“Half memoir, half travel, A Yank Back to England...is an absolutely wonderful book, not only about going home again but also about love and family and tradition and the passage of the years.”
—Michael Dirda, Pulitzer Prize-winning literary critic (Washington
To see the entire quote, click here.

Sunday, May 31, 2009

Our first giveaway--English tea!

It has been brought to our attention that the teas we mentioned in a perfect cup of rosie lea may be hard to find in some parts of the country. Therefore, in honor of the Prodigal Birthday, and to ensure everyone in the United States (sorry!) an opportunity to try my favorite blend, we are giving away a packet of Typhoo teabags and a tin of Twinings Earl Grey loose tea.
The rules are simple. For a chance at this lovely prize, just leave me a birthday wish or a tea story (one per person, US only). For an additional entry,
*mention the giveaway on your blog and link back (please notify us); and/or
*email us (aprodigaltourist@gmail.com) a lovely photo of Southern England or East Anglia (not London, please) we may post with a link back to you.
*if you wish us to notify you if your win, please leave or send us your email; otherwise, we will post and give the lucky winner 72 hours to notify us.
How long do these things run? Yikes, no idea. How about we accept entries until June 15 (12 am EDT) and draw a winner on June 16. We will assign numbers in order of entry; if we have less than 64 entries, we will use our roulette table or bingo cage to pick a winner. If we have more than 64 entries, we will be old-fashioned and use a hat and paper.
Good luck and enjoy the rest of my birthday!

Friday, May 29, 2009

A perfect cup of rosie lea

Americans are fascinated by the English ritual of tea making and drinking. So here are some guidelines for a perfect pot of Prodigal Tea. First you need a teapot, a tea strainer, and a whistling kettle. (If you don’t have a teapot, you can use a Pyrex container, but the tea won’t stay as hot while it brews.) Any kind of milk can be used but not cream or creamer, please!
And you’ll need tea of course. I use Brooke Bond PG Tips or Typhoo. Both Brit brands are not the highest grade but they are workmanlike, everyday breakfast teas that give a flavorful, robust, caramel-colored brew. Definitely a step up from local leaves that shall remain nameless. Boston Harbor should be full of the stuff, as far as I’m concerned!
I like to add a large pinch of Earl Grey to the pot, to mellow out the breakfast tea and provide an additional burst of flavor. This is the everyday Prodigal Blend. (I think a pot of just Earl Grey is a little too much.)
Prodigal Tea for two!
First put the kettle on until it whistles. Splash some hot water in the teapot to warm it, then empty out. Put one heaping teaspoon of loose tea (or one teabag of strong tea) in the pot, plus a good pinch of Earl Grey. I prefer the Earl Grey with the citrus bergamot flavor as opposed to the more smoky version of the blend, but that’s a matter of taste. Now reboil the water and pour a couple of cupfuls in the pot. Let the brew stand for a few minutes and there you are. I let it brew for at least five minutes. The longer you wait the stronger it gets.
Frances likes her tea without sugar or milk. So odd! For the rest of us, put a splash of milk in the cup first, warm 15 seconds in the microwave, then add the nicely brewed tea. Don’t forget to use a strainer when pouring! The holes in the spout of your teapot are not there to catch unwanted leaves, they just help regulate the flow of tea. By the way, you can use Irish tea brands, these are good too. Add sugar to taste, although I don’t.
I’ve been told by posher Brit chums that putting milk in first is a very working class thing to do, and not the done thing in upper class society. Not that I’m against societal aspirations but, at the risk of betraying my origins, I put in the milk first because it gives you a better mix of liquids. So there. And if you’re American, who cares anyway, just enjoy your cuppa!

Thursday, May 28, 2009

Lush and beautiful in London

Our new friend Sophia from Scotland For The Senses did more than send us this beautiful photo of Lord Leighton's former house in London — she sent us a taste of Scotland, a delicious vanilla tablet that we ate in very small pieces! We had nothing like that in Dagenham, that's for sure.
If you have a photo of England you want to share, email us! And look out for our first giveaway, in honor of the Prodigal Birthday.

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

I'm a Limey Doodle Dandy

When I was about ten years old, I wanted my best friend to be a kid from an American TV show. Whether all of America was like Hollywood, or the other way around, I did not know or care. I just wanted to audition for it. I tried to be more American. I practiced for my role. I chewed gum, which I hated. I wore high top colored sneakers, which we called baseball boots and which got very smelly. I yearned for the blue jeans Mum would never buy me. Too rough, she said, look like a laborer! At least I could see the TV shows and avoid pullovers when I went out to play, even if it meant duckings of cold damp air.

