The Beauty and Agony of Unrequited Love

th“I hold it true, whate’er befall; I feel it, when I sorrow most; ‘Tis better to have loved and lost Than never to have loved at all.” – Tennyson

When I was seven years old I developed a crush on a waiter who served us our food each night on vacation in Jersey. He was tan with sandy colored hair and a thick 1980’s style mustache. I remember being devastated that we couldn’t be together. Little did I know, but that was the beginning of my sojourn into the territory of Unrequited Love (URL). In this blog I’ve decided to write about a deeply personal and painful struggle I (and most others) have experienced at some point in our lives.

I’ve only had two long term reciprocated love relationships in my life, but I’ve loved a total of six people. The difference? The others were instances of unrequited love. This first two instances happened in my late teens and early twenties. I thought this was normal at the time, all part of normal teen angst and growing up, but when it happened more recently in my thirties and after a painful separation and divorce, it hit me even harder and motivated me to further research the subject.

There is nothing easy about unrequited love. It hurts; the emotional pain caused by rejection is akin to physical pain. In my four cases of unrequited love, I can say I’ve never known a more difficult struggle in my life. The objects of my affection were and are all good and amazing people, each was a good friend to me. Sometimes my closest friend. They were intelligent, motivating, funny and inspiring, but none could give me what I wanted. They either couldn’t or wouldn’t; or didn’t have the capacity to.

URL is so difficult because the person never becomes “real” to you; the idealistic notion of the perfect relationship with this person continues in your head and reality never kicks in. You don’t have to deal with their toe nail clippings on the floor or the mess they make in the kitchen. And so you drown in the hurt. I thought I was deficient in some way, my self-esteem plummeted and each time I felt horrible about myself. I was a petulant child throwing a tantrum because they couldn’t get what they wanted. I could barely get out of bed in the mornings and I lost my appetite. My heart pounded with anxiety. During one particularly painful bout of unrequited love I desperately sought the help of therapists, psychics, and spiritual advisors. I began practicing yoga, mindfulness and meditation, I bought crystals and began to think I was undergoing a spiritual awakening. Yoga calmed me but ultimately the other things were of little use.

During these painful experiences I came to slowly recognize that each one had a lesson for me. You don’t meet people by accident; they say the Universe will keep sending you the same lesson until you finally get it (and apparently I’m not good at learning the lesson). These are some of the things I learned during my bouts of unrequited love:

  1. Sometimes it’s not you, it’s them. No it really is! I was always attracted to the moody emotionally unavailable reformed bad-boy type. And the problem with emotionally unavailable people is that they’re not ‘available’ to you or anyone else.
  2. You cannot change someone or make them love you. Every person on this earth has free will and agency. No matter how much you do for someone, or how much you care, you cannot change someone’s will. This is a bitter pill to swallow, especially when you feel as if you have given them everything you can. I often gave more in my cases of URL love than in my two legitimate relationships and it became exhausting.
  3. Take time to grieve. The love and hope you had were real. It will take time to let go of it. Distance yourself from the object of your affection as much as possible. Friendship may be possible later on.
  4. Learn from them. In one of my cases of URL the guy was my friend, but also an academic, with a thirst for knowledge and a never-give up attitude. He pushed me to be better academically in my studies; something I’ll always be grateful for.
  5. Let the experience inspire or motivate you. Take the pain you are experiencing and turn it around. While I was experiencing URL I took a poetry and creative writing workshop class. The situation inspired me and I excelled in the class.
  6. Look into past hurts that may be contributing to faulty attachment styles and co-dependency and take steps to heal. I know growing up without a Father most definitely contributed to this in my case.

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Eventually the romantic feelings and longing fades, but the fondness remains. I think of some of these people now in an affectionate brotherly sense. I’ll always care and want the best for them. They were catalysts in my life, they taught me things and changed me for the better. Amidst the crisis of losing hope of being with them, I found out a lot about myself. Everybody is on their own path. Everyone is doing their best. It’s important to go forward with love, and to always be kind.

Shortly before my Mother’s death in 1999 she told me she had always loved Norman, that he had been the love of her life. Norman was not my Father or even anyone since my parent’s divorce. Norman was a gay gentleman my Mom had met in her early twenties at an amateur dramatics theater group. They had been friends for many years. I remember thinking and saying to her how sad I thought that was. “No”, she responded, “He was my best friend”.

