American Food According to or as Adopted By Europeans

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One of the first things that get carried between cultures is food. But because different cultures grow up with different palates, or because the people spreading the new food to their culture might not know or care about how to be completely authentic, the food will invariably change upon introduction.

I think most of us are aware that “ethnic” food is rarely truly ethnic. “Mexican” in the US is actually Tex-Mex. Chinese American is nothing like actual Chinese. And the “French” food in China was just confusing. So it was fun to see what other cultures think American food is like. I saw the following faux American foods for sale in Europe.

Paris–La Americaine

Ham, egg, lettuce, tomato, and mayonnaise on a baguette (Though apparently there’s another sandwich by the same name in France that’s very different? I didn’t see it, but it’s what searching for this sandwich on the internet pulls up.)

Aside from the baguette and egg, that’s spot on for a basic ham sandwich.

London–Southern Fried Chicken Salad

Macaroni, mayonnaise, yogurt, creme fraiche, sweet corn, red pepper, spices, and bits of fried chicken

Southern fried chicken is apparently a big thing here. I saw it in salads and wraps. The yogurt and creme fraiche are definitely not correct, but the rest is par for the course (You think we use them fancy things in Southern cookin’? Ha!).

Basel–American Restaurant

A little grab-and-go cafe in the train station.

It seems American food is muffins, desert breads (e.g., walnut bread, banana bread), and sandwiches on bagels. Including a “Nordic Bagel”. I couldn’t understand the ingredient list, but why is there a “Nordic” bagel in an “American” cafe?

The Natural History Museum Exhibits

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I went through the Natural History Museum exhibits before and after photographing the gharials. They had an arthropod exhibit which was quite good. It included a fake kitchen that you walk into. In the kitchen, they had labels and fake bugs in various places. For example, you look up at a cabinet and there are giant models of those little beetles that like to get into your flour.

There’s also the hall filled with plesiosaurs and icthyosaurs, some of which were discovered by Mary Anning herself. Fun fact, the tongue twister “She sells seashells” is about her.

An icthyosaur. The black areas are a carbonized outline of where its flesh would have been.

An icthyosaur. The black areas are a carbonized outline of where its flesh would have been.

Unfortunately, this hall was not designed for exhibits (at least, not using modern ideas). There are giant skylights with light streaming down onto cases with highly reflective glass. Several exhibit halls were like this, and you could see the damage the UV has done over the years to objects more susceptible to it (like taxidermied specimens, which were badly faded).

Bad taxidermy actually managed to make this Virginia Opossum cuter

Bad taxidermy actually managed to make this Virginia Opossum cuter

In their bird hall, they have a case of comparative anatomy, which was a great source for pictures for teaching.

This is the hip and tail of a newly-hatched bird. Note that the tail vertebrae are all separate like in a non-avian dinosaur.

This is the hip and tail of a newly-hatched bird. Note that the tail vertebrae are all separate like in a non-avian or early avian dinosaur.

The tail of a young bird. The last five vertebrae have formed to one another and are beginning to fuse into a pygostyle. A pygostyle is a big bone beneath the tail feathers. It stabilizes their attachment points to make it easier for the bird to control its tail in flight.

The tail of a young bird. The last five vertebrae have formed to one another and are beginning to fuse into a pygostyle. A pygostyle is a big bone beneath the tail feathers. It stabilizes their attachment points to make it easier for the bird to control its tail in flight.

A fully-formed pygostyle in an adult bird.

A fully-formed pygostyle in an adult bird.

Baby hoatzins are famous for having claws like their non-bird ancestors.

Baby hoatzins are famous for having claws like their non-bird ancestors.

There are actually a good number of modern birds with claws. Some have true claws and others have modified carpal or metacarpal bones with horn casings (they’re called spurs). But aside from which bone make the core, they’re built exactly like a true claw. Possible example of a “frame shift”?

But there are actually a good number of modern birds with claws. Some have true claws and others have modified carpal or metacarpal bones with horn casings (they're called spurs). But aside from which bone make the core, they're built exactly like a true claw. Possible example of  a "frame shift"?

