Category Archives: culture

Backyard Chickens

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On Tuesday, my husband and I went to see one of our friends. She lives in a nearby city. Even though she lives in town, my friend has chickens.

My friend’s chickens live next to her house. There are two hens (female chickens) and one rooster (male chicken). Right now, she also has some chicks (baby chickens). They are so cute! They like to move around a lot, so it was hard to take a picture of them.

Fuzzy little chicks!
Fuzzy little chicks!

I got to hold one little chick in my hand. It was so cute and small.

My friend gave us four eggs. Two of the eggs were a soft blue-green color, and two were brown. Some of these chickens are a type that comes from South America. This type of chicken lays bluish (kind of blue) eggs. We have already eaten the eggs, and they were really delicious. The yolks were a deep orange color. The color was much stronger than supermarket eggs.

Chickens who eat and live naturally are able to lay eggs with a deeper color. Most people think these natural eggs are also more nutritious and have a stronger flavor. That’s one reason why “backyard chickens” have become popular recently. (There’s even a magazine!)

Where do you get your eggs?
In a supermarket? At a small grocery store? At a farmers’ market? From your own chickens?

“got to hold”: The reason I wrote “I got to hold” is to add the meaning of “my friend let me” — “I was able to” — “I did something fun and special.” It means I had a chance to do something or an opportunity to do something, and I did it. This verb pattern is very common in English, so watch for it.

Fuzzy” is an adjective. One meaning is “like short hair or fur.” Yarn can be fuzzy. Flowers can be fuzzy. (Click for Flickr photos.)

Lay” is the verb that we use when a chicken makes an egg. For example, “Our chickens laid six eggs yesterday.” “How many eggs will your hens lay this week?”

Nutritious” is an adjective that means “full of the things you need to be healthy.” It doesn’t mean the same thing as “healthy,” because “healthy” is about the total healthfulness of the food (nutrition + calories + fat, etc.). For example, “Brown rice is more nutritious than white rice.” “A fruit tart is more nutritious than a chocolate bar, but neither one is very healthy.”

Farmers’ Market

This is the first post of the new Readable Blog! I’m still working on the blog design, but from now on I will mostly be writing easy-to-read posts so that you can get English-reading practice. If my posts are too hard, too easy, too long, too boring, or or if it’s good and interesting, please tell me.

By the way, you can click on the pictures to see a bigger version.

People shopping under the tents for nuts and more
People shopping under the tents for nuts and more

I live in California, near San Francisco and Silicon Valley. In many parts of the US, people buy their fruits and vegetables at grocery stores. This stuff is often very old because it was grown far away, in another state or even another country, and then taken to the grocery store. Recently, it’s become popular to try to buy food that was grown closer to where you live. People think it tastes better because it’s fresher. (I think it does.) They also think that this is better for the environment, because the food did not have to be driven for thousands of miles. Because most of the US has a cold winter, most places can’t have farmers’ markets all year. But California doesn’t get very cold, so our farmers’ markets are open all year! There are about four markets very close to me, and more in other towns near here.

Each seller’s place is called a booth or a stall. Each stall has one or more tents and one or more tables. Because of the tents, we can still go shopping when it rains. Not as many people go shopping when it rains, but it’s still crowded then! Some of the stalls that sell hot food don’t come then. I think their electrical equipment isn’t safe in the rain.

Farmers' market van
Farmers' market van

One nice thing about shopping here is that we can ask questions. The farmers can tell you how they grow their fruits and vegetables, so you feel safe. A lot of the things sold here, including eggs and sausage, are organic, or they use very few chemicals.

Colorful fruit
Colorful fruit

My husband likes citrus (oranges, lemons, grapefruit, etc.), and we can buy a lot of it during the winter. Some sellers have special kinds that taste and look really interesting. They can tell you all about each type, how to cook it, etc. We can also buy fresh strawberries almost all year, although they’re best in the summer.

Tasty-looking potatoes and onions
Tasty-looking potatoes and onions

Potatoes and onions–looks like stew!

A pile of carrots and other vegetables
A pile of carrots and other vegetables

Sometimes I don’t know what I want to cook until I come to the market and see what they have.

