Thursday, 28 February 2013

Horsemeatgate

It will come as no surprise to anyone, I think, that this month's UK news post has to be about the scandal currently involving Britain's ready meals. The presence of horse meat has been detected in 13 different frozen and chilled meal products, instead of the minced beef (and sometimes chicken!) that is supposed to be there. Essentially, manufacturers have used horse meat - a much cheaper meat than beef - to make up the total meat content in meals such as Tesco Value burgers, Findus Crispy Pancakes, Asda's own beef bolognese sauce, Iceland's 100% beef quarter pounders, and Brakes Brothers beef lasagne. These have been withdrawn from sale across the UK and are undergoing further testing, as well as the fraud extending to Europe where various products have also been withdrawn for potentially containing horse meat.

I'm not quite sure whether I have much to say on this topic (always a good start, I find!), because while I could go on about the moral issues of eating an animal that, in the UK at least, is considered a pet, or I could ruminate on the food choices of Great Britain and consider what people really expected from cheap, pre-cooked meals, I don't think either of those things are relevant. Whether or not an animal "should" be eaten is a subjective, cultural issue, and not one on which I have sufficient background knowledge to claim. If people want to eat horse, dog, snake, whatever - fine. And the fact that it makes me a bit sad that a combination of not learning how to cook, or not being bothered about cooking, or not being able to afford better food - or a combination of all of those! - isn't really a primary concern either. Some people don't get the opportunity to learn how to cook; some people do and still can't be bothered; and financial issues are something most of us are facing these days. But that last one does lead me on to something that makes me angry: people who are choosing 'value' products, or product ranges that allow them to save money, have no less right to know what is in that food than someone who can afford to (both in terms of money and education) go to the butcher and pick out their choice of fillet.

Objectively, I have no problem with products containing horse meat. As mentioned above, it's all about your background and what's normal for you. I eat cow, pig, sheep, chicken, and fish with enthusiasm, so I don't have much in the way of a good argument for not eating certain animals. But people need to know what they are putting into their bodies, so they can make informed choices. It's the lie that upsets me; the fraud and the greed and the falsehood. It's also very hypocritical, given the way that food manufacturers and the government alike spend a good deal of time advertising and promoting the idea of knowing what's good for you, with "clear labelling" and the oh-so-helpful traffic light system.


Image from The Times newspaper

So, I suppose the only thing to be done is avoid those products containing potentially ambiguous beef (those which haven't already been withdrawn), and watch it all unfold. Or, if you're feeling really British, you could always just blame the French.

...


Kidding!

Sunday, 24 February 2013

All that life can afford

For my February website recommendation, I'd like to suggest The Londoner. Written by transplanted country gal Rose, this lifestyle blog is full of fun, food, friends, and fashion, all centred around living in London.
Rose writes about what she gets up to, what makes her happy, and what delicious noms she's been making and/or eating recently. She's an incredibly sweet, vivacious blogger who not only writes with infectious enthusiasm but also takes the time to reply to comments from strangers - a delightful and rare habit for someone with such a popular blog! She has a love of burgers and desserts in particular, which for me is pretty much enough to recommend her by itself. From what she writes and how she writes it, Rose comes across as a loyal friend, an adventurous soul, and someone who's not afraid to laugh at herself.

On top of writing about exciting London happenings, Rose's style is personable and often celebratory. She clearly enjoys life and seems to love sharing her joy with others. She takes fabulous photos of everything she blogs about - another great blogging habit! - and manages to make you drool with the rather up-close-and-personal shots of tasty food. Her selfies are also great fun and show off her natural beauty and sense of style, as well as her love for her dog Custard!

I've read a few derogatory comments and reviews about The Londoner, which have made me sad. They focus on why Rose can afford to do what she does, and complain about her ostensibly privileged background. I think this bothers me on a few levels, the first being the most simple: if you don't have anything nice to say, don't say anything at all. Her blog is hardly hurting anyone, and you don't have to read it. Also, the presumption you know about somebody's life just because they choose to write about certain aspects of it is foolish. Finally, what does it matter if someone is, actually or apparently, more "privileged" than you are? In my humble opinion, they need to pop on some Rose-tinted spectacles and focus on the happy things that are in your life, rather than worrying about what you don't have.

If you need any further persuasion to check out Rose's blog, I encourage you to click on this recipe for Slutty Brownies. Any questions?


Photo copyright: The Londoner



Friday, 15 February 2013

Will a frog help?

