If you don't want to mess about with dough and filling, then just buy a pumpkin pie.
So says this Centerstage article, listing top Chicago bakeries that can meet your pumpkin pie needs.
But what if you live in a land without pumpkin pie? A land where your friends say, "Pumpkin? In a pie? A sweet pie? Not a savory pie?" And a land where, the first time you make one, someone takes one bite of your prize creation and says, "Ugghhh....this pumpkin pie thingy is minging!"
(*minging-disgusting, gross, nasty, etc...)
Yes, my pal James, bless his honest English heart, did call my pumpkin pie minging when he tried it two years ago. But I wasn't offended. Not that offended, anyway. I know pumpkin pie is an unusual taste, even to many Americans. Heck, I didn't even like it until I became an adult. But, on the whole, most Brits like pumpkin pie when they have it at the Thanksgiving dinners I've been part of the last two years.
One of the problems with making pumpkin pie in England, however, is that you have to think far ahead. Pumpkins are only sold through mid-October in most stores and I neglected this year to buy a few, create a puree and freeze it. Luckily a colleague was going to Chicago for a conference, so one of my trusted Evanston friends bought me two cans of Libby's and sent it back with my colleague on the airplane. Another expat friend, however, didn't know she was cooking a Thanksgiving meal for 16 Brits until last week, so she found herself in a bit of a pickle. After putting out a plea on Facebook, she discovered she could get canned pumpkin at Waitrose luxury food shop--sort of.
"It's only 60 percent pumpkin and 40 percent squash," she wrote on her Facebook page. "Is that OK? Will it work?"
We reassured that yes, sometimes the best Thanksgiving pies have a mixture of several different squashes and that at least she didn't make the mistake of our friend Bethany who, on her long stay in England, couldn't find pumpkin and, in desperation, used mango. "I ended up with kind of a mango tart rather than a pumpkin pie," she later explained. "It was disgusting."
So here it is, Thanksgiving once more. I'm headed to the house of a large British family who spent two years in Seattle and picked up the glorious Thanksgiving tradition. As the token American at this celebration, and armed with my two cans of Libby's, I offered to make the pies. On Sunday night, however, when I reviewed the coming week's schedule, I realized the only time I had free to make the pies was early Thanksgiving morning, before work.
"Thanksgiving is much easier and more relaxing when you have the day off work," I grumbled yesterday in a conversation with my brother.
These whiny thoughts continued as I got up extra early this morning and brushed my teeth. They definitely increased in volume when I discovered I was out of eggs and had to pull on my coat for a chilly early morning walk to the shop.
"Why am I even bothering with Thanksgiving?" I muttered. "I've been here long enough that I don't mind skipping it so much. Nobody else feels the holiday spirit. Listen to me grumble, and I'm not even making the turkey!"
But now I am sitting in my warm kitchen a few minutes before I go to work. The window panes are frosted over and the delicious smell of baking pumpkin custard is wafting from the oven, as well as simmering apple odors. (I had some extra crust, so I used apples from the garden tree to do a small apple pie, as well).
I feel that rosy Thanksgiving glow creeping over me--the contentment of good food, good friends and the joy of being at a good place in life. I am so grateful to my English friends for the way they've embraced this American and this American tradition and how, despite their suspicion, they are willing each year to try some pumpkin pie.
The original idea of this blog was to document--for my many friends and former colleagues in Chicago--my experiences during a year spent volunteering for a church in Nottingham, England. Then I'd return to my life as a Chicago journalist, refreshed and reinvigorated after a year's adventure.
That was in the fall of 2007.
It is now late November 2009 and I am (ahem) still in England. Ooops. Here's what happened:
No, I didn't fall in love, marry a British man and settle down to a life of pastoral English bliss, making friends with the local village post man, butcher and tea shop lady while writing from my quaint thatched roof cottage and raising small, accented and thoroughly confused English-American children. Not yet, anyway.
Instead, I fell in love with a new country, a new career and a new way of life.
