And we come back to Thanksgiving (Autumn 2015)

Good lord, not even Thanksgiving last year, but the year before that. How embarrassing.

This would be our third Thanksgiving together, and the first with guests. The significant otter was excited to put our larger Norfolk kitchen to use at full effect. He was even preparing a vegetarian main course for one of our guests! In our house, he is definitely the cook – though I did get to make the desserts. (Not pictured is the pumpkin pie.)

Cupcakes and brownies and cookies, oh my!

M has taken quite a shine to Thanksgiving. I suspect this is mostly due to him getting free license to cook an absolutely massive meal full of complex recipes more than a keen desire to bring Americanism into our home. We definitely still avoid the Black Friday sales like the plague. Regardless, he had been relentlessly prepping for this day for weeks. I’m not exaggerating – WEEKS. He had a spreadsheet of foods needed, when to buy them, and when they’d go into the oven. I’m not kidding on the ‘fond of’ bit.

Finally we get to the week of Thanksgiving and it all kicks off. Because we don’t get the Thursday off in the UK (Shocking, right?), Thanksgiving is generally held on a Saturday for us. This works pretty well for frozen turkeys as the actual day of Thanksgiving is a great reminder to take the bird out to defrost if you haven’t already.

Speaking of turkeys… Did you know it is nigh on impossible to get a fresh turkey before mid-December here? Everyone likes to have them for Christmas, so they just aren’t ready before then. Trust me, I called and walked in about five different butchers around Norwich asking about this. They all looked at me like I had lost my mind. Thankfully, you can purchase frozen turkeys from the grocery store, especially around November time.

So Saturday arrived and I quickly became a kitchen widow. You know how I mentioned the whole frozen turkey reminder thing? Yeah, apparently that wasn’t quite enough time for the size of the bird we had purchased. Thankfully it all worked out in the end. There’s an upside to having a ridiculous amount of food – nobody minds waiting a bit, so long as there’s something to nibble on. And nibble on there was, as M had made a metric ton of pigs in blankets for everyone. Fun fact: pigs in blankets are two very different things in the US and the UK. Be prepared to see a few surprised looks if you don’t warn your guests. Being the blend of cultures that we are, we opted for the UK pigs in blankets for our American holiday meal.

All in all, it was a lovely meal with lovely friends, and we ended up sat around the table playing games and drinking wine until late in the evening. As everyone was winding up and going to bed, The Event happened. You know The Event. Every family has something go terribly awry every Thanksgiving. Someone burns the turkey. The sweet potatoes were forgotten. Someone says something horrible at the table and no one is able to make a swift recovery in time. Our guests were absolutely amazing, so the politics was safely not an issue. In fact, it was M and myself that managed the 2015 Thanksgiving Event of the Year.

I went to begin another round of tidying in the kitchen. We didn’t have a dishwasher at the time, so I was having to hand wash all the dishes as we went. As one would expect, it was total carnage in the kitchen at the time when I swept in to clean another load of plates. It was when I reached over the counter to grab a bowl from the back that I managed to catch the tip of our (recently refilled) glass jar of olive oil.

It fell over, rolled across the counter, and then shattered into a million pieces, leaving glass shrapnel and a quart of slick olive oil all over our brick tiled kitchen floor.

The crime scene.
The crime scene.

Surprisingly for our inebriated state, no one ended up with cuts from the glass. With the immediate danger cleaned up, the next logical step is to mop up, right?

OH MY GOD NO.

But yes, that is what we did next. Drunken logic dictated that obviously we should just get it up with some water and floor soap, so we mopped the entire floor and went to bed whilst it air dried. But when we came down the next morning, it looked like it hadn’t even dried.

Come find out, mopping is the absolute last thing you want to do when it comes to cleaning up oil spills in the kitchen. M of course was reading this the next morning as we gazed in horror at our new glossy floor tiles. Apparently you want to throw as many paper towels and cloth towels you have at it and then let it soak up as much as possible before blotting away the rest in small increments. DO NOT RUB IT ACROSS THE FLOOR.

