Tuesday, November 25, 2014

My Dirty Little Thanksgiving Secret

Here’s my secret – although people who know me might already guess this …..

[*whispering*] I don't particularly like Thanksgiving!!

Oh no, I hear the cry… why ever not?  You must like Thanksgiving, it’s an American Tradition, it's the best meal of the year!  Well, let me explain

While I love, love, love turkey, it’s a traditional Christmas dinner and something I look forward to all year. I appreciate many American’s don’t do the family thing at Christmas, but in England it’s a big deal. Turkey with all the trimmings – roast potatoes, chipolata sausages, Yorkshire pudding, carrots, broccoli, gravy and of course, Brussels sprouts – is the perfect Christmas dinner. So to have turkey a few weeks before Christmas takes all the thrill out of it. It’s kind of like opening all your presents before Christmas and then having no surprises on Christmas morning.

All the Trimmings
Ahh yes, all the trimmings, American style…

1. Sweet potato – what the heck is this stuff?  It’s sweet, it’s orange and it’s definitely not a potato. (okay, it might be, but I'm not an expert)  Not only that – it’s usually topped with marshmallows.  Ugh, sweet and savoury should never, ever go on the same plate;

I have no words
2. Mashed potatoes – nope, no lovely, crispy roast potatoes but mashed.  And mashed is kind of a subjective word because most likely there will be lumps and skin in there.  Reminds me of icky school mashed potatoes.  Sometimes, there’s even garlic or some other concoction of flavours added.  I'm a purist when it comes to mashed potatoes, no lumps, no skin, no flavours except potato - it probably has to do with having a former Irish mother-in-law.
Lumpy potato
      3.      Ambrosia Salad – okay, this is where things get really weird. Ambrosia is a so-called salad which in my opinion, it most definitely is not. Mandarin oranges, pineapple, coconut, mini marshmallows and whipped topping is not my idea of a salad. A pudding (dessert) maybe but never a main meal – and to top if off, you have to eat it on the same plate as your turkey! Holy crap that’s so wrong – see number 1 above.
Nope - Definitely a pudding
        4.      Green Bean Casserole – I will admit I really like this, but at the end of the day, it’s just a tin of runner beans mixed with a tin of mushroom or chicken soup and some crunchy onions. It is the best part of the meal, actually and I tend to eat more of this than anything.

My favourite part
5. Vegetables – oh wait, there are no vegetables really.  Sometimes there might be carrots, but then they’re covered in sugar and probably marshmallows too.

Pudding (“Dessert” if you’re America)

What no Christmas pudding or mince pies?  Of course not – it’s not Christmas, even though your're eating Turkey!

Pick your punishment preference:

Pumpkin pie – I’m sure pumpkins are not made for eating, otherwise why would the flavour have to be totally concealed in cinnamon or nutmeg.  Not to mention the texture is awful.

Apple Pie – oh yes, something I recognize.  Wait, it’s so over seasoned with cinnamon that it doesn’t even taste like apple pie.
Pecan Pie – I have no comment on this one.  I’ve tried a pecan once and it was awful.  I’m sure there are at least two or three spoons of cinnamon in there too.

Sweet Potato Pie – Wait, didn’t we just have this with our dinner?  And it looks suspiciously similar to pumpkin pie.

Ok, I will admit and you might have noticed I don’t like cinnamon and the problem in America, especially this time of year, is that it’s so overwhelming in everything.  I think I will stick with the Ambrosia salad as my pudding, thank you.  (Although it’s usually cleaned away by the time you get to desert).


So here’s the thing, it seems that no matter where you go, you have to do the whole “go around the table and give thanks thing.”  Everyone has to take turns saying what they are thankful for and of course, it’s a time you are in the spotlight (kind of) and all eyes are on you.  I’ve said things like “I’m thankful I didn’t have to do the cooking,” which I’m not entirely sure is what is expected.

Also, sometimes, there’s praying!  I know, I shouldn’t say bad things about praying, but it just makes me cringe and feel really uncomfortable.  There's also hand-holding sometimes.  And heaven forbid (yes, I said it) that I’m  actually asked to say the prayer!

So how do I get around this, being engaged to a wonderful Yank you say?

Well, sometimes I just have to suck it up and eat the turkey.  But, for the last couple of years, we’ve been to Las Vegas for Thanksgiving and it works out absolutely brilliantly.  We go to a buffet and he can get his Thanksgiving meal with all the trimming and I can have bloomin’ Chinese food if I feel like it, or Mexican, or Italian, or anything I want without ruining my Christmas.

