Lizzy and Larry Lobster’s Yuletide Jacuzzi.

Lobsters

Lobsters (Photo credit: Foomandoonian)

Christmas is at our place this year, and MM’s age-old fear has resurfaced… Cooking For The French. My stomach is turning somersaults at the idea of cooking for my in-laws (or “the Outlaws”, as I fondly call them).  Don’t get me wrong: they are adorable with me, and reassure me that my food is wonderful -(in other words, edible-) every time I cook for them.

The problem is mine, and mine only – my gastronomic inferiority complex sticks to me like Spotted Dick and custard to last night’s dishes. Just the thought of getting it wrong paralyses me. Wondeure Woomane, my nemesis, manages to simultaneousy slip into something feminine, clean the house and set a table with matching napkins, individual name settings and decorations made by Tibetan monks. She somehow manages to control events in the kitchen (presumably via thought transmission to the cooker) whilst she perches delicately on the sofa with her glass of Crémant, beaming like the Bell Rock lighthouse as she modestly accepts praise for her Christmas tree, then discusses poverty and hunger in the third world in hushed tones as her foie gras and smoked salmon chill in the fridge.

I, on the other hand, am wild-eyed and dishevelled as my guests arrive, having stuck my finger through my tights, my dress covered with smelly dog’s hair, and gravy stains on my top. Later, as my guests await the starter in the living room, I can be found entrenched in the kitchen, glugging down a large glass of white wine as I stare dismally at a main dish that has either done a Phoenix on me or is so undercooked that it could make a break for freedom off the plate.

Despite my doubtful track record in the festive gastronomy stakes, I pulled out my 1940’s cookery book this week – the cookery bible that PF’s great-aunt Renée gave me many years ago. I treasure it. As I turned the pages, the memories of her and the “oldies” inevitably tumbled out, and a lump big enough to remind me of my run-ins with bechamel sauce formed in my throat. Then I remembered PF’s granny’s comment at our wedding, and toughened up. “Make sure you feed my grandson properly,” she had whispered in my ear as she meaningfully pressed a cookery book into my hands. Welcome to the family, kiddo.

I was looking for a fish recipe to please PF, who had been gnawing on his favourite festive bone of contention: seafood. MM doesn’t cook seafood, and he knows it – it’s the Holy Grail of Gallic gastronomy, and as such, is unattainable for our family table. So like any self-respecting (-albeit big-) kid, PF demands it every year. This is how I found myself reading page 262 of Renée’s recipe book and wondering if I’d picked up a guide for budding torture fanatics by mistake. I gawped in horror at the recipe: “Take six small, live lobsters. Cut them energetically into slices (not too thick) and throw them into a pan containing boiling butter and oil”.

Now let’s get this straight. I’m no Brigitte Bardot as far as food is concerned. Living in France has knocked all cute bunny sentiment out of me, and I have absolutely no issues with eating Bambi, Thumper or the handsome Prince (-before his transformation, obviously-) with whatever sauce and sides are on the menu. I can munch snails, look on as the butcher decapitates pheasants, and even gobble baby boars marinated in wine with as much enthusiastic grunting as Obelix. But the idea of sawing Lizzie and Larry Lobster into bite-sized chunks and chucking them into boiling oil makes me feel like a seafood fiend. Halibut Hindley – the domestic equivalent of Hannibal the Cannibal.

Later, at the fish stand, I stared at the semi-comatose lobsters stranded on a bed of ice. As they semaphored SOS messages at me with their frozen little antennae and legs and blew bubbles of distress, all I could think of was this:

A French housewife pointed at Larry and Lizzie the lobsters on the fishmonger’s display, had them sealed in a plastic bag sarcophage then drove them home for their sad demise, no doubt orchestrated with the help of a woman’s weekly magazine recipe page and an axe. MM turned her back on the sorry scene and went home.

I  trawled the net in search of humane lobster sacrifice technique. Top French chefs on Youtube recommended throwing the live lobster into a vat of boiling water and cooking it alive. The image of Larry and Lizzie swirling in a boiling jacuzzi decided me: there would be no live lobsters coming here for Christmas.

So MM has copped out and bought two packets of frozen lobster tails. Call me yellow-bellied if you wish, but life’s hard enough without having a torture session on my conscience too.

Now let’s get that recipe sorted. I wish you all a calm, relaxing and fulfilling Christmas with those you love. And when you tuck into your turkey tomorrow, spare a thought for Lizzie and Larry…

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Inter-Atlantic English: A Tale of Fannies, Bums and Boots.

English Dictionaries

English Dictionaries (Photo credit: jovike)

On my arrival in the States, I really thought that apart from a few minor details, we spoke the same language on either side of the big pond. Yet there I was, battling to make myself understood, in desperate need of an UK English-US English dictionary and an aspirin.

The garage forecourt was littered with huge cars, and our host, a drawling, cigar-puffing man who looked like he’s escaped from a 1970’s episode of Dallas, was attempting to fob off a dented Buick on these wet-behind-the-ears European newcomers. Communication was proving difficult, and my enthusiasm was waning.

“Excuse me, ma’am? You wanna put your what in the what?” The heat of the Florida sun beat down on my confused head, and I ruefully rubbed my back as the inhabitant of my uterus made a brave attempt to do a cart-wheel.  I pointed at the huge airbag tacked to my front, where my inside-out tummy button strained at my t-shirt like a nipple on a Zepplin-sized boob.

