Category Archives: Food

My Unexpected Christmas Trip

I am getting to go on the trip of a lifetime.  I have been invited to a destination that is by invitation only and I am assured that language will not be an issue.  The food is terrific, the shopping endless, and the people are unbelievably friendly.  You don’t know how excited I am.  In the near future I will be jumping in a car with a new friend of mine and we will be crossing the highly secure border of the American military base!!  Wahoo!!!!

I was elated to receive an invitation to the commissary on base where I was told I could wander aisle after tasty aisle.  I imagine myself drifting from shelf to shelf, tears in my eyes as I look at the various kinds of chocolate chips I can buy; milk chocolate, semi-sweet, dark chocolate, peanut butter, white chocolate, oh the options are limitless!!  The cereals, the SODA, THE HOT DOGS!!!!!  I can’t believe my good fortune.

My invitation also included a stop that is worthy of a dramatic pause.  So, wait for it.  Just a bit longer.  Almost there.  I am so excited I am almost giddy.  Friends, I am heading south of the border and gonna get me some Taco Bell!!  It has been over a year, and instead of dreaming of a white Christmas, I am dreaming of chicken quesadillas, cinnamon twists and endless refills on soda!  Ah, I can smell it now.

This is one of those opportunities that you don’t want to keep to yourself, so Ben will be coming along of course, but I thought I would also invite one of my British friends who has never eaten at Taco Bell.  That is a crying shame.  This amazing trip just came about today so in my excitement about American food, my British friend (who shall remain nameless) turned to me and said, “so what is all this I hear about Taco Bell?  What is it?”  I nearly choked.  Someone doesn’t know what Taco Bell is?  Yo quiero Taco Bell?  Think outside the bun?  Nothing?  I explained that it was a fast food restaurant that specializes in Mexican food and obviously tacos.  She then asked, “what is a taco?”  The sound of a record coming to an abrupt halt occurred.  I burst out laughing but quickly noticed she wasn’t laughing at all.  I looked over at my American friend and she asked “you aren’t serious are you?”  Oh yes, yes she was.  How could this be?

So, as any good American would do, I am going to introduce my lovely British friend to the world of tacos.  And what better place to do this than Taco Bell?!  Mind you, I know the quality isn’t really well, good, but hey, you can’t be picky over here.  And I have to say, I have yet to find a quesadilla I love more.  Not only will she get to experience the joys of taco bliss, but she will get to see the beauty of an American grocery store.  The order, the fully stocked shelves, the options, it is truly a beauty to behold.  What a wonderful, unexpected Christmas present.

The Jared Diet

I don’t love British food.  It isn’t that the ingredients are disgusting, it is more so the combinations of the ingredients that kind of repulse me.  Salmon and baked beans baked potatoes and pepperoni and corn pizza just don’t work for me.  Uck.  So on our nights out, we can’t help but get excited about the consistency of McDonald’s and Subway.  I hear angels sing every time I walk into Subway.  The bread, the melted cheese, the unlimited soda…sigh.  My mouth waters just thinking about it.

Subway is normally something I really look forward to, and today was no exception.  I met up with Ben after work and we scuttled in and hopped in line.  We started ordering and we were pleasantly surprised when the girl behind the counter actually struck up a conversation with us.  She chatted while our sandwiches toasted and then moved down the line as she started putting the toppings on.

Now, as I have stated before, I am a fairly picky eater, and I can’t help but love the fact that Subway caters to this.  I can get my sandwich made as simple as I like.  Meat, cheese, and mayo.  Yep, that’s it.  Sometimes I go crazy and get lettuce and tomato, but not today.  The girl asked if I wanted salad (that is what they call lettuce) and I said, ‘no, I would just like light mayo.’  She looked from my sandwich to my face and back again.  She said, ‘you don’t want any salad?’  I said no thank you and she just kind of paused before she replied, ‘getting fat.’  I am sorry, but did the Subway girl just say I was getting fat?!  So I like my mayo, can you really blame me?  I did choose Subway over McDonald’s, that has to count for something.  Not to mention, I got the light mayo!

I have a great-aunt on my dad’s side of the family who was always very vocal about whether or not I was gaining or losing weight, and I would prepare myself every time I was going to see her for what her comments would be.  If I had put on any weight, she would say, ‘oh Raquel (she is hispanic and never really called me Rachael), you are really looking chunky.  Maybe you should go on a diet.’  This was obviously never something I looked forward to hearing, but I could handle it as she was family.

There are a lot of things family will say that strangers would never dream of saying.  Apparently we have been visiting Subway too often.  When the staff start sounding like your great aunts, you know you are in trouble.  I may have to put some distance between us as this kind of openness won’t be good for my complex long-term.  What am I saying?  Nothing is going to keep me from Subway, not even ‘getting fat’ comments.  So bring on your worst Subway girl, you can’t keep me away.

Foods I miss

Rachael and I will be coming back to America soon for the weddings of my sister and Rachael’s brother, so naturally we’ve started to fantasize about the various foods we’re excited to taste again when we get back to the states.  Sure, we miss our friends, our families, our favorite places, but there’s just something about the foods you miss that really makes the prospect of coming home extra exciting.

