Last 4th of July I had only been in London about 3 weeks.  I was still shell-shocked and adjusting to my new life.  My furniture hadn't even arrived yet.  The Canadian and I spent the day at a fellow expat bloggers house having a grand time - in spite of the crappy weather (the sun did come out briefly but it was still pretty chilly) and eating fabulous food.

This year we decided to have a belated 4th of July party at our place on Saturday (the 7th), since, obviously, we didn't have the day off.  The weather was crappy again, but it was fun to be surrounded by amazing people and laughing a lot (a nice change from the norm.)

I must say, though, it was a bit strange to be celebrating our independence from England, while living in England. Especially as someone who, on both sides of my family, has numerous ancestors who were signers of the Declaration of Independence.  It felt a bit like it was a betrayal.  Fortunately, these days, the wars between America and England are long over and a bunch of good-humored expats from all over the world indulged a few Americans in celebrating the 4th.  As it happens, the party wound up being a bit of the United Nations as well, which was really quite fun.

The guest nationalities were as follows:
6 Americans
1 dual Canadian/American
1 Scot
4 Canadians
1 dual English/Australian
1 Maltese
1 dual Swedish/Portuguese (Madeiran Portuguese that is...)
2 South Africans

I had this vision when I moved here that I would acquire all of these English friends and I would meld seamlessly into the culture...but, that is not the case.  I used to feel frustrated that I couldn't find English friends (I have two -- both of whom were introduced to me by other people -- i.e. friends of friends) but I've learned to just find my friends where I can. 

It was funny too, because I wound up having a conversation with a Londoner (a friend of my sister's...she was in town) about my struggle.  He couldn't seem to process what I was saying, when I explained my struggle to find English friends.  He kept trying to tell me what I was doing wrong...the conversation went something like this:

T: How long have you lived here?
Me: Right at a year.
T: How are you liking it
Me: Well, like any expat experience there's good and bad...the city and the culture are amazing. I love the UK and the scenery and the small towns.  I love being so close to Europe. But, I struggle with finding friendships with the locals and I'd love to do more of that.
T: Well, do you have hobbies?  Maybe you can find people in your hobbies?
Me: Yes, well, my hobbies are reading, swimming and yoga...and travel.  So, somewhat solitary, which is certainly part of the problem, but I do try and get to groups to meet other people.
T: Well, have you tried x, y, z etc. etc.? 

Note: at this point in the conversation I was thinking...here I am, explaining to a good friend of my sister's (this guy stayed with my sister and brother-in-law for 3 weeks, is a published author, wrote a book about his experience in the U.S. -- AND his wife is American!!) and I'm sitting here telling him with all sorts of vulnerability that I'm struggling to find English friends, and he's pointing out what I'm doing wrong....instead of saying "My God, I am so sorry.  If I had known you were here, I would have taken you around to meet some of my friends.  In fact!! I'm having a party on Friday -- why don't you and your husband come?  Here, here's my number, let's have coffee", which is what I would have done -- and almost any reasonable American I know (crazies excluded).

And that, my friends, is the difference.  And it's not just America -- my Canadian friends are exactly the same way.  The moment I met them they immediately included me in every gathering.  And the South African ones.  And the Swedish/Portuguese.  Pretty much all of them.  And that's why my party was so international instead of local.  I would LOVE to have more English friends.  But when I meet them and talk to them, it appears to be a single instance -- and there are no "let's get together next week for coffee" or "you guys should totally go to this art opening with me and my wife"...except for my two friends whom I met through my good friends.  And I feel like maybe it's only because I was vetted first? 

Nonetheless, in spite of this horribly cold and wet summer, a large group of expats ate a lot of Tex-Mex and BBQ, and Peach Cobbler and Apple Pie.  And it felt a little bit like home.
 
Since this is what I do/eat every morning (after coffee), without deviation, and it was born in London, maybe it's time you heard about my favorite breakfast....

Awhile back I discovered my favorite breakfast of all time.  Like ever. In. The. World. Everyone who has visited me since my breakfast discovery has fallen in love with some aspect of this breakfast.  I'm telling you, it is like pillows of heaven dancing on your tongue.  Before I discovered this breakfast, sometimes I would eat eggs, or toast, or peanut butter on toast...or whatever.  But not now.  Now I would never miss this breakfast because it is so damn good.

I discovered it last September when the Canadian and I, and a friend of ours headed out to Bath for a weekend.  We stayed in a sweet little bed and breakfast that had, in addition to the usual 'full English' some yogurt and fresh fruit, which of course I ate because I've always loved yogurt and fruit.  

