Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Happy Hallowe'en 2013

For it turns out that it is, indeed, a thing now. Its funny that I never celebrated it once in the US, and now, almost two years after we moved back to the UK I am living in a house with a carved pumpkin at the window. Or ‘Jack O’Lantern’ as TLOML hilariously, and quaintly, insists on calling it.

I blame the baby. It is Lady P’s first Halloween, and thus it is decreed that we dress her up as Yoda and parade her up and down the street (or at least, to my sister’s house). And that we light a Jack O’Lantern so others will come calling (or at least, my nephews). Never mind that she’d prefer to be crawling around naked, chewing on my iphone. Never mind that she won’t remember any of this. She will be marking Halloween, and we will have the photos to prove it.

I am out of town for a couple of days so will miss the fun, and I’m actually a bit sad about that. When I get home I’ll make something delicious and autumnal for Lady P out of the pumpkin scrapings.

I have never felt so much like a good American mommy.

Monday, October 28, 2013

A Truly Transatlantic Post

To make up for the my last, off-topic, post, here's one with a purely transatlantic theme. It's actually about the benefits of a transatlantic life - that is, living in the UK with an American husband.

There are many benefits of this life, but I'll keep it short and sweet by naming my top five.

1. Two Mother's Days. Personally I think every day should be a Mother's Day, replete with flowers and breakfast in bed. But I'll settle for two, which is 100% more than pure British mums get.

2. Being able to say 'gosh, that was cheap', after each Doctor's appointment or hospital visit.

3. Thanksgiving, UK style. Basically Christmas dinner, a month early, with candied yams instead of overcooked sprouts. Without having to spend the day watching NFL.

4. Access to massive bottles of Advil and discount single malt (thanks to TLOML's trips) without ever having to set foot in a horrible CVS or Duty Free.

5. Buying a six pack of of fun sized Maltesers and a single pumpkin and still being the most fun and Halloween-y house on the street.

The only fly in the ointment is that I now have to live with the knowledge that fridges can be sooooo much bigger.

Friday, October 25, 2013

On peeling apples. No, really.

Rambling - actually I prefer 'discursive' - as this blog may be, it does have a theme of sorts. The clue is in the name: Transatlantic Tales. It started as barefaced mockery of my Los Angeles friends and neighbours, written as a Brit abroad. Then it became our move East, via NY to the UK, with an American in tow. Even on pregnancy and parenthood, or when I write about food and cooking, I do try for the most part to make sure my posts have a loose connection to things transatlantic. Or at least to where we live, and how we live (which is in itself transatlantic thanks to TLOML being an actual American).

When I think thoughts that have no transatlantic connection at all I try to keep them off my blog. You really don't want to know what I think about Russell Brand on Paxman, do you? Exactly.

Well, I'm breaking the rules for this post. Here goes.

As the apple season draws to a close we received the last of many bags of apples from our dear friend and landlady. I attacked them with our old rusty peeler. TLOML wanted to get rid of this peeler when we started weaning Lady P, because it is so rusty. I actually fished it out of the bin because I found the replacement peeler so slippery and hard to hold. TLOML agrees, it's a blighter to use. It has cut me, drawing blood, every time I have used it. So this time, as so many times before, I tipped the enormous bag of apples out on the countertop and - shunning the new peeler - started prepping them with the rusty old peeler.

Cue the arrival of TLOML. 'What can I do?' he said.
'You can help peel these apples,' I replied. 'You'll have to use that dangerous new peeler though.'
'I hate that peeler,' he said. 'In fact, I'm going to get to the bottom of it. There must be a trick to using it.'

At which point he started googling how to use the new peeler. There are a surprising number of videos about how to use a so-called 'banjo' peeler on line. Here's one of my favourites:

I did muse, as I peeled the apples and TLOML watched the videos, about why so many people make these boring potato peeler videos. Who on earth watches them? I wondered. Oh, right. Us.

The sad thing is that all those videos didn't help at all. It's still a slippery peeler. And it took TLOML the entire time it took me to peel the apples, to find this out.

