Sunday 26 December 2010

British Stuff Review: Bubble and Squeak

When you think of Christmas meal leftovers, you probably think of turkey sandwiches, but what about the rest of the food?  What can you do with the potatoes and vegetables that will just go soggy and icky if you attempt to reheat them in their current form?  

You need bubble and squeak!

Bubble and Squeak
This dish was developed during World War II as an easy way of using food items that were being rationed, and was often made once a week on Monday following the traditional Sunday roast dinner.  There is no one way to make bubble and squeak, but generally what you do is crush (don't mash all the way) the left over roast potatoes, chop the left over vegetables (and I suggest an onion too), mix it all together and put it in a frying pan.  Spread the mixture in the pan and push it down so it browns on one side.  Then flip it over and brown it on the other side, making sure it warms all the way through.  Voila!  You're done!  (You can also form little patties and fry them separately)  Its very similar to hash in America just with a much better name.  

To serve, some people suggest putting a fried egg on top, but I just put it with a bit of salad and call it good.

Supposedly the name comes from the sound it makes while it cooks, but I listened carefully when I cooked  it today and didn't hear anything.  The award for food that talks to you still goes to Rice Krispies.  Congratulations Snap, Crackle and Pop.  Better luck next time Bubble and Squeak. 

 Though not a dish which was ever meant to look pretty or impress the food critics, the Four Seasons London has (or had when the following article was written) this gourmet version if you want to jazz up this old favourite or are too cheap to buy previously unused ingredients at your next dinner party.  

But I suggest sticking to the regular version - its the perfect remedy for that post Christmas hangover (and your post Christmas wallet). 

British Stuffs Review:  5/5 Paddington Bears

Wednesday 22 December 2010

In Darwin We Trust

The First Amendment of the United States of America reads "Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof ....". 

While there are crazy loonies in America who believe this message of a deliberate seperation between church and state was not intended by its writers, most well-educated Americans acknowledge our Founding Fathers formed the United States government as a secular institution.  

In contrast, there is no seperation of church and state in the UK, but surprisingly in my experience, the role of religion in government and politics is much more of a bit part as compared to the starring role religion seems to play in the American government.   

This is a UK £10 note...
Does that bearded man look familiar to you?  
That's Charles know, the guy who came up with the theory of evolution by natural selection?  Yeah, him... on official currency!

Mr Darwin was born in 1809. In commemoration of his 200th birthday (and because his beard is too awesome to be on only one piece of currency), The British Royal mint struck a limited edition £2.00 coin in 2009, of which I have only ever come across once.  

Let's compare this to the good 'ol American one dollar bill...

And American coins...
Yes, I realize this is just one example, but I ask you - which government actually is allowing their people to live seperately from the church?

"I contend that we are both atheists. I just believe in one fewer god than you do. When you understand why you dismiss all the other possible gods, you will understand why I dismiss yours".
~ Stephen Henry Roberts

Tuesday 21 December 2010

Cool Crockery

If you enjoy that this is a Wills and Kate-free zone, you may also enjoy these absolutely fantastic creations.  I must have one (some)!

Buy @

Monday 20 December 2010

British Christmas

Like most child-less adults, I miss that excitement of Christmas I had as a child.  I miss the construction paper ring Christmas countdown thing, I miss sitting by the tree admiring all the presents and I miss trying to fall asleep at 6:00pm on Christmas Eve so that Santa would come sooner.  (Tip for any other kids  wanting to fall asleep at 6:00 - a few glasses of wine at 4:00 usually does the trick for me)

That being said, I do still love Christmas and eventhough I've had a lot of negative things to say about certain traditional British Christmas foods, there are a few things about British Christmas that I really enjoy.

Christmas Cracker
1.   Christmas crackers - I know that you can buy these in America (I believe I used to see them at Crate and Barrel), but I personally never was privy to a Christmas cracker when I lived in America and think they are great fun.  For those unfamiliar, a Christmas cracker is a hollow cylindrical paper tube with twisted ends and various items inside it.  The ends are pulled by two different people, the cracker makes a loud noise (think cap gun) as it comes apart and you can get to the things inside it.  In most mass produced ones, you will find a paper crown (see below), a toy or trinket and a (usually very bad) joke.   
Looking for better inclusions in your Christmas Crackers?  How about these ones from Fortnum and Mason?  They'll only set you back £1000(!!) for a "superb array of silver plated gifts, comprising a tea strainer and caddy, sugar dredger, mustard pot, place card holder, napkin rings and an eggcup and spoon set".  Very posh.

Family wearing paper crowns
  2. Paper hat/crown - As mentioned, one of the things included in most (if not all) Christmas crackers is a paper crown which everyone is expected to wear throughout the meal.  The only history behind this I can dig up is that wearing the paper crown may have originated from twelfth-night celebrations where a King or Queen was appointed to look over the proceedings.   It's all a bit religious for me, and  I don't really know what that means, but as long as I have a reason to wear a paper hat on my head on Christmas, I'm a happy girl. 

3. Boxing Day - I was always very jealous of the Canadians who got to celebrate Boxing Day while I often had to return to work immediately after Christmas, but now, I too get to reap the benefits of this holiday.  God bless the Commonwealth.

