Cardamom Walnut Espresso Coffee Cake: Me No Speak English So Good

Though I’m quite sure all five of my regular readers know that I am not originally from the United States, based on a recent incident, I have good reasons to believe that some visitors don’t check out my profile and, consequently, miss out on the information that should have clued them in on why I sometimes mess up the tenses or fail to assign the proper pluralized form to a plural noun. If the fact that me speak English not so good hasn’t been obvious to you already, stick around for a while and it will be.

How clueless am I? More than you think. After years of living in the US, I still make stupid mistakes. For example, everyone knows “taut” rhymes with “caught” not “sauerkraut.” I didn’t, until last week. And that state, Connecticut? I just learned last year that the second C was there for decorative purposes and not to be pronounced. My tendency to mess up the prepositions (or drop them altogether) doesn’t help either as sometimes the absence of the proper preposition in a phrasal verb construction can entirely change the meaning of the verb, e.g. Do I tinkle the recipe? Tinkle with? I know I tweak recipes, but do I tinkle in the kitchen? I’m a tinkler? A tinkler wither? (Why not? There’s such a thing as a fixer-upper. Even Bounty is a quicker picker-upper.) Wait, is it ‘tinker’ or ‘tinkle’? Never mind.

You can imagine how many more mistakes I made when I first came here even though I was somewhat familiar with the American culture and semi-fluent in English at that time. To make matters more complicated, I was taught to speak English the British way.

Even though Thailand has enjoyed warm diplomatic ties with the United States for 175 years, we had first been greatly influenced by the British and there are still traces of that everywhere even though we’ve never been a colony. For a long time, regardless of how limited my English was, my accent and terminology were decidedly British. It’s a full stop, not a period. It’s a torch, not a flashlight. You study accountancy, not accounting. Dropping the “u” from colour or flavour? That is not an honourable behaviour.

Imagine me as a foreign student, fresh off the plane, in an American university. You should have seen my classmates’ faces when I, realizing I didn’t have an eraser on me, asked out loud during an exam if any of them had a rubber I could borrow.

And then there was that time during the first few weeks in the States when I went to a public library hoping to check out my favorite foreign film of all time, Babette’s Feast and some other movie DVDs. I somehow got lost in a labyrinth of the youth section and discovered in the process that all of the movies on the shelves featured either talking puppets or a singing purple dinosaur. Movies for people over the age of five were nowhere to be found.

Set on finding non-juvenile movies, I approached the information desk and politely asked the bespectacled older lady clerk where I could find adult movies. Instead of directions, I was given a series of nervous blinks and a request to repeat what I’d said. “Could you please tell me where they keep the adult movies?” I said, enunciating every word. “We, uh, don’t have any of those, miss,” said the lady. “How come?” I cocked my head to one side and squinted. “Well, we just, uh, don’t,” she looked very uncomfortable — almost frightened, actually. So I told her about another public library in the same city that had a huge collection, but she refused to believe me. I finally thanked the clerk, but her staring me up and down compelled me to make a politely-worded pre-departure comment.

And the comment was that I thought every public library should have adult movies as tax-paying grown-ups need their equivalents of Teletubbies. Pointing to the kids nearby, I told the clerk that soon these children would outgrow Barney and Bob the Builder and be disappointed to find out their public library did not have adult movies to accommodate their educational needs beyond the juvenile years.

I had no idea what those stunned-looking women and their children standing within earshot thought of me as I made the speech. But I left the library feeling the kind of pride that could only come from having put up a good fight for a worthy cause.

But that wasn’t the first time I had that kind of self-righteous incredulity. That same year, I went to a diner in a small town in Texas and ordered a piece of coffee cake. One of my aunts used to make coffee-flavored pound cake that was out of this world and I was hoping to get something similar at that diner. Imagine how miffed I was when I found out there was no trace of coffee in my coffee cake.

How dare they dupe innocent foreigners like that?

Cardamom Walnut Espresso Streusel Coffee Cake: A Cake to Be Eaten with Coffee That Actually Contains Coffee and Causes No Cultural Misunderstanding
Makes 0ne 9×13 pan of mildly-spiced, very moist, and delicious coffee-flavored coffee cake
Printable Version

Streusel: Crumble together with your hands 1/2 cup coarsely-chopped walnuts, 6 tablespoons softened butter, 1/2 cup all-purpose flour, 1/4 teaspoon salt, 1/2 teaspoon ground cardamom, and 1 1/2 teaspoons instant espresso powder. Mix until the mixture resemble coarse crumbs; set aside.

