Conquering the Dome

St. Paul's Cathedral Cake

Shortly after facing the dilemma of how to create a dome for my Blue Mosque Architectural Dessert Masterpiece, I saw an gingerbread creation of Moscow’s St. Basil’s Cathedral which used rice crispy treats to form the shape of the domes of this cathedral.  I held onto this idea for almost a year in preparation for my Third Annual Architectural Dessert Masterpiece.

St Paul's Dome  St Paul's Cathedral

For this one, presented and eaten December 2012, I chose St. Paul’s Cathedral.  First, because it has the perfect dome for trying the rice crispy method.  Second, because St. Paul’s was a significant part of my trip to London earlier in the year.  I experienced a wonderful view of the City despite minor issues with heights and major issues with claustrophobia.  I successfully climbed to the top of St. Paul’s (at least as high as they allow tourists to go) and made it back down again.  The first flights of stairs to come back down were particularly challenging as they were very narrow and steep with very short ceilings–it reminded me of the first and last time I went caving as part of a school trip in 8th grade, where I somehow managed to crawl through impossibly small places.  The praise of my teacher, Mr. Wolfe, from that occasion was essential in helping me make it down the stairs at St. Paul’s.  Thanks, Mr. Wolfe, you were my hero this time!!

Top of the Dome Looking Down

In making my St. Paul’s Cathedral Architectural Dessert Masterpiece, the design was influenced by the memory of how long it took to create the Gingerbread Blue Mosque.  I determined to take a quicker route this time around by baking sheet cakes and cutting them out in the shape of St. Paul’s.  Again, I referred to my textbook from my Western Architecture course (see Parthenon Cake post) to determine what the appropriate proportions were in cutting out the shape of the Cathedral.  To approximate the proportions in height, I made a double layer cake, plus additional layers at the towers and dome.

Aerial St. Paul's Cathedral Cake

The dome was made using the rice crispy treat method, which ended up being much more challenging than I anticipated due to the stickiness of rice crispy treats.  It did not work to try and shape the dome in my hands.  I ended up using wax paper to form the shape, but found the rice crispies still stuck to the wax paper, but not as badly as to my hands.  Then, I frosted the whole creation, using chocolate frosting as an accent color to suggest the different color of the domes (including those on the front towers) from the rest of the building.  I also used the chocolate frosting to indicate the break in design from the lower and upper portions of the exterior walls.  Chocolate Crunch Bells were used for the small domes on the front towers.

This one was easy to cut like a normal cake for eating and tasted quite good.

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Sandwich Shops

While in London last spring, I discovered a sandwich shop chain that I fell absolutely in love with: Pret a Manger.  I ended up eating lunch most days at one of their many locations around the city.  The food was great.  They had sandwiches on small baguettes, in wraps, and between two “normal” square slices of bread (which have been cut into triangles, as everyone knows triangle sandwiches taste better).  The flavors of sandwiches included ham and cheese, egg salad, and brie, tomato and basil.  The ingredients were fresh and real–meaning ham of the bone, not sliced deli ham, and arugula instead of shredded, nondescript “lettuce.”  And then the sides to go with the sandwich were interesting, exciting, and tasty.  The chip flavors I remember were “cheddar and red onion” and “sea salt and apple cider vinegar.”  Both delicious!  I was also attracted to the Pret sodas (I normally skip the soda options at restaurants).  I enjoyed the Grape & Elderflower, Apple, and Ginger Beer sodas.

Pret was the first place I had lunch in London and from the first bite, I couldn’t wait to come back and try another flavor of their sandwiches, chips, and drinks.  On my third day in London, I was ready for lunch, but could not find a Pret anywhere near where I was, so I went to another sandwich chain that I had been seeing around.  The style of this other place, the name of which I forget, was similar to Pret, but the taste was no comparison.  After trying this other place, I made sure that I was near a Pret at lunchtime for the remainder of my trip.

Besides the taste, I also enjoyed the convenience of the chain.  All the sandwiches are premade, so all you have to do is grab-and-go.  You don’t have a clerk staring you down while you decide what flavor you want today and you don’t have to wait for it to be made once you’ve made the decision.  All of which suits my personality better.

I cannot think of a sandwich shop in the US that has premade sandwiches.  It seems to me that one of the things the Subways, Quiznos, and the others are after with the don’t make it until it’s order deal is to prove that their food is fresh.  Blimpie’s for example doesn’t even slice the meat and cheese until you’ve put your order in.  Despite being premade, the sandwiches at Pret always tasted fresh and satisfying because they were made with solid food such as dense, but small bread, and chunks of chicken meat.  The chain’s website explains the secret: “Pret opened in London in 1986. College friends, Sinclair and Julian, made proper sandwiches avoiding the obscure chemicals, additives and preservatives common to so much of the ‘prepared’ and ‘fast’ food on the market today….They created the sort of food they craved but couldn’t find anywhere else.”  “Our partners drop off the very best ingredients to our shops everyday. We don’t mind that good, natural food goes off quickly. We don’t keep our sandwiches, baguettes and wraps overnight.”

