Friday 23 September 2011

British Stuffs Review: The British Alternatives Edition

As we have discussed a few times before, one of the first things any expat is faced with when they move to England (or anywhere else for that matter) is finding food products they are used to in the native country.  Instead of whining about it and searching high and low for the familiar products, I try to spend my energy finding easily available alternatives and have had varying degrees of success...

Miracle Whip
I don't know about you, but in my world, mayonnaise doesn't hold a candle to Miracle Whip, but in the British world, Miracle Whip doesn't exist.  So what's a tuna salad eater to do?   Try Salad Cream. Don't be alarmed by the colour -  it won't be lovely and white like Miracle Whip, nor is it quite a thick, but the taste is very similar.

Does it measure up?  In tuna salad, pasta salad, regular salad - yes.  On sandwiches - not so much.

{Insert the name of your favourite Mexican restaurant here}
I have blogged before about the expat's mission to find quality Mexican food in the UK, and then about how curry can actually cure your cravings for Mexican, but if you are still feeling deprived of your favourite Mexican restaurant, may I suggest Chiquito.  Yes, its a chain and yes it used to be really bland, but they have recently revamped their menu and either A) I have lived here too long and my taste buds aren't as refined as they once were or B) its actually good!

Does it measure up?  If you aren't "fresh off the boat" with the taste of Mexican spices still lingering on your tongue, then yes, it's a totally acceptable alternative and completely delicious!  May I recommend the sharing nachos?  (sharing optional and not recommended)

The "other" stuff
Kraft Macaroni and Cheese
Once upon a time (like back in 2009) you used to be able to buy blue box Kraft Mac and Cheese in Asda.  I don't know what happened, but at least in my area, it is no longer available.  However, you can sometimes find an alternative creatively named Cheesy Pasta. When I first spotted it, I figured it looks florescent orange, its also made by Kraft, it must be the same product, but to my tastebuds, it's not exactly.

Does it measure up?  Maybe it's just the colour of the box or maybe the recipe actually is different, but for me, its just not the same.  I still buy the real thing at the American food store near me.

Cool Whip
I am hoping someone will tell me that I am not the only person who can happily eat the majority of a tub of Cool Whip straight from the tub with a spoon (or finger in times of desperation)... After all, who said its only a topping?  It's a dessert on its own! ... and you can't buy it here.  Even in the various American food stores - its simply not available, which I am sure you will agree is a damn shame.   In my quest to find something else to top brownies and fill my lonely dessert spoon (aka the biggest spoon in the drawer), I was encouraged to try Dream Topping.  On the packet, it looks like it may be a suitable alternative, but to be honest, I never even got around to using it on any food because I couldn't get it to thicken and become fluffy like my old friend Cool Whip.  Maybe you're a better whipper than me and would  have better luck.

Does it measure up?  Hell no.  Stick with the spray whipped cream here.

Read more of my British Stuff Reviews here.

Sunday 18 September 2011

Would you put that in your pasty?

You may remember when I did my best to explain the pasty and mentioned a pasty can be filled with pretty much anything, but I had to do a double take when I saw this poster yesterday:

That's right - a breakfast pasty filled with beans and sausage.  Does this make anyone else but me want to barf?

Tell me - what would fill your dream pasty?

Wednesday 14 September 2011

Awesome New Thing: # 6

I suppose I should apologize - this week's thing isn't really "something new" per se, but it is totally awesome.  Forgive me?  Thanks.

Before I moved here, my husband always told me that British people have an unbeatable sense of humour... then he made me watch a Carry On film and I never beleived anything he told me ever again.

But then I heard about this recent occurance:  a man bought a sandwich at Marks and Spencer (think Target, but only about 60% as great and seemingly targeted at people at least 10 years older).    He was overcharged for the sandwich and wrote a letter to M&S customer service to request a refund.  He was told they would be sending him a gift card, but it never arrived.  Not one to give up, he wrote again this time requesting a "hand-drawn picture of a smiley dinosaur".  He expected his request to be ignored, but soon after, he recieved a £5 gift card in the post along with this -

How awesome is that?

Thursday 8 September 2011

Awesome New Thing of the Week: Week 5

I have been doing a lot of traveling this summer (more on that to come later) and have come across a fantastic new website for searching for hotels (and flights, too, but the hotel part is the awesome part) called

I know what you are thinking - "not another search site; they are all the same...", but wait, this one is different. I promise. (and no, I'm not being paid to write any of this)

If you are anything like me, you probably search on Kayak or Trivago or something for hotels you can afford, then you go to Trip Advisor and see if they are any good, right?   You look on Trip Advisor for key words like "clean", "helpful staff", "comfortable beds" and always "good location"... but then if you are even more like me, you start to wonder about the location part....  Did Alice from Geneva think the location was good because it was close to museums and art galleries when my "good location" would be close to restaruants and bars and other places where I could have a delicious drink at 11am because I'm on holiday?  