A side note about yogurt in England. I love yogurt, and generally thought that the States had a decent selection.  Uh. No.  The first time I went into a Waitrose (think, better than HEB not quite as good as Central Market) I saw four, very long, aisles of yogurt.  And I'm not talking strawberry and blueberry people, I'm talking 'champagne and rhubarb' flavors (for real, I tried that one.)  If you can name a flavor, they have it. Yogurt is like seriously a *thing* here.

So back at the bed and breakfast they had out this honey flavored yogurt and I tried that along with some various fruits and some granola...and it was like this incredible flavor explosion happened in my mouth and my brain.  I felt like I had won the taste lottery. 

And then I became obsessed with it -- until I realized I could just buy all of the ingredients really easily shopping online.  Oh, did you know I do my grocery shopping online?  I do.  It's awesome.  I mean seriously, can you imagine schlepping 15 bottles of wine for two miles?  Uh no.  Online grocery delivery is the greatest invention ever. 

So, here is the magic that is my yogurt concoction...and all of the ingredients come in neat little packages pictured below, delivered weekly to my doorstep.
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Yogurt, cream and honey are the ingredients. OMG, mouth orgasm.
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Pomegranate! I have only seen pom seeds (vs. the whole pom) once back in Texas in Whole Foods. Here, they're everywhere.
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This package from Waitrose has pineapple, mango and passionfruit. Yes, PASSIONFRUIT! It's everywhere here.
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A banana...mmmm.
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Annnnnd, the granola topping.
I have all of these ingredients in my fridge/pantry when visitors come.  And every single person has fallen in love with some part of it.  My friend Maggie thought the granola was seriously the best she'd ever tasted.  Jen ate the mango and pineapple every morning.  Laura and Julia had the yogurt and pomegranate and granola -- and Laura thought the yogurt was the best she'd ever tasted in her life.  And I eat all of it. All together. Every single morning.

I know I'm going on and on about it, but I look forward to this breakfast almost as much as coffee.  So there you have it.  My full English breakfast not a big fry up, but a bunch of healthy crap.

What do you eat for breakfast...or, if you're an expat, what have you discovered that you obsess over eating?
 
As I'm sitting here (drinking my coffee in bed, thanks to the Canadian who brought it to me), the Rotten One and I are staring out the window at the drizzling (and chilly) rain.  So much for a trek in Hampstead Heath and another day stuck inside for Rotten, which she is not pleased about these days.  The glorious sunshine I mentioned in my previous post has given way to dampness and gloom.

The perpetual rain, coupled with a really charming incident over the weekend, has soured my mood.  I've been  thinking about this 'incident' that happened and trying to shrug it off as some facet of human behavior that is irrational and therefore dismissable, but frankly, it hurt my feelings.

The story goes something like this:

Our landlord has been in London sprucing up the exterior of the house.  Sadly, he completely destroyed my gorgeous English garden (including removing my favorite purple butterfly bush) and has planted super boring, non-flowering plants. That garden, with all of its bright blooms and chaotic beauty, was one of the few things that I really loved about living in England and particularly this house.  Anyway, after that wake of destruction, the landlord decided to work on the front of our house.

The front walkway had some ugly terra cotta tiles and he decided to put in (far more attractive) black and white Victorian tiles.  I was totally on board with this as the house is a Victorian terraced house and that improvement would complement the style.  So he and a workman set about uprooting the tiles and blasting through the concrete underneath so that they could repave and put down the new tiles.  You can imagine that this created a lot of construction debris.  In order to get rid of it, he moved it to an (ostensibly) empty lot across the street. That was at 4 pm.

At around 6 pm, the Canadian and I are having dinner and drinks with friends and at 8 pm we're inside Fortune Theatre watching "The Woman in Black" (very spooky!).  We arrive home at 11 pm to see this:
Now, the thing at the very top of the picture (outlined in white) is our front door.  You can see that we clearly could not climb this mountain of garbage in order to reach our house and actually get inside.  Also, note, I am in high heels and a sparkly top and fancy shoes...

You can't see it in the above photo, but just to the left is our neighbors home and a low fence separates our houses.  So we go into their walkway and I sort of climb over the fence (in my heels) and land on some garbage and manage to get into the house.  After I go upstairs to change, I come back downstairs and open the door to stare at the huge garbage dump on my walkway and notice something beneath the debris.  I clear off some of the trash and see that, whomever did this, left a charming message (as if the pile of trash wasn't message enough) carved into the newly poured concrete.
The "c" was cut off in the photo, but, it says "C-U-N-T-S" (just in case you missed that...).  Yep. That's what it says. 

