Curse of the Middle Class

So, I left you with that nail-biting cliffhanger, an unfinished list of cultural differences between the U.S. and U.K. You can stop holding your breath now, because here’s Part 2. However, you may want to stock up on caffeine, because what I intended to write in a sentence or two has (again) become a 800+ word essay. And I think each observation will take the same tangential spin into disjointed rambling. Or, we could say that each point is worthy of its own post, worthy of attention and feedback and discourse. However you see it, let’s launch into Observation #2: Stay Class(y), UK.

(Observation #1: Clothes, and Cleanliness)

It’s Friday, and the city is bustling– a word that annoys me, but is fitting in this case– with tourists and Oxfordians alike. I’m sitting in a Starbucks, eating slices of roast beef and strawberries with my hands. Ladylike, I know.

John and I just killed a few hours in his warm office, where we chatted with his officemate about all sorts of things. Well, he and John did most of the chatting; I just interjected occasionally. His officemate made some interesting points about the class system:

  • Rich people are not necessarily upper-class.
  • Royalty are usually considered upper-class.
  • The more upper-class you are, the less you are likely to act polite or appear well-groomed, because you don’t give a $#*! what others think of you.
  • Middle-class people will use “fancier” words, dress neatly, and otherwise do their best to impress everyone around them.

This led into a conversation about “u” (upper-class) and “not-u” words. Wikipedia dates it to the 1950s, but apparently people still follow the concepts.

So, middle-class folks will use “not-u” words because they want to give a good impression. Upper-class people don’t really need to rise any higher in social status, so they can get away with slang, commoner-speak, and looking like a filthy hippie.

This raises so many questions and points out so many parallels against the social class structure in the U.S. I’m not a sociologist, obviously, so take this with a grain of salt.

  • The U.S. places less emphasis on royalty on the social totem pole, but more emphasis on money (and therefore, power). People who go to fancy restaurants and don’t think twice about $300 bills are upper class. In the UK, they’d be considered middle-class. You’re middle-class, I’m middle-class, Bill Gates is middle-class, Bill Clinton is middle-class.
  • It’s tough to compare the U.S. middle-class to that of the UK. I feel like we have so many levels of middle-class. Lower, middle, upper –middle classes exist and separate us neatly into economic tiers. It seems more blended here.
  • In my experience, it’s more likely that a middle-class person will speak using informal language and… maybe not be as uptight about maintaining a pristine physical appearance (guilty). Upper-class Americans will pay more attention to how they sound, look, act, because slipping down the social ladder hurts them more. Politicians, celebrities, sports stars: all eyes are on them, waiting for the slightest misstep to feed the gossip machine, or to open a spot for the next-in-line (not by heredity, but by the size of your wallet) player to enter the game.

I could make more casual observations and point out differences, but what actually stuck with me is a similarity between the middle and upper –class, that I don’t think quite exists here in the UK. It’s not that American middle-class people don’t care about impressing others—on the contrary, I think it’s something all social classes have in common. We are constantly trying to out-Jones the Joneses, buy more shiny things, and beat ourselves into a pulp at gyms that rank your stats against those of your fellow cardio rats (sorry, Dad and Carol; I’m still not a fan of the concept).

Apparently, John and I are exempt from all of this as outsiders. Which is a good thing, because we were starting to sound awfully upper-class, with John’s penchant for four-letter words and my slovenly uniform of oversized sweatpants and sneakers. More than anything, though, I just feel this deep sadness for the UK middle-classers, because it just seems like you’re set up for a life of desperation for approval—the desire to be liked, which is different from the desire to be respected. You will always be part of the self-conscious middle-class, even if you get Bill Gates-rich.

I’ve been there. I’ve spent too much time caring about what others think of me, for the wrong reasons; I’ve spent too much time being ashamed for being “different.” Listening to John’s officemate describe all of this, I realized that I’ve finally managed to stop that and embrace who I am, with all of my quirks and oddities (or, most of them—it’s a work in progress). So it’s nice to be “exempt” from these silly cultural expectations. I don’t know where I fit in, and it doesn’t really matter in the end, as long as I’m myself and surrounded by people I love.

