On Sunday I hosted Barbecue #2. I'd invited the eight other women who are doing the Discipleship Year service program with me at Trent Vineyard church to come over for a girly afternoon, but a few days beforehand I suddenly realized that I'd been to a lot of barbecues lately (not to mention hosting one just a few days earlier) and decided I could do with a change of menu. So I asked my friends for permission to make it a Mexican-themed event instead.
On Sunday, therefore, instead of grilling the ubiquitous burgers and sausages, I served slow-cooked machaca, or Mexican shredded beef, along with homemade guacamole, salsa, sauteed onions and peppers and all of the other trimmings. I adore Mexican food and sometimes have to remind myself that it's not at all normal for Brits, who are much more used to curries than tacos. Finding the ingredients can be tricky, as I learned when hosting a similar gathering at Christmas. Back then I had to use kidney beans instead of black beans, as they weren't available at local grocery stores (though Sainsbury's has now started carrying black beans, hooray!) but I did serve delicious homemade margaritas. The funniest thing about serving margaritas, though, was that 18 of the 20 guests had never before tried one. Most people liked them all right, although every single person except me thought it was "minging" (gross) to serve them with salt on the rim of the glass. Once I dipped the glasses in sugar instead of salt, they were happy. But the incident made me realize just how different the food culture of the Americas is from the food culture of Europe.
On Sunday when I arranged all of the burrito fillings on the table and told my friends to dig in, they just stared at me uncertainly. Pippa turned to me and said, "You need to show us the procedure," and so, laughing, I demonstrated how to fill a burrito. "Does the rice go inside the burrito?" Kristen asked. "Well, it can," I said. "That's what they do at Chipotle, and I made the rice with lime and cilantro, just like at Chipotle," but of course they had no idea what I was talking about (especially as cilantro is called coriander here). But we all managed to get our burritos made and everyone went back for seconds and it was all a great success.
The weather wasn't quite so compliant. What had been a sunny morning turned into an afternoon of rainforest-worthy showers, so instead of sitting outside we headed to the lounge where we started the gas fire as the rain slammed against the windows. After we giggled at one another's attempts to keep all of the burrito stuffing inside the burrito (and more than a few black beans had gone rolling across the carpet), I showed my friends a few photos from the Arizona desert and mountains where I grew up. They oohed and aahed at them, then did the same when I showed some Chicago photos.
"Oh, Steph, why on earth did you come here?" Rachel asked. "Here, to boring old Nottingham?"
"What do you mean it's boring?" I protested. "It's exotic, exciting, and almost like living in a dream sometimes. It's just so, well ... English."
"But look outside" Rachel said, pointing to the rain streaming down the window. "Just look."
"Exactly," I said. "I am looking outside, and sometimes I still can hardly believe what I see. I see rain, yes, but I see a hedge, a real English hedge. I see ivy and climbing roses and, if I went out into the country, I'd see patchwork fields and sheep and little villages."
"But that's just normal," Rachel said.
"It's normal to you," I told her, "but you have to understand how much like a fairy tale England is to many Americans. We grew up reading about it in favorite books and seeing it in films. We love the English culture, but we also love the idea of this pastoral and gentle country with its--dare I say it?--quaint villages."
"Besides," I continued. "You told me yourself how much you love England because it's 'little and quaint and small' and because you can understand it. Don't deny it, Rach, I've got a video of you saying that when I was filming messages to take back to America last Christmas."
"That's true," she admitted, "I do want to live in England forever because I just love it. But I just don't understand why you'd choose to come here for an adventure when you're exciting places."
As the grotty weather continued we all chatted, made cups of tea to enjoy with our Herefordshire strawberries and chocolate Swiss rolls, and watched the film "Little Miss Sunshine." As the movie progressed I proudly pointed out scenes that were filmed near my home, like shots of the Superstition Mountains and in the city of Scottsdale, and my friends just looked at me and shook their heads.
If there's one thing I've learned in my various travels, it's that the grass is always greener. And it always will be.