Because Fall

Because colors and sparkling sunlight
Because carpets of crackling leaves
Because the russet smell of the first fires
Because pumpkin spices and shades of port
Because fall makes me breathlessly happy to be alive

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Have We Reached Peak Pumpkin?

Friends: I’m very scared that, if we don’t all chill out, pumpkin will jump the shark.

Because the brands have figured us out. Those clever marketers have skillfully tuned into our collective pumpkin adoration and now Pumpkin Everything is Everywhere.

Not only everywhere, but everywhere TOO SOON.

Read my lips: It is still summer.

Let’s say that again, all together now. IT IS STILL SUMMER!

Now, I’m the first to admit that I may have single-handedly fanned the flames of society’s Pumpkin Obsession. Knowing my proclivity for pumpkin, friends hastily alerted me when Starbucks announced the arrival of its fall staple, the Pumpkin Spice Latte – ON AUGUST 25TH. Dear Starbucks, I have one word for you: SERIOUSLY? (Ironic, thereafter, that FoodBabe revealed that not only does the revered PSL feature no pumpkin whatsoever but its ingredients are potentially carcinogenic.)

(At this point, I’d like also to make it very very clear to my readers that, in my humble opinion, pumpkin should be eaten, not drunk.)

Let’s examine other evidence of peak pumpkin:

  • Pumpkin recipes and crafts all over Pinterest – in August and early September
  • Ben & Jerry’s proclaims its limited batch Pumpkin Cheesecake ice cream is here – a fact that drives me fairly hysterical with excitement but my gut tells me this announcement is about 3-4 weeks earlier than in past years. And I’m pretty sure last year they weren’t even sure they were going to make it. I’m betting that this year, B&J has seriously upped its production schedule and quantities.
  • Everybody sends me everything pumpkin on Facebook
  • There are just too many pumpkin-flavored things – edible and non-edible – in the stores. I agree wholeheartedly with this USA Today article.

If we can all agree to cool our engines a little, maybe we’ll avoid pumpkin saturation/desensitization.

So friends, join me in a pledge to put pumpkin back where it belongs:

In the fall (ie. late Sept-late Nov).

In pie.

Oh OK, in cheesecake and ice cream too.

In my belly.

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5 Things I’d Never Encountered Till I Moved to Massachusetts

It’s been almost 14 years since I moved to America and all 14 of those years have been spent living in, and loving, Massachusetts. Before I moved here, my only point of reference for all-things-Boston was watching episodes of Ally McBeal. Little did I know that Boston does not really have magical street lamps and gently powdery snow falling on twinkly streets, everywhere. Damn you Ally McBeal. However, there’s plenty about life in Massachusetts which has been eye-opening to me in many ways.

1. Let’s take the weather:

I arrived here in February and was promptly told about an impending Nor’Easter threatening to dump a foot of snow. On the morning of this supposed event, the sky was white and cloudy, not a flake in sight. “So where’s this snowmageddon-like storm that everyone’s predicting,” I wondered. “Seriously, a foot of snow – not possible, surely?”

Boom. I was wrong. The heavens opened and promptly dumped sizeable proportions of white stuff in what felt like a few short minutes. OK maybe it took an hour or two. But never had this Londoner ever seen so much snow fall.

And here’s the thing.

It’s not a one-time event. The sky can dump anywhere from 8″ to a foot multiple times! Snow upon snow upon snow until there are humongous industrial-sized mountains of shoveled snow amassed in parking lots and other unsuspecting places. And there they stay, growing icier and generally more mucky, every day. Until, like, July.

Before moving here, I’d never encountered snow blowers, snow ploughs and shovels. (Not that I use them, I am a grateful observer.) And, thundersnow?!

Did I mention the cold? As in the bone-chilling, nostril-hair-freezing, finger-removal-threatening cold that is otherwise known here as February. Sub-freezing temperatures like I didn’t think was possible, and this after three years of jaunts in the Alps! The communal relief when the high for the day is actually above-freezing is palpable. The river here actually freezes solid. I’d never seen such a thing before.

Then there’s the humidity otherwise known as July and August. The air is so wet and heavy that it fairly slaps your face as you step outdoors, sucking out any oxygen you may have selfishly thought you needed to actually breathe. Hair becomes wild, curly, affro-esque. Makeup melts. Mosquitoes chase with vampire, blood-sucking intentions. It’s generally disgusting. Which is why air-conditioners are essentially the best invention ever in the entire universe (please take note, Europe.)

However, to balance out the horrors of winter and summer in Massachusetts, there is spring and fall – both of which are so divine, they can turn an atheist into a believer. Unbelievably beautiful blossoms. Freshly cut verdant lawns. The air sweet and light, outdoors welcoming. Butterflies, dragon flies, hummingbirds.