Cue the sappy music.

Speaking of people I love, there are developments ahead. In September, to be exact. September 8th, to be precise. And no, I’m not pregnant. More on the next post! 

Don’t make this about the rain

That’s not really a title inasmuch as a little note to myself to not whine about the rain. That’d make me the typical American tourist, right? So, I will not write about biking 4 miles uphill (both ways) through the cold wind to get to a job interview that I was late for and riding home, slaughtered by an angry rain that left me with water pouring out of my shoes. Nope, won’t do it.

I will write about my second attempt at pizza, because it went better than the first, even though once again the dough lacked sugar for the yeast to gobble up. But this time the recipe came from an expert in all things dough, Jim Lahey, and his no-knead crust truly is worth the hype. It’s hard to improve upon genius, but here are some tips that work for me, including two new ones:

1. Bring your dough to room temp. at least an hour before go-time. You’ll want to makesure it’s not sticky, so get your hands dirty (with flour). And if you can avoid turning your kitchen into a floury mess within the next five minutes, tell me your secret.

2. Handle the dough gently (to avoid hurting its feelings). Meaning, don’t roll it into oblivion with a bowling pin, just gently lift and stretch from the corners. I don’t have a pizza stone, so I baked on parchment+a baking sheer.

3. Throw pan with dough in oven as it preheats, maybe 3-4 minutes or so. Watch it carefully. You just want it to get a little firm, not bake. This helps avoid a soggy crust, as does this next tip:

4. Top partially-baked crust with thin layer of olive oil, then your sauce and toppings. A random Internet commenter argues that this prevents the sauce from soaking into the base, preserving that crispy crust. It sounds plausible.

5. Never trust bake times. Since it’s baked in a hot-as-possible oven, pizza can go from underdone to burnt fairly quickly. Just watch it like a hawk, which you’ll be doing anyway, because there’s something magical about seeing your creation spring to life in the oven.

If anyone makes this and wants to wax poetic about pizza, please report back! No, seriously. It can’t be just me.

I wasn’t planning to ramble about pizza, though. I was going to offer a lighter topic than the last post, heavy in statistics and journal citations, so here’s an enlightening list of some cultural differences that are on my mind this week. Now I am being that obnoxious American tourist. But my aim is to admit the wrong of my ways, because the differences I’ve noticed are all positive.

1. People don’t wear a lot of clothes here. Wait, that sounded wrong. I’ll explain by giving you a glimpse into our home: a washing machine that looks like it belongs in a dollhouse, and already too many drying racks. We have to be picky about what to wash (do we want to wear it again soon?), when (things take a while to dry– when do we need this sweater or towel or pair of jeans?), and how often (one load needs to finish drying so the next one can be hung up). I think this type of setup is common in these little houses/apartments, and Europeans (gross generalization, I know) just don’t have extensive wardrobes.

kitchen storage and washer
teeny-tiny washing machine

Basically, I should have packed 1/6 the amount of clothes that I did, because that’s how much I actually wear. When something is dry, I’ll most likely wear it again, rather than dig for that other shirt or pair of socks.

Okay, I have a cat on my lap, telling me to put down the laptop and put up my feet. Because it’s Friday. And all I want to do is watch Homeland, and eventually pass out at an embarrassingly early bedtime. You’ll have to wait for the continuation of this list ’til tomorrow. Or Monday. My blogging habits are sporadic at best, and I’m not going to apologize for it.

Have a nice weekend!

A nutritional post

One of my beloved commenters recently mentioned wanting to make the recipe I posted the other day, but expressed concern over the saturated fat/cholesterol content. On a related note, I was talking to a good friend via Google Hangout (like Skype, but better) the other day, and we got into a discussion about milk(s). She’d gradually switched to skim, while I have progressively gone the other direction, to whole milk. So I figured I’d share some of the research I’ve been reading, to show you that I’m not trying to give anyone a heart attack or further the obesity epidemic (cue scary music).

