Saturday, 7 June 2008

Sports Day Report . . . and some more cookies

I spent approximately 7 1/2 hours at my youngest daughter's Sports Day today.

While I have been to versions of "sports day" (in other words, competitive races between school children requiring parental attendance) all over the world, Sports Day in England takes the biscuit. First of all, it takes place on a Saturday -- a day that many people mistakenly feel should be given over to the leisure activity of their choice. Second, it requires sartorial decision making that must span the challenges of both weather and fashion. Thirdly, it involves competitive picnicking, drinking and tent-building -- should you be so inclined. (For more on this, you might enjoy reading multitude -- who attends the same Sports Day that I do.) Fourth, it requires the endurance usually only needed for weddings that have lengthy outdoor receptions peopled by (mostly) strangers.

Poor Sigmund; he hates Sports Day.

Last year, my oldest daughter's birthday fell on Sports Day -- and, oh, what a shame . . . but I had already booked theatre tickets! While I was swanning around London, with several of my dearest friends in the world, poor Sigmund had to accompany little daughter to the dreaded event. To make a bad thing worse, it was drizzling. And cold. And he didn't know anyone -- as he had been living in Holland. He coped as best he could, but several people brought back tales that he had been discovered sleeping in the back seat of our car!

This year I gave Sigmund a pass -- and he just showed up for lunch, which was somewhat tolerable for him, if not wholly enjoyable. Even so, he did ask this (rhetorical, I believe) question: Does anyone really like Sports Day?

Well . . . actually, yes they do.

According to my close observation, the people who like Sports Day are (generally) the people whose kids are good at sports. Unsurprisingly, as athletic ability is bred in the blood and the bone and perhaps even the badgering attitude, the people whose kids are good at sports are usually rather sporty themselves. These sporty people understand what is going on -- not only that, but they find it intrinsically interesting and entertaining.

Needless to say, as fairly unsporty sorts, Sigmund and I spend a lot of time wandering around aimlessly between the various spread-out events and are usually chatting when anything exciting occurs. If I were to enter the Mother's race, (which I wouldn't, under any circumstance), I would probably be like the poor soul who (1) fell down, and (2) starting losing her skirt, which managed both to slip down and gape open, and (3) ahem, "popped out" of her blouse -- thus exposing herself on all fronts. Worst of all, perhaps, she came dead last. As for Sigmund, he left sporting humiliations in the graveyard of his childhood memories -- a place to which he does not plan on returning.

I can like Sports Day, but only under specific conditions. Specific weather conditions. If the weather is sunny, but not hot, breezy but not windy, I can enjoy even an epic outdoor activity. But mess with this balance, and I become what the English hate above all things: a moaner.

Earlier tonight I was reading an article which mentioned neurasthenia -- and I wondered if there was some similar mental/physical condition which explains an oversensitivity to weather. Unlike most of the English, who seem impervious to the weather, I am hugely sensitive to its vagaries. Until today, I had carried a dread of the "Sports Day" fixture on the annual school calendar. But until today, I had never experienced a sunny Sports Day.

In the sparkling sunshine, Sports Day seemed charming. The headmaster in his blue blazer looked dapper. The many dogs frolicking on the field were positively adorable. The long queue at the (free!) ice cream truck seemed like a good way to bide one's time. Hour after hour of clapping and shouting "Well Done!" was quite pleasant. In fact, the only bad thing that I can think of is that someone left out the chocolate chip cookies and they melted in the sun.

So with that brief segue, I move on to a recipe for Tollhouse chocolate chip cookies, as per Debski's request -- and with a bit of commentary, of course.

Cream together:
8 oz butter
3/4 cup white sugar
3/4 cup packed brown sugar
1 tsp vanilla.

Add two eggs, beating well after each addition.

Sift together:
2 1/4 cup all-purpose flour
1 tsp baking soda
1 tsp salt

Add flour mixture to butter mixture, beating until just combined.

Stir in 2 cups of chocolate chips and 1 cup of chopped pecans or walnuts -- but obviously, this last step can be modified to suit your tastes.

Drop by rounded tablespoons onto an ungreased baking sheet and bake for 9 -11 minutes at a 375F/190C oven.

This is the Tollhouse recipe -- taken directly from the back of the Nestle semi-sweet morsel wrapper. (An imported good which I try never to be without.) For those English people who do not have the opportunity to visit the U.S. and bring back chocolate chips and Crisco sticks, I offer some good news: Marks & Spencer has just started offering a "plain chocolate chip" which has proven to be darn close to the original. So far it is the best chocolate chip I've managed to encounter in the UK.

