Tag Archives: special relationship: us/uk

In wine we trust

Click through to read my full commentary, or if you’re just here for the booze, the recipe itself is below. Happy December holidays, folks.

Paige’s Mulled Wine: bring me bread and bring me wine

As promised to folk on Twitter, coming to you live from a southbound train, until I lose my wifi connection somewhere in the Yorkshire Dales. If you’re not fond of my notes with 52 million little asides, proving why I am not a cookbook writer, there will be a tidy recipe version at the end. … Continue reading Paige’s Mulled Wine: bring me bread and bring me wine

  • Prep Time: 10m
  • Cook Time: 7m
  • Total Time: 17m
  • Serves: 4

Ingredients

  • 1 bottle of strong red wine
  • 2 cloves
  • 1/2 teaspoon mixed spice
  • 1/4 teaspoon grated nutmeg (from whole if possible)
  • 1/2 stick cinnamon
  • 1 piece of peeled root ginger (1/2 in/1 cm long)
  • 1/4 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 100 grams granulated sugar (US folk: just under 1/2 cup)
  • 1 clementine or satsuma, or 1/2 orange
  • 1/2 unwaxed/washed medium lemon
  • 2 cardamom pods, slightly crushed

Instructions

  1. Mix sugar and spices together, dry, in a cold saucepan.
  2. Peel (avoiding the pith) and juice the lemon and orange. Add the juice and peel to the cold saucepan and stir until evenly distributed.
  3. Add ginger piece and vanilla extract to the cold saucepan and stir once more.
  4. Add a slug of wine, adding additional if juice doesn't fully cover the sugar.
  5. Put the saucepan over medium-high heat, stirring with a wooden or silicone spoon, until the mixture comes to a boil.
  6. Let the syrup mixture boil for 4 to 5 minutes, stirring periodically.
  7. Turn off the heat and let the syrup come down from the boil. Set a metal strainer into a heat-proof glass measuring jug and carefully strain the spices and rind out of the syrup. Set the strainer aside and let the contents cool before throwing away.
  8. Carefully pour the syrup back into the saucepan, then add the rest of the wine.
  9. Warm over low heat, stirring gently to combine, until the wine comes to a very low simmer. Serve immediately in small mugs.

still singing Galway Bay

It’s taken me a few years, but I think I’ve finally mostly sorted Christmas in Britain in my brain.

Christmas, as Christmas, though not necessarily of much religious connotation, is a big deal in and of itself in Britain. This has taken some getting used to. Possibly the weirdest thing for me to swallow, aside from not being wished ‘happy holidays’ on a regular basis, is the fact that nativity plays are de rigueur in primary schools, but overall it’s the sheer assumption of celebrating Christmas that gets to me. (By the way, thanks to the Life in the UK Test–which I passed–I can now tell you with 2001-statistic accuracy what percentage of the population is Christian and which percentage is not. In 2001, that is.)

But I’ve learned to adjust–a paradigm shift with a slightly jammed clutch, but adjust none the less. There are some key points to remember and understand; admittedly this is mostly for my benefit and amusement, but this could be handy to anyone writing a themed fanfic in a UK-based fandom. Maybe. I suppose. Get a Britpicker, even if you don’t think you need one.
– Christmas takes on a bunch of aspects that in the US and Canada are assigned to Thanksgiving–bigass traditional meal of turkey and stuffing and veg sides with family, and specific television viewing (coughdoctorwhocough) thereafter. I’ve had people ask me what the heck US people eat for Christmas if they just had turkey a month earlier. The answer I’ve given is ‘sometimes turkey sometimes other things’.
– Christmas crackers are a small but crucial concept. These are tiny explosive devices with paper crowns inside, a joke that is appalling, and an item of the Cracker Jack box variety back when you actually got something okay in a Cracker Jack box. Those from elsewhere, think a Kinder Egg toy.
– One will be getting drunk lots as part of this holiday process, with family (potentially as coping mechanism) or on work nights out, or both. With regards to the latter, office Christmas party, yes, and then likely another night of pub and food with one’s department, and getting hammered on Christmas Eve or Boxing Day because it’s a bank holiday and one has nothing else to do save eat leftovers and drink all the things. See: coping with family.
– Remarkably little eggnog is quaffed, though. Except at Starbucks.
– Fake Christmas trees are far more common. If you asked me to surmise as to why, I would say ‘way less open land to grow Norfolk pines’, but I may be off-base here.

And…well, this is more than a point. Christmas music here is just slightly different, which gets me to what was going to be the point of this post until I went on a tangent.
I’ve gotten used to what I will hear in stores and malls and offices in the US for the holidays, that continuous piped stream of not-exactly-cheer-inducing sound. Unfortunately, the stuff I can handle most as background noise (and this may be because of upbringing) is almost non-existent over here, stuff like Mannheim Steamroller and Canadian Brass and even the darn Mormon Tabernacle Choir.

Fortunately, some of the big band stuff’s crossed the big pond, but Britain has this unique concept of the Christmas Number 1. This is the lucky track on the top of the pop charts for Christmas week, which is often a Christmas pop song. So many try and fail to gain this spot. (Christmas doesn’t always win out, though. Gary Jules’ cover of Tears for Fears’ Mad World from Donnie Darko was #1 one year, which makes me grin in misanthropic and anti-pop glee.)

And there are a few tolerable things you’ll hear constantly over here that have never made it stateside–Slade’s Merry Christmas, Everybody, for a start. Let’s not talk about how I didn’t initially believe Noddy Holder was a real name for a rock musician as compared to a name JK Rowling dismissed for a houseelf. It’s just that no one here has heard Must Be Santa! It’s a damn shame.

