“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.

Monday, June 29, 2009

Not a knees up, for Gawd's sake!

“Is Mum alright, Dad?” I asked.
“Don’t wake her, for Gawd’s sake!” Lew’s face registered fear and concern. “She’ll start doing a ‘knees up’ or get all funny. Either way, I’ll never hear the end of it.”
“A knees up?” Frances whispered. I explained it was an East London dance that is only difficult to do if very drunk, which is the only time it is ever performed. A “knees up” required the linkage of arms, the stomping of feet, and high-kicking legs in order to get the required “knees up” while singing “Knees Up Mother Brown.” The image of my drunken aunts performing like inebriated Rockettes, trampling on each other’s feet, was not far from my mind.

Sunday, June 28, 2009

When life hands you lemons...

The charming Sandi K at Sandi-K.blogspot thinks we have good attitude and has left us the delightful lemonade stand award. Thank you so much!
We would like to pass this award along to:
*XPAT at Xpatriate Games, because anyone who calls the hubcap "Big Roo" and the young one "Little Roo" has great attitude;
*Sophia at Scotland for the Senses because our attitude certainly improved when we found her little corner of Scotland;
*Maggie at Do these shoes match my purse?, because we love her attitude (enough said).
*Amy at Amy's Daily Photo because she keeps an eye on New York for us; and
*Her grace, the Duchess of Tea at Rose Tea Cottage, because, although we just found her blog, we're still smiling.
Thanks to all of you for your great attitude--and thanks, Sandi, for the award!

Thursday, June 25, 2009

As American as... tandoori on the grill

Indian food is as English as bangers and mash, probably the best vestige of the British Raj. There’s nothing quite like the scent of basmati rice spiked with cloves and silky threads of saffron perfuming the air. But, much to Mum’s chagrin, sometimes I deviate from pukkah curry and sample other exotic Indian dishes. And sometimes I even prepare them.

After tasting tandoori chicken for the first time, I was shown a tandoori oven, a large clay contraption that is shaped like a medieval oubliette and fired up to a heat that far exceeds conventional ovens. Marinated chickens are skewered onto large iron spears and quickly thrust in. Then the chef jumps back! The heat is so intense, the birds are cooked in just eight to ten minutes. Quite amazing. Not possessing a tandoor, for years I only ever had this exquisite dish in restaurants—until I came to America and discovered the grill. You can of course try setting your oven to the highest possible temperature, but it’s so delicious this way! And in the height of summer who wants to heat up the kitchen heating? So the grill it is—perfect for the Fourth of July!

My recipe
First a word of caution: The chicken must marinate in lovely spices and juices for at least 24 hours. So definitely do ahead food—but worth it!

Let us begin. Hack up a chicken into eight pieces, thighs, drumsticks, wings, and breasts. You may cut the breasts in half if they are particularly fulsome. Now skin the chicken. You see, healthy already! Then, psycho-style, slash deep gashes into the meat with a sharp knife. Place pieces in a glass dish, top with squeezed lemon juice and sprinkle with garlic powder. Most recipes call for salt but for health concerns I use garlic instead and no one knows ever notices. Now put the dish in the fridge and let the chicken grow acquainted with the lemon and garlic while you make the spice mix.

You can buy a prepared tandoori spice mix, such as Sharwoods, but if you have access to an enlightened supermarket or an Asian market you can easily make your own. With the leftover spices you’ll have new and exotic flavors and aromas ready for future feasts! You’ll need
2 teaspoons each of: Garam Marsala, cumin, garlic powder, ginger powder, onion powder, and paprika. If you like a bit of heat, add hot chili powder, but I never do. You can also exchange fresh ginger and garlic for the powdered stuff but I never bother. Mix spices together. Add 3 tablespoons of yogurt (I use non-fat) and 3 tablespoons of malt vinegar. This is called fish’n chip vinegar over here. And yes, I enjoy spraying my fries with the stuff, if only to see my family run off in horror and disgust. But I digress. If you cannot locate said condiment, use cider or apple vinegar. Most recipes also call for 3-4 tablespoons of oil in the mix. I’ve tried it with and without and found no noticeable difference, so I don’t use the oil and feel quite virtuous about it. Also add 3 tablespoons of lemon juice. Now mix a bit of red and yellow food coloring and tip it into the mixture. This gives the dish its traditional reddish orangey color, not essential but quite festive.