Sunday, May 24, 2009

A memory for Memorial Day

Across the dip, I climbed up to the church, a modestly imposing structure made of limestone. The musty fragrance of the flowers that decorated the pews from the previous Sunday’s service still permeated the air. The church was deserted, but I sensed the presence of people, a small congregation. The pews smelled of fresh wax. The candlesticks smelled of metal polish. Everywhere were plaques in memory of various villagers long gone. Tucked away in a small enclave, I found a brass eagle with an inscription beneath it. This plaque had been placed there by the village, in memory of the American airmen stationed nearby who were killed in combat during the Second World War. The eagle gleamed a little in the scant deflected light. The plaque had been recently polished.

Friday, May 22, 2009

Only in England...

Shelley, the wry churchwarden of St. Mary's , is pretty sure that only in Rye would a sitting mayor have been allowed to put his little dog into a church's stained glass window--front and center, no less! Of course, we're talking about E.F. Benson, author of Prodigal favorite, Mapp and Lucia, who, when he was mayor of Rye, had his black dog Taffy immortalized in the newly redesigned West Window. The chap in red in the bottom right corner represents the author in his mayoral robes, perhaps begging forgiveness for his irreverence.

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Prodigal Toad: Nothing to croak about

This delicious dish, as you can imagine, has nothing to do with greenish amphibians. Toad in the Hole is a classic of English cookery, in which banger-like sausages are set and baked within a large Yorkshire pudding. Kate and I like our Toad with baked beans. If you’re feeling healthy have yours with a salad.
So let’s begin. First you need to make a Prodigal Pudding batter. Instead of pudding pans, though, use a large oval or oblong glass dish that can easily accommodate a half dozen sausages or more. One sausage per person probably suffices but I tend to bake five, so the Prodigal Family can have seconds. You’ll also need four tablespoonfuls of your favorite fat: duck, goose, beef, or canola. And, of course, you need bangers!
I suppose you could use an Italian sausage but I prefer not to. I do deviate from the traditional recipe by using wonderful apple sausages we buy from the Amish market and studing the dish with sautéed apple segments. It’s a bit like have the main course and dessert all rolled into one. Oooh, I am naughty––but you’ll like it!
Making the Toad
First heat the oven to 450F. Add the fat of your choice to the glass dish and pop it into the center of the oven .
Two granny smith type apples need to be cored, peeled, and quartered. Sounds a bit medieval but carry on regardless. Gently saute apples in a little butter. Watch them like a hawk. Once they start to color, sprinkle with a little sugar and cinnamon then take them off the fire, remove apples but keep handy. Now brown the sausages in the remaining butter. No need to cook through, just make sure they get lightly browned on all sides. Now place sausages, apples, and residual fat into the toad dish, spread the wealth and close the oven door. Remove your Yorkshire batter from the fridge, Re-whisk. After three minutes or so, your glass dish will be smoky hot and the sausages and apples will be ready to receive the enrobing batter.
Open the oven. Warning: don’t pour the batter into the dish tsunami-fashion. If you do, the hot fat will make your sausages and apples slip and slide until they clump together in one unappetizing mass. Not good. You want the batter to moat around all those lovely nibble bits. To accomplish this successfully, I anoint the dish using a ladle, carefully but quickly. The batter mixture will start to set up almost immediately, anchoring the contents throughout the dish. Close the oven door. Cook for 20 minutes at 450F. The sides of the Toad will have risen at this point quite beautifully but the center will not be cooked through. If the bangers are browning too quickly, cover them with a bit of foil. Lower the temperature to 400F and cook for another 15-20 minutes until set.
Here’s how I serve it
When Frances isn’t looking, I purloin the elongated spatula she uses for baking, then slide the Toad onto a nice platter, leaving any excess fat behind in the glass dish.
Do try this grand and surprisingly economical treat. It’s a Prodigal Family favorite and I’m sure if you try it once, it will be a hit with your crew, too.

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

A new Mapp and Lucia book!

I have just discovered that a new Mapp and Lucia book was recently released. No, no, obviously not by the illustrious (and deceased) E.F. Benson, but by English author Guy Fraser-Sampson, who has channeled the outrageous Major Benjy for a series of new adventures as twisty as the streets of Rye. Captain Puffin can't be far behind—fingers crossed!
Now, I haven't read it yet (I've left Prodigal Wife a hint regarding my upcoming birthday), but this sounds like a worthy addition to a great canon of comic literature. I believe the story unfolds while Miss Mapp holds reign in Tilling.
For any Luciaphiles out there, Major Benjy is available at Amazon and Amazon UK.

