“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.

Friday, October 30, 2009

Last of the currant jam

Lew busied himself making tea while Mum sorted out two jars of her better-than-Harrods jam. Marvelous. Mum did not think she would be able to make it anymore. Picking the berries had become a very hard chore for them both.
“All that bending. Too old for it now, son. Not worth it,” Lew explained.
“Still, never mind, eh?” Mum was happy to move on and leave jam-making behind, somewhat resilient to the limitations age placed upon her.
“How’s the blackcurrant bush doing?” I inquired, smiling, trying to make conversation, trying to ignore what Lew was saying.
“Bigger than ever. Running wild it is, right, Jessie?”
“But who can pick ‘em?” she said, again with a slight nervous laugh.
I admired the two jars Mum had given to us. The tops were covered in parchment paper and tied with string. I held them up and studied them like bottles of fine wine, the last of the vintage.

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Calling all directors and helpful friends...

Okay, everyone, I've been asked to supply a photo for a large poster that will be displayed in a bookstore (!). So we took a bunch of photos and narrowed it down to these four.
What do you think? Should I go friendly like the top ones (with/without glasses), or more author-y like the lower ones (with / without glasses.
We all have a different favorite, so please help! What do you think? We'd appreciate some input... or should we scrap these and start again?

Monday, October 26, 2009

We have winners...

Before we get to our giveaway winners, I wanted to say how much I appreciated the comments about the What England Means to Me posts (see below). I had never really spent much time (any time) thinking about it, so I wasn't sure how it would turn out, so I was delighted to see that a lot of you enjoyed the piece and saw themselves or their situation reflected in it. So, my thanks to all of you who left me such heartfelt. even moving comments.

Now, to business!
We ended up with 36 entries for the Great British Journeys book—and thanks for pushing A Yank Back to England to page one on Amazon's travelogue/travelogues communities, by the way—so we used the old roulette wheel again. As you can see, the winner was number 2, Melissa at Smitten by Britain! Very appropriate, it seems to us, as Melissa went through all the hoops and had more entries than anyone else. So congratulations, Melissa!
We had two entries for the journal, so we went with odd/even on that (though, as it turns out, #2 would have worked), and the winner is Mrs Apple at Apple Tree Academy.
Last but not least, Emm in London wins the Orioles shirt, even though this is clearly the Yankees' week.
Congratulations to our winners!

Friday, October 23, 2009

What England means to me, part II

(The following is the second half of an essay I wrote for What England Reads to Me. For Part I, see previous post.)

And yet...
Once I got settled, the pull of England, the occasional tugs homeward, became more frequent. I found myself listening to more Vaughan Williams, more Britten and Holst than ever before. And I rediscovered meat puds and toad in the hole; even beans on toast made it back on the menu. I started to garden. To garden! (The world may think all Englishmen are itching to leap out of the closet but I think we're more prone to come out of the woodshed in a pair of wellies.)
Anyhow, this Englishness grew. And now it knows no bounds. I even find myself riding my bike and singing along to the chorus of The English are Best. I'm glued to the telly whenever the most insipid period drama is aired. Just as long as it's English. On the box recently, I heard someone say, "Oooh you are awful...but I like you!" And, quite suddenly, marvelous Dick Emery dug a smiley faced crease in my memory.

It gets worse.
I can't hear Jerusalem without getting a wet glob in the eye. And Churchill's wartime words embarrass me with a feeling of pride-or is it that odd, misunderstood emotion expats label as misplaced patriotism? I've started re-reading Mapp and Lucia, Saki, Somerset Maugham; and rediscovering the glories of Golding, Durrell, Fowles, and Bainbridge, to name but a few.
Time for tea? I found local shops that import PG Tips, even Typhoo! Assorted British sauces, pickles, sweets, and sundries. Gentleman's relish? Piccalilli. You can get it all here. And I do.
Somehow, America has become a receptive, dimensional canvas cleverly shaped liked that familiar little spec in the North Atlantic. So I happily dip into a paint box labeled Albion and splogged on the oils in big thick swirls, brushing out the unpleasant bits from the green and pleasant. Yet, for all that, my picture of England isn't as bland as one might expect. The colours ring true. They are as vibrant and lush as the music of England's countryside, as dense as a sherry-soaked fruitcake, as majestic as our literature, as lyrical as our poetry, and as magical as a kid's memory of a Christmas panto with Arthur Askey.
England means more to me now than it ever would have if I had stayed. Moving back, I think I might lose my exuberant imagining of the place I once called home. I would take it all for granted again. And long for other landscapes I would rather not imagine, let alone paint, let alone call home.

