Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Jon's America II

selfie at Sunday's Redskins/Titans game

Right, I'm here to continue my monthly updates about my amazing time here in the USA - it's now been just over a month and my memories of the old country are slipping away, my accent has gone, and my worldview is changing... just kidding! I'm still very much British and very much enjoying being somewhere where things are familiar yet subtlety different at the same time. This isn't my first time living in a new country - when I was eighteen I spent six months living in rural north Vietnam - so the culture shock isn't what it could be, but it's been great fun being introduced to new traditions. Betsy's already blogged about pumpkin picking, so I shall say no more about that except to say to the UK-familiar Americans who were writing in the comments that carving a pumpkin for Halloween in the UK is just as much of a ritual there as in the US. It's true you won't see much of that going on in London (which is more of a city-state anyway), but get further afield and you'll see it everywhere.

One of the areas in which things seem similar at first glance but reveal real differences the longer you stay here, is grocery stores. I know many of you will be big fans of Trader Joe's and, inevitably, Whole Foods, but I'm talking about the places that most people have to use on a daily basis, the equivalent of Tesco or Sainsbury's in the UK. When you first go into, say, Giant, you see the same stuff - fresh produce near the front, a butchers and a bakery, etc etc. But the longer you stay, the more US stores begin to feel like they saw what nature's bounty could produce, and thought "fuck you, we're making it bigger and trademarking it." Sometimes, that's awesome; I was cooking a roast and needed shallots - and lo and behold, there were giant shallots the size of small onions. That's monstrous, but in a good way.

Same goes for chickens - I don't know what you're feeding them (and probably don't want to), but they're huge! They're also strangely and unnecessarily watery in terms of how they're packed - you tear open the plastic bag and delicious salmonella juice goes flying across the kitchen. But I'm sure that when I'm back in the UK this December, I'll be complaining about how small and expensive the scrawny chickens there are.

In terms of true culture shock, I think one of the main things has got to be junk food. Betsy eats pretty healthily, so keeps me from going off the rails with this stuff, but it has become vitally important to me that I experience all the crap America has to offer. Chips (aka crisps) so far have been a let down. When I left the UK, Walkers were selling pulled pork flavored chips in addition to the usual stuff, like prawn cocktail and roast chicken, and they were amazing - but where's your famed spirit of innovation, America? You basically seem to  have cheesy, spicy, and spicy cheese flavors. More investigation is clearly needed. You do have the UK beat on pop tarts though, as well you should. I've only been casting admiring glances at the dizzying array of choice say far, but will update when I finally decide which ones to get. And as for the long-fought Cadbury's/Hershey's debate? I'm not even going to touch that one; I feel like expressing the wrong allegiance could get me deported. I will warn you of this, though - the stuff branded as Cadbury's here is a lie - it's made by Hershey's under license. Caveat emptor...

Monday, October 20, 2014

Pumpkin Picking at Waterford Farm

One of the fun parts of sharing my life with Jon is discovering which of our traditions are totally foreign to the other, and on Saturday I got the chance to introduce him to an annual American ritual when we drove north from DC into the heart of Maryland to go pumpkin picking.

In England, Jon tells me, people do carve pumpkins for Halloween, but I don't remember seeing any out on stoops or in windowsills in Chelsea or Islington.  In fact, the only people I know in London who decorate for autumn are US expats, and making an adventure of choosing your pumpkin is distinctly American.  As an English friend commented on a photo from the outing that I posted on Facebook yesterday, "I thought pumpkins came from Sainsbury's!"

So Jon was in for a treat as we drove all the way up 97 past Brookeville - the town to which James Madison fled after the British burned the White House in August 1814 - to Waterford Farm.  We turned off onto a winding dirt track, passing fields of stubbled wheat stalks, and crossed a little stone bridge over a ditch to find, laid out before us, the quintessential autumnal experience.  Or, as Jon commented when we saw the bright red barns, "Oh, look, they built a farm from Pinterest for all the urbanites."

Despite Jon's cynicism, we had a great morning.  We fed the goats and petted the cows and agreed that it was good we'd left Charlie back at home.  Jon and another childless man there with his wife had a loud conversation next to the pig pen about their favorite cuts of pork, to the dismay of nearby parents, and I was glad to see that I wasn't the only woman there with her phone out to take pictures.

When the haywagon rolled up, Jon suggested that we let the families with young children board first, but I reminded him that we were still less than an hour away from DC and so it was totally acceptable to sharpen our elbows.  We hopped up and, surrounded by mothers with DSLRs and toddlers trying to eat straw and fathers hoping to see a hawk darting above our heads, trundled off towards the pumpkin patch.

I'm delighted to report that, as Jon predicted, our pumpkins chose us relatively quickly, and we were able to spend a while wandering the fields under a brilliant blue sky  before boarding the wagon back to the farm.

On Jon's suggestion, we took the scenic route home through Patuxent State Park; it was amazing to see how much more colorful the foliage was there than in the city.  (We passed quite a few hunters in full camouflage by their trucks, which was almost as novel for me as it was for Jon!)  It was the most gorgeous day - perfect for an autumnal outing.

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