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

Monday 4 October 2010

Mythbusting: It Always Rains in England

I am sure you have heard this one.  Everyone has heard this one. Everyone even seems to believe this one, but this is one of the times that everyone is wrong.

A bit of background: I love rain.  I remember as a kid, my cousin and brother and I would do rain dances on the driveway and celebrate when the skies opened.  So, the promise of continuous rain was a major bonus for me moving to England.  Now that I have lived here for more than a year and have worked my way through the months, I kept waiting for the season that brought all the rain. I waited and waited and was disappointed when in month 12, I had witnessed all the seasons and they all let me down.  Where was the rain that everyone warned me about?

Before I further explore this myth, I should mention that this is a unique one because its not just people who are unfamiliar with England who believe it "always" rains, but the majority of British people seem to believe it as well and are deeply affected by the weather.  My experience has been that when the clouds and eventual rain roll in, an unmistakable melancholia seems to set over the majority of the population.  When I have asked my work colleagues for the reason behind their moods, they have not blamed that particular day's rain for their gloominess, but the fact that it rains so frequently.

In contrast, give the Brits a sunny day and they are practically skipping in the streets. They cheer up at the mere sight of sunshine as if they've all just won a part in a small lottery.
My desk at work is parallel to a window and in the late morning/early afternoon, the sun shines directly in my eyes painfully blinding me leaving me incapable of doing any work as I cannot see my computer screen (or anything else for that matter). When I close the blinds to save my already fragile eye sight, the Brits in the office groan collectively and ask every 15 mintues following the closure if the sun has moved enough for me to open the blinds. "Can't you just turn your body a bit so we can get some sunlight?" one asked. I look at her in disbelief through those white dots that mare your vision when bright lights have seared your retina and cannot believe that someone cares so much about sunshine.

So just how often does it rain?    

A very dedicated man named Andrew Leaper has been tracking rainfall totals for many many years and the chart below can be found on his website.   You will see this chart shows with the exception of 1992, all year's since 1984 have only managed under 35 inches of rain annually.

My good friend Wikipedia also offers some interesting charts and stats.  I imagine it will surprise many people that there are only an average of 131 days per year with >1cm of rainfall.  That's only 1/3 of the year.  Do I have any math majors out there?   Is 1/3 of the time really enough to be "always" and to be such a pervasive myth?  What about the psychological impact?  Is 131 days of rain really enough to cause a legitimate mood swing?   I say no. I think the idea that is "always" rains is so just widely accepted that everyone believes it and acts on their belief rather than the truth. Maybe there's even a form of camaraderie that goes along with complaining about something which affects everyone.

For all of you feeling blue due to the last few rainy days, lets put things in perspective...  The rainiest places in the world include Tutunendo, Colombia where they get 463.4 inches of rain per year and Mount Wai-'ale'ale on the island of Kauai, Hawaii where it rains an average of 350 days a year.  That's right - rain 96% of the time compared to England's measly 36% rainy days.  Now that's "always"!  
Did you know England isn't even the rainiest place in Europe?   Crkvica, a small town near Sarajevo, Bosnia averages an impressive 180 inches per year;  that's five time more than the rainiest year in England since 1984.   Need I say more? 

Saturday 2 October 2010

British* Stuff Review: Stilton

Welcome to my new series - British* Stuff Review. Here, I will give my opinion (and ask for yours) on stuff to which I have been newly introduced since moving to England.

*Not all "stuffs" will be quintisentially British, nor am I implying that because I eat/buy/use/enjoy said "stuffs" that all British people do. Please dont bother to tell me that you tried/saw/ate/bought such and such stuff when you were in America or elsewhere, so it's not really a British thing. I'm not claiming everything I review is ONLY British, but they are things I was only introduced to after moving to England (as stated above) and things other expats are likely to experience as well. Ready now? Ok, read on...

It may not be pretty, but its delicious!
Today's British Stuff is Stilton Cheese!

Stilton is a strong smelling, strong flavoured, crumbly cheese that comes in blue and white varieties.  Kind of like how real Champagne must come from the Champagne region of France, Stilton cheese has been granted the status of Protected Designation of Origin from the European Commission.  There are only six dairies in the world (all of them in the English counties of Nottinghamshire or Leicestershire) which can produce Stilton cheese. For the record:  Stilton can also be produced in Derbyshire, but there are no dairies there currently. The six dairies are subject to regular inspection to ensure they are producing quality cheese.  Wikipedia claims that Gorgonzola is similar to Stilton, and I suppose in a stretch, I would agree with that but Stilton definitely has a distinct flavour unlike any other cheese I have tasted.

How to eat:  I was first introduced to Stilton as part of a Ploughman's lunch, and it was love at first taste.  I think Stilton is best eaten with pickle (not a pickle as in picked cucumber like that big stork sells, but pickle as in Branston's Pickle, which is kind of-sort of-not really-but can be compared to relish).   But, if you don't like pickle or are looking for something a bit more sophisticated, try Stilton with sliced pears - its delicious!  Throw a glass of white wine in the mix and happiness will ensue.  Trust me.

British Stuff Rating:  5/5 Paddington Bears