Saturday, 20 February 2010


Table manners are so important and surprisingly variable from one place to another. I thought we would be fairly Americanised because we are so strongly influenced by TV and we are certainly not ignorant of most American customs. We tried to be as inconspicuous as possible. I guess we often looked like tourists. Because we are fairly casual and didn't carry an obvious money belt or other touristy paraphernalia we thought we looked like Americans on holiday. We only had to open our mouths to be recognised, usually as Australians although there were many who discerned our Kiwi accents and some wondered if we were British or even S. African. In Restaurants we stood out like sore thumbs. We gradually became familiar with the protocol and looked for sign that said "Please wait to be seated." We usually spent ages trying to order, often having to ask what something meant. The waiters and waitresses were always so kind and helpful. American manners put ours to shame. And then all eyes homed in on us as these uncouth Kiwis ate their meal with knife and fork in hand, never cutting the meat and laying down the knife to eat with our forks in our right hand. We did try to use our utensils properly, American style, but it often seemed so awkward we gave up. I must have been somewhat successful in adapting because I often find myself eating with only a fork in my right hand these days.

Nowhere was this more obvious than when we dined at a family restaurant at Twenty Nine Palms, CA. All the customers seemed to be well known to the staff. There was a lot of local gossip, going on and the waitress sat with friends who were eating there. Everyone who came in seemed to be welcomed by name. I guess it's a fairly small community. The staff were so friendly but my diary says it was a Fawlty Towers experience. Not that anyone was rude, far from it but it took 2 hours to have our meal. I remember asking if I could have vinaigrette on my salad as I had become too familiar with the heavy creamy dressings and I don't really like them. I am not a fan of ranch dressing TWJ's favourite. I sometimes had honey mustard or blue cheese dressing although I found them all too rich and heavy. I was given a very strange look and then they brought me proper serving jugs, one with oil, the other vinegar. It was the most delicious salad I had all trip. I sprinkled my salad lightly with oil followed by vinegar. Delicious. We ordered a dessert, TWJ asked the waitress for her favourite, hot fudge sundae and I had Boston pie. We waited and waited until suddenly the waitress realised she had forgotten our order and to make up she gave us ginormous portions. Oh my! Of course I couldn't eat all mine although I had been still hungry because the turkey sandwich had been such a disappointment. The turkey came kind of dry and tough as though heated in a microwave, on 2 slices of white bread. This was served with side dishes of yellow gravy, cranberry sauce, overcooked veges and of course the ubiquitous starter salad which in this case was enjoyed. I don't know what I expected but a sub would have tasted better.

Gravy in New Zealand is always brown and made from the meat juices and stock, although there are instant packets to which you add hot water. I never got used to the creamy gravy especially that served with biscuits. I think the creamy gravy would be called white sauce or cheese sauce here. TWJ liked it but not me. I guess I was conscious of all the calories. Classic gravy is made after cooking a roast by draining off excess fat from the roasting pan. The pan is placed on the top of the stove and plain flour stirred into the residue to make a roux, the quantity depends on how many people you are serving but I usually use about 1 dessertspoon. Water from the boiled veges, (not potato as it doesn't seem to bring out the right flavour), is then gradually added, tap water if needed and seasoning is adjusted. Flavours such as worsteshire sauce, mustard, ketchup and herbs can also be added. The final texture should be smooth and pouring consistency. I'm not a huge fan of gravy so often serve my roast meat simply with juice from the pan if there is any, or some kind of relish on the side.

I'm going OK today although I woke up groggy, probably simple low blood sugar etc.
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