Coffee Cake: Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F and grease a 9×13 pan. In a mixing bowl, dissolve 1 1/2 tablespoons of instant espresso powder in 1 1/2 cup kefir or buttermilk. Whisk in 2 large eggs, 1 1/4 cups sugar, 1/3 cup vegetable oil, 2 teaspoons vanilla, and 1/2 teaspoon salt. Add 3 cups all-purpose flour, 1 teaspoon baking powder, and 1 teaspoon baking soda; mix until homogenous. Pour the batter into prepared pan and sprinkle the streusel on top. Bake for 45-50 minutes or until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean. Cool completely before serving.

27 Responses to Cardamom Walnut Espresso Coffee Cake: Me No Speak English So Good

  1. doggybloggy April 8, 2009 at 12:17 pm #

    GREAT POST! You jest, your mastery of the language surpasess many who ONLY speak english…too bad I am allergic to walnuts though…..bummmer

  2. Cate April 8, 2009 at 12:38 pm #

    “You no speak English so good” – You sure fooled me.

    Canadians keep the “u” in words like “favour” and “behaviour” and 99 out of 100 times we get a spelling error for words like these when we run the spell check for emails and word documents. So annoying.

  3. Joie de vivre April 8, 2009 at 3:50 pm #

    This was hilarious. I’m sure you got a few snickers when you asked for a rubber too. I think you speak English fluently and eloquently and that you are versed enough to find subtle humor in word exchanges.

    As for your question on my blog, the recipe called for all purpose flour, I only had the high gluten flour on hand and it worked, so that is what I put in my recipe. Thank you, as always, for visiting and for your comment.

  4. The Duo Dishes April 8, 2009 at 4:48 pm #

    Adult movies! That is funny. 🙂 You cook so good though. Isn’t that enough? We’d like a piece of this cake!

  5. Lorraine @NotQuiteNigella April 8, 2009 at 10:40 pm #

    I loved reading this post Leela! I laughed at the use of rubber (in Australia we use more British English so I’d do the same) and I thought that it was hilarious that you asked for Adult movies!

  6. Sissie Sue April 9, 2009 at 2:02 am #

    Hi! I found your blog by way of The Crepes of Wrath. I’ll be back, though, for the good recipes and good writing here 🙂

    FWIW, I think that “back in the day,” people did pronounce the second “c” in “Connecticut.” Actors in older U.S. films do tend to pronounce it(from the 1930s-1950s), which always cracks me up. Maybe the “silent” C is a more recent thing?

  7. Leela April 9, 2009 at 3:25 am #

    Sissie Sue, interesting bit on Connecticut. Thanks. 🙂

  8. Arwen from Hoglet K April 10, 2009 at 1:08 am #

    I use a rubber to erase pencil too, and I wear thongs on my feet for that matter, so I know where you’re coming from. Funny post!

  9. Anonymous April 11, 2009 at 1:24 am #

    An original ‘Leela’ story… Your writing skill is as good as your cooking skills, if not better. Fantastic story… I LOVE it!

    Say… which would you prefer?

    To have better writing skill, or to have better cooking skill?

    Tough one to answer, isn’t it?


  10. Jude April 13, 2009 at 4:49 am #

    Holy.. This is hilarious stuff. Haha.

    It also took me a while to figure out there was no coffee in coffee cake.

  11. Kristen April 13, 2009 at 7:18 pm #

    Absolutely Fantastic is your writing, I have to admit that I find you prose enjoyable. I am not a foreigner, but I am married to one. He grew up in South Africa and also speaks British (or Colonial) English. For me, 10 years as a stay at home mom & married to an English as a 2nd language husband has made my English skills negligible. I can say *NO* very well tho 😉

    On to the Coffee Cake… I have always thought that Coffee Cake has no taste. I love your idea with the coffee & walnuts and I think that I will have to give it a go. I wish I read this yesterday, it would have been perfect!

    to Joie de vivre, my husband asked a very distinguished looking woman for a rubber when he first arrived. I thought I was going to die. I was laughing sooo hard I could hardly correct him. If memory serves I don’t think that he got that eraser.

