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The Expat Diaries, Vol. 13

LifeHannah DrakeComment

So much of my expat life in the last two months has been political. I think every single day for the last few months, I’ve considered scrounging up a few (hundred) quid to fly back to Colorado for a few days and be politically active ahead of the midterm elections. Needless to say, it didn’t happen, but assuming we’re still abroad in 2020, I will consider planning a trip back to the States in the fall so that I can participate in our democracy (and maybe catch a Buffs game or two.)

But before you click away for fear I’m about to be political about Tuesday’s elections, I won’t. Instead, I want to talk about what it’s been like to be away from my country during election season.

It’s been a long few months leading into this year’s midterms and it’s been tough to watch from on the other side of the pond. Democracy works when we participate in it and every day I would log into Twitter and read tweets about how tweeting isn’t enough. You have to call your representatives, canvass, get your friends and family registered to vote. I wasn’t able to do any of that so I often just felt like I was screaming into a void. Retweets and @ing Congressmen on Twitter already didn’t felt like enough and it was tough to be reminded every day of that. I didn’t really have a choice though.

After talking to my mom one day in September, I realised I could at least use my social media platform and online presence to remind people to register to vote. I started sharing reminders every Tuesday leading up to the election and did research on voter registration deadlines in each state to share on Facebook with my friends who were scattered across the country. That brought a little peace of mind, thankfully. One day, I helped my brother get his absentee ballot sorted with Colorado and a few weeks before the election, a friend said she registered to vote thanks to my constant reminders. It was a bit of solace amidst a sea of helplessness and anxiety. Later, a friend tagged me in a post about a campaign called Influence the Election, so I shared the post and tagged some people on Instagram as well. Some big accounts I follow reposted their own because I had tagged them. That was awesome!

I voted by absentee ballot from Colorado in October. I’ve actually only ever voted by mail, so I’ve never gotten an “I Voted” sticker. This year, I ordered a six pack of “VOTE” buttons from Etsy so I could wear one to drop off my ballot and on Election Day, even though I'm in England.

I also took Wednesday, the 7th off from work. I figured I’d either stay up super late or wake up super early to watch the results come in from across the pond. It’s not easy with the seven hour time difference, but I didn’t want to be dragging my feet at work all day and I had the time to take off anyway. Thank goodness I did because Luke woke me up around 1AM and I was glued to my phone watching the returns until 5AM. My hand still hurts from holding my phone. Yikes.

Speaking of the time difference, we had Daylight Saving a week before the States did. So for seven days we were eight hours ahead instead of the usual seven. I remember those weeks when Luke and I were long distance and the time difference was slightly off. Somehow, even if were only six hours, it was the worst. We had just gotten so accustom to the seven hour difference and it worked out really well because how our work and sleep schedules were at the time. On the usual schedule, we were able to talk to each other almost every day before and after work for both of us and before falling asleep and after waking up for both of us.

Most of the last two months were business as usual. That is, other than our 10 day trip to Italy. Were in Italy—in Naples, on the Amalfi Coast, and in Rome—for the second half of September and it was lovely! I intended to blog about the whole trip last month, but I’ve been having computer issues, which made it really difficult to edit the 6,000+ photos I took on our trip! Also, I simply didn’t leave myself enough time to get all of the posts together to the level of thoroughness I wanted. I promise they’re coming.

I participated in my first Bonfire Night celebrations last Thursday when I went to our friends’ house for drinks and a BBQ around the fire pit before walking over the university for the fireworks display. I was imaging something like the Fourth of July but in November, but it wasn’t quite. Nobody sat down. The area on campus where everyone watching the display was packed with people shoulder-to-shoulder. If you didn’t show up with someone, there was hardly any chance of finding them. They also had a little carnival set up with rides and concessions. I’ve only seen that at one fireworks display I’ve been to in the States. But I’ve never seen Americans do fireworks set to music. That was pretty cool!

