Archive for June, 2007

A wee matter of words

I count myself as bilingual. Anyone who says that English spoken in England and English spoken in America are the same language, hasn’t lived in both countries. Yes, they hold their roots in the same language, as European languages have their roots in Latin- but it’s not the same. I regularly will make a statement to one of my American colleagues in what I consider to be plain English only to be received by a look of utter blankness. It’s not just the accent that’s different- I know this because when you speak to an American with a foreign accent but speaking ‘English’ they will nine times out of ten guess that you’re British, Australian or South African (One could say that this is a good guess- or that pehaps that Americans’ just don’t get out that much). Nor is it simply just cultural differences or spellings- It’s words, it’s slang words, it’s phrases and sayings – and it’s sense of humour.

When I was six years old, my parents moved us from Edinburgh, Scotland, to Birmingham, Alabama. After two years of living in Scotland, my young self had mastered the art of the rolled “R” and “och aye the noo.” In Alabama, my school only needed to hear a few words from my wee Scottish mouth to diagnose me with a speech impediment and resigned me to speech therapy. I became a six year old with a Suh-thern draaawwl and single flat “r’s”

When I was eight years old, my family moved up North to Philadelphia, where I quickly learnt that if I said “yes ma’am” in response to my teacher then I’d end up in detention for sarcasm.

At ten years old, (now devoid of both the evil rolled “R’s”, yes Ma’ams and Ya’lls) my family moved to Manchester in the UK. I have a particular memory of a plump girl with frizzy hair coming up to little me and saying something, which was most likely along the lines of “what’s your name, I’m so and so. You have funny hair”. And, I, standing out like a pineapple in a crate of mangoes with my American hair cut and my American trainers stood blank-faced. I asked her to repeat what she said three times before giving up releasing a nervous giggle and the obligatory ‘when you don’t understand- nod and smile’. I had English parents and English relatives, and I’d vacationed in England every year-

Bilingual child that I was, at twelve, my family returned to the states and then this was followed by me shouting some angry words as a teenager and marching back off to England to attend boarding school and my parents moving to Kentucky, where ‘yes ma’ams’ and ‘ya’lls’ could be dully reinstated. Confused, yet? I certainly was.

Seven months ago, when I found myself up-and-leaving to come back to the land of freedom and dreams, I was fairly confident that it would only be my frightfully British boyfriend that would struggle with the ‘American way’ and that I would fit in nicely. Never one to enjoy being the tourist, in some ways I have always been just that. In London people always thought I had a funny accent but couldn’t place it and over here they guessed I was from one of the three previously stated English speaking countries. But I found that accent aside- in England I was understood whilst coming back to America this time round, I had to rely on memory and my American friends to remind me that saying “i’m just going to nip to the loo” probably wouldn’t be understood or even worse, would be mimicked.

My first job interview in New York was for a food magazine. They asked me to come back and do a few trial days in the Kitchen and my first job was very simply to check off ingredients that we had on a sheet of paper. Simple, I thought- I can do this I know that a courgette is a zucchini and an aubergine is an eggplant, this will be easy. I faced a list stating arugula, rutabaga, broccoli rabe, fava beans, poblanos, bell peppers and so on. If you’re British you will understand why I froze, had a slight panic did the count-to-ten trick and decided it was best to use my best british accent “Oh, I’m terribly sorry, I’m not yet familiar with these terms.” Vegetable ignorance or otherwise, I wasn’t given the job. It’s not just vegetable names though, it’s descriptions- what the UK calls orange cheese is called yellow and the UK yellow is called white. Flaked almonds are sliced almonds, and that’s not even getting into the metric/imperial/cup measuring palava.

Recently, I’ve been caught-up a few times trying to describe in American English what I really mean and then there are the times where I have to ask myself before I speak- “is that the English way to say it or the American?” Everything in the kitchen is different, including style for cooking, methods of slicing/dicing/chopping and ingredients. This week we had an English Chef at work and I felt a new surge of confidence. I’d never met the man before in my life- but we shared British jokes (which nobody understood) and I think that he too felt at rest, not having to deal with trying to explain what he meant to someone who speaks American English and not having to worry that his sense of humour wouldn’t be understood. I was his translator, and nothing translated better than- “Would you like a cup of PG-tips?”

