expat life

Expat life: finding substitutes

27 Comments 06 July 2012

san pellegrino lemon

Lemon float: summer afters (or, ‘dessert’ in the UK). Or Afternooners. Or…anytimers?

As part of my expat life I accept that I will not be celebrating the same things–or in the same way, as I did at home. I don’t always celebrate the Fourth of July (American Independence Day to the readers who aren’t American) but this year my husband said “do you want to go out or something?” He wasn’t sure what to suggest. He knows fireworks are invoved but he hates them (he’s seen the results of too many fireworks-gone-rogue, in A&E), but he also knows BBQs, hot dogs, burgers, ribs, maybe Root Beer Floats, and regular beer might also be involved, so he thought a local restaurant that serves some version of American food might be a good enough substitute.

Well, you know. It’s all in the word: substitute. Not the real thing.

But I appreciated the effort and it meant no cooking or dishes, which was kind of nice. So, in a way it was like a 2nd birthday in the year and I could get used to that. We chose a restaurant that has lots of Americana–license tags on the walls (I looked for relevant states but only found Arkansas and Illinois), red and white checked table cloths, drinks served in chilled glasses, Boston and Bon Jovi on in the background (then later my daughter pointed out that they were playing Michelle by the Beetles and being post-Mojito I thought it really was my birthday, but realised that was silly and at the same time realised they weren’t playing exclusively American music–what happened to the Americana theme?). And a menu with various burgers, fajitas, nachos and ribs. The dessert section had sundaes. No milkshakes. (I know.)

I was embracing it. Husband ordered beer in a frosty mug. The mug was tiny. But to be fair, it was pint sized. We were in England, after all, not America. We all ordered burgers and french fries. I ordered a Mojito.

“Ok if you drive home today?” I asked Husband. He sighed, but agreed.

In the minty haze of the Mojito I munched my way through a decent burger, left most of the chips (they weren’t french fries), thought the teensy dab of coleslaw looked a bit congealed so I left that too, but ate one too many of the tasty onion rings. Ok, maybe three too many.

You know what I was hoping for, the all-singing, all-dancing woo hoo awesomeness that is a restaurant experience (of this category) in the States. I know that was unfair and I needed to manage my expectations better. Anyway, the waitress was happy with the American sized tip (why give your Mojito fuelled wife the credit card to pay with??), and I didn’t mind that I did that because she was actually really friendly and helpful.

And I was grateful to not have dishes to clear up. I will remember this for next year!

But of course there was much more that was missing for me: the rest of my family, the American culture, hot weather, big fireworks, un-self-conscious patriotism. One day when we don’t have kids in school anymore I will book a trip to the States to celebrate with my American family again. Not because I don;t like living in Britain, but simply because I love celebrating the 4th. that’s a whole different post.

It is like this with a lot of things about being an expat. For example, I love Root Beer Floats. Of course a real Root Beer Float comes served in a giant frosty glass mug that’s been chilling in a freezer for ages, the weather is hot, and you might be sitting at a table in the shade. You can recreate some of that, but not all. It’s a substitution, recalling memories as well as the taste, and it’s fun to do if you keep in mind it won’t recreate the Whole Thing.

Here’s one I made earlier:

root beer float in UK

A Root Beer float in the UK!

Want to know how? Easy. Chill a pint glass in the freezer 30 mn or so (yes, you have to use a BIG glass or you just don’t have the same effect), and don’t forget to keep the Root Beer in the fridge for several hours before using. Put a few scoops of vanilla ice cream in, slowly pour over the Root Beer. The idea is that the glass and the ice cream are so cold that they get a layer of Root Beer freezing against them, and this keeps the ice cream from melting straight away. You can buy Root Beer (I can find the A&W brand) in specialist food shops, or probably online. Add straw and long spoon. Ta da and woo hoo!

And for a twist, as I know not everyone is into Root Beer (or can find it) I tried the sparkling lemon drink made by San Pellegrino–I thought the lip pursing flavour of the drink would be nice with the creamy sweetness of the ice cream (see top image). I was right. Try it. This is a great idea for a summer pudding!! Refreshing and satisfying to a sweet tooth at the same time. And pretty if served right. I served this one in small jam jars because a little bit goes a long ways with the lemon drink.

