American to British baking differences and conversions

Much like the English language itself, there's a lot that makes sense alongside oodles of stuff that makes zero sense when it comes to the British baking world as translated by an American baking. But because the home baking culture is so much a thing here in the United Kingdom (hello Great British Bake-Off), there is an entire world to discover when it comes to supplies, ingredients, and creative baking accoutrements. We are talking high end bakery cakes and pastries being made by amateurs in everyday kitchens as well as immaculate grocery store bakery cakes, and it's inspiring. While this wealth of options is great for a perfectionist like myself, a part of me mourns the reality that hilarious Cake Wrecks are an invisible part of British society... and gives me some anxious flashbacks of my obsessive "must get a gold star" childhood.

Fancy cakes at Marks and Spencer

One important anthropological note is that, generally speaking, food is cheaper and available in more size variety (e.g., smaller than "normal" packages for smaller cabinets/single households) here than the States. It's an odd phenomenon especially since the UK food system relies on a lot of imported food from Europe, Asia, and Africa, but it means that baking really can be more affordable and accessible for people.

So in my quest to learn and conquer British baking and to appease curious minds, I have gathered my own translation guide in this world of home baking across the pond. It is an evolving guide and will be updated as I figure things out. A cooking-specific translation guide is also in the planning, but in the meantime, hope you enjoy/get a laugh out of this starting point!

American to British baking differences and conversions

INGREDIENTS FOR BAKING

[U.S. English = UK English, in alphabetical order]


• 2% milk = semi-skimmed milk

• All-purpose flour = plain flour 

• Baking soda = bicarbonate of soda 

• Bread flour = strong flour

• Canola oil = rapeseed oil

• Cider = cloudy apple juice // UK cider is always alcoholic which you may or may not want in recipes!

• Cordial = liqueur // UK cordial is not alcoholic and is a concentrated syrup meant to be diluted with added water. This kind of cordial is also called "squash" here, but I can't even get into that language spiral right now. We would be here too long. But for baking, go straight to the alcohol section and look for the liqueurs.

• Cornmeal = polenta, masa harina

• Cornstarch = corn flour

• Corn syrup = golden syrup // While you'll find recipe conversions that say this is an equivalent, it's important to note that corn syrup has nothing on golden syrup. I feel like it's totally different in taste and quality; the only similarity is color and viscosity. I'm very Team Golden Syrup!

• Cream cheese = soft cheese // Philadelphia is a popular brand in the UK, too!

• Golden raisins = sultanas

• Graham crackers = digestive biscuits // These don't have the same flavor to me, but in recipes, they can be interchanged as a decent substitute. With that saying, I have found Morrison's gluten-free golden syrup breakfast biscuits taste just like graham crackers, so I'll be using them for making sweet crusts! A friend also mentioned Lotus Biscoff as another yummy perfect alternative.

• Half and half = single cream

• Heavy (or whipping) cream = double cream

• Honey = runny or clear honey // There are so many widely available common types of honey such as set or spreadable honey (which is opaque and pale yellow) and cut comb honey (chunk of honeycomb in clear honey). For general baking, it'll be runny honey as your sweetener.

• Jelly = seedless jam

• Maraschino cherries = glacé cherries

• Molasses = black treacle // And it's in the most inefficient tinned can ever. It's literally like a small can of paint that will never close properly again because the syrup gets. every. where. See below.

• Natural or raw sugar = Demerara sugar // This is not the same as brown sugar though I've seen it listed as such in UK Google searches. The soft "packed" sugar we know as light or dark brown sugar is also called light or dark brown sugar here.

• Non-fat milk = skimmed milk

• Peanuts = monkey nuts

• Pits = stones // As in peach or avocado.

• Powdered (or confectioners') sugar = icing sugar

• Pumpkin pie spice = mixed spice

• Self-rising flour = self-raising flour

• Semi-sweet chocolate = dark chocolate

• Shortening = solid vegetable fat

• Shredded coconut = desiccated coconut

• Slivered almonds = flaked almonds

• Sour cream = soured cream

• Sprinkles = hundreds and thousands, vermicelli, sugar strands // Everyone knows what sprinkles are, but you'll find grocery stores are quite diverse in how they label them.

• Superfine sugar = caster sugar

• Whole wheat flour = wholemeal flour

American to British baking differences and conversions


BRITISH SUBSTITUTES FOR AMERICAN INGREDIENTS

Applesauce - The well-known British Bramley Apple Sauce is not even close to American-style smooth applesauce. It's not the same texture or flavor needed if you use applesauce as a butter/oil substitute for baking. What you want to look for is an apple purée which I've only seen online as of writing this, not in the local shops. You will need to either make your own from scratch, pack some in your suitcase upon visiting across the pond, or order from an online American import shop (e.g., American Grocer).

Cool Whip (or stabilized whipped topping) - While it was never a great healthy option with all of its artificial ingredients, Cool Whip is sometimes needed in some recipes for a stabilized whipped cream. Since Cool Whip doesn't exist in the UK, what's an American to do?! You can either make from scratch or buy kind of similar Bird's Dream Topping (add a few teaspoons of powdered sugar and a drizzle of vanilla extract for a copycat taste!).

Instant pudding mix - Beyond the word differences, there's a reason I packed a dozen boxes of organic vanilla instant pudding mix from Whole Foods for my "secret ingredient" in my cookies and cakes when I first moved. It will always be something I bring back when visiting the States! The most similar British product is Angel Delight or Bird's Instant Custard Powder Sachets. I have tried the former, and it doesn't quite bake into cookies the same way American instant pudding does. It's the wild west with Bird's as I haven't experimented with it yet. Because of its long shelf life, you can also find instant pudding mixes in online American import shops, but I found it's really not cost-effective for a baking dish here and there unless you grab some on sale.  


Yellow cake mix - Once upon a time, I used boxes of yellow cake mix for a starting base for a lot of my cakes. Sadly, it doesn't exist here by this name. They say a traditional British sponge cake mix is similar, but it's still not quite the same in texture or flavor. I've found yellow cake box mixes on online American import shops, and for the homemade kind, I have this recipe for yellow cake mix (without any nasties) bookmarked.

American to British baking differences and conversions


TYPES OF SWEETS & BAKED GOODS

• Buns = baps // As in bread for the burgers.

• Biscuits = savory scones // There is much international division on this issue... hence this blog's name! Best just accept the lack of gravy and move along.

• Cake = sponge // This varies, of course, depending on recipe, but can cause confusion if you're thinking about washing dishes when someone asks if you can make a sponge.

• Cake batter = cake mixture
• Candy apple
= toffee apple

• Cooked or instant oatmeal = porridge
• Cookie dough = biscuit mixture

• Cookies = biscuits

• Cotton candy = candy floss

• Crackers = water or cheese biscuits // British crackers are typically known as a traditional Christmas party favor, so that's why you might get weird looks asking for crackers in July, but people here do know the "cracker" for cheese/snacking. For commercial packaging, I found "crackers" more commonly labeled on British-Asian snacks like prawn or rice crackers.

• Cupcakes = fairy cakes // Everyone knows cupcakes though. Mr. B swears they're also called buns, but I just shake my head in non-solidarity. I've found American cupcakes are more soft and spongy than British cupcakes that tend to have a crumbly texture... which has led me to using pre-made gluten-free American cake mixes for cupcakes.

• Dessert = pudding or puds // Literally anything can be a pudding, even a savory thing from Yorkshire. It will cause perpetual confusion.

