Stuff I miss from home

Monday, October 17, 2011

As requested by Karen, a few thoughts about, well, stuff I miss from home.  These are not the big obvious things like family and friends and properly insulated housing, just niggly items that crop up and make me think, “Darn.”

Half & Half: You know, the stuff you put in coffee. Or at least the stuff I put in coffee. Or at least the stuff I used to put in coffee. I love having cream - as opposed to milk - in coffee, but alas over here that love has mostly gone unrequited. I find this odd because the English are particularly good at the whole notion of cream. This is, after all, the home of the cream tea, whose central feature is the scone spread with clotted cream and jam. And the average grocery store is home to a (literally) heart-stopping array of cream products. To wit:
  • Single cream (also known as pouring cream), at 18% milk fat
  • Double cream, at 48% milk fat (do not ask me about the math there...) 
  • Extra thick double cream, also at 48%, but heat-treated to make it so thick it can't be poured and must be spooned and spread over whatever it accompanies (aaaahhhhh!)
  • Clotted cream, at an artery-clogging 55% fat, and the proper topper for scones in a traditional cream tea.
They also have the normal range of milk products, but the colours of the cartons are all wrong. You know how skim milk is always in a blue carton? And 2% is in red or pink? Well here blue is whole milk! And skim milk is red! And 2%? Green. Also notice that sour cream is here called soured cream. It’s a parallel universe, I tell ya.
But back to the cream. As I say, I like to have cream in my coffee. Milk just seems a bit sad and stingy, especially the lower fat versions, which turn the coffee a joyless kind of grey colour.  For a while I tried making my own half and half, but it seemed to go off quickly, so I’ve resigned myself to a milk-only existence when it comes to coffee.  Sad.

Robertson Screws:   How is it that the rest of the world hasn’t yet caught on to the brilliance that is the Robertson screw? 

Robertson screwdrivers are easy to use one-handed, because the tapered socket tends to retain the screw, even if it is shaken. They also allow for the use of angled screw drivers and trim head screws. The socket-headed Robertson screws are self-centering, reduce cam out, stop a power tool when set, and can be removed if painted-over or old and rusty. In industry, they speed up production and reduce product damage.
I couldn’t have said it better myself, Wikipedia. Here it’s all Phillips (or the slightly improved Pozidriv, which is simply a Phillips in sheep’s clothing).   If only Peter Lymburmer Robertson had been slightly more open with the licensing rights, the rest of the world could know the pleasure of brandishing a screw gun with a screw secured stuck to the end, ready for action.  Phillips! Bah!

Chocolate Chips, and the cookies thereof:  I’m not saying it’s impossible to get chocolate chips here, but its certainly not as easy as it is at home.  When I decided to bake a batch of banana chocolate chip muffins I took myself off to my local Tesco and spent several fruitless moments scanning the baking section to try and find chocolate chips, to no avail.  I finally flagged down a passing employee who took me to the chocolate chip section, and it quickly became clear why I’d had such trouble finding it.  It’s because chocolate chips come in packages approximately the size of a postage stamp, hence they are extremely well camouflaged on the shelves.  I ended up buying about 4 packs, because they were so ridiculously petite – about half a cup per package.  Half a cup? What am I supposed to do with that? That’s about how many chocolate chips are consumed simply in the testing / measuring out process, before a chip ever graces a batch of batter.  (Or is that just me?)

And chocolate chip cookies also exist, but they seem to be very much in the second tier of cookies.  I’d venture to say that in North America the default cookie is chocolate chip.  Here, I’d venture to say the biggies are: digestives, chocolate covered digestives, custard creams, bourbon creams, and rich tea biscuits (that’s a laugh… if there’s any biscuit on the planet that does NOT deserve the adjective “rich” it’s the rich tea biscuit.  They are the saddest excuse for a treat I have yet encountered – dry, bland, crumbly and beige.  Yet they are sooooo English in their utter modesty.  In North America for something to be called “rich” it would have to be dipped in melted butter and then covered in whipped cream and chocolate sauce.)  But back to good old chocolate chip… trust me when I say chocolate chip cookies would be way down on the list somewhere after Jammie Dodgers. Maybe it has something to do with the fact that “chocolate chip biscuit” just sounds weird.

