Wednesday, February 18, 2015

Fat Pancake Tuesday

If I'm anything, I'm consistent in my inconsistency. At least this time there's only been 470 days since my last post.

2014 saw many trials, many cakes and many changes. But I'm proud to say that I've come out on the other side and my adventures in the UK continue, but now as a bona fide Brit.

Indeed, I've passed a test, sworn an oath and was given a medal. I can brew a proper cuppa, say “cheers” freely in all social situations and have completely forgotten how to pronounce “basil”.

But getting here has been a tad rocky. (There’s a bit of a British understatement for you.) And much as sewing was a way for me to acclimatise when I first emigrated, cooking has been a meditative outlet that’s helped me through some of the more difficult times.

Unemployed? Bake a cake! Overwhelmed by student debt? Learn to flambé! Homesick? Perfect the pulled pork sandwich!

My father taught me to bake while he was a stay at home dad and we would make chocolate chip cookies between Sesame Street and Eureka’s Castle. I know this helped inspire my food desire because like many Americans I was sold the idea that cooking is difficult and I’ve had to fight against this. Why peel an egg or dice an onion when you can buy a gadget on QVC to do it for you? And how can I be expected to mash my own potatoes or make stuffing when it's safer to just add water to a dodgy beige powder from a box.

But now I whip my own cream, blind bake my own pie crust and have been known to can my own ketchup or even mayo my own nnaise. It's been cathartic and creative and I think I'll keep it up.

Yesterday was Pancake Day (better known in the US as Fat Tuesday, Mardi Gras or Get Drunk off Your Face on a Tuesday Day). In Britain, you’re meant to clear out your cupboards in order to indulge and occasionally someone will remember that there’s some religious connotation to it.

But in the UK, a pancake is a crêpe, and no offense to crêpes, but they ain’t no pancakes. (Especially seeing as they’re French, but I’ll save my views on the confused affair the English have with the French and their language for another time.) So in the spirit of taking any opportunity to entwine American traditions with British culture, and always being keen to cater, I enforced a “breakfast for dinner” gathering on my housemates.

If I may: blueberry buttermilk pancakes, served with apples stewed in spiced rum and vanilla bourbon bananas, topped with chopped pecans, whipped cream cheese and homemade cinnamon syrup and a side of pancetta bacon.

In your face, crêpes.

Tuesday, November 5, 2013

What Does Guy Fawkes Say?

Remember, remember
The fifth of November,
For it's Guy Fawkes Day
And the Brits are at play,
Lighting the skies with fire!

That's right! It's Guy Fawkes Day and that means fireworks and bonfires are ablaze throughout Britain. It must be some celebration of freedom or commemorating some historical event that changed British history forever. Well, kind of, but not really at all. If they hadn't made a holiday of it, people might not even remember it, considering all that happened was a close call.

Let me explain.

Guy Fawkes was a dude who, along with a dozen other people, plotted to assassinate King James I in 1605 and restore a Catholic monarch to the throne. They planned to do this by blowing up Parliament. But the plan was foiled and he was the unlucky sod caught guarding the gunpowder.

So instead of history allowing him to drift into the forgotten abyss, the Brits ensured that he went down in history for his major cock-up. (For my American friends, a "cock-up" is just a "fail", but more hilarious sounding.) How have they done this? By blowing stuff up and lighting giant fires. Amazing. Technically, or at least according to Wikipedia, the tradition started with the public celebrating King James I's escape by lighting bonfires. Not sure if they appreciated the irony then, but hopefully when the fireworks were added to the mix, it was obvious.

This is why I love Britain, and now Guy Fawkes Day, because it wears its irony on its sleeve. I'd say that it is my favorite holiday, but it ain't got nothin' on Thanksgiving. Although Thanksgiving is not without its badge of irony.

I have no beef with Thanksgiving if you look at it as a celebration of the harvest that is commemorated by taking a respite from work, gathering with family and enjoying a festive feast. But in the US, children are taught that it's a celebration of the Pilgrims and the Native Americans living in harmony and sharing the bounty.

Okay. I'll give you the bounty thing a little bit if they were also taught that the British, I mean the settlers, then committed genocide on the Native Americans and stripped them of their land, traditions and pride. But that's not really what you want to tell a 6 year old, so let's just tell them that everyone got along and everything was hunky-dory. It won't be traumatic and confusing to later learn that not only were the Pilgrims incredibly brutal, but you were kept in the dark about it - not to mention all the other horrible facts that were conveniently omitted from history class! - leaving you feeling naturally suspicious of your education and all authority! ...Or was that just me?

At least in Britain, they're a bit more honest and up front about the violent roots of their holiday and bloody history. Until you mention how the British conquest resulted in cultures going extinct, languages dying, and general havoc that forever changed the course of human history. But, hey-ho, that's all in the past, right?

Anyway, to my American mates, go light a sparkler, get in touch with your empirical roots and don't let anyone say that you don't understand irony!