If you have ever experienced unrequited love, I would be interested to hear about your situation, and ultimately how it changed you for the better.

 

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A Day Trip to the Capital

Growing up in the London suburbs had its advantages. Every few months and especially during the Christmas shopping period, my Mother would announce that it was time we “went up to London” for the day. This was something I always looked forward to. Even though we lived a mere twelve or thirteen miles from the capital, nothing could match the excitement, the hustle and bustle, and the sheer energy of being in central London. My Mother used to declare that Piccadilly Circus was the “center of Europe” and that “if you are tired of London, you are tired of life”.

London's bustling Picadilly Circus. Image courtesy of wikimedia commons.
London’s bustling Picadilly Circus. Image courtesy of wikimedia commons.

We would take the train from our local station to Victoria station in London. Mileage wise it’s not a long distance at all, but the journey would take about 35 minutes (on a good day) as the train snaked its way through the congestion, railway signals, homes and offices, past Battersea Power Station and finally across the River Thames. Once we were in London we would take the “Tube” or a double decker red bus and spend the day shopping in Oxford Street, checking out the museums, or browsing the various outdoor street markets at Petticoat Lane. There are so many sights to see and things to do in London that it is hard to squeeze it all into one, or even two days. London is a relatively expensive city, however one can still see a lot and not break the bank. Here are some of my favorite places to visit:

“View of the river Thames on the Westminster Palace (16298461901)” by Filip Maljković from Pancevo, Serbia – View on the Westminster Palace. Licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0 via Wikimedia Commons.

The Victoria and Albert Museum (Or the “V&A” as it’s more commonly called): Being a girly-girl I loved coming here to see all the historic costumes and dresses. The museum was founded in 1852 and officially opened in June, 1857, and is the world’s largest museum of decorative arts and design, housing over 4.5 million artifacts! Named after Queen Victoria and Prince Albert, it covers 12.5 acres and has 145 galleries, and includes textiles, jewelry, ceramics, glass, and furniture. The museum like other British National museums has been free to the public since 2001.

The Victoria & Albert Museum. Photo courtesy of Wikimedia commons.
The Victoria & Albert Museum. Photo courtesy of Wikimedia commons.

The British Science Museum: Originally part of the Victoria & Albert Museum the Science museum opened in 1857 and is located in South Kensington, and boasts 3.3 million visitors annually. Interesting items on display include the oldest surviving steam locomotive, the first jet engine, and a prototype of the first typewriter. Collections include clinical medicine, biosciences and Public Health. Again, admission is free!

Camden Town: Located a little north of the center of London, Camden town offers an eclectic experience of markets and music. Camden was a residential area up until the 1790’s, but when the Grand Union canal was built, and improved railway services to the area, it became a bustling part of London. In Camden you can shop the markets for unique gifts, sample cuisine from all over the world, have a drink in one of the many pubs, and listen to live bands in this diverse and colorful melting pot area.

Camden Town Market. Image courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.
Camden Town Market. Image courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

Visit Oxford Street: Located in London’s West End, it is Europe’s busiest shopping street and has around 300 shops. Many of these are department stores, such as Selfridges, and many of the U.K. retailers have their “flagship” stores here including John Lewis, Marks & Spencer, and the House of Fraser. Europe’s largest music store, HMV, is located here. As a teenager I remember shopping here for CD’s. During the Christmas period the street is decorated with Christmas lights and decorations, and each year, a celebrity turns the lights on. For those who enjoy window shopping, Oxford Street stores produce some of the most fun and imaginative window displays in the world.

Oxford Street shopping area during the summer. Image courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.
Oxford Street shopping area during the summer. Image courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

The Houses of Parliament and Big Ben: No trip to London is complete without visiting these two iconic landmarks. The houses of parliament are home to the House of Commons and the House of Lords. Parliament exists to challenge the work of government, approve new laws and debate government policy and current issues. Tours of Parliament are given at various times throughout the day. Big Ben has tours Monday through Friday at four times a day. These tours are also free, making it an appealing attraction. Officially known as the Elizabeth Tower, Big Ben is the nickname for the great bell of the clock, although it is often extended to mean the clock and the clock tower. It was completed in 1858 and has become one of the most prominent sights of London and the United Kingdom. Interesting fact: the clock stopped at 10.07pm on May 27th 2005, possibly due to hot weather as London had reached a balmy 90 degrees Fahrenheit! The clock resumed ten minutes, before stopping again for a further ninety minutes.

