Choking on the sweet taste of high fructose freedom

21 May

A weird thing is happening. The other day my friend asked me what American foods I miss when I’m in London and I struggled to think of something. My usual answers are sweet gherkin pickles, neon orange cheese, tater tots, Twizzlers and Good ‘N Plenties. But I’ve been back in the U.S. for almost a month now and I have not eaten a single tater tot dipped in neon orange cheese, and worse, never felt the need to. A couple days ago we went to Cici’s Pizza buffet for lunch and then I ate half a box of Good ‘N Plenties and half a bag of Twizzler Bites while at the movies and woke up in the middle of the night feeling sick.

“Your stomach isn’t American anymore!” my friend joked when I texted her. I laughed and made a freedom joke, but couldn’t help but wonder (a la Carrie Bradshaw) — was it true? Can my body no longer handle immense amounts of high fructose corn syrup and bacon ranch pizza? I stocked up on Quest and Pure Protein bars to bring back to London since they’re so much cheaper here, but that may be the only American food I bring back.

I’ve also noticed things taste different here — the butter, cottage cheese, Cadbury eggs. Shouldn’t it be the other way around — American is normal and British food is “weird”? Between my stomach issues, resistance to make small talk with neighbors and fellow grocery shoppers, and the fact that I understood that “cheeky Nandos” post that made the rounds on Tumblr and Buzzfeed, I fear I’m becoming more British than I ever thought. I almost feel like I need to go buy a gun at Walmart and take it to the shooting range that just opened up on Mall Road or they may take my U.S. citizenship away. (I’m kidding, if I die having never shot a gun I think I’ll be OK with that, even if it makes me less ‘Murican.)

You know what else I miss about London? Toilet paper. Yes, this is a real issue I’m choosing to blog about. I cannot find a brand of American toilet paper I like. They’re all either too flimsy or too cushiony. In the UK I like several generic brands as well as Andrex. Andrex is the sister company of Cottonelle — they both advertise with those adorable puppies. Yet Cottonelle here has these weird stupid “clean ripples.” I don’t want ripples, quilts, or flower designs, I want simple TP with the perfect balance of softness and strength. This, basically:

andrex toilet paperI may just have to throw some Andrex in my suitcase next to the Cadbury and tea on my next trip back.

And just in case you get the wrong idea, I am really enjoying my time in the US. If the only things I can complain about are toilet paper and ODing on candy, things are going pretty swell. I’ll close things out with a dog floating in space:

space dog

Running in Kentucky vs. London

11 May

It seems I only ever visit Kentucky when it’s freeze-your-fingers-off or sweat-your-face-off weather. Neither of which is very conducive to running. It’s been certified butt-hot (mid to upper 80s) in Florence, Kentucky, which has forced me to run first thing in the morning instead of my usual 2 to 3 hours after breakfast. I’ve been back in the U.S. almost two weeks now and I’m still riding the jet lag train. If there is such a thing as good jet lag, it’s GMT to EST. I’ve been going to bed early and waking up early, which works well with my parents’ schedules as well as my work and running. The only time it wasn’t so great was this past weekend when I won free tickets to the comedy club that were only valid at the 10:30 pm show. My constant yawning was not a reflection of the comedian’s material.

When I left London, the weather was perfect, the terrain was flat, and I had one of my fastest runs yet:

London fast run
I’m usually happy if I can maintain a 10 min pace or just under, so sub-9 min was amazing for me (though I did pause it at stoplights).

And then I arrived in Kentucky, where there is heat, humidity and hills. This was my run two days after the one above:

Kentucky slow run
Things really went downhill after that first mile (or uphill I should say). Although I compared the elevation maps of my runs in London and Kentucky and couldn’t find much difference… but reading elevation is not my forte.