So, as a substitute, the Root Beer Float in a pint glass in the UK kind of works, but add a twist like the fizzy lemon drink and you can discover something new all together. Kind of like thinking of the 4th of July in the UK as independence from the kitchen and from being designated driver, for a day–that works for me too!


Your Comments

27 Comments so far

  1. Expat Mum says:

    We were here for the 4th for the first time in years as we’re usually in England. The best though, is flying over to England on the 9pm flight on July 4th. We get to see all the firework displays for a couple of hundred miles and it’s fab.
    Root beer – never really have taken to it although I love Diet Dr. Pepper!

    • Michelloui says:

      That would indeed be a fab way to see the 4th! I remember going in a small plane around my uni one yer on the 4th–didn’t see as many as you would have but saw loads at ‘eye level’!

      Diet Dr Pepper? Sounds… hmm. I like regular Dr Pepper though! I can understand how Root Beer is an aquired taste. My husband used to think Root Beer tasted like mouthwash. 😉

  2. I’ve been able to find both A&W Rootbeer and Mugs (my preferred brand) in the Chinese grocery stores in Manchester.

    No idea why they carry it, but at 70p a can it’s affordable as an occasional treat.

    • Michelloui says:

      SEVENTY PENCE A CAN?! Yes, I was shouting. I pay about £2 for the cans I find… (they can see me coming, I reckon!)

  3. I completely forgot they were called floats! I used to have them in Canada when I was a kid and still do them here for my boys as a massive treat. I use lemonade and lemon or orange sorbet only cos I don’t like vanilla icecream. Wonder if it woulod work using gnger beer and ginger ice cream???!!!
    So appreciate your yearning to be in America for the Fourth – as an ex-expat I used to miss stuff like Bonfire Night!

    • Michelloui says:

      Now THAT is a really nice twist–the lemonade with the sorbet. Ginger beer is another great idea… Hmmmm…. Now I’m going to have to try all sorts of combos!

  4. Angela says:

    Where do you find root beer here? I might have to fill the boot if I can find a place that sells it.

    • Michelloui says:

      It sounds like it varies from area to area with regards to mainstream grocery stores–and some Amazon.co.uk shops sell American food, worth checking there too. There’s a candy shop near me that sells Laffy Taffy, Bazooka gum, Nerds, Will Wonka candy, Lucky Charms and a few things like that and, of course, Root Beer! Best of luck finding some!

  5. Oh my gosh, I had almost forgotten about root beer floats. LOVE them.

    I remember summer nights as a child living in the ‘burbs of Chicago. Me and my 3 siblings putting on our pajamas, piling into the 1955 turquoise-and-white Chevy BelAir with Mom, and my Dad driving us to the local ‘Dog ‘n Suds’ for root beer floats. What a treat!

    For some strange reason, it was always a big deal to watch my Dad tuck a 2-quarter tip beneath the red rubber waffle-weave mat that sat on the grey metal tray affixed to the car window.

    I’m so glad you mentioned root beer. I’m going to search out a local source and treat myself. Again.

    P.S. In Illinois, we called a root beer float a ‘Black Cow’ – when you added chocolate syrup to a ‘Black Cow’ (which, by the way, is DELICIOUS), it then became known as a ‘Brown Cow’.

    • Michelloui says:

      I love this image you’ve conjured up with your memory Denise–a real trip down Americana memory lane!! I have memories of the local A&W drive in… I have never tried a Brown Cow, or even heard of them and Black or Brown Cows!! Learn something every day… :)

  6. I just checked online and it looks like our local Tesco carries A&W root beer at .79p/can. Don’t know how I missed it in the store. :-)

  7. Iota says:

    I asked my son the date, the other day, and he replied “fourth of July”. Oh. My eyes went all watery. We only celebrated it once when we were in America. Three of the 5 years we were in England on the date, and one other time we were driving home from vacation. It was the first year that we were there, when we went to the celebration at the neighborhood pool. But you can miss a concept, even if it never quite became a reality – if you see what I mean.