According to Wikipedia: "The exact etymology of the term "boxing" is unclear and there are several competing theories, none of which is definitive. In the United Kingdom, it certainly became a custom of the nineteenth-century Victorians for tradesmen to collect their "Christmas boxes" or gifts on the day after Christmas in return for good and reliable service throughout the year.  Another possibility is that the name derives from an old English tradition: in exchange for ensuring that wealthy landowners' Christmases ran smoothly, their servants were allowed to take the 26th off to visit their families. The employers gave each servant a box containing gifts and bonuses (and sometimes leftover food). In addition, around the 1800s, churches opened their alms boxes (boxes where people place monetary donations) and distributed the contents to the poor.

All well and good, but to me Boxing Day is the day of one of my new favourite events - The Windlesham Pram Race!  Difficult to explain, but its basically a fancy dress (costumes, not ball gowns) pub crawl with fancy dress being optional so to me, its just a pub crawl the day after Christmas (but that sounds a bit less exciting, doesnt it?).  After spending Christmas Day with the in-laws, I'm always looking forward to it!

Did you know...?

.... The British often say “Happy Christmas” instead of Merry Christmas.  This is supposedly because back in the day religious figures suggested that “merry” was a reference to drinking alcohol.

....The Christmas Tree was brought to England by Queen Victoria's husband, Prince Albert from his native Germany. The famous Illustrated News etching in 1848, featuring the Royal Family gathered around a Christmas tree in Windsor Castle, popularized the tree throughout Victorian England. *

....Christmas cards developed in England when young boys practiced their writing skills by creating Christmas greetings for their parents, but it is Sir Henry Cole who is credited with creating the first real Christmas card. The first director of London's Victoria and Albert Museum, Sir Henry found himself too busy in the Christmas season of 1843 to compose individual Christmas greetings for his friends. *

* Thanks to this site for these facts

Thursday 16 December 2010

Mistakes Expats Make: Trying Too Hard

This is a major, major bug bear of mine.  You know those things that just make you want to slap someone across the face and not feel guilty about doing it?  That's what this is for me, so I should warn you in advance that some potentially offensive ranting may follow...

I nose around on a few expat discussion forums and I always cringe when I see topics anywhere along the lines of "I feel so British", or "What did I just say?", or the worst one "So and so said I have an accent".  Innocent enough topics, but if you dare to open any of the many responses you will see immediately that people are trying SO pathetically hard to be "British" (or Scottish, or Irish or Welsh or English, or whatever they think they want to be) and it makes me want to scream.  

There are four types of people who continually pop up in discussions like these:

1.  The ones who admit they are doing it on purpose and intentionally fake an accent to "fit in".  Seriously, I cant even comment further on these ones...

2. The ones who act like they are embarrassed about something they've just said (I just said "thanks love" or "I just asked to borrow a fiver" and am so embarrassed ). If you are so embarrassed then why come on here and announce it to the world?  If it came out naturally, then why even mention it?   Side note: If you must forcibly add new words and phrases to your vocabulary, god forbid, get it right.  We don't want any more of these types of occurrences.

3. The ones who "admit" they love some esoteric British thing that other expats don't like.  Its like watching a competition in which they think they are being scored expat points for being naturally British or something.  For example:  I think it is safe to say that most Americans think the idea of black pudding is revolting, but there are always those trying-really-hard-expats who have to pull the "oh I like black pudding, I must be naturally British".  Yeah, ok... 
Or in discussions about TV shows - there are many Americans (me included) who don't get British humour but there is always without fail the expats who insist that they think its absolutely hilarious, claim they get all the jokes and "must have a very British sense of humour".  I'd like to ask one of them to watch a (dreadful!) Carry On film with me and explain the jokes before those expat points are awarded.

4. The ones who claim after living somewhere for only about a year that they now have a Geordie accent?  Oh please. (and why would you want one in the first place??)  Remember how everyone made fun of Madonna for picking up some seemingly forced accent?  Just some food for thought... 

Soap Box Alert:  Personally, I don't want to sound/act/be British.  I'm not British.  Even when I have a British passport and am a British citizen I will never consider myself British. I am a person who lives in Great Britain, but not a British person.  There is a profound difference between those two things in my mind.

My unsolicited advice:   If you pick up new words and phrases and they come out naturally (because this will happen to everyone), then use them, but don't force the assimilation process.  Don't be embarrassed that you prefer McDonald's to traditional fish and chips.  Don't stop drinking Coors Light because you think its more "British" to drink John Smith's.  Don't agree with people who say the original Office is the best comedy ever on TV even though you know Family Guy is much MUCH funnier.  Be who you truly are... not what you think the British version of yourself should be.

Wednesday 15 December 2010

Tea Time

I realize I talk a lot of smack about tea.   I apologize if you really enjoy "tea culture" and are sick of me complaining about it and in the same breath let me apologize if you are annoyed by it even more than I and are pushed over the edge by my ramblings.

But... I couldnt help but share this little bit of "research":

According to the manufactures of the new T6 water dispenser thingie, the average Briton spends 24 minutes a day making hot drinks at work (yes, yes, I admit some of this may be coffee, but I like to blame it on tea).   Added up over a working lifetime, this is equal to 188 days and 21 hours waiting for the kettle to boil, immersing one's tea bag and mixing to one's preferred recipe. 

Perhaps more interesting - based on an average UK salary of £26,000, it means each worker costs £416 a year in lost productivity performing the tea making ritual. 

Therefore, I suggest that those who do not drink tea throughout the day should be awarded a £416* bonus each year on their birthday!  Got that Mr Cameron?  I demand a change in policy immediately or I will riot in the streets!

*In the interest of full disclosure, I am willing to take about a £359 bonus because I do make one cup of coffee most mornings.  

Friday 10 December 2010

Science Fair Experiment

I miss the science fair.  I have a theory that demands a 4th grade science fair experiment. 

