Now that I’m back in the States, I can genuinely say that absence makes the heart grow fonder. By which I mean that I miss a lot of things about England that don’t exist in the US, and thinking about them while being several thousands of miles away from it helps me appreciate them better. It’s a little like how being ripped away from the love of your life, separated by a cruel, vast ocean makes you appreciate having someone to hold your hand when you walk somewhere, or having someone patiently kiss your head after you make an obtuse observation like “Wow, there are lots of white people in Ireland”, or having someone to cuddle and wake up to instead of groggily pawing at the empty space next to you only to fully wake and realize that that someone is several thousand miles away. You know, the little things. Having listed what I hate about England though, I feel the need to balance it out by discussing the things I love and miss.
Reasons to Love England
1. People are polite and don’t stare. If I walk down the street in the US, I will get stared at for any number of reasons. Maybe they’re trying to figure out my ethnicity. Maybe I have a funny look on my face. Maybe I’m showing cleavage. Maybe I’m wearing yoga pants and they’re yelling “DAMN BABY GIRL” at my ass. Maybe I’m wearing my “Home Is Where the Pants Aren’t” shirt. Or my Firefly Hello Kitty shirt and they’re trying to figure out which kitty Simon Tam is (second row, far right). Maybe my hair looks awesome that day. Or maybe it looks like horse ass. Maybe they’re just having a really great people-watching session. Whatever the reason, I hadn’t realized how inured I’d become to it until I put on a form-fitting shirt and skirt and walked a mile to meet Earl at his school.
I walked by dozens and dozens of people of all ages and walks of life, both male and female, and not a single person looked my way. I’d walked out the door with an unrealized spring-loaded tension that gradually eased the farther I walked without anybody staring. By the time I was ¾ through my walk and nearly run over due to looking the wrong way down a street, I was positively light-footed and carefree! It was suddenly so clear to me why so many girls were walking around wearing high-waisted shorts and crop tops, which look absolutely terrible: because nobody will give a fuck and stare!
Caveats: It may be part of the British Isles, but Ireland is completely different. The Irish will totally stare the fuck out of you and then cut in front of you for the shuttle bus.
2. School uniforms. I think school uniforms are great. Apparently each school has a specific uniform, whether it’s a certain tartan or tie or the school badge on a certain-colored blazer. Some of the posher schools even use the tie to let you identify things like what house the student is in, like how everybody knew those loser Hufflepuffs wore yellow and black scarves. And as Earl pointed out to me, economic disparities are wiped clean because everybody is wearing the same damn thing, which is great for alleviating some of the social pressures of secondary schools.
And if you think there’s no room for personality with school uniforms, you are sadly mistaken! It seems it’s a statement for boys to wear their ties with a huge fucking knot so that the dangly part only reaches their sternum. Forget about the top of the belt guideline. You might think it looks stupid, but in fact it’s teaching boys to overachieve because why should they settle for a half or full windsor when they can aim high and nail the triple windsor? It’s also a statement for girls to roll their skirts or hike them up to their rib cages to wear them short, because why should they limit the high-waisted bullshit to after school hours? All these variations are possible in school uniforms so they’re not nearly as restrictive as you might think, and nobody cares how they look because a) they’re just following school protocol and b) English people are polite and don’t stare.
Non sequitur: Do away with work dress codes. Work dress codes are stupid. That’s why I love my current job and was only too happy to leave my last, which actually told me I had to wear heels. Fuck that.
3. Bathrooms. Or as they call them, “toilets”. English public bathrooms are designed so that there are no gaps between the door and the walls of the stalls. Additionally, the bottoms of the walls rise only a few inches over the floor, if at all. This means that once you’re in the stall, you are virtually hermetically sealed in there. Nobody can peek between the gaps between the doors and walls or see under the wall. Here, I’ve drawn a diagram for you.
So say Betty from Accounting is having a Bad Fiber Day poop – not the kind where the poo does a silent and splashless dive into the water perfectly timed with a neighboring flush to disguise the shameful sound of defecation, but the kind where it’s like a clown car exodus of poo after poo doing very audible high-splash cannonballs into the toilet. Betty can just leisurely do her business and either rush to wash her hands and bolt out of the bathroom or wait for all the other women in the bathroom to leave, and nobody will know it was her. Nobody can peer under the stall and look at her shoes and think, “Oh god. Those are Betty’s high heels. Betty is a disgusting cow who needs more roughage.”