1.) Source: http://www.gnolls.org/1086/the-lipid-hypothesis-has-officially-failed-part-1-of-many/ (I know, I know: some random website, but it does point to a legitimate scholarly journal article).

Excerpt: “The American Journal of Medicine Volume 102, Issue 3 , Pages 259-264, March 1997. Divergent trends in obesity and fat intake patterns: The american paradox. MD Adrian F. Heini, MD, DrPH Roland L. Weinsier …

RESULTS: In the adult US population the prevalence of overweight rose from 25.4% from 1976 to 1980 to 33.3% from 1988 to 1991, a 31% increase. During the same period, average fat intake, adjusted for total calories, dropped from 41.0% to 36.6%, an 11% decrease. Average total daily calorie intake also tended to decrease, from 1,854 kcal to 1,785 kcal (−4%). Men and women had similar trends. Concurrently, there was a dramatic rise in the percentage of the US population consuming low-calorie products, from 19% of the population in 1978 to 76% in 1991. From 1986 to 1991 the prevalence of sedentary lifestyle represented almost 60% of the US population, with no change over time.”

2.) Source: http://www.nbcnews.com/id/22116724/ns/health-diet_and_nutrition/t/what-if-bad-fat-isnt-so-bad/#.UUnCQ1sRAR9

Excerpt: “In the 1960s, a Vanderbilt University scientist named George Mann, M.D., found that Masai men consumed this very diet (supplemented with blood from the cattle they herded). Yet these nomads, who were also very lean, had some of the lowest levels of cholesterol ever measured and were virtually free of heart disease.

Sure, we’re very different from the Masai, so how about something more applicable to you and me?

“We’ve spent billions of our tax dollars trying to prove the diet-heart hypothesis. Yet study after study has failed to provide definitive evidence that saturated-fat intake leads to heart disease. The most recent example is the Women’s Health Initiative, the government’s largest and most expensive ($725 million) diet study yet. The results, published last year, show that a diet low in total fat and saturated fat had no impact in reducing heart-disease and stroke rates in some 20,000 women who had adhered to the regimen for an average of 8 years.”

3.) Source: http://chriskresser.com/specialreports/heartdisease 

Chris Kresser is an “integrative medicine” guy, which may turn some people off, but he certainly does his research and supports his writings with scientific, peer-reviewed journal articles.

The following comes from this article.

Excerpt: “Now, thanks to research published last week in BMJ, an old study is shedding new light on the omega-6 fatty acids and heart health controversy…replacing saturated fat with high omega-6 vegetable oils is likely to put you at a greater risk for heart attack, and it certainly won’t provide any health benefits…As more evidence surfaces about the dangers of high omega-6 PUFA consumption, it will be more difficult to defend the current AHA guidelines for fat consumption that are currently promoted by conventional health professionals. It seems the tide may be turning (slowly) when it comes to dietary fat recommendations, but it will be interesting to see how the American Heart Association responds to this new study.”

Okay, one more:

“The recent review I’m talking about is a meta-analysis published this week in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition. It pooled together data from 21 unique studies that included almost 350,000 people, about 11,000 of whom developed cardiovascular disease (CVD), tracked for an average of 14 years, and concluded that there is no relationship between the intake of saturated fat and the incidence of heart disease or stroke.”

TL;DR:

1). Americans shifted to a “low fat,” “healthy” diet and got fatter. I wish the article/author of the website talked “health” rather than body size, but there you have it. A good reason to ditch those money-making, “low fat” diets that really, just make you buy more mass-marketed crap, because you’re hungry all the time. Fat is satiating.

2.) The notion that saturated fat causes heart disease is predominantly based on one very flawed study from the 1950s, wherein Ancel Keys tried to show that the more animal fat we eat, the higher our risk of heart disease. The NBC news article goes into much further detail and proportions of nutrients (fat, carb, protein) and does state that a low-fat diet might work for a small population that isn’t also trying to lose weight or exercise. So the key takeaway is that percentages of fat, protein, carb probably don’t matter as much as exercise and being a healthy weight, but also that sat. fat has been unfairly demonized.