“Big Ben” and the Houses of Parliament. Image courtesy of Wikimedia commons.

This is only a small sampling of what London has to offer. By the time you have taken in all these sites you are sure to need a stop for fish and chips and a beer or cup of tea. Take a break in one of London’s many historic pubs; the chain of Weatherspoon’s Pubs are a particular favorite of mine. If you still have the energy and time, take in a show in London’s theater district, Shaftesbury Avenue. Originally designed as an area to house displaced impoverished city workers from the city center, it is now home to the historic Lyric, Queen’s and Palace Theaters.

Shaftesbury Avenue, London's Theater district. Image courtesy of wikimedia commons.
Shaftesbury Avenue, London’s Theater district. Image courtesy of wikimedia commons.

By this time, your wallet may be empty, your feet sore, but you will be invigorated by the sights and sounds of London. Make sure you return to the station for the last train or tube home! London has a great public transport system, but only a limited nightbus service runs 24 hours. The trains and tube usually end around 11pm to 1am and resume again in the early hours of the morning. However, you can always a ride in a black cab if need be, as these run twenty-four hours a day.

Some London travel blogs I like are: http://www.londondrum.com/blog/ and http://www.aladyinlondon.com/

Don't miss the last Tube train home! Image courtesy of wikimedia commons.
Don’t miss the last Tube train home! Image courtesy of wikimedia commons.
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London black cabs. Image courtesy of wikimedia commons.

*This will be my final blog for this class as the Semester is ending, but keep checking back, as I may continue this blog just for fun! I hope you have enjoyed reading it as much as I’ve enjoyed producing it.

References

http://www.visitlondon.com/discover-london/london-areas/central/camden-village

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Big_Ben

http://www.vam.ac.uk/

en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Victoria_and_Albert_Museum

“Baked Beans, Bangers, and Black Pudding – It’s what’s for Breakfast!”

Growing up in the U.K., I lived with my mother, sister and grandfather. *Grandad was big on giving us chores to do and one of mine was to make his breakfast each Saturday morning! A simple task, you might say? Not so quick though, as Grandad was very particular about just how he liked his weekend “fry-up”. The “fry-up” is the classic English cooked breakfast. Each Saturday I would cook the back bacon (crispy, never soggy) and banger (sausage) under the grill (broiler) to cook, and then take out the frying pan and cook his fried eggs (cooked through), fried bread, mushrooms sautéed in butter, and grilled tomato (warmed, but not burned). I would also warm the baked beans in the pan on the stove (Grandad thought the radiation from a microwave would kill him and refused to eat anything cooked in it).

British
A traditional British “fry-up” or “Full English”. I quickly devoured this on a trip back home as it had been my first fry up in eight years. My own image.

The British Fry up has a long history and was originally a sign of wealth and prestige. The story of the English breakfast begins in the country houses of the English gentry and their tradition of hospitality. The gentry were a group of people who saw themselves as the cultural heirs of the Anglo-Saxons, and were a distinct social class, generally made up of people of “noble and distinguished blood”. They were senior members of the clergy and people who had connections to landowners and relatives of titled families. The gentry saw it as their place to keep cultural cuisine traditions alive and part of the social context of owning a large country home or estate was to host breakfast, which became an important social event. Breakfast was a way to display the wealth of the home due to the quality of meats and locally produced ingredients.

Later on in the Victorian era, the gentry were in decline, but a wealthy middle class emerged thanks to the Industrial revolution and the prominence of the British Empire. This newly rich class sought to emulate the traditions of the gentry, and again, the full breakfast became a way to show your wealth and social upbringing. During the industrial revolution the breakfast also spread to the working classes. It was a hearty meal which gave them the energy needed for a hard day of manual labor. Up until the 1950’s, as much as half of the British population began their day with such a breakfast. Now, it is still eaten, but mainly on weekends when the mornings are a little less rushed. The breakfast is easy to make at home. This link tells you how. It is also served in hotels, Bed & Breakfast’s and at numerous café’s (colloquially known as “greasy spoons”)  around the country. In Las Vegas, a fry-up breakfast can be sampled at the Crown & Anchor Pub.