And fall. There are not enough adjectives to describe the colors and smells of fall in Massachusetts. Seriously. It’s staggeringly beautiful, converting all that is wrong and dark, to right and rich. Check out some fall photos here.

I’d be remiss if I didn’t also mention the sunrises and sunsets of Massachusetts, equally breathtaking with ripples of flaming colors that take your breath away.

2. But let’s get to the traffic:

First things first: two words. Big Dig. I often tell people the only reason I have stayed is to see how this grandiose experiment actually turned out. Actually, it’s pretty impressive.

However, it took several months of living and driving here until, one day, it dawned on me with a resounding D’UH that routes 128 and 95 can be one and the same. It’s some kind of local inside joke, inflicted on anyone from out of town who has the gall to drive in Massachusetts.

And then there’s the whole overtaking on the inside thing. Now, I grew up driving in England where everyone is generally civilized and polite on the roads (OK, that may be a stretch.) And driving on the highways in France, I was always impressed with the methodical way that you overtook on the left and then moved back into the slower lane until you needed to overtake again.

Not so in Massachusetts where it’s fair game and acceptable to overtake any which way. And then stay in whichever lane you end up in. Admittedly, I rather like it – but always have to remind myself when returning to England that overtaking on the inside is just not cricket.

Note: if you are new to Massachusetts, you need to understand the term ‘masshole,’ defined by the Urban Dictionary as:

1. For residents of Massachusetts, it is an achieved title for drving faster, being wreckless, cutting other drivers off often, and having no patience for other drivers on the road. 

2. For non-residents of Massachusetts, it is a term of dislike for the people of Massachusetts that drive like an asshole.

3. Funny talk

I’ve blogged about a fair amount about the differences between American English and British English, especially about silly American words. But different words aside, there are accents and very local pronunciations that were new to me.

The Boston accent is well-known. Paark your caar in Haarvaard Yaard and all that. But there are several towns whose names are pronounced much differently from their phonetic spelling. Peabody. Woburn. Worcester. Quincy, to name a few.

In Massachusetts, wicked is a complementary adjective. All set means good-to-go, one of my favorite adopted local phrases. If you are visiting here for the first time and you want to fit in, check out UniversalHub’s Wicked Good Guide to Boston English – and you’ll be wickedly all-set.

4. Pride

The passion that Massachusetts natives display for their region, town, community and sports teams is crazy and wonderful and contagious. Since I’ve lived here, the Red Sox have won the World Series three times and each time, it’s greeted with glee, pride, tears and cheers. To an outsider, it’s almost ridiculous but when you live with it and among it, it’s a beautiful thing.

But the peak of my admiration came in April of this year when this city rallied following the bombings at the Boston Marathon and the bewildering, frightening few days that followed as we were locked down and under threat. Boston Strong is real and poignant and amazing.

5. Last but not least ….

Pumpkin. My love for pumpkin is well-known and documented. But please, let’s be clear. I like to eat my pumpkin not drink it. Pumpkin, to me, has no place in my beer or my coffee. Blech.

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(Confession: I spelled Massachusetts wrong every time I typed it in the post. Thank heavens for spell check!)

So I Have This Problem with Halloween

October 31 is 13 days away. A date that fills me with dread, consternation and cultural awkwardness. 2012 will be my twelfth Halloween in the USA and the fifth or sixth “celebrated” since having kids. You’d think by now I’d be cool with it but every September, just as soon as the kids go back to school, it’s all about Halloween every which way you turn and I just don’t dig it. Here’s why:

Costume Craziness

Halloween, otherwise known as All Hallows Eve, the night before All Saints Day or Toussaint, has many origins but it’s mostly about getting spooked out by ghosts, ghouls and witches. So I can understand dressing up in white sheets, pointy hats and broomsticks, and skeletons but I do not get costumes that have nothing to do with Halloween. Cowboys, princesses, ninjas, Batman, Darth Vader, Minnie Mouse, Thomas the Tank – none of these are appropriately themed in my book. Any why are we OK with spending $25 or more every year purchasing brand new costumes for each kid from the growing numbers of retailers willing to take our money? Not being crafty myself, making or sewing a costume for my kids is rarely an option. So, the weeks running up to October 31 are usually spent trying to gently persuade my kids to either re-wear the costumes bought last year (which have not been worn since) or convincing them to make their own designs.

And while we are on the topic, I have never and will never understand adults dressing up at Halloween. Especially at the office! I do not want to be in meetings with a French Maid, Spider Man, a fireman, Cinderella  Frankenstein or any other caped crusaders. I do not want to sit in a cube across from these characters, bump into them in the corridors, kitchen or bathrooms. I’m all for fun at work but grown-ups in costumes, I just don’t get.