When we moved to England, I thought there would be a lot of grocery items from America that I would crave but not be able to get in Cambridge.  In actuality, that has not been the case.  Groceries here are definitely different – there’s much less choice, stores run out of stock a lot, and the size and packaging of everything reflects the fact that a lot of people here don’t have full size refrigerators or freezers (that would include us).  Still, we cook a lot of the same things we cooked in the US, my typical lunch of peanut butter and jelly doesn’t change much from place to place, and I am not picky when it comes to cereals for breakfast.  So, we really don’t miss too many grocery items from the US.  Rachael wishes she had American chocolate chips.  For me, it’s Hershey’s chocolate syrup for chocolate milk.  I never would have guessed that chocolate syrup would be the grocery that I missed most from the US.  When we lived in the states, I only drank chocolate milk occasionally, probably about once every couple weeks.  But now that I can’t ever make my own chocolate milk, I find myself longing for one of those big brown bottles.  That’s definitely something we’re going to pick up and take back with us.

What we miss much more than American groceries is the American restaurant scene.  Fast food options, casual dining, special nights out – those are the things we don’t have here.  Since Rachael and I didn’t eat out very often in the US (about once a week, usually just fast food), we didn’t expect to miss American restaurants so much.  However, dining out in Cambridge just isn’t the same as it is in the states.

You pay a lot more to get a lot less.  The service…well, the lack of a tip system tends to equate to inattentive and inflexible service.  The food itself isn’t necessarily bad, but it’s really expensive for what you get.  Anything with meat is very costly, and the beef here just isn’t the same as it is in the US.  So, Rachael and I rarely eat at actual restaurants here.  We eat either McDonald’s or Subway about once a week, and we get fish and chips about once every month or two.  That’s it.  Rachael passed a Papa John’s outside of town while she was taking a trip with a friend, and she ecstatically called me to tell me about it.  I think she was fighting back tears.

So, we’ve been making up our list of American eateries that we’re looking forward to visiting.  The list is probably a bit overloaded with burger options and chain restaurants, but that just reflects a couple realities for us:  First, there’s the fact that the best burger in Cambridge is made at McDonald’s.  Second, we’re not in a place financially to spend too much on nicer restaurants.

Here’s a few of the places we wouldn’t be opposed to visiting when we’re in the states:  In the fast food category, there’s Chick-Fil-A, Chipotle, In-N-Out, Jerry’s Dogs, TK Burgers, Arby’s, Taco Bell, and Panda Express.  A step up from that would include Islands, Texas Road House, Red Robin, Conway’s RedTop, Panera Bread, BJ’s, and PeiWei.  Another step up from that would be places like PF Chang’s and the Cheesecake Factory.  Then, there’s the places we probably can’t swing right now but that sound really good to us, and there’s the barbecue options in Oklahoma that we’ll miss because we won’t be making it over there.  Finally, Rachael’s really wanting some frozen yogurt from our old favorite, Cherry on Top.

We definitely won’t be making it to all of the places on our list, but that’s okay.  We can’t wait to come back to the states and eat at an American restaurant again.  Oh yeah, we’re looking forward to seeing friends and family too!

PS – Coincidentally, while we’re on the topic, this trip home is the reason why our blogging has dropped off the past month or two.  We’ve been a little preoccupied with travel plans, wedding plans, and wrapping up stuff here in England before we take an extended vacation.  Sorry to our loyal readers.

What I’ve Been Reading

I have a new best friend.  And I have to tell you, he has changed my life.  Ben wouldn’t normally encourage a relationship with another man, but he keeps bringing him up and asking me to spend more time with him.  I guess he must be a good influence on me.  I don’t know for sure, but you may have heard of him, his name is Jamie Oliver.

Yep, that’s right Jamie Oliver, the world-famous British chef.  My friend Alice lent me his cookbook Ministry of Food for the last few months, and let me tell you, it has been amazing.  I have always loved to bake, but I have always done the bare minimum when it comes to cooking.  I just never felt confident with it, and didn’t really know what I was doing.  That is slowly changing as the weeks go by.

I have read and used a lot of cookbooks but this one is by far the very best.  At least it is for a new cook.  I know that is a bold claim, but I am telling you, it is amazing.  I actually read the cookbook.  You know, like an actual book from beginning to end.  Who does that?  I suppose more people would read entire cookbooks if they were as helpful as this one.  I literally feel like I have a friend in the kitchen who is helping me the whole time.  Incredible.

The whole point of the cookbook is to teach people who haven’t cooked how to do it, and how to do it well.  The book starts off going through kitchen gadgets; what you need and what you don’t need, as well as which items to buy as cheaply as possible and which ones to really splurge on.  So helpful.  Then he spends two pages going over what a cook should always have in their kitchen.  This has been indispensable.  I think the problem with a lot of cookbooks is that they use 30 ingredients, half of which you’ve never heard of.  Not the case with Jamie (minus the obvious British foods that I am learning along the way).  He uses every day ingredients and doesn’t insist on every item being organic or fresh (though it is loosely encouraged).  I am able to pick up his cookbook far more often and just pick something to cook which is so nice.  Normally I have to choose something to cook, then go to the store and spend too much money on one dinner’s worth of ingredients.  I love this book.