Of course, like most British dishes, there are regional differences. The addition of black pudding is an influence from Scotland and northern England. “Black pudding” is a type of blood sausage eaten in parts of Britain and other European countries. It is usually made from pork blood and oatmeal. In the fry up it is usually served sliced into pieces and fried.

British or Irish fry up with black pudding.
British or Irish fry up with black pudding. “Irish breakfast, cooked” by O’Dea – Own work. Licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons.

In recent years hash browns have been added to the breakfast. Something which is undoubtedly an American influence, but it’s also acceptable to have chips (fries) with it. “Bubble and squeak” is also a popular addition. This is a traditional English side dish made with the leftover vegetables of a roast dinner. Leftover potatoes, cabbage, cauliflower, carrots or broccoli are mashed and mixed together, then fried in a pan. The dish gets its name from the noises coming from the pan as it cooks!

English breakfast with “bubble and squeak”. Image courtesy of Wikimedia commons.
English breakfast with “bubble and squeak”. Image courtesy of Wikimedia commons.

A full English breakfast is usually available all day in many dining establishments in the U.K. Although loaded with cholesterol and not known as a “health” food it’s an especially good cure for a hangover! So, if you ever find yourself in Britain, head to the nearest café and ask for their “Full English” or “Fry-up”- they will instantly know what you mean, and I think you’ll agree the tastes of all the various additions to the breakfast complement each other so well making for a tasty and hearty meal.

*This post is dedicated in memory to my Grandfather, Harry Charles Nutt, who always loved his fry up!

(My own Image)
(My own Image)

Works Cited

http://englishbreakfastsociety.com/full-english-breakfast.html

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bubble_and_squeak

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Black_pudding

A Day at the Seaside

There are few things as quintessentially British as the seaside! It is a purely British phenomenon – the closest U.S. comparison probably being the Jersey Shore. You see we all know Britain doesn’t have the greatest climate, but what we do have is miles and miles of shoreline each with its own distinct landscape and topography. Dotted along the shores of the North Sea, the English Channel and North Atlantic coasts are charming, picturesque towns which have evolved into “seaside resorts”. The majority of the U.K. population lives in large, urban, stifling big cities (such as London, Manchester and Birmingham) and when each bank holiday comes around these city-dwellers flock to the coast in the fleeting summer months, for a day of sea, sand, sun (maybe, if you’re lucky) fish and chips, and ice cream.

Brighton Pier, Sussex, England. Photo courtesy of Maria Moon.
Brighton Pier, Sussex, England. Photo courtesy of Maria Moon.
Brighton Pier at night. Photo courtesy of Maria Moon.
Brighton Pier at night. Photo courtesy of Maria Moon.

The history of the British Seaside resort dates back to Victorian times and catered to the rapidly expanding working class of Britain, who now had disposable income to spend for leisure purposes. The seaside resort quickly overtook the popularity of the traditional hot spring spa resorts such as Bath spa. This, along with the expansion of railways in Britain made coastal resorts more accessible and boosted existing small settlements. The bigger Victorian resorts of Blackpool and Southend boasted ‘Pleasure Palaces’. They combined music hall dance halls, along with opera houses, gardens, zoos and exhibitions. Incidentally, it was at one of these Pleasure Palaces in Blackpool that my maternal grandparents first met on the ballroom dance floor circa the early 1940’s! So, you could say, without the seaside resort, I may not be around.

Blackpool beach circa 1890. Image courtesy of Wikimedia commons.
Blackpool beach circa 1890. Image courtesy of Wikimedia commons.

Some of my earliest memories as a child involve being at the seaside, usually Littlehampton, or Brighton on the South coast. I remember my Dad sitting on the pebbles eating cockles (small, mollusc-like shell-fish) out of a brown paper bag. He would scoop out the flesh with a pin. To me, it looked like he was eating snails and it turned my stomach. Later, we would build sandcastles at Littlehampton and have tea and fish and chips in one of the small cafes. We’d also ride the bumper cars and sweep down the huge slide at the beachside amusement park.

Even with the beginning of the cheap charter flights in the 1970’s to more exotic destinations of Europe, such as the Costas in Spain and the islands of Greece, the British seaside resort is still thriving. Head to any of the dozens of seaside resorts in the U.K and (once you have navigated the traffic) you will find the following for your relaxation and pleasure:

The pier and promenade: These are what would be known in the U.S. as the boardwalk. The pier juts out into the ocean at each resort; some piers have amusement arcades, viewing areas to look out to sea, and teashops or fish and chip vendors.

