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


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. has an article about the foods that Brits deem the least appealing: 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!

A Grateful Site

Reading the news for the area where I grew up in North Kent,  I clicked on links to London news and came across an article about a rather original site. It’s a site called Thank You London and it gives people the opportunity to post thanks. You can say thank you for just about anything – to the city itself, to specific people, to no one in particular, or even the weather.

The posts are anonymous, but unlike some sites where anonymity can tend to descend into rudeness, these are pleasant expressions of gratitude. Here are some examples of posts:

“Thank you for being a home from home.”

“Thank you for the sunshine in Lincoln’s In Fields.”

“Thank you to the guy who helped me with my suitcase on the escalators at Waterloo.”

“Thank you to the Curzon Cinema for being such a great venue on a wet and cold afternoon.”

If you were to post thanks to your town, what would you say? I’d thank Sacramento (where I now live)  for having such great weather! And I’d thank the place where I grew up for being a safe and scenic place to live, but thankfully close enough to London for an easy escape to culture and excitement.

Propaganda and Pea Pods

The other day I was looking at the Daily Mail online. It’s my before-work guilty pleasure. The writing is terrible, and it’s full of articles of doubtful origin, yet I can’t stop myself.

One article that caught my eye was one about an exhibition of propaganda from around the world at the British Library. Entitled Propaganda: Power and Persuasion, it’s on until September 17th. If I were in London, I would definitely go along and take a look. I love looking at old propaganda posters and leaflets. They can be very creative and sometimes just bizarre. This one from the British Library’s website is a little on the bizarre side:

Chinese poster

Chinese poster

The exhibition also has some old English ration books and wartime recipe books. Reading the article, I was struck by a picture of a little book called “The Kitchen Front: 122 wartime recipes” which was published in 1942 and priced at 6D.  I have a copy of that book, with my great-aunt’s name penciled onto the title page. It has a few grease marks on it which suggest it was used. We used to visit my great-aunt quite often, but I don’t recall ever eating at her house. I don’t remember my grandmother ever making any food for us when we visited her house either.  On reading some of the recipes, I’m kind of glad they didn’t cook for us. It also gives me an appreciation of what life was like for my parents as children during WW2. No wonder my father used to say “You children don’t know the meaning of hunger,” when we’d complain about not liking some food or other. If the dishes described in the book are the kinds of things he and my mother ate growing up, I can also understand why they thought sardine paste sandwiches were an acceptable packed lunch. I didn’t as a ten-year-old – and nor did my classmates. That stuff stinks.

If you feel like trying out some thrifty recipes, how about Pea Pod Soup, Vegetable Creams, or Roast Calf’s Head? Click on the recipes to see them up close. Let me know if you try them!
pea pod soup 001vegetable creams 001Roast calf 001

A Simple Recipe

I’m not much of a cook. It’s not that I can’t cook, but if it takes longer than twenty minutes, I’m just not interested. I also find that any recipe starting along the lines “A simple recipe using store cupboard essentials” invariably consists of about 10 ingredients I don’t possess. However, I’ve finally found a recipe on the BBC Good Food site for which I have almost all the ingredients on hand:


Marmite on toastmarmite on toast 2

The comments at the end of the instructions are fun to read.