I like to call my language amerolish, I’m not always sure which country I’m representing in my dialect, but I can speak both languages.

ROCK BUNS

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I’m putting this recipe in here because they are wonderfully British- and with a name like ‘Rock’ in the title they suggest, only to the less knowledgeable, that they are as as rocks- cold, hard and inedible. In truth they are wonderfully soft, comforting and delicious- on the first day anyway. My father likes them as they get older- but then this is a man who likes cheese to be left unwrapped in the fridge so that it dries out. In anycase, store the rock buns in an airtight container.

140g/5 oz butter, cut into cubes
450g/1 lb plain flour
4 tsp baking powder
1 tsp salt
140g/5 oz sugar
175g mixed raisins
large handful of toasted pecans, chopped
1 tsp cinnamon
1/2 tsp mixed spice
1/4 tsp nutmeg
2 eggs
4 tbsp milk

1/ Preheat the oven to 375F/190C/Gas 5. Sift the flour, baking powder and salt together in a bowl with the butter. Rub between your fingers (or blitz to in a food processor) until the mixture resembles fine breadcrumbs.

2/ Stir through thte sugar, raisins, nuts and spices.

3/ In another bowl, beat together the eggs and milk. Pour three quarters of the mixture into the flour and using a fork fold together to make a soft but not sticky dough. Add more liquid if necessary.

4/ Form into 16 roughly shaped mounds on a nonstick sheet tray and bake for approximately 20 minutes, until risen, and slightly golden on top. Eat as soon as they are cool enough that you can pick them up with your fingers.

A Rich Tea Morning & Chocolate Cocoa Nib Shortbread

The other morning I received an email from an English colleague who was translating a cookbook from English to American. She frantically needed to know if there was an equivalent biscuit in the states to the good old English Rich Tea. It was 7 am on Saturday morning and I, slouched in bed, was not feeling the same biscuit urgency as she. Before you ask why on earth I was up this early on a weekend- I wake up at 4:45am for work, so, 7 am is now referred to as a lie-in. But then I began to think about the good old Rich Tea biscuit- crisp and plain with a hint of malt, dunk it in your tea, count to five and it melts on your tongue. Some would dare to call it bland, dry or merely a ‘base’ biscuit that ought to be covered in chocolate or filled with cream. I would suggest it as ‘unblemished’. It is a pure and simple dunking biscuit – as biscotti goes with a cappuccino; a Rich Tea goes with a nice cuppa brew. I digress.

It was going to be a challenge to uncover a biscuit close to such simplicity- but I was willing to make a few changes in my schedule, which today included lying in bed, eating a bagel (that I’d sent my boyfriend to buy) and lying in bed some more. I emailed back accepting the task stating that I would need a few days in order to complete this challenge in a thorough manner. In other words, nursing my throbbing head after last night’s vodka sodas was going to take all of today, please come back again tomorrow.

The author of this book was my first culinary idol- my copy of her book covered in stains and crumbs from so much use. A domestic goddess indeed and the inspiration behind so many of my own recipes, I was not going to let her down- I just wasn’t going to do it today. I instantly received a message back-“great, thanks. Can you let me know by the end of the day- the book needs to go to print.” I had a pounding head and a craving bacon- getting my taste buds to change course was not going to be easy. I removed myself from bed and propping myself up over the bathroom sink I stared into my dishevelled reflection. Today, I was super-rich-tea-woman and no salt was going to get in my way.

I began devise a plan to weed-out anything that wouldn’t be necessary to test. Chocolate chip cookies, sugar cookies, Oreo cookies, oatmeal raisin cookies, peanut butter cookies, shortbread cookies, and wafers could all be overlooked. But amongst all this sweet junk did anything plain- almost but not quite savoury exist? I have to admit- I don’t regularly go down the cookies’ aisle in my New York supermarket- I only ever seem to find sweet disappointment with whatever I pick up. In fact come to think of it- I rarely find myself picking up a desert menu in a New York restaurant and have my eyes light up at what I see. Perhaps my sweet tooth just isn’t cut out for America. I digress.

