Archive for the News Category

Comically Good

Posted in events, Food, Home Cooked Food, Information, News with tags , , , , on May 19, 2010 by helenphillips

As a fan of Gordon Ramsay, I follow his posts on twitter. Earlier this week he posted about ‘Seriously Good‘, a range of sauces that he has done in conjunction with Comic Relief. I don’t use cooking sauces, but if I did, I’d probably use these, especially if they ranted at me like the ones on the website (hold the cursor over each label to see what I mean).

To paraphrase the official website, you (the buyer) get a great tasting sauce, developed by Gordon and his Chefs. The charity (Comic Relief) gets a minimum of 10 pence from each jar, and Gordon gets nothing apart from a warm fuzzy feeling.

For readers who are not already aware, Comic Relief is a UK based charity that was formed in 1985. Fund-raising is continual, but the major event is held every other year. All over the UK, the public take part in events to raise money, in conjunction with an evening of televised events featuring celebrities who supply comic entertainment. All the money goes to projects based in the UK, Africa, and anywhere else poverty is a problem.

So, please, next time you are looking for a new cooking sauce, try this and contribute to a very worthy cause.

To conclude, here is an awful photo of me with Gordon in Nonna’s Deli at the York & Albany restaurant in London.


Things what I have learnt (part 1)

Posted in general, News, Uncategorized on May 16, 2010 by helenphillips

One of the strange things about moving to the US from the UK is that things are so familiar, yet still so different. Simple things like supermarket shopping can be an adventure, as labels need to be scrutinized to determine exactly what the product I’ve just picked up is. The following is a list of some of my observations – some of them are new, others may just be labouring well established facts.

  • The weather in Minnesota is prone to as much change as the UK. The extremes may be a bit more, well extreme, but the temperature easily changes by 20°c from one day to the next. Except around these parts, that’s about 68°F. Learning a new temperature scale is one of the many challenges I face. The thunder & lightning storms are awesome, and definitely something I look forward to attempting to photograph.
  • Minneapolis is the 8th most likely place in the US to experience Tornadoes. I knew that they had them in the area, but didn’t realise we were so far up the list. At 1pm on the first Wednesday of each month, the city tests it’s tornado warning sirens. The nearest one is very close to our building, so there is no way we’ll miss the shrieking if a tornado does come our way. However, there is a chance my head will explode before I make it to shelter.
  • The air is much drier here. For the first couple of days, we constantly got static shocks off just about everything. Even now, sparks fly when I insert my key in the front door lock. It’s also meant dry skin and hair, but I seem to be adjusting to it now. I’m told that soon the dry air will change to humid air, and so another challenge to look forward too!
  • Driving is scary, but only when you first arrive. It isn’t just the fact that we are on the other side of the road, but the road systems are so different. Yesterday I drove for the first time, after 6 weeks as a passenger. It wasn’t so bad, but I’m glad I waited to get into the mind set. Now all I need to do is memorise the driver’s manual, and take my test….
  • There is always something going on in the Downtown area of Minneapolis. Sometimes it’s organised, like the pep-rally for the start of baseball season. Sometimes it’s political, like the group who like to hang out opposite the Christian Science building. And when the sun shines, the buskers come out in force. When the Twins are playing at home, the streets are bustling with people in their Twins shirts, I often feel a bit left out.
  • The library system is fantastic, and free and easy to join. I’m allowed 100 items at a time. Yes, that’s right, ONE HUNDRED. I brought home 2 books. It was all I could carry.
  • Ponds Dry Skin cream smells different. Exact same product according to the labelling, but a different smell.
  • As already mentioned, a trip to the supermarket can be an adventure. Shoppers witnessed my triumph yesterday when I finally located Risotto rice – not in the rice aisle, but in the health food aisle. And we’ve already experienced puzzlement over noodles, that weren’t quite what we expected. Beer can be purchased in Supermarkets, but no  wine or liquor. Gone are the days of our ‘3 for a tenner’ deals along with the food shop. On the plus side, Tetley Teabags were very easy to locate, and so I am able to enjoy a morning cup whenever the fancy takes me.
  • Getting Passport photos done has been quite a challenge (I need them for my EAD application). I suspect (though have not confirmed yet) that my error has been looking for an actual photo booth, which can be found in most supermarkets in the UK. I had some done in a CVS pharmacy yesterday, where the photos were taken by an actual person using a digital camera, manipulated to the correct size  and then printed off. Possibly this is the norm here.
  • Everything requires a form to fill out (apart from joining the library). I think we’re making good progress on that account, now that bank accounts, social security numbers, health insurance, and my EAD are in hand. I don’t think I’ve quite seen the end of it yet though…..

The final thing I learnt this week, is that Apple Customer Services are fantastic. On Monday, the hard drive failed in my laptop, which is almost 3 years old. Due to an extended warranty program, they not only replaced the hard drive for me, but they also replaced the edging around the screen, and fitted a new keyboard. It’s all shiny and new again! The downside is that I have lost most of the photographs I have taken since arriving in the Twin Cities. So, I’ll have to do them again. Here’s a view from our balcony to keep you going until Part 2.

A Really Big Move (Our journey from the UK to the USA)

Posted in Food, general, News, Uncategorized with tags , , , , , , on May 6, 2010 by helenphillips

As I write this, people in the UK are flocking to the voting polls. There is much speculation about who the government will be tomorrow, but I’m not going into that here. This blog is as far from a political column as you can get it, but on a day like today, who can avoid it? Unfortunately, as much as I would like to vote, the timing of my move to the USA has ruled it out. I can register as an overseas voter, but not until arrival in my new country, and the application has to be signed by a fellow overseas Brit. Added to the volcanic ash saga, there was no way the applications were going to arrive on time. Proxy voting was also ruled out, with no family living in our last registered constituency. I was disappointed that internet voting was not offered, considering that said constituency (Swindon) trailed internet voting a few years ago, but I haven’t seen it since.