With regards to things I’ve heard on both sides of the Atlantic, I’m going to take this opportunity to say that Wham!’s Last Christmas is the most ridiculous Christmas song ever, except for possibly Paul McCartney’s Wonderful Christmastime, which is purely insipid. I mean, seriously, how is a song about having your heart broken and telling that person ‘screw you, you’re not special’ full of the spirit of the season?

At least Fairytale of New York, which I love, is unapologetic about its catchy bleakness. It’s got just the right kind of self-aware attitude problem to be the ultimate in UK Christmas tracks…which, fortunately, is what it is.

Even if there’s no such thing as the NYPD Choir.

cmd, option, esc.

In case you were wondering where I’d got myself off to after my post-WisCon comments, I sort of fell headlong into wedding planning and a bit of MA degree work. Then there was a honeymoon. Then there was transatlantic relocation (if I was in Birmingham, is this then re-relocation?).

Suffice it to say, I’m back, and now a bit more firmly expatriated in Glasgow as I hunker down to finish my dissertation. Then I’m looking for work. Not a hint, just saying that we do like to keep ourselves in biscuits around here and that I must contribute.

But at the moment, it’s all Paige vs. the jetlag here. So do stay tuned, I’ll be back with you shortly…after I go change all my account timezones back to BDT/BST, for that matter.

My thoughts, I confess, verge on dirty.

Sorry about the delay in posting. Yours truly finished up her work placement a while back, then promptly settled into dissertation work (should reeeeeally make a webpage to centre all that information, come to think of it) and didn’t get around to much blogging. Tweeting, yes. If you actually want to know what’s going on in my life, Twitter is vital.

And here I am in mid-May, about to ship myself back to the US, provided that Eyjafjallajokull doesn’t change its mind and blow a bunch more ash this way over the next 24 hours. While I’ll miss my loved one and friends, I eagerly await a three month period of (amidst wedding and dissertation chaos) decent Tex-Mex, warm weather, brewed coffee at low prices, World Cup news only when I feel like it, and substantially lower levels of jeggings.

Which reminds me of a little tidbit that I’d meant to share. Britain does a lot of things well, some things better than America (coughhealthcareandpublictransitcough). But a few things, they just Don’t Get. I read Nigel Slater’s Eating for England recently, and in one of the vignettes, he indicated that Americans were as hooked on instant coffee as Britons. This, quite frankly, is BS, mostly because I don’t know anyone in the US who drinks or has drank instant since probably 1988. Admittedly, that’s anecdotal evidence, but considering the reaction to Starbucks’ VIA last year, I wouldn’t say it’s too far off the mark. Whereas, in the UK, if you go to someone’s house or to an office or a university function, and they offer coffee, it will almost definitely be instant. Seeing as for tea, all you need is hot water and a bag, I suppose instant has a reason for being de rigeur.

But that doesn’t mean it doesn’t suck.

So I started thinking about coffee out there in the world, and decided that you could really just relate the taste of an average cup of coffee in a country to songs from said nation. Perhaps the metaphor’s a little stretched, but I think it’s still valid.

In Italy, it’s short and deep, like an aria. France, well-brewed and nuanced, like an Edith Piaf track. America…well, either you have the enamel-melting Starbucks sweetness of a pop song, or the strong grittiness of a Springsteen song; not to everyone’s taste, but vibrant. Your average cup of coffee in Britain, to my experience, is made from freeze-dried instant. In terms of taste, it’s about on the level of a drunk careening down the street at 3am bawling out ‘Come On Eileen’.

Now, it’s not that that doesn’t have its appeal, or that that can’t be borne. It’s just…I swear that daily I thank god my fiancĂ© was raised in a family that brews and drinks coffee, or we would have some serious problems. And no, sadly, for those of us raised on coffee, tea–even builders’–simply, simply can’t cut it in the mornings. Nor can a can of Coke. I need black coffee, and I will even settle for instant, Nigel.

Then again, there’s a whole blog post in the works…well, okay, in my head…about how I’m a food philistine in some cases (I dislike Brie rinds, for example). We’ll see if it gets written.

By the way, you can follow my culture shock, and possibly reverse culture shock in the coming months, on Twitter. I’ve been using #rhiisforeign to particularly highlight certain issues, including the latest general election, but since you can’t search back too far, it may be a moot point. Oh well. Follow me anyhow, if you like.

Very much a post of bits and pieces.

Much as it pains me, Mom was right.

That is, I should really have got a haircut before I left Tosa for the spring, because getting one here in Selly Oak is proving to be a massive undertaking. Namely, there are no bleeding walk-in places that’ll take a woman anywhere nearby. Putting out a call on Twitter, I heard from editorialgirl that she didn’t think there were really any besides the city centre Supercuts in the whole of Birmingham. She signal-boosted, but an hour later, still nothing.

So unless there’s somewhere local who can get me an appointment later today or tomorrow, I’m SOL and using even more hair product until next week, when I will spend my lunchtime frantically ringing round to try and get a Friday or Saturday appointment (unless I don’t have Friday off, it’s not set in stone).

I’m not sure if this is a UK thing or a Brum thing, but it is frustrating. I mean, seriously, what happens to people who have fluctuating work schedules? It’s not like you see part of the city looking like they’re gonna open for Twisted Sister.

Anyway. Besides whinging, things are actually going all right. I think I may make some cookies today or tomorrow, and I’m out tonight to meet up with the HFTV course people, so that’s good as well. Now if the weather would only make up its mind about what it’s doing, we’d be in business.

At least the snow and slush and crap got off the streets, cutting a good five minutes off my commute and meaning I’m not scared to go down the hill on the Selfridges side of the Bullring. Well, that is, if it’s not raining.