• English muffin = crumpet // Similar, but not the same. Crumpets are more buttery and airy with its open top holes. You will find "muffins" as in the English muffin in some grocery stores, but trying to explain that it's not a blueberry muffin that you're seeking is a weird one.

• Gingersnap cookies = ginger nuts // They absolutely have no nuts in them whatsoever, but are called this because the original British cookie had a marketing slogan called "as hard as a nut" from the 1840s.

• Granola bars = flapjacks // This one is confusing, but you'll see they resemble chewy granola bars, not pancakes... English pancakes resemble crêpes, and the cycle of whut begins.

• Hard candy = boiled sweets

• Jello = jelly // As in the fruity gelatin.

• Lava cake = fondant // Not to be confused with that stiff icing used to decorate cakes because that's also known as fondant here.

• Pie crust = pastry case

• Popsicle = ice lolly

• Pudding = custard // As in instant or cooked. It's a similar product, but different flavors.

• Scones = no equivalent // The American sweet scone just doesn't have a traditional British buddy. Different shape, different flavors, sometimes different textures. At the risk of sounding unpatriotic, I personally do prefer the British scone. If you haven't had one yet, you'll know why when you do.
• Sheet cake (or any dessert made in a square/rectangle pan)
 = traybake

American to British baking differences and conversions


BAKING SUPPLIES

• Aluminum foil = tin foil

• Baking pan = baking tin

• Broiler = grill // Not to be confused with a BBQ in the backyard. It's still the oven setting!

• Canned (anything) = tinned (anything)

• Cookie sheet = baking tray or sheet

• Cupcake liners/baking cups = cupcake/baking cases

• Paper towels = kitchen roll

• Pitcher = jug

• Plastic (or Saran) wrap = cling film

• Toothpicks = cocktail sticks

• Parchment paper = greaseproof or baking paper

American to British baking differences and conversions


US - UK MEASURING DIFFERENCES

I should have a section on UK-US baking measurements because these are different as well, but honestly, I'm not a math person, and I'd fail miserably trying to explain cups, milliliters, fluid ounces, et cetera. Going from the imperial to the metric system is not for this gal. Short story: British baking is done mostly by weight, not volume.

So I offer this US-UK measurement chart from Fab Flour that does a better visual job at conversions. I will say I have incorporated a baking scale into our kitchen since so many British recipes use it, and I love it! I still shipped over my American measuring spoons and jugs, but I now have more in my baking arsenal.

Posh cakes from Marks and Spencer


GLUTEN-FREE BAKING FAVORITES

Since I have Celiac Disease, I'd be remiss to not include a mini-section about gluten-free baking. In the UK, you'll find GF ingredients in the "Free From" aisles at grocery stores. Oftentimes, gluten-free is included with dairy- or nut-free goods, so it's practically categorized as free-from though it's dominantly gluten-free products. 

Gluten-free, in general, is incredibly common in the UK, and it's one of my favorite things about the food culture. People don't look at you weird when asking for GF, and most everyone takes it very seriously when you order at a restaurant. I have most always been able to order a gluten-free dessert of some kind at a pub, and it's a glorious happy Celiac moment. I can even find loads of pre-made GF grocery store cakes and desserts! Sadly, it tends to be basic flavors and not the super fun cakes... but hey, it's still an upgrade from American offerings.

Just like America, though, some gluten-free products are not created equal. Nothing compares to Thomas Keller's Cup4Cup gluten-free flour in the U.S. for me, and I did learn that Lakeland (a UK home store) imports it in, but I still can't justify the £15.99 price tag when there is always some kind of standard gluten-free flour available at every UK grocery store (hello, land of all things baking with a large Celiac population), but there are textural differences.

As of now, Freee by Doves Farm is my preferred (found at Tesco, Sainsbury's, and other main grocery stores with exception to Marks & Spencer), though I still find it sometimes grainy in some of my baked goods. And coming in last, M&S brand gluten-free flour was the worst as it was felt gritty in my cakes and did not pass the non-Celiac tastebud test courtesy of Mr. B.

While "from scratch" mixed gluten-free flours will always be the best, alas, my search continues for the perfect commonly accessible and affordable basic pre-mixed gluten-free flour in Great Britain.

American to British baking differences and conversions

FAHRENHEIT TO CELSIUS OVEN TEMPERATURE CONVERSIONS

There's no need to reinvent the wheel. This oven temperature conversion table PDF by Doves Farm (my UK gluten-free flour choice at the moment) is my permanent go-to because my brain cannot manage converting American recipes to Celsius let alone converting Celsius with Fan Oven which is my current kitchen appliance life right now. The "fan oven" is much like the recently popularized air fryer in the States. I love it for cooking, but for baking, it's still a "keep a close eye" situation to not let my bakes dry out.

Some British ovens even have a basic "Gas" number, and other ovens are regular ole convection heat like what most American ovens are. Make your life easier, have fewer over-baked desserts, and just save that conversion chart.

Gluten free cherry bakewell tarts from Tesco


POPULAR BRITISH BAKES IN AMERICAN TERMS

If the Great British Baking Show (or also known as The Great British Bake Off or GBBO in the UK) has taught us anything, there are some very much have well-loved flavor combinations for British tastebuds. 

Eton Mess - Piled dessert of broken meringues, strawberries, and cream
Banoffee Pie - Cookie-like crust dessert filled with bananas, caramel (or toffee), and cream and sometimes served with a chocolate topping
Bakewell Tart - Dessert with flaky crust, cherry jam, and almond-flavored custard (aka frangipane) topped with silvered almonds and a maraschino cherry
Trifle - Layered dessert made of pound or vanilla cake, vanilla pudding, fresh fruit, and whipped topping
Jam Roly-Poly - Rolled cake with strawberry or raspberry jam and served with custard
Battenberg - Long pink and yellow checkered almond cake composite with apricot jam and marzipan blanket
Victoria Sponge - Naked yellow cake with strawberry or raspberry filling and whipped cream and dusted with powdered sugar
Jaffa Cake - Cookies with orange jelly centers covered in dark chocolate 

 

Fellow expats, have anything to add to this baking glossary? Share in a comment below! I'd love to hear them!

When I first drafted this bucket list back in October 2019, there was no murmuring of a pandemic, no inkling of a Mr. B, and definitely no reality of actually immigrating to the UK. Some of these make me laugh now, but in promise to myself, I will continue my quest with the help of my wonderful husband who loves a good list and getting things done. As a little backstory preface, I've been visiting the United Kingdom since 2005, so in those many previous trips, a lot of amazing literary/Britishy/culinary things happened in both Wales and England. I will be writing a "done" addendum for this post soon in hopes of inspiring other travelers once I can piecemeal all the specific dates. Those early adventures were in my pre-smartphone days without photo timestamps to help my brain remember. Wish me godspeed on that task! While I had the luck to explore the Republic of Ireland with my Irish friend/housemate while I was in graduate school, I didn't have the opportunity to cross the northern UK border since there were so many things to see (castles), eat (brown bread and honey), and do (learn calmness while my friend effortlessly drove on those tiny countryside roads engulfed by hedgerows and listen to live Irish music in a pub). Then due to travel logistics, I wasn't able to include Northern Ireland (NI) on this original bucket list. So when I say Great British Bucket List, it's really "Great British Bucket List that I Could Realistically Do in 6 Months." Now that I'm a UK resident, I need to do some NI research so I can add some new bucket list things! Stay tuned!

