Thanksgivy-whaty-hooey?

It feels a little odd to be ordering our 10kg (22 pounds) turkey, stocking up on cranberry sauce, planning pecan pie and green bean casserole, pulling out the harvesty decorations, and investigating new stuffing recipes. We celebrate Thanksgiving every year here in Oz, just like we did in America – except we celebrate on the Saturday after the real Thanksgiving, and we host it, rather than HL’s grandparents. It’s such a lovely connection to our American life, and my parents adore it, but we feel a bit alone.

Usually everybody around is preparing for the same holiday at the same time: hence the million turkeys at Safeway (29c/pound, rather than $7-8/kilo), pumpkin pie recipes in every magazine, the line at the grocery store, the Norman Rockwell-like depictions of family dinners on every tv channel. But, here, Thanksgiving is a novelty. A holiday that very few Australians can grasp (“Well…you have turkey, and gravy, and stuffing, and pie, and…you have the whole family around…and…then you watch sport on tv…and…umm…most people have the Friday off as well…and there’s lots of history about American Indians sharing meals with the new settlers, and things like that…and, that’s Thanksgiving…”).

So, we love the whole hoopla of it – celebrating American culture and history and HL’s background and childhood memories, and etc. – but, we feel a bit far from home.

American Things That I Miss #5

Mexican food

I love bean burritos. We have them as a quick meal 2 or 3 times a week, on average. A simple smear of refried beans, some melted cheese, diced onions, and burrito sauce on a flour tortilla, microwaved for a minute – delicious. I’d never had a bean burrito till I went to the States.

Mexican’s not so big here. It’s more of an exotic, ethnic, special occasion kinda food. There aren’t many  Mexican restaurants to choose from – even in the big cities – let alone Mexican fast food.

I miss Taco Bell. HL and I were reminiscing today about 69 cent bean burritos, soft tacos, gorditas, grilled stuft burritos, taquitos, quesadillas, (which my dad pronounced kwesa dillaz – we still tease him about that)…even mexenuggets.

I miss having a Mexican restaurant on every corner and choosing the best one to pop in to for a cheap Sunday lunch, family dinners at Azteca (the fajitas are the best – I can hear the sizzle of the plate coming out from the kitchen), staff lunches at the local family-run Mexican place, with the best salsa verde, churros at the annual fair…

Crap…now I’m hungry, and there’s no place to go to feed my Mexican appetite.

American Things That I Miss #4

Reasonably Priced Cell Phone Plans

Our phone plan in the States gave us 2 free phones, regular upgrades, so many minutes they were basically unlimited, and free ‘family’ talk – HL and I could talk to each other for free and not use any minutes – for $70/month (altogether, not each). We used them almost continually: ‘Hey? I’m at the grocery store…Did you say we needed peanut butter?’; ‘Yep, stuck in traffic again. I’ll be a bit late, k?’; ‘Seriously dude, no…no, I do NOT want to watch Bruce Lee: A Warrior’s Journey’; ‘Hey babe. So…how’s it going? Good, k, bye then.’

We were terribly disappointed when we checked out what was available here. I kept thinking that we’d missed something, that we’d asked the wrong questions and hadn’t been offered the full extent of all the phone plans…Nope…what you see is what you get. So we didn’t get a cell phone till about a year ago.

HL was going into withdrawals a little, and he needed one for his job – cab driver – so we bit the bullet and bought him a phone. At first we went with pre-paid, which is VERY common here, but that was ridiculously, prohibitively expensive, so we got the best plan we could find. $50/month, no free phones, no upgrades, some minutes, but not a lot, free 5 minute phone calls to a couple of designated numbers, and no internet.

I’m so pissed off at the difference in value for money between here and the US that I haven’t been able to bring myself to pay for a mobile here. One day, maybe, that’ll change, but, for now, I’ll just stay grumpy about it.

Commerce just seems easier in America…And we’re lazy here. We don’t seem to care enough to demand change.

Homesick

We had an American family who are here on sabbatical enrol two of their children at school today. I get a rush of excitement every time I hear an American accent around me, so it was lovely to meet them and chat, albeit just for a very short while. I miss America terribly, so it just seemed natural to talk about Seattle as ‘home’, which was a bit surprising to them.

The longer I’m ‘home’ here in Australia the more I realise how American-ized I became while living there. I will always be Australian, and Australia will always be my heritage, but America looms large in my thought patterns and tastes and desires.