Southend Pier, England – The longest pier in the world! Image courtesy of Wikimedia commons.
Southend Pier, England – The longest pier in the world! Image courtesy of Wikimedia commons.
  • Deckchairs: A folding, collapsible chair; the frame usually made of wood, the seat being made of fabric or vinyl. Deckchairs are usually positioned along the promenade, although their original use was on an ocean liner or cruise ship. Great for taking a break and looking out to sea.
  • Fish and chips: Nothing says ‘seaside’ more than this dish. The fish is usually cod (although plaice and haddock are popular too), it’s battered and deep fried, then served with think cut potato chips (fries) and then smothered with salt and vinegar. It’s usually eaten wrapped in paper, but it also available on plates in more formal establishments.
Fish and chips served in newspaper. Image courtesy of Wikimedia commons.
Fish and chips served in newspaper. Image courtesy of Wikimedia commons.
  • Rock: Not literally rocks, but candy rock. A delicious type of hard stick-shaped boiled sugar confectionery most usually flavored with peppermint or spearmint. It is commonly sold at tourist (usually seaside) resorts in the United Kingdom. Often the letters of the resort are stamped into the candy. Similar to U.S. candy canes.
British candy “rock”. Image courtesy of http://hapsical.blogspot.com/2008/12/oddbox-sergio-rossi-candy-striped-boots.html
British candy “rock”. Image courtesy of http://hapsical.blogspot.com/2008/12/oddbox-sergio-rossi-candy-striped-boots.html
  • A “99” ice cream: An ice cream cone with a Cadbury’s chocolate flake inserted into it. They are usually made with vanilla soft serve ice cream and can also be topped with strawberry or chocolate sauce. These are most often sold from ice cream vans (trucks) or ice cream ‘parlors’ at the seaside.
“99” Ice cream cones with extended family members in Dawlish, Devon, England. (My own image)
  • Donkey rides: The tradition started in Victorian times, but is now much less popular. Children are allowed to ride donkeys on a sandy beach for a fee in summer months while on holiday, normally led in groups at walking pace.
  • Punch and Judy Shows: a traditional, popular puppet show often associated with traditional British seaside culture featuring Mr. Punch and his wife, Judy. The performance consists of a sequence of short scenes, each depicting an interaction between two characters, most typically Mr Punch and one other character. The show is performed by a single puppeteer inside the booth and has its roots in 16th-century Italian commedia dell’arte.
Traditional British seaside “Punch & Judy” show. Image courtesy of Maria Moon.
Traditional British seaside “Punch & Judy” show. Image courtesy of Maria Moon.
  • Amusement arcades: Games and fun for kids and adults alike. Often stuffed animals, souvenirs, or cash can be won.
  • Sandcastles: No trip to the seaside would be complete without making a sandcastle! British kids bring their “buckets and spades” and make the most artistic castles they can muster, until the tide comes in and washes them away!
West Wittering beach, Sussex, England. Image courtesy of Maria Moon.
West Wittering beach, Sussex, England. Image courtesy of Maria Moon.

If you ever find yourself in the United Kingdom, I recommend visiting a traditional seaside resort. They are located all around the British coastline and most are within easy reach of the large cities by road or railway. One of the most famous seaside resorts, Brighton, is located a mere 60 miles or a 1 hour train or car ride away from London. It’ll be a day you won’t forget and you’ll be participating in a centuries old British tradition!

Some British Seaside blogs/websites I would recommend are: http://british-seaside-towns.tumblr.com/ and http://www.ukcoastguide.co.uk/

*This post is in memory of my Mum, Joyce Patricia Mary, who always loved to be beside the sea!

(My own image)
(My own image)

References

http://www.bbc.co.uk/history/british/victorians/seaside_0.shtml

http://wikitravel.org/en/England

http://thingstodo.viator.com/england/englands-best-seaside-towns/

“Tea for Two and Two for Tea”

“There are few hours in life more agreeable than the hour dedicated to the ceremony known as afternoon tea.”
Henry James

Although I love living in the U.S. and am appreciative of my life here, there are still some British traditions that I miss. At the top of the list is afternoon tea! When I worked in a London office, all worked ceased every day at 3pm for “teatime.” This was a daily occurrence which usually lasted about thirty minutes, (Okay, maybe 40-50 minutes on a Friday afternoon). The large aluminum teapot was brought out, we added loose tea leaves along with boiling hot water freshly drawn from a “tea urn”. Next, we poured the brewed tea through a sieve into china teacups (always with saucers) and added milk, and for those who like it sweet, sometimes sugar. The tea was often accompanied by small cakes or iced or jam (jelly) donuts for a delicious afternoon snack.