Retrieve chickkie from fridge and coat every bit of meat with the spice mix. Make sure you get some into the various slits and exposed pieces of bone. Cover with plastic wrap and pop back in the fridge overnight. I made this once and forgot about it for 48 hours–tasted even better, but it’s not necessary. But leaving it overnight is important.

And the next day… fire up your grill
If, like me, you have a Weber-type grill, bank up the coals on one side. When the embers are good and hot, place your chicken pieces on the grill, directly over the coals. Do not cover. Sear the chicken for a few minutes on each side, turning, turning. Watch the meat like a hawk. You want tiny black flecks on the flesh but that’s all. After a few minutes, put the chicken as far away from the coals as possible and cover the grill. Let the chicken cook another 10 minutes for the breast and 15 for the legs and thighs.

Place the finished product on a bed of lettuce and fresh cilantro/coriander, squeeze some lemon juice onto the chicken—this is quite important—decorate with lemon wedges, and you're done. Serve with a mint raita, a yoghurt-cucumber mixture.

As you see in the piccy, this dish looks spectacular. It also tastes wonderful, smells exotic, and it’s quite healthy! So head East, young blogger, go feast and feel good about it! Definitely the pukkah way to eat fowl––even the memsahib likes it!

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

"But it's a curry house!"

Mum looked a trifle lost, but she smiled at me.
“What are you having, son?”
“Don’t know yet, Mum, but I don’t think I’ll have a curry.”
“But this is a curry house. Gotta have curry in a curry house.” Mum was emphatic.
I said I might have the tandoori chicken instead. She wanted to know what that was. I explained it was chicken marinated overnight in yogurt, lemon, and various spices, then thrust into a specially constructed oven for a few minutes. I enthused and said it was delicious. Mum appeared distrustful and reiterated her previous observation.
“But this is a curry house!” She implored me to see sense.
“Let him have what he wants, if that’s what he wants. He’s big enough and ugly enough to decide for himself. I know what I want. King Prawn Madras!”

Sunday, June 21, 2009

The culinary jewel in the crown

By eight thirty we were perusing the vast and varied menu of the Taj Mahal Indian Restaurant. Kate was fast asleep in her stroller. I cannot remember if, in fact, it was the Taj Mahal Restaurant; it could well have been the Star of India. But it certainly was the first restaurant we came to in Stowmarket. Indian music, akin to the sound of a cat being gently throttled, played in the background. Red velvet flock paper with shiny gold bits adorned the walls. Sparkly beaded curtains covered a few doorways. A picture of the Taj Mahal was framed and lit in a plastic wooden box with plastic foliage sprouting beneath it, all pleasantly fake except for the aromas that came from the kitchen. These were pungent, exotic, delightful, authentic. Lew peered intently at the menu. I’m not sure why, because he always had the same dish, but he studied the menu nonetheless.

Thursday, June 18, 2009

A tree grows in Dagenham

“See that! First tree planted in our street! I did that,” I said. Through the gaps in houses I pointed out a rusty red, wooden telegraph pole. This was implanted in the early seventies, when I ordered a phone for my parents’ home, the first on our road. At the time, the arrival, the hoisting and planting of the pole had caused no little stir. Our neighbors and people from nearby streets stood on the sidewalks and watched. In total silence. Even when wires were cast from the pole to the outside wall of our house. Fascinated and disinterested in equal measure, nobody asked what was going on, and we did not tell them. They might have thought we were bragging. Now of course, there were wires leading to other houses. And somehow, I don’t think the purchase of a cell phone today would have the same impact we created back then. Even in Dagenham.

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

And the winner is...

The deadline for our first giveaway has come and gone, and we have a winner! Before we proceed with the drum roll, we wish to thank everyone for all the tea stories and the fabulous birthday wishes--so sweet (and what a surprise!). Too bad I didn't ask for cake!
Also, we are thrilled to have several new followers, and lots of new visitors. We love new bloggy friends.
How we picked the lucky winner
After we took out the tea drinkers who snuck in from the other side of the pond (coals to Newcastle, sorry!), the coffee-totallers, and the under-age blogger, we assigned numbers starting with "1" to all remaining entries. Then we added in the photo senders. We ended up with 30 entries--very respectable, what--so we used the roulette wheel. And the winner of our English tea giveaway is...our stitchy friend Daffycat. Congratulations--well done, and thanks for the link too!
Come and get it! Well, email us your address, and it will come to you.
Thanks to all who entered, and keep visiting!
Denis & Frances

Sunday, June 14, 2009

It's not the Med, is it, Denis?