3.) Eat butter, not margarine. Also, recent research compares the benefits of Omega 3 vs. Omega 6 fatty acids, and shows that our “heart healthy” intake of highly processed, high-Omega 6 vegetable oils is pretty terrible for us. Old research lumped these two types of fatty acids together. I could link to a zillion (okay, maybe not that many) other sources that explain why we’re better off aiming for a 1:1 or 1:2 ratio, compared to our modern 1:10 intake (eek!) but my battery is dying. 

 

Finally, for the more visually inclined, here’s a clip from the movie “Fat Heat,” which strikes me as kind of cutesy and oversimplified, but it’s certainly captivating:

 

So I originally titled this “a quickie nutritional post,” but as you can see, it turned into quite the lengthy diatribe. I’m not even sure if I’m using that word correctly. Comments? Concerns? Bacon? I’d love to hear from you.

 

A picture post

Dear audience of 5,
My apologies for taking so long to put up another post. This week flew by, and I find myself sitting here on a snowy (you read that right) Sunday afternoon, finally getting around to photo edits.

First, I suppose I should address what’s on my mind above all the good stuff, because somehow the negative always rises to the top, like oil above water or an alka-seltzer tablet. I applied for a library marketing job and around 2 part-time library assistant jobs, among others. You can see where I’m going with this– I basically don’t handle rejection well. I knew the first job was a stretch (I don’t have an MBA) but part-time library assistant? Shelving books, using databases, customer assistance? I hardly think I’d fail there. I can’t take my own advice that I’d give to others in this situation: it’s not you; it’s who you know, not what you do; be patient, the right job is just around the corner.

I finally shook some sense into myself when I remembered that I’m not here to chase a 9 to 5 or any job, for that matter. I need to enjoy my time off, and not feel so damn guilty about it. With that, let’s move along.

A crisis happened yesterday morning: we were out of eggs. Some Googling for ingredients I had on hand led me to this gem of a blog, but of course I’m incapable of following a recipe without making five thousand tweaks. My improvisation (based, again, on what I had in the kitchen) led to a pretty awesome breakfast, so I thought I’d share the results.

Hearty Oatcakes
Yields: 4 decent-sized pancakes

2 cups oats (instant or rolled)
1/2 cup sesame seeds
2 Tbsp soy flour (could sub flax seed)
1 tsp cinnamon
1/2 tsp sea salt
1 1/2 cups whole milk
1/2 tsp baking soda
2 tsp baking powder
2 Tbsp sugar

Butter (or bacon grease. Yes, I save that stuff in a jar and cook with it. You should, too!)

Directions:
1. Place all ingredients up to and including milk in a food processor (or large bowl, and use your immersion blender like I did) and blend until smooth. Fold in baking powder, soda, sugar.
2. Heat grease in a large, non-stick frying pan over high heat. It’s ready when you throw a drop of water on the pan and it sizzles. Lower heat to medium.
2. Ladle about 1/2 cup of batter onto pan and let cook for 4 minutes on each side. You want the edges to look a little dry before flipping. These pancakes won’t get quite “bubbly” like those made with flour. The second side will take about 3 minutes to cook, and I’d recommend carefully monitoring your heat (i.e. lowering it a notch as you go along).
3. Serve warm with peanut butter and chocolate syrup if what you really wanted for breakfast was a Reese’s Cup (guilty) or your favorite toppings.

John and I biked all around town yesterday, in the rain. Just like the locals. We happened upon a chocolate festival and scored some delicious samples of fudge and something called Scottish butter toffee…or something. Whatever it was, it was good. I also met a nice labrador-mix from Oklahoma, who only intensified my desire to get a dog. I remembered to snap photos for once. Not of the dog; that would’ve been slightly too forward. You’ll also see that our home is shaping up, with nice little touches, including a tv stand I scored for £3!

