If you follow me on Twitter, you know I’m in Arkansas visiting my parents for Christmas. Today is Christmas Eve. During the last day or two, we’ve been shopping and so on.
Santa Claus is in the middle of this photo, but he’s hard to see! On the right, people are lined up. They want their kids to sit on Santa’s lap and tell him their Christmas wishes. (I usually had no idea what to say.) On the left, a woman is taking photos. You have to pay money for them… Anyway, this is in the local mall. We bought some last-minute gifts there.
Later, we went to a restaurant. It’s very old-fashioned inside. You can see lots of old-style farm and household tools inside.
This country restaurant only serves one meal: All-you-can-eat chicken dinner. You get fried chicken, mashed potatoes, gravy (a kind of sauce for the potatoes), corn, green beans, slaw (cabbage, mayo, etc. salad), and a tiny loaf of hot bread with apple butter (spiced apple jam — there’s no butter in it!). If you want more of something, you can just ask. This meal is not part of our holiday tradition, but it’s a nice place to go with my family when I visit. Today, we had Thai food at lunch and beans with cornbread for dinner. For Christmas Day this year, we’ll go out to a buffet. (Most restaurants are closed on Christmas Eve and Christmas Day in the US, but a few are open.)
This is one of my parents’ cats, Gimli. He’s sitting under their Christmas tree. Gimli usually acts very seriously, but he loves their Christmas tree and spends a lot of time playing with it and sleeping under it. (I took this picture last year, but it’s the same this year!)
If you celebrate Christmas, I hope you’re having a good one!
(Sorry, I’ll post the final contest winner later!)
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.
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?
Notes “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.
“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.”
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.
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.
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.
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.
Potatoes and onions–looks like stew!
Sometimes I don’t know what I want to cook until I come to the market and see what they have.
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.
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.
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.
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!