Somerset Maugham renamed Whitstable “Blackstable” in one of his first novels. He had grown up here and hated the place. I understood. Visiting the seaside in the summer is nothing like living there year-round. I remembered the sea around the British coastline as mostly mackerel gray, offset by startling blue skies in the summer. But when it rained, or threatened to rain, the grayness was omnipresent, inescapable. Although it was not raining now, the air was damp and chilly.
“June the first,” I said. “All looks a bit bleak.”
“Well, it’s not the Med, is it? This is England. Denis, you are so funny.”
As we approached the harbor area, however, the bleakness softened a bit, with hints of sunlight again piercing the dulled silver sky.

Saturday, June 13, 2009

Last chance for English tea giveaway

Only three days left to enter our first giveaway and win the ingredients for a perfect cup of rosie lea: a tin of Twinings Earl Grey and a packet of Typhoo teabags. Three ways to enter:
*leave a birthday wish (can't get enough of those!) or a tea story

*send us a lovely photo of Southern England or East Anglia
*link back to us
One more thing: must be in US--silly to start shipping tea back to Blighty! For more details and to enter,
click here.

Thursday, June 11, 2009

He thinks we done him in!

“So, how’s Tom?” asked Frances.
“Oh, worse than ever!” It was Aunt Flo. Perfect timing. She smiled at us with some satisfaction. Pam went over to help her onto the patio. The welcome change of subject always raised eyebrows from Pam and caustic remarks from Flo. Although Frances had never met my diminutive uncle, she felt as if she knew Flo’s husband, a thorn in his eldest daughter’s side but long a tickle stick in mine.
“Tell them, Pam!” Flo could not wait to reach us. “You wouldn’t credit it, Denis!”
“He thinks we’re trying to poison him,” said Pam, with weary indifference.
Flo sat down carefully, straightening her dress. She sighed with a smile and went on, “I’d do a much better job of it, if I wanted to poison him!” Flo laughed with mocking disdain.

Tuesday, June 9, 2009

Searching for Beatrix Potter

Down a corridor, an elderly lady in a black cardigan sat alongside one of the bedrooms open to the public. She looked quite still and very official, but rather too old and frail to be a security guard. I assumed she was a guide of sorts, brimming with facts and fables and historical anecdotes.
“Excuse me,” I said. “Can you tell me something about the house? The connection with Beatrix Potter?”
“No.” She smiled vacantly, eyes unblinking, then went on proudly, “Don’t know the first thing about it.”
I thanked her, if not for her knowledge, at least for her honesty.

Sunday, June 7, 2009

Forget the booze--smuggle me out!

By happy coincidence, Carol of istitchaholic, who lives in Deal, has just sent us this lovely photo of Middle Street, showing lots of colorful old houses. Apparently, many are joined up by smugglers' tunnels--wish we had known that when we were there, we could have used a quick escape route from our rental house!
If you have a photo of England you want to share, email us! If we post it, we'll link back to you.

Saturday, June 6, 2009

Deal us in!

In the annals of literature, Deal has not been viewed too kindly. A Regency travel book described the town as “a villainous place filled with filthy looking people.” A century or so before, the diarist Samuel Pepys called Deal “pitiful.” Well. We enjoyed our walk in a delightful part of the old town Pepys must have missed. Especially when the sun quite unexpectedly took a shine to us.
Some of the smaller streets and alleys were cobbled and the houses at least two hundred years old. With Kate in her stroller, we spent a pleasant hour zigzagging from the high street hubbub down to those quieter, more picturesque alleys and turnings, before finding ourselves back on the front looking out at the emerald-gray sea.

Thursday, June 4, 2009

Deux, trois, quatre... "sink"?

I explained to Frances that the “Cinque Ports” were, originally, a cluster of five ports dotting the south coast of England, established and reinforced by the Plantagenet kings in the thirteenth century to protect the realm from sneaky and persistent French attacks. The ruling class in those days, descended from William the Conqueror, spoke mostly French, and “cinque” had been derived from the French word for “five.” Even so, no attempt at French pronunciation was ever made or even countenanced. It just wouldn’t be cricket.
“So a ‘cinque’ port becomes a ‘sink’ port? That’s odd,” said Frances.
“Odd? Doesn’t sound odd to me! English pronunciation of French – get it?”