Hypothesis:  British tongues are more heat resistant than American tongues. 

Not long after I moved here, I noticed that British people had the amazing ability to drink tea immediately after making it.  My coworkers would boil the kettle, make their tea, sit at their desk and take a sip (or swig sometimes) immediately upon sitting.   Then I noticed that incredibly, my husband could drink from a McDonalds coffee cup before exiting the drive-through, while I would have to wait until we were a few miles down the road before I would even dare to take a cautious sip.  The final straw was at a friend's house for dinner - all the other guests ate roast potatoes which had been removed from the oven only minutes earlier without blowing on them first! (how do they do that!?)

Something is definetely going on here...

Is it the love of tea that has made British tongues build up a tolerance to hot food and drink?  Perhaps they have been drinking straight-from-the-kettle-tea since childhood and have desensitized the nerves on the tongue? 

Materials Needed:  A few American tongues and a few British tongues prepared to be dipped in hot liquids and willing to sign a consent form releasing me from any liability.

I will report back on the findings of this important scientific experiement once completed.

For now, if you have a sensitive American tongue like me, you may be interested in this product which will save you from future burns similar to the one from which I am currently suffering after my bionic-tongued husband asked me to taste spaghetti sauce without blowing on it first.  Thanks, hubs. 

Sunday 5 December 2010

British Stuff Review: Mince Pies

Thank you to CK for bringing up mince pies in a comment on my last post re: Christmas pudding.  I both like and dislike mince pies - I like them because seeing them in the shop means its coming up to Christmas time (hooray!), but dislike them because they are such a disappointment.  Lovely little pastry pies filled with a sweet-ish filling and usually served with custard poured over them should be good, but sadly aren't and the history behind them makes them even worse. Oh, I should also mention that in the UK, the word mince refers to what I have always called ground beef, but modern pies actually don't contain meat.  Let me explain... 

Modern Day Mince Pie
The mince pie can be traced back to the 13th centrury when the crusaders returned from Europe and the Middle East. Early mince pies were sometimes called mutton pie, shrid pie and Christmas pie. Original ingredients included minced meat, suet, a range of fruits, and spices such as cinnamoncloves and nutmeg. This  mixture was placed in a pie crust and covered with pastry.  The recipe apparently developed as a way of preserving meat by mixing it with fruit, spices and alcohol. Ew!  Apparently, King Henry V was a big fan of these half savory/half sweet pies and demanded they were served at his coronation. Current recipes are only cooked fruit and spices (no meat), but sometimes still are made with suet, so be careful if you are a vegetarian.

If you'd like to try a mince pie, you may want to seek the advice of the Mince Pie Club, who say their mission is to find the best mince pie available in stores. They taste all the pies they can get their hands on and offer reviews on their website.  They are still tasting this season's pies, but last year decided that Morrison's The Best Baked Deep Filled Mince Pies were the cream of the crop.  For reference, Waitrose All Butter Mince Pie came a close second.   

Alternatively, for a fast food mince pie experience, you can visit McDonalds (only in the UK) who are now serving Festive Pies, which are like the McDonald's apple pies you are probably familiar with, but filled with mince pie filling and custard... I think I'll pass, thanks.
McDonald's Festive pie
courtesy of The Diary)

British Stuff Rating:  1/5 Paddington Bears

Friday 3 December 2010

British Stuff Review: Christmas Pudding

My kind of pudding!
I had my first Christmas in England before I officially moved here, when new things even if the were gross were still cool because they were "foreign".   I had a traditional Christmas dinner (lunch) with my soon-to-be husband and his parents which was concluded with a dessert called Christmas pudding.

Now, I knew that pudding is not what I think pudding should be (think Bill Cosby Jello Pudding), but was surprised by what was served to me.
Christmas Pudding
My now mother-in-law brought out a round topped dense cake-ish thing, poured brandy on the top and lit it on fire!  Fun enough, but what was this thing?  Recipes vary greatly by family, but most Christmas puddings are made up of flour, breadcrumbs, nuts, mixed dried fruit, treacle or brown sugar, cinnamon, nutmeg, orange and lemon zest, apple and sometimes suet (animal fat).  You mix all that together in a bowl and if you want to be very traditional, you are supposed to let all the family members stir it and make a wish. To cook, you need to steam the pudding - grease a glass bowl with butter  and pack the mixture inside this bowl and cover the bowl with parchment paper.  Then boil a large pot of water and set the glass bowl inside the water making sure the water does not get into the bowl (apparently this is called a ban-marie?).  Set on simmer for about four hours, then tip the bowl upside down on a plate and you have a Christmas pudding (usually served with either  brandy butter or brandy sauce poured over the top).

People in England have been enjoying Christmas pudding since the middle ages and the recipe has evolved through the years, growing in popularity in the 1800's when Queen Victoria and Prince Albert spoke of their love of the dish.

Do be careful when eating a Christmas pudding as you may find some purposely placed inedible items inside your portion. It is traditional to stir silver coins (for wealth), tiny wishbones (for good luck), a silver thimble (for thrift), a ring (for marriage), or an anchor (for safe harbor) into the mixture, and whoever gets the the "lucky" serving, would be able to keep the charm and the good wishes that go along with it.  When silver coins were not as readily available, this tradition lapsed because people feared putting alloy coins in their pudding. Today small token coins and other objects are made just for this use.

