Tuesday, February 16, 2016

For What It’s Worth

On the coast, not far from where I live, is the city of Brighton. It has a sort of chequered reputation: known for “Dirty Weekends”, the “Brighton Quickie” divorce and being, at one time, saddled with the dubious title of “murder capital of Europe,” it is also a vibrant, fun and quirky city with an enthusiastic night life and a 365 day carnival jutting into the English Channel otherwise known as “the Brighton Pier.” I recommend a visit. Go there. Right now.

Really, a visit to Brighton is a nice day out.

And it's got a fairground midway. On a dock!
Next to Brighton is Hove, and together they make up the municipality of Brighton and Hove. They are so close as to be nearly indistinguishable, but the people who live on the Hove side like the idea that their city does not have a tarnished past and doesn’t parade around like a tarted up trollop thinking that being popular and wearing a nice set of clothes passes for respectability. This has given rise to the area known locally as Hoveactually.

The reason? If you ask someone who lives in (or even near) Hove if they live in Brighton, they will inescapably reply, “Hove, actually.”

This puts me in mind of Troy, a city I lived close to in the States. Troy was, to put it politely, a bit of a dump. The people who lived there had the choice of being known as “Troylettes” or “Trojans” (this was hilarious in the States, as Trojans are the US equivalent of the UK Durex), so they seldom admitted living there, and responded to questions concerning the location of their abode with, “Oh, I live in Lansingburgh,” or “Sycaway, actually.”

(Necessary Aside: this was, of course, many years ago. My wife and I have visited Troy on our recent trips to the homeland and I am pleased to report that they have spiffed up their streets and their reputation. The city is currently clean and inviting, with a charming down town area filled with shops and cafes and an aluminum statue of the city's most famous export, “Uncle” Sam Wilson, the original “Uncle Sam.” So if you are ever in the area, do not hesitate to visit.)

That's Uncle Sam. Yeah, he's from Troy.
There are probably other cities where the residents, instead of admitting to it, insist that they live somewhere else, but no place that I have heard of has taken this as far as Worth.

Worth is a small section of the much larger town of Crawley, which is a sprawling New  Town, built after the war as a dumping ground for bombed out cockneys, at the expense of the tiny village it engulfed. It is not the most desirable of locations so people from Crawley generally identify themselves by their neighbourhood. My wife, for example, is from Crawley, well, Pound Hill, actually.

Now, nestled within Pound Hill, and the neighbouring neighbourhood of Maidenbower, is Worth. Worth is the area surrounding the Saxon-era church. It is a very desirable address even though it is not, I am told, a political entity; it is simply a loose collection of lanes lined with expensive and fetching houses wherein reside people whose burning desire is to NOT live in Pound Hill or Maidenbower or, heaven forbid, Crawley.

I have to admire these people, for they have taken the pretence of living somewhere that you actually do not live to a whole different level by “updating” the road signs on the streets where they live.

How to upgrade your address:
STEP 1: remove the official neighbourhood name from your road signs.

STEP 2: Add the name of the neighbourhood you would like to live in
(even if it is imaginary).

STEP 3: Repeat as necessary.
The amount of effort and dedication, not to mention self-delusion, to pull this off is staggering. I bet their address reads “Turners Hill Road, Worth” on their bank statements and utility bills, as well.

And I also bet the Troylettes are kicking themselves now for not having thought of it first.

Wednesday, February 10, 2016


They don’t happen as often as they used to, but when the do, they take up a fair amount of my day and usually end in disappointment. I’m talking, of course, about AFCs — American Food Cravings.

This particular craving happened as I was returning home on the train this morning. The lunch hour was approaching and as I began pondering when I might have for my noon meal, it came—as they always do—unbidden and unexpected: I wanted a Reuben Sandwich.

For those of you not in the know, a Reuben consists of corned beef, Swiss chess and sauerkraut, smothered in Russian dressing, on rye bread, toasted on a griddle. And so, with the dread I usually feel when I attempt to cobble together an American delicacy, I left the train station and headed to Sainsbuy’s to see if I could find the ingredients.

Corned beef was easy. They had slices in the deli section — £2.50 for three slices!! — and, fortunately, cans of it in the tinned meat section for (for appreciably less).

Swiss cheese was less straight-forward. There was none. But then I have never seen Swiss cheese in Britain, and there were several cheeses available with holes in them (which, to my mind, is the only distinction between Swiss cheese and other varieties) so I began to wonder if “Swiss” was an Americanism. I did some quick research on my smart phone and, sure enough, discovered that “Swiss cheese is a generic name in North America for several related varieties of cheese, mainly of North American manufacture.” Wikipedia also helpfully pointed out that the UK Emmental is a close approximation.

Emmental or Swiss? And the good thing is, since it isn't made in the US,
it actually tastes good.
I then discovered I was unable to buy a small jar of sauerkraut. So I bought a large one.

Russian dressing does not exist in the UK, but that didn’t deter me. Russian dressing is simply what the Americans call Thousand Island dressing. (It’s also the secret sauce ingredient in a Big MAc, but don’t tell anybody.)

And so, armed with a substitute cheese, Thousand Island dressing and enough sauerkraut to last me into the next millennium (aside from a Reuben Sandwich, what else do you use sauerkraut for?) I set off in search of rye bread.

I knew this was going to be the tough one, as I noticed the absence of rye bread some time ago. When I was a lad, rye bread was like the Apple Computer of sandwich foundations. The default setting for a sandwich was plain, white bread. But sometimes we’d get the readily available rye variety. It was totally incompatible with normal bread—it wasn’t square, more of a large, flattened oval that didn’t fit in the toaster, and it was of a foreign texture, more substantial, darker and with an exotic flavor (well, to someone used to Wonder Bread). It made a good ham and cheese sandwich but, to carry the Apple analogy further, it was not as versatile as white bread. For example, you could not make a PB&J with it (that’s a peanut butter and jelly sandwich, for you Brits) and the idea of Fluff and rye bread didn’t bear thinking about.

I had, however, an ace in the hole. Thanks to the unrelenting influx of east Europeans taking jobs away from native Brits (thank you, Daily Mail) we have our own east European market nearby. So with hope in my heart, I went there. They had rye bread, but not as I knew it. This loaf was smaller and more square but, as it was my only option, I thought I could improvise.

With all the ingredients safely back at my flat, I started the process by opening the can of corned beef. It was one of those cans with the key and, as usual, the key broke when I was half way around. With no way to open the can using the traditional method, I resorted to the can opener. It wasn’t pretty. After brushing the shredded paper and metal filings from the corned beef, I found I could not get it out of the can. So I had to open the other end, as well. And after brushing more shredded paper and metal filings from the corned beef, it popped out easily.

Reuben, in progress.
After that, it was a doddle. I buttered up four of the diminutive rye slices, put two in a frying pan and topped them with thin-sliced corned beef,emmental cheese, sauerkraut and Thousand Island dressing. They grilled up nicely, thank you very much. I was even able to flip them without much trouble and they tasted, not so bad.

And the good thing is, I have plenty of ingredients to make more.