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

What England means to me, part I

(The following is the first half of an essay I wrote for What England Means to Me.)
I left England at time when gainful employment was not all that easy to gain. Mind you, I was quite happy to gad about surviving on the odd song royalty or the occasional writing job. Reaching the dangerous age of thirty, I suddenly realized I had better try and get that thing I had, until then, steadfastly refused to search for: a proper job. Besides, several adventurous but potentially lucrative projects in music, film, and theatre had either crashed and burned or simply petered out rather ingloriously. So the time had come to look.
I tried to get into advertising as a junior copywriter. Unfortunately my spotty resume as a lyricist, magician, and aspiring playwright impressed no one. Even being a member of a prestigious writers’ workshop did nothing to improve matters. “Fink you can amble out the Aldwych and get a job in advertising, who do you fink you are –– Jack the bleedin’ lad?” I thought I was an out of work writer, and certainly not one bit of a lad, Jack or otherwise. But I was thought to be slumming. Oh well.
I could have emigrated to Canada or Australia, but I came to America and the Washington D.C. area. I liked Washington from the time I had spent there a decade before, as a kid in the magic game. And there was another reason: Washington was on the Eastern seaboard, which gave me a foot in the pond, an uninterrupted horizon, with good old Blighty hiding just beyond it.
Americans I met were friendly, supportive, and very encouraging. Even my threadbare resume raised interest instead of hackles. Yes, the accent helped a lot. I sounded cleverer than I was. But folks gave me a chance, and I took it: I got a job. I was allowed to try things, be creative, and within a couple of years, I was senior writer at a major agency. Five years later I met Frances, we formed a small marketing business of our own, got married, had a lovely child. And now live happily in suburban Maryland. All’s well that lands well, as they say.
And yet…

Monday, October 19, 2009

Generation gap—or culture shock?

“Oooh-oooh! It’s Nanny! Hello Katie! Hello Katie!”
Morning brought forth the sun, and Mum was ebullient in bright pinks and smiles. Kate took a running jump at Jessie’s legs, gave her a big hug, and started tugging, dragging her towards the patio.
“Where’s your mother, where’s your mother?” asked Jessie, a little nervous in the face of Kate’s exuberance. As Kate tottered after a ball, Jessie tottered in the opposite direction.

Friday, October 16, 2009

Ready for a lovely weekend!

Even though it was raining hard, I was looking forward to going somewhere different for a few days after a hectic week of hosting. It would be a time to unwind, negate the responsibilities of cooking, cleaning, chauffeuring, and entertaining. For a few days at least, I intended to play the unencumbered tourist, gliding through any visit Frances had planned for us.

Monday, October 12, 2009

Hurray, a giveaway!

We've been very remiss about visiting everyone lately, but we have been a little crazed! We promise to catch up soon, and hope you all forgive us—and, in the meantime, help us celebrate. We finally got our new website up (well, mostly)—and we're finally done with proofing! Hip, hip... So we wanted to share our excitement (and relief!) with all our bloggy friends. And how better to celebrate than with a giveaway? A couple, actually.
Great British Journeys by Nicholas Crane
Residents of the US and Canada: We're giving away a hardcover copy of Great British Journeys by BBC-TV's Nicholas Crane. You'll follow not the prodigal footsteps (couldn't resist) but those of eight explorers who set out to chronicle the state of the British nation, including Gerald of Wales, H.V. Morton, Celia Fiennes, Daniel Defoe, and William Cobbett. On foot, on bicycle, on horseback, and by boat—share their passion, imagination, and curiosity. Lots of photos too!
Orioles shirt
We wanted to make sure to include my former countrymen (and women) this time, as well as our friends down under and beyond, so we decided to make this a true cultural exchange. While readers on this side of the Atlantic enjoy this great book about England (and hopefully get in the mood for another book about England, hint, hint!), I'd like to share a bit of what I've found in America with the rest of you. Some of you may know that Prodigal Daughter is quite the little softball player, and she has introduced me to the game of baseball! I actually quite enjoy it and, I confess, sometimes watch it on the telly without her prodding. I know it's not cricket, but... So we thought we'd give away an Orioles shirt. The Orioles are Baltimore's professional baseball team and, while DC now has the Nationals, we've stuck with the Os. The fact that they lose quite often endears them to me even more—must be my English side making me root for the loser, well done and all that. (Note: this sleeveless shirt is man's large, which in US athletic wear is quite large. Perfect for a nightie, ladies!)
And for the kiddies
We want to get the little ones involved too! So we're giving away a travel journal for the budding tourists in your midst. (Sorry, this one's for US/Canada residents only. Postage is quite silly now.)