Afternoon tea at the Market Tea Room in Las Vegas, which has sadly now closed down. (My own image).
Afternoon tea at the Market Tea Room in Las Vegas, which has sadly now closed down. (My own image).

I have been drinking tea for as long as I can remember. I remember being a very small child, perhaps two or three, and my Mother giving me two cups of hot tea with milk to try. One was sweetened with sugar and the other not. She asked me to tell her which I liked best. I took a couple of sips and told her I liked the unsweetened one best. Ever since that day, I drank at least a cup of tea every day morning or afternoon (sometimes two or three!) Tea is my beverage of choice upon waking and I cannot function in the morning without that first cup. Family members used to remark about me “Don’t even talk to Fiona in the morning before she’s had her tea!”

Although it may seem steeped in tradition and history, afternoon tea in England is actually a relatively recent tradition. The drinking of tea dates back to the third millennium BC in China, and was popularized in Britain during the 1660’s by King Charles II and his wife. However the concept of “Afternoon tea” did not appear until the mid-17th century and was introduced by Anna – the seventh Duchess of Bedford in 1840. Rumor has it the Duchess became hungry during the hours between lunch and dinner (served fashionably late at 8pm) so at around 4pm she requested tea, some small sandwiches and a little cake be brought to her. This became a daily habit and she often invited friends to enjoy the indulgence with her. The practice became popular, but the more working classes in industrial areas of England could not afford such items so they developed their own version of afternoon tea, called high tea – this usually included a mug of tea, bread, vegetable, cheese and sometimes meat. In modern day Britain afternoon tea is more likely to be a high tea served in a mug, using a teabag, served with a biscuit (cookie) or a prepackaged cake! Of course, one can still find the traditional, more decadent, afternoon tea served in fine restaurants and hotels around the country.

7th duchess of Bedford
Anna – the 7th Duchess of Bedford, was the first to take Afternoon tea. Image courtesy of http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Anna_Russell,_Duchess_of_Bedford

Afternoon tea also has regional variations. The West Country’s cream teaboasts to be the best. The west country of the U.K. is considered the counties of Devonshire, Somerset and Cornwall. Devonshire (or Devon as it is usually called) produces a delicious type of thick clotted cream, which is served on top of scones accompanied with fruit preserves along with the tea. It is a delicious treat and the smooth milky flavor of the clotted cream really compliments the crumbliness of the scone and the sweet tanginess of the strawberry jam.

Traditional Devonshire "Cream Tea". My own image.
Traditional Devonshire “Cream Tea”. My own image.

If you have never tried afternoon tea, I urge you to do so! It is a divine time out during a busy day. This blog is very informative about different types of tea, and Whittards of Chelsea has a great list of the best tea blogs around. The tea and scones or cakes can easily be made at home; here is a basic recipe:

http://allrecipes.com/Recipe/Basic-British-Scones/

Or alternatively, there are many places in the U.S. which serve afternoon tea. The above picture was taken at Shakespeare’s Pub and Grille in San Diego, CA. The pub has a small tearoom attached to it and tea (dozens of variations served both hot and iced) is served daily each afternoon. Until next time, happy tea-sampling!

References

http://www.afternoontea.co.uk/information/what-is-high-tea/

http://www.historic-uk.com/CultureUK/Afternoon-Tea/

http://www.shakespearepub.com/#welcome-home

A Taste of India

Today was a day I look forward to; I had lunch with a British friend of mine at an Indian restaurant close to the UNLV campus. For me, India Palace and the food it serves are like a little culinary piece of home. You see, for as long as I can remember, Indian food restaurants and take-out establishments have been ubiquitous in the U.K. There is one on almost every corner, of every High Street, of every town in the U.K. In the year 2000, there were found to be eight thousand Indian restaurants in the country; today there are more than twelve thousand.

