The sweetest thing

Sweetness is something towards which your attitude changes the older you get. When I was a kid, I loved being regarded as sweet by my grandparents, especially if it resulted in getting a toffee or a twenty pence piece as a result. Most kids quickly learn to perfect their ‘butter wouldn’t melt’ look, and I was no different in that regard. Although, fortunately, butter actually wouldn’t melt in my mouth. Ahem.

Of course, when you get to the point at which you’re spending half an hour in the bathroom in an attempt to look good enough to impress girls, sweetness is the last thing that you want to be associated with. “You’re very sweet” has always been one of the ultimate female-to-male putdowns, after all. There are two things that you can categorically say about the statement “you’re very sweet” when hearing it from an attractive member of the opposite sex:

1. It will always be followed by a ‘but’ (ie. “you’re very sweet…but I’ve just this second remembered that I am leaving the country for three years. Tomorrow.”)
2. The implicit meaning is “I find our school’s one legged alcoholic caretakerjanitor more attractive than you. And he’s been dead for five years.”

Now I’m a bit older and – erm – more mature, I’m better able to cope with the sweetness tag. The Special One calls me sweet whenever she wants somethingall the time, and I have to say I quite like it. Don’t get me wrong, I still assume that she finds her dead peg-legged alcoholic janitor more attractive than me, but maybe I’ve just come to terms with my position in life.

Sweetness is something you have to get used to very quickly when you move from the UK to America. Largely because you have to accept that all your favourite foodstuffs come with 50% more sugar in them.

I love bread. If bread could have worn a dress and walked up the aisle, I’d be married to a nice piece of focaccia right now. If you told me tomorrow that I could eat nothing but bread (and bread-related products) for the rest of my life, I’d probably be happy. It doesn’t even have to be great bread either. Sure, I love an artisan-produced baguette as much as the next man, but if thick sliced white bread is all you’ve got then it’ll do for me.

But here in America, bread should come with a dental warning, such is the amount of sugar (or high fructose corn syrup) that goes into it. I’ve had doughnuts that taste less sweet than the vast majority of pre-packaged bread that you can buy in supermarkets. I’ve resorted to rye bread to make sure I get my savoury hit, although even that doesn’t quite hit the mark when it comes to a cheese’n’onion crisp sandwich, it has to be said.

It’s baked beans that upset me most though. While you can buy British Heinz baked beans in certain shops, you’ll generally have to part company with a week’s wages to do so. Fortunately, most supermarkets carry baked beans made by Heinz for the domestic market. Called ‘Vegetarian Beans’ (presumably because tins of baked beans often contain sausagesfranks, rather than because Americans assume that everything is a meat product unless otherwise labelled), the beans are the closest thing you can get to their British equivalent. They’re not bad, it has to be said, but it takes a while to get used to what seems to be a whole bottle of maple syrup that’s been added to the ingredients. Sure, the beans are cholesterol-free, but do they really have to be flavoured with treacle toffee?

I wanted beans on toast for lunch – the ultimate student meal-cum-comfort food, as all Brits will readily confirm. But here at Brit Out Of Water Towers, The Youngest and The Eldest stare at me with a look somewhere between pity and quizzical disgust.

After all, in America, beans on toast is practically dessert.

23 thoughts on “The sweetest thing

  1. Mrs Top Monkey

    LOL Beans on toast! I give my English hubby the same quizzical look each time he sighs over them.
    We’ve just moved to Jakarta from KL and it’s a bit more difficult here to get hubby’s comfort food like broooon sauce and Heinz beans, so I know what you feel like in NY.
    We saw a tin of Heinz Vegetarian Beans here as well and that really stopped us in our tracks in the supermarket aisle. Normal beans are meat? Since when?

  2. Brooklyn

    “Called ‘Vegetarian Beans’ (presumably because tins of baked beans often contain sausagesfranks, rather than because Americans assume that everything is a meat product unless otherwise labelled),”

    Also because in the US Southern cuisine-influenced beans without franks is/can be made in a sauce that is seasoned with meat, which actually dissolves so there are not discernible pieces of meat in it.

  3. Expatmum

    Funny, funny. I am at this very moment, hoarding a ‘real’ tin of baked beans for the precise moment of need. My kids and hubby don’t even come in the kitchen when I have a beans on toast lunch. The little one likes them with scrambled egg though, but I’m sure that will wear off.
    Talking of sweet, what about the cereal. It seems to me there’s two choices – GrapeNuts, which my hubby eats every single, bloody day and it takes like rabbit food; then there’s every other kind with 15g plus of sugar. No wonder dentists make so much money over here – even if it is all “preventitive”.

  4. Lillie


    I think you need to invest in a bread maker. I’m surprised you didn’t receive one as a wedding gift. Then you can wake up to the smell of freshly baked bread in your own home. It’s awesome..

  5. Karen

    Bread, yes I love it, I could eat it (and I do)with everything. We are lucky the bread here is up to scratch, even if we do have to fork over a lot of cash for it.
    They do heinz beans here too in a 4 pack, not sold separately, I usually have a couple stored away for when I need my beans on toast fix.

