Monthly Archives: October 2011

Happy Halloween!

I’m a fan of many Halloween time-tested traditions (carving pumpkins, fancy dress, pumpkin beer, etc.) but my absolute favorite remains trick-or-treating, which is still alive and (very!) well in the US.

Leave it to Americans to celebrate what is basically knocking on strangers’ doors and begging for candy, while dressed as Harry Potter or Spider-Man. It’s a veritable street party with roving bands of kids dressed up, moving house to house in search of the best treats.

There’s something simple and wholesome about it.

Yes, I still get trick-or-treaters who haven’t been kids for quite some time and yes, last year, some of these aforementioned trick-or-treaters didn’t even bother to wear a costume. But never mind! In the spirit of the holiday, I give generously and so do my neighbors.

So much so that we have enough candy to get us through most of November. Isn’t that what it’s all about?

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Time after time

Come this Sunday, the UK will be “falling back” an hour, thanks to daylight savings time, whereas the US won’t change their clocks until next weekend.

Why don’t they just schedule daylight savings time on one date worldwide? Why stagger it? Does it even matter? I’ve always felt a strange discord in this in-between week. Britain actually feels strangely even farther away, with the addition of that extra hour.

If you’re in the UK, don’t forget to set your clocks back and enjoy that extra lie-in (translation: sleeping in). We’ll be with you next week!

Red light, green light (oh, and amber light)

In addition to baking up a storm this weekend, I also completed online traffic school.

(You may remember that I was smacked down with not one, but two red light traffic camera tickets a couple of months ago – a proverbial embarrassment of riches after years of a near-perfect driving record.)

Well, this weekend I was eyeballs-deep in the rules of the road. Among other things, I refamiliarized myself with the red, yellow and green light. Or rather, the red, amber and green light, if you’re a Brit.

Red, amber and green? Yes! Is there anything more poetic than to call your basic yellow light “amber”? And why stop there? They should go with crimson, amber and moss? Or candy apple, amber and emerald? Why not?!

And that’s not the only difference between UK and US traffic lights.

* American lights go red to green to yellow, then back to red.

* British lights are more complex. They go red to red and amber at the same time, to green to amber, then back to red again.

I have heard that the US used to have this kind of sequence back in the 1950s and that you can still spot this in some parts of rural America but I have yet to see a yellow light follow a green light. Have you?

Jeremy Kyle is a British Jerry Springer

Ah, daytime TV. In between all of the depressing adverts (translation: commercials) for prescription drugs (“Ask your doctor about Novolog Flexpen today”), personal injury lawyers and technical colleges, I stumbled upon this little nationally syndicated talk show (or rather shout show) gem: The Jeremy Kyle Show.

Who’s Jeremy Kyle? Apparently he’s a ratings giant in the UK, who brought his Springer-esque talk show style to the US last month.

I know that Jerry Springer was born in London, England but this guy is British. Really British. And he’s counseling troubled, stupid Americans. You know the type.

In the riveting episode I watched yesterday titled, “How Could You Choose Your Girlfiriend Over Your Son!” (these episode titles always have to end in an exclamation point or a question mark or sometimes both!), a teen mom claims her child’s father is a deadbeat dad and his girlfriend and the child’s grandmothers take sides.

It’s your typical white trash junk food fare, but Jeremy classes it up a bit. He wears a nice suit and the chairs on the set look quality. Not like the kind that they throw around on Jerry Springer. And he’s not afraid to lay down the law, shouting at the teens and calling them stupid little children and adding Britishisms like, “This will be sorted!” or “You keep having a go at her!” which is worth their weight in gold.

I never quite get a gauge on whether these people have any idea what he is saying or whether they even know where Britain is. Maybe it doesn’t matter as long as they get paid whatever they get paid to air their dirty laundry, take the DNA test or reveal the details of their botched sex change operation. Bottom line: Isn’t that what good shout show TV is all about?

Watch out, Maury Povich and Jerry Springer. There’s a new sheriff in town.

Check your local listing for the time and channel of The Jeremy Kyle Show. This week’s episodes include “Stop Destroying My Marriage, Your Baby Isn’t My Husband’s!” and “I’ll Prove Today That My 24-Year-Old Daughter Is Yours.” You won’t want to miss those.

Confessions of a DWTS convert

Hokey.

That’s why I’ve never watched Dancing with the Stars (the US version of Britain’s Strictly Come Dancing) for years.

I love a good celebrity-filled judging competition like the next guy (or girl) but this one just felt a little old-fashioned and lame. Celebs doing the two-step or the cha cha with a full band? Not to mention the guy from America’s Funniest Home Videos hosting? No thanks.

Well, three weeks ago, I decided to DVR it because I had heard so much about Chaz Bono dancing. I had to see for myself.

One taste and I was hooked. This season includes David Arquette, Nancy Grace and Ricki Lake, as well as Chaz and the hilarious Carson Kressley (who was the latest to get the boot). Any one of them could anchor a season, but together? Forget about it. I’m defenseless against its charms. Add some cameos by Richard Simmons and David Arquette’s soon-to-be ex-wife Courtney Cox and daughter Coco in the audience week after week and it can hardly get any better.