I made a stop at Gristedes Supermarket. Usually I have an inner monologue that sings a song referring to it Gross-tedes, but on this day I put my snobbery aside- I was super-rich-tea-woman and supermarket design was not on my agenda. I was on a mission and I had to get in and get my dizzy head back to my bed.

I got home, filled my favourite oversized Starbucks mug with PG tips (milk in first) squeezed out the tea bag and began ripping open the packaging of the biscuits. I dunked, sipped and paired each one with cheddar. By 9 am I had already consumed half a days calories and two days worth of caffeine- I was a sight scarrier than that of two-hours ago. I narrowed it down to three and then two- both made by Nabisco, the ‘Social Tea’ biscuit and the “National Arrowroot”. I concluded from the packaging of the ‘National Arrowroot” that not only does it have a bizarre name it’s also for teething babies- probably because it has very little sugar. Further to that conclusion, I concluded that Nabisco only promotes products that lead to cavities and diabetes only to Americans’ who actually have teeth to ruin and not to those without.
I digress.

To my surprise, there are such products in this land of sugar-a-plenty that come close to an unblemished Rich Tea- but whilst I ran on a higher treadmill setting that evening and then scrubbed my teeth with even more care that night I decided that my opinion on the American cookie aisle really hadn’t changed all that much. I like a little salt in my sweet.

Continue reading ‘A Rich Tea Morning & Chocolate Cocoa Nib Shortbread’

A RECIPE: Energy Bars

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It is not an exaggeration to say that going on “holiday” with my family is like going on boot camp. The usual R&R (rest and relaxation) that most people associate with holidays, in my family stands for ‘R’un and ‘R’un some more. This isn’t to say that it’s a bad thing- we’re just a very unique/somewhat senseless family. Survival of the fittest is not a term to be used lightly in describing holidaying with the Helms’. Our reputation precedes us; rain or shine.

I just returned from three days in Bar Harbour, Maine with my boyfriend and parents. My boyfriend and I ‘ummed’ and ‘Arred’ about whether or not this would be a painful (in muscle and mind) experience to go on holiday with the rentals and in the end decided, (as I suspect any young, broke couple would) what the heck it’s free. So off we went, armed with our best smiles, energy bars and codeine.

Maine is perhaps one of the most beautiful places that I’ve visited in the States- reminiscent of Scotland with its hills, beautiful crystal clear lakes and of course satanic winters to match. The beautiful serene nature of Acadia National Park was on our doorstep and I could have spent the entire weekend sitting on the porch rocking chair enjoying the view. But the only sitting that a Helm does on holiday is on a bike. They were rented within thirty minutes of arrival and off we went for the next six hours and two days, caked in forty-five sun block to protect our delicate British complexions.

As I see it, the only good thing about such active holidays is the amount of food that a Helm feels they are “allowed” due to excessive exertions. My family not only competes in physical exertion but also in voracity/deservedness of appetite. We like to feel that we’ve earned our next meal- and if you haven’t put in enough effort before breakfast, you can forget the eggs and bacon- it’s muesli for you.

On this particular trip it was the seafood that we were all “working” for- lobster and crab being top of my wish list. The rocky shores and crystal clear waters of Maine have given it a reputation as a wonderful habitat for shellfish- and I wasn’t about to ignore it. My parents’ had stayed in our designated B&B before and had warned us that breakfasts there were typical American fare- loaded with glucose that would only lead to a disastrous mid-race sugar crash. Stragglers would be left behind- this wasn’t a place for the unfit.

It was thoughts of food that got me through the following six hours and two days. As my legs peddled away through the mountains, I daydreamed about tying a bib around my neck, savagely tearing at the flesh of a lobster and indulgently sucking the juices out of it’s claws. My bruised sit bones, muscle aches, blisters, sunburn and new addiction to codeine were perhaps a high price to pay for a few extra calories- but as a Helm, I like to think they were worth it.

Continue reading ‘A RECIPE: Energy Bars’


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