what i miss most about the U.S. (Seattle vs. London)

Come summer we will have officially been expats for a year. It’s been wonderful and terrible, joyful and full of tears. We’ve seen new countries, met new friends, and experienced amazing things I never thought we would. We’ve grown closer as a family, become more self-reliant. I wouldn’t trade the last year for anything, but I also deeply miss my home, my friends, my family and my beautifully green hometown.

West Hampstead--our old neighborhood

West Hampstead–our old neighborhood

To an American, you wouldn’t think Britain is a “foreign country” as they speak the same language (although more correctly and articulately) as we do. Or at least on a scale of foreignness it’s lower than say, moving to Pakistan. But I’ve found that the customs, way of life, social stigma, and way of looking at the world are completely different, at least coming from a very friendly, compassionate city like Seattle. Here I’ve come up with a list of things I miss most about daily life in the US and how my daily routine differs living in a place like London.

Watching the changing of the horse guards

Watching the changing of the Royal horse guard

1. Being nice to strangers

Yeah, I surprised myself with this one since sometimes in Seattle I wish I were invisible. In Seattle you say hello to another human being passing on the street. Cars stop for pedestrians whether you’re in a crosswalk or not. When I was pregnant I had more strangers’ hands on my belly than I could count. You know your neighbors and it’s (fairly) easy to make new friends.

But in London (though not everywhere in the UK) people keep their heads down and thoughts to themselves. You DO NOT speak to strangers on the tube. You DO NOT make eye contact on the tube, or anywhere else for that matter. This distance between strangers makes for super awkward interactions when trying to get to know someone. My closest Brit friends I’ve only seen outside of school say three or four times apiece, and that was after months of “courting”: getting to know them in small, brief conversations in passing and deciding if we had enough in common to see one another outside of school. It’s a lonely way of life.

Captain Charlie

Captain Charlie

2. Ease

Everything was easy in Seattle. Grocery store? Hop in the car, load up the trunk. Furniture? Go pick it out and borrow Dad’s truck. Want to meet up with a friend? Text them and load up the kids. Date night? Great! My friend recommended a really good new babysitter. But here we don’t have a car, and I’m not convinced if life would be easier if we did since there is nowhere to park. Yes, public transport is amazing, but you can only haul four bags of groceries on and off the bus in the rain so many times before it starts to get annoying. And on the friendship front, see number one.

Borough Market--my favorite London farmer's market.

Borough Market–my favorite London farmer’s market.

3. Green

My allergies back home would be in full swing this time of year. But in London I haven’t popped so much as a Zyrtec. Why? Trees and greenery are reserved for parks. The rest is cement-covered, smog-soaked streets and brick buildings. When I blow my nose there are always little black specs in my snot (TMI, sorry, but gross!). I miss the water, the mountains, the lakes and rivers and trees that surround Seattle. Yes, the parks here are amazing. But on a sunny day if you want to go stretch out on a piece of grass, so does everyone else in London. Good luck finding a spot next to someone who isn’t puffing a cigarette.

Yeah, we shouldn't have gone to Borough Market on a sunny Saturday

Yeah, we shouldn’t have gone to Borough Market on a sunny Saturday

4. Space

I’ve gotten used to living in smaller and smaller spaces, and that’s fine. I don’t miss the space of our house (in fact it will feel huge after we get home) so much as I just miss the comforting familiarity of our house. But after a while, London just starts to feel crowded. Being jolted by a backpack on the tube, crashing tiny shopping carts at the grocery, dodging clueless tourists as they meander down Baker Street—it all just feels claustrophobic. I miss walking down empty sidewalks and cruising down the spacious aisles of QFC. Even a trip to the farmer’s market here is a full-contact sport. Trust me, I have the bruises to prove it.

Sunny (cold) day on Primrose Hill

Sunny (cold) day on Primrose Hill

5. My support network

I no longer take for granted my amazing family and friends. Back home if I were having a bad day I could call up my mom and bitch about it. Or if I needed a break from the kids—some adult time—I had friends who could come over for a playdate, coffee and a good old gossip session. I miss bumping in to my bestie at Target and randomly seeing friends at the park. This isn’t just a London issue (though as in #1, meeting new people has been hard), but an expat issue. The 8-hour time difference means I can’t call people back home anytime I want. And when it’s the end of the day and I’m beat, I don’t always feel like a Skype session while the girls tug at my arms begging to watch Play-Doh videos on YouTube and whining “get off the computer, mom!” First world problems, I know.

Lieutenant Lucy

Lieutenant Lucy

One more year and we’ll (likely) be back home. I’m trying to savor every moment we live in Europe because it’s such an amazing experience (that and Charlie has a little British accent that is too cute—I’ll try to post a video soon). But on long, wet days, I yearn for my own home, my own bed, a hug from a friend, and the comforting smell of Seattle after a long rain.

Next up: a post about the things I love about London. Yes, I promise I do actually enjoy a lot of it!

xoxo

Jen

bon voyage

Seattle, we’ve come to the end of the line, you and I. In a mere 24 hours I’m leaving your cool, breezy hills for an equally cool, breezy (but flatter) city across the continent and across an ocean. There will be so much distance between us. At least for two years, that is. Don’t go thinking I would leave you forever!