A few more words on chocolate chip cookies: When I was a child, we made these cookies with Crisco (vegetable shortening) instead of butter. People used to fall into two different camps when it came to baking, and to this day my mother knows which of her friends prefer a "butter" chocolate chip cookie and which swear by substituting Crisco. In my considered opinion, the BEST chocolate chip cookie is made with 4 oz of butter and 4 oz of Crisco. Butter for taste, and Crisco for texture.

I think that you would approve of this slight amendment to the original recipe, Debski, as I know that you are a person who appreciates a bit of this and a bit of that. I'm not sure how you feel about Sports Day, but I bet that I can make a pretty good guess.


Bitty said...

I'm an ocean away with no dog in the hunt, so to speak, and I can already tell you that I don't like sports day.


Lucy said...

Wonderful! Your healthy distaste for sports and sports days, and commensurately healthy taste for home-made cookies confirms more and more how much I like you!

But really, they were never quite that bad when we were kids, just one afternoon during the school week in summer, with lessons cancelled, which helped to offset the awfulness. Like so much else, they seem to have acquired a totally overblown, competetive grandiosity...

Still, glad it was a sunny day!

Bee said...

I'm fairly sure that everyone I'm naturally drawn to shares my dislike for the all-around competitiveness of Sports Day events. (And I know there are some sporty literary types, but they aren't terribly common, are they? While these types spent their childhood running around and throwing balls, "we" were reading "Little Women" on some quiet corner of the couch.)

If I had had the energy, I could have gone into great detail describing some of the many rituals and traditions of this particularly over-the-top Sports Day. For instance, there is a program which lists the school record for each event. (One of our old friends will be amazed to learn that their 17 yo daughter still holds the record for senior girls' javelin throwing.)
On one hand there is a delicious tea at 4 pm -- with justifiably famous sandwiches and cake -- but on the other hand, you have to stay until 4 pm! Also, the "Leavers" and their parents always have their own gazebo and hog roast for the day. I overhead a rather floridly dressed gentleman proclaim it as even more "vulgar" than last year's. These little moments are, I confess, delightful to me.

Anonymous said...

Bee Bee Bee .. thank you for the Toll House recipe, they will be made this week, actually probably this coming Sunday, Fathers Day, my 'children', will be visiting The Bearded One showing the usual reverence and no doubt checking monthly allowances with the usual arguments of inflation.

Sports Day. I endured Sports Day until my children were about 8, as running with the egg and spoon and winning, hopefully, was their reason to live, I couldn't let them down, they had not asked to be bought into the world to suffer such humiliation without support. BUT, by the time they were indeed 8 years old I didn't care, I really honestly have to say that their need to have me there was outbalanced by my own sheer boredom, nightmare-ish mothers and little ribbons with 7th Prize written on them with the usual obligatory speech from Headmaster/Mistress of "we are all winners in life", I managed to avoid the three legged race and the dreaded mother's race. By the time I had 9 year olds I had managed to persuade them not to ask me to come with lines like "what time shall I come for sports day today or shall I stay at home and cook your favourite meal/plan your holiday to Disney World/go to the Mall and buy you the T-shirt you wanted" once they had said "no Mum, you really don't have to come", I didn't.
The Bearded One was excellent at this he would go and cheer, wave, shout, poke other parents if they were blocking his view with comments like " we all have children in this race you know", he was fab at it, deep inhales at winning moments and deep inhales at well, frankly humiliating moments moments. He still goes to rugby, cricket, rock concerts, shopping trips with them even tho' they are now adults. I have decided that should some day come when I am blessed with grandchildren ( and I am in no great hurry for this) I will not be seen at sports day, the Lord knows that Christmas concerts are bad enough and the purgatory of working on some tombolla stand or selling ice creams for the PTA.

Rant over. Once again Bee thanks for the recipe.

Just a Plane Ride Away said...

Well, I am glad the weather cooperated with your Sports Day. But 7 1/2 hours is a little too long, isn't it?!

Thank you for letting us know about the M&S chocolate chips. I just used up the very last of the Ghirardelli chips I brought back over Christmas break.

Sarah Laurence said...

Bee – what a funny post! “Competitive picnicking”- only in England could that become sport. We went to sports day back in London: pouring rain, but my kids still had to run cross country. It did not endear any of us to the event. What a relief that my son is too old to invite parents to his sports day. It’s not an issue for my daughter as Oxford state schools don’t seem to do them, but we may be stuck going to her summer fĂȘte, pronounced “fate” by the Brits.