London:

London run elevationKentucky:

Kentucky run elevationI think I’m going to do a local 5K on Saturday. I really want to get an official sub-30 min 5K time. I’ve done it many times on my London runs, but this time there will be hills and no stoplight pauses. I’m always encouraged by my Facebook friends’ running posts, photos and times. There are even times when I’m lying in bed and most certainly not running that I think maybe I could run a half marathon one day. Maybe that’s something I should put on my bucket list. And then I run the thought by myself again mid-uphill run, sweat dripping from places I didn’t know could sweat, and I think “maybe you should focus on running 3 miles without dying first.” Baby steps.

American vs. British Cadbury Creme Eggs

4 May

One of the reasons I came back to the U.S. now was to see 2 of my favorite local bands in concert. Another was to answer an age-old question: what’s the different between an American and British Cadbury Creme Egg?

I decided it was my duty to answer this question by having a glass of wine and then stuffing my face with 2 Creme Eggs from 2 different countries — for science.

This year Brits got their collective panties in a bunch because Cadbury changed the recipe of the chocolate covering the Creme Eggs from their signature Dairy Milk chocolate to “standard cocoa mix chocolate.” Unfortunately I do not have an old Dairy Milk Creme Egg to compare.

Though the US and UK products are both labelled “Cadbury Creme Egg,” the British ones are made by Kraft (Kraft acquired Cadbury in 2010) and the American ones are made by Hershey. Their packaging differs in color — the American one is blue, yellow, red and green, while the British one is purple, red and yellow.

US vs UK cadbury eggsWhen I opened them up, they both looked identical. Side note: have Cadbury Eggs gotten smaller over the years, or has my mouth just gotten bigger since I ate them as a kid?

american vs british cadbury eggsNext I cut them open with a knife. It’s a bit warm in Kentucky now (just wait for the blog post where I complain about that!), so both eggs’ fillings seemed softer and runnier than I remember from past eggs. Maybe I should have chilled them pre-experiment (or conducted another experience on chilled eggs. Next time!).

US UK cadbury eggs insideI attempted to do a viscosity test, but the photos did not come out very good. The texture and color of both fillings was quite similar, although the British filling seemed ever so slightly thicker.

First I took a bite of the American egg. It tasted… like a Cadbury creme egg. Because now that I think about, after being in London almost 5 years I don’t believe I’ve ever eaten a legit British Cadbury creme egg. I’ve eaten the mini ones, the McFlurry, and mini creme egg ice cream cones, but never a full-sized egg. I’ve always either been home in Kentucky for Easter or my parents brought me American candy. So it’s no wonder the American one tasted “right.”

I swished my mouth with water and bit into the British egg. And it tasted… different. Like the Creme Egg mini ice cream cones I had devoured a couple weeks ago. To be honest, I could not taste much of a difference between the chocolate on the two, but the filling was definitely different. It’s hard to describe, but the British one tasted more of powdered sugar, while the American one was more high fructose corn syrupy. So let’s compare ingredients and nutrition.

Here is the nutritional info for the American Cadbury Creme Egg from the Hershey website:

US cadbury egg nutritionAnd the British one:

UK cadbury egg nutritionThe first thing that jumped out at me was the calorie difference: 150 for the US vs. 177 for the UK. That’s a pretty big difference for a little egg! The US version also has 20 grams of sugar while the UK’s has 26.5. Perhaps that’s because the UK egg’s first ingredient is sugar. While the American one’s is milk chocolate (side note: how is “chocolate” an ingredient in milk chocolate?), followed shortly by sugar and high fructose corn syrup. High fructose corn syrup is banned in the UK, so it’s replaced with glucose syrup and inverted sugar syrup. The coloring agents are also interesting — yellow 6 in America vs. paprika extract in the UK. It’s good to know both contain egg whites, so you can pretend your Cadbury Creme Egg has some vague egg health benefits.

Overall, it was hard to decide which one I prefer. The British one had a more “pure” taste, for lack of a better word, because it was stuffed with so much real sugar. If you’re trying to eat “clean” or “real,” you probably shouldn’t eat any Cadbury Eggs, but if you had to, the British ones would be a safer bet. I think the taste of the UK one wins by a small margin, but the American one gets points just because it tastes so much like childhood Easter memories. Delicious, stomach ache-inducing high fructose corn syrupy memories.