"Twenty years from now you will be more disappointed by the things you didn’t do than by the ones you did do. So throw off the bowlines, sail away from the safe harbor. Catch the trade winds in your sails. Explore. Dream. Discover." - H. Jackson Brown, Jr.

The Great British Bucket List

1. Find a fossil on the Jurassic Coast. (5.17.21)
2. Gawk at Daphne du Maurier’s house in Cornwall. (5.12.21)
3. Start and follow through with writing a book.
4. Walk to the beach in the rain. (1.28.20)
5. Go on first post-divorce date and not freak out. (2.12.20 // Post Note: So I'd say that went well!)
6. Eat Mexican Mess in Brighton. (No longer available)
7. Volunteer at the local Cats Protection charity shop. (1.9.20)
8. Glimpse the white cliffs of Dover.
9. Visit Jane Austen’s house in Chawton. (7.10.20)
10. Learn how to drive a car with manual transmission. (Tried in 1.2021, and I'm a lost cause!)
11. Bake a Victoria Sponge cake.
12. Find a gluten-free Chelsea bun.
13. Visit the Scottish Highlands. (12.30.19)
14. Get a UK phone number. (11.25.19)
15. Join board game night at a pub. (2.4.20)
16. Find a way to like tea. (1.20.20)
17. Take a gardening workshop. (2.8.20)
18. Have a Turkish bath in Harrogate. (6.28.21)
19. Eat cheddar cheese in Cheddar.
20. See puffins at Bempton Cliffs.
21. Collect sea glass on Seahawks Beach.
22. Wander in the Hundred Acre Wood. (3.7.20)
23. Eat Thai food in a bookshop in Hastings.
24. Visit the only desert in England.
25. Drive on the opposite side of the road and survive. (In progress)
26. Try to learn the various regional accents and from where they come. (Ongoing!)
27. Attend an event that requires wearing a fascinator.
28. Find and pick a local fruit and make something with it. (6.4.20)
29. Love on the “unwanted and abandoned” rescue donkeys on Isle of Wight. (1.21.20)
30. Ride the Hogwarts Express. (Seen 1.4.20)
31. Go horseback riding in Reading.
32. Pretend to be in a storybook in the Cotswolds. (7.25.20)
33. Go star gazing. (1.1.20)
34. Stroll down Mermaid Lane in Rye.
35. Figure out Sunday Roast and have one. (1.7.20)
36. Explore the Yorkshire Moors and Dales. (6.28.21)
37. Visit the free-roaming wild reindeer in the Cairngorms National Park.
38. Do Canterbury, finally.
39. See a Shakespeare play at The Globe.
40. Experience a local cinema. (2.16.20)
41. Have tea with naughty sheep in Scotland.
42. Do something out of the norm for New Year’s Eve (aka not fall asleep on the couch). (12.31.19)
43. Get a local Brighton library card. (12.5.19)
44. Find a personal local cause and donate. (12.16.19)
45. Stay in an adorable pre-19th century cottage.
46. Go to a flower show.
47. Take Pickles Barrington on a train ride. (12.20.19)
48. Buy a used bicycle for local riding.
49. Keep track of at-home cooking successes.
50. Just live in every moment. (Ongoing!)

Non-Original Bucket List Things Equally British and Noteworthy

51. Get married to my Mr. B in a 16th century English walled garden. (5.30.21) 52. See the Cobb in Lyme Regis and pretend to be a Jane Austen character in Persuasion. (5.17.21) 53. Visit Tintagel Castle of Arthurian legend. (5.14.21) 54. Witness the retirement home of Sherlock Holmes in East Dean. (4.7.21) 55. Feed a baby lamb and all the sheeps. 56. Get a UK driver's license. (In progress) 57. Find and eat a gluten-free Cornish pasty. (5.13.21) 58. Frolic through Brontë Country. (6.27.21)
59. Explore Beatrix Potter's farm.

This post will be frequently updated with the date as each one gets accomplished. Here’s to adventure and trying new things in 2020 and beyond!


Today marks one year when the UK first went into lockdown

I have so many bittersweet emotions around it all, but it mostly just makes me feel despondent for the death and lost time. After all, in 2019, I had worked myself ragged and saved, saved, saved for six months back in Virginia to be able to take a long sabbatical filled with British adventures, stories, and reclaimed independence. Three months into that trip, COVID-19 rumbled onto the scene and turned everything upside down.

With exception to the couple of months in Virginia to await my fiancée visa and one week in Bermuda to get officially engaged, it's just been one perpetual restrictive limbo where life has stalled. The sole redemption of the past year is that I have spent it with my best friend and my light. Mr. B's once-in-a-lifetime kind of love averted my complete breakdown. 

I remember having to wean myself off of my anxiety medication last May because I didn't know when I would get a safe flight back to the States and couldn't get my American prescription refilled here. Let me tell you that going off of your anxiety meds in the midst of a brand new pandemic is not recommended, especially for an empath. My anxiety pierced weeks and manifested in digestive problems, insomnia, migraines, exhaustion, weight gain, and illogical tears that appeared out of nowhere. I felt mentally stuck, fearing not knowing how long I would be separated from Mr. B once my visit visa expired. How often would borders close? How many more flights would be canceled? Will my loved ones be okay? Can I stay healthy without the safety net of medical insurance?

For those who haven't had to live through nine consecutive and nonconsecutive months of stay-at-home lockdown orders, who can't even remember when your legal wedding day or future anniversary is because it has changed so many times, or who have had to navigate immigration protocols and move across an ocean when the world was closed, it's safe to say that your spirit is chipped.

As a new immigrant, my brain will forever straddle my birth country and my new home country in all aspects of my life. And it is heartbreaking that both poorly handled the pandemic with unconscionable high death tolls and cases. I left one country who finally changed leadership for the better, and I'm now in a country where it eerily feels like the broken one I left. 

There have been beautiful moments of people coming together, supporting each other, honoring those frontline workers who sacrificed so much for the good of all, and speaking up for inequalities exacerbated by the pandemic, but sadly, it's all under the shadow of "we wouldn't even have had to do this if xyz happened." From a top level, there were at least two effectively positive things that did happen in the UK. One being the NHS' success with the vaccine roll-out as it really is one of the best in the world. And second being the furlough scheme that saved Mr. B's transportation sector job along with millions of others in traditional employment.

On this very day for people in England, legal marriage ceremonies are still banned (unless you are on your deathbed), financial support still doesn't reach everyone, and non-COVID patients still aren't getting the life-saving medical treatments they need because the healthcare system has been overwhelmed by the pandemic.

I hope when I reflect on Two Years On that we won't even recognize what 2020 and 2021 looked like. That I'll only remember how my entire life changed for the better because I met Mr. B, that we eventually got married, and that we built the foundation for our future together in arduous times.

As someone whose entire career for the last 12 years has been the wedding industry and as someone who has also been married once before, I have gotta say that dang, England, getting married here is insanely more complicated than it is back home. I'm not even talking about the visa process for a foreign national like myself. I'm strictly speaking about the logistics of saying I Do in ole Blighty.

Mr. B and I were supposed to have our "make it legal" wedding ceremony on February 9, 2021 (with our more meaningful wedding day with no more than 22 of our loved ones in May and a Virginia wedding picnic for the American side in calmer pandemic times), but due to the current lockdown, it was canceled. There is still hope though as our ceremony is rescheduled for March with another backup date in April.