Yes I hear you:  "Interesting enough, but get to the point -  what does it taste like?"  Now that I am living in England, the novelty of this uniquely British food has well and truly worn off and I am no longer afraid of offending my mother-in-law by admitting that I absolutely hate Christmas pudding.  It tastes kind of like warm, soggy fruitcake and will never again pass my lips!

British Stuffs Rating: 0/5 Paddington Bears!

Tuesday 30 November 2010

Curtsey Culture

So I'm really shit(e) about keeping my promises... I promised only last week that this blog would be a William and Kate-free zone, a respite from the constant blithering about their wedding, and it still is... sort of.. I do solemly swear to not speak about their WEDDING, but this article about the aftermath of the unmentionable event was too interesting not to mention.  My apologies in advance, but I hope you will agree with me on this one.

When I was a kid, I remember practicing to curtsey.  No, not in dance class or anything, just on my own because I was a nerdy kid (no more teasing please). I dont know when I ever thought I would have a need to curtsey, but it seemed like a valuable skill to have, so I "perfected" it.  Luckily I'm not Kate Middleton or all of that practice would have gone to waste becuase it appears that after that thing we cant talk about she will only be expected to curtsey to one person - The Queen herself. 

Zara Phillips greets her Grandmother,
The Queen with a curtsey
Apparently there is a document called Precedence Of The Royal Family To Be Observed At Court, written up by the Queen's secretary after Prince Charles married Camilla which knocked Camilla down a few notches in the who curtseys to whom list, ensuring that someone like Princess Anne (the Queen's daughter) would never have to curtsey to Camilla (shudder to think!).    Before this document, the wife of Prince Charles would have come directly after the Queen and Anne and Princess Alexandra (the Queen's seemingly very important cousin) would have to curtsey to her, but the Queen's apparent lack of respect for Camilla the Commoner and the fact that Anne and Alexandra have "devoted their lives to the monarchy" sparked the change.

Interestingly, Anne apparently refused to curtsey to Diana and is expected to do the same for Kate eventhough she will technically be ranked above her.  (Me-Ow!)

As the article explains, the wife of a royal takes on the position of her husband unless he is not with her and then she is moved down in rank.  So, without William physically by her side, Kate is actually ranked below Anne, Alexandra and Prince Andrew and Fergie's daughters, Beatrice and Eugenie, since they are technically in line to the throne and royal by blood.  

Confused?  Here's the order as mandated by the Queen:
1. The Queen
2. Kate Middleton (unless she is sans Wills, which will knock her down to #6 just ahead of Camilla)
3. Princess Anne
4. Princess Beatrice
5. Princess Eugenie
6. Princess Alexandra
7. Duchess of Cornwall (Camilla)
8. Countess of Wessex (Sophie, wife of Prince Edward)
9. Lady Louise Windsor  (Sophie and Edward's daughter)
10. Zara Phillips  (Princess Anne's daughter)

 If you'd like to learn to curtsey, here is a young girl's informational video.  (Where was youtube when I was practicing in my bedroom??)

Saturday 27 November 2010

A Rather British Day Out

In a bit of retaliation for the subject of yesterday's post, I have nothing to add to this absolutely awesome spreading of British stereotypes, except a big THANK YOU to this man for making this fabulous video.

Check it out:

Friday 26 November 2010

Expats on TV?

What is it about Americans that make us fair game for jokes?  Is it "special relationship" between the US and UK that makes it funny rather than offensive to spread stereotypes about Americans?

I tuned into a new comedy show called The Increasingly Poor Decisions of Todd Margaret and was surprised to find the show is about an American salesman who moves to the UK to sell an American energy drink in the UK.  As you can imagine, it is full of jokes at the expense of the American character not understanding the "British way" of doing things, including him trying to make a reservation for dinner at a neighbourhood pub and making a dick out of himself when he shows up (in typical 1800's England garb) asking for his reserved table.

I tried (I really tried) to not be offended by this show and see the humour in it, but reinforcing the same stereotypes over and over again are not really funny or unique. I realize I am probably not the best audience for this show since the character's experiences (being an expat at least) are a bit too familiar, but if you are going to produce a show like this, I really suggest you come up with a few more "American characteristics" to exploit.

Here's an episode if you have a more forgiving sense of humour than me and want to check it out for yourself.  (you have to watch a bit of advertisement at the beginning)

Thursday 25 November 2010

Who goes there?

I came across an interesting article in the i newspaper today which reported a research group has discovered that 95% of Brits will open their front door to someone they don't know.  Note to unassuming British folk - this is not safe, especially now that any burglars who read the i know that there is only a 5% chance they will have to use force to break into your house - just a simple knock on the door and a bash over your head will give them access to all your jewels and computers.  

That being said, there is very much still a culture in which "just popping 'round" is acceptable and even welcomed (not strangers particularly, but definetely with friends). This surprised greatly me when I first moved here - I remember looking to my husband expecting to see my own confusion mirrored on his face when someone would come over unannounced AND uninvited, but he would just greet them as he'd been expecting them and invite them in.  I would wait for them to explain the reason (and it better be good) for unexpectedly knocking on my door making themselves a part of our day or evening, but it never happened.  My husband never asked "so what are you doing here?" or "what do you want?" nor was the cliche "I was just in the neighborhood" excuse given.  No one asked, no one explained, they just carried on as if the visit was planned. 

I'm not saying I'm offended or upset when people "pop 'round", but what if we had been doing something - Playing Monopoly?  Eating dinner?  Engaging in naked activities?   Then what?   Would you be expected to open the door anyway and turn your visitors away?   Its all very strange to me and something I will never feel comfortable with no matter how long I live here.

