How To End A Friendship Quickly…

Easy, claim you’re a Trump supporter (or if you are in the US say you voted for him) and people will think you are crazy, and end your friendship. This may also work if you have been trying to end a relationship, and didn’t know how. It seems to have worked as many friendships have indeed ended, and family rifts that never existed appeared in the last few months.

God Help The USA…I didn’t watch the inauguration of the latest US President—I make it habit to avoid watching mistakes if I can help it. It was like watching your best friend going back to her cheating mobster, criminal, and abusive husband after buying her off with a new house, and a promise to change things. You know it’s just talk, and you’ll end up picking up the pieces again, so it’s a case of waiting, and bracing yourself for the worst.

The Women’s Marches that occurred around the world in protest created more unity and support from the public, as far as Antarctica. Although I’m not a protester, I’m glad people are using their voice and are speaking from a need to unite rather than from fear. What concerns me (and they are in the minority) are the people who are misinformed and who spread hate among their fellow citizens. People may lose their healthcare with the repeal of the ACA, but the ones who cry this is a good thing can afford their own healthcare and are in good health—they don’t need it, but that doesn’t mean one day they won’t need affordable healthcare. Maybe then they will think beyond their selfish needs if they become unemployed, lose their jobs and home, or face bankruptcy and can no longer afford healthcare?

From time to time I scour Facebook for reactions, and it does appear that Trump supporters tend to write in capital letters (obviously unaware that you only use it for the first letter of a word!) and use the same phrases over and over—it’s like a cult. Trump has brainwashed a percentage of the population, and while the rest of the world can see it, many are in a state of denial. Who can save them? While Hillary Clinton maybe no saint, to call her criminal is ironic against a man who has several hundred pending court cases against him. Clinton has none, and as Secretary of State, her actions were protected as she was acting on behalf of the government and not as an individual. A friend of mine said last night that by not voting Clinton in, a World War was prevented, but they could provide no evidence of this. It was just an opinion based on misinformation. Quite the contrary, a World War is more of a threat with someone in charge who has no experience of governance and a basic understanding of politics.

Do people really believe (Trump’s campaign manager) Kellyann Conway’s phrase of alternative truths? In plain English, that is called a lie—when people delude themselves with what they choose to believe. If it’s not a fact it’s called an opinion and not a truth, and while we are all entitled to opinions, there are things that are factual. The problem is many people don’t wish to accept them. I hear people cry that Trump was democratically elected and to get over it, but was he? Was the election rigged, with the reports of hacking from multiple sources, how can one honestly say it was a democratic decision? Each time Conway opens her mouth, I have to stop myself laughing. I pity her in that she doesn’t see how stupid she looks, then she did look stupid in her outfit on inauguration day, where people have compared it to what the cartoon character Paddington Bear would wear.

Friendships have been strained, and I have a few friends who voted or who supported Trump, and I honestly don’t know how to speak to them. What people don’t understand is that what Trump represents (racism, and discrimination, among the most prominent issues) reflects their beliefs too. Two are immigrants; one is well off and another poor, and their only reasoning for supporting Trump is the classic phrase of crooked Hillary. Well, Trump has conned many more people, over decades, so I don’t know how they can’t see that. Many want and hope for change—the change they want is material as in more wealth, and that simply isn’t possible for everyone. I don’t know if the voters will admit they made a mistake or blame something else when it doesn’t happen, but I suspect the former.

I’m not in any hurry to return to the US, and I wonder how to broach the topic of who voted for whom when I greet family and friends. Meanwhile, as protesters march in unity, how much good will that do except to annoy Trump. Shouldn’t these people have come out and voted rather than stay at home, and I read somewhere someone said they voted for Bernie, again, all they did was reduce Clinton’s vote and gave Trump a hand. I remember voting Conservative (in the UK) not because I liked the candidate, but to keep Ed Miliband (Labour) out. It’s called tactical voting, something that either Americans don’t understand or know they can do. It’s a lesson many Americans won’t forget, and while some people say ‘give him a chance,’ well, then what? Grin and bear it, and then suffer for a few years? No one wants another World War, but often those who start them are ones with no experience and a grandiose sense of power. Oh, and Trump is half German (both grandparents were German, thus his father was German) and half Scottish, so it may well be in the genes. I expect more of a war on words across the media and social media, but how useful and constructive is that, and is that going to create jobs and ensure those who need healthcare get it?