Here's a picture of TLOML watching videos about how to use the peeler. The apple in shot is the last one of the dozen or so that I peeled. Notice the trusty rusty peeler, resting, blood free on the board while the evil sharp one lurks, ready to slice fingers.
As I said, there's nothing transatlantic about this. It's just a post about TLOML watching videos of how to peel, while I actually peel.

Sorry. I'll get back on theme next time I promise.

Monday, October 21, 2013

Is Halloween a thing now?

As I prepare to enter another season of explaining to TLOML that we don't really 'do' Halloween, this display stopped me in my tracks.
It's everything you need if you actually want to mark (celebrate?) Halloween: trick or treat buckets, scary paper napkins, masks and so on.

I am also reliably informed that the children at local drop-ins, Rhyme Time and the like, will be wearing fancy dress. Or Halloween costumes as they are probably called. Which means that half the kids at the childminder will be too. I found myself digging out the Yoda* costume an (American) friend gave us when Lady P arrived. Then I put it to one side, since, as I've said before, 'we don't really do Halloween here'. So what on earth would we want a Halloween costume for? Anyway, dressing an eight month old baby up is just silly.

And yet, the costume is still out on the top of the chest of drawers, ready for wear. Meanwhile, I find myself drawn to pumpkins which look like they'd lend themselves to carving, or satsumas decorated to look like pumpkins, or biscuits made to look like ghosts with marshmallows on them. And wondering if I made a big batch of flapjack with googly eyes drawn on, if that would do for trick or treaters.

We could put some of this down to too much time spent on Pinterest, of course. And perhaps I can still blame the hormones of motherhood - for making what has previously seemed a bit naff suddenly an essential pastime. Or is it something more? Is Halloween really a thing in Britain now? And if it is, given that I live on the friendliest street in small town heaven, can I really avoid getting involved?

I don't know yet. But something's in the air. And it might just be childishly spooky.

*Not Obi Wan Kenobi as per my earlier post. Apparently that's not a good costume.

Thursday, October 17, 2013

Meat Week 2013

One happy side effect of our extended stay in limbo is that TLOML can compete in the National Masters and Old Codgers Swim Championship.

Which means another week of eating meat. Last year it took me a little bit by surprise. He requested spag bol one day. We had roast beef a couple of days later. And before I knew it we'd spent the week eating beef. And it was all rather hearty. As I was growing another human being inside me at the time I was well up for all that stodge.

But this year I'm after a little more variety. Some heartiness, yes, and lots of red meat of course. But also meat from other animals other than the cow, and perhaps a little lightness and heat to balance the heft.

In my continued efforts to win 'Wife of the Year', I posted this menu for TLOML to choose from:
I think our butcher will be rather pleased to see us this weekend. Let Meat Week commence!

Monday, October 14, 2013

A family on the move

We're all on the move. I don't mean our big move back to the US. That's a couple of months off. I mean the many smaller journeys we are going on in the meantime.

TLOML makes fairly frequent trips to the US. I now have to travel for work, every week or two. And Lady P is crawling, driving her little car around the kitchen, and working pretty hard on pulling herself up to standing. She also enjoys a good bounce, a fast moving swing, and has perfected an excellent seated shimmy.
On the road

Swinging
Which is all wonderful. Except when one of us is away. I'll be cross to get back from this week's trip to Reading to find out that she's finally mastered the art of pulling herself up. And I don't want her first steps to be taken while TLOML is not there to see them.

The last time I was away TLOML claimed she had 'swum'. It later transpired she had been propelled through the water from his hands to my sisters', over a distance of a foot at the most. I relaxed, happy to know I hadn't missed an incredible milestone.

The other day I realised she is almost able to clamber up the two steps on our landing - and promptly picked her up and put her down in on a level patch again, saying 'Not while Daddy's away darling'.

Yes, I'm basically trying to retard her progress. We have some way to go before she's properly standing, of course - never mind walking. But if I have my way, she'll master these skills right in front of both of us. Even if that means holding her down till TLOML gets home.

Wednesday, October 9, 2013

'Blog that!'

Whenever anything happens outside what TLOML considers normal, he always says 'Why don't you blog about that?' He often says 'blog that!' when people are being a bit eccentric, or the service is slightly crap. This being Britain, it happens a lot.

