The Anatomy of an English Christmas Dinner

Get in mah belleh!

As an English Teaching Assistant in Austria, I have met many Brits. After tea and how much more “superior” British English is to American English, their next favorite topic to speak on is the quintessential roast dinner. This roast dinner is a thing of myth among Americans – What exactly is a roast dinner? Why do many Brits have one every Sunday? And why do they always talk about it?

This is what I knew: roasts dinners are delicious. Roast dinners happen on Sunday, and bring the family together. Roast dinners, along with its relative the Full English Breakfast, are the end-all and be-all hangover cure. My interest was officially piqued.

Leading up to my Christmas trip to England, my excitement grew knowing that I would get to experience a roast dinner on Christmas Day with my friend Katie’s family. From the stories, I had learned that the Christmas roast dinner is the roast of all roasts, the Ultimate Roast Dinner. But still, I was not sure what I was in for…

“Don’t drink too much tonight,” Katie’s father warned, as Katie and I left for the pub on Christmas Eve. “Wouldn’t want to be too hungover for the best meal of the year!” I nodded solemnly, and my friend promised we would be home after a few pints.

The next morning, the typical child-like Christmas excitement propelled me out of bed around 9 am. I sensed movement in the kitchen, and I went downstairs to wish those awake a “Merry Christmas!” Once there, I found only Katie’s parents, already bustling with preparation for the afternoon’s meal.

“Can I help?” I asked meekly, offering my sub-par culinary skills.

Katie’s father referred to his Excel-produced schedule for the day, which listed step-by-step how to perfectly, and timely, prepare the roast dinner (he uses this every Sunday). “Just in time to chop the vegetables!” I wiped the sleep from my eyes as he furnished me with a large knife.

After a good hour of slicing, dicing, buttering and organizing dishes around the kitchen, it was time to let the duck sizzle. Duck, I had learned, would be the roast part of the roast dinner.

Katie’s mom poured us all some Baileys (Katie and her brother had, by this time, been roused for their beds), and we moved to the front room for some serious gift opening. My stomach rumbled, but I had Baileys to tide me over.

Halfway through the cooking of the duck, Katie’s father removed a substantial amount of the grease to produce the Yorkshire pudding. Yorkshire pudding, once a traditionally Northern delicacy, is now consumed all over England, and is widely considered the key dish in a roast dinner (after the Roast, of course). Her dad poured the special type of dough into the meat grease, and, when cooking, it poofs up ever so elegantly. It ends up looking like a bread muffin, but it is much more savory than that.

When I wasn’t sure if I could bear the delectable, Thanksgiving-esque smells any longer, it was announced that dinner was about to be served. I sat down at the table not to find delicious food on my plate, but rather a large Tootsie Roll-like object.

Christmas dinner: 1 large paper Tootsie Roll and vegetables! Yum!!

“Christmas crackers!” Katie exclaimed, offering me an end of the Tootsie Roll. “Pull,” she commanded. When pulled, the cracker… cracks… and out comes a hilarious paper hat, a cheap toy and a corny joke. Everyone pulled their cracker, donned the hats, and shared the horrible jokes as a sort of toast before the meal.

Very dangerous.

And then… Katie’s parents brought the food to the table. I filled my plate to the brim with brussel sprouts and peas, swedes and turnips, Yorkshire pudding and chestnut stuffing, roast potatoes and onions, and let’s not forget the duck. Oh, the crispy, greasy, savory, melt-in-your-mouth duck! My stomach was in Christmas roast dinner heaven. There were seconds and thirds, and fourths and fifths as we picked on the leftovers throughout the evening.

“It takes all morning to cook, but fifteen minutes to devour!” Katie’s mother exclaimed. We all murmured our agreement, our mouths too full to do anything else.

Intensely eating.

Tradition states that you leave your paper crown on through the meal, but I didn’t take mine off until I was tucked in bed, smiling back on my first English Christmas.

Ever had an English Christmas roast dinner? How’d you fare?

Posted in Christmas, England, Europe, Food, Travel | Tagged , , , , | 1 Comment

Alaina vs. Technology: A Fair Fight?

Photo by techbirmingham

Technology and I are arguing. It’s a moral kind of fight, all very one-sided — I’m doing all the talking. And I just can’t seem to win. Ever.

