A Few Final Thoughts on our Visit to England

We arrived at JFK late last week from a glorious three weeks in England.  Things got off to a bit of a rough start:

  • We eased through passport control leaving many irate passengers queued at understaffed immigration booths.  Nevertheless, JFK baggage-handlers made sure that our bags were the last off the plane;
  • The car we booked to pick us up failed to appear.   It seemed that the Ukrainian car service had gone out of business (were they deported?) and the “new” owners had just put up a new website;
  • We booked an Uber for the first time, but the driver failed to appear.  We needed to book another one, but I still got charged $5 for cancelling the service for the one that failed to appear;
  • We listened to a hilarious “talk radio” segment on the Uber ride home where a guy was convinced his girlfriend was cheating on him because he got mononucleosis.  His justification for infidelity:  “I never get sick, so she must have been kissing someone else.”

I thought I had just arrived in a third-world country.  Upon reflection, it is!

Things proceeded downhill rather quickly after listening to media and political pundits trade insults on TV and the radio.  Nevertheless, hope spring eternal when I discovered that the left and the right can get together as “Morning Joe” stars Mika Brzezinski and Joe Scarborough announced their engagement.

Mika did have the good sense to turn down Donald Trump’s kind request to “oversee their vows.”

Christ Church College, Oxford

 

Frankly, things are different in England:

  • You have knife killings rather than gun killings since private firearms are banned;
  • You can listen to BBC or ITV news without spilling your “cuppa” tea;
  • They watch World Championship snooker where athletes in smart tuxedos bash balls about rather than each other;
  • The NHS (National Health System) didn’t upgrade their Windows XP system so that it could be easily hacked using purloined NSA malware (what are friends and allies for?);
  • The best hot chocolate in England can be found in a “burger” restaurant, actually it is Burgers of Marlow;
  • Yes, they have a Harry Potter tour at Oxford College.  Tour guides smile amiably, but point out that the great dining hall at Christ Church College served only as inspiration for the Potter movies.  Nevertheless, this has not dissuaded the College from increasing entrance fees from £1.50 to £7.50;
  • The “New College” of Oxford was founded in 1379.  The original Tappan Zee bridge built in 1955 is now being replaced by a $4 billion bridge to help New Englanders bypass New York City.

An American was recently asked what she thought about her tour of Windsor Castle.  She responded, “It was great, but why did they build the Castle so close to the airport?”

Despite their imperfections – like all others when one is prone to generalize – you must admire the Brits.  Keep doing what you are doing.  As Arnold Schwarzenegger said, “I’ll be back!”

World Cup Predictions – Group D

As suggested in earlier posts, the FIFA FIX Is IN and get prepared to see Brazil in the World Cup final.   I am not sure that Brazil deserves to be in the World Cup final, but then corruption has a way of levelling the playing field for all contenders.   In any event, some of the qualifying matches can be quite entertaining.

Group D promises to be one of the most exciting groups of the early qualifying matches.   Teams from this group have earned no less than 7 World Cup titles of the 19 World Cups played:   Italy (4), Uruguay (2) and England (1).   Now, only serious environmentalists and Tea Party freaks who have emmigrated to Costa Rica to escape Obama honestly think that Costa Rica has a chance of moving forward to the next round.  Nevertheless,  the remaining three contenders all have solid credentials to move forward to the next stage.

Manaus Football Stadium

Manaus Football Stadium for World Cup 2014

Here is the drawing for Group D for the 2014 World Cup with the FIFA March “Power Rankings” in parenthesis:

  • Uruguay (Power Ranking of 5)
  • Italy (9)
  • England (11)
  • Costa Rica (34)

Now I realize it is hard to believe that Uruguay – a country of 3 million – has a higher FIFA power ranking than Italy and England, but these lads play serious football and sprinkled among the national team are great individual talents.  In fact, no less than 81 Uruguayans play professionally for European and Latin American teams.

It is not surprising that most Uruguayans prefer to play abroad, since Brazilians jokingly comment that Uruguay is a country where 1/3 of the population is retired, 1/3 is unemployed and the remaining 1/3 work for the government.   Personally, I think a more telling feature is that the Reverend Moon owns the largest hotel in Montevideo.

Levity aside, Uruguay won the first World Cup in 1930 and upset Brazil in the finals at Maracana in 1950 to win their second world cup title.  I expect that they will advance to the next round in this painfully difficult group to predict.

