The Curiosities of British Cuisine

If you’ve been wondering why it’s been so quiet around here, it’s because, by a fabulous stroke of good fortune, I spent last week in England and Wales. My husband was invited to a conference in Cardiff (the capitol of Wales) and I got to tag along as we spent two days there, one day in Bristol, and three days in London. It was a mind-blowing trip in many ways:

iconic landmarks,

cathedrals,

boat tours,

giant Gromit statues in wildly inappropriate places, like in front of this 12th century cathedral,

and this terrifying creature–

but for the purposes of this blog, of course, allow me to focus on the food! It seems to me the English get a bad rap for their cuisine, and frankly, I’m not going to do a whole lot to remedy that stereotype. However, certain assumptions of mine about English food were definitely debunked, so all in all I would call my general food experience in the UK educational. For example, prior to visiting the UK, I probably would have assumed:

  • “Bubble and Squeak” were cartoon characters
  • “Rarebit” was a silly British spelling of rabbit, like “kerb” for curb and “tyre” for tire
  • That there would have to be more to a dish called “mushy peas” than just peas mashed up baby food-style
  • “Bangers and Mash” was a TV crime fighting duo, like Cagney & Lacey or Rizzoli & Isles
  • “Pork pie” was the punchline of a dirty joke

Wrong on all counts! As it turns out,

  • Bubble and squeak is leftover vegetables (typically from a roast) mixed with mashed potatoes
  • Rarebit is essentially just melted cheese on toast
  • Mushy peas are exactly what comes out of a Gerber jar
  • Bangers and mash is sausage served over mashed potatoes
  • A pork pie is literally a chunk of pork sausage in pie crust:


This entree was called the Ploughman’s Board–behold the pork pie in the upper left!

On a more positive note, while my husband spent the day at his conference, I traipsed around Cardiff and found a sweet little tea shop where I enjoyed a traditional afternoon tea:


Finger sandwiches, scone with clotted cream and jelly, and of course TEA! (I went with ginger peach.)

Other culinary highlights included tasty fish and chips and some smokin’ spicy Indian food on the south side of the Thames, revealing the perpetually embarrassing problem of my nose running like the Amazon whenever I eat really spicy food. (Emily Post would be horrified at how much snot ended up on my dinner napkin.) Then again, my husband had to leave the table to go wash his mouth out, so I’m telling you, it was really spicy. I should probably also mention that we drank way more alcohol over there than we normally do, especially some delightfully fizzy and refreshing pear cider. This seems to be the norm in the UK, though–Sunday morning, the only open restaurant we found was a bar that served breakfast, where more people were drinking beer than coffee at 9:00am.

Last but not least, I have to say how much I enjoyed stocking up on British candy, and how humorous the candy bar names strike me: Teasers, Minstrels, Wispa, Jelly Babies (like gummy bears, but baby-shaped–anyone else find this creepy?). Then again, I guess American candy bars have silly, frivolous names, too: Butterfinger, Snickers, Mr. Goodbar. (Presumably Dryfinger, Whimpers, and Mr. Seriousbar are not top sellers.)

These *might* just be my favorite souvenirs–thankfully much more easily transportable than fish and chips or a pot of tea! 🙂

8 Things to Freeze Instead of Toss

“…and I’m covered in children’s footprints. Yes, footprints.”

Does every family have weird sayings that no one really remembers the origin of?

When I was a kid, whenever it was time to get our shoes on at my grandma’s house, she would croon in this goofy faux-Southern voice like Mammy from Gone With the Wind, “Get yer choos on, Lucy, doncha know you’re in the city?” For years I just thought this was one of Grandma’s quirky sayings–only recently did my husband Google this phrase and discover this was a popular song in the ’50s. I kinda wish I hadn’t found that out, actually. I would have liked to have gone on believing my grandma just had an unexplained penchant for Southern accents in the presence of children’s shoes.

My husband‘s family, though, has more obscure catchphrases than you can shake a stick at. Their code word for calling someone a moron is “rowboatman.” Why? Are they rowing the boat backwards? With fish instead of oars? Maybe someone knows, but it’s a mystery to me. And ever since we’ve been married, when someone is about to throw out perfectly good food, Anthony (my husband) has been known to say, “Uncle Kenny hates waste!” Granted, he does have an Uncle Kenny, but why does Uncle Kenny hate waste, and how did the specter of his disapproval get passed down into family lore??

Now, whenever I go to throw out food that’s going bad or I know I won’t use up, I hear in my head, “UNCLE KENNY HATES WASTE!!!”  Uncle Kenny has become the Elf on the Shelf of my food usage. (And I’m already pretty conscientious about food waste–have I mentioned the spasms of guilt over Cheerios?) That being said, allow me introduce you to my friend the freezer–that bastion of refuge for foods on the wayward path. Many an extra food in our house has been saved from the trash by finding asylum behind its doors. So many times when there’s not that much of something left, throwing it out seems like the logical choice, but it doesn’t have to be! Here’s a list of foods you can freeze to preserve them instead of toss them, even if only in small amounts:

1. Coffee:

I always end up with a little extra coffee at the bottom of the pot. At some point this summer I realized that I could save it in ice cube trays to have on hand for iced coffee. It’s like someone gave me free Starbucks coupons!

