Love it or hate it

is, as any Brit will know, the Marmite slogan. I’ve mentioned before that I do indeed love it. In fact, at the weekend I saw the biggest jar of Marmite that I have ever seen,  and was quite tempted to buy it. It was enormous! But it turns out my love has a price and that price is not $25.  I left it sitting on the shelf in the store where I found it.

Today, I came across a story on the Telegraph website about a new Marmite advertising campaign which is causing offence. It’s a parody advert, where negligent owners of jars of Marmite are punished for their behavior. Their jars of the brown stuff are taken away, to be rehoused with better owners .  Apparently some people feel it belittles the actions of  animal welfare officers, and animal welfare organizations, but PETA has come out on the side of Marmite, saying it reminds people of the difficulty of the job animal welfare officers have to perform.

To be honest, my family has probably been guilty of some serious Marmite neglect in the past.  Before I left home for university, I didn’t eat it that often, and neither my mother nor my sister ever touched the stuff. I rarely saw my dad eat it either, although he does like it.  I’m pretty sure most of our jars were pretty vintage by the time we got to the end of them.

I think it’s an amusing advert, although one I probably won’t be watching more than once. Take a look and see what you think.

Fireworks: UK vs. US

UK                                                                   US
-damp, cold                                                   -hot
-a few fireworks in the back yard          -have they stopped yet this year?
-a penny for the guy                                  -fundraising
-big bonfires                                                 -barbecues
-burning effigies                                          -barbecues
-winter coat and gloves                           -shorts and T-shirt
(and of course both places have plenty of organized public displays)

Yesterday was the 4th of July. Here in the US, that generally means fireworks. Lots and lots of them. In my neighborhood, the explosions started about 2 weeks ago with whistling noises, occasional  booms of things that sound too loud to be legal, and the on-and-off crackle of fire crackers at strange times of the day. However, all of that pales into insignificance compared to the sheer volume (both in quantity and noise) of fireworks that go off on the 4th itself.

The first time I spent July 4th in the US was when I visited here in 2005 or so with my husband when we were still dating. I was amazed by how many fireworks people set off. How could they keep going for so long? How much money did these people spend on fireworks? Didn’t they know it was dangerous to set these things off in the street? Of course, I promptly forgot all about it until we moved here in 2010. That year we had just had a very, very tall tree cut down and the whole of the back yard was covered in twigs, sawdust, and tree branches. 622049
Let’s just say we didn’t sleep so soundly that night, with a yard full of tinder and fireworks exploding all around.

This year, the July 4th temperature was 110F, and it has been a very dry year, so I’m very thankful that we didn’t have a tree situation this time. The whole notion of fireworks on a hot, hot day (and night  – they go on until at least midnight, without a single break, as though each house has coordinated things so as to maintain a constant stream of explosions) is very different from my experience of fireworks growing up. For most Brits (although perhaps less now than when I was younger) fireworks means November 5th. Guy Fawkes Night or Bonfire Night. It also means a high likelihood of a cold, damp, drizzly evening rather than scorching sunshine. As a kid, I didn’t think it was all that much fun to wait around getting freezing cold just to watch something that was over in 5 minutes. Having fireworks in the summer certainly makes sense from that point of view. Well done on the founding fathers for signing the declaration in July rather than November. Of course, we need to remember Mr. Fawkes, without whom November 5th would be forgotten. Sometimes when I was a kid, I’d see teenagers sitting outside shops with a stuffed pile of clothes, collecting a ‘penny for the guy’. I always wanted to give a penny, but my mum would tell me it ‘was begging and it’s not allowed.’

It looked fun though. That part appealed to me a lot more than the fireworks, although now I find it a bit strange to encourage kids to build effigies to burn later on a fire. Do kids still do that these days? Here in the US, fireworks are sold to raise money for various organizations. Where I live, I’ve passed firework stands raising money for a school, a fraternity, and a racing pigeon club (!).  I’m not a fan of allowing random people to set off fireworks in their own backyards, but it’s a way of raising money.