We’ve been working hard to plan our second Thanksgiving—technically Friendsgiving. I’m really excited to host again, but I’m also already looking forward to Thanksgiving 2019 when we hopefully have a bigger dining room so it’s not so cramped. We’re also planning our trip back to Colorado for Christmas, but this time we’re scheduling in some free time so it doesn’t feel as busy and chaotic as it did in July! It’s been a crazy few months trying to soak up every minute of fall, but also already looking ahead to the holidays.

In the meantime, we’ve started a cleanse this week that was recommended by our friends. It’s similar to the Whole 30 I think, but re-introduces more foods throughout the 28 days, with the first four days being the most restrictive. We do have Thanksgiving in the time frame, but we’re going to do our best. Our goal is to eat along the lines of Whole 30 (focusing mostly on meat and veg) at home throughout the holidays. In the new year, we’ll probably do this cleanse again and make sure we don’t have anything coming up to interrupt it.

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What's On Our 2018 Thanksgiving Menu

LifeHannah DrakeComment

Seriously, how is Thanksgiving two weeks from tomorrow?! I’m sad about how quickly this season has gone, but it’s not quite over yet! There’s still more cheesy Fall Harvest films to watch from the Hallmark Channel. There’s still more cozy nights at home curled up by the fire to be had. There’s still more apple cider to drink and pumpkin treats to eat.

Last year was my first year making the whole meal and it was really eye-opening. It gave me so much respect for the members of my family who have done the whole thing—or most of it—in years past. I certainly never helped! Because we were inviting mostly Brits (all but one, in fact), I really wanted to cook the whole thing. I was kind of afraid to turn over the reins on traditionally American dishes. It was a bit daunting and required a lot of planning and a handful of trips to the shop, but I was able to pull it off with help from Luke and my friend Taylor. In the end, I really enjoyed it and I’m excited to get to do it again! (Taylor will be back helping in the kitchen, along with our friend Adam.)

So here’s what we’ll be cooking up this year:

TURKEY

I mean, duh, right? Last year the turkey was my biggest source of stress. Isn’t there a scene in Full House where they let one of the girls cook the turkey but it didn’t defrost enough or they didn’t turn the oven on? I don’t remember. Maybe it was on Fuller House. Anyway, THAT is my worst nightmare. Because of that, I put Luke in charge of the turkey. We decided we would get a large turkey breast instead of a whole turkey. We have a really small fridge and a really small oven, so it made sense spatially, but also helped quell some of my fears of it not being cooked through. We found one at Iceland Food Warehouse with herb butter and a bacon lattice. It delicious and probably what we’ll end up doing again.

DRESSING

Okay, do you call it dressing or stuffing? I was told a long time ago that it’s only stuffing if it’s inside the turkey, otherwise it’s just dressing. Did you know that? Last year I found a recipe from on the Food Network site and I’m going to use it again because people LOVED it. Truthfully, I don’t remember if I tried it because I’m never liked dressing—or stuffing. But I’m determined to this year.

INGREDIENTS

  • ¾ pound hot Italian sausage

  • 2 tablespoons unsalted butter, plus more for greasing dish

  • 1 large red onion, finely diced

  • 2 stalks celery, finely diced

  • 1 large carrot, finely diced

  • 4 cloves garlic, finely chopped

  • 6 fresh sage leaves, chopped

  • 1 large egg, slightly beaten

  • 4 cups stale country bread, cut into 1-inch dice

  • Salt and freshly ground pepper

  • 1 ½ to 2 cups warm chicken stock

DIRECTIONS

Heat large saute pan over high heat. Add the sausage and cook until golden brown. Remove the sausage with a slotted spoon to a plate lined with paper towels. Add butter to the rendered fat in the pan, and then add the onions, celery and carrots and cook until soft. Add the garlic and cook for 1 minute. Remove the mixture from the heat and fold in the sage. Scrape the mixture into a large bowl and let cool slightly.