Despite all of the expected and understandable pain that came from leaving a job, friends and a city that I loved, I discovered when I arrived in Nottingham that I was being called into something new. I spent one year volunteering for Trent Vineyard church doing menial jobs like cleaning toilets, alongside not-so-menial jobs like feeding the homeless, listening to people's stories and teaching children. Meanwhile I continued to work as a freelance journalist for Sun-Times publications in Chicago, as well as developing unpaid reporting opportunities here in Nottingham.
After one year of this ridiculously difficult but immensely fulfilling life, I was asked to stay for a second year and do more of the same. So I did. Then, at the end of my second year, I was offered a full-time job at the church to train as a pastor and--armed with a religious worker visa--I realized that it was time to make a decision. Living with an uncertain future for two years had been surprisingly fun and freeing, but it had also been very trying. I turned 30 at the beginning of my second year here and as much as I loved the adventure, I began to yearn more and more for a settled home and sense of purpose. I felt I'd had one foot on either side of the Atlantic for a long time ... and as it's an awfully wide ocean, I was very tired of trying to keep that up.
And so, after much thought, discussion, prayer, tears and endless lists of pros and cons, I chose to accept the job and make England my home for the forseeable future. That was back in May, and after a six-week "farewell" visit to many of my friends and family all over the United States, I came back to my new home two months ago. I was immediately plunged head first into work, as I started training for the three new roles my new job entails. I've worked hard on making a life for myself here by developing friendships, pursuing hobbies, trying still to pass that blasted British driving test and spending treasured time with my English boyfriend. Yet I've continued to keep up some of my journalism work by writing for Chicago-area publications and also making regular guest appearances on BBC Radio Nottingham as a guest commentator.
I pause during my 3rd Annual Birthday Bonfire Party on Nov. 5, which also happens to be the English holiday of Guy Fawkes Night. For the third year in a row, my English "family" and friends honored me with a massive bonfire/fireworks party on my birthday.
This blog, then, will continue to serve as a travel feature in which I share tidbits from my journeys around Great Britain and other parts of the world. It will continue to be a place where I can share the comedies and tragedies of being American in a country that simultaneously reveres and despises America. But it will also serve as a space, I hope, that links me to my beloved Chicago.
Although I grew up in Arizona, I came to Chicago as a young woman and it was there that not only did my professional career crystallize but did my vision and voice. Look at this blog for links between Chicago and England; for voices from both sides of the pond examining the similarities and differences between our two formidable nations; for travel ideas and for windows into the ongoing story of my life as an expat. I've learned in the two years since I've kept this blog just how interested people are in the endless connection between America and its motherland, and I do hope the conversation continues.
As for me, I'm still known widely in these English parts as "American Steph," the girl whose accent has changed perceptibly over the last two years but who will never, ever shake off the place from where she comes. And that's fine by me. As I've learned again and again over the past couple of years, "home" is a very stretchy word that covers a lot of ground. I know now that I've never really left it.
I found this very informative article in yesterday's Guardian newspaper--read on to see an explanation for National Health Insurance-minded Brits about how the American healthcare system works, and what needs to be fixed.
On Friday I'm traveling back to America, after a year away from my homeland, for a 6-week visit. I find it slightly ironic that I've needed to purchase UK travel insurance so that I'm covered in the event of illness in the United States! I'm really looking forward to my time at home, but am actually a little bit nervous after so long away. I'm realizing more and more how England is becoming home. Will I feel like a foreigner when my plane touches down at O'Hare? Will I be excited with the convenience and familiarity? Most likely I'll just be tired! Last year the first thing I did was order a tall glass of iced tea and it tasted incredible. I may repeat the experience this year.
