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.

Cookies and Smiles

Way back when, I was in the Brownies (girl guides/girl scouts). I was a leprechaun. I’m the short one with dark hair below.

001There are a few things I remember about being in the Brownies. One is an Easter Sunday parade at church (there was some official ‘Brownie’ word, but that’s not one of the things I remember). We were instructed by Brown Owl to bring half a dozen eggs which would be distributed to needy old age pensioners after the church service. These eggs were supposed to be raw, so the deserving OAP could whip themselves up some scrambled eggs, bake a cake, or whatever else you can do with eggs. However, my mother refused to believe the eggs should be raw. She  didn’t believe they’d let a group of  seven- to nine-year-olds sit in church for an hour with boxes of fragile eggs and insisted on hard boiling mine. I still have visions of some old dear trying to crack an egg for a morning fry-up, only to find a rubbery ball in the shell.

Another thing I remember is selling ‘Sunny Smiles’. At the time, all I knew was that the money was for poor children, and that I struggled to sell even one book while other brownies would sell volumes and volumes of the things. I’ve since found out that the money raised went to the National Children’s Homes. I don’t know if brownies still sell Sunny Smiles, but they were the British alternative to Girl Scout cookies. While American brownies were shifting boxes of thin mints, I was trying to sell  black and white pictures of orphans.

Girl Scout Cookies

Girl Scout Cookies

Sunny Smiles

Sunny Smiles

They were small pictures, perhaps 2.5 inches by 2.5 inches. I found the image here on a Facebook group I belong to. I always felt a little sorry for the children in the booklets. Of course, I felt sorry that the children were in need, but I felt even sorrier that people would leaf through the books, looking for a kid they considered cute enough to buy. People would tear out the kid they wanted, and sign their name on the stub left in the book. I’m not sure why they had to sign their name, but I think it was supposed to act as proof that you didn’t just sell the whole book to your mum and dad, and that you’d forced your parents to pressure their friends and coworkers into buying some. Any children the buyers thought were less attractive would be left in the books at the end of the selling period, and I felt very bad for those children. As an adult, selling pictures of young children seems odd, although the intention was good.

I can’t help thinking that boxes of cookies (or should I say biscuits?) would have raised more money, but the little booklets were easy to carry around. Looking back, Sunny Smiles were a nice, if strange, idea. Anyone else sell Sunny Smiles?

How do you pronounce ‘Trottiscliffe’?

Go on guess! If you are not from near there, I doubt you’ll get it. (Answer at the bottom of the page.)

I often laugh when my husband tries to pronounce the name of various English towns and villages. Don’t worry, he laughs when I say American ones. I found one today to test his pronunciation. This is a place close to where I grew up. In fact, back in primary school, the first time I saw it on a road sign, I couldn’t believe that Trottiscliffe was the correct spelling for this place. The correct pronunciation has just 2 syllables. Yes, 2! All those letters condense down to a mere 2 syllables. Crazy British spelling!

(Apparently there is a stone burial mound there, too. You’ll need to know how to pronounce it to ask for directions!)Image


***The answer***
The pronunciation of Trottiscliffe, a village in Kent, is: /ˈtrɒzli/ “Trozli”. Did you get it right?!


Eating a sandwich the other day, I started to think about bread. The sandwich was good, apart from the bread. The bread wasn’t bad. It was nicely chewy, a little grainy, didn’t disintegrate due to juicy tomato slices, but it was sweet. Really sweet. Everything was good about the sandwich apart from that sweetness.

Until I started to live overseas, I didn’t give bread much thought beyond ‘Do I have enough for toast?” If bread on a holiday in a foreign country was different from the bread at home, it was no big deal. Vacations are opportunities to try all sorts of new things, and since vacations  outside the UK meant France, it was all very good! But when being overseas is your everyday reality, it matters a little more.  It wasn’t an issue when I lived in Italy. Plenty of decent (and not sweet) bread there. But as I moved further from home, I realized bread is certainly not the same thing in every country. To clarify, I’m talking about sliced bread. I know that buying a fresh, whole loaf is invariably tastier, but more often than not, I buy sliced loaves for convenience. I used to go to a bakery and get them to slice up a granary loaf while I waited back in the UK.  I’ve not seen a bakery, as I know it, in the town where I now live.