Now y'all. If someone had dumped trash on my lot, I might have moved it back over to their house.  I also probably (before-hand) would have knocked on their door and politely told them that my yard is not their dumping ground.  But not even at my angriest and most confrontational would I write that word in someone's concrete. That is the height of passive-aggressiveness and frankly crudity. 

First of all, the Canadian and I didn't do anything to this person.  I mean, nothing.  We didn't even ask for the front walk to be renovated.  This was 100% our landlord.  Our landlord started the construction, poured the concrete and moved the trash across the street.  We had zero to do with any of it.  And yet, this person jumped to conclusions and reacted to misguided information and just went off on some insane tangent directed at us.

As it turns out (after talking to the landlord) the guy found the landlord's phone number in the trash and called him (thinking he lived in our house) and told him off, saying that everyone thought his yard was a rubbish lot. Now, I am relatively certain that a $5.00 sign saying "Private Property, No Dumping" might cure people of those assumptions and thus would avoid having to spend time carving angry messages in your neighbor's concrete.  But really, that just seems simple and maybe this guy likes his passive-aggressive behavior.

Regardless, because it has been raining, no one has fixed our little concrete billboard announcing to the world that the residents of this house are the vernacular (and crude) word for female genitalia.  Good times, y'all, good times.
 
I cannot emphasize how gray and rainy it has been since April 1.  Cold, drizzling, gray rain.  Miserable, wet, windy rain.  As it turns out, this April was the wettest April on record EVER in the United Kingdom...and it didn't help my mood that the there were constant cries in the UK that there was a massive drought occurring. 

I finally asked a friend of mine about this very, very wet drought and she responded that the rain was apparently 'the wrong kind of rain'.  Of course it is.
And then it rained some more, the first three weeks of May, in fact.  And I was seriously about to lose the last shred of sanity that I had managed to duct tape together. 

But then, suddenly, magically, it was 40 degrees one day and 80 the next (literally).  And the last two days, it has been truly glorious.  I mean, y'all, I was sweating.  I *never* sweat in London. And I wore my tank tops!! Which had been sadly shoved to the back of a drawer, a memory of what it felt like to be warm and happy.

And I loved it so much.  I didn't realize how depressed by the weather I had become until I felt the heat on my cheeks.  It felt like I was finally coming out of the darkness. 

It's supposed to be this gorgeous for the next 10 days and beyond.  I wonder how many parks I can pack into one day?  I plan on spending days lounging in the sun with a good book in all of London's gorgeous parks...my reward for not turning into a homicidal maniac for the last seven weeks.  I think that's a fair trade!
 
I haven't been blogging since I was back in the States -- as it happened I was swamped with running back and forth between Austin and New Orleans (and everything in between).  Trying to see everyone and do everything, and train for a race.  And then I returned to England in late March and 10 days later had our first of what is to be a lot of guests over the next six months. And I've been working on my dissertation.  And when I write a lot for my 'work' life, my recreational writing suffers.

The other thing that I've noticed about myself is that writing is a catharsis...so I write when I *need* to say something because internally I can't process it, and it's stuck in a loop in my brain.  Spilling it out on (figurative) paper, is my way of processing something externally when I just can't make it happen with my internal tools.  So, a lot of my early writing on this blog was me trying to work through what it meant to move and adjust to England.  And now that I'm moved, and fairly adjusted, I don't feel as compelled to write anymore, because I'm not struggling nearly as much.

But, that doesn't mean I'm giving up on the blog, it just means it will be more sporadic. 

Last night a group of 10 of us went to dinner and I was chatting with one of my pals (we'll call her Jackie) who is dating a lovely and hilarious Scotsman (we'll call him Ian).  Jackie was telling me a story -- that one of their friends (a North American...not sure if this woman was American or Canadian) went on a rant for over an hour about how much she hated living the UK.  Now, Ian is the quietest, most mild mannered guy in the world, so the fact that he would ever say anything means that this woman had WAY overdone her raging about life in the UK.  Finally after having heard enough bashing about his home country he said "If you hate it so much, go home".

Interestingly enough, I said those very words to a couple of Canadians whom I knew 10 years ago who were friends of my Canadian.  They spent an hour telling me how evil the United States was, and how it made them sick to live here "to be a cog in this evil machine" as they put it...ironically then telling me how they could never make this much money back in Canada and how there just weren't jobs in their field and how beautiful it was in Austin and how amazing the people and the food was.

