Friday, December 11, 2009

Mushy Peas are the Caviar of the UK

December in London is a beautiful time of year. The cold hazy days are cozy, whereas by February they'll feel more bleak and depressing. Green garlands of decorations adorn every possible surface and post, and Christmas trees line the streets, begging to be carried home. In the midst of all this holiday spirit, I find myself sitting in my old flat, on the new, marvelously comfortable couch, waiting for.... the dishwasher repairman. Not a very romantic picture of my 2-week visit to London, but I must say I actually appreciate the excuse to sit on said couch, doing literally nothing but watching Sky TV, for once the sole decision-maker of which of hundreds of channels to watch.

view from the living room window

It is in this 5-hour window of waiting time that I have discovered my new favourite British cook, Nigella Lawson, whose Christmas Kitchen show makes me want to get up this very second and start carving those frustratingly tiny pastry molds for mince pies. There is one thing, however, which confuses me about this traditional fare: the mincemeat. Does not contain any meat. The pies consist of a gooey combination of apples, cranberries, and other dried fruits, steeped in a mix with spices. So why is it called mincemeat? Listing the ingredients, and even watching the pies' creation under Nigella's watchful eye make them seem so irresistable; and yet, I never have actually enjoyed the taste of these holiday treats. What can you expect from a country where mushy peas are a staple food?

Another British treat (not particular for any specific time of year) is the Maryland cookie. Supposedly the recipe for these "biscuits" was brought to the UK from the US over half a century ago, and has been pretty successful because whenever I tell anyone here I'm from Maryland, they say "Ooooh! Like the cookie!" That and "Do you live near Baltimore? Only 40 minutes away?! Within spitting distance of 'The Wire'! WHAT??! YOU'VE NEVER SEEN IT??!" And so it goes, continuing with my explanation that I really don't watch much TV at all, and yes, I know I need to watch it because I'm from Maryland, and ending with a promise that they will lend me their copy. Which hasn't happened yet. And so I still haven't seen it. Maybe in my time waiting for the dishwasher repairman I'll be able to .... and there's the doorbell now.

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