Monday, January 25, 2016

Toastie Pockets: A Demonstration

Good Morning, Lovely People.

MsCaroline would like to express her thanks to all her kind readers who expressed sympathy and concern about her Lingering Cough as a Result of the  Flu Bug From Hell, and would also like to assure them that she is, in fact, clearly on the road to recovery. The clearest indicator of this is the fact the MrL is no longer doing all the laundry, which, while a bit sad, is a small price to pay for an unrestricted airway, and MsC will take it.

A surprising number of you also expressed interest in/amazement at the Toastie Pockets MsC mentioned in her last post, which was extremely gratifying, since she brought them to nearly everyone last summer when she was in the US and felt like the general response was more 'puzzled' by them than 'thrilled.'  In all fairness, maybe people just are not thinking 'toastie' quite as much in the summer as they are in January, so the takeaway here is this:   it's all about the timing.  

In any case, after such a warm reception, MsCaroline had the bright idea of showing you step-by-step how these nifty little things work ,because this will be easier than writing an entirely new blog post.
Of course, I am neither a food blogger nor a food photographer, so you'll have to use your imagination to a certain extent. But we all know that's better for you anyway.

In any case, without further ado, I give you

How to Make a Toastie Using a Nifty Toastie Pocket

Step 1:  Sort out your bread:  As far as I can tell, the toastie pocket is sized to fit slices of typical pre-sliced, commercial bread.  Since we buy bread in big, hearty farm-style loaves that looks like it was made with pieces of bark and twigs with as few processed ingredients as possible, the slices are invariably too large to fit in the pockets, so you want to make sure your bread fits in the pocket before you get started. In our case, I always have to cut off a side or an end or something.  If you don't like crusts anyway, you are ahead of the game:

Hard to tell because I took the photo from a stupid angle, but this bread is a bit too wide for the pocket.  I shall cut off one side.

Testing for a good fit.

Step 2:  Decide what you want on your toastie, and make your sandwich.  You can put what ever you want in your sandwich, including condiments and sauces.  The pocket catches the drips, so you don't need to worry about your toaster getting mucked up with mayonnaise or what have you.  If you like butter on the outside of your toastie (more like a grilled cheese), then, by all means, have at it.

Mozzarella, ham, and some roasted red pepper bruschetta, because that's what we had.

Assemble as usual.
Step 3:  Insert sandwich into Toastie Pocket:  (I squash mine a bit first, due to crazy thick bread.)

Ready for toasting.

Step 4:  Pop it in the toaster. I don't like my toast very dark, so our toaster is usually turned toward the lighter end of the toast spectrum.  Putting mine on #2 usually works.

I have never put my toast on anything darker than #3, and even that was pushing it.  I imagine #6 would give you ashes.  Or embers or something.

  In this case, since the cheese wasn't as melty as I liked when it was finished, I popped it back in for a few more seconds until I reached my personally-preferred level of meltitude:

Step 5:  1) Marvel at the fact that you have lived an entire life without knowing that this was even possible and 2) eat your creation.

You can see where the bruschetta leaked through a bit - no problem, it was all in the toastie pocket.

As with everything in cooking, of course, results will differ, based on your toaster, your bread, your fillings, and who knows what else.  I have burned a toastie or two trying to find the perfect balance between the level of bread toastiness and cheese melty-ness(final assessment:  better to put the setting on low and check at intervals than put it on high and risk burning.) I will also concede that a toastie made in the toaster might possibly taste less awesome than one made in a skillet or in a panini press, but no one can deny that this method requires much less effort, and I am all about minimal effort.

While I'm confessing, I should add that I have also only concocted cheese-based sandwiches thus far.  Yesterday, however, a comment from Nance on my last post suggested a banana-and-Nutella combination that had never, ever occurred to my own limited imagination - but has been haunting my every waking thought intriguing me ever since.

I'll let you know how it turns out. 

Thursday, January 21, 2016

Life In The UK: Things MsCaroline is Grateful for in January in England

Cold, but sunny.  I'll take it.

(Note:  This post was originally titled, "Things MsCaroline is sick of in January in England," but in the spirit of trying not to be a whiner positive thinking, she has chosen to reframe her position and try to find something positive about what has so far proven to be an inordinately long month. Just try and imagine her fake smile as she lists off the things she is grateful for.)

