Saturday, November 22, 2008

Two Thanksgivings

It is currently 4°C which is about 39°F and when I woke up this morning there was actually a layer of snow on the ground! I had been told that even when it does snow it usually doesn't accumulate down by the sea because there is too much salt in the air and on the ground, so I suppose this is some kind of miracle.

So, what do you think adventurous Hartepooligans do when it is nearly freezing and there is a blanket of snow on the ground? They surf of course!

There are currently about 7 surfers out there, I see them out often and I suppose the water is frigid year round and they wear wet suits, but their heads are still uncovered and with the air as cold as it is, they must be certifiably crazy.

This week I will be cooking two, thats right, TWO Thanksgiving meals. Thursday night I am making a small non-traditional meal for Jason and me and then on Saturday I am cooking for 12 people at my mother-in-law's. People in England obviously don't get work off for Thanksgiving, so that is why we are doing it on Saturday. I am really grateful to my in laws for coming together to celebrate a holiday which commemorates Puritans leaving their country to escape religious persecution. I know they are all doing it to be supportive of me and it means a lot to me. I don't actually think they know what Thanksgiving is all about but its a good opportunity for everyone to get together for a nice big meal to kick off the holiday season.

So, for my small dinner on Thanksgiving day I am making a recipe of Ellie Krieger's, Turkey Roulade with Cider Gravy. It kind of combines all of the Thanksgiving staples into one dish and it looks amazing. I will probably make mashed potatoes because Jason can never get enough mashed potatoes and probably pick up a pie or cheesecake for dessert.

On Saturday, I am pulling out all the stops and cooking most of the traditional dishes. This will be my first time cooking a big meal for so many people and I hope my meal doesn't crash and burn. I will be planning for it all week, I have already started organizing my recipes and typing out a grocery list categorized by supermarket section. I think if I get as much as possible done during the day on Friday then Saturday morning I can pop the turkey in the oven and warm everything up and it will all go smoothly.

My First Thanksgiving Menu:
Olive Cheese Balls (a family recipe)
Roasted Turkey with citrus and herbes de Provence (a Giada de Laurentis recipe)
Turkey Gravy
Party Potatoes (a family recipe)
Green Bean Casserole
Jewel Roasted Vegetables (an Ellie Krieger recipe)
Zucchini Bread (a family recipe)
Poppy Seed Bread (a family recipe)
Pumpkin Pie
Apple Cranberry Turnovers (an Ellie Krieger recipe)

My challenges here will be finding a baking pumpkin and making the pumpkin pie from scratch because my sources have revealed that canned pumpkin isn't available here. I have also heard that French fried onions are difficult to come by, but not impossible. I can hopefully recruit some family members to bring an appetizer, salad or rolls.

I am thinking of introducing a new English food to the Thanksgiving meal, Yorkshire puddings. Yorkshire puddings are kind of like a cross between a dinner roll and a croissant. They are shaped like a hollow dinner roll but they are light and a bit flaky like a croissant.

I haven't learned to make them homemade yet because as I understand they are quite difficult to make. The tins, which resemble shallow muffin tins, must be filled with oil and then placed in the oven until the oil is piping hot at which point the batter must be poured in quickly so that they puff up properly. They are a bit bland but I love the way they soak up gravy. I think my English guests would really miss it if I didn't serve the meal with Yorkshire puddings (called Yorkie puds for short) because they traditionally have big roasts every Sunday afternoon and Yorkie puds are always a staple of the Sunday dinner. Wherever there is a big roast and gravy they expect to find Yorkie puds on the table and I don't want to disappoint.

On a less festive note, I am sick for the 4th time in about two months. I was curious as to why I keep getting everything that comes my way. My diet is good, its not like I have a vitamin deficiency or anything. Then I did some thinking back to my science classes and my addiction to Discovery News and developed a theory that my immune system isn't used to the strains of viruses and bacteria here. I know that viruses and bacteria genetically mutate with each generation, some more than others, but I can imagine that being separated my an ocean that the flu and cold viruses here probably don't even remotely resemble the viruses my immune system is accustomed to. To test my theory I did some research online and it turns out to be true. That is the root of my repeated illnesses, probably also the time I spend with my niece who is most likely always carrying around things from school so I have a lot of exposure. I suppose it is a really good thing I am not a teacher, I would be sick constantly! I don't know how long it is going to take before my immune system adjusts but I think I should probably take some supplements to help me ward off all of these unfamiliar diseases. This is something I never thought about before I moved here but now that I am experiencing it, it seems logical.

As long as we are talking about illness, I have to confess a mistake I have been making in interpreting the local dialect. When I have been sick, my in laws have asked if I was "poolie" or so I thought that was what they were asking. I had no idea what they were talking about, but by process of elimination I figured out they were asking if I had been sick because it was the only thing I had been for the past week. The other day, someone said it again at choir but they must have enunciated a bit better because suddenly it clicked in my mind what they were saying.