It ended up taking about 3 months of twice-weekly mopping and letting our socks soak up the grease before it finally faded away, but at least the fond memories of the night have lasted longer.
— Kate

How To: Grocery Shopping

I was going to title this “The Tale of Two Tescos,” but I only managed to get a few photos of the second one before the security guard started trying to sneakily follow me around like I was going to steal something or take inappropriate photos. Anyway, I figured for the next few posts I’d do a few How To’s on everyday life here unless something major cropped up to otherwise fill blog space. A week or so ago I was put in contact with a sweet girl who needed some advice on how to get by in England as an American fresh off the plane and I realised I had quite a few stories to tell already that I wish people had told me when I arrived. With that in mind, let us begin!

First and foremost, let us dispel the idea that everything in England is tiny. Yes, the country is old and has been continuously occupied and expanded upon, but they’ve hardly reached peak capacity. There are still rolling green hills of countryside and they’re just as big fans of supermarkets as we are in the US. There are many varieties of grocery stores to go to, but the closest supermarket to me is Tesco, so that’s who you’re getting as an example today.

I’m in the city proper, so I can walk everywhere I need to go and the shops are not an exception. The big Tesco is about a half a mile from my place, so it’s only a 10 minute walk to get there. The only issue with this is it also means walking in the cold for half a mile each way, and one way is carrying back everything you bought. I’ll revisit this later though.

Carrying on, we’re just going to start at the front entrance.

I apologise, but it was freezing and I did not feel inclined to march across the car park to take a photo of the front straight on. If your curiosity is killing you, you can see it here on Google Maps, complete with loitering youths. Also, if you’re reading that sign you aren’t crazy – there are old laws here that restrict opening hours of certain businesses on Sundays and Tesco falls into that category. You run out of crisps at 6pm on a Sunday evening and you’re running to a convenience store. Be sure to note that Click & Collect. I’ll get back to that.

When you walk inside you’ll quickly notice that it looks remarkably like a grocery store in the States. Ooo. Ahh.

Dueling Buggies
I didn’t intend to catch this moment of dueling buggies, but I think it makes the picture all the better.

Looking in to the fruit and veg, you’ll see that they’re all clearly labelled with expiry dates, but look closer… Where are they from?

This is when you realise that America is absolutely MASSIVE and that we can grow almost anything we want in our own country. You’d expect to find state names here. However, Britain is an island about the size of Oregon, so sometimes imports have to happen. You’ll find the locally grown food tends to say so in big, bold letters on the signs over the place they’re in (though not always, as this bag of apples indicates).

Honestly though, you’ll find a lot of the shop looks pretty much identical, or at least in setups that you wouldn’t find particularly striking. I’m a big fan of this style of frozen food section actually. Less likely to be hit by a frozen pea bag avalanche in the bottom shelves.

Heck, even some of the food is exactly the same. Wait, did I move to a new country?

Activia, what are you doing here?
Activia, what are you doing here?

Eventually though, you will find things in containers you didn’t expect and in shelves you wouldn’t have looked on.

I have to say I really love the teeny tiny pints of milk. You may not be able to tell easily, but those little ones on the middle shelf are only a pint! If you’re not a milk fiend, it can be difficult to go through a 2 pint jug and next to impossible to manage a litre one. Even if you are a milk fiend like me, it goes off much quicker here than in the US, so it’s great to get just a little one and pick another up on the way home if need be on another day. (Short shelf life is a trend with all the food here. Seriously guys, what’s going into US food?) Also, the milk jugs are tall and narrow, which is a genius move and should be mandatory to start doing in the States immediately. Suddenly the amount of leftovers hidden behind the milk for days drops by 90%.

And of course, the eggs. I could go on about why eggs are left unrefridgerated here, but I’ll link you to a more reliable source than my own word. You can put them in the fridge if you want to though, and if I have room I sometimes still do because it’s an odd sight to see eggs in the pantry. …And I’m afraid of knocking them over with a box of cereal, but that’s another matter entirely.

