There are three stages in an extended foreign stay: Settling In – a point we reached, I think, the first time I shooed the kids and Man out of the house so I could clean the bathrooms and get some ironing done; Acclimatising (attained at the same time as the sun-hats and Crocs, last week); and the third stage, the edge on which we are now teertering - Going Native.
I’m doing what I can to embrace this. I am finally encouraging the children to wear (at least some) clothes in public; we bring as much crap to the beach as we can manage, and then just a teeny bit more (our first visit: a couple of towels and a bottle of water; now: a towel each, a sun umbrella, a cooler full of food and drink; toys for the kids; sunscreen-a-plenty, and the acclimatising hats and shoes. Still we feel as if we have some way to go before we even begin to compete with the tent-raising, grill-lighting Floridians); we navigate the neighbourhood with the kids strapped into a bike-trailer (oh the joy of a bike trailer – the wind in our ears to block out the sounds of their whinging and whining, the bugs in their eyes so they can’t see each other to swipe and bite); the house is littered with copies of the New York Times and New Yorker Magazine (oh ok then, for every one New Yorker, there are,
four three Peoples); we’ve
discovered the wondrous joy that is Summer Camp, for the Boy; and I’ve worked
out how to spend less than 2 hours a time at the supermarket.
Realistically however, I acknowledge that we’re very unlikely to ever fully Go Native. We’re too young, for a start ( I LOVE IT here, I am easily the youngest person on the streets at any one time – as long as the Man stays indoors); we stay up way too late – sometimes we’re not in bed until 10pm! – and were we ever to dine out, it wouldn’t be at 530pm; we do not – nor will ever have – mouths full of sparkling, gleaming perfect teeth (well, I won’t); and the death-knell – I will always find US tv to be, by and large, a colossal pile of shite. In fact, it’s not so much television, as commercials interspersed with the occasional programme.
We don’t watch a huge amount of tv at the best of times; back home, we don’t have access to terrestrial, let alone cable, and so any must-sees are done via dvd or the internet. But we’ve been getting sucked in a bit here – largely because of the enormous television eye-fucking us from the middle of the living area, but also because, come 8pm, we are so shattered from 12 hours of
shrieking, pleading and weeping family fun that we just collapse onto the sofa and dumbly
flick through the channels.
It is atrocious. Worse, it’s addictive and atrocious. There’s a programme called Toddlers and Tiaras which I honestly cannot believe gets aired; it shows toddler beauty pageants. Not in an ironic, sniggering, patronising way, as would be the case in Europe; but genuinely interested in these pre-school girls decked out in their sparkly bikinis, strutting their stuff on stage. It’s so... terrifying and obscene, that we can’t actually watch it. So instead we watch a whole pile of crap which comes under the heading “Reality TV”. There are Bachelors and Bachelorettes, vying for love (and, I assume, money); there are dogs who need therapy, and owners who need exercise; there are weddings, funerals, houses, high-schools – all undergoing urgent transformations AGAINST THE CLOCK. And then there is the American broadcasting of the Olympics - the less said about, the better. (A small plea to NBC – please can we have something other than swimming and gymnastics? And perhaps something in real time? Go on – you know you can do it...)
But I’ve found some solace on the Food Network. Typically, our sofa- comas coincide with airings of a show called “Diners, Drive-ins and Dives”, wherein a loud hairy man visits ramshackle out-of-the-way eateries and showcases their best-selling items. 99% of the time, this involves quite obscene amounts of meat, more often than not under the banner of “burger”. The other night, as we watched the 15th burger (or sandwich or something bready encasing a lump of shredded meat heavier than a newborn) being prepared, the Man’s stomach began to growl. I asked him if he was alright, but he couldn’t answer because he was salivating too much.
And so, good wife (and St Francis afficienado) that I am, I made him this. AND HE ATE IT WITHOUT COMPLAINING. In fact, he said it was his new favourite meal. Bless him and his non-boat-rocking carnivore ways.
I’m not going to pretend this is actually a burger – it’s not. But if you ever crave a doughy-sandwichy-moist-juicy-sloppy pile of deliciousness, without the meat and / or the hassle of preparing it, this is just the ticket. Like a real burger, it can be custom-made to suit every taste. I used whatever I found lurking in the (enormous) fridge (cheddar, peppers, tomatoes), but in future I think I’ll actually give it a bit more thought: blue or goat’s cheese, some pickles, garlic butter... The world is your towering pretend burger.
A quick word on the fries. Don’t they look good? They were delicious. And baked in the oven. I know! Healthy (within reason) and yum. I used to just chop up a few potatoes, coat in a bit of olive oil, and stick in the oven for 20 minutes – and this is definitely the quickest and easiest way to make them. But what you get that way are slivers of crispy baked potato; for the crunch and inner fluff of a proper chip, it’s worth taking the time to par-boil the potato chips in boiling water (on a rolling boil for about 7 minutes) first, draining properly, patting dry, then coating in olive oil and putting in a very hot (450F) oven for about 20 minutes. You’ll need to shake / turn them after 10 minutes or so. Hassle wise, a bit of a pain in the arse, but if you like your chips, this is the only way.
Back to the “burger”.
You Need: for 2 (obviously increase or decrease as necessary)
- 2 large, thick Portobello mushrooms, wiped clean and stalks removed
- 2 burger buns, toasted
- Whatever accompaniments you fancy; at the very least use:
- Some cheese – natch – we used regular US cheddar, but I think something with more of a punch is better. Nice sharp UK cheddar, some gooey blue cheese, or a slice of goat’s or mozzarella.
- Tomato ketchup.
- Big fat slice of ripe tomato.
- Next time I’ll put a smear of garlic / garlic butter on the mushrooms prior to roasting them, maybe a fried egg, some crisp lettuce... (I have to stop now, my mouth is watering and the Grubette has started to kick)
Preheat oven to 400f / 200c / 6 gas
Place mushrooms in an oven pan / baking dish, open side up, and drizzle with oil, rubbing it over the bottom of the mushrooms. (Add any other vegetables you’re roasting to the pan (eg peppers, courgettes), and also coat with oil). Sprinkle with some salt, and bung in the oven for 15 – 20 minutes (how long will depend on the size of the mushrooms; keep an eye on them after 15 minutes, if they start to look dry or shrivelled they’re getting too done).
(Note: if making oven fries at the same time, the mushrooms can go into the very hot oven with the fries, but will only need about 10 minutes.)
If using garlic butter or crushed garlic (which should be drizzled with oil or covered in a dollop of butter), add it at about 12 minutes, giving it no more than 5 minutes’ cooking time.
Meanwhile, toast the buns, and prepare the other ingredients for the Great Pile Up.
As soon as you take the mushrooms out of the oven, cover with the cheese so it melts / softens. Then create your sandwich however you like.
Serve to a ravenous carnivore, having made a HUGE deal about the fact that you’re making BURGERS, then avoid his eye for the next 10 minutes.