How could I, when Technology is literally everywhere? It’s in our back pockets, our bedrooms and cars. When no one else is watching, those little gadgets (computers, cell phones, iPods, Kindles, etc.) are. They stand sentinel to our lives, banally monitoring our every move. We willingly, greedily, purchase machines which can do more than the average human and then we depend on them as a needy child does her mother. We go comatose for hours in front of computer screens or televisions and, sure, we may be expanding our minds, learning new things, but when did our laptops and TVs become substitutes for real-life, face-to-face interaction? With a person, with a book, with whatever?

I mean, doesn’t that scare you? Just a little?

I can’t help but think of Henry David Thoreau and his mantra, “Simplify, simplify.” Even in the 1800s, Thoreau isolated himself from society to live a more simplified, self-sufficient life. Today’s version of a more simplified life downright frightens me. Check out this Motorola Droid 2 commercial…

What?! … This phone turns you into an “instrument of efficiency,” thus simplifying your life. However, it seems, to be a succesful businesswoman, efficient worker, and worthy contribution to society, I must become a robot, one with my machine. And, yikes, “this Droid has evolved” — it itself evolved? Should I watch out for further evolution upon purchase? If this commercial doesn’t foreshadow some freaky dystopian future, I don’t know what does.

I know, life has gotten “easier” with the invention of the cell phone, the Internet, better laptops, iPods and the like. But, in my humble opinion, it’s getting to be superfluous. When did we as a society no longer find books an acceptable reading medium (Hello Kindle, iPad)? Do we really need to be so accessible to our Email that we can find it in our pockets (Hey there Blackberry, iPhone)?

I told my parents that I didn’t want a cell phone once I’m officially “on my own,” that I thought it merely an electronic tether. My mom outright laughed in my face; my dad informed me land lines are archaic. And, yes, I realize the irony of this post on my blog. So, perhaps today I do not win the fight. Perhaps today Technology has the upper hand. Let’s just hope for no Terminator-esque machine takeover.

What are your thoughts on technology? Love it, hate it? What’s your favorite gadget? Drop a line in the comments.

Posted in Rambling | Tagged , , , , | 4 Comments

Oh, hi there!

Waves on Lake Michigan; Grand Haven, MI

Well, hey there Blogging World, how’s it going? It’s only been about a million years since I’ve updated and I’m terribly sorry about that. It’s been such a busy summer that I’ve barely tackled anything on my Bucket List, (sadly). Alas, c’est la vie, and I really can’t complain, as I’ve been so busy that free time was minimal anyway.

What were you so busy doing?, you might ask. Well, let me elaborate…

  1. BELL Summer Program. After a month of “vacation” (aka, sliding back into my American life) and spending time with family/friends, I started up teaching (well, teacher assisting) summer school in Detroit at the William Beckham Academy. Detroit, Home of 8 Mile, is the #1 most dangerous American city, as ranked by Forbes.com, and one of the top 10 most dangerous cities in the world (along with Baghdad), as ranked by CNN.com. Yes, friends, I was busy teaching little rambunctious kindergarteners for 6 weeks in this fabled Michigan city. And while I was never told to “Fuck off!” or called a “fat bitch” by my students (like other TAs I know), I sure had my hands full. Five year olds do not listen to logic, nor do they respond well to a raised voice. Additionally, these kids needed more help than I could give; a number of them could not write their own name or identify all the letters in the alphabet. It’s hard to imagine that a 1st grader could not write her name, but I encountered it. My time there was difficult and tiring, but I miss those sweet little hellions more than you know.
  2. Logan’s Roadhouse. BELL ended nearly a month ago now (I can’t even believe it), so I was quickly on the hunt for another job… And I found one, hosting at Logan’s Roadhouse. If you’ve never heard of it, it’s “The Real America Roadhouse,” as they say, and we’re famous for steaks and peanut shells on the floor (woo.).

Beyond that, it’s pretty much been “business as usual” around here. I have managed to make it to 7 concerts (Brad Paisley, Something Corporate, Passion Pit, MGMT, Tom Petty, Pink Floyd Laser Spectacular, Lynyrd Skynyrd), and I have a few more up my sleeve. Believe it or not, I won concert tickets to Eminem and Jay-Z. The two are only playing a few shows in their respective hometowns (Detroit and New York City) so it will be a wild night in Detroit, (September 2nd!).

I have spent some time Up North and on the west side. My family went up to Traverse City for the Cherry Festival, and that place couldn’t be more beautiful. I hope to spend more time there in the future. Also, I ventured to Grand Haven for the Coast Guard Festival and the waves on Lake Michigan were 3-4 feet high! People were surfing them, for Pete’s sake! So I have managed to get in some travel. :)

One thing that was on my Bucket List that I did was learn how to golf! I really enjoy it, though I never thought I would. I’m not very good, but then again not too bad for a beginning lefty who is golfing right-handed. Hopefully I’ll get out to the driving range again this week.