There are also a few things which just don’t come to the States, but are fantastic and should market themselves overseas. There are all the fun chocolates and biscuits and Yorkshire puddings of course, but man oh man do you need to try the squash.

SO MANY OPTIONS.
SO MANY OPTIONS.

Squash is an interesting concept. Imagine powdered water flavourings, but it’s real fruit juice involved. Yet no pulp. And it’s liquid. Whilst you could drink it straight from the bottle, it’d be like eating a spoonful of sugar when you’ve got a slight sweet tooth. It’s highly concentrated and depending on personal preference, you only want to fill up a standard pint glass with maybe an inch’s worth at the bottom. From there, you fill the rest with water (fizzy or flat will work) and enjoy! It comes in a ton of different flavours, and it’s probably my go-to decaffienated drink of choice.

Let’s mosey on over to the checkout at this point. Not pictured are the self-checkouts, but they are identical in every respect except instead of a Midwestern woman reprimanding you to please put your item in the bagging area, it’s a posh English woman. Now let’s see if you notice the only main difference in the manned checkout…

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They let their employees SIT! It’s a common sight at cash registers when the employees are expected to be there all day to have a chair (and usually a semi-ergonomic looking one) so they aren’t dead on their feet by the end of their shift. I can only ask incredulously why this isn’t a thing in America because frankly, it’s fantastic and I know folks who would go home hurting pretty badly because they had to stand in one place for 8 hours.

At this point, we’ve wandered the shop and checked out. Now let’s get a look at a Tesco Express (also fondly referred to as the Teeny Tiny Tesco). This one is much closer to my flat, but being smaller they only carry essentials. Great if you’re missing honey or carrots or such for a recipe, but you wouldn’t want to use it as your main stock up place.

For perspective on this shop’s size, imagine a decently sized gas station, but it’s only got grocery store essentials in it instead of an aisle for car parts and two aisles dedicated to sweet things. For example:

Here’s the point where I started getting shadowed, else I would have taken photos of such exciting things as the cereal/grains/bread/soup aisle and the dedicated 3 doors of frozen foods.

So earlier I mentioned something about Click & Collect and having to walk a half mile home with groceries. What’s up with that you ask? Ladies and gentlemen, I am about to share something that will make you insanely envious, as it well should for it is fantastic. Living in England means I have access to the glory that is online grocery shopping. Are you guys ready for this?

Log-in Screen

TA DA. Now this is the way to go for a grocery trip when you need to restock the pantry. Same as with the physical stores, there are plenty of companies that will do groceries online, so look around for what’s the best deal for you. Sticking with the Tesco theme today though, so we’re on Tesco.com. You can look on these websites and play around with them from any country – you can even order so long as it comes to a UK address in the company’s range. I should know, as my wonderful parents have sent me groceries before. 🙂

So looking at this front page, you should notice two main details. First, I need to get to £25 to avoid the £4 fee. And £4 will get you a lot of food, so that’s not going to waste. Second, the Click & Collect has reappeared! But I have no car! This is nice if you want to order your groceries and just swing by to pick them up at the front desk on the way home from work, but doesn’t do me much good. What’s that option on the left though? Does this mean I’m not trudging home with six bags through the cold wind? Why yes, yes it does.

Shopping 1

Let’s do a faux shop to give you an idea of how this works. I can always use some milk, so let’s toss that in the basket. Ooo, no whole milk in 2 litres. That’s okay, I’m a skimmed milk gal myself.

Shopping 2If you get milk, you always have to get bread, so I’ll just check the special offers out. Hey, they’ve got that tasty bread I liked on offer. I’ll grab one! Oh wait, I’ve missed the sale. Thanks for pointing that out Tesco! I’ll grab two! (You can conceivably click the Special Offer at the front page and buy only things on sale for an entire shopping order. I should know. I’ve done it once.)