Candy Craziness

I have always been a candy nazi, strictly limiting the volume and kinds of candy my kids consume. In the days prior to Halloween, I totally have to psyche myself into being cool with the fact that they will be consuming huge piles of the nasty sugary stuff. I’m not a total spoil-sport, I let them go to town on Halloween. But it makes my skin crawl and sets off every parenting alert signal. And after the sugar high, the inevitable crash, followed by the awesome moods the following morning. Ugh! What I don’t understand is why does there have to be so much candy? And not just on October 31 but in the days and weeks either side?

Extended Celebrations

Halloween is technically just one evening, so why the parties 7-14 days before? Why decorate houses as soon as October hits? Why is there so much Halloween themed junk on the shelves of stores? Halloween cookies, recipes, crafts? Why are there Halloween Hallmark cards? Who sends these things? Happy Day of the Dead? Gee, thanks for thinking of me. It’s all overkill.

There are many American celebrations and seasons  that this Brit wholeheartedly embraces, particularly in the fall when pumpkins are plentiful and the foliage breath-taking. And, of course, I want my kids to experience all that is fun and cultural and seasonal. But, when it comes to Halloween, I admit I am a Grinch. So bah humbug.

And pass the candy.

Photography: The Colors of Fall in New England

I love the colo(ur) orange. It’s vibrant, warm, spicy, alive. So it’s no surprise how much I love fall, especially here in New England where we are truly spoiled with a spectrum of fall colors so rich and spectacular that they truly take your breath away. It’s when Mother Earth is at her most generous, spoiling us with leaves of every imaginable shade of orange, gold, rust, ochre, yellow, red and cranberry. It’s a visual cornucopia.

In the last couple of weeks, I’ve been spontaneously snapping photos of the colors of fall, trying to not only capture the rash of colors but also the light that is unique to this season, against the backdrop of a sky that can blaze blue at certain times of the day. I’ve been posting my photos to Facebook and Instagram (mcgarrysam) one by one, but thought it’d be fun to create a slideshow here of my fall photos. Hope you enjoy!

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My Pumpkin Obsession

I am obsessed with pumpkins. Not the whole orange ones that people here in New England decorate their porches with come October, but pretty much any food item that is made with pumpkin. This will not be a big surprise to my family and friends. In fact, to quote a friend:

There is probably not a Brit alive who likes pumpkin as much as you do!

Fall is the favo(u)rite season of many a folk and especially here in New England when the leaves turn incredible shades of orange and red, the sun glows a little stronger in the sky, and the temperature starts to dip as the air turns crisp. The humidity in which we’ve drowned all summer disappears and with it, the challenges of frizzy hair. I too appreciate these things but for me fall promises one thing – PUMPKIN! – and I am always ridiculously thrilled when this time of year comes around again.

It’s rather ironic that my first encounter with anything pumpkin happened half a lifetime ago in 1986 when I was an au pair in Paris. Now, France is not the typical place for anyone to find pumpkin pie, I know. But I was actually working for an American family at the time and they were celebrating Thanksgiving. And so began my pumpkin love affair.

Fast forward to 2000 and the opportunity that I had to move stateside with my job. There were positions for me either in San Francisco or Boston. I had already been to, and very much liked, San Francisco but Boston – and the whole East Coast thing – beckoned. There were many reasons why I decided on Boston – a shorter flight back to London, proximity to my brother’s family in Pennsylvania. Not to mention Ally McBeal, because she was the only real reference point I had for how life in Boston would truly be and look like. Reeses Peanut Butter Cups were another very persuasive reason for moving here. But what won out was the knowledge that, come November, there would be pumpkin pie. And pumpkin bread. And pumpkin muffins.

Yum.

Then one bright and sunny late September day about eight years later, while the hubby and I were enjoying a rare weekend away from the kids in Newport, Rhode Island, we treated ourselves to a scoop or two of some Ben & Jerry’s ice cream. Pumpkin cheesecake ice cream, to be precise. HOLY COW! Now, I’d always loved cheesecake. I’m ok with ice cream, not a huge fan. But, the trifecta of cheesecake, ice cream and pumpkin together and boy oh boy, sparks flew! Cupid had struck.

This experience kindled what has become a seasonal quest to taste as many different varieties of pumpkin ice cream in order to verify that Ben & Jerry’s flavo(u)r is, indeed, nirvana. I’ve tried several varieties that have come close, like Edy’s and a homegrown version which was totally delish from the Milky Way Farm somewhere in PA but alas too far away for regular consumption. Trade Joe’s brand disappointed, as did the pumpkin ice cream made by a local purveyor. I’ve yet to try Toscanini’s so have to take @eric_andersen‘s word that it’s good.

I also have to totally give kudos to Ben & Jerry’s social media responsiveness as I’ve been haranguing them regularly for updates as to when this season’s limited batch will be distributed and in stores. I may have to bulk purchase this year. Hey, if you can buy a case of wine, why not a case of ice cream?

Anyhoo, in the meantime, I’m making do with this.

And this.

Until I can get this!

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