Wednesday, July 31, 2013

What To Do 'Bout Those Expat Blues

It's only been something like 849 days since my last post. But it's not like anything significant like the 2012 Olympics, the Diamond Jubilee, a royal wedding and subsequent birth of an heir to the throne happened in the meantime that would have been interesting to blog about.

In the last few years, my accent has become a bit confused and the occasional "u" has been known to find its way into some words where once upon a time that would have been bizarre grammatical behaviour. I now "go on holiday", "ride the tube" and "go down the pub for a pint". And I got to say, it's pretty awesome. 

I absolutely love Britain. I will defend its cuisine to the end, I think I've nearly got the Brits figured out and the weather, well it still sucks. But my theory is that because the weather's so miserable, they've focused on making everything else, like signage, healthcare (to be continued) and transportation, brilliant...most of the time.

But even though I haven't lost my English infatuation, I still get the occasional hankering for some rootin' tootin' American fun. So I've had to come up with some tricks to get my yankee fix. 

For a while, baking filled some sort of nostalgic gap. I even thought, "Hey, I'll introduce some of my favourite goodies to the UK market - snickerdoodles, whoopie pies, thumbprint cookies - and make a killing", until I discovered that the Hummingbird Bakery beat me to the sweet, insulin resistant punch. 

Then I thought I'd become a devout American sports fan. But taking into account the five hour time difference and an unwillingness to commit to an overwhelming TV sports package, that just seemed impractical. So alas, I had little choice but to pay homage to the homeland itself and take a trip back to the land of the free. 

It'd been 18 months since my last visit and I quickly realised that I was seeing my motherland through union jack tinted glasses. Not surprisingly, the thing that culturally shocked me first was the sheer volume of stuff. There was so much of everything, most notably, peanut butter. 

In the UK, the slot allotted for a product on the shelf of a supermarket will typically be as wide as one, maybe two, of whatever the item is. But in the US, they cram in as many of each thing as they can, sometimes five items in breadth. But it's little wonder that they do when you look at the scale of everything else. If you didn't shove three dozen of each brand of cereal on the shelves, the vast aisles would look nearly empty and ridiculous. 

My surprise at what was once an unconscious assumption becoming a fascinating tourist attraction worthy of a photo in the middle of Food Lion under the gaze of a gentleman wearing a confederate flag as a hat, made me stop and think about how noticing things like this must mean that the line of binational patriotism has become a little blurrier. It made me question how I define home and if every place I go will feel at least a little foreign now. But then I went to Target and saw 25 checkout lines and only one open and thought, "No, I've just been blessed with a fabulous sense of irony."

Monday, April 4, 2011

Rain, Rain, Go Away...

In kindergarten, I learned that April showers bring May flowers. And every year, I waited for the torrential Pennsylvanian downpours that would transform my neighborhood into a lush landscape of technicolored flora. But they never came. Now I realize that expression had no place in my curriculum as it clearly refers to English weather.

It doesn't surprise me that they came up with a motto to excuse England's infamous weather patterns. I can only assume that it was meant to reassure the population that this miserable climate can have a silver lining. But it's hardly as though April is the only month that sees rain in the UK. It seems to me like they ought to have a rain-related rhyme for every month. So I've taken the liberty to suggest a few. Like...

July precipitation yields August anticipation,


October drizzle will never fizzle,


December's wintery mix leaves much to be missed.

I'll admit that Springtime here is ridiculously picturesque though. With its rolling, green paddocks speckled by bleating lambs, and bumbling bees bouncing between beds of blooming blossoms. Okay, maybe I see their point. It might be worth the rain. Maybe.

Monday, March 28, 2011

It's Been Sew Long

In the past 359 days, I have been a negligent blogger, only read one of the books on my reading list, returned to the USA for three months, married my Brit, and my passport and visa application that were lost by the USPS arrived in New York a year and two months late (which didn't stop the consulate from processing it and threatening to refuse the visa).

I now find myself in unemployment limbo, that seductive stalemate in life that gets you thinking things like, "Maybe I should open a 1950s themed ice cream parlor in Picadilly Circus". It only took me about a month to discover that the only way to survive not working is by having a hobby. So now I sew. And my project list grows as my job application list dwindles.

But sewing has been more than a pass-time, a stress-reliever, and a distraction, it's been an acclimation tool. It's been a way to get involved in the culture here and meet new people, which admittedly hasn't been easy since England seems to be surprisingly lacking in haberdasheries and fabric stores. The crafting culture in the UK isn't the same as the US and there's nothing similar to a JoAnn Fabrics or Michael's. So at the beginning of every project, I have to go on the hunt and drive forty minutes to a tiny village in Wales in search of Amy Butler fabric or a replacement bulb for my Janome sewing machine. But these expeditions have introduced me to some interesting places and I'm slowly making connections with the "locals" and women who have been sewing since the Second World War.

I'm so used to the convenience of the giant chains in America and I'm realizing just how impatient it's made me. It's nice to slow down and enjoy the entire process of a project. Still, sometimes I just want that quick crafting fix. Maybe I should open a chain of fabric stores...

Happy Spring!