I’m gearing up to go back to Austria, and can’t wait for another year of (mis)adventure. (Part of the reason I chose to make this post, to get the blog wheels once again turning.) I still have a number of posts in mind about my trip to Berlin, so I hope to get to those before I land in Austria.

Hope everyone is well.
Cheers,
Alaina

Posted in Michigan, Summer, Traveling, Work | Tagged , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Pre-Homecoming Jitters

One week. One week, and I’ll be landing at Detroit Metro Airport. I would be lying if I said I’m not scared. After all, I’ve spent a year on this continent and nine months in this village and apartment. Austria no longer feels foreign to me; it feels just as normal as Michigan. It has become my home away from home. And, if I’m allowed to say it, I’m nervous to go back to my “real” home, my parent’s home, in Rochester Hills, Michigan.

I’m afraid the normal will feel foreign. I’m afraid I will be foreign. I’m afraid I’ve changed so much that I won’t be able to fit back into my old roles: daughter, sister, friend, Michigander, American. I’m afraid I’ll have a travel comedown involving irrational behavior, extended moping around the house in pajamas and a lot of chocolate.

I’ve been preparing myself mentally for the last month or so for my departure. I’ve made my bucket list for the summer and told myself I’m going to have a good time. But what will happen after the novelty of being home wears off?

I remember the last time I came home from an extended trip to Germany. I was 17 and had been there a month (up until last May, this was the longest I’d been abroad). Upon my arrival back in the US, I remember quite clearly hating everything about Rochester and constantly singing Germany’s praises, while simultaneously bitching about the United States. My mom still likes to remind me what a little shit I was at this point in my life. I’ve matured about 5 years since then, so I can only hope I won’t be a heinous, complaining bitch this time around. But I had gone on the trip with 36 of my classmates, and we were able to miss Germany together. Now, I’m the only one that’s been abroad and had these experiences.

All Photos by Cia de Foto

I’ve read countless of blog posts and articles about keeping the feeling of travel alive, doing what I want before it’s too late and what not to do when I return home. I feel prepared and ready to go home and have a good time, but it doesn’t change the fact that I’m nervous for my homecoming.

Maybe when I get home, it’ll be easy and great, and I’ll wonder why I was so nervous. But, for now, I’m scared and I don’t know what to expect. And I think that’s OK when one is on the cusp of such a huge change, a new phase in her life.

What do you think? What is coming home like for you? Let me know in the comments.

Until next time.
Cheers,
Alaina

PS, I’m holding off on updating about my trip to Berlin until I get the pictures developed. But don’t worry, I have a lot to write about ;)

Posted in Rambling, Traveling | Tagged , , , , | 5 Comments

Notes On Packing: Or, How Am I Going to Fit 1 Year of My Life in 3 Suitcases?

Luckily, I don't have this much baggage. ... Nearly, though.

Photo by kthread

I’ll be the first to admit that I have a problem. Well, maybe more like two or three problems. As I sit here on my bed surrounded by postcards, ticket stubs, half of pairs of socks, six pairs of jeans and books I never read while playing a game called TAKE, TOSS or STORE, my problems are impossible to ignore and borderline embarrassing. And the first step is admitting to that problem, right? Here goes.

Problem #1: I’m a chronic overpacker. Let me put it this way: I went home for three weeks at Christmas and came back with an extra bag, bringing my suitcase total up to 4. For the return trip, I’m attempting to limit myself to the use of two suitcases, while leaving one (the largest one) stored here for my return in the fall. This has made me realize that I own a lot of clothing… But I never have anything to wear. Huh, the conundrum of being a girl. This leads into…

Problem #1.5: I like having stuff. Now, I wouldn’t go so far as to say I’m materialistic, but I like things. When I get paid, I enjoy spending my money on clothes, books, magazines, shoes — pretty much, anything and everything I absolutely don’t need. I recognize this needs to stop, and recently it has, but not before I accumulated so much stuff in this apartment that I’m not sure what I’m going to do with it.