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Long weekends and languages

I guess any weekend’s a long one when you don’t really need to be at a certain place at a certain time on Monday mornings. I took advantage of that and slept in. For once, I was up late on A Sunday night, because John and I were in the middle of Django Unchained. Tarantino movies might be a rare exception to the multitasking bad habit I have. We’re finishing the movie now, and it’s taking me forever to write this post, because it’s quite the captivating film. I can normally pause whatever I’m doing in order to meet my old lady bedtime, but last night the clock struck 12:30 before John reminded me how late it was.

See, this is already a really poorly organized post. Where was I?

Oh, the weekend. We rode our new bikes around different neighborhoods, stopping in Cowley to get some soup and hummus. We made our way through center city, stopping in Primark and Poundland for essential things like throw pillows, hardware and peanut butter, and finally, to check out Aldi in Botley. We lugged £35 of cheese, milk, coffee and a huge kitchen rug back home, covering around 8-10 miles overall. The weather could have been warmer, but at least the skies were dry.

On Sunday, I woke up with a stomach ache (which actually started Friday night, and has just been a persistent stabbing pain since then. It comes and goes but I’m hoping it goes for good soon). It was even colder that day, so we passed on the bikes and bundled up for a walk into Headington, after a hearty “streaky bacon” (that’s “regular” bacon for Americans– British bacon is less marbled and cut wider), eggs and “soft cheese” on naan. I worked on my CV (Brits never call it a resume, for whatever reason) and tried to eavesdrop on the conversation of the French guys next to us.

And that brings me to the second part of this post’s title: languages. I thought I’d hear more American English here, but the language I’ve heard most often (aside from English, obviously) is French. I sat in Starbucks for a good two hours today, and at least 3 groups of people around me were parlez-ing francais. Unfortunately, my grasp of it has slipped so much since I graduated with that pointless BA in French 5 years ago, that I couldn’t understand any of it. But hey, if its the norm here to hear copious amounts of French in every Starbucks, maybe it’ll come back to me in a few weeks.

So this is that rain they warned me about

It’s a quiet and relaxing Friday night. Our bellies full of delicious Chinese takeaway (look, I speak British now!), John and I are drinking peach sparkling water and watching Wreck-it Ralph. Well, sort of. We’re both on our iPads, half-watching. I’d blame this ADD on mobile devices, but I think I lost the ability to focus on whatever’s on the telly (did it again!) when I got a laptop in college.

This movie seems light enough for multi-tasking, though.

I rode my shiny new bike into Headington town center this morning to check out their twice monthly farmers’ market today. Does anyone else find it incredibly awkward to talk with vendors? I sampled some fantastic chorizo, unpasteurized goat cheese, and white truffle hummus, and told each seller I’d stop back. Of course, I didn’t. I find it so awkward to talk to a seller and not end up buying anything. It may be worse to avoid eye contact altogether, though. At least I showed up.

I ended up buying a purple cabbage, to be used in a buttery balsamic sauté recipe that two friends shared with me. I got a cheddar muffin flecked with fresh watercress, and 3 packs of free-range pork sausage (not excessive at all, right?) And then I went into Starbucks to dry off and do some editing.

Oh, right, the title of this post. It rained all day today. And yesterday. Sometimes more of a drizzle, sometimes more of a spray, or a mist, but never a downpour. I skipped my run yesterday, hoping today would be drier. When I realized at 5:30 today that that wouldn’t happen, and remembered that sometimes this might last for days at a time, I decided to suck it up and run in the rain.

The temperature was crisp but comfortable, with no wind, so I zipped up my windbreaker and slapped on my touristy-but-functional Tulum, Mexico baseball cap. Halfway through my brisk 3 miles, my body warmed up and I tied my jacket around my waist. Sure, I got wet, but it actually felt refreshing to dart through the twilight, raindrops cooling my flushed skin.

Now I wish I’d paid attention to this movie, because I’m completely lost. Apparently I’m not as good at multi-tasking as I thought. Actually, I know I’m bad at it and don’t think anyone else is very good at it, either.

The weekend’s on the horizon, and I’m not sure what it will bring. Maybe a trip into the city for Poundland, for some house things. Maybe (definitely) some of those sausages, probably the sun-dried tomato variety. Maybe some sunshine? Even if the rain continues, I’ll still love this place.

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