Sunday, February 7, 2016

Life in England: The Mundanity of February*

The view from my kitchen most of the time these days.

*Warning:  This post is comprised of mostly whining and some observations.  You have been warned.

There is really not much to say about February in England.  For starters, it is Mostly Cold and Grey and Usually Rainy, but that isn't so different from the rest of the northern hemisphere, so there's nothing remarkable there.  

I have started seeing Signs of Spring everywhere around me, though:  fruit trees are in blossom (yes, really) and the daffodils, crocus, and primroses are so evident that I no longer stop and exclaim, Look! The (crocus, daffodil, primroses) are blooming!  
The crocus are out, but difficult to appreciate so much in the rain.

Of course, the fact that it is raining approximately 90% of the time has limited the amount of time I spend gazing at blossoms, but I've seen them when I walk the dog, so I know they're out there.

Those of you who read my blog when we lived in Korea will recall that I whined a lot in February when we lived there because it was So Incredibly Cold.  Indeed, it was, in fact, much, much colder in Korea but at least we had Sun, and that made all the difference.

So I'm just sort of dragging through the days, working toward the Easter Holidays. As far as I can tell, this is more or less the same tactic being used by everyone in the UK - sort of a stolid plodding towards the light.  Naturally, we are doing our plodding wrapped up in waterproof coats and wellingtons, but we are all moving forward, myself included.  Most of the time, I am well-wrapped up in what #2 refers to as my "Tundra Suit," consisting of hat, fleece neck gaiter, several layers of clothes top and bottom, waterproof coat, gloves, and waterproof insulated winter walking shoes.  It is far from being an attractive ensemble, but at least I am mostly warm in it.

Of course, while I walk miles behind the inexplicably energetic dog (who has to stop and sniff every.single.thing -even more so when the wind is particularly bitter and from the East) I brood inside my Tundra Suit about all sorts of things, including:

Why it has taken well over 3 weeks for this !@#$%^& cough to go away and if it really means that I'm Getting Old because it's never taken me this long to kick a cough before.  This is such an unpleasant notion to contemplate that I rarely spend much time on it, because I really don't want to stare my own mortality in the face think about being Old, even though it seems this is inevitable if I am to avoid the alternative.

Why my refrigerator has a plastic holder for seven (7) eggs.  First of all, eggs in the UK are not kept in the refrigerated section of the grocery store (just out on a shelf), which leads me to believe that one isn't expected to refrigerate them at home, either.  And, if you do refrigerate them, why seven?  Why not six, or twelve (the amounts in which they are sold?) The point is pretty moot in this case - for me, at least - because my refrigerator is so tall (the fridge is stacked on top of the freezer, and together they form a fridge/freezer taller than I am) I can't see how many eggs are up there anyway and when I try to feel around up there, I invariably knock at least one egg out and onto the floor.  As a result, I mostly store the eggs in their cardboard containers in the fridge (very, very difficult to overcome lifetime habit of storing eggs in fridge, even when the entire UK doesn't do so and clearly suffers no ill effects from it. When I tried to get in habit of storing eggs on kitchen counter instead of In The Fridge, these attempts foiled by Son#2 and his father, who always put them back in the fridge.) This is problematic because the fridge is about the size of the one I had in my dormitory at University, and real estate in there is at a premium (frequent disagreements with MrL as to exactly how much space he is allotted for chilling beer. Needless to say, our opinions diverge significantly.)

How much easier it is to stay indoors.  Last year, when MrL and I were starry-eyed newbies who had just moved to the UK and were enchanted by everything, each weekend found us out exploring our new country, impervious to the vagaries of the English climate (this means rain);  a Stately Home here, a rugged Cornish cliff there, a charming museum, a cozy pub - you get the picture.  This year, though, we're experienced and - if the truth must be told - a bit more jaded.  Rainy weekends (in England, in the winter, this means 'nearly all') now find us holing up inside, binge-watching select TV series, interspersed with brisk, miserable walks through the rain with the dog, who has no desire to be out in it either, and, most of all - cooking.  Oh, yes, we're cooking like we have our own show:  mostly warm, cozy things:  soups, and stews and gumbos and pies and roasts and the like, and usually project-worthy, involving hours of chopping and sauteeing and simmering, resulting in something warm and comforting and tasty (and a sink full of dishes, but whatever).  Naturally, all this cooking is doing nothing for my waistline, of which fact I am well aware and which is depressing. It is made even more depressing by the fact that MrL remains precisely as fit and trim as he was when we married nearly 25 years ago. ( I am fully aware that MrL's habit of cycling to work several days per week  -60km round trip- has a great deal to do with this phenomenon, but still feel faintly resentful, although also fully aware that this is both unreasonable and unjust.)