Preheat the oven to 200°C. (425°F)

When the vegetable mixture has cooled slightly, add the sausage to the bowl. Add the egg and bread and mix to coat. Add the chicken stock until the mixture is moist. Season with salt and pepper, to taste.

Butter a large baking dish and scrape the mixture into the dish. Bake for 25 to 30 minutes or until golden brown.

MAC & CHEESE

I’m sorry, but I’ve always been in the camp of no mac & cheese on Thanksgiving. In fact, I’ve never considered mac & cheese a side dish. There, I said it! But when I started thinking about the menu, I decided to include it because we found an A M A Z I N G recipe from The Kitchnn earlier this year. It’s hearty and flavourful, but it’s simply too good not to include.

INGREDIENTS

  • 10 ounces dried jumbo elbow macaroni or medium pasta shells

  • 4 tablespoons (1/2 stick) unsalted butter

  • 1/2 cup panko breadcrumbs

  • 3 tablespoons all-purpose flour

  • 2 cups whole milk

  • 2 ounces cream cheese, at room temperature

  • 3/4 cup grated Gouda cheese

  • 1/2 cup grated Gruyère cheese

  • 3/4 cup finely grated Parmesan cheese, divided

  • 1/2 teaspoon garlic powder

  • 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt

  • 1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

  • 2 cups packed baby spinach leaves (about 2 ounces)

  • 1 (14- to 15-ounce) can artichoke hearts, drained and quartered

DIRECTIONS

Heat the oven to broil. Bring a Dutch oven or large broiler-safe pot of salted water to a boil. Add the pasta and cook according to package instructions until al dente. Drain and set aside.

Melt the butter in the same pot over medium heat. Transfer 1 tablespoon of the butter to a small bowl, add the panko, and stir to combine; set aside.

Add the flour to the pot and whisk into the butter until completely combined. The mixture will look like wet sand. Cook, stirring constantly, until the mixture begins to dry out, about 2 minutes.

Gradually whisk in a little bit of the milk until smooth, then whisk in the remaining milk and continue whisking until smooth. Bring to a boil, then reduce the heat to medium-low. Simmer, stirring occasionally, until thickened enough to coat the back of a spoon, 5 to 8 minutes. Add the cream cheese and stir until melted and smooth.

Remove the pot from the heat and stir the Gouda, Gruyère, and 1/2 cup of the Parmesan in one handful at a time until melted and smooth. Stir in the garlic powder, salt, and pepper. Stir in the spinach and artichokes. Add the cooked pasta and stir gently until the spinach is wilted and the pasta and sauce are evenly combined.

Sprinkle the reserved panko and remaining 1/2 cup of Parmesan evenly over the top. Broil until the cheese is melted and the panko is browned, 1 to 2 minutes.

MASHED POTATOES

Mashed potatoes are a tricky business, aren’t they? People have opinions about them. Lumps or no lumps. Skins or no skins. I’m definitely of the mind that both lumps and skins belong in mashed potatoes. Like the dressing, I got a recipe from the Food Network, but I think I might add some of the homemade ranch dressing seasoning I made for another recipe recently. So good!

INGREDIENTS

  • 12 medium red potatoes, quartered

  • 4 garlic cloves, peeled

  • 3 Tbsp butter

  • ¾ cup milk, warmed

  • ¾ tsp salt

DIRECTIONS

Place potatoes and garlic in a large saucepan; cover with water. Bring to a boil. Reduce heat; cover and simmer for 15-20 minutes or until potatoes are very tender.

Drain well. Add the butter, milk, and salt; mash.

SWEET POTATO CASSEROLE

It’s a simple fact of life that you’re either a ‘mallows person or a streusel person. I, my friends, am proud to be a streusel person. Marshmallows on sweet potato casserole will ruin my Thanksgiving faster than the Underdog balloon escaping in New York City! I have no idea where the original recipe came from, but I got it from my mom. Needless to say, it’s a Thanksgiving staple at our house.