Photo by Drew Coffman

Problem #2: I’m a hoarder. The most difficult part of this packing extravaganza is sorting through everything I own, one year’s worth of stuff!, and deciding what to do with it. And guess what? I hate parting with nearly everything. I’ve managed to fill my bedroom in Michigan with movie ticket stubs, pictures I took in middle school of people I no longer talk to, magazines and random party favors. Spending a year in Europe has given me an extraordinary opportunity to collect useless brochures, un-sent postcards, train ticket stubs, cards/postcards/letters people sent to me and everything in between. In this case, I don’t keep these things just because I like them, but because it has true sentimental value to me. Tossing the souvenirs in the trash bag makes me sad.

So I sit here, surrounded by my life and memories of this year, with my apartment in shambles and I am perplexed. I’m not sure how I’m ever supposed to fit everything into a few suitcases, and I wonder how my assistant friends are faring with this packing business.

Photo by zenobia_joy

But mark my words: I’m going to get home and streamline this process for next year. First step, be able to strap my life on my back. Then… try to take over the world. Or something like that.

Do you have problems packing, too? Or do you think I’m insane? Let me know in the comments!

Until next time…
Cheers,
Alaina

Posted in Rambling | Tagged , , , , , , , , | 8 Comments

Pop Culture Colloquialisms: Debunked

Colloquialisms are, by definition, clichéd, but they offer a certain allure both to the user and the listener. A cleverly employed saying can complement a conversation and cause others to laugh while, when ill placed, the phrases can provoke little more than an eye-roll.

There are a certain few colloquialisms that have so permeated mainstream culture that it is hard not to turn a corner without hearing one or two. Even in a faraway country, such phrases may be commonplace by those learning English as a Second Language, (and typically their usage of such slang is quite humorous).

The following is a list of the most amusing, pervasive sayings from recent pop culture sources. Embrace them. And if you don’t already use them, challenge yourself to use at least two today!

  • FML, or F- My Life. FML’s claim to fame is the website FML: Your Everyday Stories. On this website, one can submit short, humiliating anecdotes which begin with “Today…” and end in “FML.” (Don’t start reading the website if you have something to do in the near future – it’s addictive.) FML stands for Fuck My Life and is used in disappointing situations or to simply vent frustration. Using the full expression is often more satisfying, while the abbreviated term is best when typing online. Also has a famous cameo in the film, Superbad.

Examples:

“I have to write a 10 page paper in the next 3 hours. FML.”

“A tree just fell on my car. FML.”

  • WTF? First brought to Internet-wide fame in “End of Ze World,” WTF? stands for What The Fuck. Everyone from my mother (no joke) to your 8-year-old neighbor was spouting this phrase. It’s used to express shock, dismay or confusion. Like FML, WTF is most useful when typing online, but you might as well use the whole kit and caboodle in normal conversation.

Examples:

“WTF is that green thing growing in the back of your refrigerator?”

“WTF is going on?”

“I tattooed your name on my ass.”
“WTF?!”


(Though ‘mate’ is not normally included in everyday use.)

  • “…that’s what she said.” Made famous by the infamous Michael Scott from The Office, “…that’s what she said” took over every college campus in the United States, prompting an International “…That’s What She Said” Day on Facebook. There was a time when nary a day would go by when a “…that’s what she said” wouldn’t be dropped. While many such jokes get simply a perfunctory laugh, a well placed “…that’s what she said” can provide entertainment for hours, or at least 5 minutes of straight laughter. It is used immediately following a sentence, which has been said by another person, and implies that “she” has said something sexual.

Examples:

I turn you over to Michael Scott…

  • Your mom… “Your mom…” is often intended as a silly insult, and is typically used when no other snub can be thought of. It functions much like “…that’s what she said” – it is said immediately after someone else’s statement and is finished with the other person’s original sentence. It can also be used on its own. It’s meant as a joke, but is usually very corny and generates only forced chuckles. There have been horror stories in the usage of this phrase, so you must be careful.

BAD Example:

“Dying of cancer is really horrible.”
“Your mom died of cancer.”
(The original speaker’s mother actually did pass away from cancer – I have heard that this has actually happened, but that may just be an urban legend…)

GOOD Example:

“I checked out your Facebook photos yesterday.”
“Your mom checked out my Facebook photos yesterday.”
(See what I mean? Corny.)

  • Referring to girls as “bitches.” In a not-so-pleasant turn, it seems that it has become more common for young women to refer to themselves and their friends as “bitches.” While it may be argued that women are attempting to reclaim the word, it does not sound very civil in normal conversation. If used, it is best when between close friends. Boys: do not try it on your girl friends – they will probably slap you.

Example:

“Hey, bitch. How’s it going?”