This Derbian Screamer has one claw and two metacarpal spurs.

In bird evolution, when you look at a phylogenetic tree, a bird’s hand has the 1st, 2nd, and 3rd digits. But when you look at a chick developing in the egg, it’s the 2nd, 3rd, and 4th digits. A “frame shift”, wherein the Hox genes that activiate during development scoot over one digit and make them develop into a shape like their neighboring digit is the mechanism for this.

Hornbill skulls are very lightweight because there's hardly any bone in them. It's pretty amazing.

Hornbill skulls are very lightweight because there’s hardly any bone in them. It’s pretty amazing.

And their prehistoric & modern mammal area was good as well. It included the usual suspects as well as some less famous ones.

A rare, two-tusked narwhal. Normally one of their teeth just remains a normal tooth inside their mouth.

A rare, two-tusked narwhal. Normally one of their teeth just remains a normal tooth inside their mouth.

Saiga are a kind of antelope that live on the Eurasian steppes. They have giant noses to help keep them warm in winter. Also, mutton chops. Because why not?

Saiga are a kind of antelope that live on the Eurasian steppes. They have giant noses to help keep them warm in winter. Also, mutton chops. Because why not?

Moeritherium--the earliest known and strangest elephant.

Moeritherium–the earliest known and strangest elephant.

They also have a “treasures” room, where they display some of their most highly prized objects. One of them is a first edition copy of On the Origin of Species. UI also has one of those, but the only time I’ve seen them display it is on Darwin Day. Something as precious as that you really don’t want to expose to UV all the time. The room where the NHM keeps it has no windows and not much light.

This is an octopus made of glass. Look up Leopold and Rudolf Blaschka. They created remarkably real-looking scientific models.

This is an octopus made of glass. Look up Leopold and Rudolf Blaschka. They created remarkably real-looking scientific models.

One of their exhibits was a series of panels on various bodies in the Solar System. At first I thought it was just planets, which made the fact that Pluto was “out of order” hilarious.

As it should be. If Ceres isn't a planet, Pluto isn't either.

As it should be. If Ceres isn’t a planet, Pluto isn’t either.

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London Birds

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The Natural History Museum is on one side of Kensington Gardens & Hyde Park and I stayed on the other, which means I got to walk through it on the way to and from work. They have some good bird habitat in there. Unfortunately, it’s the only place I got to go birding. There were a couple other parks and a wetland outside the city center I wanted to go to, but I got very tired and my feet got very sore this past week, so I missed out on that.

But it’s okay because Kensington Gardens & Hyde Park are great for birds. The only bird below that I didn’t see there is the Red Kite (it was flying above a station right outside London on the way to the Isle of Wight).

This coot has a nest underneath a solar panel in the middle of a pond

This coot has a nest underneath a solar panel in the middle of a pond


I can't decide if baby European Coots are really ugly or really cute.

I can’t decide if baby European Coots are really ugly or really cute.


One baby climbs up to hang out under its mother with its two siblings (only one visible here)

One baby climbs up to hang out under its mother with its two siblings (only one visible here)

All but the first of the above pictures are from the Italian Garden pools. The first is at Round Pond. The two chicks from the Moorhens’ first brood are foraging by themselves now and their parents are building a second nest. The male runs around looking for choice bits, brings them to the female, and she adds them to the nest.

Handing off nest-building material

Handing off nest-building material


Baby Moorhens look much more normal than baby coots.

Baby Moorhens look much more normal than baby coots.

The Great-crested Grebes on the Long Water (which is an oxbow lake of the Thames) are quite hard to photograph. I happened to be taking pictures when they were actively feeding. As soon as I’d get a shot line up, they’d dive.

Far too many of my grebe photos look like this...

Far too many of my grebe photos look like this…


Great-Crested Grebes are quite pretty

But I did eventually get some decent shots


Common Blackbird hiding under a leaf

Common Blackbird hiding under a leaf


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They’re quite photogenic


Long-tailed Tits have such tiny beaks!

Long-tailed Tits have such tiny beaks!