So, as I mentioned, I’m now resident in the USA. Minneapolis, Minnesota to be precise. We have been here for exactly 4 weeks, and so far life is good. I find it hard to believe that I have not worked for 4 weeks – the longest for, like forever. Sometimes it seems like I’m on holiday. Some days it seems like I’m working harder than ever. With a move like this comes a lot of research, learning and form filling. I spent a lot of my work life trying to work out exactly what individual customers required of us, and this isn’t too different!

Beginning the Visa Application

The process to get out here was long winded, and at times painful. The world’s economic problems slowed things down, but just before Christmas 2009, we were given the news that they (my husband’s company) were finally going ahead with applying for the visas and getting us moved.  As a manager and long-term employee of an American company, the application was for a non-immigrant L1-A visa for my husband, and a L2 for me as his spouse. The company has moved employees around before, so already had a blanket petition in place. The petition is just the initial stage – it outlines what the company is all about, and in an individual statement justifies the transfer of a non-USC into the American job market. This bundle is sent off to USCIS for approval, and sent back with a reference number. The reference number, along with the first of many payments, is needed when making an appointment with the US Embassy. It was obviously a quiet time, as we were able to get an appointment for the following week, and so on January 27th took an early train to London. The appointment was for 9.30am, and we had a few important jobs to do beforehand. The first was to get some acceptable photographs – US passport photos are square, opposed to the UK rectangular ones, and not so easy to come by. Gould Pharmacy near to the Embassy makes the most of this, and will do a set of photos on the spot. Additionally, they will store all the items that you are not allowed to take into the Embassy – mobile phones, electronic key fobs etc. Once the practicalities were dispensed with, the next job was fortification.


We’d deliberately got an early train to avoid rush hour, and it’s inflated fares. So, we were definitely ready for some breakfast. Before our trip, someone had pointed me in the direction of Truc Vert, a small restaurant practically next to the US Embassy (perhaps influencing the decision to put pancakes on the breakfast menu?). The prices are not inexpensive, but probably about average for the centre of London. Our choice for breakfast were simple, but delicious.  Eddie went for the ‘Big Breakfast’, whilst I stuck to poached eggs with bacon on Toast. The toast alone was lovely, but the eggs were cooked perfectly.

The Embassy

With breakfast over, it was nearly 9am, so time to go and line up outside the Embassy. Armed with the approved petition, photographs, and various other forms that were required, we were ready to go in. An employee outside the building checked we had the right paperwork, and then we were directed through the security hut.  From the security hut, we went around the building to the back entrance. At reception, we were given a ticket with a number in, and told to take a seat in the waiting area. As we were walking through the doors, our number was called out, completely throwing me. We were directed to a window, where we had to produce our paperwork. Everything was nicely organised, but bits of paper were quickly pulled out, put aside, disregarded or generally shuffled. Our fingerprints were taken. We were then instructed to sit and wait until our number was called again, when we would go through to the interview windows. This time, our wait was a little longer, around 1½-2 hours. I’d taken reading material, but found it difficult to concentrate. Eventually our number was up, and we were off again. Once more the paperwork was handed over, and Eddie was asked some questions, and our fingerprints were verified. I wasn’t asked anything at all. We were informed there and then that our application had been approved, and we would just have to wait for our passports to be returned with the Visa inside. The final steps were to go to another window and make a payment, and then to the courier desk to arrange and pay for the return of our passports. And then we were done! We left at midday, meaning we had plenty of time to get to lunch, which was booked for 2pm. It was quite a surreal experience sitting in Starbucks (we’d already started the American transition), and knowing that we would really, actually, for real, be moving to the US.

For anyone planning to visit the Embassy, this video is vaguely amusing. Despite what some of the comments say, we found that this is pretty much how it went.


In celebration of our impending move, we decided we should go somewhere ‘nice’ for lunch, so booked one of Gordon Ramsay’s places, York and Albany, where Angela Hartnett is Chef Patron. We opted for the Set Lunch, our second delicious meal of the day, and very reasonably priced. I fear we may have off-set the reasonably priced food with drinks bill, but after all, we were celebrating! To add to the excitement, we spotted Angela in the bar area after our meal, looking as if she was ready to rest after a busy lunch rush. And then, whilst we were being pushed delicious meats in the adjoining deli, Gordon himself walked in. Despite his larger than life, scary television persona, he turned out to be a very pleasant man. He was more than willing to chat, pose for photographs, and wished us well on our American venture. What a day!

Raisin out! The Revels Eviction

Posted in Chocolate, Food, News with tags , , , , , , , , , on July 9, 2008 by helenphillips

News for chocolate fans! In a Big Brother style eviction, Mars are letting consumers decide which flavour should be given the boot. This is just a short term expulsion, as a limited edition flavour will be introduced for a short time. The flavour has not yet been announced.

The current flavours are:

Coffee, Orange, Chocolate, Caramel, Malteasers, and Raisin.

Personally I have voted to get rid of the Raisin – bleugh.  It recently replaced the Peanut flavour, which is a big mistake as far as I’m concerned. As I write this, Raisin is in 2nd place with 28% of the votes. Coffee (which I would be voting for if it wasn’t for the Raisin) takes the lead with 36% of the votes.

Voting is here, so go on, VOTE RAISIN OUT! Your selection will be disposed of in the fashion of your choice, my particular favourite being the Thelma & Louise drive off the cliff.

For the more dedicated fans, you can join in the debate on Facebook. And let’s wait and see what the new flavour is. Strawberry maybe? Bleugh again!