Category Archives: Food

A Big Night In – American Food, Fun and Films

The last time I was pregnant, The Native and I really did sense the change ahead.  A change we were excited to embrace, but one we also knew would mean a more sacrificial stage of life – where adult conversation is a rarity and usually takes place over the bar of a pushchair or in the front of the car once the kiddo has nodded off.  As a result we tried to soak up the final stages of being a two-some by going on as many dates as humanly possible in my final weeks of pregnancy.

And we were right because over two years later, we know firsthand that it’s REALLY hard to go out.  Since we are working parents and because my in-laws provide so much help with childcare in the week, we feel too guilty to ask for anything more when we want a night for grown-ups and often find ourselves in our pyjamas by 8pm on a Saturday.

A Big Night In is just what we need.

So when Little Stuff said they were teaming up with 2 Little Fleas to see what bloggers would classify as a great night in if they had £750 to spend, my mind started to put all of the dates we haven’t gone on since The Duchess’s birth into one night.  And I have to admit that in true Foreigner fashion I went for the extreme opposite of what we’ve been living for the last 27 months.

“A Big Night In.  Red carpet attire.  Catering.  A candelit dinner.  Fine wines (or Schloer for us preggos).  A stringed quartet.  A make-up artist.  Maybe hair too.”

I got a little carried away.

I soon came to my senses and realized that even if I blew 80% of the budget on styling myself like Jennifer Lawrence, I’d likely be the only one to enjoy it.  (Even though I would enjoy it.)

Some of the best nights of our lives have been the most relaxed when we are in the company of people who we absolutely adore.  And as a foreigner, something that has been so significant to me on those nights is when I get to share and enjoy little bits of my culture with those people.  It’s a chance to share a unique part of who I am.

Our annual Thanksgiving meal is one occasion to bring a little bit of America to my beloved Brits.

Our annual Thanksgiving meal is one occasion to bring a little bit of America to my beloved Brits.

So the Big Night In would absolutely have to be an American barbecue.    Because in the Expat Family book, there is always room (and a season) for barbecue food.

Eight of our nearest and dearest would arrive to a cozy backyard layout.  Picture it.  Picnic blankets strewn about with cushions scattered on the ground, a couple of comfy seats, bunting dangling above and fairy lights hung overhead, acting as our British fireflies for the evening.

We’d have a menu solely dedicated to feel good American grub (you guys KNOW how I feel about a good burger).   We’d dip our sweet potato fries in homemade sauce as we sip on fresh lemonade and root beer floats from Kilner glasses.

But the real fun is that when the sun sets.  There was a drive-in movie theatre not far from my house when I was growing up and I remember so clearly going there for the first time as a young child.  It’s an experience I’d LOVE to share with The Native and would love to introduce to some of our friends.

Sure, it’s not quite a drive-in, but a sit-in movie theatre under the stars sounds just as magical.  My in-laws have a projector and screen and so we’d serve up hot apple cider (not the West Country type – but of the spicy, non-alcoholic kind), set up the speakers, light the firepit, cozy up on our blankets, start to toast the S’mores and project a classic American film onto the garden wall.

So what’s in my shopping bag to make our Big Night In happen:

  • £220 for beautiful, adaptable outdoor seating.  And yes, I will be making use of these chairs and cushions after the Big Night In.
  • £40 for fairy lights
  • £40 for Kilner jars for decoration and drinks (You can never have too many!)
  • £169.99 for Leisuregrow Grillstream barbecue
  • £80 for food
  • £59.90 for firepit
  • £129.95 for Yamaha speakers for watching an American classic under the stars

Total: £739.84

That is date-doing, soul-filling, memory-making, life-sharing stuff.

Oh, and if you don’t know what s’mores are – I’m glad you’re here.  I’m about to change your life.

……………………………………………………….

How would you spend a Big Night In?  I would love to hear your ideas.

Check out my Pinterest boards for a complete look at the menu, decor and film selection.

Rosemary Lemonade Ice Lollies

Last month I was the hostess for a baby shower thrown for my sister-in-law.  I wanted to pull together an interesting spread of food and tasty treats and went to one of my go-to lifestyle blogs, A Beautiful Mess, for inspiration.  They have inspiration coming out of the wazoo (literally – their wazoos are full) and I never cease to be amazed at all they offer.  But what I really wanted was a beautiful looking and fresh tasting lemonade.  I spotted their Rosemary Lemonade recipe and gave it a go.  It was a huge hit.  Genuinely.  It looked and tasted great.

I won’t mention my cake pops.   May they be archived and forgotten in Pinterest fail folklore.  Forever.

I’ve been wanting to find an excuse to make the lemonade since then.  Call it pregnancy hormones or Mummy guilt, but over the weekend I decided to embark on a lemonade making journey with the Duchess that might inject our spirits with a shot of summer since that mystical season still seems to allude us.  But instead of just making lemonade, I decided we’d turn that citric concoction into ice lollies .

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All you need is:

5-6 lemonades
fresh rosemary
sugar
ice lolly moulds – we got them nice and cheap at Sainsburys for around £2.

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It helps if your clothes match the lemons.