Don't let the brown head fool you--this is a Black-Headed Gull

Don’t let the brown head fool you–this is a Black-Headed Gull


As juveniles, their head coloration isn't completely in

This juvenile’s brown head feathers are coming in


Greylag Geese were everywhere

Greylag Geese were everywhere


Male Tufted Duck

Male Tufted Duck


Female Tufted Duck

Female Tufted Duck


Mute Swan

Mute Swan


Egyptian Goose

Egyptian Goose, an exotic with a breeding population here


Lots of black-and-white feral pigeons here. They're quite pretty

Lots of black-and-white feral pigeons here. They’re quite pretty


Female Red-crested Pochard

Female Red-crested Pochard


Mistle Thrush with an earthworm

Mistle Thrush with an earthworm


Juvenile Eurasian Magpie

Juvenile Eurasian Magpie


Grey Heron trying to catch dinner

Grey Heron trying to catch dinner


A pair of female Mandarin Ducks

A pair of female Mandarin Ducks


Sleepy girl

Sleepy girl

There were other species in the park I was hoping to see. I found out about them because of this wonderful blog by a London birder who goes there every day and keeps track of the daily goings-on of several bird families. Unfortunately, none of the ones he listed the past couple weeks that weren’t already on my list were out when I went looking for them. But it is a great blog, so if you’re interested in birds, you might want to check it out.

Somewhere in this tree is a Little Owl that's hiding from me

Somewhere in this tree is a Little Owl that’s hiding from me

What’s even more fun is that the birds there are so used to humans that most of them ignore or interact with you. I saw one man sitting on a bench with a Carrion Crow eating from his hand. Further up that path, a man was holding his hand out toward some bushes and tits were flying in and grabbing seeds from it. I couldn’t resist doing that myself, so a couple days later I bought a seed & dried fruit mix and went back to those spots. The crow wasn’t around, but the tits were. Someone else was already feeding them when I got there (and a Rose-ringed Parakeet), so I waited until he left to start.

A Great Tit eating from my hand

A Great Tit eating from my hand

Rock Doves showed up, of course, because they always show up when someone’s feeding birds. It was mostly Great Tits eating from my hand, though I did have two Blue Tits come by. Even a European Robin took a seed. I saw a European Nuthatch in the bush, but it couldn’t work up the nerve to take part. A small, skinny squirrel on the ground really wanted some food, but was afraid of the pigeon mob. I tried tossing a big seed his way, but the pigeons immediately converged on that area, so I wasn’t able to feed it, unfortunately. A Eurasian Jay also felt the same way.

I wasn’t going to feed the pigeons since they’re bound to get fed more often, but one clever individual figured out that he could just fly up to my hand instead of waiting at my feet. A couple others tried to follow suit, but there isn’t exactly room for multiple Rock Doves on my hand. They either landed right on top of him or they had beak battles because they didn’t want to share (just like the parakeets I used to have, actually). So I ended up slowly shaking out seeds on the ground while holding one hand up for the tits.

Some of the tits I saw this week had scraggly feathers. One of the Blue Tits that came to my hand actually had a completely bald head. After some online sleuthing, it turns out that they can lose feathers that way if their nests are infected with mites. But it’s not fatal and they will regain all their feathers some time after fledging.

And at one point I ran into a ton of rabbits.

For some reason, there were a lot of bunnies on this small patch of green. Only about  a third of them visible here.

For some reason, there were a lot of bunnies on this small patch of green. Only about a third of them visible here.


Looking out for danger

Looking out for danger

Many of the birds I saw in London were repeats from Paris, but I still got 12 lifers:

  1. *European Herring Gull
  2. Rock Dove
  3. Wood Pigeon
  4. European Starling
  5. Common Blackbird
  6. Eurasian Magpie
  7. Carrion Crow
  8. *Mistle Thrush
  9. Great Tit
  10. *Long-tailed Tit
  11. Eurasian Robin
  12. Mallard
  13. *Red-crested Pochard
  14. *Great Crested Grebe
  15. Mute Swan
  16. *Greylag Goose
  17. Tufted Duck
  18. *Egyptian Goose (I’ve seen one in the US, but they’re all escapees there.)
  19. European Coot
  20. Common Moorhen
  21. Rose-ringed Parakeet
  22. *Goldcrest
  23. *European Nuthatch
  24. *Mandarin Duck (another exotic with an established breeding population)
  25. Blue Tit
  26. *Grey Heron
  27. Common Pochard (I’ve seen one in China before)
  28. Black-headed Gull
  29. *Red Kite

