The Expat Tag

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I feel like I haven’t done much expat related blogging so I decided to do 10 questions Seychelles Mama posted to her blog!

1. Where were you born, where did you grow up and where do you currently live?

I was born in Greenwich CT USA. I grew up in Atlanta GA, Surrey UK, Brussels BELGIUM & back in Atlanta. My dad worked for a big american company in their international division so I moved around a bit as a kid. I spent 7 years living in europe as an expat with my family.

2. What made you leave your home country?

Steve took a job with a company who had an office in Reading. It was a big career move for him so we relocated here.

3. What type of reactions do you get when you meet new people and tell them where you are from?

Without fail they ask “why would you move to Reading?!” haha! It’s not that Reading isn’t a nice enough place, but most brits see the US like americans see the UK – with rose colored glasses. They can’t believe we gave up sunny, warm Georgia for England with gray skies and dark winters.

4. What was the easiest/hardest part in adjusting to your new country?

I think the easiest part of moving to the UK is the language. Having lived in Belgium I know how hard it is living somewhere you dont speak the language. I can remember trying to grocery shop with my mom when I was little and how hard it was- thankfully she speaks french fluently.

The hardest thing to adjust to here has been transportation/ lack of independence. In our first year we didn’t have a car so we were stuck using public transport or renting a car. Thankfully we bought our first car about a year ago but since it was a stick shift so I couldn’t drive it. Now that we have an automatic my US license isn’t valid so I have to take expensive lessons in order to be able to drive.

It’s been really hard going from being super independent- with my own car and schedule to now relying on public transport or Steve to take me places. I really miss being able to do things on my own – it often feels like I’m a highschool kid again and my parents are dropping me off and picking me up from the movies.

5. Images, words, or sounds that sum up the expat experience you’ve had so far?

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We’ve moved house 3 times in 2.5 years

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We’ve had a lot of visa issues with Steve changing jobs since we arrived

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We’ve found the local expat community to be quite cliquey and its hard to make friends with

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We’ve done a lot of traveling – 8 countries in 2.5 years

6. Your favorite food or drink item in your new country?

I have grown to love tea and traditional english sponge cake with jam and cream. Yum! I haven’t ventured into the world of making my own – I’m sticking with my US baking, but thankfully I can buy a yummy cake from Tesco for £2.50!

7. What is the one thing you said “yes” to in your new city that you wouldn’t say “yes” to back home?

Walking places. In the US we got in our car for everything – from going to the store to getting brunch. In fairness we lived in a suburban neighborhood so we couldn’t really walk places – but I feel like even if we could have we wouldn’t have. Here we walk into town for nights out, I walk home from work and during lunch I walk into town to run errands.

8. Are there any cultural norms/phrases in your new country which you can not stand?

  • Flat pancakes – they’re not pancakes they’re crepes but the brits won’t call them that
  • Splitting the bill equally. When a big group goes out to dinner and some people order bottles of wine, appetizers and a main but I order just a main and a drink, I dont want to have to split the bill equally because I spent much less. Drives me mad!
  • The lack of decent customer service. I find so often I have to fight with a store if I have an issue with their product or service. It almost seems like they make it so hard so you just won’t bother returning something or making a fuss.
  • 10 minute doctor’s appointments. I like to get to know my GP before they put their hands all over me but here its like an assembly line – 10 and you’re done no matter if you haven’t discussed everything.

9. What do you most enjoy doing in your new country?

Both Steve and I have really enjoyed the pub culture here. The ease of meeting up with friends for a drink is nice – we get out of the house but we dont have to go far since our local is just a few doors down.

The ability to travel internationally is definitely a plus here, along with the 30 days of holiday we both get, which allows us to take actual vacations and long weekend trips as opposed to squeezing everything into a few days like we did at home.

10. Do you think you will ever move home for good?

Never say never, but for the foreseeable future I dont see us moving back to the US. We sold everything before moving so going back would mean starting all over from scratch. Something we’ve done here – its very difficult, expensive and time consuming.

Weird British Phrases

This past weekend I was skyping with my family back in the US and it was pointed out to me that I’ve picked up some weird british sayings. I was explaining to my dad and my sister that I was going out for a “leaving do” for some co-workers and wouldn’t be around to talk later that day. Of course this sentence sounds pretty normal to me, but they were both fascinated and  tickled by the phrase “leaving do”.

It occurred to me in the US we would call the same event a “going away party”. Here in the UK the term “Do” seems to have replaced the term party. They call the bachelorette party a “Hen Do” and the bachelor party a “Stag Do”. Or they leave out the “Do” all together and say “birthday drinks” or “leaving drinks” implying its a meet up at the local pub to celebrate.

Another strange one I find myself saying is “bog standard” which is a term for normal. I can confess that when I heard it first I thought it was “bob standard” and I said that for a long time – but I have learned the error of my ways. The weirdest part of this phrase is bog is an old word for toilette.