2. Fruit: 

Another summer-specific freezable. These early weeks of August I have seen berries and peaches on sale like they’re going out of business. How nice would it be in November when strawberries are an outrageous $4/pound to pull some out of your freezer? If you stock up now, you can! Freezing berries is super simple: just wash, separate, and place on waxed paper on a baking sheet in the freezer for a few hours. (I’ve also done this with pineapple and mango, by the way.) Peaches are a bit more challenging, as you’ll want to boil briefly to slip the skins off before freezing. Still, totally worth it! Fruit for months to come!

3. Fresh herbs: I wish we had more fresh herbs in our garden, because it always seems wasteful to purchase the arbitrary amount of ounces grocery stores package theirs in. (What on earth are people making that uses up an entire 6-ounce package of fresh thyme?) Thankfully, certain herbs are quite conducive to freezing, such as thyme and rosemary. Just pop them in a Ziploc, push out the excess air, and you’re good to go. Other herbs more prone to wilting–basil, oregano, cilantro, etc.–can be frozen in water or oil in ice cube trays, then popped into soups, stews, marinades or other dishes that don’t require the herbs to be crisp. It’s a garden in your freezer.

4. Chicken broth: If you find you have extra canned chicken broth after completing a recipe, consider freezing it. Place in a lidded plastic container and freeze for future use.

5. Lemon juice: We live in Arizona, where every school child learns about Citrus as one of the state’s “5 C’s.” (I’ll love you forever if you can tell me the other four.) There are months in the spring when even the homeless people won’t eat any more lemons because they are too dang sick of them. This past spring, when not one but TWO of our neighbors gave us heaping bags of lemons, I froze the juice in (yet again) ice cube trays and it lasted for months.

6. Lemon/orange/lime zest:

See? It makes the lemons happy when you freeze their skin. *Actual lemon, not an actor.*

Lemons, stay there. I’m not done with you yet. If people are dropping bags of lemons on your doorstep like little citrus babies for you to adopt, don’t just freeze their juice–freeze their zest, too. Same Ziploc bag procedure as fresh herbs.

7. Onions: white/yellow/green: If I had a shrink ray, I would use it on onions. I always buy the smallest yellow ones in the grocery store bin, and I still seldom use a whole one at once (or an entire bunch of green onions). Fortunately, similar to fresh herbs, if you don’t need onions to be particularly crisp, they do great in the freezer. Chop finely and Ziploc as above.

8. Bread/tortillas/burger buns: If you’re a freezer veteran, you probably know this one, but it bears repeating that when you can’t use up an entire loaf, or if you see a fantastic bread sale, stash what you can’t immediately use in the freezer. Just make sure it’s pre-sliced so you can thaw individual slices as desired.So go nuts! Freeze away! Just don’t forget about the things you’ve frozen for too long…like that apple juice concentrate I’ve literally been meaning to throw out for two years. Guess I’d better go do that now that there’s photographic evidence.

Yep, that bad boy on the bottom left.

An Ode to My Crappy Old Cookie Sheet

I’m convinced that every experienced home cook has at least one piece of cooking equipment that looks more like it was excavated from an archaeological dig than purchased from the shelves of Crate and Barrel. Whether it’s the ridiculously old-fashioned crank can-opener inherited from grandma, the cantankerous tea kettle that always seems to spurt boiling water on your fingers, or a cookie sheet marred by what appear to be grime hieroglyphics, I somehow find these can be my favorite items to cook with. There’s something comforting about cooking with history.


In this case, I’m pretty sure the “Baker’s Secret” is that this pan hasn’t been properly cleaned in 10 years.

And so, in honor of one such weathered kitchen companion, I present to you this totally ridiculous poem…..

An Ode to My Crappy Old Cookie Sheet

Oh, crappy ancient cookie sheet,
your smoky, mottled sheen
a dim and murky chestnut pane
that never quite comes clean

Tells tales of crisp-edged cookies
and vegetables of yore,
of strawberries that turn to ice
behind the freezer door.

I’m sure you were a wedding gift
(from whom I don’t remember).
I can’t recall a time without you,
metal family member.

I’d never think to trade you for
what some might call a better one–
no fancy, shiny pan could match
my stalwart oven veteran.

So though you burn tomatoes
and my onions you have blundered,
you buck like a Pamplona bull
at temps above four hundred,

And even though your face is scarred
with dark and lasting grime,
oh, crappy ancient cookie sheet,
I’d choose you every time.

Battle Scars

How about you? Do you have a favorite well-worn kitchen item?