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Sun up over the beach at Fort Worden

I don’t want you to go making any big changes while I’m gone, okay? I’d like my house to still be standing and its cherry trees to always bloom soft pink blossoms in spring. I’d like my dear neighbors to stay my dear neighbors—protect them and keep them safe from disease and old age and the lure of selling in this lucrative market.

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Home. I’m not crying! I’m not!

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Goodnight couch, goodnight chair…

I’d like my favorite coffee shop not to be bought out by Starbucks, thank you very much. I would like the crappy grocery store down the street to stay crappy, because I still want to know exactly what’s not on every aisle and the name of every ornery checker and bag boy. And while you’re at it, pretty please protect the blind woman who walks miles in rain, sleet or snow every day along 35th avenue. She’s more reliable than the postman. You can go ahead and do away with the post office, though, if you need to make any major changes, or at least rename it “Dante’s Tenth Circle of Hell: Inefficiency.” The stamps could feature junk mail burning in eternal hellfire and…

I’m going off on a tangent.

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Goodnight dog parks everywhere.

I’d like you to take a huge soft grey cloud—the kind that you’re famous for, Seattle—and wrap it around my friends and family. Keep them safe and happy but don’t let them forget me. Maybe every once in a while the cloud could whisper, “Jenny misses you…” or maybe not, because being enveloped in a talking cloud would just scare the shit out of them and make them pee their pants just a little. Or a lot. [Mental note: Jenny, steer clear of personification.]

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Goodnight Lake Union.

How about this: give them sun in summer and rain in fall (but not too much). Let their visits to doctors only be for checkups. Light up Mt. Rainier when they’re having a bad day. Make their lattes perfect each time, and let the smell of Top Pot swirl through the air on clear early mornings. Remind them to phone me regularly. But above all, tell them that I love them. All. The. Time. And that I’m going to miss them more than cherry trees and Puget Sound and coffee and the perfect chocolate-glazed old fashioned.

Until we meet again,

Your Jenny

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chicken teriyaki

We don’t have a heck of a lot of fast food in Seattle. Most folks around here snub their noses at McDonald’s, Burger King and Arby’s (all for good reason, although I admit I occasionally indulge in the King’s chicken sangwich from time to time when I’m traveling). If we do have a signature “fast food” though, it’s surely teriyaki. Teriyaki joints in the Big Rainy are almost as frequent as coffee shops. I’ve yet to find one that’s spectacular, but most are passable and can provide you with a quick, somewhat healthy lunch. It’s cheap, filling, and satisfying.

But as is the case with most takeout, you can make it better at home. In fact, you can make great chicken teriyaki, and it’s easier than you think.

Start with boneless, skinless chicken thighs. You’ll get the best flavor from the organic, free-range variety. Since this is a very simple dish, the quality of chicken you buy really matters. Grab your favorite teriyaki sauce (I like Yoshida’s Original Gourmet Sauce—stay far away from Kikkoman), and a few cloves of garlic.

Mince the garlic. I like my handy dandy garlic twist. All you do is stick the naked cloves in…

…give it a twirl and your garlic is perfectly minced. Plus, no smelly garlic hands.

Stir the garlic in with the teriyaki sauce.

Rinse and pat dry your chicken thighs, then place them in a large Ziploc bag. Pour in the teriyaki marinade. Refrigerate for at least 6 hours, or up to 24.

When you’re ready to eat, grill the chicken for 3-4 minutes per side over medium heat. I always use thighs when I’m going to grill chicken—the higher fat content means they won’t dry out like breasts do.

Slice. Serve. Savor.

It’s your favorite takeout, but at home. With much more flavor. And probably cheaper. No need to visit that Teriyaki joint at the strip mall again.

-RDG

Chicken Teriyaki  printable yaki

The key to this simple dish is quality chicken and good teriyaki sauce. Buy organic, free-range chicken if you can. Serves 3-4 as a main course. 

Prep Time: 5 minutes       Marinating Time: at least 6 hours     Cook Time: 8 minutes

  • 1 lb boneless, skinless chicken thighs
  • 2-3 cloves garlic
  • 3/4 c teriyaki sauce
1. Rinse the chicken thighs. Pat dry and place in a large Ziploc bag.
2. Mince the garlic. Stir into the teriyaki sauce. Pour sauce over chicken, seal, and refrigerate for at least 6 hours, or up to 24 hours.
3. Preheat grill to medium. Grill chicken thighs for 3-4 minutes per side, or until no longer pink in the center. Serve with rice and vegetables.

 

 

agua verde

If you know anything about me, or if you’ve read this blog for anything longer than a hot second, you know that I’m a sucker for Mexican food. I believe wholeheartedly that Mexican food and I were put on this planet to find each other. It was destiny. It was fate. Stars collided. And don’t even get me started on how I met my friend sour cream. That’s a story for a different kind of blog.

So when it came time to host our rehearsal dinner the night before our wedding, we all knew where my vote went. We took our nearest and dearest and out-of-town-est to this cool taco joint on the water for simple eats and yummy margaritas.