Thanks to all of you who sent your good wishes on for my UK driving exam. I must admit that I failed the test--through a stupid mistake born out of old driving habits! I am now in the majority of 60 percent of Americans who fail their UK driving test the first time. What I am pleased about, however, is that even though I made the mistake in the first 8 minutes and instantly knew I'd failed (it falls into the category of "serious fault" and is an automatic fail), I managed to hold it together and drive very well for the remaining 40 minutes. Had I not messed up early on, I would've passed the test with flying colors, and I'm sure I'll do so when I retake it in October
It was frustrating to fail but the test really was a good (if expensive) experience--and I was impressed by how comprehensive the exam was. The instructor took me on busy roads, little roads, large roundabouts and dual carriageways, had me demonstrate various types of manouevres and turns, asked me about how to run my car (how to test power steering, for example), and many other questions. There is no doubt that when I do pass this test I will be a better driver than before, especially when driving a manual car! The only trick will be getting back into the British driving mindset after six weeks in America.
After six weeks of summer adventures in mostly warm weather (80-degree heat that's been joyfully hailed by the Brits), I've collected several snapshots of life in the UK.
Punting down the River Cam in Cambridge with my work colleagues on a very fun Team Day Out (it's pretty cool to live in a country where you can day trip it to Cambridge).
An ivy-covered college along the River Cam.
I attend a very English wedding, held at Thrumpton Hall in Nottinghamshire. While the bridal party poses for photographs, guests are free to explore the first floor of the house, wander about the extensive gardens and play cricket--all with glasses of Pimms in hand, of course.
The beautiful bride Jen defends the wicket (bats) in cricket as her groom Tim looks on.
My friend Ruth and I drive to the Sherwood Forest visitor's centre near Edwinstowe, Nottinghamshire--let me mention with great pride that I am actually the one who did the driving (my UK driving exam is in two weeks)--to see parts of the old forest. It's filled with beautiful 900-year-old trees and their fallen friends, like these stumps here.
The Major Oak which, legend has it, was the tree that sheltered Robin Hood and his Merry Men when they retreated into the forest to escape the evil Sheriff of Nottingham. Although the tree is propped up with sticks, it is beautifully alive and is reckoned to be around 900 years old.
The 11th-century keep inside Cardiff Castle's Victorian walls, a fascinating old motte and bailey castle.
And finally, this made me giggle, especially as it followed a special sandwich called "The Chicago Experience" or something along those lines (I grew up on the outskirts of Phoenix).
Photos from my March Scotland adventure with my visiting parents continue:
After leaving Edinburgh Castle, we ducked into what looked like a little storefront selling tartan blankets and scarves and turned out to be a massive showroom with fun little weaving exhibits set up throughout.
The place is a maze and you have to walk through huge rooms and shopping areas to get out (they obviously want you to buy) but I was very happy to buy a lovely thick, tartan wool blanket that was woven right in Edinburgh. I've wanted one for ages, both for picnicking and as an extra bed blanket (they're soft and warm over a duvet on cold winter's nights) and I was glad to get an authentic one at a good price.
We then walked down a hill that was alive with spring flowers and grabbed some lunch, which we ate hillside looking over the Old Town.
After lunch we headed back to the National Galleries of Scotland (at the bottom of the hill we'd descended from the Royal Mile), which had a rather fabulous art collection with many famous pieces, such as the Skating Minister. My mother is an artist and going to art museums together is a favorite hobby, so we spent several hours in the place (taking a nice break for tea and cake in the gallery tea shop) until they shooed us out of the galleries for closing. We then spent a long time in the gallery shop until they shooed us out of there, too. "You could've made a lot more money if you'd let her stay longer," I muttered to the shopkeeper, as my art-dazed mother hurriedly brought a few more things to the till.
We strolled about the city's old town a bit more, watching sunset over the hills and ancient streets, before enjoying a great Italian meal. After this we walked up to the castle one more time, just to see the Royal Mile and city below with its nighttime light display.
Finally we caught a bus back to our charming little B&B a few miles away for a well-deserved rest before getting up the next morning for a hot breakfast and sojourn to Stirling.
I haven't posted on this blog in two weeks, and when I realized this fact the other day I groaned aloud. Posting, you see, is work, especially when one is usually posting about one's own life.