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Half the lemons and juice them.  Again, if you don’t have a juice squeezer – you can always hand squeeze or we picked this up from Asda for the cheap and cheerful price of £1 and it’s safe for little hands.  Once the lemons are freshly squeezed, decant the juice into a jug until the next step.

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Gently boil 1 1/2 cups of water on medium heat and add 1 cup of sugar.  Heat until all of the sugar has dissolved.  When all of the sugar has dissolved, remove the saucepan from the heat and add a fresh sprig of rosemary.  Let it sit until the water cools and then remove the rosemary.    I let the rosemary sit for quite a bit to make sure it really infused into the water.
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Add the lemon juice to the water.   While I don’t mind a bit of pulp in my lemonade, I didn’t want it in my ice lollies, so I sieved the juice when adding it to the water to make sure we’d get a smooth, no bits kind of liquid.  I then went on to add about 6 cups of water to taste.  That will be down to your personal preference as I don’t like my lemonade to be too sharp.  Once it was nice and cool, we poured the lemonade into our ice lolly moulds and left them to freeze.

The result?  Summer in your mouth.  So delicious.  They would definitely be made better with some blazing sunshine, but we’ll indulge now with the hopes that we get our chance to try them while sitting in the sunshine sometime soon.

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I question who the more sensible one is in this relationship.

Take it From Me….

There are some lessons you’ve got to learn the hard way.

Or at least you’ve got to learn them the hard way when you’re in another culture where you just don’t know any better.

It was a warm June day.  I was at a conference.  There were hotdogs.

It was hardly a 5 course meal but a) I’m easy to please and b) I’m an American (upon reflection, perhaps those two things are synonymous.)

It was a British hotdog so it didn’t come with all of the trimmings.  And I say that with contempt and a visible sneer.  It was no cheese coney (I’m an Ohio girl) – there wasn’t even any ketchup in sight – but there were buns and lo! what’s that glimmering yelllow condiment I spot out of the corner of my eye?  Mustard!  That would certainly do.

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I slathered my hotdog with the yellow substance, drooling with anticipation at the processed meat feast that lay before me.

I found my table and lifted the hotdog to my mouth.  And my eyes started watering.

…….

I pulled the hotdog away trying to make sense of it.

But my stomach could no longer wait.  In a state of hunger-induced rage, I lifted my hotdog again.  As I did, my sinuses fully opened revealing Pandora’s Box.  In retrospect, that should have been a warning sign.

It was too late.  I had taken a bite.

My tastebuds reacted like an unsuspecting patient receiving a colonoscopy from a blind man…”What terrible crime have I committed against humanity to deserve this?!”

It was English Mustard and that, my friends, was the day my tastebuds all disintegrated.

Colman’s English Mustard never to be mistaken for American Mustard again.

Meals We Make: Simple Sausages and Roasted Vegetables

I am not a food blogger.  My knives are so blunt I would happily hand one over to The Duchess to do some digging in her sand table.  In fact, should Gordon Ramsay ever attempt to use my kitchen knives, he would skip his typical effing and blinding for the better option of stabbing me in a fit of blunt-knife-induced rage  That is, until he realized that their ineptitude also applies to weaponry.

I don’t flambé or reduce or whip up a succulent red wine jus.   I don’t stray too far away from a recipe and I DEFINITELY do not create my own.  Last time that happened, we had a dessert that resembled a poo and tasted like cinnamon flavoured dirt.

You see, what I am is a working mother to a toddler. The child has the hunger grumps by the time I get home, or as The Sister says, she is hangry. This is about survival, my friends.  It is the pre-dinner dance. We waltz around the kitchen with her little legs trying to match the pace and rhythm of mine.  I cook.  She claws at my legs.  I stir.  She shouts, “up.  Up.  UP.  UP!  UUUUUUUP!”  I sauté.  She sticks her head in between my knees.  And then we repeat this…..1, 2, 3…..1, 2, 3.  My goals are simple: 1) Prepare a meal without having my pants pulled down 2) Cook something that doesn’t look or taste like a poo.

Over the last few months The Native and I have done our best to create a list of meals that we have tried, prioritizing what is easy, what is cheap, and how long things take.   And yes, there was a spreadsheet involved.  What?!   That’s not complicated.  Like JUS wouldn’t?!    (I was DYING to throw that in there).

So, when I was in the hair salon recently, flicking through the September copy of Easy Living and saw this recipe, I thought…..ahem….easy.  (Perhaps the clue is in the name.)

Prep time: 10-15 minutes.  Apprxm 1 round with the toddler.

Difficulty: Really easy (living)

Cost: As cheap as a Lidl’s perfume, £5.50 – £6.70 ($8.50 – $10.60)

Ingredients:

  • 6-8 large sausages
  • 2 red peppers
  • 2 red onions
  • 1 butternut squash
  • rosemary
  • olive oil

Pre-heat your oven to 200* (Gas Mark 6, 390*F).  De-seed and cut the red peppers into chunks.  Peel and de-seed the buttnernut squash and cut that bad boy into chunks, too (apprxm size – 1 inch).  I used about half of the squash and save the rest for another recipe.  Slice the red onions into eighths, because I’m not so keen on shoving whole quarters of red onion into my gob.  Are you?!