  • Referring to guys as “dudes.” Once thought of as a word for surfers and stoners, “dude” has become part of daily jargon, especially when referring to men. The popularity rose, perhaps, after the release of the film Dude, Where’s My Car? in 2000. Throw it on the end of any sentence to sound cool and laid back. Draw out the long U for extra emphasis.

Example:

“Just chill, duuude.”


(The noteworthy bit is at the end.)

  • Abbreviating. Everything. Abbreves. Abbreviating is convenient because not only are words easier to say, but it is also more fun! Half the time, people will have no idea what you’re talking about, so it’s good to do with a close friend when talking fast. It is also very convenient when typing online.

Examples (see if you can figure them out…):

Whatevs, probs, defs, natch, essentsch, usge (much controversy on how to spell this one), haps, stuggs, evs… the list goes on. Pretty much any word can be abbreved.

  • Word. “Word” is a way of affirming a statement or agreeing with someone. It is often used to fill dead airspace if no other word can be found. Generally used by those trying to keep up a cool public image, therefore, when used in the wrong context, it can fall flat on its face.

Example:

“I’m totally gonna show him who’s boss.”
“Word.”

There you have it, eight of the most widely used and easily recognized pop culture colloquialisms out there. Remember – use two today!

What other sayings exist out there? Don’t see you favorite one? Share it in the comments.

Until next time…
Cheers,
Alaina

P.S. I wrote this piece in an attempt to get published on Matador Network, but it wasn’t accepted. At least it now has a home on my blog. :)

Posted in Rambling | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , | 6 Comments

Is America Really Full of Fatties?

The Famed Golden Arches

Photo by Vacacion

In the past two weeks, I’ve done an America-centric lesson in about eight classes. Each time, I opened the lesson with a mind map on the board; I wrote ‘USA’ in huge letters, and asked my students what came to mind.

“Fat people!” was the first shout-out every. single. time.

And McDonald’s was the second.

Even today, when I did a lesson about Great Britain, two different classes thought of “fat people.” By the end of today, I was sick of hearing the word “fat” on my students’ tongues.

Alright, cool. Americans (and Brits, apparently) are fat. The thing is, I could look out into the class and see the same shapes and sizes that I would in any, random, American class… I do have to admit, however, that Austria does have more fit youngsters, even if they do smoke and drink more often and freely than their American counterparts.

These experiences got me thinking… Does America really have that many more fat people than the rest of the world? Sure, we constantly hear about the rising rate of obesity and incidence of Type II diabetes in America, but for my English as a Second Language students to blurt this out as the first thing they think about the USA? Come on. What about Obama? Freedom? New York City? The War on Terror? Angelina Jolie? … No? Alright.

So, naturally, I turned to Google.

First of all: obesity is defined as having a Body Mass Index (BMI) over 30. BMI is calculated by dividing one’s weight by the square of one’s height.

After a bit of tricky Googling, I came across this article, Obesity: in Statistics, from BBC. The tagline blares: “People are getting fatter almost everywhere in the world.” …not just in the United States. The article goes on to call obesity a modern problem, naming fast food to sedentary jobs as the sneaky culprits. After numerous, fancy charts, I found what I was looking for: a list of the top countries with adult obesity problems. And guess what? The United States is not #1, but rather, #5 with 32.2%. Nauru claims the top spot with a 78.5% adult obesity rate and the United Kingdom rounds out the top 10 with 24.2%.

But, that wasn’t all that I found. This Daily Telegraph article betrays Australian women as having the fastest growing obesity rate, warning that they are “close to matching America’s obesity level.”

Additionally, the LA Times reports that Mexico, once a hungry country, is now battling an ever-increasing childhood obesity rate “behind only the United States for highest in the world.”

Apparently, obesity is not just America’s problem — fat people exist everywhere, even in exotic, beachy locales. From these three articles, it seems that while the United States does not have the highest obesity rates in the world, it is a useful scale of measurement for the rest of the world’s obesity. Furthermore, I can’t blame my students for thinking that all Americans are fat. Afterall, 3 in 10 Americans are, in fact, obese. Meanwhile, Wikipedia claims that Austria had an obesity rate of only 11% in 2000.

Thanks again, Google, for answering my pressing questions.

What do you think? — Are all Americans fat? What’s your view of America + obesity? Do the stats surprise you?

Until next time…
Cheers,
Alaina

Posted in Food, Rambling, Teaching English | Tagged , , , , | 3 Comments