Here, instead of pronouncing the word "poor" like "pore" they pronounce it "poo-er". Instead of asking if you are sick, they ask if you are "poorly", pronounced "poo-er-lee". Now say that fast and drop a consonant like the English are so very good at doing, and you get "poolie". I suppose it makes more sense, but it has taken me months to figure this out!

Today Jason is returning after three weeks away! He took a week off so he could be home with me for my Thanksgiving and we will also be shopping for our Christmas decorations this week! Have a wonderful Thanksgiving everyone!

Monday, November 17, 2008

The Eleventh Hour of the Eleventh Day of the Eleventh Month

This Tuesday was Armistice Day. I didn't realize until now that this is the one non-religious holiday that America and England share. In America, Veteran's Day is also commemorated on the day of the Armistice. Having experienced both holidays in both countries I am sad to say that America's observation pales in comparison to the honor which the English bestow on their veterans on this day. If you asked the average American what date Veteran's Day is, if they aren't looking at a November calendar chances are they couldn't tell you. I am sure this week on Tuesday when everyone turned the page on their day to day desk calendar, more than one office worker turned to a coworker and commented "Hey, did you know today is Veteran's Day?" I find it sad that Americans need a small italicized reminder on their calendar or date book to remember such an important day in our history. By contrast, if you asked a British citizen what date Armistice or "Poppy Day" falls on they will quickly answer "the eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month".

For the month preceding the holiday, everyone wears a paper poppy on their lapel. The proceeds go to the British Legion and one of the most amazing things is that every single television personality makes the poppy a permanent part of their wardrobe for the month leading up to Armistice Day. Even the contestants on The X Factor (Britain's version of American Idol) wear a poppy on their outfits on stage. I guess it could be compared to the American flag lapel pin, no Member of Parliament would be caught dead without one pinned to their suit.

British Legion's Paper Poppy

I suppose here both World Wars quite literally hit closer to home. The British isles were heavily bombed by the Germans and there are still reminders everywhere of the death and destruction. Here in the North, one of the biggest reminders is the depressed economy.

Before the World Wars, Hartlepool was a major English port and a hub of industry with several dozen shipping companies calling the port of Hartlepool home, accounting for nearly 250 ships. Hartlepool's position as a major British port made it a strategic target for the Germans. On the morning of December 16, 1914 Hartlepool became the first town in England to be bombed by the Germans. On this day over 1000 shells rained down on Hartlepool from German ships. Guns on the Heugh (pronounced "Yuff") Gun Battery in Hartlepool fired back around 150 shells with more accuracy than the German ships and initiated the first and only land to sea attack from the British mainland and severely damaged the attacking ships. Despite this contribution, World War I and the following Depression crippled the once robust Hartlepool shipping industry only to be revived again during World War II. Yet again, this prosperity made Hartlepool a prime target for the Nazi forces and Hartlepool was raided from the air 43 times during the course of World War II. This once and for all cut off the Hartlepool shipping industry and it has never recovered since.

Hartlepool homes destroyed in December 16, 1914 bombing

Hartlepool's story is similar to many other English towns, which is maybe the reason that Armistice Day and honoring their veterans is such a hallowed tradition here. Particularly in the working class towns of the North where the economic effects of war are still relevant decades later, these stories still hit close to home and in many cases the people who lived through them are still around to remember.

Last Sunday nearly every town in the country held their own "Poppy Parade" with veterans and active members of the British Armed Forces marching through the center of town to be honored for their service. In London in front of the World War I memorial, 3 surviving veterans of World War I were honored. They were all well into their 100s and all in wheelchairs, but still proudly wearing their uniforms and displaying their medals. Jason marched in a Poppy Parade in the Northwestern town of Barrow-in-Furness which his ship HMS Walney is named for after an island off the coast.

If you don't know the significance of the poppy, it comes from a poem written by a Canadian soldier during World War I.

In Flanders Field
by Lt.-Co. John McCrea

In Flanders fields the poppies blow
Between the crosses, row on row,
That mark our place; and in the sky
The larks, still bravely singing, fly
Scarce heard amid the guns below.

We are the dead. Short days ago
We lived, felt dawn, saw sunset glow,
Loved, and were loved, and now we lie
In Flanders fields.

Take up our quarrel with the foe:
To you from failing hands we throw
The torch; be yours to hold it high.
If ye break faith with us who die
We shall not sleep, though poppies grow
In Flanders fields.