I don’t wish to lose any friends, so I’ll keep quiet if the topic arises and signal a halt, and make it known that I don’t support Trump’s policies (what policies) or beliefs. It’s not even political, it’s about moral and common decency and choosing to admire someone who is dishonest. Maybe I just don’t understand humans, but perhaps people are just more greedy and selfish than I thought? I don’t think for a moment Ivanka and Chelsea are still friends, and I think that’s wishful thinking on Ivanka’s part. She can try and salvage her own reputation, but the key word is try.

Thoughts On The Crisis In America

Is it that bad, or am I being a tad dramatic? I’ve been told I can be a drama queen, but right now America is unstable, and I’ve never seen Americans behaving so ‘un-American’. Politics aside, what I don’t understand is why Americans are being mean, rude, and pretty much nasty to people that they don’t know online if they don’t support Trump in becoming the next President of their country. Surely freedom of speech means everyone is entitled to their own opinion without being attacked? I’m sure many of the former Presidents are shaking their heads too.

What I don’t understand is this opposition to a recount and the hostility towards Jill Stein. She has a right to a recount, and has followed the procedures, which the states in question have altered on a whim. Why allow a recount only to prevent people from having it once they make an application? Only people or groups that have something to hide would try to block a recount, and cries of it’s a waste of money and time has no validity—it’s not tax payers money, the people involved are volunteers, and those state officials, well that’s their job.

Then there is the CIA declaring that they have evidence that external forces (Russia) have interfered with the election process, and the GOP want it investigated, but not Trump. Something isn’t right here. One should be concerned if the CIA have evidence, and one can only surmise that Trump is dismissing it because he doesn’t want people to dig any further. Besides that, surely if Russia or any hackers wanted to prove they could hack into any system, wouldn’t they have released Trump’s emails too?

There has been the smell of foul play on more than one occasion, but it still beggars belief as to why people voted for someone with no experience, who mocks minorities, has no actual policies, and has proven to be untrustworthy? Are 25 percent of Americans not that bright, were they conned, or did they hate Clinton so much they voted against her on purpose? Either way it’s a concern, and I have a couple of friends who admitted they voted for Trump, and to be honest I don’t have a response for them. They know I do not share that view. I cannot fathom why they would support him, and their response is always Clinton has done bad things. Newsflash, so has Trump, but isn’t it better the devil you know?

I had another conversation with an American friend who wouldn’t say who she voted for, but she simply said that change was needed. That’s what people say when they don’t want to admit they voted for Trump in fear that people will judge them as racist. Again, of course if you support a racist, you are in fact saying that is acceptable behavior. There is no grey area here—if you support someone who has settled fraud cases, been racist and rude to minority groups, you don’t get to say you aren’t racist if you voted for them. You enable them and have voted for the whole package. I’m also tired of people saying, “Give him a chance…” or “Let’s wait and see…” because so far his choice of cabinet has included racists, and those with far right policies. If you look back to Hitler’s era, all the politicians took the same stance, to see if he would back down and gave him a chance. We all know how that turned out with World War II, millions dead, and 70 years on, people are still suffering from the after effects. Are we on the brink of WW III or Civil War?

Many of my friends supported Bernie Sanders, and he seems a decent chap and one that had the best interests of the country at heart, but he was never going to win. Not from a lack of experience, but his hands would have been tied with the Republican majority in Congress. I’m glad he is a Senator in Vermont, and is a great state that I would choose to live in. He can do good things there, and I hope he speaks out and challenges those in Congress for the people. I’m not a Socialist or Liberal, but I know right from wrong.

Looking at the Constitution, there was no failsafe for foreign or external interference as back then all votes were counted by hand in person (as it is done in the UK). Today, with electronic voting and a population far greater than the Framers had to contend with, there needs to be some protection for the electoral system. What exists now is not enough. If there is proof there was interference, then it renders the election void and invalid, but the system doesn’t have a means to directly resolve that situation. Congress could pass an amendment, but is there time, and would Trump oppose? In the UK if there was evidence of tampering, then action would be taken, but as votes are hand counted it would be very difficult to do.

Many look to the faithless electors and while each state can choose the electors and how they vote, for the states that force them to vote according to the popular vote in the state, that defies the very essence of the Constitution. Electors should be free to vote for whom they wish without fear of reprisals from the state legislature. That is why the Electoral College was set up, so that the elected voters could vote freely without pressure or coercion. Theoretically, states that impose fines or punishments are acting unconstitutionally even though the SCOTUS (Ray v. Blair, 343 US 214) held that the Constitution does not require electors to be free to choose and may be pledged to make a specific vote. However, that defies the concept of the Electoral College, where electors are not supposed to have any political bias according to Alexander Hamilton (The Federalist Papers 68) and also the dissent from Justice Jackson. Votes from a state can also be rejected, but only if both houses agree to this and is formally objected in writing by a member of each house. This occurred during the 1872 election where the Arkansas and Louisiana votes were rejected due to irregularities.