If you haven’t seen it yet, check out this season every Monday at 8 p.m. with the results show every Tuesday at 9 p.m. You can also catch some clips online.

A weekend of baking

With the challenge of Britain’s National Baking Week set before me, this weekend I did the unthinkable: I baked.

And baked and baked and baked.

I’ll admit I was a bit rusty. I warmed up by baking brownies Saturday morning, which might have been considered cheating. I used Trader Joe’s Ready to Bake Brownies, which has to be the most user-friendly brownie mix on the market. It dulls the intelligence. Anyone capable of opening a packet, pouring contents into a greased brownie pan and sliding it into a pre-heated oven can do it. The results are fantastic, but where is the sense of accomplishment?

Brownies for dummies. And yes, you'll notice I forgot to grease the pan. This mix was made for me.

On Sunday, I made a two-layer yellow cake using a recipe I found online last week (yes, I’ve baked two weekends in a row. This might be a personal record) and then after I put the cake pans into the oven, I realized with dismay that I had promised my son I was going to make cupcakes, not a cake!

He was very brave about it and told me it was okay. We could make cupcakes another day. Which made me feel even worse and so, there began the third baking project of the weekend – cupcakes, using the same winning yellow cake recipe. In the making of this batch, I ran out of granulated sugar and was not going to make my second trip to the grocery store so I subbed the rest of the measurement with brown sugar. It ended up working out very well – moist, delicious and not too sweet. Sense of accomplishment? Oh yes!


With the lack of granulated sugar in the house, I couldn’t make the homemade chocolate frosting I had planned and I didn’t have enough butter to do a traditional buttercream so I cracked open a can of Betty Crocker cream cheese frosting and called it a day. Or rather, a weekend.

Mission accomplished.

The Great British Bake-off

Almost 4 million viewers watched the finale of The Great British Bake-Off. Photo credit: Love Productions/BBC/Vicki Couchman

Mark my words. Never get in the way of a Brit and their mixer (or whisk, cake pan or pastry bag).

Brits take their baking very seriously. While the US only has one Martha Stewart, the UK has hundreds of them, dotted in towns and villages across the country. On any given weekend, they’re churning out fairy cakes and scones for village fetes and school bake sales like they’re going out of style. And those who aren’t baking (and even those who are) are watching baking shows. Almost 4 million viewers watched The Great British Bake-Off this month. Who knew that many Brits would find fondant icing and puff pastry so riveting?

This week marks National Baking Week in the UK – a national campaign to get the uninitiated back into the kitchen to enjoy the national pastime. In that spirit, I will be baking tomorrow and will report back next week.

National Baking Week runs through Sunday so it’s not too late to join in the fun. Have a lovely weekend (in or out of the kitchen)!

Pony country

Meet Snob, my sister-in-law's latest pony

England is a pony country. Before putting together this blog post, I wasn’t really not sure how expensive it was to keep a pony or buy a pony, but I couldn’t help but notice that there were a lot of people who have them, and I’m not just talking about the Windsors.

Regular folk.

My sister-in-law grew up with a pony. Her parents bought one for about £400 and then paid about £10 per week for boarding. Not extortionate, by any means. In fact, she remembers that there were about 10 people in her class at school who owned ponies. The rich kids had two ponies. No joke.

In the US, a pony will run you well over $1,000 and stable costs are an average of $700/month.

It really does beg the question: Why would anyone come to the US if they had a pony? Who leaves a country packed with ponies to live in a non-pony country? Seinfeld was so right. It doesn’t make sense.

The horror of clotheslines

I’ve started watching American Horror Story. Have you seen it yet? (If not, you have a chance tonight – it’s on at 10 p.m. on F/X).

It’s a gripping new TV show by Ryan Murphy (of Glee and Nip/Tuck fame) centered on a family who have moved from the East Coast into a rambling, old LA mansion with a checkered past, shall we say?

There are some great horror conventions that are followed to a tee. A basement with too many secrets. A dog that barks at direction of said basement. A next-door neighbor who knows something about the house, although we don’t yet know what. And let’s not forget the wife who shuns dryer sheets in favor of hanging her laundry on a clothesline outdoors.

I mean, doesn’t she know that every old American haunted mansion has to have an outdoor clothesline, where psychopaths can hide and disappear? That’s just a page from the horror handbook because unlike Brits, Americans use tumble dryers. And if they don’t, well, they’re just asking for a visit from the underworld.

I think someone needs to make a horror movie that involves a tumble dryer for a change because clotheslines have been getting bad press for too long.

A British bento box

I’ve been shopping for bento boxes this week for my son, in the hopes of taming our daily use of ziplock bags and adding some fun to the standard (yawn!) packed lunch.

Look what I found! At first glance, it looks like a double decker London bus! But take a closer look!

And it comes complete with London bus chopsticks …