Not surprisingly, the article goes on to say that two-thirds of people in London "feel annoyed" when they hear an unexpected knock at the door compared to only 15% in the North-East.   Count me in the London batch;  if you want to come visit, call me first and ask me if its ok - its just good manners!

(speaking of good manners, meet Miss Manners and take a look at her books.  She even has one called Star-Spangled Manners: In Which Miss Manners Defends American Etiquette (For a Change).  This would make a perfect Christmas gift for LadyLiberty in case anyone was wondering what you should by me.. er.. her)

Monday 22 November 2010

Pop Quiz Monday

Kim @ Pass The Potatoes tagged me for this project (doesnt that sound more grown up than "quiz" or "survey"?).   I realized I simply wasnt interesting enough to have entertaining answers for most of the questions, so I only answered one, but its a three parter!

oh but first the rules:
1. Link to the person who tagged you.
2. Paste these rules on your blog post.
3. Respond to the following prompts. (as I said, I only did one, but you can go to Kim's blog to see what the actual questions were supposed to be if you want to answer them)
4. Add a prompt of your own and answer it. ( I skipped this cause I'm a lazy cheater)
5. Tag a few other bloggers at the bottom of the post.
6. Leave "Tagged You" notices on their blog/Facebook.
7. Let the person who tagged you know when you've written the post.

Ok, now here we go...
If you could’ve written any book, directed any movie, and composed any song, which three would you pick:

: I dont write books and would never have the attention span to do it, but if could choose one that I would have liked to have written, it would be Walden.  No, I dont want to live in a cabin in the woods, but I would love to be able to claim the beautiful passages in that book as my own.  Never read Henry David Thoreau?  Put down your Twilight and go read a real book right this instant!  That's an order!

MovieTerminator 2 - I can recite this movie from start to finish.  Defintely one I could direct!

DR SILBERMAN:  (when asking Sarah to "remember" Judgement Day) I'm sure it feels very real to you
SARAH:  On August 29th 1997 its going to feel pretty fucking real to you too.  Anybody not wearing 2 million sunblock is gonna have a real bad day, get it?  God you think you're safe and alive?? You're already dead.  Him, you, you're dead already.  This whole place everything you see is gone.  You're the one living in a fucking dream Silberman cause I know it happens! It happens!

Ps.  have you seen John Connor lately??  What a shame

Song: Pearl Jam - Footsteps.  Easy one. The best song of all time -simple and understated, but so powerful.  I love it.

Maybe Laura and Michelle would like to have a go? 

Friday 19 November 2010

British Stuffs Review: Pasties

If you are like me when first coming to England, you may be thinking "pasties?! why is she reviewing nipple coverings?".   Don't worry - I'm not.

In this instance, pasties is the plural of pasty, pronounced past-ey rather than paste-ey.   (However, if this clarification has disapointed you and you are in the market for some nipple pasties, take a gander here.) But on to the real pasty (past-ey)... The best way I can describe a pasty to someone who has not yet had one  is that they are very similar to a calzone in that it is a semi-circle shaped pastry with filling inside.  You know, like a pizza thats been folded up on it's self.

Traditional Cornish Pasty
 We'll talk fillings in a moment, but first, some history:  According to Wikipedia: "Tradition claims that the pasty was originally made as lunch ('croust' or 'crib' in the Cornish language) for Cornish tin miners who were unable to return to the surface to eat. The story goes that, covered in dirt from head to foot (including some arsenic often found with tin), they could hold the pasty by the folded crust and eat the rest without touching it, discarding the dirty pastry. The pastry they threw away was supposed to appease the knockers, capricious spirits in the mines who might otherwise lead miners into danger. Pasties were also popular with farmers and labourers, particularly in the North East of England, also a mining region."  Thank you, Wikipedia.

As we discussed previously with Stilton cheese, certain foods which have strong roots in a certain geographical area can be granted what is called  Protected Geographical Indication (PGI) status.  In 2002, the Cornish Pasty Association applied for such status for the Cornish Pasty and are still waiting for a response from the European Commission.  If PGI status is granted, it would mean only pasty manufacturers who are based in Cornwall and who follow the traditional method and recipie would legally be able to call their products Cornish pasties.

Outside Cornwall, you can get a pasty filled with just about anything, but the ingredients are usually hearty choices such as meats and potatoes (although many versions of vegetarian pasties are readily available as well).  Don't tell the purists at the Cornish Pasty Association, but I even spotted a Christmas Dinner pasty at Waitrose this week!

As you can probably guess, the best way to eat a pasty is on the go.  In the car, on the train, on the Tube, while walking... the perfect pastry casing saves your shirt or lap from a yummy filling mess.

Want a fancy pasty?  I suppose you could put in our your finest china and eat with knife and fork, but that kind of defeats the purpose, doesn't it?

British Stuffs Rating: 4/5 Paddington Bears

Christmas Sushi?
  ... and in kinda-related-but-not-interesting-enough-for-its-own-post news:  YO! Sushi has unveiled their Christmas dishes, including a full YO! Sushi style Christmas dinner Turkey Katsu, sage & onion stuffing sushi roll; a twist on Devils on Horseback featuring dates wrapped in streaky bacon (pictured) alongside a red current jelly dip and a tasty Mince Pie Mochi: a delicious rice cake filled with festive mince pie and white chocolate ganache.  I've not tried any of these merriments, but feel safe to classify this as EW! Sushi.  No thanks.

