Saturday, January 29, 2011

The English Scone

For as much "bad" food there is in England, the one thing they do seem to get very right here is the scone. A perfect English scone is light and fluffy, and when served warm with clotted cream and jam it is a little taste of heaven. Up against the triangular, dense scones topped with frosting or sugar that you may find at your local Starbucks in the US, the English scone is pure and doesn't compare to its US cousin in my eyes.

I was at a coffee at a British lady's house earlier this week and upon arrival, she had homemade scones coming out of her oven ready for her guests to enjoy. One bite into these scones, I knew I had to have the recipe! Luckily the kind hostess shared her recipe with me and when I woke up the next day, my first order of business was to make these English scones.
They turned out quite nice and while my version was not as perfect as the ones I had enjoyed in the week, they were my best attempt at traditional English scones so far. I had a friend stop by later in the day when I made them, so she & I indulged in scones and jam with a cup of tea in the afternoon.

Here is the recipe that was shared with me which is pretty easy and quite tasty:

English Scones (courtesy of Fran)
200 g plain flour
2 1/2- 3 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp salt
40 g butter
40 g caster sugar
40 g raisins (optional)
1 beaten egg, made up to 125 ml with milk (I guess you beat the egg in the cup first and then add the milk up to the 125 ml line)

Preheat oven to 230 degree C (convection), 210 degrees C (fan)

Sieve flour, baking powder and salt.
Rub in butter until like fine bread crumbs.
Stir in sugar and raisins if using.
Add egg & milk and mix until dough is soft
Roll out (gently) on a floured surface to thickness of 2-3 cm, then cut into rounds. Brush with milk or egg or dust with flour.
Place on greased baking tray and bake 8-10 minutes. (My recipe only yielded 7 scones)

Serve warm with jam (and if you dare, clotted cream!) and enjoy....

Friday, January 28, 2011

The Commencement of Maternity Leave

January 7th was my physical last day of work in my office. I then commenced two week's worth of working from home...and at that point, I was still weeks away from my due date. I had asked the HR department if I could work longer and they seemed a bit shocked that I was asking to continue to work "in my condition" (as they put it!). Most women here like the time off before they have a baby was the response, or something along those lines.....and so no, they thought it was best that I just end my time at work for now and focus on the next bit of having a baby.

I cannot tell you how different this approach is compared to the US!

I have had numerous co-workers over the years in the US who would come in to work every day near their due date (or past) and wonder if that will be their last day in the office, or will they return to work tomorrow? Unless one is quitting or is having a planned c-section, it is just a waiting game to see when baby will arrive. Since maternity leave is only a short amount of time in the US, I understand why women are working until the very end....

Now being on the British side of this situation, I feel a bit torn about how it is handled in the US. On one hand, I am slightly bored (unchallenged I should say) at the moment (dare I admit this as I am sure once the baby arrives I will want this time back!), but I am also grateful that I am not having to get up early with my husband's alarm clock in the morning to hop in the car and drive to work where I would be "on" all day long. The insomnia in this last bit of pregnancy has been slightly unbearable and I would be a zombie at the office if I were required to be there all day at this point. So, in that sense I have to admit it is really nice to have this time to properly rest (or lack there of in my case, but to still not be in the office or commuting....) before I am on full time mom duty.

On the other hand, the "worker bee" in me is sad to be away from my job already. I enjoy my job and feel a bit disconnected from it already, even though I have only been away a short amount of time. I feel slightly lazy for having no major responsibilities at the moment and for being able to sit at the coffee shop for an hour or more, or for having a 3 hour lunch without worrying about finishing the pile of paperwork on my desk.

I know that soon enough my insomnia and 3am wake up calls will not just be for a bowl of cereal or toast for myself, but will be to take care of a little baby in our house so I am sure at that point I will look back and be grateful that I did have a bit of time for myself in advance of our baby's arrival.

Monday, January 24, 2011

Packaging and Freezing Meals

I touched on this topic of freezing and packaging meals in an earlier post as I have been active in cooking meals and freezing them so we are fully stocked for dinners once this little baby arrives. Recently I have also made a few meals for various American friends who have had babies or have had surgery, etc. For all situations, it is difficult to find good disposable containers here in England. I only have a limited number of pyrex dishes and I would prefer to keep those free for recipes I will be making and eating fresh, instead of letting the dishes get tied up in the freezer.
So here is the challenge. When I shop at my local grocery store here, these are my tin foil disposable pan options:

Naturally, I own many of these now.... and I will admit that I have hunted down every "It's a Pound" store and kitchen depot warehouse in our area and have found a FEW additional tin foil pans - mainly pie shaped dishes to round out my assorted collected. It has been a search though.