The closest we get is the Twentieth Amendment:

“Section 3. If, at the time fixed for the beginning of the term of the President, the President elect shall have died, the Vice President elect shall become President. If a President shall not have been chosen before the time fixed for the beginning of his term, or if the President elect shall have failed to qualify, then the Vice President elect shall act as President until a President shall have qualified; and the Congress may by law provide for the case wherein neither a President elect nor a Vice President elect shall have qualified, declaring who shall then act as President, or the manner in which one who is to act shall be selected, and such person shall act accordingly until a President or Vice President shall have qualified.

However, it’s vague and open to interpretation, because who declares an election is void? Surely Congress must if evidence is presented to show that there was tampering? One thing we can all agree on is that America is unstable, and the people are divided. Sadly, the US doesn’t seem such a great place to live or to visit right now…

My American Tipping Nightmares

Everyone loves American tourists, as they are renowned to be big tippers, whereas most American servers despair at European tourists as they have a reputation for not tipping generously. Let me give you an insight as to why this is so, and why when British people tip in the US it can bring on a bout of anxiety. Having lived in both countries on and off, I see the dilemmas and cultural differences, but that doesn’t influence my preference to tip or not. I only really grasped how important the tipping culture is in the US when my cousin, who used to be a maître d at Indochine and 150 Wooster (a while back now) in New York City, told me if people didn’t leave at least 20 percent as a tip they would chase them. I realize now that she wasn’t joking, but you must understand in most countries, restaurants do pay their staff the minimum wage, and not like the US where the minimum wage is allowed to be made up with tips.

In the UK, people generally tip 10 percent and round up at the same time; if the bill is £18, most people would leave £20 because it would look mean to ask for 20 pence change, so in fact the tip is 12 percent. People do tip 15-20 percent for exceptional service, but still round up rather than calculate an exact amount from a percentage. However, in the US, 15 percent is deemed normal for average service, and 20 percent is considered the minimum one should leave. If the bill is $32, then a 20 percent tip would be $6.40; some people would round it up to $40 making it 25 percent, but most calculate it exactly to the cent.

Then there is the tip jar that I struggle to understand—I get why they exist in cafés and diners where you go in to grab a coffee or a sub, and will leave a tip if the service in general was good, but not self-service restaurants. Do you feel guilty if the jar is sparse and you opt to take your change rather than put it in the jar? I did at first (and watched them watching what I chose to do) and got over that quite quickly. I was once in a self-service organic café where the line was long (20 minute wait), basically as there was one cashier taking orders and the money, and it wasn’t a cheap café either. I paid by card and there was still the option to add a service charge on the slip, which I added zero to without hesitation, as well as a tip jar glaring me in the face. Why should I tip when the cashier never even looked at me and I hadn’t even got my order yet? How could I ascertain how much to give when I haven’t received any actual service? They yell when your order is ready; you have to collect it and then clear up after yourself too. I can’t see any reason why I should tip in a place where the only interaction was to place an order and pay for it, and everything else I did myself?

My British friend, Sara and I would hang out at a local café to use the Wi-Fi (and feel a bit guilty), but would order coffee, tea, a muffin, and banana bread. When it came to the tip, both of us would sigh and wonder what to leave as it was a regular hangout. The bill came to just under $15, and we had been there for a couple of hours. We spent 10 minutes discussing and calculating the various percentages, unsure whether we should tip precisely or over tip. We worked out 20 percent would have been $17, but to wait for $3 change would have looked too cheap, so we ended up leaving $20 which worked out to be a 40 percent tip. The service was fine and friendly, but the whole experience was more about how the servers would perceive us than how much we wanted to leave, and caused so much anxiety we ran out as soon as we could.

Another awkward situation arose when I offered to buy a pizza and beer for a friend who had helped me out, I mean that’s not expensive to share a pizza and have a drink each? The question is whether to tip on drinks or not, and most people say not to, because they are bringing you a drink. What I find annoying is the breakdown on the check of the food, beverages, tax, and service charge, and then suggestions for tip amounts. We ended up with a pizza a couple of sides, and he had several beers. He suggested I leave 25 percent as a tip as the server was someone he knew. I was opposed to leaving so much as we didn’t get any special treatment and the service wasn’t exactly fast in a quiet local place. So the pizza and beer ended up costing me $60 and I have to admit I begrudged the tip, which was equivalent to buying another whole pizza pie. To me a tip should to equate to buying the server a drink, not a whole meal.