I have failed miserably at paying attention to news in the US this week. I know the State of the Union Address happened. I am also vaguely aware that gas prices are going up. That's about the sum of my relevant knowledge so, to make up for this pitiful post, I give you the full video of President Obama's Address:




If that doesn't do anything for you, have a look at this squeaky frog instead. I'll try to be back on form next week.



Sunday, 10 February 2013

The captain of my soul

...with two of my best women
Celebrating with my in-laws...
...and bubbly with Ben











This last month has had some seriously wonderful, beautiful, brilliant highs, and some rather frustrating lows, as well as, unfortunately, some lows that have tested my very belief in the good in human beings. However, while I plan on at least touching on a couple of these lows, I do not plan on dwelling on them. It does no good to ruminate on that which you cannot change, it would be far better for me to put my energy into things that I can improve, and whinging on certainly isn't related to the primary point of the blog: to reflect on expat life. This is normal life, which is something to be thankful for - the opportunity to have it.

Surprise serotonin from Ben
So, first things first: I got older. It was a significant birthday, the big 3-0. I had an absolutely magical birthday week (yes, week), filled with friends, love, family, surprises, great food and wine, and a general feeling of contentment. Ben organised a surprise birthday dinner for me with (most of) our closest friends in Charlotte at my favourite restaurant. It was amazing: because it simply was, because I had no clue, and because usually I am nervous of surprises. So I guess not knowing was a good thing! Furthermore, to be made so obviously aware of just how close I have become to such wonderful people in a short time here made me feel so lucky. It's hard to believe that I had not met any of these people in person roughly two years ago, and some of them I did not even know existed. And it is more than just people to hang out with, to spend time with: these people are kindred, beloved, genuinely close. Not many expats are fortunate enough to leap across an ocean and be greeted with open, loving arms. It's brought me out of myself and I will be eternally grateful.

Finally, I have to give special mention to my incredible husband. He is, as ever, making me lose the power of the written word when I try to describe how he made me feel that week, but it was essentially an exaggeration of what I am lucky enough to feel every day: loved, truly. Cherished and celebrated. Not only did he go along with my whole 'birthday week' exuberance, he organised the best surprise ever, and managed to surprise me before that with a magically-materialising silver necklace from Made With Molecules - specifically the serotonin molecule, for happiness. I am a ridiculously lucky 30-year-old.

Here endeth the birthday update/smushiness, and to counter the latter, here are two of several splendid birthday memes my darling friend Cassie made for me.



























Other than birthdayness, the last month has been generally rather wonderful. I've had the opportunity to see friends and spend lots of sunny days with the fur babies. Ben's schedule has allowed us time together and - gasp! - this week we had the whole weekend together. So exciting! Our plans included a movie date and going to an outdoor fundraiser gig for a local animal shelter.

Work is good, and the people I work with continue to make me smile every single day. On top of that, I'm being booked up for MOL work over the summer already, so that's been a nice boost!


The only minor exceptions have been practical worries for my own health (a trip to the doctor, a blood test and an X-ray later showed that my body has not been processing food properly) and that of my car ($600 damage all in all, as it needed a new O2 sensor, an exhaust clean, and a new battery - damn it!), as well as more emotional worry about Bertie's various anxiety-related ailments. As I don't intend on boring you about my dog any further (for now - and right this minute, she's doing OK), and my trip to Urgent Care revealed nothing serious, I'll leave it there as regards my personal problems. The things that have distressed me most of all have been concerning others' pain or difficulty (not making it mine, but feeling so deeply for those I love being in pain). My own troubles have been relatively minimal, though all piled together in one week - the fell clutch of circumstance* - has made it feel a little tough to swim up to the top of it all and keep floating. But I will.

I also shan't be ending on that note. Two much bigger things have come out of this (short) period of crap. The first is just how well these experiences highlight that I really am living here. I'm worrying about normal things, not expat things. In fact, expat things like learning how to do taxes and my first ever time using health insurance passed me by with little to no difficulty whatsoever. I'm taking that as a good sign of being settled.

The second is just how lucky I am. I am surrounded by love. I have an incredible partner, the most amazing friends, and a family who are always there for me, even an ocean away. I have friends here who are as dear to me as they might have been had we always known one another. All this support and positivity and love are what I am taking from these experiences, and not a feeling of being worn down. In fact, I am quite the opposite - and so very thankful for that.



Magic

The incredible Lesley

Laughing with my neld friend Christine
The one and only Cassie


So, after all that, I leave you with a smile, and a photo of me nonchalantly blowing a US flag pinwheel. Because that seems fitting. 





*I would like to point out that I am aware that my circumstances do not really merit the poem inspiring this post's title, especially given those that originally inspired Henley to write it, but it still seemed fitting. But not intentionally dramatic!