Friday, January 20, 2012

Kendal Mint Cake

One thing that my mother brought over to Florida at Christmas, which was very popular, were some fresh supplies of Kendal Mint Cake.  Mint cake is a form of confectionary made in my home town, for those who don’t know.  Although it’s called “cake” it comes in the form of a bar and has a harder, more sugary texture than cake.  It is also very minty, as its name suggests.

Anyway, my wife loves the stuff and although you can buy it here in the US, you have to order it via someone like Amazon and it’s expensive when bought that way (although I believe there are some slightly cheaper sources on eBay).

I actually worked in a mint cake factory one time as a summer job during my teenage years.  My main job was to break up broken mint cake bars into bite-sized chunks and put them into gift boxes.  There are three mint cake factories in Kendal: Quiggin’s, Romney’s, and Wilson’s.  I worked at Wilson’s.  The guy who ran it was called Andrew, but he was also known by some of the staff as, “Young Mr Wilson”.  His father, who was retired but still dropped by sometimes, was called, “Old Mr Wilson”.  Old Mr Wilson was the son of James, the guy who founded the Wilson’s brand back in 1913 (they would’ve probably called him “Ancient Mr Wilson”, were he still alive!).

There are three main types of mint cake: white, brown, and chocolate coated.  The colour and texture of the mint cake is decided by whether white or brown sugar is used in it.

Some of the mint cake my mother brought us
If you say that you are from Kendal to someone in the UK, they will sometimes mention Kendal Mint Cake.  Mint cake is also eaten a lot by mountaineers and artic explorers around the world, as it is a concentrated source of glucose (plus the mint clears your sinuses!)  Kendal Mint Cake has been taken up Mount Everest by Edmund Hilary and across the Antarctic by Sir Ernest Shackleton.

Here ends my lesson on my home town’s most famous confectionary.  But remember, if you ever come to Florida via Kendal to visit us, bring us some mint cake!

Jack Dee is EVIL!!!

Monday, January 9, 2012

Parental visit

There comes a time in every expat’s life when he gets a visit from across the ocean from his parents.  My time was this Christmas. 

My wife and I spent most of October, November, and December preparing the house – doing all the various DIY, obscure cleaning, and upgrade jobs that we’d been putting off.

Our place is small, so my mother and her partner stayed at a local hotel.  We picked them up and took them to the hotel on their first day to find that my mother had been made “Guest of the day”, which was a source of amusement for us.

Many of the things that my mother and her partner noticed about North Central Florida, I remembered noticing myself when I first visited several years ago, but they’ve since become my everyday normality, so I barely notice them anymore. They seemed surprised by how neat and tidy everything was.  Parts of Britain do certainly have severe litter problems, although like in  the USA, it can vary quite a bit from from place to place.

My mother and her partner are less flexible than me – although I moan about some things in the US, I am essentially a go-with-the-flow sort who likes to explore things.  When it comes to food, for instance, although I am lukewarm on certain elements of mainstream American eating, I do like many things about the Floridian diet, such as the fresh seafood, as well as Mexican and Cajun dishes (plus Chinese, Indian, Thai, Caribbean, and Italian).  My mother’s partner is much more conservative with his eating habits, however, so we ended up eating at places that served food such as “British Fish and Chips” (which is never quite like the real thing in the USA, anyway), rather than at the places where they serve a more local menu.

In a cafe in St Augustine

All in all the trip was a success, however.  We did start running out of touristy things to do with my parents towards the end, but that was kind of inevitable - Gainesville is essentially a working college town, not a holiday resort, so there are only so many sights to see.  We did manage to find some alligators for them to photograph, however, and take them on day trips to both the Gulf and Atlantic coasts, including a visit to America’s oldest continuously occupied settlement, St Augustine.