India Palace Restaurant in Las Vegas (my own image)

India Palace

This site explains more about the history of Indian food in Britain. However, the short version goes a little something like this: India was under British rule until about half a century ago. This resulted in British military personnel working closely with Indian civilians. In 1782 a Bengali surgeon from the British East India Company named Sake Dean Mohamed followed his army captain to England and opened the first Indian restaurant in England. It was called the Hindoostane Coffee House and was located in George Street, in central London. The venture failed financially but it whet Londoners’ appetites for curry and paved the way for the next successful venture; the Veeraswamy which was opened in 1926 by an Anglo-Indian named Edward Palmer, the son of an English soldier and an Indian Princess. Located in Regent Street, central London -it is the oldest, surviving Indian restaurant in the U.K.

Image courtesy of www.london-traveltips.com
Image courtesy of http://www.london-traveltips.com

Veeraswamy Indian Restaurant – The oldest in London

After the Second World War, Indians and Bangladeshi’s arrived to help rebuild London and they brought with them their cuisine. Initially it was mainly canteens and cafes, which were established to feed the migrant workers and their families. The years of war time food rationing and the blandness of traditional British food prompted the Brits to discover the spicy and colorful dishes, and the rest is history. Now there are more Indian restaurants in London, than there are in Mumbai or Delhi! Interestingly, the majority of U.K. run Indian restaurants are run by Bangladeshi people (Bangladesh is a small country to that borders India to the west). Although very similar, Bangladeshi dishes use less spice than Indian dishes and also make use of beef and coconut milk more. Although they are eaten in India too, biryani (a type of fried rice) and chapatti (a type of flat bread, like a naan) are popular Bangladeshi dishes.

If you have not tried Indian food, you are missing out. Contrary to most perceptions, Indian food is not outrageously hot and spicy. I think everyone remembers the scene from the movie Along came Polly where Jennifer Aniston has Ben Stiller try spicy food for the first time with disastrous consequences. In reality, Indian food can be ordered in differing levels of spice and the flavors are rich, complex and vibrant.

Over the years, Indian food has evolved to suit the English palate. The most popular dish, chicken tikka masala, is actually a hybrid of Indian chicken tikka mixed with a midly-spiced British tomato soup-like sauce. The origins of the dish are unclear but according to Wikipedia:

One claim recounts how a chef, Ali Ahmed Aslam (proprietor of the Shish Mahal restaurant in the west end of Glasgow), invented chicken tikka masala by improvising a sauce made from yogurt, cream and spices. His son Asif Ali told the story of its 1971 invention to the BBC’s Hairy Bikers TV cookery programme:

“On a typical dark, wet Glasgow night a bus driver coming off shift came in and ordered a chicken curry. He sent it back to the waiter saying it’s dry. At the time Dad had an ulcer and was enjoying a plate of tomato soup. So he said why not put some tomato soup into the curry with some spices. They sent it back to the table and the bus driver absolutely loved it. He and his friends came back again and again and we put it on the menu.”

chicken tikka masala

Chicken Tikka Masala – the most popular dish in Britain!

If you are new to Indian food, an excellent non-spicy dish to start with along with tikka masala is Chicken Korma. It is mild and creamy and made with yogurt and spices. Here is a link to my good friend (and fellow Brit) Peter Forke’s recipe:

http://www.peterforkes.com/Secret/Indian/ChickenKorma.html

Another Indian food blog I like is: http://www.indiansimmer.com/

I hope you enjoy taste-testing the culinary delights of India!

References

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Chicken_tikka_masala

http://www.mirror.co.uk/news/uk-news/a-spicy-200-year-affair-curry-and-why-we-love-231230

http://www.spiceopera.com/history-of-indian-food-in-uk/

http://www.learnenglish.de/culture/foodculture.html

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Chicken_tikka_masala

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bangladeshi_cuisine

British Easter Traditions – Easter Bonnets, Chocolate Eggs and Hot Cross Buns!

When I first moved to this country in 1999, one of the holidays I found that was surprisingly similar in the U.S and U.K. was Easter. However, never before had I seen such an immense array of candy as in the stores here. The fluorescent yellow and pink colored Peeps Chicks, the eggs of every different color and taste, the smooth foil wrapped bunnies, the pastel colored shiny plastic eggs, and the wicker baskets. Growing up in the U.K., candy was most definitely associated with Easter, but the candy was mainly in the form of large, hollow, chocolate eggs, which were filled with various treats, usually of the Cadbury variety. Cadbury creme eggs, small foil-wrapped chocolate eggs filled with a yellow and white fondant were also popular.