As someone who taught political science for five years I can stand in the middle of a political discussion with a pretty level head, advocate for both sides of any story and see both sides pretty easily.  In fact, I've been accused of sometimes being a fence sitter when people really want me to take a stand on an issue that has two vehemently opposing sides.  But that was my job, to present to my students an impartial and unbiased look at politics (at least as much as possible).  My point is, I can take a LOT of bashing about the U.S., because I see where people are coming from, and many of the points that they make, I agree with.

But. You can only call my people evil so many times without me finally saying "If it's so bad, then seriously, go home".  I was born in the U.S. and a lot my friends and family are Americans.  And to judge a country by the politicians that run for office (and make our laws) is a gross over simplification of a country.  God knows, I don't think Italians are as morally bankrupt as Berlusconi.  And I sure as hell never thought Iraqis were anything like Saddam Hussein. 

Running for office, in America, is a self-selecting position, and people who self-select are generally characterized by some amount of narcissism, power-hunger, and a moral compass that might be non-existent.  We can't always help who runs for office and most of us believe we're voting (however we vote) for the lesser of two evils -- and hope we're right.

Now, wrapping this back around to where I was originally going; I've been trying really hard to not UK bash these days.  Because (I tell myself) if I hate it so much, then I just need to leave.  And I really don't hate it -- not at all.  In fact, going back to my original story, after Jackie told her story about this ranting girl I heard myself say "You know, I think I'm 60/40 in favor of the UK!".  If you'd asked me a year ago, I would have said it the other way around. I like it 20% more than I did when I first moved here...and that's kind of cool.  I'm glad it's growing on me.

In all honesty, however, it's easier for me to find things wrong with London than the UK as a whole.  In fact, when I'm out of London, I really love this country.  The Canadian and I recently hiked the West Highland Way and the people who were the friendliest kindest people on the trek, who always had a nice word, or would stop and talk to us or lend us a hand when we needed it were the Scots.  They so reminded me of Texans -- genuinely warm and friendly.

I've started noticing lately when looking up a hotel or restaurant on Tripadvisor and I see a place with excellent reviews, and then one bad one, almost inevitably it's a Londoner.  And I think being surrounded by so much negative energy drags down my general love of the UK.  I can't tell you how many people on the West Highland Way told us (when we told them we lived in London) that, "if you died in London, people would just step over you".  So, at least I'm not alone in my sentiment of being frustrated with this city.

All of that said, I'm continuing to try and find the really great things about London.  And I'm not really struggling with adjustment anymore.  Which is the really long way of saying, that's why I haven't needed to blog as much, because I'm past the part where I needed to blog in order to get my emotions somewhere other than inside me.  Which is a good thing.
 
You know what's awesome? Proper Tex-Mex.
And driving a car everywhere.
And seeing friends and family.
And iced-friggin-tea.
And cheap pedicures.
And 75 degree days.
And cheap restaurant food.

And clothes/shoes that fit. And are half the price of London. 

You know what's not awesome?  Being away from the Canadian and the Rotten one.  That makes everything else not as awesome. 

But still. ICED TEA. Y'all.

 
One week from today I leave to go to Texas for 2 months.  TWO WHOLE MONTHS!!!

It started as going down there because of the Canadian - his work has an annual company gathering and they are paying to send us back for that.  Then that coincided with some meetings I needed to have in New Orleans with my committee.  All of which coincided with London's winter.

Now here's what I'm learning about winter here.  I (in my naivete) thought that winter in London was like Seattle...drizzly, gray, overcast.  That is the kind of weather for which I prepared.  What I did NOT prepare for was the WINDS. I didn't even understand what the word blustery really meant until I moved here.  I can handle the rain. and the cold....but the WIND.  I've been been blown backwards more than a few times by the 65 mph gusts...

So, needless to say, I'm not sad about leaving the wind for eight weeks. That's the Good. Eight weeks of TexMex, Poboys, warm weather, spice in my food (I have SO missed spicy food), and my FRIENDS.  Cannot wait to see everyone!

The Bad:  I will *really* miss the Canadian.  Even though for the 5 years before we moved to London, the Canadian was gone almost every week, I've now become used to him being around all the time and it's going to be hard not to see him for eight weeks. 

The Ugly:  We've had quite a bit of sad news around here the last few weeks.  On Christmas Eve the Canadian's grandad went into the hospital with a stomach virus.  He'd been really ill for several days and was dehydrated and disoriented.  The Canadian's grandmother called an ambulance to take him to the hospital because she could no longer care for him at home and he was deteriorating.