London Collections

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I’m not sure how I did it when the last guy studying these specimens was here two weeks, but I finished looking at what I came to see on Wednesday. Maybe he had a bigger character matrix? He is specifically studying this group, after all, while I’m looking at them because they lie right outside mine (knowing where one comes from is a Good Thing).

There was Diplocynodon gracilis from France, which is a junior synonym of the D. ratelli I saw in Paris. More importantly, there was also the English species, D. hantoniensis, including the holotype (that’s the specimen that was used to name the species and which is used as a comparison against all possible specimens of this species).

Le holotype complete with its supports. Building custom foam supports for specimens helps delay degradation from gravity.

The holotype complete with its supports. Building custom foam supports for specimens helps delay degradation from gravity.

This is a proatlas—the anteriormost element of the non-cranial axial skeleton. It isn't fossilized frequently because it's pretty small. In us, it's actually fused with the skull and is part of our occipital bone.

This is a proatlas–the anteriormost element of the non-cranial axial skeleton. It isn’t fossilized frequently because it’s pretty small. In us, it’s actually fused with the skull and is part of our occipital bone.

They call this one "the frog". I'm sure you understand why.

They call this one “the frog”. I’m sure you understand why. The missing head and tail just add to the illusion.

Something weird we noticed is that the articulated vertebral column (minus the tail and the two special neck vertebrae, the atlas and axis), which was supposedly found in association and was thus strung up together on a wire, has to be more than one individual. There are nine postaxial neck vertebrae when there should only be seven. But there are no differences in fossilization between them. So what exactly kind of association were they found in? Just piled together?

 

Two too many

Two too many

And they had a random Allognathosuchus jaw, which I took some pictures of so I could add it to a morphometrics analysis I have an undergrad working on right now. The last thing I did on Wednesday was to run through the character states of an Indian gharial skull and jaws in their comparative collections. Gharials are weird.

Weird, I say.

Weird, I say.

Once I finished photographing and coding them, I took a day of rest on Thursday. Because holy crap I’m tired. Well, half-rest, anyways. I spent that morning at the Museum of London. I was very happy to take a nap that afternoon, though, because I haven’t been able to this entire trip and I’ve sorely needed it.

The next day, I went back and photographed some giant extinct gharial specimens for kicks and grins.

Big ol' fella

Big ol’ fella

We discovered that the partial articulated dorsal osteoderms and the partial dorsal vertebral column they have actually go together. That was a surprise because they were given separate specimen numbers a long time ago. The vertebrae had been lying vertebrae up because they’re more stable that way. We flipped it over to see if anything was exposed on the other side and the imprint of the osteoderms was there in the matrix with bits of their surfaces still attached in some places.

On the underside of this matrix, the vertebrae are visible

These are the imprints of the osteoderms. The vertebrae are on the underside.

The slab with the osteoderm series

The slab with the osteoderm series

These two specimens never get looked at and they aren’t in boxes. That means that they’ve built up quite a layer of dust over the years. The collections manager I was working with cleaned them up before I took the above photo. Here’s a comparison shot of before and after.

Cleaning. It's an important part of collection conservation.

Cleaning. It’s an important part of collection conservation.

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The Museum of London

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Earlier this summer, I saw this fascinating video and decided I had to visit the Museum of London, who made it. It’s startling how much the place has grown in the last century compared to all the previous ones. Several Londoners I talked to have said that that fast pace has picked up even more and they’re upset about it. Coming from what used to be a small town, I can completely sympathize with that.

Just chillin', leanin' against a centuries-old wall. No biggie.

Just chillin’, leanin’ against a centuries-old wall. No biggie.

The museum is actually built on a historic site—the Roman and medieval wall that encases the City of London inside the city called London. Watch the video below if you’re confused.