Important Announcement

In an effort to provide a bit of respite from the inundation of the irritating minutia surrounding the Royal Wedding, I am officially declaring this blog to be a William and Kate-Free Zone!  The inescapable media coverage will only get worse as we get closer to the wedding and will continue long after.  I dread the day Waity Katie is spotted at a dress store, and shudder at the thought of all the wannabes who will undoubtedly model their own weddings after someone they have never and will never meet.  A Royal Wedding, while romantic to those who still daydream of becoming a Princess, is entirely inconsequential to the real lives of the majority of the people of this country and I, for one, refuse to be sucked in.

Congratulations to the happy couple, but may I suggest elopement?

Tuesday 16 November 2010

Five things That Annoy Me About British People*

*This one requires a disclaimer.  I am going against my own advance and will be making sweeping generalizations in this post.  Please do not bother to comment about how the British person(s) you know does not do A, B, C or D.

1. British Newsreaders Pronounce Barack (as in Obama) Bear-ick.  What is this about!?  Its a man's name, you cannot decide on your own pronunciation for it or blame it on dialect or accent.  There is only one correct pronunciation and it is Bah-rock.  C'mon BBC - get it right.

2. "Cutesy" nicknames and shortening of words.  I think its mostly British women who are guilty of this one as luckily, I have never heard my husband or any of his male friends do it, but I seem to hear women say do this all the time.  Examples include:  "piccy" (picture or photo), "footie" (football), "pressie" (present) and "brekkie" (breakfast).  And these are grown people saying these words to other grown people.  

3. The relationship with the average British person and sunshine.  Refer to my post on 4 October for a full discussion on this topic.

4. I hate (and yes, I know its a strong word) when British people return from vacation/holiday in Florida or California (since those seem to be vacation destinations of choice) and think they are an expert on American culture.  They come back spouting nonsense about things that Americans do and what its like in America not realizing there is an entire country in the middle of the two coasts that are NOTHING like the vacation superspots they may have visited.  Sorry, folks, but you have not seen America if you have just spent a week in Disneyworld. 

5. The British obsession with tea.  I'm not annoyed that most British people like tea, I'm annoyed that the British people I work with (and I am sure they aren't the only ones) drink tea all day long. I dont like the smell of tea, I don't like the arguments over who boiled the kettle last, I dont like the way that using the last of the water in the kettle without filling it up again is a crime punishable by death and I dont like the "milk police" who demand explanations from their office mates if they dare to use the skim milk and unbalance the carefully calculated milkman order.
Tea creates hostility, although you can you see from the photo on the right, some people disagree...

Monday 1 November 2010

Ideal Christmas Gift for the New UK Driver

When I was learning to drive on the "wrong" side of the road and the "wrong" side of the car, I developed a hate-hate (trust me, there was no love there) relationship with roundabouts.   Approaching a roundabout made me tense up and forget to breathe, watching other driver's consistantly misuse (or not use at all) of turn signals/indicators on roundabouts made me furious, and listening to my husband tell me how much better a roundabout is compared to a four-way stop in America almost made me a commit acts of domestic violence.  It took me far longer than it should to be able to manouver around a roundabout without coming to a complete stop before entering it and I still prefer a friendly four-way stop, but our relationship has improved with time and hopefully will continue to grow stronger with time.

I know I am not the only one who has roundabout anxiety, so if you have anyone in your life who is struggling to understand and appreciate the great British roundabout, perhaps they would enjoy the Best of British Roundabouts 2011 calendar, the latest offering from the UK Roundabout Appreciation Society  (honestly... I cant make this stuff up.)

While we're on the subject of roundabouts - how happy are you that you don't live in Swindon?   What's wrong with Swindon, you ask?  THIS is what's wrong with Swindon.  (Warning: images contained in the aforementioned link may not be appropriate for roundabout-fearing new drivers)

Thursday 28 October 2010

You Capture: Fall/Autumn

Fall (or Autumn as they seem to use exclusively in the UK) is my favourite time of year.
This is now my second Fall in England, but last year I was a bit overwhelmed with everything else happening (you know, that whole moving to another country thing) that I never really paid proper attention to the change in season.  This year, I'm realizing its really beautiful and love Fall more than ever.

I have seen these orange berries everywhere this Fall. 

I love all the different coloured leaves.

You can participate in You Capture too.  See what its all about here. 

Wednesday 27 October 2010

Only in Britain (and Ireland in this instance): Christmas in a Pot

Come Christimas time, I am always on the look out for interesting Christmas versions of normal food products, and this one is a new one on me:  Christmas dinner flavoured Pot Noodles (British equivilant of Cup Noodles) called Pot Noeldle have hit the shelves!  
According to the Pot Noodle people, the flavour is "fusion of turkey and stuffing with all the trimmings".  Ew, but awesome!  

Oh and 2p from every pot sold will go to the Royal Air Force's Miles More Minutes programme which raises money to give troops serving overseas more telephone time with their families, so you can try them out AND do a good deed... isnt that what Christmas is all about?

Tuesday 26 October 2010

Who Said License Plates Are Boring?

I mentioned in my post on 26 September  that I am glad I'm not an expat in China as I imagine it would be a billion times harder than it is in the UK (and even more crowded!).  There are so many things that, in my opinion, would be much harder to get your head around.  We've already discusssed the food, and now I've just come across this article which discusses one of the many Chinese superstitions.  Interesting view from an expat in China, but its not actually the superstitions that I'm interested in - its the newsworthy part of the article:  As of October 20, 2010, China will not be issuing number plates with the number 4 on them.

