again! The downside is that I have lost most of the photographs I have taken since arriving in the Twin Cities. So, I’ll have to do them again. Here’s a view from our balcony to keep you going until Part 2.