As I full-heartedly believe everything happens in its perfect timing, it's still a bit of downer, especially knowing that it would have been beyond easier and far more affordable to tie the knot in Virginia. In a non-COVID world, that's exactly what would have happened. Mr. B could have entered the States as a visitor (no special visa even needed!), we could have gotten hitched at the courthouse, and then had separate memorable celebrations with loved ones in both UK and U.S. as most international couples are wont to do.

While I'm dreamily smitten with the idea that I get to marry my best friend in the land of Jane Austen, my more realistic, practical side is grumpy that we weren't even able to consider the option of a U.S. ceremony because of the current pandemic-related travel ban against British citizens.

Alas, there are things out of our control, I love our love story even with all the pivots, so instead, I'm going to share exactly how getting married is different here in England compared to Virginia because the what the huh moments are real.



Difference #1: The Marriage License

In my hometown of Virginia Beach, Virginia, acquiring a marriage license is easy. You go to the courthouse, pay a small fee, and sign some paperwork. Every city has different requirements and validity terms, but a Virginia license is valid for 60 days. Showing an official divorce decree is not even required. You can go get hitched on the same day at the same courthouse if you want -- no appointments or witnesses needed!

In England, the equivalent of a marriage license is "giving notice." This appointment must be made at least 28 days before your scheduled wedding ceremony date at a Register Office -- a dedicated local government office that handles birth, death, and civil partnership/marriage records.

At the giving notice appointment, you tell the local government when and where you’re getting married, give your identification documents, answer a few questions about your spouse-to-be, and then after 28 or 70 days, you are approved to get married for up to one year.

(Because I entered the country on a government-issued fiancée visa and already went through a vetting process, it was only 28 days for our approval to marry. 70 days is for those who require more extensive background checks or immigration reviews.)

Your giving notice in England is venue specific, so no changing venues after you do this, or you have to give notice all over again. During our appointment, I asked about COVID couples having to cancel or reschedule to a new venue, and our local county said they have been able to sometimes waive the fee if venue had to be switched. It won’t be our situation, but because giving notice is a ridiculously expensive process, it hurt my heart for the couples whose weddings get postponed or canceled.

It also bears mentioning that having religious ceremonies have a few different shades of "giving notice" rules to follow depending on if it's a Church of England ceremony or another house of worship. At least when it comes to weddings, there is a very clear separation of church and state in the UK which is an interesting and different cultural aspect than what I've experienced in America.



Difference #2: Your Officiant

In Virginia Beach, the officiant of your wedding ceremony can be a qualified minister/pastor, any judge, or a person appointed by the court. That last one means that your friend, relative, neighbor, anyone can officiate your wedding with the court's permission. In some of Virginia's cities, all it takes is a little paperwork, a small filing fee, and a visit to the courthouse to be hailed as a "one-time civil celebrant." Your officiant then receives temporary court authorization to perform a single ceremony for a specific couple and then after the ceremony, they send off the signed marriage certificate to be reported to the courts.

Hold all of that with English weddings. In England, you have to have a government official (or registrar) from the register office to make your marriage legal in the UK. You can have a celebrant (aka officiant) or someone more personal to you leading the ceremony, but the registrar still needs to be present or you need to have a separate legal ceremony before your planned wedding day.

Traditional British weddings also set aside time at the end of the ceremony for the couple to sign the official marriage register book in front of all of their wedding guests (aka the "witnesses") with the registrar. It always reminded me of Jewish weddings where signing the ketubah is also done amongst loved ones. Different document meanings entirely, but both traditions are photographed and expected to be in post-wedding photo albums nonetheless. This, of course, doesn't happen if the couple has their legal ceremony prior to their big day.



Difference #3: Where You Can Marry

In Virginia, you literally can get married anywhere. Literally. Anywhere.

In England, nope. Just nope. There are restrictions. You have to marry in a Register Office (e.g., the equivalent of an American courthouse but without the judges and speeding ticket hearings), a venue that is licensed and approved by the local council authority, a religious house of worship, or a military chapel.

Now let's expand on the licensed venue idea... for a venue to be approved for a legal marriage, the premises have to be open to the public and must have/be a permanently built structure. No beach weddings, no private backyards, and no boats here, Coastal Virginia friends. And if it's a new public venue, ceremonies can still potentially happen, but the owner or trustee of the building has to apply for approval to host licensed civil wedding ceremonies there first before any rings can be exchanged.



Difference #4: How Much Everything Costs

A marriage license in Virginia Beach is $30 (about £20). If you want a courthouse wedding, it would be $50 in cash for the marriage commissioner to legalize your marriage. No appointment even needed. 

If you wanted to have a licensed Virginia officiant conduct your wedding at your preferred location, their fees can be anywhere from $0 to $1,000. Depending on if it's a personal friend to an in-demand local favorite, pricing varies, of course. To receive certified copies of your Virginia marriage license and certificate (which are together on the same document) after the wedding, you would pay $2.50 per copy.

Now in West Sussex, England, it is £35 per person to give notice and then an additional £50 just to look at notarized foreign divorce papers. So to give notice, it was £120 for us (about $165). This does not even include anything related to ceremony services. It’s literally just to notify and receive permission to marry.

In West Sussex, the cost for a registrar to attend and legalize your marriage off-site at your preferred venue can range from £466-£693. And if you wish, this is in addition to a separately hired independent celebrant who would conduct the same ceremony in a more personalized format. This British professional's pricing can be anywhere from £300-£900 based off of personal research.

If you choose to have a ceremony at one of the register office's official ceremony rooms where the registrar doesn't have to travel off-site, these costs still greatly range from £271-£992 depending on location in the county and which day you decide to tie the knot.

All Register Office ceremony fees include two official statutory marriage certificates, but if you need additional copies, it would be £11 each (about $15).

Now if you're like me and Mr. B and have a more meaningful wedding planned on another day with an independent celebrant, we wanted the least expensive "make it legal" option that was available. So for £74, we could get the most bare bones, basic statutory registration of marriage ceremony that can only happen on the second Tuesday of every month at the primary office in East Sussex with two witnesses required. (Due to COVID, there were no available ceremonies in West Sussex when we were booking, so we had to schedule with the next county over.) 

In the end, we will have paid close to £800 (about $1,100) just to legally and formally call ourselves husband and wife to the UK government and our loved ones... which doesn't even include the actual wedding day details like venues, catering, attire, rings, photography, florals, et cetera. That stuff all is pretty similar to an American wedding and isn't quite as interesting as this particular topic. 

Final, More Succinct Thoughts

So, England, I repeat, dang, why is so much more complicated to get married here?! 

Our Wedding Details in the Photos
Wedding Ring: Brilliant Earth and Blue Nile •  Shoes: ASOS •  Bridal Accessories: Emilia Rae via Etsy  •  Velvet Ring Box: Your Heart's Content via Etsy

Some of the above product links are affiliate-linked and purchasing through these links helps support this website at no cost to you! You can find my full affiliate disclosure policy here.
How to Travel with a Cat from the USA to the UK

It's not often that a cat has more air, car, and train miles than most humans, but most humans aren't Miss Pickles Barrington, an expressive 8 years' old anthropomorphic feline with a personality full of cattitude and cuddles. In her time here on Earth, she's already converted many a non-cat lover, brought smiles to the masses with her shenanigans, and has an established Instagram hashtag.

There was no way I could leave PB in the States while I had my sabbatical for 6 months on a standard UK visitor visa, especially since bringing her along was a realistic option. I have raised her since she was a tiny kitten, and before and after my divorce, she has always been the one constant, purring companion who saw me through some dark times. (As to not take away from the main purpose of this article, you can read more about our personal journey here.) Knowing how adaptable and pretty laid back she is, I knew she would handle the travel quite well with her human alongside her.