Sunshine:  Observe:  It is January in England, where today's weather is sunny and bitterly cold, but not a single person is complaining. In fact, just like the man you see in the photo gazing out over the city, we have all been walking around marveling at our good fortune.  The reason is that it is January, in England, and it is not raining. Let me state here for the record that, before I moved here, I was fully aware that England was a rainy country, so it's not like I got here and went, "Hey! What? It rains all the time here! I'm surprised! I think what really gets to you after a point is the unrelentingness of it all.  It's more like rain is the standard and sun is the exception.  I know that's not really the case, but 19 days into the new year, that's what it seems like to me. I have to say that the combination of daily rain, grey, and drizzle, combined with the short winter days, does not do much for the morale.  I will admit, though, when you see almost no sunshine for days, a sunny day seems like the Best.Thing.Ever.  I don't think I ever truly appreciated that when I lived in Arizona.

A Very Cold Snap:  In the Southwest of England, where we live, it does not get particularly cold, which was a very pleasant surprise, since my concept of England in the winter was based primarily on Dickens novels, in which it always seemed to be snowing and all the people were huddling around inadequate coal fires with those fingerless gloves.  Temperatures here rarely make it to freezing (at least, they haven't thus far), which is why at least 3 of the people on my street have actual palm trees in their gardens. Accordingly, when we had a very bitter cold snap several days ago, it was a Big Deal.  Now, having come from Seoul, where sub-freezing temperatures in January and February are the norm, this did not phase me much.  But there was one glorious aspect of this cold snap that I had not foreseen and have absolutely adored, and that is this:   no mud.  Only frozen dirt and grass - which you cannot fully appreciate unless you are in the habit of walking a dog in England, where grassy fields and meadow paths are the typical setting for the daily walkies. That's right, it is so cold today that all the mud is frozen. Since all that glorious striding about the English countryside typically takes place in grassy fields and dirt paths through scenic pastures, mud is necessarily a regular part of the landscape.  For humans, this is not a big deal, as muddy shoes and boots can easily be jettisoned at the door.  The dogs' paws, however, are more problematic.  This scenario is a common one:

It involves lots of wriggling on The Dog's part and lots of cursingfussing on the human's part, not to mention a certain amount of flying mud, muddy footprints, and dirty towels. Thus, even if it is so cold my toes are numb after 5 minutes of walking, I will unhesitatingly celebrate a Day Without Mud.

Powerful English OTC Medicines:  While I realize this post is intended to be a positive one, I want to have to start off by saying that I have Been Ill.  For more than 2 weeks.  And, frankly, I'm really, really, tired of it.  I made it unscathed through the holidays in the US only to return and get stricken  - 5 days later - with what I'm sure most clinicians would refer to as 'a flu bug from hell.' (It also may or may not have had something to do with the amount of merrymaking that MsC did during those 2 weeks, but that is neither here nor there.) It laid me low for several days with all the traditional boring flu symptoms, and then vanished, leaving behind it only one trace:  a violent, wracking cough. And this cough has remained with me since, displaying the kind of steadfastness, commitment to duty, and tenacity that is typically only found in a martyred firefighter or an apocryphally self-sacrificing family dog. It has firmly resisted all of my attempts to extinguish it - and they have been legion.  In addition to all the ordinary stuff one finds at the drugstore, I have been advised on a number of surefire home remedies, many of them liquor-based (for this alone, you have to love the English. When I was at the pharmacy counter discussing cough suppressants with the pharmacist, the woman behind me leaned forward and stated emphatically, "Whiskey." As far as I could tell, the pharmacist was in agreement.) My milk delivery guy did deviate a bit from the norm when he suggested a tea that His Gran always made, which began,  "you chop up half an onion" and which MsCaroline did not bother to try, although she might have, if whiskey had been one of the ingredients.

What MsCaroline has been  taking has been this:

And, for the long, dark nights of coughing, also this:

And let MsC just step in here with this ringing endorsement for Night Nurse:  that stuff will knock you on your a** really helps you get a good night's sleep if you have a persistent cough. The only downside to it is that it eventually wears off - and often very suddenly - and when it does, it is very unpleasant indeed for you and your sleeping companion.

(MrL - who, after being sick himself during the Christmas holidays, is now bursting with rude good health in a way I find wholly offensive - finally resorted to sleeping with earplugs, and I finally ended up decamping to the sofa, where I could sleep sitting up and not worry about waking my longsuffering spouse with my late-night coughing spells and constant nose-blowing. Also, I am free to watch bad TV at 3am.)

According to WebMD, most coughs "take about 18 days to resolve."

 EIGHTEEN.  I'm on day #14 here, so the end should be in sight.