Oh yes, and I forgot about the worst part - there are no presents!!!  You see, Christmas is so MUCH better.

Friday, November 21, 2014

Gambling - A Great British Tradition?

The very first time we came to America to have a look at what we were getting ourselves into, my dad took us to Las Vegas – of course! Everyone has to experience Vegas at least once in their life. It was all very exiting!

So there we were, all packed into the car like sardines yet again, when we decided to stop for a late lunch at Stateline.  Now, as we came over the hill, I thought we were actually in Vegas – all I could see were casinos and lights.  But apparently not, Stateline is just a little teaser of what’s to come.

The buffet was calling our name and there was quite a wait, but hey, we were in a real casino so let’s gamble…. Or at least let’s feed a few pennies into a fruit machine.

So while the others were queuing up, I tootled off to the closest machine and began shoving quarters in one at a time.  A couple of minutes later, I hit it big…. Well, okay, I won about $50.  Nice - or it was, until I was suddenly surrounded by security guards.  Hmm… it turns out you can’t have a child in a Casino, or at least not next to the machines.  I was grilled as to who had put the money in the slot and why my son was with me (he had followed me over to the machine).  It was a wonderful introduction to the American world of gambling, I must say.  I think they only relented and let me keep the money because I was a tourist!  I sheepishly collected my winnings and did the walk of shame back to the family.  *sigh* They told me during lunch that if I’d put three quarters in at the same time, I could have won a bundle… but try explaining that to the security guards – I was happy to settle for the $50.

Although gambling is legal under US federal law, Nevada and Lousiana are the only states where casinos are legal statewide.  Other states have laws which restrict gambling to small geographic areas or to American Indian reservations. [Wikipedia.org] If you want to gamble, you have to really, really want to gamble because you will have to travel quite a distance (unless you already live in Vegas, of course).  The laws are extremely strict and heaven forbid if you’re under 21 and are caught trying to gamble or even walk into a casino on your own.  Gambling is a bit taboo in the US, mummies (or mommies) wouldn't dare let their child gamble - it's a big no-no, as if they will immediately be on the slippery slope to Gamblers Anonymous!

It’s a far cry from growing up in England where every seaside pier has an arcade choc-a-block with fruit machines, every pub and most chip shops have them too.  And anyone can play.  Here’s an example - my four year old nephew gambling away his pocket money in Brighton.

A big no-no in America
This is just something we do.  Growing up, if we knew we were going to the seaside, we would save all our 1p’s, 2p’s and 5p’s so we could go on the pier and – shock horror – gamble.  And blimey, us Brits gamble on anything – Horse racing, football scores, the elections, the weather, a white Christmas… you name it, and we’ll bet on it.  You can even see grannies having a flutter on the Grand National every year - its an English tradition.  Every corner has either a pub, a newsagents, a chippy or a betting shop.  A good Saturday night out for us was going to Wimbledon Stadium for the greyhound racing and letting my son pick the winners (or at least try to) and nobody worried about it!

Come on 6......
Although, there was that one time…..

I had been asked to put some money on a horse and went to the bookies with my 3 year old in tow. We were just in time for the race to begin so we stayed to watch.  To my utmost horror my son decided at that moment to stand on a chair and shout “Come on 6… Come on 6….” at the top of his voice, a result of  too many trips to Wimbledon, possibly.  The old fuddy duddies in the shop were not best pleased and we were asked to leave.  And once again I had to do the walk of shame…..  [is it just me or is this becoming a regular thing?]

Monday, November 17, 2014

Christmas in November!

After our very first Christmas here, I was absolutely gutted to see our next door neighbors' Christmas tree out for the dustbin men on Boxing Day!!!.... yes, the day after Christmas (as it’s called here) is just another day to Americans.  Can you imagine taking down all your decorations on Boxing Day. Bloody hell, we’re still celebrating in England, going to the other in-laws and wot-not. There’s still pressies to be had.  I want to stretch my Christmas celebrations out to at least New Years Eve!

And I know people are putting lights up on their houses earlier and earlier recently, but I came home the other day (it was November 2nd) and saw this...

Yes, my neighbours have their Christmas tree up already!  I almost died.  [Not the best picture obviously, because I was fainting when I took it]