Sunday, May 17, 2009

Hunting for Mallards'

A notable writer who set his novels in Rye was E.F. Benson. He lived just at the top of Mermaid Street, in Lamb House, renamed Mallards in his Mapp and Lucia novels. Here, Queen Lucia held reign. The streets and settings were all unchanged by time, just as Benson described them. I counted houses to where Georgie Pillson would have lived before he became – in name only – Lucia’s husband. I picked out the places where my favorite characters had done their marketing. The street corners where they sniped and spied and gently but cruelly admonished one another, scoring points where they could, forming alliances and fighting social battles much to the delight of generations of fans.

Saturday, May 16, 2009

"More love from across the Briney"

Cousin Kevin was tickled we posted his photo of Chertsey Bridge so he sent on this lovely shot of the Cinque (that's pronounced "sink") port of Rye. Frances and I loved Rye, where we had the best meal we've ever had in Old Blighty. Of course, that's where we met a nutter in a graveyard, but that's for another time.
If you have a photo of England you'd like to share, email us and we may post it with a link back to your blog. No links for Cousin Kevin--he's waiting for the book to come out for his fifteen minutes of fame!

Thursday, May 14, 2009

Under the Queen's wing

Kate and I walked down to a small gate that led onto the embankment. Feeding ducks or swans had become one of those things we did together when we were in England.
“They’re owned by the Queen, you know.”
A squat little girl with a suspicious look had sidled up close to us. Her red socks were rumpled and she wore a PVC rain mac over a print dress.
“Which ones are the Queen’s?” I asked, trying to be friendly.
“They are all owned by the Queen. Every one,” the girl said, darkly.
“If you kill one of them, the penalty is death!” The child pronounced “death” as in “deaf.”
Kate gazed anxiously at the girl. I told her to carry on feeding the swans.
“Well, we’ll be sure not kill any, just feed them, alright?”
“I suppose—” The sullen girl began kicking pebbles into the water.
“Do you want some bread?” asked Kate.
The child shook her head, then turned and walked away. Odd. Kate shrugged and carried on throwing brioche at the birds.

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

A dressing down at Harrods

The side entrance to Harrods had steps and, as I struggled with Kate’s stroller, a young man in morning coat and gray-striped trousers rushed out to me.
“Oh, thanks so much, I was having a bit of a—”
“I’m sorry, sir, I can’t let you in.”
“Excuse me?”
“I can’t let you into ‘Arrods,” he said, blocking my path politely but firmly. “I’m sorry, sir, but cut down jeans are not allowed in ‘Arrods, sir.”
“You must be joking.”
“It’s the ‘Arrods dress code. Sir.”
“A dress code? In a store?”
“This is priceless.” Frances was amazed but, unlike me, she was smiling.

Sunday, May 10, 2009

Buck House in the Shires

Clive at Find Your Ideal Holiday got up early on a frosty morning in Buckinghamshire to capture this beautiful photo of Tyringham House across the River Ouse. Thanks Clive!

Friday, May 8, 2009

Inspired and in great company

Lovely Josephine at A Brit In Tennesse surprised us last week with the wonderful Renee Award and, while we were extremely pleased, we were rather unsure about whether we should accept at all because, while the Prodigal is English, he is, well, a he; and this award "honors someone who is incredibly inspirational in her intelligent and witty writing."
Josephine further states, "this award celebrates women's smart, strong and inspirational spirit! It honors women who spread joy and love like an Acorn......a small package growing into a tall and sturdy oak tree which gives more acorns......." So you can see our dilemma. Should Frances alone accept (this blog is her baby, really)? Should we gender bend? Should we decline? Then we thought, why not? If Josephine saw fit to bend the rules a bit, who are we to quibble? Why not accept this great honor, allowing us to pass it along to others who inspire us?
So we humbly pass this award along to:
* Sharon at It's Daffy Cat for inspring us with her creativity (and we love that dancing cat);
* Denise An English Girl Rambles for inspring us to look twice when we walk around;
* Melissa at Smitten by Britten because she inspires us to smile when we think about Britain; and
* Toni at Expat Mum for blazing the trail.
Last but not least, we wish to acknowledge Kate, our very own little acorn, at Softball Whisperer , for getting an early start in her writing career.
Great job, ladies! Keep up the great work! And thank you Josephine--you inspire us every time we visit.
Cyber hugs from Denis and Frances

Thursday, May 7, 2009

The proof is in...