INGREDIENTS (FILLING)

  • 3 cup cooked sweet potatoes, mashed

  • ½ cup sugar

  • ½ cup melted butter

  • 2 eggs, beaten

  • 1 tsp. vanilla

  • ⅓ cup milk

INGREDIENTS (TOPPING)

  • ½ cup flour

  • 1/3 cup melted butter

  • 1 cup brown sugar

  • 1 cup chopped pecans

DIRECTIONS

Mix all ingredients well and spoon into 13 x 9 pan (or a deeper dish that will hold it all).

Spoon topping over potatoes.

Bake 45 minutes at 140°C. (325°F)

ROASTED BRUSSELS SPROUTS

I have to credit my sister for getting Brussels sprouts on my Thanksgiving table. Roasted Brussels sprouts were often her contribution to Thanksgiving, so I decided to include them as my veggie dish in her honour. We’ll definitely be reusing the recipe we found last year, from Half Baked Harvest, because they were so good. But let’s be honest, bacon makes everything good.

INGREDIENTS

  • 4 slices thick cut bacon, chopped

  • 1 ½  pound Brussels sprouts, halved

  • 3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil

  • kosher salt and pepper

  • 1 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes

  • 1/3 cup red wine vinegar

DIRECTIONS

Heat a large 12-inch skillet over medium high heat. Add the bacon and cook until crisp and the fat has rendered, about 5 minutes. Remove the bacon from the skillet and drain on a paper towel lined plate.

Add 3 tablespoons olive oil to the skillet with the bacon grease. When the oil shimmers, add the Brussels sprouts, cut side down and cook until charred around the edges, about 5-8 minutes. It is OK if the Brussels sprouts become blackened in some parts. Stir and season with salt and pepper. Continue cooking another 8-10 minutes or until the Brussels sprouts are soft. Reduce the heat to medium and stir in the crushed red pepper flakes, and red wine vinegar. Cook until the vinegar coats the Brussels sprouts, about 1-2 minutes. Remove from the heat

Cut bacon into small pieces and stir in.

ROASTED CARROTS & PARSNIPS

When I first wrote up the menu, there was only ONE “healthy” thing among a list of carbs. So I decided to add in some more veggies. I don’t think I’ve had parsnips until this last Easter, but they are seriously delicious! I figured those paired with carrots would be a great addition to the menu and my friend Adam says he has a great parsnips recipe!

ROLLS

Rolls were always my contribution. I don’t mess around with bread and I hate when the only bread option at Thanksgiving isn’t what I imagined. (Read: loaded with butter.) Last year I made these pull apart rolls, but in the past I’ve made crescent rolls and layered pull apart rolls that had even more butter. I’m not sure if I’ll mix it up again this year because these were easy and delicious.

INGREDIENTS

  • 2 packages yeast

  • 1/2 cup warm water

  • 1 teaspoon sugar

  • 1 1/2 cups warm milk

  • 1/2 cup sugar

  • 1 egg , room temperature

  • 1/2 cup unsalted butter , melted - divided use

  • 2 teaspoons salt

  • 5 1/2 cups all-purpose flour

DIRECTIONS

In a bowl dissolve the yeast in the warm water with 1 teaspoon of sugar. Set aside for 5 minutes and allow to foam up.

Beat in milk, 1/2 cup sugar, egg, 1/4 cup of the butter and salt.

Add 2 cups of flour and beat until smooth. Stir in enough remaining flour to form a soft dough.

Turn onto a floured surface and knead until smooth about 6-8 minutes (or knead in your stand mixer according to manufacturer's instructions). Put the dough in a greased bowl. grease the top and cover it. Allow to rise in a warm spot for about an hour, or until doubled.

Punch dough down. Roll into 90 equal sized balls. Dip the balls in the remaining melted butter and place three in greased muffin cups. Cover and let rise until doubled, about 45 minutes.

Bake at 170°C (375°F) for 12-15 minutes or until golden brown.