As a scaredy-cat child (I’ve written before about the fear instilled in me by various public service films I watched growing up), I was uncomfortable at the fireworks displays to which my parents took my sister and me a few times. At least twice, we went to displays at the village vicarage. There would be a giant bonfire with a guy on top and a small fireworks display. Of course my parents would want to get close enough to see, while I’d be convinced the bonfire would collapse, burning everyone within a mile-wide radius. I was once offered a sparkler. I declined. After all I’d seen the warnings on TV where a little girl picked up a spent sparkler and ended up with a giant bandage on her hand.

Now, I’m still not too keen to get anywhere near fireworks, but a nice, organized display can be pretty spectacular. fireworks

Melting

Today is day 7 of a heat wave. Every evening this week, at around 7:00 p.m., the hallway thermometer in my house has been averaging around 96°F (35°C).  Outside it has been even hotter at 103-6° F, depending on the day (39-41°C  or so), Forecasters promise some relief tomorrow (93! Never, growing up in England, did I imagine that one day I would look forward to a temperature in the 90s as as a ‘cool’ temperature!) All week, I’ve felt like I am melting. However, yesterday I decided to do some melting of my own…Melting of chocolate chips, that is.

I’ve mentioned before how I don’t really care to cook, but my husband had said something about cheesecake a couple of months ago. For some reason I decided right then to find a  cheesecake recipe.  and make it before the year was out. He likes cheesecake a lot, but I don’t because the cream cheese gives it a funny taste.  I looked online, however, I couldn’t get past the cream cheese issue and all the other recipes I found required gelatin. Powdered cow hooves? No, thanks.

Then, a few weeks ago, I came across a recipe on Made of Stars, a great blog with vegan recipes. Ally, the writer of Made of Stars, has a recipe for a no-bake chocolate Kahlua Cheesecake (minus the cheese!). It looked very easy – one of the most important considerations for me with any recipe – so I bookmarked it and decided to come back to it later. I usually bookmark recipes, only to delete them two years later without ever making them.

My husband doesn’t like alcohol, so my version was minus the kahlua. I also made a couple of other changes to use things I already had in the house. It came out looking really not too bad at all. DSC09978

This is the original recipe with my variations in italics.

The Base – 13 biscuits (I used Honeymaid graham crackers – the box had three packages and I used one. I crushed them by hand in a plastic bag)
1/2 cup walnuts (I used a handful of roughly chopped pecans),
coconut oil (I used 2 Tbsp of Earth Balance spread),
2 Tbsp raw cacao powder (I used cocoa powder),
1 Tbsp icing sugar,
orange zest, (I didn’t add this because my husband doesn’t like chocolate with orange)
kahlua, (I didn’t add this)
salt. (Nor this)
Melt the coconut oil/butter/butter substitute then mix everything together and press into a pan. (I lined mine with foil)
The base is required to spend an hour in the fridge in order to ‘set’.

Filling ingredients – 350g (12oz) firm silken tofu
300g (10oz) non-dairy sweetened chocolate chips, melted (I just used a bag of regular semi-sweet chocolate chips)
3 Tbsp raw cacao powder, made into a paste with 50ml(3 Tbsp)of hot water – cool slightly (I used cocoa powder and heaped up the spoons!)
1 Tbsp icing sugar, sifted (It was a very heaped spoonful and not sifted – didn’t notice that it should have been until now. Oops.
1 Tbsp Kahlua (none)
3 Tbsp maple syrup
2 Tbsp unsweetened almond milk (or other non-dairy milk) (I used skim milk)
Decoration: non-dairy white chocolate and dark chocolate (That’s going too far for me!)
Method:
1. Place the ingredients into a food processor in the order that they are listed. Process until smooth. Add additional almond milk if the texture is too thick. Taste the filling before adding it to the base. If it is not sweet enough, add an additional tablespoon of maple syrup. You may want to add more Kahlua! (I liquidized the tofu in my mini-blender with the milk, then just mixed everything together in a bowl because the blender was too small to fit in anything else.)
2. Remove the base from the fridge. Pour the filling into the base, and smooth the surface with a spatula.
3. Refrigerate for a few hours (or overnight).
4. For decoration, sprinkle finely grated white chocolate and dark chocolate across the surface of the cake. Decorate with small wedges of dark chocolate. (I skipped this.)

