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:
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!