When I lived in Japan, I was amazed by the sliced bread. For a start, they don’t sell you the whole loaf. You buy it in bags of between 4 and 8 slices. It was often doorstep-thick, soft and puffy, but lacking in body and texture. Not to mention fibre! Wholemeal bread was relatively scarce, though it existed, but it too was soft, squishy, and far too sweet. japanese_bread01http://malaysia-seikatsu.com/acc/bread-in-japan

I learned to eat rice balls stuffed with picked plums and wrapped in seaweed instead, or rice rolls filled with fermented soy beans. I still would if they were relatively available here. I really enjoyed them!

Now I live in the US, and bread looks a lot more like the bread I ate in the UK. Loaves are full size.  I have a wide choice of whole-wheat breads made of various grains. However, it still doesn’t taste like home. The main difference between British bread and American bread is the sweetness. Bread here is sweet. Much sweeter than English bread. One of the few things I remember from studying Dante  many years ago is the line in Purgatory where he talked about the saltiness of other’s bread. He was speaking both figuratively and literally   (the salty/bitterness of exile, and the actual saltiness of bread from outside Tuscany: see this blog post for an explanation of  Tuscan bread). For some reason that resonated with me when I read it and now I always think of that when I eat bread here –  while certainly not in exile, I’ve chosen to settle abroad, and the bread just isn’t right! It looks right, smells right, but it just doesn’t taste right due to that sweetness. Although here is now my home, there will always be little differences that will never feel quite right.

“Tu proverai sì come sa di sale
lo pane altrui,
(You will know how salty another’s bread tastes,)
Paradiso XVII: 58-59

And my preferred loaf? A nice granary. What’s yours?


101 Things to Do

I always feel a little embarrassed when people from outside the UK talk about this place or that place  which they loved when they were in Britain and look at me expectantly. I usually have to admit I’ve never been there. I was too busy exploring other countries.  Now that I don’t live in the UK, I find myself looking into places in the UK that I would really like to visit. Maybe the fact that I’m unlikely to be able to visit any time soon makes it more enticing.
One place I heard about a while ago was the Shell Grotto in Margate, Kent. My husband was reading a magazine and asked me if I’d ever been there. Although I grew up in Kent and visited Margate many times (day trips with my mum and sister), I had no idea that Margate was home to a rather bizarre shell grotto: http://shellgrotto.co.uk/gallery/. shell grotto 1 According to the website for the grotto, its history is unclear, but it is a shell-lined grotto hiding underground. Another time, my husband asked me if I knew of a village called Pluckley, again in Kent. Apparently it’s the ‘most haunted’ village in England,and a mere 28 miles from where I spent the first 18 years of my life. Again, I’d never heard of it. It looks rather lovely in this view from the air:Pluckley (source: images2.wikia.nocookie.net)

Now Visit England is releasing a list of 101 Things to do in England before you go abroad. The complete list won’t be out until St. George’s Day (April 23rd), but of the things listed on the preview, I’ve done very few. According to the Daily Mail (in Balti in Birmingham, a night out in Newcastle), the list tells us to do things like swing through the trees in Sherwood Forest (nope, haven’t done that), watch cheese rolling in Cooper’s Hill, Gloucestershire (haven’t done that either), enjoy the windswept strangeness of Dungeness, Kent (I’m afraid I think of nuclear mutant crabs when I think of Dungeness – my image of that town is of the nuclear power station, so when I see restaurants offering Dungeness crab on the menu, that is where my mind goes – sorry!), and meet the ponies in the Dartmoor National Park (one I can check off – memories of an aggressive pony trying to get into our car near a tor when I was about 10). The list has a lot of interesting places, and I’ll be interested to see the full list on Tuesday. I know that the next time I do manage to get back to the UK, I’ll have to force myself to go further than London, which is my usual habit.