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!