The timeline they cover actually starts the story of London with what was happening here during the Pleistocene Ice Ages. Walking in, I was expecting them to sort of gloss over it and treat it like a homogenous time period given their focus on history. But I was pleasantly surprised that they actually went into quite a bite of detail about the various warm and cool phases. Apparently humans left the area during one of the warm phases. Maybe they were running from the hippos. There were freakin’ hippos in England. Also macaques.

I cannot convey to you how truely huge this European aurochs skull is. And keep in mind that those are just the horn cores--the horns themselves would be much longer.

I cannot convey to you how truely huge this European aurochs skull is. And keep in mind that those are just the horn cores–the horns themselves would be much longer.

This is what greets you when you enter the exhibit area. Domestic cattle are descended from two breed of aurochs—European and Asian. Most that you’re liable to see in the West will be of European stock (taurine). Zebu breeds, like Brahmans, are descended from the Asian aurochs. They have big shoulder humps, dewlaps, and droopy ears. You do see a good bit of modern hybridization, though. Especially for rodeo bulls.

It's another replica of the steampunk Pikachu hat. And a replica of the Battersea Shield.

It’s another replica of the steampunk Pikachu hat. And a replica of the Battersea Shield.

The big London market in later Roman times.

The big London market in later Roman times.

A model of the Roman bathhouse that was here

A model of the Roman bathhouse that was here

Constructing the bathhouse

Constructing the bathhouse

A century-old reconstruction of the original St. Paul's cathedral

A century-old reconstruction of the original St. Paul’s cathedral

I ended up taking fewer pictures later in the timeline, but there was plenty to see—the Black Death, the London Fire, Tudor history… I skipped most of the stuff after the Renaissance ’cause I wasn’t as interested and my feet were sore.

I did hang out in the Victorian pleasure garden for a bit, though. It’s a room with a walkway and gazebo surrounded by screens with lifesize videos of actors on loop. There was a man taking a letter to his mistress’ servant, who told him he was getting too bold and her husband was sure to find out. A drunk acrobat fell asleep on his low-to-the-ground tightrope and rolled off without waking up. And various groups of people coming and going talking about this and that. At one point a man was so affronted by the sight of a female wearing men’s clothing that he challenged him to a duel…’cause that’s a logical reaction. *sarcasm* Thankfully, several people jumped in and told the challenger he was being stupid, so he left.

Basically, that room reminded me that I still need to watch Downton Abbey.

A pretty flower in a patch of garden outside the museum

A pretty flower in a patch of garden outside the museum

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The British Museum

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I went to the British Museum last Sunday specifically to see the Ribchester Hoard. The Ribchester Hoard is a box of gear found in Ribchester, where I’ll be heading to in a week. It belonged to a Roman soldier stationed there in the late 1st to early 2nd century AD. The most famous piece is called the Ribchester Helmet. It wasn’t an actual fighting helmet—it would have been used for show in combative displays.

The Ribchester Helmet

The Ribchester Helmet

This is what an actual practical Roman helmet looks like.

This is what a practical Roman helmet looks like.

There was plenty of other cool stuff to see, though.

Gold sheet from 8th century BC NW Iran.

Gold sheet from 8th century BC NW Iran.

This is partially the art style of the steppe nomads I love so much. This particular gold sheet combines the zoomorphic Animal Style of steppe nomads (the running deer, in particular, is a motif found in various ethnicities across the steppes) and Near Eastern art (the trellis encasing the deer and ibex).

People like to say that American serving sizes are ridiculously huge. I'd like to submit the Brackley Tankard as a counterargument. This things is about 8-9 in in diameter.

People like to say that American serving sizes are ridiculously huge. I’d like to submit the Brackley Tankard as a counterargument. This thing is about 8-9 in across.

The Lewis Chessmen--first known example of having a bishop. Probably made in Norway in the 12th century, but found in Scotland. The rooks are berserkers biting their shields.

The Lewis Chessmen–first known example of having a bishop. Probably made in Norway in the 12th century, but found in Scotland. The rooks are berserkers biting their shields.