I pity anyone with neurasthenia who lives in England. I’ve never heard the term, but I bet some resident coined it to find company in misery. The weather was at least nice today.

I have a Texan friend here in England (sabbatical too) who had to adjust her recipe for Tollhouse cookies because she claims the butter is different, more creamy. She got softer cookies by reducing the amount she used. They tasted authentic. It makes me think of having to adjust recipes when camping at high altitudes. I wish I could share the link, but her blog is a private one. Thanks for sharing your recipes!

rohit said...


how are you

i hope you enjoy every minute of your beautiful life.

you are fantastic!!!

a kiss for you, my dear friend!

god bless u dear

can we exchange our link

r u ready to do?

take care
god bless you dear

debski beat said...

Bee, Bee, I have been posted as Anon, it was a glip with Google but all is well now and I am Debski Beat once again just in case you thought that The Bearded One had two wives and your Blog was about to become part of some savage divorce proceedings.

Bitty said...

To clarify, I have cheerfully attended my children's football, soccer, and now grandson's baseball games. If someone I love is voluntarily participating, I'm there. It's a good occasion for hollering without social consequences.

But what you have described here is clearly torture.

Bee said...

Do let me know how the family likes the cookies!

I forgot about the egg and spoon race!! (I do remember sweating in the Caribbean heat, though, at my long-ago St. Andrew's Sports Day.)

Houston Sports Days included events like competitive jump roping.

This Sports Day has PROPER athletic events . . . so you get to see the children look as if they are going to heave as run the 1500 m race. That sort of thing.

I JUST discovered the M&S chips. Let me know if you find them -- and, of course, if they pass your taste test.

Interesting food for thought on the butter issue. My cookies always turn out slightly differently, and I'm never sure why. I might try reducing the butter a bit.

I have to go to one "fete" (fate!) this summer, but managed to duck out of the other.

I will just say, regarding rain and sporting events, that native Texans believe that rain is an excuse to call things off. Not so the English.

Thank you!

Believe me, I could recognize your inimitable voice -- Anon, or no anon.

Well, not WHOLLY torture. There was free ice cream, after all.

Value wIT said...

Thanks for teaching me something. On your behalf I loathe Sports Day!

However, the competitive picnicing would lure me in, and resistance would be futile. Love me an opportunity to showoff my picnicing skills. Next year, invite me to be your housekeeper and I'll set-up your picnic.

Bee said...

Valued Wit,
I just want to know one thing: Do you have a beautiful picnic basket? Does it come with champagne glasses? Because that's the kind of thing that you're up against, honey.

Unlike American school events, most Brit school events include alcohol. I find this very amusing.

BTW, I would LOVE to be able to share your version of TEXAN competitiveness -- down at the poolside.

k said...

we call it field day here, which somehow seems more british to me. and why wouldn't the brits call it sport day? i didn't know it was every pluralized.

have you ever seen the friends episode where monica is trying to perfect the famous chocolate chip cookie recipe from phoebe's french grandmother "neslee toulouse"? of course it turns out to be the nestle tollhouse recipe. :)

i gave you a quick rundown of my SATC mix on my blog. i would be glad to make you a copy.

happy monday! lili is off for the summer now. so far today i've read while she's watched pokemon videos. i will get in a decent routine soon. i swear.

Brave Sir Robin said...

Bee, do they not have regular competitive extramural sports teams at these schools, or is "Sports Day" only for the younger grades?

Around here it is called "Super Fun Day" (I kid you not, that's its name) and it is not comprtetive at all. It is mostly fun and silly games for the kids at the end of the year, and parents run from it like it is the Plague.

I attended and volunteered when my kids were that age, and I can tell you there were no picnicking parents, alcohol or dogs. (and Moms outnumbered Dads about ten to one)

What you just described reminds me of the scene from Evita! where the polo match takes place between England and Argentina, but the real competition is between the fashions, picnic baskets, strollers,and imported nannies.

Bee said...

It really should be called "Field" Day -- as it does take place in rather large field, and all of the events are track and field events. (Hurdles? Shotput and Discus throwing? What is this, the Junior Olympics?) As for your question about pluralization, I cannot explain . . . I can only describe. SportS Day, it is.

Of course, I've seen the famous Friends episode in which Monica valiantly tries to recreate Phoebe's grandmother's famous recipe! I've tried many cc cookie recipes, but tend to return to the classic.