How relieved I am not to be parenting small children right now.  MsCaroline does, of course, have two children, but they are no longer small. What this means is that MsC does not have to read - and, more importantly, worry about - all those articles on FaceBook that predict Doom and a Limited Future for every child who has not been breastfed/ attachment-parented/carried about the world in a sling/taught a second language while still in utero/raised in a yurt on organic food.  While MsC is pretty sure that she will always find something to worry about regarding her children, she at least no longer has to worry about scarring them for life or destroying their chances for a happy future. (Note re:  scarring/destroying:  If this has, in fact, happened, it is already done and no amount of worrying can change it, which is in itself quite freeing.)  Furthermore, at this point children are nearly 19 and 23 and both have thus far avoided incarceration (surely a win in anyone's parenting book) and proven selves to be responsible, hardworking, cheerful, kind and level-headed, which means that MsC and MrL must have gotten at least some of it right.

The very interesting interpretation that England has of some American foods:  Let me say here and now that I am not in any way bashing the cuisine of England.  In fact, I will undoubtedly go through the 5 stages of Grief when I leave here just because I will miss the grocery stores so much.  Also, Pies. And Cornish pasties, Bakewell Tart, and Eccles cakes.And the Sunday Roast.  But I digress.  The point was, that, while England does its own food - along with just about every other cuisine - marvelously, it has been oddly uneven on its interpretations of a couple American specialties we have run across(Note:  The Hamburger is not included in this category;  we have probably eaten the best burgers of our lives here no matter what the Americans think.)  And while we experienced this cultural disconnect a number of times in Korea (some of you may recall the time I was served a margarita made entirely of soju) we didn't really expect to experience it in the UK.  Which just goes to show you that you should never make assumptions.  In the last few weeks, we have run across:

"Nachos" - these were served to us in a cast-iron skillet (interesting presentation and a first for me with nachos) and consisted of what appeared at first glance to be only sauteed bell peppers and onions, but eventually revealed itself to be a dish consisting also of:  black and green olives (whole and chopped); a bit of cheese (more of a garnish), and a red sauce possibly meant to be salsa but tasting strongly of ketchup. There were a few tortilla chips interspersed under the toppings, but they required some hunting. We ate them, of course, but were bemused.

The banana peppers were an interesting touch.

"Barbecue" - this was served in a local chain restaurant that is meant to replicate a genuine BBQ joint of the American South and did it so well that MrL and I were almost stunned upon receiving our extremely genuine-tasting pulled pork and brisket sandwiches.  The only clues that indicated it was not a bona fide BBQ joint were:   1)  The lack of a cartoon pig in the establishment's signage  (widely recognized in American South as reliable indicator of quality of BBQ), and 2) the 'coleslaw' served on the side was essentially purple cabbage that may or may not have been tossed with a bit of vinegar.  Since you can easily find typical American-looking (eg, mayonnaise-based, orange-and-white-and pale green) slaw all over the UK, we were hard-pressed to understand this deviation from the accepted norm when everything else was entirely authentic.  While I can state definitively that purple cabbage slaw on your brisket does not taste as good as the White Stuff, I can also state with equal confidence that the BBQ was As Good as Anything We Could Get At Home, which (we felt) made up for any deficiencies in the slaw department.

"Guacamole" - Honesty compels me to admit that the tacit understanding in the USA when buying guacamole is that Homemade Guac (pronounced 'gwok') is Always Best so of course the stuff you buy in the store will never be that good. Everyone knows this, and everyone (well, at least everyone who lives in the Southwest) has their own recipe for guacamole.  However, it is also true that making guac can be messy and time consuming, so if your grocery store guac is less than stellar, it is the price you pay for convenience, and you should just Deal With It.  In this way, English grocery store guacamole is entirely consistent with the American version, except that it tends to be heavier on the sour cream than the guacamole we are used to. But that -as I said - is the price you pay for convenience - in both America and England - and you just Deal With It.

And, while we're on the subject of food, may I just say how much we love our Local, which puts out some of the wittiest signs in town (sorry, FaceBook friends, just had to post this again):