Then he dives into recipes.  He breaks down everything and the thing I love more than just about anything, is that he shows you how to do each step.  Literally, there is a small photo for each step.  I am a visual learner to the extreme, and this has made such a huge difference for me.  I now know how things are supposed to look at the various stages.  I could go on about the benefits of this cookbook, but my point is that I am learning to cook and I am thrilled!  I have started adding a new recipe or two every week and we are starting to actually really enjoy our meals.  For the first time, I actually look forward to cooking dinner.  Who would have thought it possible?!

My New Addiction

Fish and chips – isn’t that the national dish of England or something?  That’s what we thought before we moved to Cambridge.  Then, we settled into life here, made some friends, and found out from the locals that Cambridge is strangely lacking in the kind of fish and chip shops that can be found everywhere else throughout the country.  You can get fish and chips at pubs and seafood restaurants, but where’s the local stand with the cheap and greasy take-out?

We hadn’t eaten fish and chips for several months.  Then, something inside me snapped, and I decided that it would be a grave mistake to spend all this time in the UK without eating some fish and chips.  So, I decided to do some research, and I discovered that one of the nation’s highest rated fish and chips shops had recently opened a new stand in Cambridge, just within the past month or two.  Divine providence.  The Petrou Brothers own a couple shops in other towns, and now they are sharing their passion for freshly fried fish with the residents of Cambridge!  

Tonight we went with our friends Simon and Katie to the new spot, and I was very impressed.  The batter was light and flaky, the fish moist and fresh, the fries hot and appropriately crisped – all for under £10 for a dinner for two!  I also liked the way the walls and floor are decorated to appear like the ocean floor and coast of the sea.  I think this is going to become a habit for us, especially since Rachael needs some help getting over the loss of her favorite pastry perveyor (RIP Fitzbillie’s).  The only downside is that it’s a bit of a walk for us to make it to Petrou Brothers, but then the walk back helps the food settle, so I guess it really is the perfect arrangement.

Things I Am Suprised I Love About Cambridge #3

I suppose this next love of Cambridge is not actually unique to the city, however, this is where I discovered it and this is my blog, so I am going to go ahead and count it!  You may surprised to know that the third thing I love here in Cambridge is…ketchup. 

Yes, you heard me right, I love the ketchup.  It comes in the same bottle/packet that it comes in the US (Heinz of course) but it is oh so different.  One thing to note here is that I actually dislike ketchup on anything other than fries, and that hasn’t changed.  I don’t love it that much…yet!  Now I am sure you are wondering what makes the ketchup here so special?  Well it quite simply is this; it is sweeter here.  The sweetness of the ketchup is the perfect complement to salty fries, or chips as they call them here.  I can’t get enough of it!  I don’t really like McDonald’s all that much, but if it means that I can eat some fries and sweet ketchup…I am in!  Don’t believe it’s that good?  Well then I guess you will just have to come see for yourself.

It’s Tea Time

I have become a tea drinker since coming to England.  I tried to avoid it, but it is impossible.  They practically shove it down your throats…in the kindest, politest way imaginable of course!  Now, don’t get me wrong, I love tea, but not hot tea.  I love good old fashioned southern sweet tea.  Two or three cups of sugar per gallon and I am a happy (and slightly hyper) woman.  You know you love sweet tea when people start buying you gallons of your favorite kind for your birthday and telling you they have a surprise for you at their house and it is none other than that delicious nectar from heaven.  Yeah, you could say I am addicted.

The thing is though, you are offered tea everywhere you go.  You can’t escape it.  The same is true for the workplace.  They drink tea like children eat candy on Halloween.  I have never seen so many hot beverages consumed!  I have realized that all those jokes about tea time in England, well, they aren’t jokes.  They seriously love their tea. 

What I find interesting is how they drink their tea.  It is never, and I repeat never, served without milk.  At first I thought this was the strangest thing.  Milk and tea just don’t go together.  I turned it down almost every time.  Then I started working and what completely changed my mind was a glass bottle.  Yep, a glass bottle.  You see, my office along with a large portion of the population still have their milk delivered in glass milk jars.  I had never seen the old timey glass bottles and I have to tell you, I was entranced.  I saw the fridge full of these glasses (as they had just been delivered by the milk man) and I just had to try it.  It felt so old fashioned.  I loved it!  Now I can’t have tea at my office without milk.  I look forward to opening up the fridge and seeing all those clear glass jars filled  with freshly delivered milk. 

They say packaging is everything and I in this case it is absolutely true.  I would not have started drinking milk in my tea if not for the discovery of the milk jars.  I know it is ridiculous, yet I can’t help but smile at how old fashioned I feel pouring my milk into my tea…with four sugars of course…some things never change.