Seattle…the islands and the mountains and the Pike Place Market and the lakes and the winerys and the deserts and the coffee and the music and the ‘Shakespeare in the Park’ and the snow in winter and the ferrys and the farmers’ markets and the seafood (sushi!) and the funkiness and the ‘Nutcracker Suite’ at Christmas and Leavenworth and Winthrop and the crazy-ass indoor malls and the shopping and the Space Needle and the Seattle Centre and the monorail and Bellevue and the houseboats and the Hiram Chittenden Locks and the Norwegian-ness and the Japanese-ness and Lake Union and Lake Washington and the Puyallup Fair and U Dub. and Ivars and dungeness crab and Gasworks Park and the piers on the waterfront…

I’m sick with longing.

American Things That I Don’t Miss #1

Unnaturally Orange Processed Cheese

It being a lazy-Sunday-type day HL and I went to McDonalds for coffee and breakfast. We wanted to get one of those ‘limited time only’ McAmerica Bagels before the Olympics start and they go the way of all brilliant and yummy ‘we’re-only-going-to-stock-this-for-a-while-even-though-it’s-delicious-and-better-than-anything-else-on-our-regular-menu’ menu items.

Well, it was brilliant and yummy – just the right amount of sauce and meat and egg and etc – but, while eating, I noticed the cheese hanging off the edge of the bagel and I immediately journeyed back in time to one of my first trips to an American grocery store.

One of my very favourite things to do in the States – at least in the first few months of moving there – was to wander around the supermarket agog at the surreal, almost-familiar-but-not-quite selection of food on offer. There’s something very ‘olde worlde’ about American grocery products. I think it’s something to do with the packaging – very homey and welcoming and a little naïve (deliberately I’m sure). It makes me feel like I’m living in a different era, it’s sweet.

But I digress…

On one of these ‘grocery field trips’ I was wandering through the Dairy Foods section (aisle upon aisle) and I came across a huge block of lurid orange…stuff. I examined it. I inspected the packaging – no clues. I squeezed it. I sniffed it (hmmm…plasticky). I hefted it (heavy, very heavy). I still couldn’t (really, I promise, the packaging didn’t actually specify) figure out what it was.

I took the block over to HL with a quizzical look.
“What the hell is this?”
“That’s cheese…”
“No, seriously, what is it?”
“I assure you, it’s cheese, processed cheese.”
Incredulous look…

Cheese should NOT be this shade of orange: 

American Cheese

American Cheese

Cheese should look like this:

Aussie Cheese

Aussie Cheese

American Things That I Miss #3

Snow

When we lived in Seattle we were within driving distance of about half a dozen ski fields. HL took full advantage, snowboarding at every opportunity, while I mainly enjoyed playing in the snow, or just watching it. One of my favourite things in winter was driving into the forest (‘specially around Christmas) and watching flurries of huge flakes of snow pour onto the windscreen. It spoke of hot chocolate and fir trees and Christmas carols on the stereo. Snow was such a regular part of the seasonal rhythms and, even though it happened every year, it always joyfully delighted.

It snowed here today. It was such a pleasure to watch white drift and float and be blown out of the sky, but it was also a bit bittersweet. It felt like Christmas but it didn’t last. In just a few minutes after I’d said to my mum on the phone “Well, it looks like the snow’s set in…” the sun was out and any flakes that had managed to settle were fast evaporating. So homesick…

American Things That I Miss #2

Trader Joe’s

Trader Joe’s used to make me feel hip and ‘in-the-know’ and healthy and like a wise shopper, all in one store. They’ve created a distinctive brand that’s an ‘experience’, as well as a location for sourcing interesting and unusual products, and it’s a store with an identity that rubs off on its customers, that turns shoppers into inspired and enthusiastic and thoughtful consumers…at least, that was my experience.

And I miss it.

It’s not that easy to find a place around here where you can purchase frozen, pre-cooked edamame ready to be reheated, $2.99 bottles of very drinkable table wine to stock up on, tiramisu gelato, everything you need for a picnic dinner at Shakespeare in the Park, and a shopping experience that’s both ‘organic, granola hippie’ and ‘trendy, contemporary hipster’.

American Things That I Miss #1

Orange Juliuses

In 1998 I moved to the U.S. to meet HL in person and he spent a lot of time showing me cool things about America and Seattle and fun stuff to do in the Pacific Northwest. One of the places he took me to (amongst other, much bigger and more exciting places) was an Orange Julius stand at the Mall. I couldn’t quite grasp what the hoo-hah over an orange drink was all about until I had one. It was unlike anything that I had drunk before.

There was a bit of the Tang about it, but it was also milkshakey. It was like they took regular pure, fresh-squeezed orange juice and added extra sweetness and fluffiness and…errmm…’roundness’ (? – don’t ask me, that’s just the term that came to mind). It drank like a meal in a disposable cup. Every time we went to the mall I couldn’t leave without one.

And now, there are none to be had here in Australia. Sometimes I get the remembered taste of one in my mouth and it’s almost as much as I can do to withstand the urge to immediately buy a ticket and get on a plane…