Monday, January 4, 2010

As seen in American in Britain: Fitting In

The first three months of our lives in England were spent in a small urban flat that my husband had found for us before our arrival. As soon as we unpacked our suitcases, the clock started ticking because our household shipment was on its way and there was no way that our belongings were going to fit in our already cramped accommodations. Being unfamiliar with a whole new real estate market full of sky high prices and “gazumping,” we soon decided to rent a house on a quiet estate on the side of the city closest to our daughter’s new school. There was a park, a pub, a surgery, a grocery, and, for our summertime aromatic pleasure, a pig farm a couple of miles away. What more could a family need?! We were finally starting to settle in. Yes siree, this wasn’t going to be so hard after all.

I lived in this state of smug self appreciation until the head master and mistress of my daughter’s new school, who my readers might be interested to know resembled Julie Andrews and Hugh Grant (no kidding), presented me with the uniform list. When my husband and I decided to make this move, we were under the mistaken impression that we spoke English. I was quickly corrected when, upon reading the list, came across items such as plimsoles, and a kagool. Until this time I thought that plimsoles were an ’80’s new wave band. Never would I have guessed that they were also black slip on P.E. shoes. Live and learn. Reading further, I recognized items such as pinafores and jumpers but saw listed nowhere the sweaters that I noticed all of the children wearing as they entered the building. Oh boy. Ok, I thought, we’ll just sort it out at the uniform shop in Leicester... wherever that is.

Our school uniform safari set out the following Saturday morning. After queuing at the car park for what seemed like an eternity, we slipped our large car into one of the miniature parking spaces and somehow slid ourselves between our car and the one next to us. Long gone were the days of pulling our car up to the door of the shop and walking in. We now had to put a bit more effort into our shopping. We bundled up the children and hit the streets. Ten minutes later, fearing shaken baby syndrome, I removed my son from his American stroller that wasn’t made for the quaint cobbled streets of England, and carried the 15 pound baby the rest of the way. Exhausted, and soaking wet from a sudden cloudburst with gale force winds and sideways rain, we finally arrived at our destination.

The uniform superstore was a polyester wonderland. School uniforms in every imaginable color and style were on display. The super efficient sales lady took my tiny four-year-old by the hand and transformed her into a proper school girl in minutes. We bought pinafores, blazers, ties, overcoats, shirts, jumpers (a.k.a. sweaters), and yes, we even bought the most curious of all articles on the list, the kagool. I must admit, we were a little bit disappointed when this exotic sounding article turned out to be an ordinary windbreaker.

With every small hurdle we cleared, we came closer to feeling like we were home. It wouldn’t be long and we would start to blend in more and more. Even people in our area soon stopped asking us where we were from and telling us about their latest trip to Florida. The following Monday morning, our little girl arrived at her new school looking like everyone else. Mission accomplished. Her American accent began to fade and was replaced by her own homogenized blend of American and English accents. We realized through watching her that although originality is very important, blending in also means you belong and that’s what home really is, a place where you belong.

My accompanying recipe for this story is one of pure comfort and a great way to use that tin of salmon that came in your Christmas hamper. This updated version of an old favorite is not only great for a family supper but is also good enough to serve company.

Salmon and Prawn Croquettes with Lemony Jalapeno and Coriander Mayonnaise

1 tablespoon butter
1/2 cup (125ml) plus 1 tablespoon oil, divided
1/2 medium size orange, yellow or red bell pepper (75g), finely diced
1/2 medium size yellow onion (75g), finely diced
1 celery stalk (75g), finely diced
1 large clove garlic, crushed
1/2 pound (250g) prawns, chopped into bite size pieces (An additional 1 – 14.75 ounce tin of salmon may be substituted for prawns if desired)
1 – 14.75 ounce (418g) tin pink or red salmon, that has been picked through or 1 pound (500g) poached or baked salmon, flaked
1 spring onion, thinly sliced across
1 cup (75g) fresh bread crumbs
1 teaspoon dried dill
1 teaspoon rubbed sage
1/4 teaspoon dried thyme
1 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon coarsely ground black pepper
Zest of 1 small lemon
1 large egg, beaten
1 cup (100g) plain flour

Heat the butter and 1 tablespoon oil in a medium sized non-stick frying pan over medium high heat; stir to incorporate. Add the bell pepper, onion and celery to the hot oil and butter and sauté until the vegetables begin to soften; add the crushed garlic and sauté for one minute longer. Transfer vegetables with a slotted spoon to a large sized mixing bowl. In the same non-stick frying pan with the moisture from the vegetables, sauté the diced prawns for a couple of minutes or until they just start to turn opaque. Transfer to the mixing bowl with the vegetables.

To the mixing bowl add the salmon, spring onion, breadcrumbs, dill, sage, thyme, salt, black pepper, lemon zest and beaten egg. Let mixture sit for 5 minutes. Divide the mixture into 12 equal portions. Roll each portion into a ball then flatten to a patty shape and coat both sides with flour; set aside.

Pour the remaining 1/2 cup oil into a medium to large size frying pan that has been set over a medium high heat. Once the oil is sizzling hot, add the patties and fry on each side until they are a dark golden brown, approximately 5-7 minutes per side. Remove from the pan and drain on paper towels. Serve immediately with a dollop of Lemony Jalapeno and Coriander Mayonnaise (recipe follows).

Lemony Jalapeno and Coriander Mayonnaise

1 cup (250ml) good quality mayonnaise
1 – 1/2 tablespoons freshly squeezed lemon juice
1 tablespoon finely chopped fresh coriander
1 small jalapeno pepper or other chili pepper, finely chopped (for a mild flavor, substitute jalapeno for a heaping tablespoon of green bell pepper or any other mild pepper)

Combine all ingredients in a medium size bowl. Cover and refrigerate until ready to use.


  1. Sounds like you're adjusting quite well! I spent six months in London and absolutely loved. I can't wait to hear more about your adventures.

  2. good recipe but I have to say that I am not too keen on coriander..
    Ciao, grazie



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