Fat daikon
Fat daikon

Daikon is just one of the many Asian fruits and vegetables at our market. We have lots of things that are originally from India, China, Japan, and so on. Many of the shoppers and sellers speak languages in addition to English. (In fact, some of the sellers speak English and Spanish and enough Mandarin to sell their vegetables!) It’s pretty fun to try new things.

Fresh mushrooms
Fresh mushrooms

I haven’t tried buying mushrooms here yet, but I want to. They’re much cheaper than the mushrooms at the supermarket. Actually, many of the farmers’ market items are cheaper than at the supermarket, even though many Americans think that farmers’ markets are just for rich people.

Bouquets of flowers for sale
Bouquets of flowers for sale

I’ve never bought flowers here, but they look so pretty, don’t they? I didn’t take pictures of the sellers who sell bread, pies, sausage, fresh fish, eggs, hot food, etc., so maybe I’ll take photos again sometime!

We usually buy bread, vegetables, cooking ingredients like garlic, and fruit. In the winter we buy more vegetables like carrots and potatoes, but in the spring we buy asparagus, and in the summer we get tomatoes. In the winter, the main fruits that we buy are apples and citrus, but in the summer there’s a lot to choose from–peaches, all kinds of melons, and so on.

Of course, outdoor markets are standard in a lot of the world. How about where you live? Where do you buy fresh fruit and fresh vegetables? What else can you buy there?

Grammar note: “Fruit” is usually non-countable (I like to eat fruit). However, when we use it to mean “types of fruit” or “kinds of fruit, we can say “fruits.” So —
1. A lot of different kinds of fruit are sold at the farmers’ market.
2. A lot of different fruits are sold at the farmers’ markets.

If you have questions, please leave a comment!


Happy new year!

Here’s a nice resource if you would like to know how to say the name of a client, a penpal, or even a character in a book that you’re reading: Hear Names ( You can search for a family name (surname) or personal name (M=male, F=female), and then click for audio to hear it. They don’t have every name, but they have a lot of names. (They don’t have my personal name, but they do have my surname.) It’s not perfect, but it’s a good start if you don’t know how to pronounce a name at all.

There are some nice features, such as having different “origins” for one name. Names like “Laura” are pronounced very differently in English-speaking countries like the USA and Canada compared to how they’re pronounced in countries in Europe, South America, etc. There may be many pronunciations for one name.

If there’s no information for a name, you can click on Request a Name. I don’t know how quickly they add names, but I hope they’ll add my name someday!

There is another website you can try, Pronounce Names, but it’s less good. They use a strange way of spelling the names’ sounds that will only make sense to some native English speakers.

In an older post, I mentioned that there is a way to find out if a name is usually male or female.

It’s a Long Road

I’m sorry I haven’t posted this summer. I had a health problem at the beginning of the summer. I’m getting better, but I had to concentrate on that for a while. Here’s something that has no words but is very interesting:

These two guys drove from San Francisco to Washington, D. C.–all the way across the United States. That’s about 3000 miles or 4900 km, 48 hours of driving if you never stop! They had a camera that took 1 photo every 10 seconds. They put all the photos together to make a video. (That’s called “time-lapse photography”–you can find some beautiful videos on YouTube if you search for “time lapse Grand Canyon” “time lapse Yosemite” etc. Try it!)

By watching the video, you can travel all the way across North American in 4 minutes! It might give you a headache to travel that fast…After you watch the video, you can click on it to go to the YouTube page. Look in the information box to the right, and you can find a link to a map of the route that they took across the US.

Does anything surprise you in the video? Did you see fewer cities than you expected? More trees? Lots of different kinds of scenery? (I think I saw a rainbow!) I’ve never driven this route myself, but I’ve driven across the southern part of the US. When you drive across the southern part, you see more desert. Here is some of that area (not time-lapse; regular video).

I hope your study of English is going well! Comment if you have questions you would like me to try to answer.

Strange and Fun Poems

Shel Silverstein’s poems are known by most American children and adults, because they are strange and funny. His books include drawings by him that go with the poems. Some of his poems are very long and hard to read, but others are easy to understand. These books have been popular for a long time, so you should be able to buy them at used bookstores.