“Chockablock” is a term that Steve still can’t get his head around – but since I learned it when I was young its one I use a lot. It means full or really tightly packed. Like a crowded room would be “chockablock”. No idea where the term comes from – its just what we say.

Cheers! Brits say cheers for everything. When we first came over to look for a place to live we had lunch at a pub and the waiter said cheers when Steve handed him the menu back. The look of confusion on his face what so funny. As americans we think of cheers as a term said when you clink glasses together. Here in the UK its a replacement for yes, thanks and just general acknowledgment.

Now when I say to Steve that I’m going to call my parents I always say I’m going to “ring them”. It’s definitely not an american term but it’s pretty self explanatory – probably why no one has ever asked what I mean when I say it.

After 2 and a half years it shouldn’t surprise me that I’ve picked up some local lingo, but even now I still find myself having to guess when people use some terms. I think it’s just  a part of the expat experience.

Tomatoes, Eggs & Chorizo

If you ask Steve my favorite thing to do in the kitchen, he will say it’s to tell him to say “yes chef” when he’s helping me. He wouldn’t be lying but I wouldnt say its my favorite thing to do. My favorite thing to do is borrow a recipie I find online or in a cookbook and modify it to make it my own – sort of like an evil kitchen scientist (Steve’s term, not mine). It’s not that I think I’m a better chef – but I try and squeeze as much goodness into one meal as I can.

510AI7sYiWL._SX258_BO1,204,203,200_Recently I bought this cookbook for a reddit swap I’m doing. Before I mailed it off to my swap partner I decided to flip through it and see if there were any recipes that caught my fancy. Of course I found 5 or 6 that I liked so being cheap thrifty I photocopied a few I thought looked good and I made one last night.

Joe calls it Tomatoes, Eggs & Chorizo which I personally think is a bit of a weird name for a recipie. But this guy is all about simple, healthy meals so why make it more complex than need be?

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The original recipie from the cookbook

The original recipie looks really yummy and I dont doubt I’ll make it in the future just as Joe  intended – I had a fridge full of veggies that needed to be used. So I spiced it up a little bit by adding onion, garlic and peppers.

I sauted the veggies in canola oil along with the chorizo. It took 10-15 min since there was a lot of veggies. After everything was soft and the kitchen smelled amazing I added 2 cans of tomatoes. The recipie called for one but since I always cook for 2+ meals I added two and some water to thin it out a bit.

Once the tomatoes have heated up and everything is bubbling and beautiful smelling add a pinch of red chili flakes – depending on how hot you want it you can add cayenne pepper as well. I didn’t but Steve added some to his bowl.

Turn the heat down to low and carefully make little divots in the pan with a spoon. Slowly add the eggs – I suggest adding at least 4 to this size or more. I ended up cooking 3 more. Make sure to salt and pepper the eggs when they’re still raw – the flavors will mix better. Once the eggs are in the dish put the lid on top and allow them to poach slowly. Keep an eye on them – they’re best when they’re just a little runny.

Here’s the final result – not pretty but oh so yummy! Steve and I both really enjoyed this meal – its full of veggies and lots of protein. This will go in my file for quick and easy meals for sure!

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Patriotic Treats

This year I really got into the red white and blue spirit and made 2 different patriotic desserts. Neither one was a perfect success but they were both yummy – and when it comes to sweets thats what counts right?

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My first USA themed dessert were my blue velvet cupcakes with vanilla cream cheese icing and fresh raspberries. I made the for Steves & my offices as a special treat to celebrate our heritage.

Unfortunatly my favorite blog – The Pioneer Women didn’t have a recipie for this particular treat so I went to food.com for my recipie which you can find here. As you can see I had to adapt the recipie from cakes to cupcakes – which is normally straightforward but I learned with any velvet cake – the instructions are critical. Unfortunately I didn’t follow the step by step instructions (blame the sunshine) so my cupcakes didn’t rise like they should have and they were more gray than blue.

I didn’t have butter milk – they sell it here but its expensive and I never remember to get any, so I use the vinegar trick. Measure the amount of buttermilk you need but leave it a little low. Then fill it up the rest of the way with vinegar – about a teaspoon or so. Let it sit for a few minutes for the magic to work and voila – buttermilk.

My other patriotic dessert was my red white almost blue rice crispy treats. These are pretty self explanatory to make but in case you dont know how here is the recipe. Me being the crazy lazy blogger I am didn’t snap a photo of mine – but I borrowed this one from google so you can see what they’re meant to look like.