The dimensions of the photograph are skewed; his face really does look deflated.

The dimensions of the photograph aren’t skewed; his face really does look deflated.

The Lindow Man is a marvel of conservation. Mummies are very fragile. When I saw that episode of Castle when the workers break down a wall and find a sarcophagous, then a so-called archeologist shows up and says “Open it!” A very concerned “No!” actually escaped my lips and I lunged at the screen to stop them before catching myself and feeling rather silly. And then Castle went and opened it without asking…*shudder*. There’s a very good reason mummies are treated so delicately and only handled in controlled environments.

The Lindow Man has been immersed in a chemical which prevents shrinkage during drying, frozen encased in cling wrap, then freeze dried (to remove the water). Now, he sits on display out in the open. There’s no glass case around him. The only protection he has from the elements is that he faces a corner of the room and has an overhang above him, presumably to prevent deterioration caused by UV light. And he looks amazing (well, from a preservation standpoint, at least).

Horned helmet?....Or ancient Pikachu cosplay? Last century BC, London

Horned helmet?….Or ancient steampunk Pikachu cosplay?
Last century BC, London

There were even a couple crocodilian-related things—specifically Nile crocs (Crocodylus niloticus). Or, more likely, desert crocs (Crocodylus suchus). The two have only recently been recognized as separate species by modern scientists, though the Ancient Egyptians could tell. They preferentially interacted with the calmer desert croc, turning them into mummies and even keeping them as pets.

Not depicted: the moment shortly after when the crocodile showed the demonstrator why it's a bad idea to make apex predators angry. Turn of the millennium Roman statue

Not depicted: the moment shortly after when the crocodile showed the acrobat why it’s a bad idea to make apex predators angry.
Turn of the millennium Roman statue

Apologies for the bad lighting...they really need to install non-reflective glass in this room.

Apologies for the bad lighting…they really need to install non-reflective glass in this room.

That last one is a ceremonial suit of armor made of crocodile skin (complete with osteoderms!). The British museum has curators scheduled in rooms at various times to lead 45 min tours highlighting some of the objects and expounding on their history. The guy leading the tour in this room was really quite awesome.

This was likely worn by an Egyptian auxiliary soldier as a way of showing national pride while on parade. The suit is actually turned around relative to how it was on the croc—the croc’s back is on the soldier’s front and vice-versa. A second, smaller croc’s back was used to make the helmet. The pauldrons were made by simply cutting hinged armholes, then preparing them in such a way that they stuck out.

 

And if you take your own trip to the British Museum, I recommend stopping by the Tea and Tattle across the street and a block west for traditional English Tea. Their scones are mouth-wateringly delicious. I didn’t know scones could taste that good. UI Food services, may I suggest rethinking your recipe?

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First (okay, Second) Impressions of London

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I’ve been to London once before when I was studying Lystrosaurus for my Master’s, but it was right after a big conference. I was quite tired and pressed for time, so I didn’t get to do any sightseeing while I was here. I just went to and from work. So this’ll be the first time I actually get to experience the city.

  • Wow the Chunnel was underwhelming. Too bad getting a ferry would of been way more expensive and a huge hassle.
  • People who put small, lightweight luggage on the bottom racks of trains–I and everyone else carrying big, heavy luggage hate you.
  • St. Pancras station seems to be full of non-Brits. Less patiently waiting in queues and more standing in my way as I try to navigate the place. I don’t understand people who think it’s okay to stop in choke points to check their things while taking up as much room as possible.
  • The recycling bins here are also enormous.
  • Oh hey, the crosswalks have painted “look lefts” and “look rights” on them. That’s helpful!
  • One of the roads I walked down to get to my hostel changed names three times in half a mile. What.
  • It seems the day starts even later here. Breakfast isn’t ’til 8.
  • This hostel has great, very friendly service and plenty of amenities (a full kitchen and plenty of travel items you can borrow for free!).
  • It also has 6 very tall stories with no lift and I’m on the 6th floor. Luggage=pain.
  • I walked down Tottingham Court Road yesterday. It wasn’t as grimy as I expected. (Kudos if you get the reference.)