In comparison, when I was back in the US, I walked into a store, and imagine my shock when the disposable packaging aisle (yes there was an aisle for all disposable containers and packaging) looked like this:
I am thinking many may attribute these differences to the fact that Americans "consume and dispose," so these containers may be more popular there? Or is it the lack of freezer space the Brits have here? Probably a combination of some of those factors....along with the fact that other packaging materials such as ziploc bags, ziploc containers, Glad Press n' Seal Wrap (one of my favorite inventions) are just not as widely available and utilized the UK.
Luckily I have "imported" many of these items so when I have gone to freeze my dinners for our future consumption, I have been able to properly seal and freeze the items -
I used the disposable tin foil containers from the UK for the chicken enchiladas, but then sealed it with the Glad Press n' Seal first, and then wrapped the entire dish in tin foil for further protection...

I also find myself habitually saving our Chinese/Thai take away containers and sending them through our dishwasher for future food storage use. While they are not huge in size, they work well for packaging meals for transport to someone else's house and I do not feel guilty about parting with them (as I feel when I have to part with my "imported" and precious ziploc or gladware food storage containers).
A meal I prepared, all packaged and ready to go to a friend's house for her family after she recently had a baby. Maybe the locals just don't bring food to one another's houses - or maybe they just always are more earth-conscious and use reusable containers? Either way, once back in the US, I will never take the aisles of disposable packaging containers for granted at the stores!

Saturday, January 22, 2011

Baby Names

Baby Names are obviously on our mind these days as we prepare for the arrival of our little son or daughter. Many British co-workers have asked me if I am going to give the baby an American name or a British name? I hadn't really thought about one country's naming habits over the other's, but after it has come to my attention, I have realized there are quite a few names here that we hear quite often and never had heard often in the US.

Some names I have found that are common on both sides of the pond include: Richard, Scott, John, Jack, Thomas, Alex, Ellie, Charlotte, Sarah, Emily, Olivia, Lucy, and Elizabeth are really just a few. To be fair, there are quite a few overlaps in names on a transatlantic level!
Some differences I have noticed are in the nicknames derived from some of these names. For instance, Charlotte is a fairly common name here and often the nicknames for these girls are either "Charlie" or "Lottie." I don't know anyone by the name of Charlotte in the US who goes by either of those shortened names.

Some names that I have found MUCH more common over here in the UK vs. the US include: Iris, Poppy, Finn, Ollie (or Oliver), Oscar, Mohammed, Ruby, Imogen, Fiona, Harriet, Gaynor, and Harry. On the reverse side of the equation, occasionally my co-workers will comment about a name being "so American!" I always chuckle by these comments but the names where these comments have occurred, include in regards to names such as: Brent, Bruce, Riley, and Ashley. When I think about the names I hear over here in England, I have yet to meet anyone with such a name....

For a general comparison, I pulled the top 20 baby names from 2009 for both girls and boys for the US and UK. If I were more tech savvy, I might be able to arrange the tables side-by-side to one another, but unfortunately I couldn't figure it out! So, you can just skim the lists and compare the lists on your own.

Top UK Boy Names:

Change in rank since 2007


Top US Boy Names:
2.Ethan +1
3.Michael -1
4.Alexander +2
5.William +3
6.Joshua -2
7.Daniel -2
8.Jayden +3
9.Noah +6
10.Anthony -3
11.Christopher -2
12.Aiden +4
13.Matthew -3
15.Andrew -3
16.Joseph -3
17.Logan +2
18.James -1
19.Ryan -1
20.Benjamin +

Top 20 US Girl Names:
1.Isabella +1
2.Emma -1
3.Olivia +3
4.Sophia +3
6.Emily -3
7.Madison -3
9.Chloe +1
10.Mia +4
11.Elizabeth -2
13.Alexis +2
14.Ella +5
15.Samantha -4
16.Natalie -3
17.Grace +4
18.Lily +6
19.Alyssa -3
20.Ashley -2

Top 20 UK Girl Names:

Change in rank since 2007