On New Years Eve, he passed away in the hospital.  To make matters worse, two days ago, the Canadians grandmother had a heart attack.  Not really surprising since she's always had a weak heart, and her husband of 65 years just passed away.  The good news is, she had the heart attack in her heart doctor's office.

I mean, if you're going to have a heart attack, I'd say the cardiologist's office is probably the best place to have it right?  All things considered...

So, she's in the hospital right now but it's rough going for everyone while we wait for next steps.

The good news is, when I get back to London in mid-March, it will be almost springtime, and the sun will set MUCH later than 3:45 pm (yes, you read that correctly...3:45 pm!!!!!!!!!) 


 
I seriously deserve the bad blogger award...especially since I've completely missed my one year blogaversary (November 19th!!!).  After exams I curled up in the fetal position and watched Mad Men for days -- which is amazing and horrifying all at once.  I finally heard that I passed (HURRAY!!!) So...now onto all that dissertation nonsense. No big deal...just a book of original research. Meh.

After exams then I had friends in town, then Thanksgiving, then a quick trip to Frankfurt to visit the Christmas markets, and then we left for our current trip (Poland, Slovakia, Austria, Czech Republic and Germany)...so, I've just been a crappy blogger.  And I haven't even been reading my friend's blogs!!!  Must fix all of this immediately!!

So, anyhoo, it's kind of time for an 'expat update' don't you think?  Back in February of 2010, I did a "28th Things I want to Do in London", so here's the update on how all of that is going:

Here's the list and my updates (green is what I've done...red, not so much - YET!!):

Part 1:
1) Portobello road --yep!! Wandered it a few weeks ago with the Canadian.
2) The Free Museums --
yes! I've already visited the British Museum, the Tate Modern, the War Museum and the Victoria and Albert Museum.  Still have a few more to go, but, I'm making my way through them.
3) Christmas Eve at Westminster Abbey --
no, because we're traveling this year.  I'll be in Berlin!
4) Watch a football (soccer) game --
not yet, but soon!  My local team, the Queen's Park Rangers are REALLY good and I want to go cheer them on!
5) The Parks --
definitely!  I go to my local park, Queen's Park, almost every day.  I've also been to Hyde Park, St. James Park, Highgate Wood, Hampstead Heath, and a few others.  I love the parks!!
6) The Theatre --
ergh.  Not yet.  I need to get on this!
7) Sunday roast --
oh hell yes.  I highly recommend Bachus, I am fairly certain it has the best Sunday Roast in town!

Part 2:
8) Kew Gardens -- yep!  Visited, and it was gorgeous!
9) Tango lessons -- not yet, I had forgotten about this one, so I need to check this out.
10) Kayak/Canoe the River Thames -- this will probably not happen until spring when it's warmer.
11) Eat at Michelin starred restaurants -- we have eaten at 1 so far, but definitely need to get going with more!
12) Dance in fountains --
this will have to happen next summer.
13) Ice Skating --
not yet! but soon!!!
14) Tantric massage -- no, but maybe for our upcoming anniversary ;)


Part 3:
15) Go to an English wedding and wear a fabulous hat-- So far, I haven't been able to meet someone who is getting married...hopefully soon!
16) Visit Highclere Castle -- no but oh my gosh, this season of Downton Abbey was SOOO good.  I want to see the Abbey!!! 
17) Afternoon tea -- Absolutely! I have been eating my weight in finger sandwiches and scones.  My pal Melizza and I are scoping all of them out together to see which ones we like best!!
18) Visit the London Zoo-- not yet, maybe in the spring when it gets a little warmer!
19) Ethnic food -- we have been stuffing our pieholes with Indian food but I want to branch out and eat more...
20) Absolut Ice Bar -- not yet, but now would be a good time to do it.  Summer seems somewhat inappropriate.
21) Join a club -- sadly, no one has invited me yet.  But I will keep at it!


Part 4:
22) Visit a pub with the Rotten One -- Oh yes, the Rotten one gets to go to a LOT of pubs.  Her favorite is The Regent because they have free popcorn...most of which ends up in her mouth.  We are VERY anti-feeding her from the table at home but in pubs we sneak her 'chips' (fries), popcorn, and whatever else she might want.  She is so well-behaved at pubs, never begs and just lays down next to the table unless we offer her food.  People would think she was actually not, in fact, Rotten. 
23) James Bond Thames Boat Ride -- no, but maybe when it's warmer??
24) Visit MI5 and MI6 -- dangit, I need to get on this.  Who wants to go with me?
25) Dinner...with Peter Gabriel -- I'm not sure how to make this come about, but, Peter Gabriel I'd really love to have dinner with you!!!!!  My treat!!!  Anyone know him?  I'm pretty sure he lives in Bath...maybe I'll just write a letter addressed to Peter Gabriel, Bath, United Kingdom -- I'm sure they know where he lives right???
26) See incredible concerts-- ergh. Not yet. But I keep an eye out...I wanted to see Peter Gabriel but he played in March and I wasn't in the UK yet *sob*, but the Canadian went to see him...without me. (traitor)
27) Try some great vegetarian food -- other than the Indian food I stuff in my face once a week? I don't think I have!  Must get on this immediately!
28) Throw a dinner party
-- yep -- Thanksgiving! But I want to do more!

