Tuesday, January 22, 2008

The trouble with being an expat is...

..Not knowing whether it’s really ‘foreign’ or I'm just thick.

Trawling through the pages of my home-made recipe folder – the one I sometimes stick recipes into and never look at again – I found a recipes for nibbles that sounded both easy and appetizing. Prosciutto and Gruyere Pastry Pinwheels. “Ooh, very posh” I thought. According to the recipe it makes about 30; preparation time 10 minutes, baking time 16 minutes. It did involve parchment paper, which gave me a moment’s pause, but I think I remember working in this medium before without setting the house ablaze. So far the recipe met my standards – under 30 minutes total, can pronounce all ingredients, know where to buy all ingredients, not too may cooking utensils needed. I was duty-bound to keep reading.
The idea is to spread prosciutto, cheese and herbs onto a sheet of packaged puff pastry, roll it up, slice it and bake it. Apart from the fact that everything I bake turns out like a hockey puck, I was encouraged by the seeming simplicity of it all. The actual instructions however were to “roll up pastry “jelly-roll” style” - a term casually thrown in there with the assumption that Jelly-roll is part of one’s culture or genetic make-up. Now, I have to admit I eschewed Domestic Science (Home Ec, Cookery or whatever it was called), in favour of Music, Art, History, any other subject really. And now I’m paying the price. Is jelly-roll not part of my daily vocabulary because of this academic omission or is it really not a British thing? Would my high school domestically-educated friends, albeit still in England, know instantly how to 'jelly-roll' something , or was it just me? Teenage angst all over again.
Then my rule-bound Britishness kicked in, aided and abetted by the hopelessness caused by never having a clue why my flan is sinking or my Yorkshire puddings aren’t rising, - all compounded by a healthy dose of writer’s precision. I looked it up. I was relieved to see that “Jelly roll” is not to be found in my Oxford Paperback dictionary. Ever the student, I then looked it up in the American Webster’s dictionary to find that it’s basically - a Swiss Roll. Someone more confident in her culinary skills would have gleaned such from the recipe directions, but scarred by decades of disasters, I just had to check. And being an expat of 17 years now, I just never know anymore.

(A longer version of this piece also appears on the Expat Women web site)


  1. 'Jelly roll'? For pity's sake, be careful Expat mum; before you know it those darned Yankees will have you driving on the right-hand side of the road and everything...

  2. I made a NY resolution and that was to make a new soup once a week and try a different recipe once a week, so reading this was so true, unpronouncable ingredients, utensils I've never heard of and I went to catering college for 3 years!

    I have read back on all your posts and the rainy weather here in Scotland seems not quite so bad when I see how cold you are there. I don't fair well in cold weather at all. x

  3. As it happens I'm a bit of a soup guru and made a fab butternut squash soup yesterday. Onions sauteed with butter/olive oil, then mix in garlic, parsley and sage before adding cubed butternut squash and chicken stock. Absolutely lovely and probably on either the "Bon Appetit" or "Food and Wine" magazine's web site.

  4. As if deciphering 'cups' and trying to figure out types of flour, cream (milk?) and sugar wasn't bad enough!

    Thanks for visiting my site also, by the way.

  5. How funny. I've got all this, only the other way round. I'm an American who's lived in the UK for nearly 16 years now. Cooking terms in this country have stumped me many a time over the years. But lucky you. You get to live in one of my favourite (see, I even spell British now) cities!

  6. I would recommend my book only I was too chicken to put all the cooking terminology in - it's all alien to me. I thnk Delia does a good job and I have "The Joy of Cooking" which is very academic but has great "tables" at the back with all the UK/US stuff in it. If only this country would go metric - if they can get the UK to change over, you'd think anywhere else in the world would be a breeze. Hold on- isn't everywhere else in the world already on metric?

  7. You mean I'm not alone in the recipe book thing? Once written, never cooked!
    Yorkshire puddings are always fab if you heat the oil in the baking tray before you pour the batter in, never fails.

  8. What scared me about this post is that I've obviously been in the States too long now. I knew what a jelly roll was but I couldn't remember until you mentioned a Swiss Roll what I used to call it.

    I do remember my (American) husband looking at a menu in North Yorkshire though and going 'what the hell is a gammon bap?'!!

    Thanks for visiting my site - I know I'm going to enjoy this one!

  9. Yes ali, it is a bit scary when you can't remember whether 'boot' is the American or the English word. I used to think people who forgot their native language were exaggerating, but it happens to me all the time. Fortunately my kids are bilingual and know what I mean when I say nappy and dummy!

  10. Hi, I know how you feel with different names for ingredients. I live in France and they don't do different types of cream ie: single, double, whipping, clotted. They have creme fraiche (sour cream) and creme entier (whole cream). It doesn't hold it shape at all when whipped so you cant make a trifle or a cream cake. We have got used to it all now, but it was certainly challenging when we first got here!


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