Apparently, Yorkshire pudding first came about, not surprisingly, in Yorkshire, in Victorian times when meat was scarce and people were poor. Puds were served as a first course to fill people up. Today, things are a little better, and nothing is better than a slice of rare beef with a Yorkshire pud. Yum, yum! What a combination. Here’s a surefire way to bake the perfect Yorkshire Pudding.
First off, equipment. The last post showed three pudding pans; the best of these is the one with shallow oval bottoms (the one from Mummy-in-Law). If these pans cannot be found, try small cupcake Pyrex glass containers. Alternatively, you could use a single roasting or pie pan, which will produce one large pudding. This looks quite spectacular, but I feel individual puddings are more fun and you get more crispy bits.
Yorkshire pudding is essentially a batter recipe. People add things like parsley, and thyme and rosemary, extra pepper, even bacon. Jacques Pepin adds leeks. I’ve tried all these additional ingredients and, personally, I feel none add a hill of beans of difference.
The key ingredient is the type of fat you use. The best puddings are made in beef fat, ideally rendered from your Sunday rib roast. But standing rib roast is a big treat in the Prodigal household, so for a non-holidays feast, we use eye of round, a lean cut with very little fat. So I conserve fat from previous meals. Let me explain.
If you’re having a steak or even a stew, just trim the fat, and wrap and freeze it. When you have a bit of time, render your collected bits of fat in a little water. You’ll need about a teaspoonful of fat per individual pudding dish, and what you don’t use can be safely re-frozen (as it’s now cooked). Alternatively, rendered goose or duck fat is delicious too. The key thing is: these fats have loads of flavor and can take high cooking temperatures.

Prodigal Puddings
This recipe makes eight individual puddings. In the Prodigal household, we are only three, but some of us love a second pud. And so will you! If you have leftovers, worry not––cold puds are great topped with your favorite jam as a breakfast treat.
Right, let’s get to it. Before you do anything else, prep your pudding (or Pyrex) pans with a teaspoon of fat in each hollow.
Now make the batter. Combine 3/4 cup of all-purpose flour, a pinch of salt, a cup milk, and a 1/4 cup of water in a glass bowl. We use skimmed milk but use whatever milk you have on hand. Now, add two or three eggs, one at a time. Whisk by hand or machine until everything is nicely incorporated. Then whisk some more. I whisk for the count of sixty. I’m looking for a part-bubbly, fluid mixture. At this point, add some pepper (and other items from above list if you must). Then cover your bowl and put it in the fridge to rest for at least half an hour. Because I get flummoxed when I cook, I’ve been known to get my pudding mixture ready before the meat is even in the oven. It matters not. Just make sure the mixture sits for at least half an hour.
When your roast beast is ready, remove it from the oven, cover, and let it rest. Now crank up the oven to 450 F degrees. Put your pudding pans, with fat in the hollows, at the back of the oven. When the temperature reaches 450, check your pans. The fat should be smoky hot. If not, wait another minute or two. Close oven. Remove pudding mixture from the fridge and whisk quickly to re-incorporate everything. Have a small ladle handy; I sometimes use a 1/4 cup measure.
The next step is important.
Open the oven and slide out the rack. Don’t removes the pans. Ladle the batter mixture into the hot pans right in the oven. Work as briskly as you can. When the pans are filled, gently push back the rack and close the oven. After 15 minutes, reduce oven temp to 425 and cook puds for another fifteen minutes. Then reduce oven temp. to 350. Within the next 10 minutes, depending on the ferocity of your oven, your puds will be baked and ready. Do check, during this final ten minutes, if the puds slide freely in the pans, they’re done.
I switch off the oven at this point and let the puddings be while I carve the meat. I spread the meat on as large platter then garnish with the puds. There is no more sublime a sight! Traditionally, we anoint the hollow of our puddings with gravy. Or not. Either way is lovely.
Enjoy your Yorkshire Puddings!

Monday, May 4, 2009

A spot of tea--and shopping

After being in the car for almost an hour, my folks were gasping for tea and some toast or cake. So finding a teashop took first priority. We found a cafeteria in a large, old fashioned department store that sold tweedy suits and jackets with leather patches, checkered shirts, cloth caps, and similarly sensible clothing for women. There was also a large gardening supplies center and a department dedicated to cooking paraphernalia, where we bought Yorkshire pudding pans. A Yorkshire pudding is our version of a popover, and is usually served as an accompaniment to roast beef for the traditional Sunday lunch. Sometimes made in a large tin, it is best made in a pan with small indentations that proffer individual servings. This way everyone gets a pudding that resembles a golden, crusty well just waiting for a spoonful of beef gravy, preferably ungranulated.
(Thanks, Kate, for the photo work!)

Saturday, May 2, 2009

Keeping an eye on London

Just back from four months in London, Amy sent on this lovely shot she took from the London Eye on the South Bank of the Thames. See more of her photos at Amy's Daily Photo. Thanks Amy!
Got a great shot of England? email us; if we post it, we'll link back to you! (Please, one at a time and 100k max!)