Here's where comes in - their map solves the age old problem of location, location, location by displaying a heatmap over the city map to show where certain types of things may be congregated.  Wow that's a shocking bad explaination - just look at the image below:

See the heat map hot spots?  I've asked it to show me where the bars and nightlife are in Oslo and now I can pick a hotel near one of the hot spots.  You can also ask it to show you where restaurants, shopping, general tourism sites (like landmarks and major attractions) and casinos are congregated and it will generate a different heat map for each category.  Awesome, eh?? 

I'm off to Oslo tomorrow - let's hope Hipmunk has advised me well!

Monday 5 September 2011

Fun with Conkers

I remember the day back in September 2009... I had just started my new job and was walking around the corner to the shop with my head down probably wondering that the hell I was doing here and if I'd ever remember to ask people for their surname rather than their last name when I noticed loads of spikey rounded "things" on the ground.  I wondered first if they were shells protecting a living thing like a tiny spikey shelled turtle, but when I gingerly picked one up, it was empty inside and I was perplexed. 
My spikey find
Image: mine
I took my spikey "thing" home to my husband and he infomed me it was the outside of a conker (a horse chestnut). They grow on trees and squirrels (and maybe birds?) eat the conker (its a seed really) inside and leave the spikey bits on the ground which is why I kept finding them empty...until today!

I have finally found a lovely whole conker in it's spikey shell!   Why is this exciting, you ask?  Because now I can play conkers!  Hooray! 

Oh yeah, I forgot to mention -  a conker is the seed inside a spikey shell that squirrels eat, but is also a game that children play with the seed part. To play conkers, you need a large whole conker (just the inside) which you will drill or skewer through. Then put a string through the hole and tie at the end creating a conker on a string.  Your opponent will have the same thing and one of you will hold your string at the top letting the conker dangle down while the other swings his and tries to smash yours to bits.   (just a side note, before this was properly explained to me, I thought kids played with conker still inside the spikey shell which I still think sounds a lot more exciting than the real version of the game!)

Conker swing in action
Image: Ashton Conker Club
Once you have defeated another conker, yours is upgraded to a one-er (one victory), and then the next win makes it a two-er and so on.  Also, if you beat another "ranked" conker, you take on their victories too - you keep your victories (two), take their victories (five) and then get a point for beating them (one) making you an eight-er.   Note: the conker adds up the victories, not the person!

Since my new conker hasn't beaten anyone, he's called a none-er.* Boo-hoo.  And here he is as found:

Conker hiding in his shell
Image: mine

Looks like a winner to me!  I peeled back the shell (its not really a shell since its quite soft, but I dont know what other word to use) to reveal this...

WTF mutated tiny twin testicular conkers?!  Those won't beat the kids on the playground!

Guess I'll keep looking.... My first game will have to wait.  I'll keep you posted.

*Regional verbage may vary

Thursday 1 September 2011

Awesome New Thing of the Week: Week 4

One thing most expats get very used to is traveling.  Back and forth, back and forth...

I have to say as much as I like going places, I hate the actual act of traveling - the actual process of getting to place A or B really irks me.  I hate it more and more each time and one of the biggest reasons is becuase people don't know how to properly board a plane.   They stop in the aisle for what seems like an hour figuring out where to put their carry-on luggage, opening the overhead storage compartments that have already been closed becuase they are full, struggling to lift their oversized/overweight bag completely oblivious to the fact that a line of about 20 people has formed behind them (even when I huff, puff and tut loudly in their direction).  Then, and only then do they notice that someone is sat in the middle seat when they need to get past them to the window, so they hold up the whole process even further while they stand in the aisle waiting for the person to move before they even begin to settle themselves in their assigned seat. 

Note to fellow travellers:  Get the hell out of the way!  Look if your path to your seat is clear immediately upon coming to your row, ask the person to move as you are messing with your bag(s), only pack a bag you can handle with ease, throw it up as quick as you can even if it isnt the compartment directly above you and sit your butt down.


Enter John Steffen, an American astrophysicist who has worked out a method to board a plane twice as fast as the currrent method.   He says people should enter the plane from the back, each taking a seat on every other row on one side of the plane first starting with the windows until every other window seat is full. Then do the same on the other side, then switch back to the first side to fill the remaining window seats and then back to the other side.  Once all window seats are filled, do the same for the middle seats and finally he aisles.  Three and a half minutes - done and dusted! 

See the Steffen method boarding process in action:

Sure you cant sit with your travel companions and people would no doubt mess it up and make an even bigger disaster out of this than the regular block method, but the fact that Mr. Steffen even did the research in the first place is this week's Awesome New Thing of the Week!