Category Archives: Yankspeak

The Duchess of Cambridge and her court shoes

Of course I’ve been keeping up with the Cambridge’s grand tour Down Under and reading all the breathless commentary on stylish Kate. She certainly has a great pair of pins, and today I learned her secret: nude court shoes!

Here in the U.S. we call these shoes “pumps”: closed-toe, low front shoes with heels. According to the fashion press, nude pumps/court shoes give the illusion of long legs when the color of the pump and the skin are similar. Which makes sense, as your eye tends to stop when you get to a jolt of black or red at the feet.

Sign me up!

According to the folks in the know at the Daily Mail, Kate’s preferred court shoe comes from London-based retailer LK Bennett and these shoes are, unfortunately, sold out in the U.K. If you’re stateside, you can purchase the style “Sledge” at Nordstrom for just $345.

If you, like I, don’t have a royal allowance for footwear, here are some lower-priced options.

Here’s the Madden Girl Fastenn pump for $34.30 at Belk. The LK Bennett pump is a bit more taupe, but I think the Madden Girl version would work better on someone with fair skin. It must be a popular choice with Kate admirers because most sizes are hard to find: Belk was the only online retailer where I found a variety of sizes available.

If you’ve got more dosh (sorry, I’ve been reading the latest Elizabeth George mystery), the Cole Hahn Chelsea pump is very similar to the LK Bennett court shoe. They’re currently $199.00 at Zappos … and free shipping. Like the Madden Girl pumps, though, popular sizes are unavailable at the moment, but Zappos will let you know when your size is back in stock.

The Michael Kors Ionna pump is quite nice, too, and a more reasonable $130 at Zappos — that is, if they have your size. The only thing I don’t like is the bling on the back of the heel.

I saw some other nude pumps by Kate Spade and Christian Louboutin, but if I can’t afford LK Bennett, it goes without saying I can’t afford these versions either.

I’m curious to see the “nude” effect on my own legs, so I’m heading down to our local Marshall’s to give it a try. I’m not so sure about that platform look; my mind goes to porn films, hookers, and Times Square in the 70s, sorry. And those heels — some of them are 4″ or 5″. Never mind walk in them. Could I even stand? We’ll see … I’ve sewn a bunch of skirts in the last couple months, and I’m eager to see if nude pumps are the trick of the eye my figure needs. 🙂

We sound that bad? (Friday funny)

I’m not sure how I found this video, but it’s both fascinating and hilarious. Have you ever wondered what American English sounds like to a foreigner who speaks no English? I have. This video reminds me of when my younger brother and I were kids and we’d pretend to speak German or French, making up Teutonic- or ou-la-la-sounds and stringing them together. Yeah, we were short on entertainment in the day.


I also found this skit quite funny. I believe it’s from an Australian show, but it looks like the skit takes place in London. Enjoy!

My favorite Brit words

While I love a good British accent, I’m more enthralled with the way Brits construct their sentences, the words they use. Even if you Americanize the spelling of  a paragraph written by a Brit writer (such as changing “Americanise” to “Americanize”) there’s a certain rhythm and cadence to their sentences that sound nothing like American English.

But let’s talk about Brit words or expressions, words I can’t use in my everyday American speech lest I sound like a poseur. Here are some of my favorites in no particular order:

Fancy. Verb made popular by Austin Powers. As in “Fancy a shag?”

Stroppy. Ill-tempered.

Gobsmacked. Flabbergasted. I admit, I use this word sometimes.

Brilliant. Used in assent, as in “Brilliant! I’ll bring the wine.”

Wanker. So much nicer than dickhead. I get to say wanker a lot, though, when I’m talking to my Australian friend Deb. Wanker is popular Down Under.

Barrister. So much nicer than lawyer or attorney. Think John Cleese in A Fish Called Wanda.

Cheeky. Means impertinent. Often used around children.

Petrol. The gas station gone exotic.

Jolly. Who can resist, “He’s a jolly fellow, all right.”

What are your favorite Brit words? Add them to the comments section below.

A British cookbook primer

Nigella, Jamie, Gordon, and to some degree, Delia — these British celebrity chefs and cooks all have books that dominate shelf-space in American bookstores. Their recipes look no different from those you’d find in one of Ina’s or Martha’s cookbooks. You measure out ingredients in cups, add a tablespoon of this or that, and bake your creation at 350 degrees Fahrenheit and voila! A sticky toffee pudding fit for the Queen herself.