Very lucky Chinese license plate
The article's author, Peter Foster, explains the number 4, when spoken in Chinese, is similar to the word "death" and is considered highly unlucky.   He also mentions that in Bejing there is a traffic limiting programme which assigns each day of the week a number and if your number plate ends in that number, you are forbidden to drive that day.  Apparently, the day that bans 4 is heavily congested since people avoid having 4 on their plate, but the day that bans 8 is not nearly as congested since 8 is the number of good fortune and many people choose to have it on their number plate.   Wait... You're bored aren't you?   You don't really care about license/number plates in China or any other country do you?

It's time I make a confession to my ultimate nerd obsession.  I am obsessed with UK number plates (or registration plates as they are officially called). Why would I care about UK number plates, you ask?  Because they tell secrets and can sometimes cost more than a car!

The secrets:  Any UK number plate issued after December 31, 1999 tells you the age of the car and where it was registered.  This is where the nerd part kicks in - I am constantly looking at the age of people's cars and scowling at those who have the newest ones.  Here's how it works:  Current number plates that are not personalized ones always have seven characters.  They will begin with two letters, then two numbers, then a space then three letters.  The two letters at the beginning tell you where the car was first registered and the numbers will tell you the date the car was originally registered (i.e. the age of the car). The last three letters are completely random.
To tell where your car was "born", here is the list of memory tags.  Ages are recorded in two formats - if the car was registered between March and August, it will display the year clearly (01 for 2001, 05 for 2005, etc), but if the car was registered between September and February of the following year, it will display the year plus 50 (58 for 2008, 60 for 2010, etc).  

In the example below, the car was registered in Birmingham and was registered between September 2001 - February 2002, which would make the car a 2001 model.
Unlike American license plates, UK number plates stay with the car for the life of the car unless someone wants a personalized plate which brings me to the next cool thing about number plates. 

The ££:  My mom once had a personalized license plate that read ND FAN and referred to her love of Neil Diamond. Unfortunately for any Neil Diamond fans in the UK, this plate is not allowed.  Personalized plates in the UK must have a combination of letters and numbers which means that people have to be a bit more creative if they want to display their name or other popular choices.  
There are some commonly accepted numbers that take the place of letters - a 4 is an A (probably not if you are Chinese), a 3 is an E,  a 5 is an S and 7 is a T.   So, if my name was Sarah, I could have a plate that read "54RAH" and most people would know what I meant.  However, any Sarahs out there would need to not only find the owner of that plate currently, but would have to have a LOT of money if they wanted to tell the world their name of the back of their car. Personalized plates like that or something "cute" like K155 ME are often sold by their original owner either on one of many websites or through auctions and can fetch big bucks...really big bucks!  
I just found the plate reading ROS 5 (Ross) for sale on a website for an astonishing £535,500.  If this was sold at this price, it would be a new UK record.  The most expensive plate sold in the UK was " F 1" (as in Formula One racing) which sold for £440,625.

Here's some other pricey plates:
"1 D"       £325,411
"VIP 1"    £285,000
"1 HRH"  £113,815

See... aren't licence plates cool?  :)

Friday 22 October 2010

Who's Coming For Dinner

Laura at Happy Homemaker UK posted a little game on her blog today asking what famous people you would invite to dinner. I've always struggled with this question, but I am giving it a shot today and limiting myself to living famous people.  Who wants a dead person at their table?  You'd have to struggle all evening to keep them up-right like in Weekend at Bernie's.

You can play along with Laura too by checking out her fantastic blog.

1. The "everything" one - Bill Clinton  (thats an easy one.  Bill is always invited to any event of mine)

2. The funny one - Karl Pilkington  (Seriously, if you have not seen any of An Idiot Abroad, stop what you are doing and watch an episode this instant)

3. The thought-provoking one - Peter Singer  (My idol.  The man who says everything I wish I could say when challenged to a debate with my Father-in-law)

The Lovely Betty White
4.The "because I couldnt have a dinner party with me and five men" one -  Betty White. (C'mon. Who wouldnt want to have Betty White at their dinner party? Imagine the stories she could tell.)

5. The wild card - Prince Phillip ( You never know what might come out of his mouth. To my American friends - he's the Queen's husband and always says the absolute most inappropriate things to pretty much everyone he meets. A must have at any dinner party.)

Wednesday 20 October 2010

Mythbusting: British People Have Bad Teeth

With the recent revelation that Kanye West has replaced his bottom row of teeth with diamonds because "diamonds are cooler" (Extra, extra: Read all about it), I was reminded of yet another pervasive myth surrounding British people - they all have bad teeth.   I can see you nodding your head now... yes, you have heard this one.

Let's start here:  Perhaps you know this man? 

Ok, so clearly Simon's teeth have had a the Hollywood Treatment, but honestly, Brits and their teeth have a bad rep.

The truth is that dental care is not covered by the National Health Service (NHS) for most people. There are exceptions which include pregnant women and children, but most adults (unless on income support) are responsible for paying for their own dental care. 
If you're an American, you're probably wondering what this has to do with anything, but in a culture where people are used to having free medical care provided by the NHS, the idea of paying for what can be classified as medical proceedures seem entirely foreign and people are often unwilling, or some unable, to do it.  The fees are actually quite low at NHS dentists vs private dentists (a crown or even braces would cost only £198) but I have heard, although not experienced personally, that they are waiting lists for many NHS dentists miles long and that even once you register as a patient appointments are hard to come by.

