Tuesday, October 13, 2009

As Seen in American in Britain: Chicken Soup for the Expat's Soul

Thank you to Helen Elliot, Editor of American in Britain for giving me such a wonderful opportunity to showcase my writing and recipes in her magazine. Below is a copy of the article and recipe as it was featured. I hope you enjoy.

When my husband was first offered a job in England, we felt we needed to mull it over for a couple of days. It was a good job, with the potential of becoming a great job so we jumped on it. After months of preparation, which included two garage sales and the birth of our second child, we somehow found ourselves on the outbound platform of the Gatwick Express at 6 am, in the middle of January, with two young children, six large suitcases, a stroller, two car seats, and a partridge in a pear tree. Our little caravan then made its way to Victoria Station. From there we took a taxi to St. Pancras, where we boarded the Midland Mainline, rode it to its termination point and caught another taxi to our new address.

Finally, twenty hours after leaving Houston, we were in Nottingham in the little flat that my husband had called home for the few months prior to our arrival. He had decorated the children’s room like only a dad can. He had purchased the smallest crib that I had ever seen, dressed our daughter’s bed in a mature looking light gray and white duvet and tacked a couple of Disney posters on the wall. I was really quite amazed that he had managed to arrange all of this in a room the size of my walk-in closet back in the States. After a quick survey of our new surroundings, I deemed the flat adequate for the short time we would be there before we could find a more family friendly abode. The kitchen had everything I needed, a stove, microwave, refrigerator and washer. The only problem was that the appliances were on a scale for Barbie and Ken’s life in the UK, not ours. Oh well, I decided to worry about that tomorrow because the new found sensation of jetlag had set in and I felt like I had been hit by a truck.

On the trip over, the four of us had amassed a small mountain of dirty clothes so first thing the next morning, I got started. At first I was delighted to see that the washer was also a dryer. How clever! After fifteen minutes or so of studying the Martian looking symbols on the dial, I slammed the door shut on the handful of clothes that fit inside. Once I figured out where the detergent went, I started it up and got on with my other housekeeping chores. Three hours later, our clothes were still being tossed inside the tiny machine. Finally, out of sheer frustration, I managed to pry the door open to check the clothes on the inside. I was totally dismayed to discover that my husband’s jeans were half wet, half French fry. At this stage in my life I had become quite the laundress so I knew that there was only one thing to do, douse them with water and start all over again.

With the laundry going for the next few hours, I bundled up the children and made the trek from our 1st floor flat to the Sainsbury’s that was very inconveniently located across the street. Since there was a busy street and a roundabout located at our front door, we had to walk a quarter of a mile down the hill to the crosswalk, across four lanes of traffic, then a quarter of a mile back to the store. Once at the entrance, I was amazed to see that the trolleys were all threaded together in some manner that was so confounding, I didn’t even attempt it after the washer ordeal. Thank goodness for hand baskets. We swept around the store in an attempt to find the ingredients for a surprise dinner for my husband. Basically the only thing I recognized in the entire building was the produce. I have to say, I was truly amazed at the beauty and variety of the fruits and vegetables. My little daughter and I loved discovering from the labels where everything was grown. I was mostly amazed, and still am, by the beauty that is English bacon. America could learn a thing or two from England in the bacon category. Of course, England could learn a thing or two from America in the Tex-Mex category. Corn tortillas in a can are just unnatural in my opinion but hey, any old port in a storm.

Finally, back in our flat, I shut the door on England and walked into our little bit of America. After all of the trials and tribulations of our first day in our new home, our first meal together wiped them clean. I was able to assemble the ingredients of one of our favorite meals and I even successfully prepared it in Barbie’s kitchen. I knew from this point that we were going to make it but it was going to be more of a challenge than I thought. Of course, if I thought cooking was difficult, that was nothing compared to driving, but that’s a whole other story.

It took us a few months, but we found a big beautiful home, figured out the trolleys, met new friends and yes, I learned to drive, and no one got hurt. Most importantly, we learned to bloom where we were planted, and when the ache of homesickness set in, I figured out how to dull it a bit. We took day trips to parts unknown, made phone calls to family and friends, and cooked comfort foods from home. One of my favorite comfort recipes is the one I’d like to share with you here. It’s a reflection of my roots in south Texas, but since it is on the milder side, it appeals to everyone. I hope you enjoy it and it brings you a bit of comfort, if and when you need it.

For more recipes, please visit my site at www.eatdrinkwashup.blogspot.com.

Chicken and White Bean Chili

1 small to medium – 3-1/2 - 4 pound (1 ½ kilo) whole chicken cut into quarters or approximately 1 ½ pounds (750g) boneless chicken breasts and/or thighs
4 cups (1 liter) water
2 tablespoons chicken bouillon granules or chicken soup base
1 large bay leaf
1 medium size yellow onion, finely diced
1 medium to large size orange, red or yellow bell pepper, with seeds and membranes removed, finely diced
3 large garlic cloves, finely minced
5 tablespoons all-purpose flour
1 – 15.5 ounce (439g) tin cannellini beans (or any other white bean), drained and rinsed
2 tablespoons mild chili powder
1 teaspoon ground coriander
2 teaspoons ground cumin
1 tablespoon chopped fresh coriander
1 cup (250ml) single cream
3/4 cup (187ml) soured cream
Pepper to taste

Rinse the chicken quarters really well and place them in a stock pot. To the chicken in the pot, add the water (water should mostly cover the chicken), bouillon, bay leaf, onion, bell pepper and garlic. Place the stock pot over medium high heat and bring to a boil; reduce the heat to medium, cover and simmer until chicken is cooked through, approximately 30 minutes. Remove pot from the heat.

Remove chicken quarters from the pot and transfer them to a cutting board and cool until they can be comfortably handled. Remove meat from the bones and chop it into small pieces then shred slightly; set aside.

Remove approximately 1 cup (250ml) of the liquid from the stock pot and set aside. Return the stock pot to medium heat and bring to a simmer. Place the flour into a small bowl. While stirring constantly, gradually add the reserved liquid to the flour until a smooth paste is formed. Pour the paste into the stockpot and stir constantly until the mixture starts to thicken.

Add the beans, chopped chicken, chili powder, coriander and cumin. Increase the heat to medium and, stirring frequently, simmer, uncovered for approximately 15-20 minutes or until the mixture is thick enough to coat the back of a spoon.

Reduce the heat to low and add the fresh coriander, single cream and soured cream. Stir well until the single and soured creams are completely incorporated into the chili. Add pepper to taste. Serve immediately.

Garnish with chopped avocado, spring onion, fresh coriander or grated cheese.

This recipe makes approximately 9 – 10 cups which easily serves 6 people.

*Like most soups, this chili is great refrigerated and served the next day but if you intend on freezing it, leave out the single cream and soured cream (they separate when frozen) and add them just before serving. If you’d like to spice things up a bit, add ¼ - ½ teaspoon cayenne pepper or red pepper flakes for a slightly hot flavor.


  1. Wow! What a story. What brought the story home....The white chili. I would certainly need a bowl of that chili, while wearing my comfy cozy jammies. Life would be good.

  2. Great story, I'm a British expat living in Italy and have to beg my Italian wife to cook some English grub so I can feel like I'm back home



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