Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Compliments of British Munchkins

I spent a summer working as an au pair in England for a family of vegetarian academics. They invited me on weekend excursions to castles in the countryside and to a pub lunch in their college town, but we subsisted on a diet of iceberg salads with boiled egg and salad cream (tastes like sweetened mayonnaise), sausages (veggie dogs) and houmus and tom-aw-to sandwiches.

One day while seven-year-old Michael was at school and two-year-old Anna in nursery, I felt inspired to make cookies. I scoured the Internet in search of the simplest recipe I could find and settled on an oatmeal cookie that called for about four ingredients.

After searching every nook and cranny in the kitchen, I conceeded that my employers owned no measuring utensils. Not one teaspoon or a single measuring cup. I used a mug to measure out the cup of butter (which wasn’t actually butter but some sort of healthy vegetable spread -- I should have trusted my instincts) and other ingredients such as sugar (which the package touted as a healthy version) and oats (which were quick cooking rather than the old fashioned type the recipe called for). I used actual tea spoons (not the measuring kind, but the kind English people use for all the tea they drink) to measure the salt.

That night over dinner my host family informed me that Brits don’t use measuring utensils. They think that Americans with their drawers full of cups and spoons in varying sizes are quite primitive. Instead of these crude calculating devices, they use a scale to measure out ingredients in grams, which their recipes use rather than two-thirds of a cup or one-eighth of a tablespoon.

The dough I mixed tasted quite delicious despite my difficulties, but then again I'd been deprived of the sweet and salty in this healthy household. However, the final product didn’t look or taste much like a cookie. They didn't exactly taste unpleasant (I ate about six), but they had a chewy consistency and an aftertaste reminiscent of burnt buttered popcorn.

I might not be much of a chef when it comes to entrees, but I can bake. I wanted to share some yummy, American cookies with my host family, not these hard-to-chew burnt buttery lumps. I debated whether I should even tell them about this disaster. Then I had the brilliant idea of testing them out on Michael first.

After I walked Michael home from school he had his tea time, cute British lingo for his after-school snack of hot chocolate and an apple, while he watched his 20-minute daily allowance of television. His show of choice was “Chuckle Vision,” a BBC Kids production about a pair of goofy middle-aged brothers that’s a notch below low-budget children’s program airing on PBS. During this afternoon’s episode I served Michael the surprise that I’d hinted at on our way home.

“These biscuits are absolutely lovely!” Michael exclaimed after he took a bite. What a darling he was, I could have hugged him at that moment. After dinner that evening, despite my adamant protests, the entire family sampled my culinary endeavor. They all agreed that the biscuits tasted “quite nice.”

The true sign that my botched biscuits were somehow oddly satisfying? Finicky little Anna asked for thirds.

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