Enough chitchat, how do I enter?
OK, OK, here are the rules. Quite simple really, and there are lots of opportunities to enter.

*For the book & shirt: You can only enter for one or the other, based on where you are. North American residents, you're in for the book; others for the shirt. (Please say!)
*One entry for each of the following:
  • A comment in post below--make it exciting, we're celebrating!
  • One entry for signing the guestbook at ayankbacktoengland.com (it helps us climb in the search engines plus, it makes me look popular!)
  • A link to this giveaway on your blog, facebook page, twitter, or other networking site you might have. You must come back and leave another comment with link.
  • One entry for putting my book on your shelf at Shelfari, LibraryThing, and/or GoodReads. Must come back and leave another comment. (One bonus entry for Melissa at SmittenByBritain for having my book on her shelf before we'd even heard of Shelfari—thanks, darling!)
  • One entry for tagging my book "travelogue" and "travelogues" at amazon.com (you have to enter the actual words in the little box). Then come back and let me know...
  • One entry if you email us a lovely England photo (72 dpi please); photos that were submitted before or during our last giveaway do not count.
*For the travel journal: Just leave a comment in this post saying who it's for—and where they might be going! One entry per person (finish, as Lew would say).
*We have to be able to reach you: if you don't have a blog, please leave an email in your comment.
*Depending on the number of entries, we'll use the roulette wheel again, the bingo cage, or some other random method. (Will separate by prize first, of course!)
*Contest will run until October 24, 2009 (midnight Eastern Time). Winners to be posted/contacted on Monday, October 26. If we haven't heard back in 72 hours, another winner(s) will be drawn.

That's it! Look forward to hearing from lots of you...

Friday, October 9, 2009

Set in Stonehenge

Haven't made it out to Stonehenge yet, but as the old Prodigal Wife is always on the trail of Merlin and all things Druid, I'm sure we will someday! In the meantime, Mary Ellen at mefoley sent us this great shot of this mysterious monument, which has apparently stood in place for millennia (must talk to our fixit man about that!).
Mary Ellen says that she likes this photo because "the clouds were outstanding that day," but in my opinion, the best thing about this photo is—no tourists like us! She must have friends in high places.
If you have a great photo of England, share! Email us and we’ll link back to you if we post it. (72 dpi please!)

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

The Grand Old Duke of York—uncensored

Along the way, Jessie and Lew entertained Kate with old nursery rhymes.
“Oh, the Grand old Duke of York, he had ten thousand men—”
The second verse surprised us: they sang about putting the fox in a box and never letting him go. Quite unlike the version we played for Kate, where the fox is freed and nothing nasty happens. Times change. Kate liked her grandparents’ version and applauded. It certainly made more sense.

Monday, October 5, 2009

Catch of the day

At the end of the harbor we saw a couple of chefs in white smocks and blue checkered trousers deep in conversation. Suddenly they stopped talking and made their way to the wooden stairs, something had caught their attention, all we could hear was the soft soggy swish of gold brown seaweed that clung to the underside of the stairs, then from around the sea wall, we heard what they must have heard, a soft hum and popping gurgle of an engine. A moment later, a small red hulled tug-like fishing boat came into view with an entourage of seabirds squawking and squealing at one other.
On the prow of the boat, one of the crew stood holding a couple of flat fish and a striped silver fish.
“What yer got?” one of the chefs yelled out.
“Got any sole?” asked the other chef.
“No sole. Got plaice.” The fisherman yelled back.
As the boat bobbed up and down, the engine gurgled, idling in place.
“Is that bass?” asked the first chef.
“Yeah. bass.”
“Don’t want bass.”