So my biggest logistical question became "How do I travel internationally with a cat in the most streamlined and stress-free way?" I knew I couldn't personally/emotionally put Pickles in cargo for her first big 3,000+ miles adventure, and since the UK doesn't allow in-cabin pets to enter the country, I was determined to find an alternate route. The glimmer of the "travel into Paris' Charles de Gaulle Airport (CDG) and take a train over to England" concept gave me hope. Once I had done a massive amount of research and sorted out the logistics, I knew it was the right way to go for us.

Concurrently and to this day, I was receiving many Facebook messages from fellow cat parents about how to fly with a cat to the UK via the France entry route, so my former classroom teacher's heart wanted to pay-it-forward with this blog post of my experience.  

Backstory Disclaimer: I traveled in November/December 2019 with Pickles. Our intention was to return back to the States in May 2020, but then COVID-19 happened, I unexpectedly met my Mr. B, we realized we were each other's happily ever afters, he became a first-time cat dad, and Pickles became a permanent British resident. This was all pre-Brexit, and while I've done my best to include some information so it is post-Brexit-friendly, things may change after writing this. Please follow the relevant government and travel links for the most up-to-date information! It also goes without saying that prices shared in this post may have changed and should only be used as a general budgeting guideline.


How to Travel with a Cat from the USA to the UK


Step 1: Research your Logistical Options

It's black-and-white animal import law: you cannot fly into the United Kingdom from the United States with a pet in-cabin. Unlike the U.S., even when medically-approved, emotional support animals (ESAs) do not currently have the same legal recognition in Great Britain. To skip straight to the point, your furriest family must fly via an airline-approved animal transport company in the cargo hold if you choose to fly directly into the UK. 

But as inconvenient and frustrating as it may be, once upon a time, all animals arriving into the UK had to be put into a government-run quarantine center for 6 months, so imagine having your little love away from you for that long. It was terrible. Thankfully since 2012, we are living in better days with the advent of modern rabies vaccinations and saying bye-bye to an archaic British law from 1897.

Requirements and compliance sometimes change, so when you know you'll be relocating or visiting the UK with your cat, research, research, research for the most current information to determine what is best for your situation. My worst nightmare was getting to the border and Pickles being denied entry because I didn't do my homework. (And why I'm doing this blog post because it really should be much easier to understand!)

Some find out traveling with a cat in-cabin is not the right choice for them and choose to fly their furbaby in cargo directly into the UK. Some learn that they have the budget and want a once-in-a-lifetime adventure on the Queen Mary 2 by Cunard Cruise Lines and travel by sea with their kitty via New York City to Southampton, England. Or they definitely realize that in-cabin kitty to France and private pet taxi to the UK is their preferred route.


IMPORTANT RESOURCES TO BOOKMARK

• For the most current UK Government guidelines for bringing a pet into the UK, please see their primary info website and also their dedicated website for post-Brexit pet travel. You can also contact this government department directly via email with any other questions: pettravel@apha.gov.uk.

• On the U.S. side of things, the USDA APHIS website has your action steps in clear terms. 

• For updated Post-Brexit information specifically when traveling through the Eurotunnel, be sure to use their pre-travel pet compliance checklist


How to Travel with a Cat from the USA to the UK


Step 2: Get a Rabies Shot, Microchip, and International Health Certificate Information

Your cat's microchip should be implanted well before filling out any government documents because the numbers associated with that microchip become your cat's official identification across borders. This microchip should also be an ISO-compliant version which means it has 15 digits. If it has only 10 digits, your kitty will need another microchip to meet EU/UK requirements. ISO-compliant microchips are quite common, but have your vet double confirm with their microchip scanner.

Since Pickles was casually adopted from a friend's barn and then life kept happening (namely her breaking her kitten leg one week after bringing her home because she got into $5,000+ worth of emergency surgery mischief), I had never gotten around to getting her a microchip, so I was glad to finally get this for her. The microchip cost me $38 plus her vet visit fee at PetSmart's Banfield Pet Hospital in Williamsburg, Virginia. (Side note: The staff were amazing every step of the way for us and truly cared for their furry patients!)

The rabies vaccination must also be given at least 21 days before entering the UK, so she got her rabies shot the same day as her microchip for about $25. We did this about 4 months before our trip's departure.

This is also the time to ask your vet office who the USDA-licensed vet on staff is. If you already know your flight dates, book your kitty's health exam/certificate appointment with that specific vet because your cat's EU/UK health certificates must be issued no more than 10 days prior to entering the UK. 

You can also ask where the local USDA office is because after your kitty's health certificate exam, her papers need to be stamped/endorsed by a USDA APHIS office before your departure.

DOWNLOAD NON-COMMERCIAL PET HEALTH CERTIFICATE FORMS

Because of Brexit, it is recommend to have both UK and EU health certificates filled out and certified to eliminate any potential for border confusion. At the time of writing this, there is currently a limited time window where EU health certificates are acceptable for UK pet entry, but err on the side of extreme caution and pay to get both forms certified by USDA. Do not risk an unknowledgeable border control agent when trying to enter.    

• For Great Britain, download your form here
• For France/EU, download your form here.


How to Travel with a Cat from the USA to the UK


Step 3: Get your Travel Pet Carrier and Other Travel Things

Before booking your kitty's flights, you will need to know the exact size of the carrier being used. Check the chosen airlines' websites for size restrictions. The only consistent I saw across the board of airlines was that the carrier must be soft-sided to allow for some flexibility.

With the 24+ hours of travel I had and Miss PB not being a small cat, I had a rolling soft-sided carrier that met both Delta Airlines and Air France's underseat size restrictions. The wheels were removable (and placed in overhead storage) so it fit perfectly underneath both airlines' seats.

Thanks to my loved ones who wanted to help me with this transitional/adventure process, I was gifted poo bags, portable travel litter box, collapsible water bowl, and soft cat harness (if I did need to take her out of the carrier in a non-secure area).

Because heck yeah, to help announce her UK adventure, her Union Jack bandana (in size small as seen in the first photo) was a must have.

A few days before my trip, I purchased a few small baby swaddling blankets from Target to drape over her carrier's mesh windows. I had read this helped cats feel more safe in constantly changing environments and provided a bit more warmth in cold airports.

Don't be surprised when your kitty doesn't use the litter box or eat/drink en route. I was an overcautious cat mom and brought all the things, but Miss PB used none of it. This is normal. Cats don't usually eat or poop outside of their normal territory when under stress. (Though PB did really well traveling, any time you bring a cat outside their known safe environment will inevitably cause some amount of stress.) My vet said cats are resilient and can safely go without water and food for a couple of days, but it doesn't mean they should. That's why it's best to get your furbaby to their destination as soon as you can.

Carrying around clean litter and a bag of dry cat food wasn't ideal, but I still wouldn't have changed my preparation. There is always the possibility of an unexpected delay and the dreaded "overnight at a hotel" experience.


How to Travel with a Cat from the USA to the UK

Step 4: Book Your Cat's Flights

There are very few airlines that fly internationally that will allow pets in-cabin. Delta Airlines was my go-to for the domestic U.S. flights, and Air France was for my JFK-CDG flight. Every airline limits the amount of in-cabin pets per flight, so it is prudent to call the airlines and ask in-cabin pet availability before booking your own human ticket.