Apparently I need to get my muffin movin' to finish all these cool things!  But I promise there's other stuff I've been doing and seeing -- like, having cocktails in my neighborhood awesome cocktail bar, The Shop! (Love this place!).  And sometimes I sneak over to Minkie's Deli for a chocolate croissant and orange juice and a latte...OH! and I've started training for a 5K.  No shit right?!?  I mean, if you've met me you know I don't run (I mean I do NOT run) but apparently, I do?

I started running because I knew I needed something that would get me outside during the gray winter months.  And I knew that I didn't want to stay indoors and eat all day.  And I needed to get my endorphins going to fight the winter blues.  And I wanted a challenge...so I decided to start the Couch to 5K running program.  Even though I was a bit behind on where they had me start, I've been slowly working my way through the intervals and now I'm on Week 3 Day 2 (even though I've been doing it since November 11...I bloom slowly) 

I've mostly been running in Queen's Park down the road from my house, but I've also run a few times along Grand Union Canal which I really love.

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Click for attribution
Grand Union is awesome because A) it's flat and B) there aren't a MLLION mommies out there with their strollers walking 3 across the trail like at Queen's Park...which I then have to dodge.  And as a novice running, dodging obstacles is kind of tricky. 

One time (at QP) all these kids were standing on the trail and there was no way to get around them and I was running straight for them...and they just STOOD there. Watching me. Run straight at them. About 5 feet from them I yelled "Move!" and they jumped out of the way.  WTF?  I have noticed though -- in the UK, you have to ask people to move, usually with a quietly muttered "Sorry" otherwise, it's every man for himself.  If you say "Sorry", though, they will move and then also say "Sorry" back.  But unless you ask, no one will move for you.

Whereas in the States (in general, unless someone is an ass) you are supposed to pick up on the fact that someone is trying to get by and get out of the way.  Like on a sidewalk if you and your friends are blocking the entire sidewalk, one of you moves if someone is heading your direction.  Here, people take up entire sidewalks and don't give a crap if you're walking toward them -- basically, get in the street unless you ask. 

This happened to the Canadian once -- 4 girls were walking and blocking the sidewalk and when the Canadian didn't move, and one of them had to, they gave him a dirty look and made a disgusted noise at him.  I'm certain he didn't say 'Sorry'.

Anyway, long-winded cultural difference tangent interspersed in there...the life of an expat.  So, yep, that's what I've been up to lately!  Hopefully more to come soon...
 
Even though Christmas is my FAVORITE holiday of the year, I love Thanksgiving almost as much...so having Turkey Day twice in London made me feel as though I hadn't really missed out on the celebrations back home by being across the pond.

My double Thanksgiving began with a fabulous dinner at the home of fellow blogger Melizza.  She's such a fantastic hostess and her food is always incredibly delicious.  She even makes her own napkins!!!  We chowed down on juicy turkey, dressing, mashed potatoes, zucchini casserole, homemade dinner rolls (mmmm!!), gravy, cheeses and homemade crackers!  My food baby was super happy...and then of course: dessert.  Let me tell you, chocolate chess pie? WITH an oreo crust??  Oh hell yes. Pumpkin donuts!!! And buttermilk pecan pie!!!  I waddled out of there, barely holding it together.

Then I decided to cook my own full-on Thanksgiving pretty well by myself.  I wasn't really all that worried about it since I've done 5-course dinner parties before, it's really all about the timing.  I think a couple of things needed a little more time in the oven (or I really should have used the convection setting), but overall, I think it came out ok! 

My stuffing recipe is my maternal grandmother's (Grandma) and it's always been my favorite (don't tell my other grandmother...).  Grandma is well into her 90's these days and hasn't made that stuffing in almost a decade, but I thought of her for days as I made the homemade biscuits and then the homemade cornbread which made up the base of the stuffing.