So there actually is a reason and maybe even a twinge of truth about this stereotype in older generations of Britons, but its really time to put this myth to bed once and for all... after we play a fun game!
The teeth below belong to British celebrities.  Play along. Who's teeth are these?
Teeth A
Teeth B

Teeth C

Teeth D

Monday 18 October 2010

Cher, Madonna and Prince William?

What do Cher, Madonna and Prince William have in common?
Unless Prince William has hidden song and dance skills, the only thing which could be said about all three of them is that they don't use a surname (last name). Now everyone knows that Madonna's surname is actually Ciccone, and a few people may know that Cher's surname was (before it was legally dropped) Sarkisian LaPiere, but what is William's surname? Surely he must have one... mustn't he?
I asked my British born husband for clarification and was surprised that he looked perplexed. I assumed this would be an easy answer for a person who'd spent many a year in a COE school and thinks that Liz is the "most beautiful woman in the world", but he did have to do a bit of thinking. His final answer was one I thought was a cop out, but is actually true - Royals don't have legal surnames.   "But what about William and Harry when they are serving in the military?  They can't be called Lieutenant Prince William, can they!?"  Either unsure or not up for a complex explaination to an ignorant American, he told me to look it up.  So I did, and here's the low down:

Prior to 1917 surnames, when rarely used, were those of the father's house or dynasty, so for this reason Queen Victoria's eldest son Edward VII belonged to the House of Saxe-Coburg-Gotha (the family name of his father Prince Albert). Edward VII's son George V became the second king of that dynasty when he succeeded to the throne in 1910.   In 1917, George V, in response to the the anti-German sentiment of many British people during this time declared the official British Royal Family's surname to be Windsor

Fast forward to 1960 ...  Queen Elizabeth and Prince Phillip decided that they wanted their direct decendants to be futher distinguished and through an Order-in-Council designated Mountbatten-Windsor as the personal surname of their decendants. To further complicate the matter, according to the Wikipedia entry,  "the only people who would officially hold the surname under the Order-in-Council would be any male-line great-grandchildren of the Queen in cadet branches; i.e., the children of any sons of the Duke of York and Earl of Wessex. Similarly, in the event that any male-line granddaughter of the Queen were to have a child whilst unwed, such a child might have the surname of Mountbatten-Windsor. The surname applies to any male-line descendants of The Queen and Prince Philip who do not hold the style of Royal Highness and rank of Prince/Princess of the UK."

Apparently, William and Harry (whos legal names are Prince William of Wales and Prince Henry of Wales) have at some point used the Mountbatten-Windsor surname, but it appears they too find this a bit confusing (or perhaps pretentious?) and both Princes reportedly used Wales as their surnames and were referred to as Officer Cadet Wales during their time at Sandhurst.  Princess Eugenie of York and Princess Beatrice of York (Sarah "Fergie" Ferguson's* daughters) have also chosen this option and use York as their surnames.

Phew!  Now don't say I never taught you anything.

*Don't let Fergie's surname confuse you - she is a Ferguson because she married into the family.  Same with Diana, who's legal name was Diana Spencer.  You don't get to take the Windsor/Mountbatten-Windsor/York/Wales surname with you after divorce.

Thursday 14 October 2010

You Capture: Animals

My beautiful dog. 
Compassion for animals is intimately connected with goodness of character; and it may be confidently asserted that he who is cruel to animals cannot be a good man. 
--Arthur Schopenhauer (philosopher)

Wednesday 13 October 2010

British Stuff Review: Yorkshire Pudding

I was very surprised to discover that in America, of all places, today is National Yorkshire Pudding Day.  Do people even eat Yorkshire pudding in America?  I never did!   My first introduction to Yorkshire pudding was at my first Sunday roast, so in my blog that makes it a British Stuff!

Yorkshire pudding, despite its name is not a pudding in the British (as in dessert) or American (as in creamy sweet goodness) sense, but rather a baked savoury bread-like dish often served with gravy poured inside the concave middle.  Not surprisingly, they get their name from their place of origin - Yorkshire.  Duh.

Traditional Yorkshire Pudding
Apparently, Yorkshire pudding was originally called Dripping Pudding and used as a first course filler for poorer people who could not afford much meat. (and now they are an excellent filler for vegetarians who do not want said meat!)   The original recipie called for the fat of the meat being served which was drained into the batter as the meat was cooked. The batter was then poured into a single baking tin and sliced to make individual servings.

"Modern" Individual Yorkshire Pudding
Most modern recipies list the fat drippings as optional and the batter is poured into muffin tins to make individual Yorkshire puddings that resemble mini bread bowls (which for the record have lower fat content, but are much less filling which defeats the original purpose of the dish as discussed earlier) and are served with the main meal, not as a starter.

Due to the fact that the modern version varies greatly from the original, there is some controversy (yes, people actually debate this stuff) regarding what constitues a real Yorkshire pudding.  The British Royal Society of Chemistry has declared, from a chemical point of view, that a Yorkshire pudding should have a minimum height of 4 inches.  They even issued a press release outlining their findings and disclosing the "perfect recipe".

I am sure you are wondering, "what is LadyLiberty's favourite kind of Yorkshire Pudding?"  Yorkshire tradionalists look away now, but I like good 'ol Aunt Bessie (aka frozen ones that require no baking, unless you consider heating up in the oven to be baking).

How to eat:  I dont eat meat, so I obviously do not eat the roast beef and gravy that often accompany Yorkshire pudding, but I do put horseradish on my  puddings and they are delicious!   If you are lucky enough to have some left over (which is rare indeed), spread some jam on them for midnight snack! Yum Yum.

British Stuff Rating:  4/5 Paddington Bears