When you're ready to book your pet's ticket, you will unfortunately have to call the airlines again to book in-cabin pets because they have to ask questions about your cat (e.g., weight, color, cat carrier size, etc). This is merely a reservation as you do not pay for their tickets until you arrive at the airport on your departure day. (They treat in-cabin pet tickets as baggage, so to speak.) You can carry on one cat per booked passenger.

Both Delta and Air France charged me $125 per flight for PB, so I paid $250 in total for her in-cabin tickets since I flew from Richmond, Virginia (RIC) to New York City (JFK) to Paris (CDG).

A few days before my departure, I called the airlines again to confirm that they still had Pickles' reservations for each flight (and they did).


How to Travel with a Cat from the USA to the UK

Step 5: Book Private Pet Transportation

Once you are confirmed on your flights, research UK private pet taxis that offer CDG airport pickup and door-to-door drop-offs. Since this travel plan isn't as uncommon as one might think, there are a couple of British companies who offer this pet-friendly taxi service and are very experienced with customs and border control. After reading reviews and the great customer service I experienced via email, I went with Folkestone Taxi (also doing business as Pet Travel Abroad).

At the time of booking in August 2019, I paid £550 for door-to-door Sunday service from CDG to Brighton/Hove in southern England. This did not include Eurotunnel train tickets as these tickets vary in price depending on time of day and date. I ended up paying around £658 in total (including a 3% credit card fee due to my card being a foreign-issued card).

The company sent me Eurotunnel pet travel requirements, my driver's information, and had me completely at ease that I was prepared to bring Pickles into England.

Step 6: Ship Cat-Related Things to New Home

For my 6 months' sabbatical, I rented a long-term flat that allowed me to have Pickles as my sidekick. Before my AirBnb host headed off to Asia for her own adventure, she was amazing and also let me ship Pickles' new litter box, cat food, cat litter, food and water bowls, and some new toys before I arrived. I had everything ready to setup when I got there. 

How to Travel with a Cat from the USA to the UK


Step 7: Have Your Cat's Health Certificate Exam and Get Endorsed Paperwork

Within 10 days before our departure date, I took PB to our vet to have her health certificate exam paperwork completed. At Banfield, this exam cost me $96. They filled out multiple forms for me and gave Pickles a loving best wishes send-off for her transatlantic adventures.

The following day, I drove up to Richmond to get my paperwork endorsed at the local USDA office. It was $38. Like any government office, payment types may vary, so call ahead to the office you are going to and ask what they accept.

How to Travel with a Cat from the USA to the UK

Step 8: Traveling with a Cat

Since I'm not a vet or at all qualified to give medical advice, I can only share what I did with Pickles after chatting with our vet and doing some independent research on traveling with kitties (aka what would make both of our lives easier in a long journey).

As with any human, pets like to stretch out whenever possible, so I researched ahead of time if JFK Airport had a family restroom that I could use to set up the travel litterbox and safely get her out of the carrier for a few minutes. They had a few amongst the terminals. Even though she didn't use the litterbox or eat any kibbles, roaming in the private bathroom gave her a chance to stretch her paws in a controlled environment.

When going through airport security with a cat, ask for a private screening room. Show them your cat carrier and insist. I had a frustrating situation with people at JFK getting annoyed that I wasn't going through the security line like everyone else, but hold your ground. You're not like everyone else; you have a live animal to protect. There was no way I was going to open up a cat carrier with a cat who was complacently inside but definitely preferred to not be in it. I eventually got our private screening room, the TSA agents loved Miss Pickles' precocious personality, they scanned her carrier, and we moved along.

Pickles didn't meow much once she settled into travel mode, but she did bring a lot of smiles and comments from passing kids. I also had a couple of people stop me to ask about her rolling carrier, that they were traveling soon with their cat, and thought it was brilliant. Amazon to the rescue for that one! It's still the best thing I had for the trip.

We had a long layover at JFK, and it was so noisy for both Pickles and me. Even though I had a baby blanket over her carrier to soften the overstimulated environment, it was a bit much. Figuring the worst they could say was no, I went into an ExpressSpa and asked if they had a quiet room that I could rent for an hour just to be away from the travel chaos and unveiled the kitty underneath her carrier's blanket. With a smile by the staff, we were immediately escorted in to a quieter spot with a massage chair.

They didn't have a dedicated private room, but let us sit away from the busyness of the airport. The staff were so kind, turned on the massage chair for this tired cat mom, and allowed me to let PB poke her head out for awhile. Like the security agents, the women loved Pickles, too. Everyone does, really, and frequently gets the "I'm not even a cat person, but she's so cute!" comment.


How to Travel with a Cat from the USA to the UK
How to Travel with a Cat from the USA to the UK


Step 9: Crossing the Border

Once our private pet taxi picked us up at CDG, we drove for 2 1/2 hours to Calais where we would catch the Eurotunnel Le Shuttle into Folkestone, England. I napped for the first time in what would be a 24-hours' trip knowing someone else was in charge of getting places. That alone made the private transportation worth every penny.

Upon arriving to the UK border control area in Calais, our driver pulled into the Pet Reception Centre to get my documents and paperwork approved for entry. The staff scanned PB for her microchip, made sure it was the same number as on her paperwork, and we carried on.

At this time of travel, I did not have a ToR (Transfer of Residence) number since I wasn't permanently staying in the UK (ha, life is funny), and I also did not pay any taxes or VAT to bring Pickles in. I don't know if this was because I was on a visitor visa and originally only staying for 6 months or because I was arriving through France. Typically, you would have to pay something for your pet's import into the country and having a ToR number would prevent your being charged. If you're intentionally moving into the UK on a settlement-related visa and bringing in a furry friend, then you may experience this.


Helpful Tip: It's super easy to apply for a ToR number, and it's free to do. Since life decided to give me a major pivot and my very own Hollywood rom-com love story, I returned to the States to apply for my fiancée visa and also for a ToR so I could start shipping my personal belongings to Mr. B and not get charged duties or taxes. If you happen to ship before you have a ToR and you get charged, you can apply for a refund once you have your ToR number. You can apply and find out more information on the UK Government's website


At the official UK Border Control kiosk, I was asked the typical "why are you here?" questions, gave my passport and paperwork, and we were allowed to get in line (or more appropriately queue up) to board the Eurotunnel Le Shuttle for our scheduled train departure into good ole England.

How to Travel with a Cat from the USA to the UK


Step 10: Arriving in Ole Blighty

Once we arrived in the UK, I booked a local vet visit for a post-travel checkup 5 days after getting settled into our new flat. PB still hadn't pooped yet in her new litter box, and while I knew this was normal for traveled cats, I wanted to make sure everything else was still normal. (For this foodie cat, she ate her favorite wet food immediately upon arrival, so absolutely no concerns there).

Miss PB was climbing all over the office exam room like she owned the place, and everything was great for a cat who just traveled over 3,000 miles. Seeing a vet put any worries I had to rest and also gave me the opportunity to ask if I should get her an EU Pet Passport. Her words: "I would wait because it could become a very expensive piece of paper!" Glad I didn't apply; they are invalid now in post-Brexit world.

How to Travel with a Cat from the USA to the UK


Where Is Pickles Barrington Now?

After a Christmas in Wales with a bunny and thorough pampering from a cat sitter while Mummy was on her own UK adventures all in pre-COVID times, Pickles Barrington now enjoys a quiet, non-traveling life in West Sussex. She never completed her journey back to America. With giant windows overlooking the neighborhood (aka CatTV), having a bed in front of the fireplace plus every single radiator, and enjoying some supervised garden time, she has properly acclimated to British cat life.