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These are what they should look like

1 bag of large marshmallows equally divided into 3 bowls

1 large box of rice crispy cereal – or any other crunchy cereal

3 tablespoons of butter divided into 3 equal parts

red & blue food coloring

Start by spraying your baking tray with non stick coating – get every nook and cranny or these babies will not come out of the pan!  Put 1 bowl of marshmallows in a pot over low-medium heat and add the butter. Stir until melted – adding red food coloring until you get it to the color your like. Remember it will disperse with the cereal so make make it a little extra intense. If your pan is big enough pour your cereal into the pan (heat off). Mine wasn’t so I poured the melted marshmallows into a bowl with the cereal and used a spoon to mix it all. It will cool quickly but its still very pliable. Spread the red batch in the will greased pan.

Repeat the above steps but this time no food coloring – this is your white layer of your dessert.

For the last layer do the same thing, replacing the red coloring with blue. Layer on top of the white later in the greased pan and allow the whole pan to cool before cutting – an hour or 2 should do it.

Cut and serve!

You can get creative with adding sprinkles to the mix or different kinds of cereal – maybe red white and blue cereal and skip the food coloring. This is such an easy treat to make and you can let your imagination run wild!

 

All American BBQ

What do you get when 2 americans,1 brazilian, 1 south african, 1 malaysian, 1 russian, 2 italian and 12 brits walk into a BBQ? A party. A big party – by small house UK standards. We had 18 of our nearest and dearest join us this past weekend to celebrate the 4th of july. It was by far our most international for the 4th yet – which made it extra delicious as everyone brought food to share.

We went all out and decorated the house with all of our red white and blue for the occasion. We had a photo booth out in the garden with props for silly pictures, a makeshift cooler for beers and I made some red white and blue rice crispy treats for everyone to enjoy.

Steve’s coworker who’s brazilian brought the most amazing meat from a london butcher and grilled chicken sausage, pork sausage and a giant hunk of steak which was some of the best I’d ever eaten!

Thanks to our amazing guests neither Steve or I spent more than 10 minutes in front of the grill – it was very much a group effort with everyone jumping up to cover it as burgers and hot dogs cooked.

Aspirational_540x540I brewed up a big jar of Pimms for everyone to enjoy and it was a major hit! Pimms is a very traditional british summer drink and its enjoyed everywhere from Wimbledon to Henley Regatta to summer tea parties and bbqs. The traditional recipie calls for lemonade which here in the UK is lightly carbonated and not as sweet as in the US. You mix the lemonade with the Pimms and add strawberries, oranges, cucumbers and mint leaves. It makes a very refreshing summer cocktail. I am not a fan of british lemonade so I make my Pimms with sprite for a sweeter, more bubbly drink. With a splash of bombay of course!

We even celebrated our friend Jess’s birthday while we were all together. Her fiance Ed brought a yummy chocolate cake to share and we all sang happy birthday while Jess blew out her candles and made her birthday wish.

All in all it was a very successful party and we look forward to hosting again next year for our 3rd annual 4th of July!

Sheet Pan Chicken

What has 2 thumbs and hates doing dishes? This girl here! I really hate dishes after spending the better part of my sunday bulk cooking for the week, making cupcakes and doing laundry. I’m too tired to come up with dinner for us but I also know I need to watch my purse this month as its Steves Birthday and someone needs a £70 airbrush… another story for another day.

So what do you do when you have random veg in the fridge, fresh raw chicken from costco and 2 thumbs? You make a sheet pan meal – that’s what!

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Italian sheet pan chicken – pre oven

If you’re looking for a beautiful instagram worthy meal to impress your in-laws this isn’t it. There’s no getting around the fact that sheet pan meals aren’t exactly beautiful. But what they lack in beauty they make up for in ease to prepare, cook and clean up.

I tossed this is my open already hot from cupcakes for 25 minutes while I made rice in the rice cooker.

Side note – if you dont own a rice cooker go out and buy one now. They’re not expensive, you dont need an instant pot or whatever the rave is right now. $10/£15 will buy you one from Walmart/Argos. Rice is so much easier to make in one and you can use it for all kinds of grains! My UK rice cooker and my US rice cooker

Making this is so easy – I got 2 ziplock baggies. Chicken in one and veggies in the other. I used green beans, tomatoes and onions. Use whatever looks goods or is about to go bad in your fridge. For the italian marinade I put olive oil, rapeseed oil, balsamic vinegar oregano, thyme, basil and a few cloves of garlic into our ninja and blitzed it for 30 seconds. Didn’t event get a cutting board dirty! Poured half into bag with chicken and half into veggie bag and let them sit while I continued to cook. Once the cupcakes we’re out of the open I poured the 2 bags onto the sheet pan and tossed it in. Voila!

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Winner winner chicken sheet pan dinner!

There really isn’t a set recipie for this meal as you can adapt it to how you want it. Make it vegetarian and use tofu steaks (I think that’s a thing), do chicken strips and colorful veggies for kids. I always suggest in season veggies or whats on sale!

Do you make your own sheet pan chicken? How does your recipie differ from this one?