One of my biggest disappointments on returning home was that I might never get another Pret sandwich (unless they’re still there the next time I’m in London) and instead the only options for buying sandwiches out would be places like Subway and Quiznos.  It was quite devastating.  Like the partners who started the Pret chain, I was going to be craving fresh, “proper” food, but unable to find it anywhere….

But then, I went to New York City for Christmas.  Walking around the first night there, I was thrilled to spot not one, but two Prets.  Needless to say, I went there every opportunity I got.  The options were somewhat different, particularly the chips–there were only boring, regular American flavors and styles to choose from (though they still weren’t national brands like Lays)–but the food was still good.  The egg salad wrap was melt-in-your-mouth delicious.  The roast beef, arugula, mustard-mayo and chicken, bacon, mayo baguettes were also yummy.  They also had the Pret Ginger Beer Soda, which tasted as yummy as the Ginger Beer I had in London, both Pret and non-Pret.  I’ve found Ginger Beer in Pittsburgh, but it’s just not the same.

It turns out that Pret a Manger has set up locations in New York, Boston, Chicago, and Washington, D.C.  As Chicago is one of the next US Cities I hope to visit, I know I will be getting another Pret sandwich soon.  I wonder though, if the large, diverse populations of these cities are necessary for a place like Pret a Manger to be successful.  Is it possible for a truly fresh sandwich shop to succeed (and set up multiple branches) in a smaller, less diverse city like Pittsburgh?

Adaptively Rebuilt Church

The Spire House is perhaps my favorite of all the adaptively reused churches I found in London.  Originally built as Christ Church Lancaster Gate in the 1850s and 1860s, the building has since been adapted to housing.  As I walked around the building, I thought it might have been one of the ones damaged during the war, but according to a website about the building most of the structure was demolished in the 1970s because of decay and fungus.

The reason why I liked this building was that despite the fact that most of it was demolished, part of it was saved and the rebuilt structure recalls the former design.  I particularly liked the “flying buttresses.”

I agree that there are times when a building can no longer function well, in this case because of decay and fungus, but buildings tell a lot about a society and its history and when they are demolished something gets lost.  The Spire House found a compromise between these two and it tells a lot about the city.  From the way this building was designed, it is apparent that this society is moving forward and changing, but still respects its past and its religion.  There other signs of this throughout the city, such as the church tower in the middle of a road.

Adaptive Reuse of Churches: London

When I started planning on going to London this year, my first idea was to go for a month or so to study the adaptive reuse of churches in that city.  I thought London would be a good place to see a wide variety of adaptions as the UK has been working with the problem of redundant churches for about a hundred years.  As I was pursuing this idea I found a book from 1977 which addresses this problem across Great Britain.  (I have not come across any book publications on the adaptive reuse of church buildings in the US.)  This book “Chapels and Churches: Who Cares?” includes a discussion of what had been done up until that point in time in the adaptive reuse of church buildings.  I compiled a list of 76 different uses that these buildings have been adapted to from the book.  In my observations in the Pittsburgh area, I have seen less than ten types of new use for church buildings with housing being the most common.

There was one factor about the church buildings in London that I found fascinating, perhaps in part because it is not a factor in Pittsburgh, or any US city for that matter.  Many churches sustained damage during WWII and The Blitz.  The churches damaged during the war were demolished, rebuilt, adaptively reused, or memorialized, resulting in some unique (at least to me) situations.

I ended up not going to London to complete a research project on the adaptive reuse of church buildings, but instead went to the city for a few days and explored as much of the city as I could in that time.  This included looking for a few of the adaptively reused churches I had learned about in my preliminary research.  In the process of looking for the ones I knew about and simply walking around the city, I found some other adaptively reused churches.

A power station and Sherlock Holmes

The Battersea Power Station intrigued me from the first glimpse I got of it.  The smoke stacks first entered my frame of view at the Battersea Bridge (see June 15th post).  I kept my eyes on the building as I got closer to it and was thrilled to get such a close view.  I couldn’t tell from the early views of it that it was on the river.  It was obviously empty as I could see sky through some of the windows.  However I did not know what it was.  While large, empty, industrial buildings intrigue me, I don’t know enough about them to identify their previous purposes.  This one used to be a power station built in the 1930s and closed over the 1970s and 1980s.  The National Heritage website indicates that building was to be adapted to new uses starting in 2005 and a BBC article said the building was to open as a new shopping and etc. complex in 2009.  I did not see any signs of any use of the building when I passed, so I’m assuming these projects have yet to come to fruition.

After returning home from my trip to the UK, I received Sherlock Season 2 on DVD.  One of the best parts of the season was in the first episode “A Scandal in Belgravia” where a sequence took place at the Battersea Power Station, which I instantly recognized, from having spent so much time staring at it while walking past it along the River Thames.  This has been one of my favorite parts about my trip to the UK, now when I watch my British TV or read my British literature I recognize and understand the locations more from having seen them in person.

I did have a false call with this over the weekend.  I was reading “For all the Tea in China” by Sarah Rose which talked about the Chelsea Physic Garden.  I immediately said, “I know that place, I remember walking past it.”  However, when looking at pictures of it online, I realized that I passed by the Physic Garden completely oblivious to its presence.  What I remembered walking past was the Chelsea Flower Show grounds, which were being set up for a big show, that the gardeners were a little concerned about due to the excess rain the UK experienced this spring.