“I’m expecting a baby in two weeks. I just want a car with a boot big enough for my pushchair,” I sighed. A huge grin split the car saleman’s face in two, followed by a high-pitched hee-haw of a laugh that strangely mismatched his farm-hand physique.

1954 Plymouth Like My First Car

When is a car not a car? When you’re English and the salesman is American (Photo credit: pabear26)

“Ma’am, you want a vee-hikkel with boots?” He looked at me expectantly, eager to hear the next mistake of his unexpected stand-up comedian.

It was my turn to smile at his pronunciation of the word “vehicle”. “Vee-Hikkel” was as funny as the “Alooooominnum” wheel hubs he’d pointed out earlier. Did we really speak the same language?

The huge difference between British and American English was giving me serious trouble. In the UK, elephants have trunks, not cars. Cars have boots. In the US, bonnets are hoods, windscreens are windshields, gear sticks are gear levers, number plates are tags, petrol is gas, tarmac is pavement and pavements are sidewalks. You don’t turn at the junction, you turn at the intersection, where you may have trucks, but not lorries. Buying baby equipment was also confusing: pushchairs are strollers, nappies are diapers, dummies are pacifiers. It was just the beginning of a complete linguistic meltdown.

As I had an alien life form practicing kick boxing on my bladder, I quickly discovered the American terminology for the toilet. The term “rest room” was amusingly evocative of a room providing armchairs for tired old gents, not bog-standard loos. And whilst we’re on the subject, ladies, the inappropriately named “bathroom” does not necessarily contain a bath.

pondering life

Resting in the rest room (Photo credit: Chimpr)

I  blinked when I was told to come to a picnic wearing pants.  I was surprised my friend could believe that I let it all hang out beneath my clothing-I always wear pants. Clean ones, every day, in case I get run over by a double-decker bus and the world gets an unexpected view of my M&S undies. If you go out wearing just your pants in the UK, you’ll get arrested. And cold, too. So a word of warning to any American setting up shack in Britain: If you ask for pants, you’ll get underwear, and if you ask for trousers, you’ll get pants. Oh, and whilst we’re on the subject of underwear, if an American date tells you that he likes wearing suspenders, there’s no need to run… because American suspenders hold up trousers, not lace-topped stockings.

Food is tricky, too… Uh-oh. Maybe I should change that word to “difficult”. I recently asked lovely blogger Jenn, “How’s tricks?” One highly entertaining exchange later, I discovered that  the word “trick” is associated with prostitution in the States. Luckily for me, Jenn has a great sense of humour-check out her blog, called “Mashed Potatoes” (or potato, as we Brits say).

Anyway, back to food. At the burger bar with PF’s colleagues, I ordered chips… and got crisps with my steak. No wonder they looked at me strangely. But not as strangely as the person who grabbed his cigarette packet and rose from the table, telling us that he’d be back in five minutes. My innocent enquiry raised the roof: “Are you off outside to smoke a fag?” Whilst the word “fag” designates a cigarette in the UK… smoking a fag in the US involves beating up a male homosexual. You live and learn.

Moments to Remember - Jayne Mansfield ... &quo...

A tramp who has just fallen flat on her fanny. What a bummer. (Photo credit: marsmet531)

What really unhinged my jaw with astonishment, however, was when a male friend told me that he had fallen flat on his fanny. In the UK, only women have fannies, and they certainly don’t talk about them at the dinner table. A fanny in the States appears to be what we Brits call your bum. Which, in the States, refers to what the English call a tramp. Which in turn, in US English, refers to an easy woman. As you can see from this interesting linguistic exercise, our languages are just not the same.

Traps were everywhere, and MM happily fell into them one after the other. One memorable event was when I asked the person next to me to lend me his rubber…. I was told with a smirk that he didn’t have one, but if he did, he’d gladly give it, but would not want it returned. A good job he didn’t, too: I’ve never seen anyone rub out a mistake on a form with a condom. Apparently, what I wanted is called an “eraser” on the other side of the pond.

Woman in kitchen, 1939

“And today, ladies, we will be learning how to fit a stick of butter into a cup” (Photo credit: Seattle Municipal Archives)

Measurements were another problem. Particularly for cooking: making a dessert in the US was anything but a piece of cake. Please can someone American explain why you buy sticks of butter, but measure it in cups? I suspect that this measuring system was an evil idea dreamed up by 1950’s men to keep their wives occupied forcing butter sticks into cups all day. Is there some kind of Holy Grail reference vessel for US culinary purposes? If you use a really small cup, do you get a cup cake? (Unless it’s a “small” cup from Starbucks, of course. I could have swum laps in the first “small” coffee I ordered – it would have made a cake big enough to feed the five thousand.) Or do you have cake cup sizes like for women’s bras: “A” for a cup cake, “B” for a cake to share en amoureux, “C” for a family dessert and “D” for a birthday cake?

I gave up, and made friends with the Pillsbury Doughboy. Whatever the size of a cup, I never worked out how I was supposed to squish a rectangular cuboid of butter into it. As they say on the other side of the pond, go figure….. Whatever that means.