  12. Ozge April 25, 2009 at 8:30 pm #

    Ahhh you’re so sweet, Leela. Sincerity of this gave me a big smile… I’m not a native English speaker, and it was funny when I went to the US for first time. My boyfriend kept giggling at me aww :0

  13. Spoon It On May 5, 2009 at 12:17 am #

    You are such a good writer – and very entertaining, too! My husband’s first language is French and I think his English, both verbal and written are better than mine. He refuses to believe it. I believe your English is better than mine as well even though English is my first language!!

  14. Hungry Jenny May 26, 2009 at 8:26 pm #


    This was so funny! I’ve only just come across your blog so have no idea what your writing style is like but got to say, it can’t really be that bad if you know what prepositions and phrasal verbs are! I think you’re writing is great and love the style of your humor (no, humour).

    Hungry Jenny x

  15. kittikitty May 27, 2009 at 4:03 am #

    You speak/write english better than most Americans I know!

    Fabulous blog, by the way. I’m looking forward to trying out your shrimp satay recipe on the grill this summer 😀

  16. Astrid November 4, 2009 at 2:24 pm #

    I know exactly how you feel I cam to the states 3 Years ago and I still make tons of mistakes
    just recently I wrote “letters” on our grocery list and while he was laughing my husband explained to me that it is actually “lettuce” …

  17. Leela November 4, 2009 at 2:26 pm #

    Well, Astrid, at least “letters” sounds better than “lettoose” as someone (ahem) used to say.

  18. Anonymous July 1, 2010 at 3:29 pm #

    As an Irishman, when I first came here I didn’t ask about fags very many times. I though we were discussing cigarettes, but we were not! I went looking for lifts, not elevators, and had to learn to make the ‘ower’ ending words into two syllables (shower, power, etc).

    Your English is actually very good, but I can see how the finges of meaning can defeat you. If I could speak Thai as well as this, I’d be pretty proud of myself. As it is, I have a few poor phrases.

    Anyway, I love your blog writing and photography, and your javascript not so much(stops me opening links on another tab). Please keep it up!


  19. Leela July 1, 2010 at 3:34 pm #

    IanG – Thanks. I’m at a point where my English has plateaued and my Thai is deteriorating at an alarming rate. Not a good place to be.

    Sorry about the javascript; it’s just a temporary solution to the rampant content theft that at one point led me to consider taking down the whole blog altogether. So, until I can find a better solution, will you bear with me? 🙂

  20. Anonymous July 1, 2010 at 4:15 pm #

    Of course – Yindee ti dai rujak, krap!

    I’m not sure much can be done about web theft. You could mark your pix with copyright text, I guess, or publish using flash, but they only slow people down.

    If I ever get my own food bog started, I’ll definietly link back here (mine will be Chinese and Thai, my favourites).


  21. Puppycat March 31, 2012 at 4:13 am #

    I still mess up English grammar especially with articles and prepositions, not to mention my disasterour spelling. It is even worse because I have already forgotten my native language a lot. But I just shrug it off cause, after all even native born canadians make worse mistakes anyway. BTW, I love your blog, your recipes, your photos and everything!

  22. Kortez February 4, 2013 at 5:24 am #

    Leela, your stories are as good and enjoyable as your fabulous recipes! I am so glad I’ve discovered your blog site. This blog is no exception, and it’s a pleasure to read this treasure (I rhyme sometimes). My wife really liked the cake. I am more of a savory person, though I am a fan of fruit-centered desserts.

    Thanks for the amazing stories!

  23. Patricia Gervai August 30, 2014 at 12:45 pm #

    Hello Leela
    My English is also quite new (I moved to Canada when I was 40 with poor English skills) and learning a new language at that age is really “a big thing”. Your English is amazing. I really enjoy your posts and your sense of humor.
    Looking at the recipe I couldn’t find the amount of walnuts. You wrote 1/2 of … may be a cup? This is my guess.
    I made it! The cake is very tasty and big, very appropriate for a family with teenagers.
    Thank you very much!


  24. megan April 7, 2015 at 1:29 pm #

    Coffee cake with real coffee taste! I have to try this recipe out. I, too, as a non-native English speaker (born in the US though), was surprised when there was no coffee in coffee deceiving, right?


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