Sunday, November 9, 2008

Newcastle, New Couch and Bonfire Night

I have definitely had a busy week! Tuesday I took the train into Newcastle which is such a beautiful city. It was my first time actually going into Newcastle proper and it was wonderful to be downtown in a city again. Arriving by train in Newcastle is really breathtaking. From Hartlepool the train runs along the sea coast. After three months I have grown accustomed to the sights and sounds of this area, but moving along the coast through this very different terrain I was again reminded that I do live in a different country with a very different landscape. When the train pulls into Newcastle it is elevated to about the roof level of most of the buildings so you are looking down into the streets and then the train passes over the River Tyne. This moment passing over the river in an elevated train I couldn't help but feel nostalgic. I could see myself living in this city and really feeling at home.

Tuesday night I obviously stayed up very late watching the election results roll in. The first results came in at about midnight and I stayed up until about 3 am at which point enough states had been called and I had a pretty good idea that unless there was a major upset in California the election was pretty much determined. I got a text message from a friend of mine in Chicago who was attending the Obama rally, and I am so glad she texted me awake because I was able to watch the rally in Chicago live on TV. This week it has been nice for me to see live coverage from Chicago, probably not something that will happen much in the future. Without sounding too politcal here, I have to say that one thing I have found amazing over the last few days is the coverage that has come from all over the world. This election might have divided the US, but throughout the rest of world people are dancing in the streets hoisting American flags that are actually not on fire. Some of you may be disappointed in the results of the election and some of you may be elated, but as an American living abroad this is the most important thing to me and its very encouraging.

Wednesday morning I got a call that my couch would be delivered the next day!!! Before purchasing a new couch Jason and I had only this very ugly loveseat which I only just recently learned was left here in our flat by the previous owner. This new development made the mystery stains all over the loveseat that much more foreboding. Here is the old loveseat:

Here is our new corner sofa! I absolutely love it, and it fits perfectly in the living room as if it was made to measure. I also love that the section at the end is a footstool so if we have company over we can move it anywhere we would like for additional seating and two people can easily fit on it. I also love the that the frame is covered in leather but the cushions are fabric. I love the look of leather but the fabric cushions are warmer and more comfortable.

This week was also Guy Fawkes Night, also known as Bonfire Night. Always associated with the rhyme "Remember Remember the Fifth of November." Guy Fawkes Night commemorates the foiling of the Gunpowder Plot in 1605 which was a Catholic conspiracy to blow up the Houses of Parliament as well as the King and much of the Protestant aristocracy. The day is commemorated every year with fireworks displays, and bonfires where effigies of Guy Fawkes are burned. These bonfires are also a convenient way to get rid of bulky waste like furniture once every year.

Guy Fawkes was the plotter who prepared the explosives meant to blow up the Houses of Parliament but the plot also has a connection to Northumberland. Henry Percy was one of the principal conspirators and his family domain was Alnwick Castle which you may remember from an earlier post, My First Visit to an English Castle.

The fireworks display in Hartlepool was right here in Seaton Carew so Jason and I were able to walk down to the beach to watch them, along with Jason's sister Kirsty and our niece Abbie. It was a great thing for us to do together before he left for three weeks.

Today all over England there are "poppy parades" in every town, Jason marched in uniform in a parade in Barrow which is a place associated with his ship HMS Walney. November 11th will be Armistace Day so in next week's post I will go into more detail about this holiday which is obviously of great importance to our family.

Monday, November 3, 2008

Happy to report...

I am BUSY! I feel like I have been going going going since Friday. I won't give you all the details but this weekend I went to a Halloween party and met some new people, and the best news is that tomorrow I have a meeting with a recruiter that specializes in marketing and media jobs.

I think I am going to delay posting until tomorrow after I have met with this recruiter. I am sure everyone is probably more focused on tomorrow's election than they are on my blog. Please excuse this brief semi-political commercial (I promise its purple, no blue or red here). I make it a point not to make this blog political in any way but I think this is important enough to make an exception just this once.

On that note, please remember to vote tomorrow. Here in the UK, the citizens do not have the luxury of choosing their own leader. First of all the ultimate head of state is the Queen, and while she is in many ways more of a figurehead rather than an actual policy maker, for all intents and purposes she is the head honcho for no reason other than her place in the royal bloodline. The British people do not get to vote on the Prime Minister, either. The public elects a political party, and then it is up to the party to appoint a Prime Minister. Imagine if it was up to American politicians to choose the President! We as Americans have a unique privilege to decide who will lead our country and it isn't something that should be taken lightly or for granted.

No matter how long the lines are at polling centers, its your right and privilege as an American to vote. I know its easy for me to say that because I voted absentee a month ago from the comfort of my living room, but I believe it is important to first and foremost educate yourself about the candidates and then get out there and vote. Its not too late to do your homework!

If the sense of responsibility to your country isn't enough to motivate you to get out there, Starbucks is giving a free tall coffee to anyone who voted.

I will report tomorrow on my experience with riding the train alone for the first time in this country, and any news on the job front.

Happy voting!!!