Here's a short list of some of the items TLOML would like me to publicise:
  • People swimming in the North Sea between May and September.
  • When the man down the street creosoted his fence and put no fewer than 8 'wet creosote' signs on it. This was 'blog that' worthy because the fence is only about 10ft long so there was a sign every few inches.
  • The arrival of a friend for dinner with a carton of goat's milk and a banana. She had just popped to Sainsbury's on her way over, that's all.
  • The time we went to Aldi and bought 63 items for £62. A highlight. Bristol Farms has never felt so far away.
  • The sunny but cold days in April when TLOML and I wore quilted coats with hats and scarves and saw people walking around in shorts and flipflops.
  • The £5 fine, noted on a little sign by the path, for 'damaging the daffodils' in Farndale.
  • When TLOML's order of smoked salmon and scrambled eggs on a bagel came on an English muffin, and the cafe owner said 'You don't mind, do you?' when TLOML mentioned it.

I would go on, but am saving the rest of the incidents for when I've run out of other events about which to write hilarious and insightful commentary.



Monday, October 7, 2013

Living at the centre of the universe

I used to think London was the centre of the universe, and nothing of note happened in the rest of the country. I suspect that's one of the reasons Londoners put up with so many inconveniences - the high cost of living, the crush on West End pavements, the low level hassle involved in getting anywhere on public transport - because it does feel like the place where everything brilliant occurs. That's partly because it really is where most brilliant things in Britain do occur. But also because British media feature what appears to be a disproportionate amount of London. I notice that bias much more now I live outside of London. Magazines and newspapers, being written by a bunch of Londoners I suppose, are written as if everyone lives there. And London is a backdrop for a disproportionate number of TV dramas and films. Beefeaters, Big Ben and the classic London black cab are a visual shorthand for Britishness.

Yet the rest of the UK is nothing like London. People don't get on the Tube, or spend their Sunday afternoons in Primrose Hill, or shop in Space NK, outside of London. A little over 10% of the UK population live in London - the rest of us live in places like Saltburn, and Berkhamsted, Glasgow and Claygate. To the vast majority of Brits I think London is rather a foreign place. (In fact, I think London has more in common with other world cities than other British cities.) Still, if you live in London you have your faith in the great importance of where you live reinforced on a daily basis.
Saltburn - a little known backwater, frankly.
Los Angeles of course, has this ego problem even worse. Blame the lack of imagination of those people in the film industry, for they don't seem to be able to picture anything beyond the end of their street. So a disproportionate number of films and TV shows are set in LA. Plus thanks to all the celebs who live out there, most of the pap photos in trashy magazines have Santa Monica or Beverly Hills or boring old Brentwood as a backdrop. So despite that less than 5% of the population of the US live there one can easily get comfortable with the idea that LA is the centre of the American universe.
The centre of the universe! If you're in the movies, anyway.
I hate to admit that this is probably an underlying reason behind my preference for LA. It's not a real, worth-acting-on reason, but rather a feeling I'm a bit embarrassed to admit to. It's egotism, I suppose.

If we do end up back in LA we can reignite the illusion of living where all the cool stuff goes on. In which case frequent return trips to Yorkshire will be crucial to flag to Lady P that there's a real world out there. Of course, if we move to some beautiful but boring suburb in the Bay Area we won't need to worry about that. She'll grow up like I did, longing to move to the big smoke (that's London or LA), under the illusion that it is the centre of the universe.

Saturday, October 5, 2013

Choosing Cities

For as long as we've been talking about moving back to the US it's been assumed that that means LA. Fun though Manhattan was, it's not the place for us, and TLOML's business contacts are all on the West Coast anyway. So the only debate for a while was just whereabouts in LA we should set up our new home.

Until TLOML pointed out the elephant in the room. It's an elephant the size of a small, foggy city by a bay. The elephant is San Francisco.

The thing is, we're moving back to the US to give TLOML the best chance of growing his business (so we can become gazillionaires and retire back to Saltburn, obvs). And most of his clients and business contacts are in San Francisco. Except the ones who are based in Las Vegas and that's just not on the table as a place to live. San Francisco is also awash with entrepreneurs, venture funding, successful start-ups and innovative businesses. Frankly, if you want to become a self-made man, and you went to Stanford, it's the place to be. If you are that person and you live in LA, better prepare to spend a lot of time flying up to SF.