I learned my lesson when it came to ordering in a pub though; there was one side of nachos and the rest was drinks. The service was bad and slow, the server had no idea of what wines there were and we ended up having to go in and get someone to take our order. Again, the American friend advised us when it came to tipping that it should still be 20 percent despite the slow service and the fact we only had drinks. The tip equated to another glass of wine, and I put down what I wanted (10 percent) and told him if he wanted to look good by tipping well he could make up the rest. I make no apology for failing to tip because someone expects it and because of the minimum wage law loophole that exists.

I’ve since found not all states are as bad, the following states pay a full cash minimum hourly wage to tipped staff;

California $10, Alaska $9.75, Oregon $9.75, Washington $9.47

(https://www.dol.gov/whd/state/tipped.htm)

If these states can do it, why can’t others? That means that tips are given in addition to the wages, just as it should be, and how it is in pretty much the rest of the world! Maybe it’s time for the US to understand how uncomfortable and awkward tipping is in a situation that is supposed to be relaxing and fun? The general rule of double the tax is fine in Massachusetts (6.25 percent), but works out to be nearly 20 percent in New York. For a Brit that’s way too much, and now I opt for 10-15 percent and round up to the dollar as a compromise. I think I would rather stick to states or establishments that pay their staff well because they value them rather than feel obliged to pay the staff wages via a tip.

It really is so much simpler in the UK—you pay the price you see on the menu, and then tip if you want to, knowing the staff still get paid (admittedly not always that much, but at least minimum wage), and I have been to places that have service charges included who remove it when the service was bad without asking. It’s not a perfect system, but it’s fair and transparent. You can read what the tipping etiquette is on most websites (and it differs greatly), but if it is written by an American in a city, that opinion will differ greatly from someone in a less populated area. A tip is not, and should not be classed as a wage; it’s not the responsibility of the customer to pay wages, but employers have a loophole that allows tips to be counted towards the hourly minimum. It’s their choice to pay the staff or not, and those who do pay at least the full minimum will have happier and harder working staff, and customers who won’t be made to feel guilty if they don’t tip 25 percent.

10 Of My Favorite ‘Only In The US’ American Stores

There are some stores, even though they have transatlantic counterparts where the original American versions are still so much better, for choice and price. Online shopping and international shipping can bridge that gap in times of desperation, but sometimes the real thing matters, and here’s why…

  1. Old Navy. While most Americans see this a budget version of The Gap and a place to get basics, I love this store for just that—quality basics at a reasonable price. One of my favorite pairs of black leggings/pants was found in an outlet store and they have served me so well, I daren’t wear them, as I can’t find another pair. There is no Old Navy as yet in the UK, but I am sure they would do well.
  2. Banana Republic. Recently a few branches have opened in the UK, but the online store serves the rest of the country where there are no stores. There is obviously more choice in the US with a store in nearly every mall, and the prices are much better and reasonable. The ambience of the stores in the US is more relaxed compared to the UK, where the brand is new and getting established and is seen as more exclusive than a chain.
  3. Dollar Tree. I love and miss this store, but branches do vary. I was fortunate to live close to some good ones that had a large range of items and also stocked frozen food. Some items were hit or miss, but generally I could find all my basics for the house here, snacks, and some bargain branded pantry staples.
  4. Marshalls. This is another bargain store I would always spend time in browsing, but again I was lucky to find some excellent buys. I bought a pair of Merrells for $35, a king sized Ralph Lauren fleece blanket (in New York) for $25, and way too many pairs of black yoga pants for under $10.
  5. Trader Joe’s. A favorite of many people because of the quality and prices. As a vegetarian it served me well, and it was the only place that sold buttery croissants that I liked. They also have a great wine selection, and their own brands of snacks are healthy and good value. It ticks all the boxes; I just needed one to be closer to where I lived.
  6. Christmas Tree Shops. I used to get the flyer through my door and in the papers all of the time and when I finally went to one I loved it. Bargains and ideas for the home galore and a wonderful selection of international foods. It’s a place you know you will always get good value, and don’t have to think about finding it cheaper elsewhere.
  7. Sephora. Believe it or not there isn’t a Sephora in the UK. The closest is in France (and they are fun too), but the US website ships to the UK. I prefer to browse in the stores, without anyone asking if I need any help, after checking the website for any specials.
  8. Abercrombie & Fitch. Some people see this as a preppy brand, but I have some classic favorites from this store, and they do very comfortable underwear. Comfort is king, and the t-shirts are pre-washed for that precisely. I actually buy the men’s versions, as they are better quality (more durable cotton), longer in the body and also in the leg. When my cargos got too many holes, it was a sad day and trying to replace them with another version, well that search continues.
  9. Panera. Besides the amazingly fresh bakery items, I like the healthy menu options, and that you can eat in casually or takeout. The soufflés and croissants are excellent, but they do sell out fast. They offer some well-priced meal deals, and the portions are generous, so good value for your buck.
  10. Department stores. I have a few favorites—Barneys New York, Nordstrom, Neiman Marcus, Bloomingdales, and Bergdorf Goodman. I prefer to shop alone in these places, and browse. While they can be seen as old fashioned, they still are wonderful places to find all you need under one roof.