This poem is called “Lazy Jane,” and it’s from his most famous book, Where the Sidewalk Ends. Do you know the word “lazy?” It’s an adjective that means “someone who doesn’t want to do any work.” I think the meaning will be very clear after you read this silly poem, which is about a really, REALLY lazy girl!

“Lazy Jane”
by Shel Silverstein



Pasta Sauce Recipe

One of my clients wants to start cooking American food. Well, it’s always hard to say what that is, but Americans eat a lot of pasta. So here is a recipe for tomato sauce.

You can make it first, then make spaghetti (or any kind of pasta). Just keep the sauce warm while you make the pasta. You can add ground beef to the sauce if you want to. You can also add tofu, pieces of chicken breast, or slices of sausage. Just cook the meat first if you use it. I like to use shredded Parmesan cheese on top of the pasta. We often have a meal of this: angel hair pasta (it cooks fast), tomato sauce, and shredded parmesan on top, and baked eggplant cutlets.

This recipe says “to taste” a lot. That means “the way you like it.” So you can put in a lot or a little. I use a BIG onion, a LOT of garlic, some red pepper flakes, etc. It just depends on what your family likes!

This recipe was adapted from “Fast Tomato Sauce” from the book How to Cook Everything Vegetarian
by Mark Bittman. (This book is excellent, but you need to have advanced English reading skills to use it.)

It takes about 45 minutes when I make it.

– 3 tablespoons of extra virgin olive oil
– 1 onion
– 1 can of whole tomatoes (24-32 oz.) with no salt (unsalted)
– Minced garlic to taste
– Salt and black pepper to taste
– Red pepper flakes to taste (spicy!–optional)
– Dried or fresh or frozen basil, oregano, parsley to taste
– (Optional) A can or tube of tomato paste

A tablespoon (measuring spoon)
A 10-12-inch skillet/frying pan
A cooking spoon

1. Dice the onion. (Cut the onion into small pieces.)
2. Drain the can of tomatoes. (Remove the water/tomato juice.)
3. Cut the tomatoes into smaller pieces.
4. Heat the oil in a 10-12-inch skillet over medium heat.
5. When the oil is hot, add the onion. Cook the onion until it’s soft, stirring sometimes, for 2-3 minutes.
6. Add the garlic. Cook for about one minute. Keep stirring. (If it turns brown, lower the heat.)
7. Add the tomatoes.
8. Add the salt, black pepper, and red pepper. Just add as much as you want. You can add more later, so don’t add too much.
9. Keep cooking. Stir it sometimes. Keep cooking until the tomatoes “break up” and the sauce gets thick. This takes at least 10-15 minutes. Taste it and see what you think. Add more salt or pepper if you need to.
10. When it’s almost done, add the herbs (basil, oregano, and parsley). Just add a little, then stir it and taste it. Add more if you want to.
11. If you’re done but it’s too thin, add some tomato paste until it’s thick enough.
12. Put it on some pasta!

You can add lots of other things, including balsamic vinegar, curry powder, Chinese chili sauce, etc. It’s really up to you!

Cooking Language

I’m sorry I haven’t written much. My husband got a new job (which is good!) and my friend has been very sick (which is bad!).

Did you know that different kinds of English have very different ways of talking about food and cooking?

I decided to collect some recipes for my friend who is sick. Another friend, J., sent me some recipes. J. is from South Africa. She is a native English speaker, like many South Africans. However, when I looked at J.’s recipes, I knew I would have to “translate” them into American English. Different English dialects use different words and different styles to talk about food. Actually, sometimes I have to change recipes from the southern parts of the U. S. A., too, because they use different words for some things. This happens in other languages, too–I know some vegetables have different names in Beijing compared to Taipei.

Using recipes is a fun way to practice your English and learn something about food culture at the same time. Just be aware that if you ask an American friend to help you with a British recipe, for example, she or he might be confused, too!

Anyway, here are some of the major differences you might find:

Measurements: Most American home cooks use an old-fashioned system of cups, teaspoons, and tablespoons to measure cooking ingredients. Most European and other non-American home cooks use weight instead, because it’s more accurate. In fact, I’ve heard that most American professional chefs also use weight. I don’t know why most Americans don’t. Anyway, even when we DO use weight, such as “3 pounds of potatoes,” we use the so-called “Imperial system” (pounds, pints, and ounces), not the metric system (grams and liters). Measurements will have to be converted, but there are lots of converters online.