Brush with melted butter.

CRANBERRY SAUCE

I should have thought about the cranberry sauce when we were in the States in July, but I completely forgot. I prefer the tinned jelly that you slice, so we might end up buying an overpriced tin from Amazon. Whoops.

PUMPKIN CHEESECAKE

I’m not the biggest fan of pumpkin pie, or really any sweet pie in a flaky pastry crust. Give me all the graham cracker crusts! If I have pumpkin pie on Thanksgiving, I usually just scrape out the whipped cream topped filling and leave the crust intact. So why not just include the best parts of the pie in one, put it in a crust I actually like, and enjoy dessert a bit more? I chose this recipe from Tastemade simply because of the piped pumpkins on top.

INGREDIENTS (CRUST)

  • 3 cups ginger cookie crumbs

  • 6 tablespoons unsalted butter

INGREDIENTS (FILLING)

  • 16 ounces cream cheese, softened

  • 1/2 cup sugar

  • 1 1/2 teaspoons pumpkin pie spice

  • 1/2 teaspoon salt

  • 1/3 cup pumpkin puree

  • 2 eggs

  • Orange food colouring

  • Green food colouring

DIRECTIONS

Preheat oven to 140°C (325°F)

In a medium bowl, combine cookie crumbs and butter. Press into a 9-inch tart pan. Bake until crust is just set, about 10 minutes.

With a hand mixer on low speed, combine the cream cheese, sugar, pumpkin pie spice and salt until smooth. Beat in pumpkin. Beat in the eggs one at a time, taking care not to incorporate much air into the mixture.

Remove 1/3 cup of filling, and tint it with the orange food colouring. Remove another 1/3 cup of filling, and tint it with green food colouring.

Pour remaining, uncoloured filling into the crust, and smooth to level.

Pipe orange pumpkins with green stems all over the surface of the cheesecake. Bake until just set, about 20 minutes.

Allow to cool at room temperature, then freeze for at least 2 hours. Serve chilled.

BOURBON PECAN PIE

Last year I made a Salted Caramel Apple Pie from Sally’s Baking Addiction, but this year I want to mix it up a bit. After all, one of my goals for this season was to add a new recipe to my Thanksgiving menu. If I recall correctly, I made a bourbon pecan pie sometime around 2012 or 2013. It was my first time making a pecan pie and until now has been my last. I don’t remember which recipe I used, so if you know of any good ones, send them my way!


PLANNING TIPS

If you’re making your entire feast—or even the bulk of it—you absolutely have to plan ahead. Especially if it’s your first time! Last year, Luke and I created a Google Doc that made everything run smoothly. On the first page, we had the menu in one column of a table and how long things would take to prepare in another column. This year, I’ve added columns for oven temperature (if applicable) and what time (and day if we can make it ahead) we should start each dish. Just below the table, we have the shopping list that includes everything we need for every recipe. After that, each recipe is on it’s own page so we can easily jump to it from the outline. It was incredibly helpful to have it on a Google Doc so we could take it shopping with us, we could both have it open to the recipe we needed, and we could add notes whenever we thought of something. Whether you’re in the kitchen by yourself or with a team—probably especially if you’re with others—I strongly recommend putting everything in a shared Google Doc. Even if your recipes are handwritten treasures passed down in your family for generations or out of a cookbook (or more likely multiple cookbooks), type them up and save some counter space.

Don’t forget to inquire if any of your guests have dietary restrictions. Because there are so many different dishes already at Thanksgiving, it makes it difficult to add more to make it gluten free or dairy free, but there are also other things to choose from. If your guests are happy to skip the one dish that has the ingredient they’re allergic to, no problem. If it’s a major player in the feast or some other guests have the same allergy, consider making the dish to accommodate them. For example, if a couple of people are gluten free, make a gluten free dressing so everyone can eat it. They probably have some recommendations for delicious recipes or ingredients.

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Halloween 2018

LifeHannah Drake6 Comments

Two years makes an annual tradition, right?