Money Total

Speeding through the process, I’ve made it to my minimum spending amount and it lets me know how many clubcard points I’ve earned (good to spend on cheaper petrol) as well as any savings I’ve racked up. At this point, this will be the final price. However, I can choose substitute down here if I really want to make sure I get some bread. They could glitch the system and actually be out of that one on sale and allowing substitutions means a bread of equal (ish) value will arrive. (Sometimes it’ll be a nicer item, sometimes lower quality.) If I say no substitutions and the bread is gone, I’ll be refunded the price and the delivery driver will let me know what didn’t make it.

Here’s the basket in full, explaining what I’m buying and what sales I’ve gotten. It also gives a rough approximation of how long the fresh food will be good for, just like the labels found on the produce earlier.

Delivery Address

Next, you enter your details for delivery (blurred out for this occasion). After you’ve confirmed this delivery you’ve got some time available (Tesco says until 8:30 the morning of if your delivery is after 7pm, but different companies have different rules) in which you can come back and change your order around to add anything you might have forgotten or change a carrot for a parsnip or such. Or to add all those heavy tinned goods and soda that you didn’t want to lug back from the shop yourself.

Time Slot 1

You next pick a time slot. As it’s around 10pm now, I’m definitely not getting anything delivered tonight, but tomorrow is still available. Those crumpets will have to wait for another breakfast.

Time Slot 2Hmm, let’s go for the 9-10pm slot because I’m lame and know full well I’ll be in then tomorrow. From here, you just enter in card details and you’ll get a confirmation email. That easy!

It’s at this point that you can run into trouble in flats, and I have. Tesco and Asda both grump and grumble about bringing the groceries up to my flat, but Ocado has no issue doing so. I take the stance that if I’m being lazy enough to have groceries delivered, I want to be able to stay in my PJs if I so desire and tend to go with Ocado so they’ll bring them straight to my kitchen. Your milage (and levels of lazy) may vary.

So yeah, that’s the exciting experience that is grocery shopping here in the UK!

— Kate

 

Revenge of the Pumpkin Spice Latte

So I cannot tell you how many people felt the need to mention to me before I left the US, “Oh Kate, I bet you’re really gonna miss having pumpkin spice lattes in the UK. They don’t have those there.”

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For the record everybody, they do. About it in terms of pumpkin flavored anything though, so don’t start packing your bags too quickly. Oh, while we’re griping, let us discuss the grocery delivery fiasco. In the UK, it’s geographically small enough to feasibly manage grocery delivery orders. Yes folks, you can order all the groceries and household goods you’d buy on a regular trip to the store online and have them bring it to you. Depending on the time of day, this service runs you £1-£5 and an hour slot that you will definitely be in the house for. You can even look online at places like Tesco, Asda, or Sainsbury’s for an idea of how it all works. Super spiffy stuff honestly.

The fiasco began when my things were due up to be delivered. The delivery truck was about 5 minutes over the hour time frame, which I was fine ignoring, but then it just went downhill. The Tesco delivery guy finally calls my phone to say he’s here. Little odd he’s not using the intercom, but I buzzed the door open. Wait 10 minutes. Call the number back, it says the phone is off. Wait another 10 minutes. March downstairs to see if the van is here. It’s not, and the ever-patient security guard tells me there hasn’t been one. Call Tesco customer service line and explain this. They call the driver and then tell me that his phone is off. Of course it is. They tell me deliveries only run until 11 and that he may still show up (it should have been here from 9-10 that evening in the first place), but they can rebook the delivery for tomorrow just in case. Then rebooked “just in case” for 9-10 the next morning.