Excellent comfort food.  As is always the case when I'm ill, it hasn't affected my appetite in the least.  Oh, I may have to eat more slowly, so I won't choke to death due to coughing, but that hasn't prevented me from doing my best to provide maximum nutritional support to my presently overtaxed immune system. And this is supported 100% by the British grocery industry, whose motto should be:  Here to fulfill all your midwinter, carb-heavy, gravy-based, home-cooked desires in the shortest possible time. Not to say they don't have lots of healthy options - they do, and the portions are much smaller than in the USA (where even the healthiest foods are provided-inexplicably- in 'single-servings' sufficient to feed a family of six.)  But if you need something that is hearty and delicious, you need do no more than drag yourself to the nearest corner store (less than 3 minutes as MsCaroline shuffles) and take your pick from among the pies(like American pot pies) pasties (another sort of pie along the lines of beef wellington), ready-made meals, soups and stews - most of them ready to pop right in the oven.  Of course, despite the fact that all that is easily available at my fingertips, I am nothing if not lazy and impatient and can't be bothered to wait the 15-25 minutes it would take to cook something more substantial.  So, lately, this has been high on my list:

And let me just say, this stuff is not like your typical American vegetable soup.  It is thick and hearty, and a little bit creamy - and tastes like someone made it at home for you, and I feel immensely better when I eat it.  And because soup is lonely without a sandwich, I've been using these to go along with it:

I don't know if they have these in the US or not, but if they don't,  they should. In fact, I'm actually surprised they're not a huge thing in the US, because who doesn't love a grilled cheese sandwich? These things are basically a little teflon pocket you stick your sandwich (bread, cheese, meant,whatever) into. Pop the whole package  into the toaster, and - voila! - you have a grilled cheese (or whatever) sandwich, fondly known here in England as a toastie.  No muss, no fuss, no skillet, no paying attention so it doesn't burn.  Your cheese is melted, your bread is toasted, and life is good.   And it's all done while your soup is in the microwave.

Which, in my book, is a beautiful thing.

Friday, January 15, 2016

Life in England One Year In: The State of the Union

Given that I've hardly posted at all posted so infrequently in the last year, one might think that something like the anniversary of our arrival would fall far below my radar, but, in fact, I've been thinking quite a lot about our first year in the UK and what that's encompassed.  (And yes, I'm well aware that it's more than 10 days late, but whose blog is this, anyway? Right then.)

It's been a strange ol' year, for many reasons.  Some of it is just part and parcel of any move.  Some of it has to do with the strange set of circumstances that being an expat sets you up with.  Some of it is very likely unique to living in the UK.  Either way, here we are, a year later, and, in the tradition beloved of US Presidents, I present here a brief summary of what's transpired in the past year.

We're not living in Bristol, where we originally thought we'd live.  In fact, we're living about an hour's worth of a commute away in Bath, which, as it turns out, is somewhere everyone in the world has been or wants to go.  (Note:  While MsC understood that Bath was a lovely city and a big draw to anyone with a love for Jane Austen, she completely admits not realizing just how immensely popular it was with the rest of the universe -what with the Royal Crescent and the Roman Baths and so on - until it turned out that just about everyone she knew had already been there and declared it one of their favorite cities in England. And don't get me started on the Austen fans. They were nearly foaming at the mouth especially enthusiastic. After surviving most of the spring and summer here (peak tourist months) she now Gets It.)  That we ended up here is more or less the fault of the Dog, whose presence meant that many rentals in Bristol were off-limits to us.  When we found one in Bath that fit most of our needs and also allowed pets, we never looked back, and we have the Dog to thank for it.  We ended up in a small neighborhood of Edwardian terraced houses with lovely neighbors, parks in both directions, and two pubs within a short walk.  English living at its best. (I'm sure Bristol would have been lovely, too, but we're very, very happy here.)

We're starting to belong (a little bit.) We'd moved quite a few times in the US before we headed overseas as a family, and the one thing that MsCaroline always kept in the back of her mind was this:  You have to live somewhere for about a year before you start to feel like it is home.  This has proved to be the case in the UK as well.  We returned to the UK from our Christmas holidays, and were gratefully surprised to realize that we had, in fact, put down some tiny beginnings of roots.  We picked up the dog from our lovely sitters (a young couple who, in my opinion, represent everything that is good about the often-disparaged Millennials) with a nice chat about our holidays and plans for the coming year.   A few hours later, we ran into friends in the grocery store (we know enough people to actually run into some of them at the grocery!) (and, yes, we were those people, the ones who stand there nattering and blocking access to the grapes with their trolleys,) found a number of Christmas cards popped through our letterbox in our absence, and (the ultimate) got quizzed on our visit to the States by the clerk at our corner store, who knew we were leaving and wanted a summary. It was, in short, Coming Home.