Neither Luke and I are that crazy for Halloween, so this year and last year, we just had a quiet night at home, hiding from trick-or-treaters. Both years, we watched “Halloween” movies, ate chili, and this year sipped on a seasonal cocktail from my 25 Fall Cocktails to Try This Season list.

Last year, we had one group of trick-or-treaters come to our door early in the evening. We hadn’t bought any candy to pass out, but the mom told Luke they came to the house because of the pumpkins outside. We brought our pumpkins in, turned off the lights in the front of the house, and watched Practical Magic and Bewitched. Yesterday, I read on Instagram that in the UK putting a pumpkin outside usually marks your house as trick-or-treater friendly.

This year, we carved pumpkins, but it was really for our own enjoyment. We lit the tea lights inside of our Harry Potter themed pumpkins and put them by our back door so we could see them, but we once again wouldn’t attract any trick-or-treaters. Are we the worst?! Ha!


Halloween is definitely the best day of the year to enjoy a nice big bowl of hot chili, but we’ve got months ahead of good chili weather. There are just so many different ways to make it! Everyone seems to have a preference or their own secret ingredient. At our house, Luke is the chili master, but the main ingredients are ground turkey (sometimes ground beef), black beans, and red kidney beans. Since I’m not a food blogger or a talented food photographer, I thought I’d share some recipes from around the web from people who are far more talented than I am.

Fire and Ice Chili How Sweet Eats

Fire & Ice Chili

From How Sweet Eats

Why You Should Make It: Her secret ingredient is rich, dark chocolate ice cream! She says you can’t taste it, but it adds a depth of flavour that you simply can’t replicate with just cocoa powder.

Game Day Beer Chili How Sweet Eats

Game Day Beer Chili

From How Sweet Eats

Why You Should Make It: It’s got two different meats, a can of your favourite beer, AND maple syrup! Now that sounds like an explosion of flavour!

Slow Cooker Buffalo Chicken Chili How Sweet Eats

Slow Cooker Buffalo Chicken Chili

From How Sweet Eats

Why You Should Make It: It’s buffalo chicken soup! Like chicken wings in a bowl and it will definitely make your house smell like heaven.

Cornbread Topped Skillet Chili Sally's Baking Addiction

Cornbread Topped Skillet Chili

From Sally’s Baking Addiction

Why You Should Make It: Cornbread and chili belong together and we all know it. Why not combine them from the start?

Slow Cooker Taco Spice Chili Sally's Baking Addiction

Slow Cooker Taco Spice Chili

From Sally’s Baking Addiction

Why You Should Make It: Think of all the Taco Tuesdays coming up that are going to be FREEZING.

Slow Cooker Hatch Green Chile Verde Foodie Crush

Slow Cooker Hatch Green Chili Verde

From Foodie Crush

Why You Should Make It: Green chili is DELICIOUS and you can eat this over rice or as tacos.

One Pot Chili Mac and Cheese Damn Delicious

One Pot Mac & Cheese Chili

From Damn Delicious

Why You Should Make It: Everybody loves a good one pot dinner. And combining mac & cheese and chili just make sense! These other soups may be hearty, but they have nothing on this dish!

Slow Cooker Butternut Squash Chili Damn Delicious

Slow Cooker Butternut Squash Chili

From Damn Delicious

Why You Should Make It: A delicious chili loaded with seasonal vegetables is about the most fall thing you can eat.

5 Ingredient White Chicken Chili Damn Delicious

5 Ingredient White Chicken Chili

From Damn Delicious

Why You Should Make It: Mix up your usual chili dinner with some chicken and salsa verde—plus just three other ingredients!

Vegan Sweet Potato and Lentil Chili Damn Delicious

Vegan Sweet Potato & Lentil Chili

From Damn Delicious

Why You Should Make It: Skip the meat for an evening, but still enjoy a hearty bowl of chili that will definitely warm you through.