Now, a few years later and plus one toddler, we still come here a lot. It’s cute, brightly painted…

…and has a fantastic view of the lake. They also rent kayaks down below, which makes for a perfect weekend date.

But why we really come here isn’t the atmosphere or the boats. It’s the food. And starting with one trip to the salsa bar before your meal, you’ll know what I’m talking about. Everything tastes so remarkably fresh.

Husband orders the Bagre: grilled catfish splashed with salsa and creamy avocado sauce. The fish is tender and flavorful and the sauces are a perfect compliment.

Brother and I order the BBQ pork, which is shredded, slathered in sweet, spicy BBQ sauce and served atop crunchy slaw and soft tortillas.

Dad goes for the Camarones: fresh sauteed shrimp topped with pico and a creamy, sweet curried sauce. I love eating with my family. I get to try bites of everything.

They’ve also got incredible vegetarian options and an entire menu outside of the taco column, if I were ever to stray from my usual and branch out. I’ve also have heard it through the grapevine that their little outside window serves up killer breakfast burritos in the morning.

So now go, Seattlites. Eat tacos. And prosper. It’s just occurred to me that I’ve gotten in the habit of recommending restaurants on mondays. If it’s cool with you, it’s cool with me.

-RDG

P.S. You can check out Agua Verde right here.

la carta de oaxaca

Mexican food is necessary for my survival. When I begin to become deficient, my body starts to lag, sputter and spout off puffs of smoke. “Time for a top off,” Husband says, and he takes me to one of my favorite joints to be replenished.

Aside: Could we make cars that run strictly off of Mexican food? Seattle hippies, get on it. Obama? Give them money, please. Watch for me next year on Time’s 100 Most Influential People list. Rainy Day Gal, the woman who founded the movement for clean-burning enchiladas.

I am so freaking smart sometimes that I blow my own mind.

This is one of said favorite joints, or it is now. Being the Mexican food junkie that I am, it may surprise many of you that I had never visited here before. According to Mexican food savants, It’s pretty much the end-all, be-all of Seattle’s Mexican food scene.

Deep in the heart of Ballard, surrounded by a slew of bars, pubs, restaurants and shops, Carta (as locals call it) can get crazy-busy—it’s in a happenin ‘hood. But unlike the number of establishments that stay in business around here because of frat boys and friday nights, it’s here for exactly what it promises: southern Mexican cuisine. And it does a damn good job at it.

I didn’t intend to order the halibut tacos when I dreamed up a trip to this place. In fact, it’s really the last thing that I would order to judge a Mexican restaurant. But when I read the little blurb on the menu that described tender grilled fish topped with fresh pico and a sweet, spicy chipotle sauce, I knew they had to be mine.

The halibut itself was truly the highlight—incredibly fresh and not over-seasoned, not fried and not disguised in a tartar-esque sauce. Simply grilled, served on fresh tortillas with a sweet, tangy sauce. This is how fish tacos should always be. Always. Do we need another movement here? I will call this one, “The Movement for Delicious, Non-Fried Fish Tacos.”

My brother, who works in the area and was able to join us for lunch, went with the Molotes: a sausage and potato blend wrapped in tortilla and fried, topped with house made mole, hot sauce and guac. I’m not usually one for two starches in one dish (potato plus tortilla, in this case), but I thought that the filling was nicely complimented by the fresh corn taste of the tortilla breading. And the mole sauce? Oh my. It was richer and more intensely flavored than any other mole I have ever tried. I could actually taste the chocolate and it gave the sauce a beautifully rounded flavor, as opposed to chain restaurant mole that tastes more like watered down beans mixed with cocoa powder.

Let the “Movement for Exceptional Mole Sauce and Riddance of Bean-Flavored Mole Impostors” begin. Sign my petition at the bottom of the page.

Husband chose the Tacos Enchilados: mini chicken enchiladas fried and topped with that gorgeous mole sauce and queso fresco. Very tasty and not overly-stuffed. Light, crisp, and covered in that addictive spicy chocolate sauce.

I’m all out of creative movement names. Just eat these dang things. It will change your life.

And little bear? She happily noshed on little bites of everything we were having, plus one of mom’s makeup brushes swiped from a bathroom drawer at home. She’s so damn cute she won’t ever need that makeup stuff.

But in the spirit of full disclosure, I’ll tell ya that she dropped my favorite makeup brush in a pile of cigarette butts as we were walking down the street after lunch. I considered replacing it, remembered that it cost $30, and then promptly soaked it in a bath of shampoo and disinfectant once we returned home. But I’ll never put on my blush without thinking of where that dang brush has been ever again.

Oh, is that two makeup brushes you see in her hands? Yep. One is a freebie Clinique, a.k.a. “Lucy’s brush” from now on. The other is clean, de-contaminated, and under lock and key in my makeup drawer.

Brush debacles aside, I’m pleased to say that I’ve found a new fill-up station for when my tank starts to run low. Do you think a body could run on mole sauce alone? It’s worth a shot, right?

And Jamie Oliver, watch out. There’s a new revolutionary in town, and I’m taking this movement guerilla-style.

-RDG