San Francisco - a lot more commerce than you might imagine from reading Tales of the CIty
San Francisco is really not a bad place to live, either. According to the Huffington Post it's one of the happiest and healthiest places to live in the States. The city itself, though charming, is chilly in the summer and has patchy schools. But the wider Bay Area is very beautiful, full of European-friendly liberals ('crunchy hippies', TLOML calls them, but I think he means that as a compliment) and neighbourhoods where families live in houses with proper gardens, on rambling streets that lead down to sweet little Main Streets with cutesy coffee shops and laidback brunch places. Everyone jogs and votes Democrat. As I said, not a bad place to live.
Gotta love those hills and bay views
One would think the Bay Area would appeal more to a lefty Londoner like me. And its probably a far more wholesome environment for Lady P to grow up in than silly old LA with its wannabe actress waitresses, all that plastic surgery, the stupid oversized cars, and all that 'Industry' BS. And yet... and yet... LA is where I came to know and love the beachy SoCal lifestyle. It feels like home, or as close as I can get on that side of the Atlantic. By comparison San Francisco is just a little short on palm trees, and wide, sunny beaches.

So, what to do? We could live where the money and the work is. Or live where the beaches and the palm trees are. The smart choice is definitely the Bay Area. But whether we'll make the smart choice or not, remains to be seen..

Wednesday, October 2, 2013

Parmo night

California has its egg white omelette and, of course, the California roll. New York has the papaya/hot dog combo and the New York strip steak. London has… hmmm…. What does London have, as signature foods go? Well, perhaps the fact there’s no obvious answer to that says it all. Either about the wonderful diversity of London’s food, or the paucity thereof, depending on your point of view.

Anyway, enough about those other places, for now we are in Saltburn. You might think the signature dish around here is fish and chips. And it’s certainly unquestionably true that the North Yorkshire coastline is the source of the best fish and chips in the whole world. But there’s another dish which is the local speciality: the parmo. The parmo is more Teesside than Yorkshire, and Saltburn straddles both places: look right from the pier and you see the rolling cliff top fields and wooded hills of picture perfect North Yorkshire. Look left and the industrial glories of Teesside – the steel works at Redcar, big ships queuing up to go into Teesport– fill the horizon.

While tourists, seeking North Yorkshire’s old fashioned seaside delights, opt for fish and chips, the locals eat parmos.

‘What’s a parmo?’ I hear you ask. Well, clearly you’re not from round here. Neither is TLOML and he has asked the same question many times. Mainly because there’s so much talk of parmos. TLOML’s swim club buddies keep asking him when he’s going to try one. Every pub and most restaurants have a ‘parmo night’, when all the specials are parmos. Chicken parmos, pork parmos, mushroom parmos, and so on.
 
Thursday is parmo night at The Ship
Allow me to put you out of your misery. A parmo is a piece of meat (or mushroom mush), bashed about and flattened a bit, breaded and fried. Sounds a bit like those chicken escalopes you see in greasy spoons in London, doesn’t it? (Is that London’s signature dish? No, it can’t be. Teesside claims it). But what makes it more than just an escalope, what elevates it into a parmo, is that it is then topped with b├ęchamel sauce and grated parmesan. And chips. Boom! Heart attack! They are served in Styrofoam boxes to drunks up and down Linthorpe Road every Saturday night. And to civilised people in Saltburn pubs on parmo nights.


TLOML tried his first parmo at the weekend – under the expert guidance of my brother-in-law, who knows a first rate pub chef who makes a good one (no reformed chicken, or cheddar instead of parmesan, for him). 
TLOML with his parmo

His verdict? He liked it. But he didn’t see it catching on outside Teesside. I'm not so sure. Despite its healthy image and all those fro-yo shops, LA is also home to Roscoes, which served quite possibly the least healthy meal I’ve ever eaten (half a fried chicken, waffles, and so much salt I was thirsty for  two days afterwards). I wonder if we might open up a parmo shop on our return, and show those Californians what they're missing.
I could see this having an exotic appeal on Santa Monica Boulevard