When my mom first divorced my dad, she and I moved in with her parents (my grandparents) and even though my mom is one of nine (yes...nine) kids, and there are 33ish or so grandkids from those nine, I'll always have a special bond with Grandma because I'm the only grandkid who lived with her for two years.  Making her stuffing was so bittersweet for me because it meant two things: one, that I wasn't with her and two that she can't make the stuffing anymore -- her cooking days are long since over and she lives in an assisted living home now.  But, I loved that I was able to take that recipe and it will always be a part of me and my new Thanksgiving traditions.

I made my other grandmother's Sweet Potato Casserole (because you have to be fair during the holidays!)  I think it needed just a few more minutes in the oven as it was ever so slightly watery and not thicker like it normally is.  Also, I have to say, English sweet potatoes are just not as flavorful as the American ones (or wherever we import them from...oy). 

I also had the added challenge of cooking in Celisius AND having to measure out my butter...as it is in grams here and not in handy labeled sticks.  I miss the sticks, I really do. Maybe the English way is better, but if you've never cooked that way, and don't have a scale, it's a lot of converting and that is a lot of annoying.  Just sayin'.  But, I totally did it and I had an absolute blast.

If you're curious, the menu was something like this:

Texas Thanksgiving in London Menu
Turkey (done brown bag style like Mujerboricua taught me!) stuffed with apples, oranges, rosemary, sage, garlic, chives, celery and shallots
Gravy (made with red wine and drippings)
Stuffing (or should be called dressing because it's not stuffed into the turkey)
Cranberry Sauce made with Winter Pimm's (I made this up...recipe to follow)
Alton Brown's Green Bean casserole with homemade fried onions on top (I also felt like this was too watery and I will adjust that for next year)
Sweet Potato Casserole
Creamy Mashed Potatoes
Salad (with pomegranate, seasoned nuts and parmesan cheese)


and then for dessert:
Brown Butter Pumpkin Cake and
Scotch Pecan Pie with Scotch maple cream sauce drizzled over it
(made with Auchentoshan 3 wood scotch!)

Now for the Cranberry Sauce...
So, the cranberry sauce was kind of fun because I sort of made it up as I went along and it turned out delicious.  It is definitely a 'sauce' vs a thicker relish...if you boiled the syrup longer you could thicken it to relish style.  I wanted to have something that was uniquely 'English' at my table to celebrate the fact that this was my first London Thanksgiving and nothing is more English than Pimm's (my new FAVORITE drink in the world, in case you haven't been following the blog...)

Pimm's also has a 'Winter' blend which is kind of cinnamon/orange flavored...so I thought, "I bet that would be damn good in the cranberry sauce.  Oh yes. It was.  So if you're looking for something a bit more complex for your cranberry sauce, try this...and let me know what you think!

Also...because I have leftover cranberry sauce (and some pumpkin)...I'm making this Cooking Light recipe but adapting it for the sauce and changing the regular flour to whole wheat with a few other changes as well (no granulated sugar, just brown sugar...etc.)  I'll keep you posted on how it turns out!!


SARAH'S WINTER PIMM'S CRANBERRY SAUCE

Ingredients

  • 1 pound fresh (or frozen) cranberries, washed and dried
  • 1 ½ cups granulated sugar
  • 1/2 cup water
  • 2 cinnamon sticks
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground allspice
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground nutmeg
  • 1/2 teaspoon of ginger
  • 1/4 cup Winter Pimm’s
  • 2 Clementines, one zested and both juiced

 

Directions

In a medium pot bring sugar and water to a boil. Add cranberries, stir to blend and bring the mixture to a boil again over medium heat. Reduce heat to a simmer and add the remaining ingredients.  Stir to blend and simmer for an additional 7 to 10 minutes (or longer if you want a thicker sauce). Some of the cranberries will burst and some will remain whole. Stir and allow to cool before serving.  This can be made up to a week in advance and best made at least the day before for flavors to combine.

 
Apologies for being a terrible blogger. Visitors, exams, another round of visitors, a trip to Paris, and MASSIVE construction on the house (the landlord replaced a bunch of windows) have made me a terrible blogger.  I haven't been reading blogs either which I am really missing these days, so today is my catch up day for all of it!
Now, where I left off...

I finished my exams and I was exhausted.  I wrote 100 pages, in 5 days, writing for anywhere between 14 and 18 hours a day with the final day writing for 21 hours.  I spent the entire day afterward  in bed mindlessly watching Season 3 of Mad Men (yes, I'm just starting now...yes, I know, I'm way behind)

As I was writing on train back from St. Ives on Sunday I encountered some passive-aggressive anti-Americanism which I've noticed several times but just haven't posted on the blog.  I've tried, for the most part, to stay fairly positive and not criticize my adopted home -- mainly because I'm here as a guest and I appreciate the opportunity to live here.  I try to accept most things as they are, and own that my way isn't always the right way, even if it's  the most familiar way. 