And now I need to wait another month (OK, a week… or at least a day) before I can stomach another Creme Egg.

cadbury creme eggs filling

Homemade tater tots expectation vs. reality

24 Apr

Lately I have been craving tater tots. Even when I lived in the U.S., tater tots were not something I ate — or even thought about — very often. They were a pleasant treat in the school cafeteria, or as an adult, at Bar Louie or similar establishment. It’s probably been over a year since I’ve eaten tater tots, and I haven’t felt like I’ve been missing out. But then a couple weeks ago tater tots worked their way into a conversation Stephen and I were having, and I couldn’t stop thinking about them. I searched mysupermarket.co.uk and was disappointed to find that tater tots are definitely an American thing, like proper dill pickles and Twizzlers. I temporarily forgot about tater tots, until this recipe came up in my food blog feed.

Homemade tater tots! And I just happened to have a bag of potatoes handy, which I seldom buy, but they were one of Aldi’s Super 6 deals of the week. It was fate!

The first step (after paraboiling) was to grate the potatoes. I do not have a box grater, so I thought I’d do it one better — I’d spiralize, then “rice” my potato “noodles” for a similar effect. I was even feeling cocky, thinking I could submit the idea to one of my favorite food blogs, Inspiralized.com.

spiralized tater tots
That step actually worked out well. I formed the mixture into little tots (with a little bit of a struggle), then waited for Stephen to come before frying them up.

homemade tater totsThis is probably where I went wrong. In an effort to be healthy, I didn’t want to full-on fry them, but baked tater tots are the worst, so I tried to fry them in a tiny bit of oil. They soaked up the oil and started to stick. Some parts burned, some parts wouldn’t cook, and some tots just plain turned into hashbrowns.

cook homemade tater totsA couple of them managed to stay fully formed, but most of them were mush.

homemade tater tots burnt
Expectation:

homade tater tots expectation
Reality:

homemade tater tots failAs far as the taste goes, they were just meh. They were actually really good hashbrowns, but I think factoring in the amount of time and effort that went into making said hashbrowns made me like them less. When I asked Stephen what he thought, he asked why I couldn’t just buy tater tots on Amazon. Amazon does sell almost everything, but I don’t think Amazon.co.uk has cornered the frozen tater tot market yet.

Making homemade tater tots was definitely a learning experience, and this is what I learned:

Non-Americans: Visit an American-themed restaurant in your country or wait until you visit the US of A and get some real tots.

Americans: Go buy some tots, Ore-Ida knows what it’s doing. (And a little disodium hihydrogen pyrophosphate will not kill you just because you struggle to pronounce it.)

Preparation for the Great London Walk

21 Apr

One thing I love about London, or any big city, really, is that when traffic is really bad or the Tube is “properly buggered,” you can always say, “Screw it, I’m walking.” This happened to me a few months ago when I was going to apply for my Chinese visa. It had snowed — I kid you not — maybe one centimeter overnight, and it threw the entire Central Line into chaos. I had to get off at Oxford Circus and take a pricy taxi the rest of the way so I wouldn’t be late, but I was not about to do that on my way home. I figured in the amount of time I would spend waiting for a bus and transferring I could almost walk home, so I did. All 5 miles. I considered it practice for my Great London Walk.

What’s the Great London Walk, you ask?

At the beginning of the year one of my employers sent me a survey. The last question was “What are your personal goals for 2015?” or something like that. I could have put the generic “Eat better, run more, stop attacking jars of Nutella and biscuit spread with a spoon” (I’ve gotten better at that! And by that I mean I haven’t allowed myself to buy a jar of Nutella or biscuit spread in two months), but I decided I should put something specific. So I wrote “Earn the 30,000 steps Fitbit badge.”

30,000 steps is equal to about 13 or 14 miles. The closest I came was on April 22, 2014 when I hit 25,563 steps and 11.39 miles when I was in NYC. But this year I want to hit 30,000, which is where the Great London Walk comes in.

Some day this year I am going to walk 30,000 steps (maybe even more!) around London. I have not chosen a day yet, because the conditions have to be perfect. With my work schedule, I’ll have to do it on a weekend, and since Stephen is not as passionate about Fitbit steps and miles as I am, it’ll have to be a weekend when he’s traveling for work.

I’m still working on a route. I’m thinking I will plan it so I arrive at Borough Market for lunch, which is about 5 miles away, and then I’ll wander along the Thames, strategically stepping into museums for bathroom breaks. I had another training session last week when I decided to walk to Oxford Street and back. I ended that day with 21,215 steps, 9.25 miles, and legs and feet more sore than when I ran 10K. Clearly, the Great London Walk is going to require more training.

I recently upped my running weekly mileage, partly because I want to get faster and better, partly because I cannot stop eating Chinese bakery cake. I think it’s working, because I did my fastest 4 miles yet today (with a bit of cheating — I pause the app at stoplights, does that count as cheating?). Hyde Park and Regents Park are particularly beautiful this time of year, so I’m trying to soak it all in before next week, when I’ll trade royal parks for Kentucky suburbs and nature trails, at least for a month. Though it seems Christmas was just yesterday, I’m looking forward to some quality time with friends and family, and of course, American food (apparently my Easter basket is waiting for me). (See above about the need to run more).

And now some pretty Hyde Park flowers from this afternoon’s run:

hyde park flowers

What can you get for $50 at Neiman Marcus?

8 Apr

The short answer: not much.

My very first pair of Tory Burch flats are starting to wear out and constantly slip off, so I decided to treat myself to a new pair (especially now that they’ve been redesigned to no longer include elastic on the back — you’d think it would help the shoe stay on, but in reality it just makes it slip off).

treat yourself

Reva flats are not cheap, so I signed up for Neiman Marcus’ emails to get 10% off, plus they’re having a deal where if you spend a certain amount, you get a $50 gift card. While I’d much rather they just deduct $50 from the price of the shoes, I will happily accept free money.

I have not received the gift card yet, but I eagerly started surfing the site to see what I could buy. A quick click on the clothing links quickly ruled that out. I could buy another pair of Revas or other shoes, but I don’t really need any, and the $50 isn’t really free money if I have to pony up a lot more on something I wasn’t planning on buying in the first place.

So I went over to kitchen accessories — maybe they’d have something cool there! I found this water bottle:

neiman marcus citrus bottle

It infuses your water with fruit — cool! But so does dropping a slice of lemon in your glass, and that doesn’t cost $18.

Some of my favorite health and fitness bloggers rave about the bkr water bottles.

neiman marcus bkr

Apparently they’re super durable and “clean.” Except I don’t mind having to walk into my kitchen to get a drink because I need the Fitbit steps. Also I am rarely “on the go,” and when I am, I don’t want to carry a heavy glass water bottle. One more thing: IT’S A $42 WATER BOTTLE! Yes, technically it would be “free” for me, but still. It’s not $42 pretty.

I thought maybe I’d have better luck in the gourmet food department. The $50 is free money, so why not spend it on something completely frivolous that I would never buy with real money — like a giant box of Godiva chocolate. This is what I envisioned:

neiman marcus godiva ultimate truffle

I did not envision the $165 price tag for 80 truffles. Time to lower my expectations.

neiman marcus godiva dessert

I could get 12 dessert truffles for $30 (inexplicably on sale for $30 from $25?). No wonder Godiva doesn’t give samples if their truffles are “worth” $2.50!

Or I could blow the whole gift card on 12 pieces of chocolate:

neiman marcus chocolate 12

Although knowing me, I would be too afraid to eat them since they cost me so much free money and would save them until they were past their prime. Not that I’ve done that with Christmas or Easter candy in the past…

But if I’m gonna blow the whole thing in one shot, I could at least get 36 pieces of Godiva.

neiman marcus godiva spring

That’s $1.38 a truffle, an even better value than 80 for $165!