We still miss Korea:  Yes, we love England, but we miss Korea.  We miss our friends and our jobs. We miss the expat community there.  We miss the energy, the bustle, and the excitement that is living in a megalopolis like Seoul.  We miss cozy winter evenings at our local Korean BBQ, the neon lights of Hongdae, the strangely peaceful hikes through Namsan Park (despite being smack in the middle of a city of millions,) the crazy traffic, the incredible food, the privilege of living in a culture of honesty, honor, and constant striving for excellence.  We miss it all.

We're empty nesters now (at least for the moment):  #1 was duly graduated (summa cum laude, if I may brag for just a moment) from his university course in December and has begun his career as a financial analyst with a respected institution.  #2 began his university studies in August and handled his first semester with aplomb. He will be back with us in England for the summer thank God.  And I'm doing just fine, thanks.  mostly.

I'm working again.  Teaching part time (one course) at a local University  My students are lovely, my colleagues (who hail from all over the world) are equally so, and my work environment (as most universities are) is diverse and stimulating.  As an expat wife, I am fortunate to be a teacher, one of the very few really portable international professions.

I don't have an English accent - or anything even close: What I do have, however, are phrases, words, and sayings. And inflections.  Nothing major, nothing deliberate, just a slow wearing-away of previous words and habits and an introduction of new ones.  Most of the time I feel like I stick out like a sore thumb with my non-regional North American accent (note: common introductory line by English people, who are too polite to ask you outright if you're a foreigner:  You sound like you're a long way from home) so it absolutely never occurred to me that I might in any way be absorbing aspects of British English until we were checking into our hotel in the US and the desk clerk told me to "Have a good night, now" and I responded automatically, "Thanks, and you" and went on my way.  "That was a totally British 'and you'" MrL observed on our way up in the elevator.  I looked at him blankly for a minute, and then realized what he was referring to.  And, well, yes, he had a point, I realized.  In the US, we'd say, "Thanks, you too." At least, I think we would.  (When someone points these things out, you quickly discover that both start sounding odd if you try to compare them.) And I'm not alone here; I notice that MrL asks questions differently now - instead of asking questions with rising inflection, US-style, he asks them with a drop at the end, British-style. And our vocabulary is slowly, inexorably, adjusting. We put the dog's jumper(sweater), buy courgettes(zucchini) and rocket(arugula) at the grocery, ask for a half (pint of cider) at our local (neighborhood pub) and check our diaries (personal calendars) to find out whether we're free to attend a colleague's leaving do (going-away party.) I suppose it's inevitable since we're surrounded by it all day, every day. I know there are likely many more words that have weaseled their way into my vocabulary, but since they've weaseled their way into MrL's as well, we don't notice it as much - and our British friends certainly don't, since I'm sure it's our Americanisms that would get their attention, not our 'normal' usage.  The next time you run into one of us, let us know what you think.

I've met a number of my favorite bloggers:  Having been an avid reader of many UK blogs for years now, I suppose it's not such a surprise that I'd start meeting their authors once I moved to the UK, but it has been a real thrill for me to meet four of them in the past year.  I still have a few on my list that I'd love to cross paths with (Yes, I'm looking at you, Nappy Valley Girl, and you, too, Stacy,) but I'm off to an excellent start! I met up with Emma of Bavarian Sojourn when we were in Munich for Oktoberfest, and followed that up by meeting the hilarious Potty Mummy of The Potty Diaries, and the lovely Elizabeth of Welsh Hills Again.  Most recently, I met up with Trish, whose award-winning travel blog Mum's Gone To...  has provided me with tons of ideas and inspiration - even more so now that we're living right on Europe's doorstep!

Blogging has fallen by the wayside in the past year and I really miss it.  I'm not a New Year's Resolution type of person - I hate jumping on any sort of bandwagon and January 1st always feels like one to me - but I have started 2016 off by thinking about things I would like to do this year - travel more, spend more time with friends, worry less, and - most of all - get back to blogging more regularly.  Not so much because I feel I'm such a spectacular blogger, but because I have missed it.  Even more to the point,  I have missed having the sort of record that blogging provides and which I have so enjoyed looking back over as we reminisce about our years in Korea.  Somewhere along the way, I lost my blogging mojo, and I'd like to get it back.  What this will look like, I have no idea, but I am hopeful and optimistic - a good way to begin any undertaking.

Here's to 2016.