England is always a consistent underachiever and I suspect that “the rot” will once again be exposed in a truly historical match against Italy in Manaus on June 14th.   The English Premier League attracts a great deal of attention among the media, but – let’s face it – the only place where English is spoken is in the football stands (Editor’s Note:  And it is not the Queen’s English) rather than the pitch.   Most of the foreign-owned league leaders are filled with mercenaries where English is but a distant second-language.  Indeed, even most of the successful managers in the Premier League are also imported.   Very sad indeed!

I realize that Italian football is in decline, but I believe that they will muster enough energy to beat England by using their heads rather than their diminished skills.  The only winner in this contest is Manaus which will be dreadfully hot and humid.   I suspect that the Italians will employ the “Rope-a-Dope” technique against the English that Muhammad Ali so successfully used against Joe Foreman in the Rumble in the Jungle in Zaire.    Personally, I detest seeing World Class football being played in these conditions, but then FIFA’s hypocritical bandits have never been known to do anything to enhance the quality of the game.

While I am giving a nod to Italy who play football with surgical precision, the real winner will the heat and humidity of Manaus.  A nil nil draw is quite likely and both teams would probably settle for that if they could avoid playing in Manaus.  If there should be a winner, the “better team” will most certainly progress to the next round.

Another reason I am giving the nod to Italy is that Caruso sang at the historic Manaus Opera House that was built just before the bottom fell out of the rubber market.

Again, I am looking for Uruguay and Italy to emerge from this group.  Games which stand out are as follows:

  • June 14th   Italy – England (Manaus)
  • June 19th   Uruguay – England (Sao Paulo)
  • June 24th  Uruguay – Italy (Natal)

A most interesting group, but do catch Italy and England in Manaus which is one of the earlier matches of the tournament and is likely to determine the fate of one of these two strong contenders.

Sedgemoor Easter Biscuits

A recent Easter favorite is Sedgemoor Easter Biscuits that I first discovered in the New York Times some two years ago, but the original recipe comes from Florence White’s 1932 cookbook Good Things in England A Practical Cookery Book for Everyday Use.  This cookbook was reprinted in 2003 and there is an excellent Blog on Sedgemoor Easter Biscuits or “Cakes” with the recipe in grams for those metrically-inclined.  I will stick to Tbs and tsp to preserve our somewhat outdated traditions in cooking.

Sedgemoor Easter Cakes

West England is known for its great biscuits and potted cream and dairy products and this sensational recipe brings together all of those great English traditions. This recipe includes a confectioner’s sugar glaze to set off the great flavors of this currant biscuit.

Sedgemoor Easter Biscuits

Ingredients
3/4 cup dried currants
2 Tbs brandy
3/4 cup whole-wheat pastry flour
2/3 cup all-purpose flour
1/2 tsp salt
4 oz (1 stick) of unsalted butter
1/2 cup of sugar
1/2 tsp cinnamon
1/4 tsp nutmeg
1/4 tsp ground allspice
1 large egg beaten
1 tsp vanilla extract
3/4 cup sifted confectioners’ sugar
4 tsp milk

Preparation

Place currants in a small bowl, add brandy and set aside.  Preheat oven to 350 degrees.  Line baking sheet with parchment.

Place flours and salt in mixer.  Mix briefly on low speed to blend.  Dice butter, add to mixer bowl and mix on low speed until blended with flour to make a crumbly mixture.  Whisk sugar and spices together and add to mixer.  Mix on low.  Add egg, 1/2 teaspoon vanilla, currants and brandy, and mix on low just until clumps of dough start to form.  Turn dough out on work surface.  Knead briefly to smooth.

Roll out about 3/8-inch thick.  Us a 2 1/2-inch round cutter, preferably fluted to cut rounds.  Reroll scraps.  Place rounds on baking sheet.  Bake about 25 minutes until lightly browned.  Transfer cookies to a rack.

Mix confectioners’ sugar with milk and remaining vanilla, and brush on warm cookies.  When glaze has set, brush on a second coat.  Allow to cool completely.  If desired, wrap in packages of three and tie with pastel ribbon (Holy Trinity).

This recipe yields about 18 cookies and I always make a double batch.  You will want to also after you taste these great England cakes.

Sheila May
Therese Saint Clair