10 American Foods a Brit Misses

Once I am back over the pond, I do miss some American foods that I acquired a taste for. Whether you consider them healthy or not is another matter, but I enjoyed them and hanker for them when I am not stateside. These are the foods I look forward to upon my return that I can’t get here in the UK, well not just yet.

  1. Spinach Bagels, or in New York, Pretzel Bagels. Bagels are much bigger in the US than in the UK, and do taste better. An Everything Bagel is a good substitute if I can’t find either of the above, and is great with some soup, or with a garden burger.
  2. Sweetcorn Chowder is my favorite, usually a cup because they are so big, or a cup of New England Vegetable Chowder is what I used to have for lunch or a midnight snack. With a sprinkling of croutons, it’s perfect for any time of day or the year.
  3. Cheetos, I miss dearly, and while they do have them in the UK they are not the same, I repeat; they are not real Cheetos. In the UK we have wotsits, which are cheesy puffs, but smaller. The Cheetos in the UK are thinner and shorter and are less cheesy, but I don’t know why. They are not real Cheetos because after eating a pack my fingers would be orange in the US, and here in the UK there isn’t even a hint of orange on my eager fingertips.
  4. Boxed macaroni cheese. This handy cupboard staple has seen me through some tough times. I like Kraft, but found the generic brands in the supermarkets were as good. I would add some fake bacon or some spinach to make it more of a meal, and added more butter to make it creamier.
  5. Pepperidge Farm Cookies. In particular Double Chocolate Milano, or Plain Chocolate Milano cookies. There is no substitution and nothing comes close. Perfect as an anytime pick me up, tea time treat, morning brain booster, or when I have writer’s block.
  6. Cedar’s Artichoke Spinach Hommus. I would always have a tub in the fridge and was great for dips or to hold my sandwiches or wraps together at lunchtime. The sound of two vegetables does make it sound healthier, and that is what I will continue to believe.
  7. Tofurky Hickory Smoked Deli Slices. When I first tried these I only used them cold, then I added them to a grilled cheese and they tasted even better. What was great is that they had just enough flavor, and I could eat them hot or cold when I needed a protein kick.
  8. Walgreen’s Nice Banana Nut Bread. I was convinced this was a healthy snack; it tasted good and was only a dollar. It was either that or a pack of chips, and often I would have both in my hand and wander around the store. The use of the word banana made me feel it was a better choice over a pack of corn chips.
  9. Funyuns. I’ve loved these for decades and is my guilty little secret. I eat them alone when no one else is around, and yes, it’s a family sized bag.
  10. Snyder’s Honey and Mustard Pretzel Bites. My brother is actually responsible for me getting hooked on these, but there is a cheaper option in Trader Joe’s that tastes as good at a fraction of the price.

Americanisms that the British sigh at

As American films, television shows, celebrities, and culture dominate the world, most of us know what common Americanisms mean, or we look them up. On the other hand most Americans don’t bother to find out what the equivalent is in other countries, especially in the UK, so here is a mini guide to what we Brits know, but don’t bother to correct Americans. Why? Simply because we know what they mean and adapt. Here are some of my tales, when there was confusion on both sides. For reference the American word is first followed by the UK term (which came first!).