Seasons: There was a small moment some months ago when I thought to myself, “Oooh, it will be nice when summer gets here.” And then I realized it was JULY.  Summer was here, it was just that the difference between spring and summer is, to be charitable, subtle.  Add to this the fact that it was a notably miserable summer in Britain – the average temperature was 13.6 degrees (sadly, that’s only 0.4 degrees below average).  There were only 10 days when the temperature got above 25 degrees over much of the island, and rainfall was higher than average.  And winter?  It’s not really winter for someone who’s lived for decades on the Canadian prairies.  Temperatures rarely dip below freezing, and snow is a relative rarity (as evidenced by last Christmas’s Heathrow debacle).  So sometimes it’s sorta cold, and sometimes it’s sorta warm, but mostly it’s somewhere in between.  This means that it feels perpetually like spring or fall.  Yes, there have been a few warm days, but the number of times I felt compelled to put on a pair of shorts and sandals can be counted on the fingers of one finger.  And yes, there are chilly days where you might have to scrape frost off a windshield, but your nosehairs are never going to freeze together, you know what I mean?  It’s like the big invisible rhythm of life is muted.  Thank God I don’t live on the equator.  Or in Australia!

Hockey:  First let me clarify for our misguided European readers:


Field Hockey



(Jeremy take note: I will NEVER concede this point.)
I’ve been a Habs fan since my Dad gave me a jersey for Christmas when I was about umm… seven? Eight?  I’m now on the third iteration of the Habs-jersey-from-Dad-for-Christmas. I think this one was even worn to the Conference final game in 1993 when the Habs went on to win their most recent Stanley Cup.  I also wore it to the riot after they won.  And the parade. And I brought it all the way to London. But I digress…).  Let’s just say that I do miss settling onto the couch on the occasional chilly Saturday evening for a classic Habs vs. Leafs or Habs vs. Bruins match-up.  The play-by-play, Coach’s Corner, the three stars at the end… fantastic.  I’m sure I could watch NHL games on the internet, but it’s really not the same. 

Yeah, I miss watching a bit of hockey.  But what I really miss is playing. I am no Hayley Wickenheiser by any stretch of the imagination.  I wasn’t one of those kids who grew up on skates at the neighbourhood rink.  I’m an adult-onset hockey player and I’ll always be slower to the puck than most.  But I do know that when I started playing ten or twelve years ago it was like I was fulfilling some kind of genetic destiny.  And when I’m skating down the wing on the world’s slowest breakaway I am Guy Lafleur and it’s the Stanley Cup Final and I feel sooooooo… Canadian.  There’s something about the game that’s in my blood I guess, and I miss the sounds and smells of the rink, and the satisfying snap of a perfect pass and the cameraderie and the sweaty, spent feeling of sitting on the bench in the locker room after a game.  Luckily I only miss it when I think about it and because hockey is very much not A THING here I don’t end up thinking about it much.  And due to the aforementioned problem with the unemphatic nature of the seasons over here there is never that moment when you step outside and the air is unmistakably sharp and the first flakes fall and you know it’s time to sharpen the skates and hit the ice.

Hockey does exist here.  I know I mentioned that it turns out there’s a rink down the road, but I haven’t found the time to check it out and I suspect I just won’t, especially with a new job and an extra-long commute eating into my schedule.  So it’s not that there’s no hockey at all, it’s just much more effort to find it.  Where in Canada you simply can’t avoid it, here there are far fewer rinks and hence fewer teams and less ice time.  Also, equipment is harder to find and more expensive.  I may just see if there’s room to bring back my skates when I go home for Christmas.  It would be nice to strap them on again, even if it’s just for a turn around the outdoor rink at Hyde Park.  Then again, maybe not. At £13.50 per hour for tickets I might just have to get my skating fix in Canada!

And I might just have to drive a few Robertson screws while I'm home too.  While I'm having a nice cup of coffee with cream.  And a chocolate chip cookie.

Oh yeah.


Heather Moore said...

omg look at all that cream! Drool! Clotted cream is my most favourite thing ever. Yum.

Colleen said...

Pam: frost on the windshield and a thin layer of ice in the birdbath in the morning, leaves on the ground, stubble in the fields, geese overhead -- yes, it is fall on the prairies. Not likely to have snow for Hallowe'en but you never know. There it is -- your "seasonal" update from Saskatoon! Time to warm up my coffee. Cheers! ck

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