Result: I didn’t tell my husband that I’d made it with tofu. A previous experience involving black bean brownies taught me to keep quiet about unconventional ingredients. Once he’d declared it delicious, I revealed the secret ingredient (none of the fat of the nasty old cream cheese) and it was too late for him to change his mind! It’s not too sweet, with a very rich chocolate taste. I’d scale down the ingredients another time and make just a couple of small cups with the base crumbled on top instead. Overall – it’s a great recipe and it took very little time or effort to make. You can make it completely vegan, or make it a hybrid, like I did. Thanks to Ally for sharing it!DSC09982

Junk

Most weekends, my husband and I go to yard sales or estate sales. We don’t actively search for them, although I do know people who make detailed plans to hit yard sales: laminated maps, printed lists, and a very carefully planned route. There are just so many that we can’t help but pass at least a couple on our way to or from Saturday morning coffee.  These are events I have come to enjoy since moving to the US because I have never seen them in the UK. In Britain, we have car boot sales where people pay to use a parking space and then fill the boot (trunk) of their car with things they want to sell, but I’ve never come across either yard sales or estate sales there.

The sales advertise themselves via handwritten signs attached to lamp-posts. Sign writers, take note. Good signs have the date. “Today” is not much use if the sign has been there, flapping in the wind, for the past month. If I don’t usually go down that road, I don’t know if today is really today or was three months ago.  Good signs have large bold lettering. I can’t read a 16-point font sign driving along the road. If your sale is down the road on the left, don’t post the sign immediately at the turning. Give us a warning and time to change lane! If you draw an arrow on your sign, make sure the average person can figure out where it is pointing. I’m pretty sure you aren’t directing me to a sale in a treehouse, but I’m not always sure. Also, don’t write an essay on your sign. When and where are all I need to know. I’ll figure out if it’s worth stopping as I drive by. If I’m struggling to find the info in a mass of text, I’ll give up. Finally, please don’t say ‘Huge sale’ or ‘Biggest sale ever’. Those always seem to be the tiniest, with the junkiest stuff for sale.

Bad sign: yard-sale-sign-fail

The average yard sale has  tables of books, some old furniture, clothing and shoes, and a bunch of odd knickknacks (some odder than others).  Despite all those stories about people finding priceless paintings or rare Ming vases at yard sales, I’ve never found anything like that.

I like estate sales more, although I felt a little uncomfortable at the first few I attended. It felt odd browsing through someone’s life, all put up for sale after their death. However, I enjoy it now  – mainly because it allows you to see inside all kinds of houses. The most amazing house so far had a lovely wide staircase and huge windows, and backed onto a private lake. The most grungy was a very run down house with a terrible mildew problem and at least 20 lamps hanging from the ceiling in one room, plus creepy dolls. Most are predictable, but some have such an eclectic mix of art and literature that you really wonder what kind of person lived there. Some would have been very interesting people to meet.

A lot of the things in our home come from yard and estate sales. A handy chrome rack to stash unpaid bills, framed artwork, a like-new watch for just 25¢, book shelves, clothing, numerous books, and a hideous wooden monkey (that I did NOT want) – all yard sale deals.

Even better than yard sale purchases are FREE things! I’ve not seen people in England leave free, unwanted items in their front yard for others to take ( perhaps because the local councils can be pretty strict about how you get rid of things in England), but here you’ll sometimes pass a house with a pile of stuff and a sign saying ‘free.’ Our most recent free-in-the-street find was a drum. Well, two drums. My husband loves drums – playing them and fixing them up. When we picked them up they looked like this: drums before

And now, after some sanding, staining, and lacquering,  they look like this:drums now (I should confess that my only contribution to this transformation was opening and closing the back door so my husband could take them outside to spray with lacquer.)

So there you have it – one person’s trash can look very nice with a bit of effort!

Unappealing

I’m probably a bit of a fussy eater,  but I’m open to trying new foods (as long as they don’t contain meat or fish). However,  my husband will tell you that I’m about 95% likely to have some kind of complaint about those foods. I say they are not complaints, just comments. When I lived in Korea, I tried all sorts of foods that I have no intention of ever trying again, but to avoid offending my hosts I tried them. I refused to try things that were still movingit was very unnerving to watch people attempt to eat octopus tentacles which were wrapping themselves around their chopsticksand most of the time I avoided any kind of non-vegetable dish at all, although I did try fermented fish (very strong taste of ammonia) and I was once served a soup containing bright green snails. I have to admit I ate around them. They just  seemed to have the effect of making the soup taste like seawater.