Friday, October 2, 2009

Roast lamb worth the gambol

We have a wonderful variety of seafood and meats here in the States. For instance, beef here is so good, I used to pack a rib roast and bring it to Blighty to share with my folks. They just loved it! That being said, I must confess, I do miss English or Welsh lamb. Sadly, Americans are not big lamb eaters. And no wonder. Most American lamb is derived from sheep that ceased to gambol a long time past. The lamb here is a bit long in the tooth, a bit tough, and it smells gamey. The other lamb widely available is Australian lamb but, though better, this too tends to be a little tough and just a bit too gamey for my taste.
Now, I’ve long been brining turkey and pork. So I thought, why not give the lamb a brine bath? So I did. And the result? Beyond my wildest expectations. The meat was moist, with the aromas of thyme and rosemary. The color was wonderfully pink, and it was a joy to carve. The meat tasted delicate and not a bit gamey. In short the brining turned American mutton into a sweet facsimile of the young, tender English lamb I fondly remember.

Preparing the meat
First, let’s make the brine. This is good for any size leg, small or large. You need 1 cup of sugar, ¼ cup of salt, 15-20 peppercorns, bay leaves if you must, fresh rosemary, and stalks of thyme or oregano. You can, of course, use dried herbs if you haven’t got the fresh ones. I’ve also used a couple of lavender stalks in this recipe, but don’t use many as the flavor is quite pronounced. Combine all these ingredients into a saucepan with a quart of water. Boil up. When the sugar and salt have dissolved, pour the contents into a glass, Pyrex-type dish with 3 quarts of cold water.
Now put the lamb in the brine. Don’t worry if it isn’t completely submerged. Just turn the meat every few hours, and don’t forget to turn it once before going to bed and again in the morning. You want the lamb to brine for 24- to 36 hours, then drain and proceed as you would for any roast lamb recipe.

Roasting the lamb
As we’re going for the English thing, proceed as follows. Coat the lamb with a little butter, mixed with bits of apricot. Mind you, if you have Provencal leanings, you might prefer to anoint the beast with olive oil, garlic, and herbs but…that’s your choice.
Pop the lamb into a 425 F oven at 10-12 minutes per pound for medium rare or 15 minutes a pound for medium. We prefer lamb on the rare side of medium so I go with 10 minutes a pound.

Greek-style brined lamb on the grill
This year I decided to barbeque the lamb Greek-style, with great results. It goes like this. Keep the herbs from the brine. String up the lamb with butcher’s string, and thread and weave the herbs around the leg so it looks as if the beast had a greenish coat. Then skewer the lamb with two spear-like sticks.
Using a Weber-type grill, bank up a good stack of coals on either side, then forage about for a couple of bricks. Now place your bricks opposite each other on the grill, by each of the two banks of coals. Set coals afire and wait until the coals turn white hot. Position the lamb so the ends of the skewers rest on the bricks and the lamb hangs suspended between the coals. I do this for two reasons: I don’t want the lamb to touch the grill and risk burning, and I really want to try and duplicate the Greek fire thing even though I do not possess a turning spit.
Barbecue the lamb for 15 minutes, covered. Because you pronged it with two skewers, you’ll be able to turn the beast over quite easily. Lacking asbestos fingers, I use gloves to execute this maneuver. I suggest you do the same. Then lightly baste the cooked side of the lamb with a little of the brining mixture you so cleverly retained.
Cover the grill and cook for another 15 minutes. Uncover the lamb and let it roast for another 20 minutes or so. The heat will be intense, and you do not want to overcook the meat. Check for doneness at this point. I had a big leg of lamb and the whole thing was cooked in less than an hour (this little roast in the photo took 40 minutes on our indoor grill, which gives off considerably less heat than the trusty old Weber). For medium, grill the lamb for no more than an hour. Remove from the grill, tent it with foil and let it rest for at least half an hour. Actually, you can leave the lamb to rest for as long as an hour without ill effects. Lamb can be barely warm and still be delicious and succulent.
With all that heat residual heat in the grill, go head and grill up a heap of summery veggies to garnish your wonderful English/Greek style lamb.
Do try grilling your lamb outdoors if the weather holds—it’s quite spectacular and tastes superb. But however you decide to cook your lamb, do brine it first. The brine will rejuvenate a lamb and put the spring back in the step of even the most muttony beasts. So do take a gambol on brining! Believe me, you’ll be roasting a winner.