But say you can’t wait for Nigella’s new cookbook to show up in Des Moines, so you go order it from You might be confused the first time you start cooking from it. There are lists of strange ingredients like aubergines, cornflour, courgettes, and what the heck is sheet gelatin? And nothing’s measured in cups! You’ll need to drag out your postal scale to measure out five ounces of “strong flour,” whatever that is. Why can’t they just tell you what it is in cups? Then it comes time to bake … if you’re lucky and were good in math in school, you can figure out what 200 degrees Celsius is in Fahrenheit, but sometimes these cookbooks will tell you to bake a cake at Gas Mark 4. Or worse, in a “moderate oven.”

A British cookbook can be slightly puzzling to an American, so here’s a primer for you. I own about 50 cookbooks from the UK and Ireland alone, and I have to say, I prefer them to American cookbooks … and not because I’m an incorrigible Anglophile. I always try to buy the original printing of a British cookbook, not the version that’s been translated for American cooks. Here’s why.

British cooks (all Europeans as well) are not as dependent on measuring utensils as Americans are. Measuring dry ingredients like flour and sugar by volume can lead to disaster, especially when you’re baking, because volume measurements aren’t as accurate as weight. Instead, Brits weigh out most everything because everyone’s got a scale tucked away in the kitchen. Indeed, they’re confused when they pick up an American cookbook and see all this “half-cup” and “two cups” business. If you buy an inexpensive digital scale that gives you weights in grams as well as ounces (most Brit cookery books give weights in grams), you’ll be 75 percent of the way to cooking nirvana — and I suspect your recipe success rate will improve dramatically. You’ll actually save time cooking with a scale because you weigh one ingredient, tare the scale, weigh the next ingredient into the same bowl, and so on. Here’s the scale I reach for most often in my kitchen, a MyWeigh 3001P.

British teaspoons and tablespoons are also different from American ones and are slightly bigger. Here’s a chart to make the conversion:

1 Brit teaspoon = 1 American teaspoon (too close to matter)
1 Brit tablespoon = 1 American tablespoon (too close to matter)
2 Brit tablespoons = 3 American tablespoons
3.5 Brit tablespoons = 4 American tablespoons (or 1/4 cup volume measure)
4 Brit tablespoons = 5 American tablespoons

There’s also some difference between British and American liquid measures, especially within older British cookbooks like Jane Grigson’s or Elizabeth David’s. You might have a recipe that tells you to add a “pint of water” to a soup, but a British Imperial pint is 20 fl. ounces while an American pint is 16 fl. oz. so adjust accordingly.

Brit recipes will include ingredients like aubergines, courgettes, swedes, and marrow. Rather than provide a long list of translations (they’re eggplant, zucchini, turnip/rutabaga, and extra-large zucchini, by the way), here’s a link with some of the most common ingredients you’ll come across. Others you can figure out with a Google search. That “strong flour”? It means bread flour, which has a higher protein content than all purpose flour (called “plain flour” in the UK). Still others are easy enough to figure out by context. For example, bicarbonate of soda = baking soda, a “knob” of butter = a pat of butter, and gelatine = gelatin.

Now this gas mark business. Many European gas stoves have a knob with numbers instead of degree markings. You want to bake a cake? You turn the knob to gas mark 4, which is about 350 degrees Fahrenheit. Older British cookbooks might not even give you a degree setting or a gas mark number, but simply tell you to bake the pudding in a “slow oven.”

Here’s a handy chart so you’ll never be puzzled about oven settings again:

225° F = 100° C or Gas Mark ¼ (Very cool)
250° F = 130° C or Gas Mark ½ (Very cool)
275° F = 140° C or Gas Mark 1 (Cool or slow)
300° F = 150° C or Gas Mark 2 (Cool or slow)
325° F = 170° C or Gas Mark 3 (Warm)
350° F = 180° C or Gas Mark 4 (Moderate)
375° F = 190° C or Gas Mark 5 (Medium hot)
400° F = 200° C or Gas Mark 6 (Fairly hot)
425° F = 220° C or Gas Mark 7 (Hot)
450° F = 230° C or Gas Mark 8 (Very hot)
475° F = 240° C or Gas Mark 9 (Very hot)

Thanks to a great exchange rate right now, you can get some awesome deals on British cookbooks you can’t buy stateside.* Nigella Christmas: Food, Family, Friends, Festivities, for example, won’t be available in Ameri-speak until November 2009, but you can have the British version for £12.50 ($18.92) from right now (plus shipping, which I find is quick and reasonably priced). Or Jamie’s Ministry of Food, which doesn’t seem to have an American publishing date, for a mere £9.75 ($14.75).

