The Anatomy of an English Christmas Dinner

Get in mah belleh!

As an English Teaching Assistant in Austria, I have met many Brits. After tea and how much more “superior” British English is to American English, their next favorite topic to speak on is the quintessential roast dinner. This roast dinner is a thing of myth among Americans – What exactly is a roast dinner? Why do many Brits have one every Sunday? And why do they always talk about it?

This is what I knew: roasts dinners are delicious. Roast dinners happen on Sunday, and bring the family together. Roast dinners, along with its relative the Full English Breakfast, are the end-all and be-all hangover cure. My interest was officially piqued.

Leading up to my Christmas trip to England, my excitement grew knowing that I would get to experience a roast dinner on Christmas Day with my friend Katie’s family. From the stories, I had learned that the Christmas roast dinner is the roast of all roasts, the Ultimate Roast Dinner. But still, I was not sure what I was in for…

“Don’t drink too much tonight,” Katie’s father warned, as Katie and I left for the pub on Christmas Eve. “Wouldn’t want to be too hungover for the best meal of the year!” I nodded solemnly, and my friend promised we would be home after a few pints.

The next morning, the typical child-like Christmas excitement propelled me out of bed around 9 am. I sensed movement in the kitchen, and I went downstairs to wish those awake a “Merry Christmas!” Once there, I found only Katie’s parents, already bustling with preparation for the afternoon’s meal.

“Can I help?” I asked meekly, offering my sub-par culinary skills.

Katie’s father referred to his Excel-produced schedule for the day, which listed step-by-step how to perfectly, and timely, prepare the roast dinner (he uses this every Sunday). “Just in time to chop the vegetables!” I wiped the sleep from my eyes as he furnished me with a large knife.

After a good hour of slicing, dicing, buttering and organizing dishes around the kitchen, it was time to let the duck sizzle. Duck, I had learned, would be the roast part of the roast dinner.

Katie’s mom poured us all some Baileys (Katie and her brother had, by this time, been roused for their beds), and we moved to the front room for some serious gift opening. My stomach rumbled, but I had Baileys to tide me over.

Halfway through the cooking of the duck, Katie’s father removed a substantial amount of the grease to produce the Yorkshire pudding. Yorkshire pudding, once a traditionally Northern delicacy, is now consumed all over England, and is widely considered the key dish in a roast dinner (after the Roast, of course). Her dad poured the special type of dough into the meat grease, and, when cooking, it poofs up ever so elegantly. It ends up looking like a bread muffin, but it is much more savory than that.

When I wasn’t sure if I could bear the delectable, Thanksgiving-esque smells any longer, it was announced that dinner was about to be served. I sat down at the table not to find delicious food on my plate, but rather a large Tootsie Roll-like object.

Christmas dinner: 1 large paper Tootsie Roll and vegetables! Yum!!

“Christmas crackers!” Katie exclaimed, offering me an end of the Tootsie Roll. “Pull,” she commanded. When pulled, the cracker… cracks… and out comes a hilarious paper hat, a cheap toy and a corny joke. Everyone pulled their cracker, donned the hats, and shared the horrible jokes as a sort of toast before the meal.

Very dangerous.

And then… Katie’s parents brought the food to the table. I filled my plate to the brim with brussel sprouts and peas, swedes and turnips, Yorkshire pudding and chestnut stuffing, roast potatoes and onions, and let’s not forget the duck. Oh, the crispy, greasy, savory, melt-in-your-mouth duck! My stomach was in Christmas roast dinner heaven. There were seconds and thirds, and fourths and fifths as we picked on the leftovers throughout the evening.

“It takes all morning to cook, but fifteen minutes to devour!” Katie’s mother exclaimed. We all murmured our agreement, our mouths too full to do anything else.

Intensely eating.

Tradition states that you leave your paper crown on through the meal, but I didn’t take mine off until I was tucked in bed, smiling back on my first English Christmas.

Ever had an English Christmas roast dinner? How’d you fare?

Is America Really Full of Fatties?

The Famed Golden Arches

Photo by Vacacion

In the past two weeks, I’ve done an America-centric lesson in about eight classes. Each time, I opened the lesson with a mind map on the board; I wrote ‘USA’ in huge letters, and asked my students what came to mind.

“Fat people!” was the first shout-out every. single. time.

And McDonald’s was the second.

Even today, when I did a lesson about Great Britain, two different classes thought of “fat people.” By the end of today, I was sick of hearing the word “fat” on my students’ tongues.

Alright, cool. Americans (and Brits, apparently) are fat. The thing is, I could look out into the class and see the same shapes and sizes that I would in any, random, American class… I do have to admit, however, that Austria does have more fit youngsters, even if they do smoke and drink more often and freely than their American counterparts.

These experiences got me thinking… Does America really have that many more fat people than the rest of the world? Sure, we constantly hear about the rising rate of obesity and incidence of Type II diabetes in America, but for my English as a Second Language students to blurt this out as the first thing they think about the USA? Come on. What about Obama? Freedom? New York City? The War on Terror? Angelina Jolie? … No? Alright.

So, naturally, I turned to Google.

First of all: obesity is defined as having a Body Mass Index (BMI) over 30. BMI is calculated by dividing one’s weight by the square of one’s height.

After a bit of tricky Googling, I came across this article, Obesity: in Statistics, from BBC. The tagline blares: “People are getting fatter almost everywhere in the world.” …not just in the United States. The article goes on to call obesity a modern problem, naming fast food to sedentary jobs as the sneaky culprits. After numerous, fancy charts, I found what I was looking for: a list of the top countries with adult obesity problems. And guess what? The United States is not #1, but rather, #5 with 32.2%. Nauru claims the top spot with a 78.5% adult obesity rate and the United Kingdom rounds out the top 10 with 24.2%.

But, that wasn’t all that I found. This Daily Telegraph article betrays Australian women as having the fastest growing obesity rate, warning that they are “close to matching America’s obesity level.”

Additionally, the LA Times reports that Mexico, once a hungry country, is now battling an ever-increasing childhood obesity rate “behind only the United States for highest in the world.”

Apparently, obesity is not just America’s problem — fat people exist everywhere, even in exotic, beachy locales. From these three articles, it seems that while the United States does not have the highest obesity rates in the world, it is a useful scale of measurement for the rest of the world’s obesity. Furthermore, I can’t blame my students for thinking that all Americans are fat. Afterall, 3 in 10 Americans are, in fact, obese. Meanwhile, Wikipedia claims that Austria had an obesity rate of only 11% in 2000.

Thanks again, Google, for answering my pressing questions.

What do you think? — Are all Americans fat? What’s your view of America + obesity? Do the stats surprise you?

Until next time…

For the Love of Grilled Cheese

Growing up, I was never a fan of grilled cheese. My mom never made them and for some reason(s), which I now consider blasphemous, I found melted processed cheese between two slices of bread absolutely disgusting. I was young and unwise.

However, this year, living completely on my own with a limited number of restaurants to choose from, I revisited this staple of so many American youth, and this time, with a different perspective.

I broadened my mind and told myself, “It won’t be so bad!”

I approached my first self-made grilled cheese with trepidation. I wasn’t sure how long I should cook it, and just cheese seemed boring. So I sliced up a tomato, cucumber and green onion and stuck those in there, too. After careful observation, and about 10 minutes on the stove, I had in my hands my very first self-made grilled cheese.

And it was delicious.

Tonight, I made a grilled cheese with cucumber and some ranch dressing for dipping (thanks, Mom and Dad for sending that along!).

Mmmmmm, delicious!

I wasn’t disappointed.