Ingredient names: Different dialects have different names for things, even within the US. For example, some Southern recipes say “sweet milk”–this is normal milk, but Southerners sometimes say “sweet milk” to make it clear that they don’t mean “buttermilk,” a kind of thin, yogurt-like milk. Most varieties of British English use the word “aubergine,” but in the USA, people usually say “eggplant.” Wikipedia is a good way to check on ingredient names. Another good way is to check Google Images or Flickr, so you can see a picture of the item. These searches are also a good way to see what the finished dish you’re cooking should look like!

Ingredient substitutions: Of course, some ingredients are impossible to find in some countries, or you might have to buy something at an import market. A “substitution” is an ingredient you can use instead of another ingredient. For example, if an American recipe calls for pumpkin, a Japanese cook can usually substitute kabocha instead. I got a British recipe once that called for “custard powder.” This is extremely rare in the US, although I was able to buy it by going to a German grocery store near me. However, I could also have used a substitution, such as instant pudding powder. You can search Google for “substitution for …” to find a substitute. Usually, Google will have an answer!

Cooking terms: Vocabulary for cooking varies, too. Americans may say “mix” or “box” where a British person would say “packet,” etc. Fortunately, most of the verbs are the same. However, cooking verbs (like “sautee,” “braise,” and “simmer”) are very specialized. You may not know these words, even if you are very fluent in English (actually, a lot of these words come from French!). I didn’t know how to braise until recently, actually. To learn how, I looked it up in The Joy of Cooking. This book is for advanced English readers only–it’s very good and very big. It includes most popular American recipes and international recipes that many Americans like. It also includes instructions for most cooking techniques, such as braising. You can also search Google for “how to braise,” etc., of course.

Anyway, cooking is a great way to expand your English vocabulary and experience a different part of international culture. Just watch out for these differences before you start a recipe!

Childhood Dreams

The word “dream” has several meanings in English. The basic meaning refers to the “dreams” that you have you’re sleeping–you feel like you are seeing or doing things that aren’t real. Another meaning is idiomatic, referring to your hopes and wishes. You may have heard of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s speech, “I Have a Dream.” In this speech, he is not talking about the dreams he has when he sleeps. He is talking about his hope that racism will end someday. This was a big dream, and I think it hasn’t fully come true yet. (When a dream “comes true,” it becomes real.) Most people have big and small dreams for their lives. Childhood dreams are the hopes and wishes that you have when you are a child. Some childhood dreams are realistic (such as visiting another country); some are difficult (such as becoming a professional singer); and others are almost impossible (such as becoming a superhero or owning a castle).

Recently, many internet users have been watching a video called “Randy Pausch Last Lecture: Achieving Your Childhood Dreams.” Randy Pausch was a writer and computer science professor at Carnegie Mellon University, a well-known university in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, USA. He died on July 25, 2008, when he was just 47 years old. Last fall, he gave a lecture called “Achieving Your Childhood Dreams.” Many people really liked it at the time, and it has become even more popular since then.

It’s a very long speech, and it is definitely at an advanced English level. There are images included as part of his presentation, which may help you understand what he’s saying. However, he does use some slang, many idioms, etc. (You can read the speech here [PDF] or here [website]. Look for page 3, where it says Randy Pausch:. That’s where the video starts.) Give the video a try if you are interested:

What were your childhood dreams? Have they come true? I’m honestly not sure what mine were, but maybe I should try to remember them.

Now That’s Real English.

If you’re an adult, you should check out the Real ESL blog. This blog includes video conversations and explanations of normal spoken English (including slang). Kim, the blogger, makes her own videos to explain things to you. Currently, she has videos about everything from pronouncing “th” to ordering coffee at Starbucks.

You should be at an intermediate or advanced level to use these videos. You should be an adult, too, because Kim feels that it’s useful to be able to understand and use “swear words.” These are words that most English-speaking adults use when they are angry or joking or speaking very strongly, but you can also get into a lot of trouble if you use them incorrectly.

I hope you’ll check out Kim’s videos and make sure to visit her blog regularly.

(Another good resource for learning to speak natural-sounding English is the Speak English Like an American book and CD series. I’ll be reviewing these soon.)