Pausing on my way across a railroad bridge in Edinburgh
It'd be easy enough for me to post a few comments and links about the fascinating political revolution that's going on here as newspapers publish quite shocking details about expense claim abuse by elected members of parliament (the Speaker of the House was forced to step down for the first time in 300 years...longer than our Constitution has been in existence).
Or I could post solely about the amusing cultural differences between America and Britain, some of which still have the power to shock me and others. A recent example is when a male American visitor found a piece of litter on the floor and offered to "toss it," thereby sending all listeners into gales of laughter--except for me, who was thoroughly confused until a friend explained under her breath that, over here, that statement does not necessarily mean throwing the litter in the trash can. (Sorry, can't write the slang translation here, so look it up).
However, the last two weeks have been especially intense for me because of a few frightening family illnesses back home in Arizona (which I can only follow from afar and with anxious phone calls and prayers) and also because I've had to make difficult decisions about the future.
I'm happy to announce that both family health situations seem to be resolving in a hopeful manner for both my grandmother and my as-yet-unborn baby niece. I can also now announce that I've made a major decision for my future--I intend to settle in England for the next several years. I actually made this decision quite awhile ago, but have been waiting for several matters to resolve so that I am able to do this in a way that fits my visa and economic needs. I'll post more about that decision in the future (trust me, it wasn't easy....leaving one's home is never easy, no matter how much one feels called to a new home), but I hope it explains why posting light, frothy comments on this blog that was supposed to follow my one year abroad in England has become increasingly tricky.
Yes, life has been an adventure since I came here in September 2007, but adventures always come at a price, as I'm sure most people who've had them will admit. However, I can solidly testify that, despite all of the pain, frustration and homesickness, this adventure has been absolutely worth it.
The story of my travels to Scotland, Wales and England with my parents (who visited in March) continues with these photos from Edinburgh Castle.
The approach to Edinburgh Castle, at the top of the Royal Mile.
We were there in mid-March and I couldn't believe how wonderful the weather was. Temperatures were probably around 40-50 Fahrenheit (not bad, trust me) and it was sunny every day. The daffodils and crocuses were just starting to come out around the city and the grass was green. We loved it, and views from the castle were stunning.
Looking out over the city from the castle, which is built on an extinct volcano.
Edinburgh Castle is a fantastic site, maintained by Historic Scotland. Most of the buildings are from the 1500s, but St. Margaret's Chapel is a surviving 12th-century structure.
But it's not just a bunch of old buildings. There are scores of fascinating exhibits, including the Honours of Scotland, Scotland's crown jewels. Alongside the Honours of Scotland you'll see the Stone of Destiny, the ancient stone used in the coronation of Scottish and British monarchs. Seeing that stone felt like being in a legend come to life.
View of King Arthur's Seat, another extinct volcano at the opposite end of the old town, from Edinburgh Castle.
You also learn scores about Scottish and British military history, and one unexpected treat was visiting the former prison, which displays graffiti and handiwork by American prisoners who were held there during our Revolutionary War (though in Britain they perfer to call it the War of Independence).
View of the city from an old gun hole (probably not its technical name).
While exploring the castle, I highly recommend buying a personal audio guide to help you understand the site. The explanations on the guide are simply packed with fascinating history, trivia and architectural information, and improved my visit immeasurably.
A row of guns, picturesque now but extremely important during the days of sieges and wars.
If you are visiting Scotland for less than 10 days, I also suggest purchasing a Historic Scotland Explorer Pass. Our 3-day passes gave us free access to all Historic Scotland sites for just 21 pounds per person, as well as 20 percent discounts on audio guides. As we visited both Stirling Castle and Caerlaverock Castle over the next few days, it was a bargain, indeed.
Finally, I recommend spending an entire day at the castle. We were there about four hours and, even though we were a group of history buffs and keen explorers, there was just so much to see and take in that our eyes started to glaze over about 1:00 and we left for lunch and an afternoon of continued sightseeing.