Tag Archives: sugar

A spoonful of sugar

Some of the traditions that America has are completely different than those in the UK. Like stopping an important sports game two thirds of the way through for the singing of the national anthem. Or, indeed, knowing all the words to the national anthem in the first place. Some things are exactly the same; ‘a willingness to invade countries without succumbing to a burden of proof’ springs immediately to mind. But then – and I say this with due deference to my adopted homeland, and from a true position of love – some things America does exactly like Britain, only a bit worse.

There’s bacon, obviously – a meat product in the UK, but a saturated fat transportation device in the United States. Then there’s the rail system, which for all its British faults, at least calls at practically all towns that contain more than two men and a dog. And of course there’s the language which England invented, and which some Americans continue to devalue on an almost daily basis.

Not to say that America doesn’t do plenty of things better than Britain. I don’t think I’ll ever eat a burger anywhere else on earth again, having tasted the kind of heaven-in-a-bun that even the most average restaurant churns out. American festivals and celebrations make Britain’s look like something that was put together with money found down the back of the sofa. I still shudder with fear whenever I think about the fact that London has to put on an opening ceremony for the Olympics in 2012. And of course, the United States does bank collapses like no other country on earth; everywhere’s given it a go, but America truly has it down to a fine art.

Most of the time, you come to live with the differences between one place and the other. But at other times, it’s almost more than you can bear.

Still smarting from the lack of a four day weekend, I decided to buy some hot cross buns to cheer myself up. After all, what could be better than a spicy hot toasted bun packed full of raisins, slathered with butter that oozes into every inch of its doughy goodness? My mouth is watering at the mere thought of it.

Sadly, thinking about it is all I can do. Because America has gone and arsed up one of the best things about Easter*. For a start, the bun has the consistency of a heavy pannetone, rather than the kind of weighty denseness necessary to guarantee that it sticks to the roof of your mouth. Rather than boasting a reassuring flatness, the American hot cross bun seems to be approximately four inches high, contains candied lemon peel rather than raisins, and has all the moisture of an overworn flip-flop. And to be honest, I’d probably rather eat the flip-flop.

Most importantly though, where the cross on top of the bun (the very thing that gives the baked good its theoretical religious significance) is made of pastry in the UK, it’s made of icing in the US. Thick sticky and sickly white icing that removes the enamel from your teeth, and which leaves you gasping for water. As if you’d eaten a flip-flop, to be honest. With icing on top.

The fact is that if Americans get a chance to add sugar to something, they’ll take it. Whether it’s cereal or hair product, they’ll find some way to get the stuff in there somehow. By 2019, the average 35 year old American body will be made of 63% sugar. Please note that any remarks about licking each other like lollipops will be expunged from the comments.

* The others are Creme Eggs, and ‘moaning about Brits having a four day weekend’.

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.

Flipping out

When I got to work this morning that I found out that it was Shrove Tuesday, and excitedly texted The Special One about plans for the evening. It was only when she questioned whether I really needed to make a display of religious deference that I realiszed that the tradition of Pancake Day isn’t exactly one that travels well beyond the UK’s borders.

Back in my childhood days, Pancake Day was always the cause of much excitement in our house. My sister and I would reluctantly eat whatever food was placed infront of us, each trying to save as much room as possible for the pancakes that we knew were coming.

And then once the main course was over, suddenly the kitchen was turned into an industrial scale pancake conveyor belt, creating paper thin crepes to be slathered in lemon juice and sugar. Not real lemon juice obviously, but Jif lemon juice (with added sodium metabisulphite) from a plastic yellow lemon-shaped squeezy bottle. I think I’ve rarely tasted anything so bitter in all my life, but when liberally applied onto thin eggy pancakes with plenty of sugar, nothing ever tasted so good.

One pancake was never enough, of course. Nor was two. Or even three, quite often. By the time we left the table, both of us practically had to be rolled to our bedrooms.

Needless to say, my attempt to bring a little bit of Pancake Day to this corner of Carroll Gardens was met with confusion by The Special One, The Youngest and The Eldest. All of them looked on with a mixture of apprehension and, let’s face it, disgust, as I mixed the eggs, flour and milk into a loose batter. But when I finally began flipping the pancakes, covering them in lemon and sugar, and folding them up into a roll, I think I began to win them over. The Youngest even demanded a second.

Which is a relief, given that I’d made enough batter to provide pancakes for half of Brooklyn.