Seven Ways to Avoid Overeating on Vacation

French toast with berries and eggs over-hard at La Bicyclette, Carmel, CA

My husband Anthony and I just returned from a totally delightful trip to Carmel and Monterey, California to celebrate our ninth anniversary. It was quite possibly the best vacation we’ve ever taken–with no kids for three days, we stayed at an adorable inn,

The Candlelight Inn

slept in until 9:00, rode bikes around Monterey Bay, toured a historic lighthouse,

Pt. Pinos lighthouse, which had a female keeper from 1893-1914 (how cool!)

took in the gorgeous views on 17-Mile Drive, and even attended mass at one of the oldest missions on the West Coast.

San Carlos Borromeo de Carmelo Mission

And we ate. Ohhhh, we ate.

Fact: Grown-ups on vacation are allowed to eat Ghirardelli sundaes for lunch.

For me, food can be the highlight of a vacation. As much as I love to cook, it’s exciting and inspiring to eat restaurant food created by real chefs (not to mention the fact that I don’t have to do dishes afterward). Restaurant dining gives me the opportunity to try cuisines I wouldn’t normally have the guts or experience to try at home. Unfortunately, though, day after day of eating out can also leave me wishing I had packed my Fat Pants. I always struggle with finding the balance between savoring the indulgence of restaurant meals and not returning home with a little excess baggage (not the kind you can check at the gate).

On this particular trip, however, I felt I was able to strike that balance better than I have in the past. (Ignore the photo above with the giant brownie sundae.) I’ve given quite a bit of thought to what made the difference this time and have come up with some tips on making it to the end of your vacation without needing the seatbelt extender on the flight home. (And lest you think I’m just some schmoe trying to tell you how to live your life, I am pursuing a dietetics degree….so I’m supposed to know about this stuff!)

Seven ways to counteract overeating/poor eating on vacation:

1. Purchase healthy snacks at a grocery store. When I’m eating meals at restaurants don’t have a pantry or fridge available in my hotel, I tend to get into a panic mode where I think, “I don’t know when I’ll get to eat again! Must stuff myself now!” (Come to think of it, that was pretty much my entire four years of college…probably why I was 30 pounds heavier back then.) Buying healthy snacks to keep in your car or hotel room gives you a buffer. If you know you can snack between meals, you’re less likely to overeat at the meals themselves.

2. Split meals. Yes, I am going to beat this dietary dead horse. Especially if you don’t have a fridge where you’re staying, you won’t be able to take leftovers home anyway, so split ’em up, baby. Split. ‘Em. Up.

3. Don’t feel like you have to order an entree every time you go out. When I go to a nice restaurant where the waiter takes ten minutes to tell about the entree specials, I almost feel this weird obligation to order a full entree. Like they’re going to know I’m a classless brute if I don’t eat their 16-ounce Porterhouse. But you know what? Who cares? There’s no law against soup and salad.

4. At a breakfast buffet, look at your plate and ask yourself, “What would my plate look like if I were eating breakfast at home?” Ah, breakfast buffets–the Achilles heel of every hotel guest. Scrambled eggs in a metal pan you could bathe a toddler in, syrupy fruit cocktail, and the ubiquitous do-it-yourself waffle iron. Would you eat this stuff for breakfast at home? If you’re generally a bowl-of-cereal or two-pieces-of-toast breakfaster, a heaping pile of pancakes and bacon slathered in syrup is not going to hold up to this question.

5. Write down your day’s eating goals. For example, “I will only eat one dessert today” or “I will make sure to eat a fruit or vegetable at every meal today.” Studies have repeatedly shown that this very small act can have a major positive impact on your day’s eating. Take it a step further and keep a food journal of the vacation. You’ll end up with a nice little souvenir to remember your trip by, and you’ll probably be a lot more mindful about what goes in your mouth.

6. Prevent post-full nibbling. At a restaurant, when I begin to feel full (but still have all that time with food in front of me while the waiter gets the check, we pay, etc.) I have a special trick to avert continued nibbling. I put my dirty napkin on my plate as a signal to myself to stop. It grosses me out just enough that I won’t eat off the plate anymore.

7. Drink plenty of water. When we’re away from our normal environment, any of our normally healthy habits can go haywire. You may be accustomed to drinking plenty of water throughout your day, but on a plane, in the car, or all day at Disneyland, you naturally have to be much more cognizant about your fluid intake. Water not only keeps you hydrated for your day’s activities, but can head off food cravings. The body easily mistakes thirst for hunger.

How about you? Do you struggle with eating poorly on vacation? What have you done that helps?

The First of Many Love Letters

Dear Food,

I know I’ve never taken the time to tell you just how much I love you, but believe me, it’s not for lack of sincerity. Because I seriously love you. I wouldn’t want to imagine my life without you…actually, I’m pretty sure I would die without you. Not exaggerating. So allow me to spread the love by putting your wonderfulness on display on this blog. I’m shouting it from the rooftops: I LOVE FOOOOOOD!!

Love,

Sarah

Dear Everyone Else,

I like you, too. And if you don’t already love food, I hope this blog will show you all the reasons why it’s so awesome. But I’m pretty sure you already know. Anyway, come along with me on this journey of adoration as I share recipes, pictures, and lessons learned.

Your friend in the kitchen,

Sarah