  1. Projects v Council Estates. I was in New York City when my Uncle mentioned there were some new projects in his old neighborhood. I innocently asked what kind of projects were they. Then they showed me, and I realized it was what is now termed purpose built housing. I honestly thought they were implementing some work or recreational projects in the area.
  2. Blowout v Blowdry. When I first saw this on a Groupon offer, I wondered what on earth they do. I was looking for a blow dry, I mean that makes sense—they blow dry your hair. I must admit I thought it was some kind of misprint as it sounded like an intimate act, but Groupon doesn’t advertise that kind of thing, not in the UK anyhow.
  3. Cellphone v Mobile (phone). While everyone does know what these terms mean (cellular phone) many Americans won’t call it a mobile, and insist on calling it a cell. A cell to me is a prison, and not a mobile phone!
  4. French Press v Cafetière. I had a communication break down when I rented a room and the owner was showing me the kitchen. She told me she had a French Press, which I ignored because I had no idea what it was. Then I saw the cafetière, and mentioned it. “Oh you have a cafetière,” I said, to which she smiled, as she had no clue what I was on about. Somehow we went back and forth talking about the same item and not even realizing it. In the end I never used it.
  5. Cookies v Biscuits. Most people know that UK biscuits are US cookies, but in the US, biscuits are scones. I was surprised to find them on breakfast menus and the worst, as biscuits and gravy. Somehow it seems so very wrong to eat them as a savory dish. Long live the cheese scone.
  6. Sheer Panels v Voiles. I was helping my old landlady with some refurbishing to show her house on an open day, and thought voiles would be a cheap and quick way to add color and hide things. After a day of searching in Target, Pier 1, and Home Depot, I found several. Finally she gasped, “This is what you were on about!” because she had no idea what I was looking for, and spent the whole day being quiet, because she didn’t want to sound silly for not knowing what a voile was.
  7. Open Container v Open Bottle or Can. I was very confused when I saw signs prohibiting ‘open containers’, because I didn’t know what it meant. Surely someone can open a can of soda and drink it? Finally a friend explained it was to stop people drinking alcohol in public, and they use the word container to disguise that fact, but apparently all people know that an open container means alcohol?
  8. Sunnyside Up or Over Easy (egg) v Fried. I ran into this problem when I was ordering breakfast one day. You could choose how your eggs were done, and I just wanted it fried. The server looked at me, and I quickly scanned the menu and it all is said was eggs of your choice. I’d heard the term sunnyside up and said it and hoped for the best. In the UK we just say ‘well done’ or ‘slightly runny in the middle’.
  9. Skillet v Frying Pan. It still amazes me that some Americans can’t figure out what I’m looking for when I ask for a frying pan. It’s simple—a pan to fry something in. The amount of times people have corrected me and said it’s a skillet, and I want to fry something not skillet something.
  10. Trash or Garbage v Rubbish. You’ll be surprised at how many Americans don’t understand the word. In fact it astonishes me. The words are usually interchangeable, but to be trashy in the UK means something is cheap and common, so the word isn’t used often, as it is slang. As a result I try not to get into the habit of using the word trash, and use the phrase bin it, so that people know what I mean. Seriously, I once asked where the rubbish goes in the US to be met with a blank stare.

10 Chocolate Bars of Worth

I once contemplated taking time out in a Buddhist nunnery to find myself and get away from the rat race. I read the rules: No sex, alcohol, caffeine, or chocolate. The first three I could survive without for a while, but the thought of no chocolate was too much, and was the deciding factor that it wasn’t right for me.

America has a poor reputation for chocolate; whenever I go I always take a supply of my favorite bars—as much as I can fit into my luggage, and when I run out it becomes an expensive habit of finding imported chocolate. However, drugstores frequently have specials on Godiva and Lindt chocolate, and with my loyalty card discounts I can justify my luxury chocolate consumption. The recent ban of UK imported chocolate to the US from Cadbury’s (Kraft) only goes to prove US chocolate is inferior. I have even contemplated buying an extra luggage allowance just for chocolate, although I am aware I’m bordering on eccentricity here. Sadly, since Kraft took over Cadbury’s, even UK Cadbury’s has suffered with smaller bars and the chocolate does taste different—less creamy and with a bitter aftertaste. Since I have not yet found suitable replacements, a bar has made the list, but as a chocoholic, Cadbury’s you cannot fool me.

A word of warning, Marks and Spencer bars won’t be easy to find, but over the years they have had gourmet chocolate bars with praline and ganache. If you do happen to chance upon them, they are worth paying for the sheer indulgence as they melt into your taste buds, and it will be hard not to get addicted to them. These are my current favorites, but as an open-minded chocoholic, I am always on the look out for new bars, although I am attempting a few sugar free days per week…