My advice: We need anonymous stalls in all our public bathrooms, but especially the workplace. Jenny in Engineering would be most thankful.
4. Beer. And really by beer, I mean pubs. In the US, it can be difficult to walk into a bar and find a decent craft beer to drink. If you want variety and quality, you have to find a gastropub, which thankfully are becoming more and more popular. There doesn’t seem to be a middle ground though: either you get a bar where people are staring at each other and drinking watery swill, or you get an enormously wide selection and really delicious food but at rather spendy prices.
England has pubs. Every village has at least one (“the local”). And many of these pubs have beer from a local brewery, possibly along with guest ales from a different brewery. This means that after work, you can just go into the pub and, for about $6, get a bag of Snyder’s Jalapeño Pretzels along with a pint of a local ESB (English Special/Strong Bitter), and then go relieve yourself in the pub bathroom in complete privacy.
ESBs are another thing that aren’t nearly available enough in the US! It’s easy to find a lot of English styles, like IPAs and stouts and barleywines and brown ales and such, but there is a tragic lack of ESB/English Bitter. Of the 284 unique beers I’ve tried so far in my life, I’ve only had 3 bitters made by American breweries (Birth School Work Death by Oliver Breweries is pretty great).
My advice: More pubs, with less Honkers Ale and more other better bitters! Also, more jalapeño pretzels because those things are delicious.
5. British Healthcare. I’ve told this story to multiple people already because I find it so magical. Say you land in the UK with kidney infection, unbeknownst to you. Say you find yourself building a little nest in the bathroom because you can’t leave the toilet for very long and you feel ill, but need to research how a foreign national gets local healthcare and don’t want to disturb your sleepy fiancé who isn’t getting any sleep anyway because he’s worried about you. Well, you can call 111! It’s the number you call if you need urgent help, but not precisely an emergency like getting shot, which wouldn’t happen anyway because there are no fucking guns in the UK, or chest pain.
The nice folks at 111 will perform a triage of sorts asking if you have this symptom or that symptom and then refer you to the appropriate place, whether it’s the pharmacist, a doctor, a walk-in clinic, or the emergency room. Sometimes, the nice person at 111 will sense the urgency and discomfort you feel and ask things like, “Are you sure you don’t have FLANK PAIN or a FEVER?” and in your sleepy delirious haze, you don’t have the mental capacity to lie and say “Oh yes, I actually DO have FLANK PAIN now that you mention it.” The nice person might then say, “I see. Well, if you’re feeling worse, like if you’re feeling FLANK PAIN, please call back and say that you have FLANK PAIN and we’ll be able to refer you to someone who can give you more immediate help.”
Hours later, after you’ve gotten some sleep and chugged about a gallon of water, you might call 111 back and update them that yes, you are feeling FLANK PAIN (and you might actually be at that point). The nice person will then schedule an appointment for you at a local walk-in clinic. The walk-in clinic might then call you to confirm and say, “Hello! We’d like to invite you to come in to see the doctor. Would you like to come in at 9?” And you will say “I love you.”
You’ll then take a cab to the clinic, pee in a cup, be seen immediately by the doctor who will take pity on you, and after doing a quick dipstick test in your warm cup of pee, confirm that you do have an infection, and not wanting to risk leaving any infection behind, prescribe you some sweet. Mother. Fucking. Cipro. Bring on the anthrax and mysterious tick bites!
You’ll leave her office and ask the receptionist, “Hi, yes, I’m not a British citizen. I’m not covered under your NHS. How do I pay you? Do you need my contact information?” And she will give you a puzzled stare and say, “Consider it charity. It’s free. Run away.” and make little shoving gestures at you. You’ll throw her a look that says, “My god, why don’t we have this in the States?” and then go to the pharmacy, prepared to pay hundreds of dollars but comforted by the knowledge that at least you have travel insurance and emergency coverage in your regular insurance. The pharmacist will look at your prescription and ask if you qualify for any programs that waive prescription payments. You’ll say “No, sorry, I’m a filthy American.” She’ll smile and say “That will be £8.05” ($13-$14). You’ll blink uncomprehendingly, throw her a look that says, “My god, why don’t we have this in the States?” and hand her all your pocket change.