It did finally show the next morning at about 9:45. The delivery driver that morning let me know he was a few minutes away and so rather than wait around more than 5 minutes, I just marched downstairs. (Well, took the elevator. Nine flights of stairs is a bit melodramatic to march.) The delivery driver was just waiting in his truck for me to come down, though no one had told me this was the deal. He said he couldn’t leave his truck alone with where he was parked, so he then gave me my baskets and a moving dolly to take them upstairs myself. The maintenance guys were checking smoke alarms on my floor and were as confused as I was about why I was taking my stuff up myself. They said I should have kept the dolly. I briefly considered it. However, it wasn’t that particular driver’s fault, so I brought it down nicely and then grumbled back upstairs to put away the spoils.

Otherwise, it’s been another fantastic week here in Leicester, with a lot more hands-on experience than previously. On Tuesday we had an object handling session with bits of the Wellcome Collection that have ended up in the department here to get a feel for objects outside of their information. Using touch, smell, sight (and perhaps a little Googling), we had to try to pull together some information on objects and what made them so fascinating. It was difficult for some things, but others like this sawtooth nose were pretty easy to do.

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The crumbly bits at the bottom of the photo were actually news articles pasted on to the artifact when it was collected in around 1906.

There was rain on and off throughout the day with some impressive 40-50 mile per hour winds coming in from the leftovers of Hurricane Gonzalo. This didn’t seem to deter any students though. I personally witnessed a few sitting at the tables outside of the library, hunched over their plates and mugs, determined to have their lunch regardless of whether or not it tried to blow away. It also didn’t deter any of my fellow students from showing up to our first Museum Society meeting to vote on what all we’d like to do as a club for the year. There were some fun ideas like the upcoming trip to Liverpool or an ugly Christmas sweater party, as well as more practical ones like an essay-swap read-over day or a motion to get a microwave for the students to use in the building. (We’re far enough away from the Student Union to make it difficult at lunchtime if you need to heat a meal.)

Wednesday was a study day in the flat for the most part, but by mid-afternoon I had to wander up to the building for a Think Tank session about cabinets of curiosity through time and how they’ve influenced modern museums today. Did you know the word ‘cabinet’ used to just refer to a place (usually a room) that held objects in it, and not just what we consider cabinets today?  These privately owned cabinets, or kunstschränke, were the precursors to museums today, and some big name places like the Ashmolean and British Museum started as donated kunstschränke for the public to finally have easy access to visit. Also (and surprisingly), most collectors were actually from the professional class – apothecaries and merchants and such, not kings and princes like many people would think. Towards the end of the lecture we were put into groups and set loose to create very quick mock-ups of exhibits that behaved like cabinets of the past using objects we’d brought into the room and some provided to us. The group I worked with were all so creative and clever, and I think we were all pretty pleased with how it turned out with only 10 minutes and a dead wasp. (It’s nigh on impossible to see in the photo sadly, but the narwhal tusk is pretty obvious.)

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Thursday evening was a really cool experience in which quite a few of us from the department went to the Diwali celebration on the north side of the city. What is Diwali you ask? To quote Wiki, “Diwali or Divali also known as Deepavali and the ‘festival of lights’, is an ancient Hindu festival celebrated in autumn every year. The festival spiritually signifies the victory of light over darkness, knowledge over ignorance, good over evil, and hope over despair. The festival preparations and rituals typically extend over a five day period, but the main festival night of Diwali coincides with the darkest, new moon night of the Hindu Lunisolar month Kartika.” It just so happens that Leicester has the largest Diwali celebration in the world outside of India, so of course it was a must-see!

Friday was another evening of celebration. Four people in the department all had birthdays in close succession with one another and decided to just have an event of it. This ended up being the perfect conclusion to the week with dinner at the Marquis and hopping over to The Pub afterwards. (Let us not discuss how confusing this pub’s name is. It’s like an Abbott and Costello scene all over again, but worse because the English are unfamiliar with Abbott and Costello and trying to explain this just gets you looks of deeper confusion.)

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Otherwise, this has been a quiet weekend in with lots more reading and outline sketching for the impending essay due up in a few weeks. It’s getting nippy outside and the sun is setting much earlier, but all is still fine and dandy over here! Hope all is well wherever you’re reading this from. 🙂

— Kate