If You Wish To Donate a Thank You

As a cat mom, I wrote this guide because no one should feel like they have no options when it comes to traveling with their furbabies. It can be a dang difficult process with government regulations along with the emotions of transatlantic travel/moving to a new place.

It took quite some time to put all of this information together, so if you're able and found this guide helpful for your own journey, a small donation of any amount via CashApp ($ChelseaLaVere), PayPal or Venmo (@Chelsea-LaVere) certainly won't be turned away and would be greatly appreciated!

Some of the above product links are affiliate-linked and shopping through these links also helps say thank you at no cost to you! You can find my full affiliate disclosure policy here.




Copycat Gluten Free PF Changs Fried Rice Recipe


What's an American to do when there is one P.F. Chang's in all of the United Kingdom and you don't live anywhere near it? You go to the internet to discover copycat recipes, but then realize that those copycat recipes are geared towards U.S.-based home chefs because of the listed ingredients. It's me. I'm that American.

Since West Sussex was in Tier 4 with the latest "stay at home" lockdown restrictions in England during the holidays, I was trying to figure out ways to make New Year's Eve at home different from every other day spent between familiar walls. If we were finally able to tell 2020 to bugger off from the comfort of our couch, then at least we could eat in style while we were at it.

I always loved going to P.F. Chang's with friends to celebrate occasions because it was one of the few casual-chic American chain restaurants that accommodated for gluten allergies and consistently exceeded in knowing how to handle dietary restrictions. A phenomenal allergy-aware or GF-friendly restaurant in Coastal Virginia is still sadly not commonplace in comparison to the UK where everywhere here understands food allergies and I never lack restaurant options... except in a pandemic.

Between P.F. Chang's and my favorite Thai restaurant in my hometown area, they were my fried rice go-tos. Two very different flavor styles, but delicious every time. I still haven't managed to find fried rice in southern England that makes me want to talk about it all the time, so for now, I've stumbled upon a dish I can replicate to satisfy the craving for American-Chinese cuisine (aka justify the limited cupboard storage space for buying a small kitchen appliance dedicated to cooking rice aka I love rice aka we have a new rice cooker convert in Mr. B now).


Copycat Gluten Free PF Changs Fried Rice Recipe in the UK


HOW TO MAKE P.F. CHANG'S FRIED RICE WHEN YOU DON'T LIVE NEAR ONE ANYMORE

[Serves 2] 

INGREDIENTS


Plain Rice:
• 1 cup of uncooked jasmine rice
• 1 3/4 cups of water

Fried Rice Sauce:
• 3 tablespoons of gluten-free tamari soy sauce
• 1/2 tablespoon of yellow or dijon mustard
• 1/8 teaspoon of ground ginger
• 1/4 teaspoon of garlic powder
• 2 teaspoons of black treacle

Final Fried Rice Dish:
• 3 teaspoons of sesame oil
• 2-3 eggs (per your preference)
• 1/3 cup of carrots, julienne cut
• 1/3 cup of frozen peas
• 1/4 cup of spring onions, sliced
• 1/3 cup of fresh beansprouts
• Your prepared fried rice sauce
• Your already cooked jasmine rice

COOKING SUPPLIES
• Stovetop
Whisk

ALLERGEN NOTES
Sesame and eggs. If you have a sesame allergy, you could also swap for rapeseed/canola oil which is equally good for frying, but with a more neutral taste. The "stir fry oil" you find in UK grocery stores are oil blends and have sesame in them, so avoid these. For those with a gluten allergy, I personally made this recipe with GF soy sauce, but if you have no gluten allergy, you can use regular soy sauce.

PF Changs Fried Rice Recipe

DIRECTIONS


PART ONE: COOK JASMINE RICE
The easiest way to make your rice is to use a rice cooker, but if you prefer to cook your rice on the stove or have no rice cooker, then do the method that works best for you. Using either stovetop or rice cooker, for jasmine rice, it is a 1 cup to 1 3/4 cups "rice to water" ratio, so if you are doubling the recipe, use the ratio accordingly.

One cup of uncooked jasmine rice will make about 3 cups of cooked jasmine rice.

HELPFUL TIP: Cook your rice a day in advance. Day old rice from the fridge always tastes better for fried rice recipes because cold rice helps prevent clumping and mushiness. Traditionally, according to a Japanese friend, fried rice was always made from leftover rice the night before. Tried and true wisdom here, folks!

PART TWO: MAKE THE SAUCE
With a whisk, mix together soy sauce, mustard, ginger, garlic, and black treacle. Set aside until ready to stir fry your fried rice. (You could also make this in advance and store in the fridge until needed.)

PART THREE: MAKE FRIED RICE
1. Set your stovetop to high heat and add 1 teaspoon of sesame oil to your wok.

2. Crack your eggs into the wok and scramble.

3. Once eggs are scrambled, add an additional 1 teaspoon of sesame oil to wok and then add julienned carrots, spring onions, peas, and beansprouts. Stir fry for 3 minutes.

4. Add another teaspoon of sesame oil and your cooked jasmine rice to the wok. Mix with veggies and eggs. Stir fry again for 3 minutes.

5. Spread out the rice around the wok and pour fried rice sauce all over the rice. Stir and fry for an additional 3 minutes.

6. Serve immediately or allow to cool for storage in the fridge. This dish tastes especially nice reheated when all of the flavors have settled together! 


Copycat Gluten Free PF Changs Fried Rice Recipe

RECIPE ALTERNATIVES
I prefer P.F. Chang's vegetarian fried rice, but you can stay on menu by adding cooked chicken or shrimp to your wok creation. To go off menu, add yummy fried tofu to your stir fry.

For appetizer options, I always love the saltiness (and gluten-free-ness) of edamame with any type of Asian dish. It's easy to please, and with exception to those with a soy allergy, most everyone can eat it! You can find edamame in Tesco and Sainsbury's, but it might already be shelled in the fridge section (or sushi counter if applicable). I have sometimes found frozen edamame in their pods, and they have also sometimes been called "soya beans" if not edamame. 

(Imagine an American woman confusing the dickens out of a British teenager stocking Tesco shelves when trying to figure out what edamame is called in the UK. "You know, they're really soybeans, but you find them at Japanese restaurants and you just pop them out of the shell!")

You could also do a hot and sour soup or any other Chinese-inspired soup that can be found in most grocery stores if you prefer not to make one from scratch. If you don't have a local Chinese or Asian restaurant to locally support for additional meal options, Marks & Spencer offers quite a few Chinese takeaway options in the fridge section to complement your fried rice.


Copycat Gluten Free PF Changs Fried Rice Recipe

FRIED RICE IN THE UK

Through the palate of diverse Asian cultures, we know every community has their own spin on fried rice, so take this with a grain of rice, so to speak. And depending on where you're from in the States, you may also have only known or prefer fusion-style fried rice. P.F. Chang's fried rice is definitely an American-Chinese hybrid as you'll know right away if you've ever had authentic Chinese fried rice, but this is really to say, opinions will vary greatly on this fried rice debate. There are many delicious ways to make it! 

Due to my many food allergies -- namely gluten/wheat, seafood/fish, beef, and colored peppers of any kind -- I rarely could eat Chinese, Korean, Vietnamese, and other Asian cuisine in the States or in my travels, so my own experiences are limited to the dishes I was able to devour. I'm relying on friends' experiences for some of these reflections!

