Thursday, July 10, 2008

Groceries, baking, and other kitchen stuff

Wish you were here! More about this later. Keep reading!

I just returned from another grocery trip. As mentioned before, we shop very frequently due to being on foot, not to mention the very small refrigerator in our apartment. Here are some observations I've made in the grocery stores here. The shopping carts are seriously awesome. The wheels work! Forward, backward, and SIDEWAYS! It's a little strange at first, seeing people slide the carts sideways to the other side of the aisle, but it really makes things more convenient in a lot of ways. I did have to get used to watching for carts moving from any and all directions, though!

I am so happy that I decided to bring some of my reusable shopping bags to England with us! They really make it so much easier to haul groceries home than using plastic. I can sling the bags over my shoulders and carry far more weight that way. Save the planet and my hands at the same time. That's a win-win!

Some ingredients are kind of hard to find here. It's taken me a month to find the vegetable oil in the store. It was there all along, but hidden well away from the places that I would normally look. It's not anywhere near the olive oil, which was easy to find. Strange. Nuts to put in baked goods are in tiny little packages of around 4 ounces each, not in the giant one- and two-pound bags we can get. Pecans don't seem to be here at all. I've had no luck finding chocolate chips, but have made some great cookies with chopped up chocolate bars.

Many things come in much smaller packages than we're used to in the U.S. We get huge bags of potato chips at home, but here the crisps (chips) are more available in bags of individual sized packs. That would be convenient at home when packing kids' lunches - we sometimes have trouble finding the varieties that we want in the individual packs. Sandwich meats seem to come in very small packages here - maybe six or seven slices of turkey or ham per package.

The bananas are wonderful here. I've become so frustrated with the bananas at home. Seems like if I buy them from the big "W" store, they start out way too green and go straight to rotten without ever turning nice and yellow. And the other stores' bananas are starting to act the same way. Every batch I've purchased in England has been perfect. I can buy them with just a tiny hint of green and they ripen perfectly and last for at least three days before getting too "freckled" for my kids to eat them (I personally like them freckled, so more for me if they get that way).

I love to bake. I seriously considered having my Kitchen Aid mixer sent to England in our air shipment. I decided against it in the end, as I'd cry if anything happened to it. So I bought a cheap hand mixer and sent it instead. We've baked at least a half dozen batches of cookies and a cake since we've been here. Earlier this week, the girls decided to try carrot cake for the first time. They loved it, so today, we're making carrot cake. We're using this recipe from the Pioneer Woman, since she's got awesome recipes that never disappoint. Her blog is hilarious, too, so stay and visit for awhile when you go. That's the cake up at the top of this post, by the way. It's so yummy it ought to be illegal. Someday I'll get even with Pioneer Woman for what her blog has done to my rear!

Baking in the apartment has been a bit of an adventure. First, there's the oven temperature. I knew that it would be in Celsius, so I tossed a little oven thermometer from the dollar store in our shipment. Boy am I glad that I did! Not only is the oven in Celsius, it's mis-calibrated pretty badly. A temperature of 375 degrees Fahrenheit equates to about 190 degrees Celsius, but on this oven, I have to set it to nearly 220! So I have a little cheat sheet of what oven temps to use. Then there is the issue of baking tools and equipment. Of couse, I sent a set of measuring cups and spoons. I also sent over a small cookie sheet, since Darrell told me that the oven was small. A small sheet just barely fits in the oven. I can bake eight cookies at a time. I have no large mixing bowl, so we've been using a small pasta pot to mix in. I figured out that a 250 gram package of butter is just a little bit over two sticks of butter. Lop off a little piece to grease the pan, and use the rest in the recipe. Katrina and I just repeat, "we're making do!" each time we make a substitution for an ingredient, tool or dish that we lack.

Here's our kitchen. It's not very big, but it has a surprising amount of counter space. We haven't been cooking much, but it's not been bad for cooking when we do take the time. In the center near the sink, that is the washer/dryer under the counter. Yes, it's in the kitchen, and it is indeed all in one machine. First it washes, then it switches to drying. The load size is tiny, less than half what our machine at home will hold. And it's very loud. It sounds like a plane is taking off in the kitchen when it spins. The electric rates are six times higher in the daytime than after 11 p.m., so we run it after bedtime and put up with the noise. On the right side of the kitchen are the dishwasher, the freezer, and the refrigerator, all under the counter. I haven't seen a refrigerator like that since college. Fortunately, it works better than our dorm fridges ever did!


denise:) said...

Awesome kitchen!!! We stayed in London over Christmas in 2004 - it was a blast! However, you're doing it right with the apartment and staying a long time. Getting a more "local" experience rather than the "tourist" version. Your adventures are fun to read!

Anonymous said...

Hi Chris, it is fun reading your experience. When I frist came to UK it took alot of getting use to things the other way, as back home we did things the US way, so it was rather strange. However 22yrs later I am use to it, but you are here for another 4-5 weeks, so you will soon be back to the way you know how.


Granola Grrrl said...

Ikea shopping carts work like that, and I look like a drunkard trying to navigate my way through the store. It doesn't help that I giggle, either.

Thanks a lot. Now I need carrot cake. I usually make the recipe from the LLL cookbook, since it has pineapple, but the icing recipe for that one sucks. So I will be using Pioneer Woman's icing recipe next time instead.

When it's time to replace my W/D, I've thought about getting one of those all-in-one deals. I'll keep the noise thing in mind, though.

Pippa said...

I first came to your blog looking for a how-to on nugget boxes (I came from 3d-designs.blogspot) but I am really enjoying hearing about Britain from a non-native perspective. I've lived in Britain all of my life (Scotland, then one of the Channel Islands, near France, then England, then Wales for a bit, now back to England again) and it's so funny to hear some of the things you're saying. When friends of mine go to America, they say how huge everything is - bags of crisps, bags of food, houses, etc. Now hearing you say how small everything is makes me smile. That kitchen is a pretty standard size and most people have their tiny (but VERY loud!) washing machines in their kitchen - the houses are just too small for them to go anywhere else!

Pippa said...

Ps The shopping trolleys (carts) in the US DON'T go any direction?? How do you cope? What about tight corners? I thought all shopping trolleys worked the same!
Pip x