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Did I tell you I saw the British royal family up close in person, last year? Well, as close as you can get as a tourist, meaning of course from outside the gate of Buckingham Palace.  But I saw all of them. The Queen, Prince Phillip, Princes William and Harry, and Princess Kate. Or does she go by Duchess?

buckingham palace

When I told my girlfriends about it, they were all very excited to hear of it, except for one. Let’s call her Jayne. She is from England originally, and she’s not a fan of the Queen, so when I was gushing about my experience, she was kinda … hmm, big deal, she’s just an old lady with matching outfit and a hat.
Jayne and I are close friends and I see her quite a bit, so I don’t often bring up this story for fear of losing her in the conversation. She is clearly not interested. But I have to tell the story now (bear with me just one more time, Jayne … ) because it was quite incredible what happened. I was reminded of it when I read that the Queen celebrated another birthday today. Besides, it’s British night at the house tonight. I’m making Fish and Chips.

We arrived in London very early in the day. Red eye flights remain our favorite when traveling abroad or long distance. There’s not much to do in flight except sleep.

So the hotel room wasn’t ready for check in when we got there. The concierge took care of our luggage and we decided to experience London right away. With a ride on the double-decker, for the children’s sake. What kids don’t want to ride on a double-decker? Our destination was Buckingham Palace, for the changing of the guard ceremony.

When we got there, we were surprised at how crowded it was. All we could see were the tops of the guards’ fluffy hats. There were layers of people in front of us. As we were trying to find a better spot for better viewing, a couple of ladies stopped us and asked if we had seen the Queen pass. Clearly British ladies, with their impressive British accent and everything. Of course we told them no, we were just tourists, we knew nothing. Didn’t even know the Queen came for the ceremony.

buckingham palace horse guards parade

So I asked a police officer if the Queen came everyday for the changing of the guard? No, ma’am … today is her birthday celebration, but she’s passed by already. She’s inside now. Oh, how wonderful, we had the opportunity to see the Queen and we missed!

friendly british police officer

Just as I was thinking that, the police took the metal barricade in front of me, and people started swarming ahead, so I did what anybody would have done. Swarm along.

I ended up right smack in front of the palace, where apparently the band started playing God Save the Queen and therefore people were swarming. For the band and anthem, why else would they swarm?

buckingham palace band playing national anthem

Of course I was wrong, tourists who didn’t plan an itinerary always get surprises. Because when the band finished, people started cheering and applauding. Not for the band, but for the balcony. What the …?

buckingham palace balcony

Turned out the crowd knew all along the Queen would come out to the balcony, and she did, to wave to the crowd. Then she was joined by her husband, then Prince Charles, then Camilla, and so on, until the whole lot of them were there. What a sight! They sure knew how to dress, the British. 

I took a few pictures, Sabo shot a video, then we let the British subjects took our spots. This was their royal family, after all.

We now know that this happens every year, around this time, and the parade is called Trooping the Colour. But at the time, we had no idea!

See, incredible, right? When we planned the trip to London, we didn’t even know the Queen was going to celebrate her birthday that day. Tourists who didn’t have an itinerary always get surprises.

But what’s all this got to do with gardening? Not much, except that I was digging for potatoes, and I’m making Fish and Chips. Fish and Chips = Royal family. Duh!

(The new potatoes I dug up were not made into chips. The kids and I are saving them for a Father’s Day present for Sabo. We love him that much!)

Fish & Chips

The fish
fish and chips

The fish we had in London was always served in one big fillet, almost the entire shape of half a fish, sometimes with the skin on. I think the fish does look more attractive presented that way. But it’s easier to work with smaller pieces of fish, so sometimes I cut my fillet into fish fingers. Take your pick. Your fish, you decide.

4 fish fillets (use firm-fleshed white fish such as cod, haddock, or tilapia)
1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1 tsp baking powder
Beer or club soda (about 10 oz.)
Salt & pepper to taste
Dash paprika (optional)
Extra flour for dredging
Cooking oil

1. Heat oil in a fryer or a deep pan to 350° F.
2. Lightly season fish fillet with salt & pepper.
3. Dredge fillet in flour.
4. Make the batter by mixing flour, salt&pepper, paprika (if using), and beer/club soda. Whisk until batter is smooth.
5. Dip fillets into batter and fry until golden brown, about 3 minutes on each side.
6. Drain on paper towel.

The chips
potato fries

The chips served in London were thickly cut, more like what I call steak fries. We like all kinds of fried potatoes, no matter the cut. But  I decided to make the chips more like french fries, this time. Thinly cut. I found it easier to get them crisp that way. You know what I’m going to say. My chips, I decide.

4 large Russet potatoes
Cooking oil

1. Heat oil to 300° F.
2. Scrub potatoes,  cut into desired thickness, rinse in cold water, then drain thoroughly. Wipe excess water with towel.
3. Fry potatoes in batches for about 4 min. They will be cooked but limp and not colored. Remove and drain on paper towel. Let them cool to room temperature.
4. Once they cool down, fry them a second time, but increase heat to 375° F, until crisp and golden brown, about 2-3 min.
5. Drain on paper towel.
6. Sprinkle with a little salt.

Serve fish & chips with tartar sauce. In London, they also served them with mushy peas on the side.