    • Michelloui says:

      I do see what you mean and it is the concept that is hardest to describe to people who have never experienced it.

  8. Rachel says:

    If anyone happens to find an authentic substitute for Cadbury’s Fruit and Nut bars or Giant Chocolate Buttons, I can be contacted 24/7 on …!!

    I do love Root Beer floats though – perhaps you could try them with Dandelion and Burdock soda (Do they even d that anymore?) – it would be a fascinating cross cultural experiment.. :)

  9. Tammy says:

    I wrote two blog posts this week about celebrating the 4th in England. One on my blog, and one for Smitten by Britain (She found my through one of my comments here. Thanks!)

    Much like you, I agree that substitute equals not the real thing. I remember making a pumpkin pie for Thanksgiving one year while I lived in Guildford and every single ingredient was a substitute – including the pumpkin! The result was tasty, but it wasn’t Thanksgiving.

    At least for my 4th celebrations, I found different ways to mark the day that worked great for me. The filled the need, even though they weren’t what I would have done at home. Isn’t that what being an expat is all about?

  10. Monique says:

    Love the idea of the lemon-cream fizz — not a substitution, but a whole new thing, a tasty mix of cultures. Perfect. (And I’m saving up my fireworks longing for Guy Fawkes night, where you will find me singing the star spangled banner, surround by confused englishmen).

  11. Paige Holden says:

    Hehe – I love this post. And I liked your s’more post from last year, too. I recently wrote a post on celebrating the 4th abroad and included the link.

    Anyway, I got a kick out of the restaurant you went to. Of all the states, what’s up with Arkansas and Illinois? And it kind of makes me chuckle that fajitas are considered “American.” I’d be looking for the cheesesteaks and milk shakes! But, you’ve got to hand it to the place for trying and the little discrepancies along the way are endearing.

    There really is no way to replicate a wholly-American holiday in another country but sometimes having a slice of Americana (your root beer float)is enough to make it special.

    OH! And if you really want to confuse the Britons, ask them for some Sasparilla next time. Southern drawl optional…

    • Dunk says:

      Not sure where you live, but you can occasionally find sarsparilla root in Jamaican/West Indian shops or market stalls, and even, a bit more weirdly, in Chinese and oriental supermarkets

      Note. I did say occasionally

  12. Joel says:

    For substitutions, I’m sure you have Coca-Cola in the UK. I was always raised to drink Coke floats.

  13. Ashleigh says:

    This makes me very nostalgic. I used to drink these, ALWAYS made with A&W with my dad every Saturday after the cartoons finished! My children have the American taste bud gene when it comes to some things, and root beer happens to be one of them thankfully.

    • Michelloui says:

      I’m humming the A&W root beer song now, you know ‘A&W root beer has that frosty mug taste…’??

  14. I am so happy to have come across your blog (fake or not..??..)It is wonderful for me to read someone else’s account of my same experiences over my past 20 years over here. Thanks!

    • Michelloui says:

      LOL! Definitely not fake. Nice to meet you! And I’ve just popped over to your site–very very cool, love the products. Those knitted chicken feet for babies, OMG!!! 😀

  15. Sorry, it os me in both of the above posts, I wrote the first as me, not knowing if it would work and then posted again in my blogger account. I really mean it, I love your site/blog, it is so refreshing to read positive things or at least things that aren’t so ridiculously insular (us Americans can be a bit focused on ‘America is best’). I love the knitted feet too, I have twins on the way and I can guarantee you that they will be sporting webbed feet (useful with weather like this huh?).

  16. awindram says:

    There’s an old A&W drive through here. The poor girls come out in roller skates, but it’s a bit tatty now, don’t think it has been renovated since the 50s. An interesting bit of Americana.

    I miss Dandelion and Burdock. You sometimes see the Fentiman’s Dandelion and Burdock here, but that’s posh pop and never tastes quite the same as other brands.

  17. Kym Hamer says:

    I tried root beer once (in Australia so I’m not sure whether it was close to ‘the real thing’) – it tasted a bit like a weaker version of sarsparilla or a stronger version of creamy soda (uniquely Australian I believe). I quite liked it then so when I next go to the States I must revisit.

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