  1. Galaxy Ripple: Simply a creamy and delicious chocolate bar made up of flaky layers of chocolate, encased in chocolate that makes it easier and less messy to eat.
  2. Nestlé Toffee Crisp: Although I’m not a fan of rice crispies, I do like the combination of rice crispies covered in chocolate with a top layer of toffee. I hate the orange wrapper, but it’s what inside that matters. This is also a favorite of David Beckham.
  3. Marks and Spencer Swiss Milk Chocolate Bar: This is a decadent bar and not one you share with just anyone. The chocolate is creamy and light. There are versions with praline fillings, and these are ones you should eat alone. I do, because it’s expensive and I’ll only share with someone who appreciates good chocolate.
  4. Cadbury’s Flake: I’ve loved this since a child and always wanted to be ‘Flake Girl’ in the iconic adverts. They have stopped them now, maybe as they thought they were sexist, but they were liberating really. It can be messy to eat, as the flake will crumble, but the best part is emptying the leftover flakes into your mouth by tapping the wrapper into your mouth directly. It’s not very ladylike, so do it alone, but otherwise you waste so much chocolate.
  5. Terry’s Chocolate Orange: This is a childhood favorite—tapping the orange and having a chocolate orange slice. When they introduced bars I was very happy, although they do seem to have gotten smaller recently.
  6. Lindt Lindor Milk Chocolate: I was ecstatic when I friend of mine was managing a Lindor promotional tour and gave me a bag full of chocolate truffles. Generally this is my back up chocolate when I am abroad as I know they won’t change the recipe. The little red balls have saved me many a time when I needed a fix.
  7. Godiva Dark Chocolate Ganache Bar: This is a luxury item for me, and I do treasure each mouthful. Perfection is every sense, and if you have never tried it, once you have, chocolate will never be the same again.
  8. Nestlé Aero: This comes in various formats, but I like the block bar and the single chunky bar. I don’t like the ones with flavors, just the plain milk chocolate version. The bubbles melt in your mouth as you eat a chunk.
  9. Nestlé Dairy Crunch: In the US I tend to eat this frequently as it’s more readily available and is on special most of the time. It’s a simple bar of chocolate with rice crispies in it. I’m happy to say the UK and US versions taste the same.
  10. Nestlé Kit Kat (Dark): I only like the foil wrapped version, as the ones in a plastic wrapper just don’t taste the same. I still like the milk chocolate version, but the dark chocolate version is better, and in the US it tastes better then the milk chocolate counterpart.

Recently I have been trying other bars and Aldi have an excellent range. I do like Green & Black’s although they did sell out to Cadbury’s. I am aware of the ethical implications of where our chocolate comes from, and I do support Fairtrade, but this is up to the companies to implement too. The truth is can be ever know 100% where any of our products come from unless they are from our own garden?

The 10 best cookies (biscuits) in the world

The sign of a good host is a well-stocked cookie jar (USA) or a biscuit tin (UK). A good cookie can be an instant pick me up, a light snack, and is perfect with a cup of tea or coffee. Here are some of the best cookies (so far) that have crossed my palate. Naturally, home-baked are the best, but you can’t go wrong with these traditional favorites when you need a break, or to stop the rumble tums. I am a chocoholic, so most of these will have chocolate in them, but I assure you they are worth it.

  1. Loaker Tortina. These wonderful round chocolate wafers should only be shared with those you really care about. Individually wrapped, these can be found in delis around the world, Italian style coffee bars, and all Italian shops. I warn you, they can be addictive, but if you are having a bad day, one of these and a shot of espresso will help. These days you can choose from the original milk chocolate, or dark with creamy praline sandwiched inside.
  2. Pepperidge Farm, Double Chocolate Milano. The classic cookie; decadent, and perfectly sized for three generous bites. Milano cookies have various versions with mint, orange available, but the original chocolate Milano is now a classic and is still the best cookie in the USA. Once customs stopped my brother and I, when we took a suitcase of 30 packs as hand luggage. We simply said they were too valuable to get damaged in the hold.
  3. Loaker Gardena. Crispy, chocolate coated wafers that are sold in a block that you break off. These are great for sharing and are shaped in fingers. It has the same taste as a Tortina, but is cheaper and has a lighter coating of chocolate.
  4. Bourbon Creams. A classic English chocolate cream biscuit; an oblong sized biscuit with chocolate buttercream in the middle. These can be found in most biscuit assortments in the UK, and is apparently the fifth most popular biscuit in the UK. Perfect to dunk into any drink, especially hot chocolate.
  5. Chocolate Digestive. The most popular biscuit in the UK made with a bran base and is similar to graham crackers in the US. The best ones are coated with dark chocolate on one side, but plain digestives are very sturdy for dunking and are also used as the base for cheesecakes. Originally created to help with digestion (hence the name), there are few actual digestive benefits, but does help to make a cup of tea or coffee taste better.
  6. Shortbread. It has to have butter—otherwise it’s not shortbread. Now, I love plain butter shortbread, but there are chocolate versions too which are as delicious. I rather like Walkers, but not all Scottish shortbread is the same; check the butter quantity before buying, because it’s the butter that makes it taste so decadent. It maybe scary to see how much butter is used, but you can taste the difference.
  7. Jammie Dodgers. A small round shortbread biscuit with a raspberry jam sandwich. Don’t worry the jam isn’t runny or messy, but is solidified inside. These are great to add color on a plate if serving them for tea, but are also a great way to use up jam.
  8. Lemon ThinS. These are so light and melt in your mouth. They are little like lemon shortbread, except much finer. Many people like to eat them with ice cream as a dessert, instead of a wafer,or have them with coffee after dinner instead of mints.
  9. Double chocolate chip cookies. I mean the freshly baked soft cookies where the chocolate chips are sill gooey when you bite into them. Sadly, these are extremely high in calories, but delicious. For the ultimate chocolate experience, dunk into a thick Italian hot chocolate (which is like liquid chocolate).
  10. Viennese Fingers.Traditionally these are vanilla and butter biscuits that are half dipped in chocolate. Simply delicate and bliss. Some versions may have nuts in them, or are called ‘whirls’ where the chocolate is sandwiched between two biscuits. All are equally edible and divine.