When you visit any large UK grocery store, you'll see "egg fried rice" in the ready-meal fridge section as well as the shelf-stable Asian section... and admittedly, I cringe. It just looks unappetizing as if they just threw rice, peas, and questionable egg bits into the package and called it a day. Great Britain is clearly the land of savory pies, not rice. And mind you, this is coming from someone who eats like a small child because of very sensitive tastebuds (or what's also called a "supertaster") and prefers softer, more balanced flavors.

Now we know potatoes reign supreme when it comes to the carb here, so rice doesn't always get the spotlight it deserves. This truth is also seen by the tiny uncooked jasmine or basmati rice boxes available for purchase. (Where are the giant body bags of rice on the bottom shelves that could feed an army?! Well, Tesco Extra apparently understands because I did eventually find a 5kg bag of jasmine rice for £8 in Crawley, and there was no way I was leaving the store without it. Thankfully, Mr. B had driven the car for that particular episode, or I would have strapped that puppy onto my back in total pride for my find only later to suffer with a hot water bottle soothing broken muscles... but it would have been worth every kilo.)

The two Asian cultures that are globally very accommodating to dietary needs have always been Japanese and Thai... and they both have very deliciously simple fried rice dishes, so I have eaten these a lot across the continents, and I look to fried rice as being the "basic option" on menus. However strangely, a ton of British Thai restaurants don't even offer khao pad. (You'll find a lot of hybrid Thai food with Indonesian, Malaysian, and Chinese flavors depending on the British restaurant owners/chefs, but when you have forever been spoiled by your Thai friends' restaurants in Virginia and had taken an actual Thai cooking class in Bangkok, you can't help but feel homesick for simple home-cooked fried rice and pad see-ew when you're presented with different dishes than you're used to. Moving boxes to another country is hard, but missing now-unavailable comfort foods is harder.)

And if you don't live in a large city, then Japanese food tends to be sushi from a grocery store, not even a cousin to hibachi fried rice or Yakimeshi with cooked lettuce. (P.S. Living in Brighton while I was on sabbatical was a highlight because the culinary diversity was incredible! Bincho Yakitori was particularly yummy.)

Restaurants, grocery stores, and takeaway spots, of course, adapt to local preferences and demand, but I feel America is much more diverse in the immigrant-influenced restaurant department, and menu options reflect this. The search forever continues for memorable fried rice that I don't have to make from my spot in Haywards Heath, England. So if you see more Asian-inspired recipes pop up in the future from this very white American woman, that's why. I just really miss home and my diverse friends who shared their tables, meals, and new flavors with me.


This recipe is adapted from Heather Johnson to account for personal taste and ingredients that are available and easily accessible in the UK.

Some of the above product links are affiliate-linked and purchasing through these links helps support this website at no cost to you! You can find my full affiliate disclosure policy here.

 

American buying eyeglasses in England

It wasn't in the plan to get glasses so soon after my moving here. I had had my current pair for almost 5 years, and they were just fine. I think I might have jinxed myself though when Mr. B and I wandered into our local Leighton's in Haywards Heath to ask if they could tighten my sliding acrylic frames. It's like my gut knew I better be introduced.

A few weeks later, I committed the cardinal sin of precocious-cat-and-prescription-glasses ownership and left them atop my nightstand one night. The next morning, my glasses were found on the floor and had been bumped in the perfect storm kind of way to leave a deep enough scratch that created a perma-fuzzy dot in my direct line of vision.

I returned to the high street with my scratched glasses in hand and asked the Leighton's staff if they were fixable. They were not, of course. While it was great that they could pull my prescription from the lenses themselves and fit them to my current frames, I hadn't had an eye exam in forever and couldn't do without my glasses since I had no spare pair. So in the name of integrating into British optical culture and staying on top of my eye health, I thought it prudent to get an update. Thankfully being considered an essential service in COVID times, booking a standard eye examination wasn't too difficult at the price of £40. 

 
Experience buying prescription glasses at Leighton's Opticians in England


When my eye test appointment rolled around, it was all very straight forward, but I found it far more thorough of an exam than I ever had in the States. There was the standard eye exam equipment, eye chart on the wall, air puff right in the eye machine of dread, retinal photographs, but also old school methods like a reading test booklet and plastic spectacles with lens slots to determine your prescription (re: in total Luna Lovegood style). 

Beyond amusing this American and holding up the vintage booklet for a photo because I loved it, my optometrist was wonderfully kind even when she had to break the news that I have a permanent pterygium growing on my left eye caused by my previous sunny UV-rich life in Virginia. 

We both had to laugh because that’s likely not ever going to be the case again here in rainy cold England! However, I do have to wear sunglasses any time I’m outdoors so the pterygium doesn’t have a chance of growing. Surgery is the only way to remove it, and I'd like to keep sharp pointy objects away from my face, thank you.


Eye exam at Leighton's Opticians in Haywards Heath England

The Basics of British Opticians

All UK optician shops offer eye tests for glasses, sunglasses, and contact lenses, so you can get whatever you need in one place. All cities and towns will have at least one optician option whereas village dwellers might have to travel into their nearest town for an appointment.

Buying glasses operate much like in America: there are very few available discounts (though I did get a £50 refer-a-friend discount at Leighton's because it’s Mr. B’s optician, too!), same prescription format, and similar product offerings. Frames feel more European to me here, but they also have the classic familiar styles. While not the case with all British optician shops, one store layout difference I found at Leighton's is that the eyeglasses are not categorized by gender. I loved this. You just go to the design you like without thinking of the subconscious obligation to only consider female-marketed styles.

If you wear contact lenses, most opticians also offer a direct mail "subscription" type of program where you get your contacts delivered on a frequent basis. 

Unlike American eyeglass shops, British opticians offer hearing services in addition to eye care. You can get a hearing exam, ear wax removal service, and hearing aids. As someone who has had ear issues her whole life (aka hearing aids are definitely in my geriatric future), it's kind of cool that I don't have to make an appointment at an specialized ENT doctor if the need comes up. I would have options!


Experience buying prescription glasses at Leighton's Opticians in England

Where to Get Prescription Eyeglasses in Great Britain

There are options galore for getting eyewear, and it's all a very familiar process to any American who has had to get glasses before on the other side of the pond. Whether you want online or in-person, you'll find a bit of everything. When choosing an optician, customer service, easy ordering, and frame diversity were priority for me. Brand name designers weren't personally important to me, but like American optical stores, each shop has their own contracts with various brands, so if you are looking for a particular style or brand, it's best to do your research. Glasses are about the same price if not more than the U.S. and varies widely depending on your prescription strength needs and brand name of your frames. 

• Specsavers - Free NHS-funded eye tests are available here for qualified persons. The NHS may also help cover a portion of the cost of glasses or contact lenses.
• Boots Opticians - To avoid confusion, these are separate brick-and-mortar locations from the main Boots Pharmacy locations. They tend to be close-ish together on the high street or general shopping area though. 
• Leightons - If you go here for your eye exam, ask them about their recommend-a-friend program and tell them "Chelsea LaVere" referred you! You will get £50 off your first services and products like I did by being referred by my Mr. B (and double bonus I would get a gift card thank you!).
• Glasses Direct (online only) - You need to get an eye exam and prescription at your preferred local optician and then order from this company. They do have a "try at home" feature for finding your perfect frames.
• David Clulow Opticians - If you like the luxury name brands like Prada and Cartier, then this shop might be your choice.
• Vision Express - Free NHS-funded eye exams are also available here for qualified persons.


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the backstory

I rode my first train in England when I was 21. Led by our British native professor, a group of us English majors ventured across the pond ...

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