* A few dealers do import a selection of current British cookery books. Try Kitchen Arts & Letters in New York City and Rabelais Books in Portland, Maine, both shops where I’ve personally purchased British imports — they ship, too. If you stop by Kitchen Arts & Letters, purchase a copy of All You Need to Know About the British Kitchen: Names, Terms, & Measures for the American Cook by Jane Garmey. They published this slim, helpful pamphlet; I keep my dogearred copy tucked next to my English cookery books.

Now for what James Bond drinks

Forgive me — I’m on a bit of a Bond roll this week since my husband and I’ve got plans to see Quantum of Solace on Friday. I rarely get to go to the movies with him because we’ve got such incompatible tastes in film and can never agree on anything. Bond films are our common ground: he likes the gadgets, I like … well, Bond. Especially Daniel Craig as Bond. But shhh, I don’t think hubby suspects a thing.

Here’s another fun Bond-themed article, this one on the spy’s spiritual development through the years, although it looks like in this film, 007 faces a setback by getting, as the Brits say, pissed in first class on whatever the flight attendants will serve him. (For American readers, “pissed” is Brit slang for “drunk,” not “angry.”)

If you watch that video clip at the end of the Time article … I wonder how much Lillet paid for that product placement in Casino Royale?

Indians want American accents, not English

At one English language school in Mumbai, India, half the students want to speak English with an American accent, not British, reports the Agence France-Presse today. Interesting that one quoted source, a professor of English at the University of Mumbai, suggests the growing popularity of American English may be another way of breaking away from his country’s colonial past with Britain. I’m guessing, though, that the huge numbers of Indians working for U.S. companies in India and abroad drive this desire to sound American.

Love the quote from the 24-year-old computer worker in Mumbai who says speaking English with an American accent gives him, “a boost with the girls.”

The most expensive post codes in Britain today released a list of the most expensive post codes (Yankspeak: zip codes) in the U.K. The top five post codes fall in London’s city limits. #1 was Knightsbridge, followed by Kensington, North Mayfair, Belgravia, and Chelsea. It looks like the remaining post codes are in towns surrounding the city, although I haven’t thoroughly examined their list.

Guess I’d better start working a little harder if I’m to afford the 3-month flat rental in Chelsea I fantasize about.

A nation of whingers (Yankspeak: whiners)?

I read with interest this morning a special in the (London) Times about British hypochondria and admit was baffled at the piece’s premise, that the British bellyache too much about every ache and pain. And here I’ve been, admiring the nation’s stiff upper lips for all these years. To me, British forbearance can best be summed up by the infamous fight scene in Monty Python and the Holy Grail. After King Arthur lops both the Black Knight’s arms off, the Black Knight proclaims, “It’s but a flesh wound!”

On the other hand, I think of my maternal grandmother, born of hearty British stock. My father used to laugh at her because she kept a calendar in her kitchen and every day would write down what ailed her. On the  6th, it would be “no stools.” The next, a “strange tingle along left jaw.” She had years of these calendars stored in the dining room hutch.  A routine visit to the dentist would result in “the worst pain I’ve ever had in my life,” upon which declaration my brother David and I would start asking her, “More painful than breaking your arm?” “How about being shot in the eye with an arrow?” or “It can’t be worse than having a baby!” until we we were either banned to another room or slapped.

My grandmother died this spring. After eating her breakfast, she lay back on her pillow, closed her eyes, and passed away. She was 100.

How was your flight? Care for a biscuit with your tea?

Now this is why I adore the British. The head of the Waitrose grocery chain in the U.K. has convinced airline and tourism officials to offer a cup of English breakfast tea and a biscuit (Yankspeak: cookie) to tourists and returning Britons upon arrival in England. It’s all being done to encourage cheerfulness at a time of economic discord and show the world that Britain is actually a pleasant, civilized place to visit … unlike the U.S., where you’re welcomed with an interrogation, a pat-down, and a beagle sniffing your bags. At least the beagle’s cute, because the immigration folks are scary.

But I digress. The plan is to have all airports in the U.K. on board by the time of the 2012 Olympic Games in London. I can’t wait to check this out when I travel to London this December.