    It’s sausages I miss, they don’t do them here, oh they have the hotdog sausage and lots of Eastern European ones to cater to the Poles, but no Irish or English ones 🙁

  6. Paul Sheffrin

    Hey, Dylan – have you tried spreading Marmite on the toast before ladling on the baked beans? My idea of heaven. And the best bit is that none of my Canadian friends is tempted to nick the food off my plate!

  7. Dylan

    Paul – you’re a sick man. I definitely fall into the ‘hate it’ camp, I’m afraid. Although it does make a welcome addition to gravy, I have to to say…

    Good British/Irish sausage is indeed hard to find anywhere away from home, Karen…I may have to blog about that soon actually, as I have a good tale to tell. There are a couple of places in NYC that sell pretty decent ones actually…not much good to you in Iceland, I appreciate…

    Lillie – I used to have a breadmaker when I was a bachelor, but to be honest I didn’t get around to using it as often as I should. And The Special One is not exactly pro-devices in the kitchen…every time I try to introduce a new mixer/blender/crusher/roller etc, she cuts me off at the pass!

    I know what you mean about cereal Expatmum – I obviously avoid all the sugary ones, but tried a ‘healthy’ alternative at the weekend, and had an experience that was akin to eating delicately shaved cardboard.

    Melanie – I think you’re probably right on that. I’ve had to start drinking the real thing in the US, as the diet version tastes like dishwater with caramel food colouring!

    Brooklyn – thanks for the info! Have you ever had English baked beans? If not, I’m bringing a can back for you next time I’m in the UK…

    And welcome Mrs Top Monkey – glad to hear that your husband shares my passion for brown sauce. And it’s got to be HP, obviously. I actually cut my vegetarian beans yesterday with HP sauce to take away some of the sweetness…worked a treat!

  8. Alasdair

    Dylan – were you ever aware of Frosted Shreddies ? Now *there’s* a Food for the Gods !

    If you think finding a good sausage is a challenge in the US, try finding a good Black Pudding … and as for Haggis, the locals here believe that the Haggis is an endagered species of flightless bird that lives on mountainsides and has a short leg on one side and a long leg on the other (so that, while standing on a slope, it looks like it’s standing upright) … (innocent grin) …

  9. Brooklyn


    Thanks, but no thanks. I don’t really like baked beans.

    And, as I’ve stated in another comment, when I was in the UK a long time ago, I viewed the practice of beans as an accompaniment to morning eggs with horror.

  10. Lillie


    With regard to Haggis. At the annual St Andrew’s Highland Games in a Chicago suburb, they have a (frozen) Haggis Throwing Contest for the ladies. That’s as close as you’ll find me to Haggis (no offense)

  11. Jan

    I love baked beans on toast, with brown sauce, and cheese and onion crisp butties.

    I agree it’s hard to find decent sausage here. Though Johnsonville Bratwurst are not too bad if you cook them slowly on the BBQ until the outer skin is quite blackened, and serve with lashings of brown sauce.

  12. Karen

    Well I had the bratwurst and it was very tasty!

    You should make your own muesli for breakfast, it’s very easy and then you can put whatever fruits and nuts you like in!

  13. Alasdair

    {Politically-incorrect response to Karen deleted in the interests of UK-US amity}


  14. Alasdair

    Lillie – so the “Annual” St Andrew’s Highland Games is held around Nov 30, I trust ?

    When the lady throws the frozen haggis, does a gentleman swing his caber at it ?

    Plus, given the other comments, all one should need to do is “serve it with lashings of brown sauce” … (grin) …

  15. Lillie


    The Games vary by dates and location. The above website address has more information. In the Chicago area the game are held on the 3rd weekend of June.

    The Ladies’ Haggis Hurling Contest is just for distance — like the Olympic event “Shot put”.

    The Caber toss is on a diffrent field. 🙂

    One year, while watching the Caber toss, I was standing next to a man, with his young daughter sitting on his shoulders. After several times of the Judge announcing the result of the toss (i.e. 12 o’clock…1 o’clock, etc) the little girl says ..”Daddy, why does he keep saying what time it is”?

    And on a final note — there is a Knobbly Knees Kilt contest, should you be interested.

    It really is a fun day. And of course, you needn’t be a Scot to enjoy. (Trust me, I’m the furthest thing there is from being a Scot!)

  16. Joanna

    Very funny post – I would recommend a bread maker as you know exactly what goes into it. Then you can have as much beasn on toast as you like without it tasting weird. I really love marmite – but then maybe I am in a minority..

  17. Dylan

    Enough of your British smut, Alasdair…

    Fish – I do try to get my bread from a bakery (I work near Chelsea Market, so it’s not tough!) but sometimes I just get cravings for a Mother’s Pride/Kingsmill type sandwich!

    And as for you Brooklyn, that’s the last time I make a generous offer like that! Be careful or I’ll bring you some black pudding.

  18. Brooklyn


    I just didn’t want you to waste your money, especially considering the exchange rate for US dollars.

    How would UK natives respond to an offer of a gift of real peanut butter and root beer? Based on my conversations with your countrymen and countrywomen, it’s my guess that the response, translated into Yiddish, would be “Feh !!!”

  19. Alasdair

    Dylan – it is never possible to get enough British smut !

    And if Brooklyn doesn’t want the Black Pudding, *I’ll* happily take it off your hands !

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *