Oh, to be in England
Now that April's there,
And whoever wakes in England
Sees, some morning, unaware,
That the lowest boughs and the brushwood sheaf
Round the elm-tree bole are in tiny leaf,
While the chaffinch sings on the orchard bough
And after April, when May follows,
And the whitethroat builds, and all the swallows!
Hark, where my blossomed pear-tree in the hedge
Leans to the field and scatters on the clover
Blossoms and dewdrops-at the bent spray's edge-
That's the wise thrush; he sings each song twice over,
Lest you should think he never could recapture
The first fine careless rapture!
And though the fields look rough with hoary dew,
All will be gay when noontide wakes anew
The buttercups, the little children's dower
-Far brighter than this gaudy melon-flower!
Robert Browning (1812 - 1889)
I've returned from two weeks spent in the U.K. with my family and a group of high school students. We had a glorious visit filled with interesting trips to cultural landmarks: Chartwell (the home of Winston Churchill), the Tate Britain Museum (home to many J.M.W. Turner paintings), the British Museum (home to the Elgin Marbles which should be returned to Greece), The Bluebell Railway (site of historical scenes filmed for Downton Abbey), Kew Gardens (the oldest and largest horticultural research collection), and so on. And we visited many pubs, some dating all the way back to the 14th century and still sporting their original fireplaces with huge, blackened sagging beams and low ceilings. Trying to eat paleo in England--a disaster!
Our days started with a breakfast provided in our lodging--very basic cereal, toast, and fruit/fruit juice. I supplemented with my chocolate protein shake mix that I'd brought with me. Lunch, often provided by the school with which we were traveling, was a packaged chicken/bacon/mayo on whole wheat sandwich, crisps (potato chips), maybe a small apple, and a Cadbury "Chomp" bar (a small, gooey chocolate/caramel thing). I always passed on the Cadbury bar. Sometimes I was able to get a protein/veggie dinner, but good luck with that in a pub. The fare is not light and favors breaded foods, popovers, mashed potatoes, and fried potatoes--your "veggie" choices are usually peas, mushy peas or baked beans. One night, desperate for something other than fried fish, I ordered a "gammon steak." It was a thick, salty hunk of ham with a thick rind of fat. Won't make that mistake again. Salads are usually not of the "tossed, green" variety, they are prepared salads, and vinaigrettes are unheard of in restaurants. You'll find bottles of "salad cream" instead (a sort of Miracle Whip type product in a squeeze bottle). This is the land of lots of cured meats, meat pies, potatoes, baked goods, and dairy. (My daughter, who hates dairy, took Lactaid pills with her in anticipation of problems). Thankfully, we did so much walking that I didn't gain weight and came back in loose clothes. The experience left me grateful to have the availability of foods I have at home but it also has me thinking about how to do better as I continue to travel.
One of the challenging issues with travel is not just the food culture you are visiting but the fact that you are in an artificial situation where you aren't in control of your kitchen and cooking. Therefore, you are reliant on what is available at restaurants, grocery stores, hotels, airports and convenience stores. This makes getting basic, fresh fare very difficult. At the airports, I ate oatmeal, "taco" salads with veggies, salsas, and meat--no chips or cheese, and packages of nuts, fruit and yogurt. It wasn't great but it worked. On the plane I even had a bag of cashews in lieu of the late-night "dinner" meal. Looking at my husband's Chicken Teriyaki plate, I think I got the better end of the bargain. I drank tea in England since the coffee there is universally awful. There is still a great fondness for Nescafe instant and the use of thin, homogenized milk as lightener means the coffee always has that greyish tone and watery taste. I actually appreciated regaining my love of tea enjoying many cups of English Breakfast or Early Grey. Since returning, I'm drinking more tea than coffee and even starting the day with a couple of mugs of green jasmine (my drink of choice for many years when I was off of coffee). One of the fun things to do now that I'm back home, is to think about how I might incorporate some flavors or traditions of England into my world without taking on the less healthful aspects. I'm sure that the English taste for sweets and baked goods is a response to the bitter tannins in tea (Sidney Mintz in his book, Sweetness and Power suggests this and also puts forward a fascinating thesis that tea and sugar enabled the industrial revolution by providing easy, warm and comforting calories to workers). The emphasis on meat and dairy relates to the Isles' history of animal husbandry and the raising of livestock. The potato was brought over from the so-called "New World" in the sixteenth-century and adopted because 30% more calories are provided by potatoes than any cereal crop on the same amount of land. Tubers such as potatoes are also an easier staple food source as they require little in the way of processing (no chafing or milling). The cuisine also has been influenced by the imperial history of England and thus curry seasonings and chutneys abound as well. So, I'm thinking about how I can capitalize on some of these traditions and flavors, working in my recent experience, but adapting it to the way I now want to eat.
A few ideas, with dairy still being employed, but mindfully and with an emphasis on those forms easy to digest and known to be healthful:
- Instead of scones, clotted cream, and raspberry jam (as pictured above), a bowl of fresh raspberries topped with coconut milk, a few golden raisins, and some chopped walnuts or almonds. Accompanied by a pot of tea.
- Baked, not fried, fish served with parsnip fries and fresh-made tartar sauce.
- Omelets with the veggies fried in coconut oil and curry powder
- Mango Lassi: 1 cup. of buttermilk, 1/2 cup of water, a cup of fresh or frozen mango chunks, a half a frozen banana and a packet of stevia powdered sweetener, whirl in blender.
- Roast beef with rutabaga mash (I'll save that for winter), with brussel sprouts and carrots
- Coconut milk ice cream
- "Trifles" made with greek yogurt and fresh fruit.
I'm happy to have been to England again, but also happy to be home and back in the "paleo" saddle. Our "New Age" offers us the privilege of travel to new countries and cultures. It isn't healthy to go with an an attitude that you will hate everything or experience difficulty. It's best to try, to embrace, to do a lot of sightseeing that involves walking, and then to come away with a newly found appreciation for what you learned about others and yourself. That's the beauty of New Age Paleo. A willingness to experiment and reinvent, honoring the past, present and future.
Happy Trails and Travels,