Or maybe I could get tea.

neiman marcus tea

But for $45 I would expect 20 packs of 20, not just 20 bags. That’s $2.25 a mug, wouldn’t it be cheaper to just go to a cafe?

Look, creme brulee almonds! Those sound amazing!

neiman marcus almonds

But not $35 for 18 oz. amazing. (WHO IS BUYING THIS STUFF?!!)

I was now deep in the gourmet food pages and finding some interesting things. Like asparagus. Who in their right mind buys 2 lbs of asparagus from Neiman Marcus for $44 (plus $12.50 shipping!)? So it’s essentially $56.50. I’m not sure I would even spend $6.50 on 2 lbs of asparagus, I think Aldi sells it cheaper.

neiman marcus asparagus

Look, 3 lbs of mashed potatoes for $61.50 (gotta include shipping). I think they are loaded with flakes of gold.

neiman marcus mashed potato

This dachshund cookie jar is maybe the least crazy $50 food item — it comes with 17.6 oz of cookies, which is approximately 50. So it’s $1 a cookie with a free dachshund jar! My dad and his side of the family are big dachshund fans — do you want a cookie jar and 50 cookies for Father’s Day, Dad? ;)

neiman marcus dachshund

That was all the gourmet food section had to offer for $50 or less, so I hopped over to beauty. I obviously don’t need any more makeup (does anyone?), but it never hurts to look. And now I know that Christian Louboutin makes nail polish. And it costs $50.

christian louboutin nail polish

I’m not sure what’s going on here either — is the insanely high shoe some kind of decorative case? And is the nail polish red or black, or some magical mixture of both? For $50 it better be both.

All Neiman Marcus’ makeup was designer (and not like Lorac Pro or Urban Decay, which are expensive for Ulta, but still under $50, but real designer, like Louboutin, Armani and Dior). In other words, $50 wouldn’t get me a makeup brush.

By chance I wandered over to jackets, just for kicks. And that’s when I found this mythical unicorn:

neiman marcus pleather jacket

I’m not sure I’m a leather (or pleather) jacket girl, but this one would be free. I just hope my gift card comes before they realize they left a zero off the price, because nothing at Neiman Marcus costs $34, not even a water bottle. And if I got the jacket, I’d have enough money for this too:

neiman marcus peppermint brittle

Though with a sale price like that, it’ll probably be long gone, so I’ll have to settle for 6 truffles or a $16 tin of butterfly gummies. But hey, it’s all “free,” right?

Kudos to Kaan Malkoc and Groupon UK

31 Mar

In school I was told time and time again that Wikipedia is not a reputable source.

“Anyone can edit it!” professors would insist.

I’ve used Wikipedia for years, and I still don’t know how to edit an article (though to be honest I’ve never really tried). I had also never noticed an article edited with incorrect information. Until last week.

The other day I happened to find myself on the One Direction Wikipedia page (Don’t ask, it was for work. Really.) Zayn Malik had just announced he was leaving the band, so I glanced over at the list of members.

one direction kaan malkocThat was fast, I thought — they already replaced him! …With Kaan Malkoc? I found it curious he didn’t have his own Wiki page, so I googled him. And almost nothing came up. Turns out he is not a world-renowned pop star, he’s some Turkish kid who’s a ninja at Wikipedia editing. Well done, Kaan Malkoc, you just proved all my professors right. However, Wikipedia did correct the edit, so maybe it’s not that unreliable.

one direction wikipediaIn unrelated news, I noticed a bizarre Groupon today. UK Groupons are often a little bizarre — I’ve seen ones for a decorative Lord or Lady title, as well as a 6-month supply of allergy pills (I totally just bought that one). But this one was something else:

groupon dog barkAnd then I realized what day tomorrow is and clicked on the link.

groupon april fools pug
Well done, Groupon, for kicking off April Fool’s Day early.

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