I'd LOVE one of your mix tapes!

P.S. Are you suffering from the heat wave in KC? If so, then I think a bit of lounging around is fully justified.

If an event has to describe itself as "Super Fun," it probably isn't.

And yes, the schools compete against each other in all sorts of sports which are (mostly) foreign to Americans. Wednesday is usually "Match Day." Football (soccer), rugby, and cricket for boys; field hockey, netball, and rounders for girls. I rarely have to attend these as my girls almost never get picked for the teams. The schools don't believe in giving everyone a chance to participate; it's more about winning, really.

Taffiny said...

Oh, I would have to be in just the right sort of mood (just like the weather) to enjoy sports day.

My son started middle school this past year, and I was shocked to find there were not any family things to go to, unlike in the younger grades, when no month went by without requiring my attentance for at least one thing.

But really I am not thinking about that, no, what I am thinking about are those cookies, the ones left out in the sun on sports day, the ones that you dismissed as ruined. All I can think about are some nice melty chocolate cookies.

Bee said...

Yes, I was a bit too cavalier about the ruined cookies. To put it into context: I made about 8 dozen cookies for a fundraiser tea that I had the day before. It won't last long, I know, but at the moment I am actually a bit burnt-out on cookies. Strawberry shortcake, though . . . now that's a different matter!

JaneyV said...

Aaah sports day! To some a chance to shine and show their clear sporting (and therefore total) superiority over the rest of us. I HATE it! As a kid we did the 50 yard dash, three-legged race, and egg and spoon race. It was a laugh. If it rained you called it off. Parents could come if they liked - but nobody cared if they didn't. Now because it's practically compulsory to attend these things, parents end up booking days off work (In State school - it's on during the week) so if the weather's crap - it goes ahead anyway!

Competitive picnicking appears to be a private school thing as is free ice-cream and cross-country races. My kids' one took about 2-3 hours but they separated infants and juniors so when I had a child in each one - it was a day event. I'm very fair-skinned so sitting in sunshine for a day is torture for me. An ideal sports day is cloudy but not wet! And of course it's in June ..... essentially making me allergic to the event.

However it all pales into insignificance when the Dad's race comes on. It's hysterical! My hubby would rather have a sharp stick poke him in the eye than go in for it, but whoa! - the Dad's that do take it very seriously. It's worth all the torture just to see 15 over-weight, over-competitive blokes give themselves a coronary trying to prove they're still alpha male. Its the best laugh I get all year and it proves to me that I picked the right guy - the one sitting on the grass next to me laughing his head off too!

Alyson said...

Loved your commentary on sports day and I wholeheartedly agree. I've never loved those things. Thankfully, our Field Day is only for and hour and a half and it's during the school day. Parents aren't expected to come, though not discouraged. I don't know how I'd manage with the day long event you have to attend. Luckily, it looks like you at least had a lovely weather day.

Thanks for the cookie tip! I like the idea of the butter and the shortening.

Anonymous said...

Can't abide Sports Day and the awfully embarrassing event of having the Mother's race at the end. As to a Saturday Sports day that does not seem puka. Thank goodness we have not had to experience one in some years. Can
easily imagine Sig asleep with the Economist in the car park!

Sarah Laurence said...

I double checked with my other Texan friend in the UK about the Tollhouse cookie recipe adaptation. She doesn't change the butter that much, but when doing the conversion to grams, she rounds down rather than up. The key difference is to use caster sugar because the regular English sugar is the wrong consistency.

I got woken by the rain at 2am - so depressed me that I fell back to sleep, and now the sun is shining - yeah!

multitude-audrey said...

Having attended same sports day I can attest to all that you say except I can assure you that having "sporty" kids (my younger participant won two races) does not offset the pain of it all. So terribly sorry that I missed the full on exposure at the end. It would have almost been worth staying to witness.

Bee said...

Your comments made me laugh! I think that my daughter's school is extraordinarily competitive. Some of those "Alpha Male" dads were darn fast!

Yes, you've imagined it perfectly! (And yes, the waste of a Saturday does grate!)

Thanks! I always use caster sugar for baking as the other stuff is just too grainy and crunchy.

I saw one of your children win a race -- and the other come in a fierce second place! I think that MY daughter's best effort was sixth in the shotput (might have been the discus!).
I have no idea who the unfortunate mother was -- she who lost her footing, her skirt, and her dignity -- but I'm betting she was a "new" mother. The veterans were wearing jeans and running shoes.