In the UK, tea-time (afternoon tea) is between 3:30 – 5 p.m. when biscuits, cakes, and tea or coffee are served. I make it a habit to continue this tradition wherever I am in the world. Yes, it is an official name for a meal!

10 foodie things a Brit misses in America

I love American style food, but every now and then I miss a few familiar items that Americans just don’t understand or get. They are so missing out! Some are an acquired taste, but Americans do pizza well, and also onion rings or strings. Yes, I get excited when I see some Brit food in American shops until I see the price…

  1. Cheese and Onion crisps.

You can try and pretend sour cream and chive are similar, but they aren’t. There’s something about cheese and onion crisps that just taste so good, but they don’t taste actually anything like cheese and onion. Since Walker’s changed their recipe I have switched to Golden Wonder, but in the US I will take any pack I can get when I get a craving.

  1. Decent instant coffee.

In the US they are called crystals, and I can see why people prefer the coffee maker because the instant coffee crystals available are so weak and tasteless. I actually take instant coffee with me to the US, because I like strong coffee, and am impatient. Americans seem to be able to keep drink lukewarm coffee that has sat there all day in a pot. It’s so uncivilized, and some even heat it up in the microwave.

  1. Sliced bread.

I miss an actual slice of bread, not a half-size as the majority of  loaves are in the supermarket. In addition most taste artificial and some even contain sugar and animal fats. Mass produced bread is not healthy and decent bread is expensive in the US. I would advise making your own if you move to the US. There is no Hovis; the closest I can get to decent is Pepperidge Farm, which is expensive and the loaves are small.

  1. Buttery croissants.

It’s hard to find a real buttery and flaky croissant in the US, even in bakeries. The closest I found to be edible was at Trader Joe’s. Some are so bad they actually ruin the experience.

  1. Jars of pesto.

I know I could make my own, but pesto seems to be a gourmet food in the US where you can’t get a jar for under $4, and fresh pesto is double the price. In the UK you can get a decent jar in Lidl for 99p. Maybe I should set up a company making pesto?

  1. Ribena.

For those that don’t know, it’s a blackcurrant cordial, which has it’s own rich and unique taste. It’s perfect as a summer drink and great in winter as a hot drink when you have a cold.

  1. Yorkshire pudding.

Americans have something similar called a popover, but they add things like herbs or onions to them. A good Yorkshire pudding is crispy and plain, and the bigger the better, and is always served with a main meal.

  1. Pies and pasties.

Not the sweet kind, but the ones you find at the West Cornwall Pasty Company or Greggs. I miss a wholemeal vegetable crimped pasty, or a cheese and mushroom one. Greggs do a great cheese and onion slice, and the Cornish Bakehouse make a spicy vegetarian sausage roll. Pie, mash, and gravy—perfect winter comfort food.

  1. Chocolate.

I could devote a whole website to this, but there is zero decent chocolate in the US unless it’s imported. The import and sale of UK Cadbury’s versions have been banned, because it affects the sale of similar products already made in the US. They do not taste the same and banning them doesn’t mean people will buy the inferior versions. I end up waiting for specials on Lindt and Godiva in the drugstore. In desperation I will have a Twix or a Dairy Crunch which are edible when I have no choice.

  1. Baked beans.

Sometimes you just feel like baked beans on toast, but can you find baked beans without any bits of bacon? Not unless you go to a specialty store and are willing to pay $1.50 for a can. Yes, in the UK the staple of most cupboards is 50 pence a can, but beans on toast in the US is an expensive gourmet snack.