Hours later, you’ll already feel better and continue flushing microbes out your urethra by drinking lots and lots of beer.
My advice: Elect people who are inclined to think, “My god, why don’t we have this in the States?” because nobody, regardless of their economic status or citizenship, should have to pay a fuckton of money in order to be able to leave their toilet for more than 5 minutes.
Update: They caught on to me. To be fair, I was totally willing to pay.
The produce. Earl’s stepsisters and stepmother bought a ridiculous amount of Kentish tart cherries to snack on and I got hooked on them. I think I ate 3 kg over the course of my entire trip. The day I left, I made Earl stop at a roadside stand so I could eat another 1kg bag on my way to the airport. And that’s just the cherries. I’m convinced UK Brussels sprouts are tastier than any I’ve had in the US. This also reminds me that I need to write about clotted cream, but not here because this is already way too fucking long.
Deep-Dish Sour Cherry Pie (Ken Haedrich’s Pieble)
I can’t find a single fresh goddamn sour cherry in this town. I’ve found a few cans (not enough for a whole pie, so I’m hoarding them in order to make this pie – thank you, Jennifer G.!) but I’m holding out for fresh sour cherries and will start hitting farmers’ markets soon. I think I’ve already missed tart cherry picking season at the local orchards. However, I have made this pie once with canned cherries, and it was tasty enough for me to want to hold out for fresh cherries to see how much tastier it can be. Also, this pie works better with a lattice top because of the pretty color of the filling, but I haven’t been able to write that post yet. If you know how, or care to look it up, go for one of those. Otherwise this is a double-crust pie recipe.
1 Foolproof Pie Dough (Part I and Part II) (you’ll need both halves since this is a two-crust pie; make 1 dough ball slightly bigger than the other)
6 cups (~850 g) fresh sour cherries, stemmed and pitted
1¼ cups plus 3 tbsp (286 g) sugar
¼ cup (30 g) cornstarch
2 tsp (9.86 mL) fresh lemon juice
Grated zest of 1 lemon
2 tbsp (28.35 g) cold unsalted butter, cut into small pieces
Milk or light cream for brushing the crust
Sugar for dusting the crust
1. Roll out the big dough and place it in a 9-inch (~23 cm) pie pan, but don’t worry about the overhanging edge just yet. Just put the whole thing in the fridge and work on the filling.
2. Place the cherries in a large bowl. Mix the sugar and cornstarch together in a small bowl, then stir the mixture into the fruit. Stir in the lemon juice and zest. Set aside for 10 minutes to juice. Preheat the oven to 400ºF/204.44ºC.
3. Take the rolled-out bigger pie dough out of the fridge and pour the filling in. Scatter the butter pieces on top of the filling.
4. Roll out the slightly smaller dough ball into an 11½-inch (~28 cm) circle, about 1/8-inch (.3 cm) thick on a piece of generously floured parchment paper. Flip the dough over on top of the pie, centering it as best as you can, and gently peel the parchment paper off, leaving some overhang on both top and bottom crusts.
5. Using kitchen shears, trim the bottom dough overhang to about ½-inch (1.27 cm) and any portion of the top dough that’s overly long. Fold both top and bottom dough together under itself (themselves?) so that the edge is flush with the outer rim of pie plate. Crimp. Make some evenly spaced slashes around the top. Lightly brush the top pastry with milk and sprinkle the top of the pie with sugar.
I really gotta get working on that lattice top post.
6. Place the pie on the center oven rack and bake for 30 minutes. Reduce the oven temperature to 375ºF/190.56ºC and rotate the pie 180 degrees so that the part that faced the back of the oven now faces forward, unless you convect, in which case just leave it alone. Slide a large aluminum foil-lined baking sheet onto the rack below to catch any spills from the filling bubbling out. Continue to bake until the top is golden brown and any visible juices bubble thickly, 35-40 minutes.
7. Transfer the pie to a wire rack and let cool for at least 2 hours before serving.