But people told me before I moved here that I would face anti-Americanism, and I just really didn't believe them.  My English friends back home are fabulous and the ones I've met here are truly lovely. But, I've encountered this anti-Americanism on enough occasions that I guess I just thought I should mention it since I'm now experiencing it and that is part of this expat journey.

The story went something like this.

I was sitting on the train, working on my exams, minding my own business (I know, this is rare, try not to act too surprised)  Exams were due in a few hours and I had specifically booked the 'quiet carriage' because I knew that I would need the five hours of near silence in order to actually get some work done on the train.

The 'quiet carriage', in case you don't know, is supposed to be a soft-talking, no cell-phone train car that you can specifically book if you don't like to hear people chattering away on their phone all the time.  I confess, I almost always book it.  If you need to talk on the phone you can go to the bar car or step into another coach.  Otherwise, read your book, write your paper...whatever. 

Now, people break the quiet carriage rule ALL. THE. TIME.  This annoys the Canadian to no end (he's a rule-follower, I'm a rule breaker).  I generally don't mind if they break the rules as long as it's not really loud and annoying but the Canadian believes in a well-ordered society and if you talk on your phone in the quiet carriage, you'll definitely get a dirty look from him!

So, on with the story.  A few rows ahead of me, a man starts talking rather loudly on his phone.  This is not a short call to say when he'll meet someone at the station, he is blathering on about football matches, various people, telling stories. etc.  I was far too exhausted to say anything, and I just wanted to get my exams finished BUT, the girl in the aisle across from me (who was in a business suit and clearly working on something on her computer as well) got up and walked up the aisle to where the man was sitting.  She said "Excuse me sir, this is the quiet carriage, would you mind getting off the phone?"

The guy immediately gives an exaggerated sigh and yells into his phone "I have to go mate, some American is yelling at me to get off the phone."  My head whipped up. Uh Seriously??  (and the way he said 'an American' was dripping with contempt).

A) She was not American.  Yes, her accent sounded kind of American but it sounded more like an American who had lived in England for decades, but, there was also something that was not quite American about it that made me know she wasn't originally from the States.

B) She didn't yell (I would have, but she didn't).  She used the quietest, most soft-spoken voice and was really polite and gentle. 

So I leaned over to her across the aisle, after she sat back down, and said, "Well that was kind of an asshole thing for that guy to say," (frankly I hoped he had heard, but I was trying to be quiet because I was in the quiet carriage).  She replied, "Yes, well, I'm not even American, I'm Canadian."  Ahh, of course. It all made sense.  We chatted for a bit and she had, at one point, lived in America (near where the Canadian grew up), but now lived over here, which explained the accent.

But let's rewind.  That guy never would have said "some South Korean is telling me to get off the phone"...xenophobia is completely acceptable with regard to Americans but not to other cultures?  Really?

Listen, I'm not pretending America has done everything right (by any means!) and I'm the first to criticize our government, but what was the point of using 'an American' as a perjorative to his friend?  It would have been more correct to say "some annoying person" or something -- who cares what her 'race' is?? 

Shortly after that incident the Canadian and I went to a secret supper club dinner (I've linked to an explanation if you don't know what one is) and it was WONDERFUL.  The two chefs were phenomenal and the food was more than outstanding...at one point though, one of the chefs and I were talking about craft beers and how most folks are under the impression that all Americans drink is Bud and Miller (uh. no.)  And one of the chefs works with an American craft brewer and was saying how amazing the beers were.  And then he said something like "These craft beers are the opposite of what we think Americans are -- I mean they are elegant and delicately flavored -- and we just think of Americans as crass and undignified, quite the opposite of this beer." 

Now, I laughed, and the chef is a friend of mine and he's a really good guy.  But, he accidentally gave away the secret -- they really think we are all a bunch of crass, undignified, loud, obnoxious fools, bumbling around the planet making messes.  The funny thing is, he was paying me/America a compliment. And I get that. But deep inside, I confess, every time I open my mouth to speak in a public place I am horribly self-conscious that people will hear my American accent and judge me immediately. 

So, it's part of the journey, and I'm accepting it...but I wanted to blog about it, not as a criticism to Brits, but as something that an expat life might bring with it.  It just is what it is.


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