Traditional British Cadbury creme egg.
Traditional British Cadbury creme egg. Image courtesy of wikimedia commons.
Large boxed Easter eggs. Image courtesy of http://www.daytonlocal.com
Large boxed British Easter eggs. Image courtesy of http://www.daytonlocal.com

At school, kids would brag about how many of the large eggs they received, a little like Halloween in the U.S. when kids compete as to how much candy they get while trick or treating. Needless to say, every kid had a stomach ache the day after Easter Sunday! Easter in the U.K. was a major holiday with two weeks off school and a four-day holiday for most workers.

Here, Easter egg hunts and coloring eggs seem to be the most popular traditions for children, along with the Easter bunny and Easter baskets. One of the traditions associated with Easter in the U.K is Easter bonnet parades. The tradition of wearing an Easter bonnet dates back to the 16th century and the wearing of a bonnet and new clothes at Easter represented spring and the promise of spiritual renewal and redemption in the Christian faith.

British school-children in their traditional Easter bonnets.
British school-children in their traditional Easter bonnets. Image courtesy of http://www.iwitness24.co.uk

The bonnet itself is a hat decorated with colorful leaves and flowers. Chicks, eggs, and other items symbolic of the season can also be added. It is worn on the last day of the school semester before the Easter break (or Easter Sunday). I took part myself in an Easter Bonnet parade in my first year of elementary school. I remember my Mother toiling for hours making the cardboard hat and attaching a pale yellow ribbon to it along with flowers and egg shells. On the last day of the school term, I and the rest of the kids in my school formed long lines in the playground and paraded around in circles in our Easter bonnets while our parents took pictures from the sidelines. Usually, after the parade, a child is given a prize (usually candy) for the most creative Easter bonnet. Unfortunately, there were no prizes for my Easter bonnet that year!

That’s me aged 6, in the blue coat with my Easter bonnet. Victor Seymour Primary school, Carshalton, Surrey, England. (My own image)
That’s me, aged 6, in the blue coat with my Easter bonnet. Victor Seymour Primary school, Carshalton, Surrey, England. (My own image)

As far as traditional food goes, hot cross buns are symbolic of Easter in the U.K. They are sweet, sticky, fruit buns decorated with a cross. The cross is usually made from shortcrust pasty or icing. Hot cross buns have a long history and date back to medieval times. The adorning of the bun with a cross was a visible sign that the bread was “blessed” and had the power to ward off evil spirits. It was also believed to keep the bread from becoming stale as quickly or going moldy. The buns are usually served split in half, toasted and slathered with melting butter. They go wonderfully well with a steaming hot cup of tea!

Traditional British hot cross buns are eaten on Good Friday.
Traditional British hot cross buns are eaten on Good Friday. Image courtesy of wikimedia commons.

Along with the tradition of Easter bonnets, and hot cross buns were traditional Easter candy treats which we made at home. One of my favorites from my childhood were my Mum’s chocolate eggs in bird’s nests. Here is an easy recipe which children can help with too.

Chocolate eggs in bird’s nests

Half a box of either corn flakes or shredded wheat breakfast cereal

2-3 large bars of milk or dark chocolate

2 tbsp. of vegetable oil or butter (melted)

2 cups of candy covered mini-chocolate eggs

Paper cupcake cases

A muffin pan

Break the chocolate into pieces and place in a glass bowl.

Melt in the microwave (on 50% power) in one minute increments until warm and molten. Be careful not to let the chocolate burn. If chocolate is thick or lumpy, add the melted butter or oil and stir in well.

Place the corn flakes or shredded wheat in a large bowl and add in the melted chocolate. Mix well.

Using an ice cream scoop place the mixture into a lined muffin or cupcake pan, making a small depression in the center of each nest.

Place pan in the refrigerator for at least 1 hour or until chocolate has set. Once set, place 3-4 of the mini eggs into the nests. Enjoy!

Chocolate egg in "bird's nests".
Chocolate eggs in “bird’s nests”. Image courtesy of http://veronicascornucopia.com/tag/homemade/

What are the Easter traditions in your family? I would be interested to hear about them. Happy Easter everyone!

References

http://veronicascornucopia.com/tag/homemade/

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hot_cross_bun

http://www.learnenglish.de/culture/easter.html

http://www.Norfolk.eyewitness24.co.uk