Shortlist.com has an article about the foods that Brits deem the least appealing:
http://www.shortlist.com/home/oysters-voted-least-appealing-food-by-brits Top of the list is oysters, followed by liver, and anchovies.

I am definitely not a fan of oysters and liver. Oysters were another of the ‘try once in Korea’ foods. I was ill for almost a week after trying oysters thanks to a lovely bout of food poisoning that left me unable to stomach anything for several days. Liver brings back childhood memories of school lunches. I remember looking at a lump of liver on my plate at school thinking  it looked as I imagined dinosaur skin to look (no idea why!). Other unpopular foods on the list  include blue cheese (34%), olives (33%) and marzipan (26%). These three would be on my list of most delicious foods. I’ve  talked about my love of marzipan before. It’s just so tasty! In looking for a picture of marzipan, I came across this recipe which looks nice and easy.

I’ve tried to think of the foods I would put on my list of unappealing foods. I don’t  like mashed potato (or potatoes in general although I’ll eat them if I have to), I don’t really like fried food, and I’m not a fan of artichokes either. What would go on your list of unappealing foods?

Doing Things Differently

Americans might think all British TV is Downton Abbey-esque period drama, but that is certainly not the case. I was reminded of all this when my husband called me over to look at 29 Things The U.K. Does That The U.S. Needs To Start Doing on Buzzfeed. Click on the link to check out the full list. The pictures below all come from the Buzzfeed list.

Buzzfeed 29 Things The U.K. Does

Buzzfeed 29 Things The U.K. Does

Often when I watch British TV shows with my husband, he is amazed by what people are allowed to say on British TV. He’s not averse to swearing, but there have been so many times when he has remarked, “You can’t say that on TV.”  Well, in the U.K., you can after 9:00 p.m. American TV can  seem quite tame compared to some British stuff. Whether that’s a good thing or not is a whole different discussion.

Some shows that I think would have a hard time succeeding in the U.S. include The Inbetweeners – a comedy about 4 hapless high school students with one thing on their mind (offence factor high) and Outnumbered – a sitcom about a family of five. The children in the show are not completely scripted, but improvise what they say, leading to cute and funny, although sometimes just weird, dialogue that touches upon controversial topics at times (medium to low offence factor). Clicking on the links above will take you directly to Youtube clips. I’m not crazy about The Inbetweeners, but Outnumbered can be hilarious.

Buzzfeed 29 Things

Buzzfeed 29 Things

Another difference listed on Buzzfeed dealt with money. First, I’m afraid that American money is the most dull-looking money of any country I have ever visited. Even the newer ‘colorful’ paper money is just blah. I read a blog post by another Brit living in the US (sadly I don’t remember where it was) and he said that even after living in the States for years, he confuses the coins. Me, too. Seriously. There is not much variety and they don’t have their value written in numbers. I just save up all my coins and cash them in when it’ is time to pay my property tax. Just look at all the different coins we get to play with in the UK – all the different shapes, sizes, thicknesses, and colors. What fun, eh? So what if you lean to one side when you have a pocket full of pound coins.

Buzzfeed 29 Things The U.K. Does

Buzzfeed 29 Things The U.K. Does

The third thing on the list that struck me was about writing the date. That one always confuses me. If I see 5/3/2012 I really have to think about it. Is it May 3rd, or is it March 5th? I always write the month in full to avoid confusion, not to mention that 15 years of living in Asia conditioned me to write the date in the format: 2012/05/03 – biggest to smallest. Logical. Just like the British style of going from smallest to largest. But small, smaller, big…hmmm. That’s confusing!

Buzzfeed 29 Things The U.K. Does

Buzzfeed 29 Things The U.K. Does

Maybe the biggest difference on the list is the drinking age of 18 in the UK. My husband is just horrified when I say it’s perfectly feasible to be in high school and legally drink with your teachers (although the wisdom of those teachers might be questionable). I don’t know that it is a good thing. But it is different, as are laws on carrying open containers of alcohol: Carry away. You can also buy alcohol pretty much whenever you want it. Maybe things are a bit too lax!