Happy 4th of July

Today marks our 3rd 4th of July here in the UK. It’s a bit odd being here for the 4th, since its such a big deal at home. Not that I’m expecting it to be a big deal here – I’m not one of those expats. I think its seeing all the festivities at home – parades and lake trips, 10ks and fireworks. Plus there is no UK equivalent. They don’t celebrate St George’s day (English version of St Patrick’s day), they never gained their independence from anyone because they were always the tyrants.

Regardless of the fact that we never made a big fuss over the 4th in the US, we do now that we’re here. I’m wearing my red white and blue with my flag scarf and listening to the USA spotify playlist. Steve’s wearing our american flag like a cape today to the office. And of course I baked.

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4th of July cupcakes

Unfortunately my blue velvet cupcakes look more like gray/brown cupcakes, but they’re pretty yummy! I’ll post the recipie I used later this week.

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I was given the nicest USA themed gift basket from my co-worker today to celebrate the 4th of July. Its full of yummy things like cookies, reese’s peanut butter, m&ms, beef jerky & patriotic oven mitts and apron!

I can’t wait to wear the apron this weekend at our 2nd annual 4th of July bbq!

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Elevator of Death

One of the highlights of our Prague trip was seeing and using a paternoster elevator. These elevators – also called the Elevators of Death due to their history of being unsafe are becoming more and more rare. When I found out there was a working one in Prague I knew it was one of those now or never moments.

PaternosterIf you also want to annoy a number of locals at their place of work on a normal day when you visit Prague – I suggest going to Magistrat Hlavniho Mesta Prahy – Google Map RBS, its just accross the road. Its a big local government building so its not exactly a “tourist attraction” but thanks to their elevator I think they get a fair number of people walking in. I asked at information for the elevator and the gentleman sighed, half smiled and pointed us down the hall. I think he gets asked where it is a lot.

The elevator isn’t anything very exciting to look at, as people use it everyday to get from one floor to another, but knowing this could be a once in a lifetime opportunity to ride one we jumped in. I wasn’t brave enough to ride it all the way around but brave folks who do say the mechanism is really cool to see.

So not your traditional tourist attraction but its off the beaten path and its free – win in my book!

Sights and Sounds of Prague

After spending all day monday in a beer tent we decided we needed to make a point to see as much of the city as we could on Tuesday. Unfortunately the weather was against us – it was hot, much hotter then expected and rainy. Not a great combination for sightseeing in a walkable city. In spite of the weather we did see a number of famous sights.

When we travel I tend to be the one in charge of photography – with my phone and my Nikon but this trip Steve decided he wanted to use our GoPro Hero 4 to capture the sites. Unfortunately he decided this days before we left so I didn’t have time to order a handle for it – this you get fingers in most pictures.

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Dancing House

The Dancing house is right on the river which meant we got a nice breeze while we stood with a throng of other people taking snaps of this odd shaped building. I didn’t find out until later that it’s a hotel and we could have gone inside. Next time!

Our next stop was recommended to us by a friend of mine back in the US – U Fleku. She and her husband lived in Germany a few years back and traveled to Prague. They told us we needed to stop by this brewery from the 1400s and try their dark lager. I am so glad we did – it was amazing! I can’t remember what we ate but it was delicious and the beer was light and refreshing despite it’s dark color.

After the brewery we walked back into the center of the city in hopes of exploring Charles Bridge – another free tourist favorite. Unfortunately our luck didn’t hold out and the blue skies from earlier that day turned grey and the we we’re soaked within minutes of being on the bridge.

Not having been smart enough to bring our raincoats that day we slunk off to find a dry spot to wait out the rain and came across the perfect place to cool off and stay dry. Yes – it’s a massive touristy gimmick but I’ve always wanted to go to an ice bar. There’s a famous one in London but at £16($20+) just to get in with one drink its not worth it in my mind. Prague Ice Pub charges 200CZK which at the time was about £4 – a pretty fair price for a drink and 20 minutes of selfies.

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Astronomical Clock

After freezing for 20 minutes we walked around Prague city center, picked up our go to souvenir – Starbucks city and country mugs and made sure we got ourselves in front of the famous astrological clock for the display that happens every hour on the hour. As the time drew closer a huge hoard of tourists stood in the square looking at the clock waiting for the mechanical display. Right on the dot the bells rang and the saints circled around. This is one of those “must see” things that you only have to witness once. It’s more hype than anything else.

That evening we tried a few different spots for dinner but in true Ckz fashion if you don’t arrive early enough the small restaurants and pubs tend to run out of food. Thankfully we found Pivnice U Sadu, I can only describe it as a whole in the wall TGIFridays if that makes sense. The food was yummy and very traditional – like something your mom would make when you visit from college. Plenty of beers on tap and friendly wait staff who spoke excellent english. A real win after a long day.