….Really?

……To each their own.

Place all of the vegetables in the bottom of the Pyrex dish you got as a wedding present.  Plop the sausages (for what else can you do with sausages but plop) on top, along with a few sprigs of rosemary.  We used Sainsbury’s Taste the Difference Bramley Apple Pork Sausages.  The sweetness of the apple was really nice with the subtle sweetness of the vegetables.  If you can’t find sausages with apple in them (ahem: America), why not pull that spare apple out of your fridge, peel it and chuck it in.  I promise it will really add something!

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There she blows, ploppy sausages and all. Ready to go in the oven.

Drizzle with olive oil and sprinkle with salt.

Pop that sucker into the oven for 40 minutes.  Take the dish out.  Turn the sausages and cook for another 5 minutes, if needed.   And voilà.  Your working-woman, Mum-of-a-toddler no-fuss, very-brief-pre-dinner-dance dish.

You can serve it with a toasted roll or on top of some mash.  Yes, pleeeeease.

Look up more recipes on Easy Living.

Party in the UK

This is the last birthday post.  Promise.   And it’s mostly photos, so give me a break, okay?!  I’m in my first year as a mother and I’m a feeler.  You had to know I was going to need room to process it all.

I couldn’t pass up these Heads Up animal party bags and invitations from Paperchase.  I’m just sad that I didn’t spot their Heads Up cake stand!

This is my first ever attempt at working with fondant icing.  The black was quite hard to work with because it showed up every little fleck and imperfection.  I thought I could clean it up by wetting it a bit….MISTAKE.  Ah well, you live you learn.  I used a ladybird mould from Marks and Spencer which was a really easy guide for strategic icing placement.

Since my dream of being cast as Eponine in Les Misérables has never come to fruition, I instead take full advantage of every opportunity I have to belt out, “Happy Birthday” to a captive audience.  The Duchess loves a good song and dance, but really didn’t know what to make of 15 people staring her down and singing directly to her.  Also, notice the candle has already gone out.  I am too lost in my (ahem) her moment to notice.

A spotty dress, a spotty cake, and a spotty first birthday present are essential.  We are unsure how she’d cope with a ride-on,  but she is loving her new Hippychick ladybird wheelybug.  So she treats it like The Big Brown One and pulls it around the house like it’s a giant ladybird on a lead – I say that is way better than sitting on the thing.

And the highlight?   Talking IgglePiggle, oh and the teeny tiny fact that Grams flew over the Atlantic to spend the week with the birthday girl.  The bags under my eyes are because of that blasted ladybird cake.  Who knew what exhausting work baking a cake could be?!   She might have to be an only child because I don’t know if I can handle making more than one of those a year.

“Now you got to get used to a hot mouth, but that’s okay.”

Recently, I realized I never mentioned how it all went with Baby Led Weaning after starting this weird food free-for-all months ago.  We have really enjoyed it and are always entertained when we see The Duchess munching on something that seems so adult like rotisserie chicken or shoulder of lamb.  It seems she also has a little flair for the spicier things of life – or hotter things, anyway.  Here is one of her current lunchtime favourites:

An eight month old who enjoys a tiny splash of tabasco.  She seems happy, right?!

Smiling on the outside while my tongue burns with the fire of a thousand suns on the inside.

*Disclaimer: Each baby is different.  Each parent is different.  If in doubt about what foods are appropriate for your child, check with your GP or community midwife first.  The Native says so. *

Meals

Brit-speak: Tea

Ameri-speak: Dinner/Supper

Everyone loves to be invited around to someone’s house for a meal.  It means you don’t have to think about cooking (which, if you read regularly, you know I hate the thinking bit of cooking) and you get the double bonus of not having to do the dishes.  My first job in England was working with university students and I would often have someone say to me, “Oh, you must come around to tea.”  In my rookie days, I just assumed this meant that they wanted me to come to their house and drink tea with them.  And that wouldn’t be a particularly odd request in England, right?  The thing is, I’m not a tea drinker, so I’d be all, ‘Oh yeah.  Let’s do that some time,” but would never get my diary out because I’d think….

This British person is going to get their fancy teapots out and they’re going to don one of their flair-y fascinators and they’re going to want me to drink tea and enjoy it.  Schno, thanks! 

The fascinator pic was always going to be Beatrice and Eugenie, wasn't it? photo: dailymail.co.uk

(I am aware that some of you dream of doing this with a British person.  I am also aware that my British readers will laugh in this face of that dream.)

But then, THEN, months, maybe years later I learnt that tea can mean dinner (or supper, depending on whether you live above or below the Mason Dixon) and I was ticked.  How many free meals had I missed out on because I actually thought these people just wanted me to drink tea?  How many nights had I arbitrarily planned meals that could have been carefully chosen and prepared for me.  It truly depresses me to even consider it.

……I’m still thinking about it.

……I bet my hands would be softer, my pockets would be fuller, and my presently too small waist would now be curvier if I had only known.

Sigh.