Sunday, 30 September 2012

Rustic Weekend: Alpaca my bags

You remind me of the babe
What babe?
Alpaca Farm funny faces cheer me up
How You Doin'?
Alpaca Farm Day! These guys crack me up. If you're feeling down, head to your local Alpaca farm. 

I've heard mixed things about how domesticated they are. Either they make terrible pets, or they make great pets. Luckily we live near a few of these funny looking furry chaps, as I don't think our bulldog would be too keen on sharing the limelight with an alpaca.
Rural Pennsyvania Fall Fests

Friday, 28 September 2012

Trip to the grocery shop

You know what it's like to be a in a new place. When you have to figure out how to go about those little every day tasks. Where to buy toothpaste. Where to get food. Everything's a little different.

My mother-in-law asked once if I wanted to visit proders junction. I said "sure!" with genuine enthusiasm and not a clue of what proders junction could be.

Turned out I misheard, and we arrived at Produce Junction for a weekly vegetable shop. But hey, it was an experience. I learned how cheap local produce could be.

Recently we took a trip to a flea market that also doubles as a produce market. It was a fascinating meeting point, a snapshot of Rural America and its inhabitants.

I didn't take any photos of the 'flea' market element as some of the stall holders were holding rather large shotguns, and I couldn't quite work out if they were for sale…or if they served another purpose. Another time, I promise.

Wednesday, 26 September 2012

Fall/Autumn USA: The best pumpkin flavored marketing

I was unreasonably disappointed to read this Guardian article today that says Pumpkin Spice Lattes have reached the UK.

Pumpkin Spice Lattes in the UK? Is that a Pumpkin Invasion?
I admit I didn't read the 122 comments on the CiF article
You see, in the USA, the usual holidays aren't the only marketing themes. Everything has a marketing theme.

In rural America people don't just decorate their homes for Halloween or Christmas. People decorate their homes for any occasion or season. You'll see spring and Easter wreathes, Fall and Halloween wreathes, Christmas or winter wreathes. You'll see patriotic flags up from July 4th to Labor Day. You'll see reflections of different religious and political beliefs in every corner all year round.

I love it because it reflects the diversity in the faiths and backgrounds of people in the US, combined with a uniquely American patriotism.

This year in the UK was wonderfully different because of the Jubilee and the Olympics. Usually houses are bare until Halloween and Christmas, when even non-Christians decorate their homes with lights and trees and the like.

America, predictably, does it all bigger and better. I think this is partly because of the deep-rooted capitalism in the USA. It's the heart of American history. Any occasion or event can be captured by purchasing a Hallmark card or an item of home decor. I've seen Happy Halloween cards on sale for children to give to - who?

But I think it also represents a closeness to nature and the changing seasons. My American friends are all on hopeful hold right now, asking "Is it Fall yet?". The place I volunteer had an unfamiliar scent wafting through the offices which I later identified as a pumpkin spice candle. Mr has been wearing heavy plaid shirts for a week now, willing the cooler air to breeze.

It's still warm and humid. It's not October yet. But the leaves are changing, and the stores are ready with this, until recently, uniquely American tradition, pumpkin flavored marketing:

Jet Puffed Mallow Libbys Pumpkin Jello Pumpkin Spice Febreze
A single trip to Walmart was a great source of amusement for this British lady, and it's not even October yet. The best of Fall is yet to come. But if the UK gets pumpkin spice marketing too, what will I write home about? Isn't Germany's Apple Crumble Latte much more fitting for the UK at any rate?

Send me your favorite pumpkin spice marketing. Next week the Fall fests start, so I'm determined to have pumpkin themed posts for the whole of October.

Monday, 24 September 2012

Being one in ten thousand almost every day.

It's Saturday night and Mark is watching the Smithsonian Channel while I'm editing photos. It's a World War II documentary narrated by Martin Sheen.

You know about the rule of cable TV? There always has to be at least one WW2 documentary broadcasting at a time. It's like the screaming baby rule on long haul flights; if there's no screaming baby the airline has to find one and put it on the flight.

I'm not paying much attention to Sheen's dulcet narrating tones until Mark exclaims: "Grannies. You had grannies?"

Me: What?

Mark: Your army had grannies?

Me: Uh, that'd be the home guard.

Mark: The what?

Me: You know, Dad's Army.

Mark: What?

Now I'm singing the theme tune to Dad's army. Mark has no idea what's going on.

Me: You've never seen Dad's Army? How can you never have seen Dad's Army? That's important historical television! Okay, well, you know the bit at the beginning of Bedknobs and Broomsticks?

Mark: No.

Me: You've never seen Bedknobs and Broomsticks?

Now I'm singing 'Bobbing Along' and it's kind of freaking Mark out. Maybe it's the rhythmic bobbing I'm doing. I start gesticulating wildly.

Me: But it's about World War II, witches, medieval knights! It's got live action AND animation. And the home guard. It was our "well-organised militia" if you will.

Mark: What? Well-organised grannies? No wonder you needed our help.

Uh oh. It's serious now.

Me: Oh yeah? And just when did World War II start?

Mark: 1942.

Me: 1939!

Mark: It wasn't the World War until we saved your asses!

Me: It started in 1939, buster. You guys were late.

Mark: Did you ever see Patton?

Me: No.

Mark: You've never seen Patton!? Did you see Saving Private Ryan?

Me: Uh, no.

Mark: You've never seen Saving Private Ryan?!

And so it went on.

Our transatlantic marriage can quickly degenerate into a full-blown argument about our respective countries' efforts in World War II. It's almost unbelievable how heated and protective we can get about the wars, while throwing in disbelief at our differing pop culture exposure. Just ask any American when World War II started: You'd be surprised how many say 1942.

But after we poke fun at each other comes the best bit. On an average day, in our transatlantic marriage, one of us is one of the lucky ten thousand people in the US learning about something for the first time.

What side was Naboombu on in WW2?
From xkcd, which I love, and you should too

Friday, 21 September 2012

Happy Friday! (from afar)

I don't usually do this kind of post, but I want to give my best wishes to one of my Uni girlfriends who is getting married today.

I'm so excited and happy for you!
Red purse brigade?
…and so sad I'm not there to see you in your fabulous dress and all your splendo(u)r.

Yeah, yeah. I know I made the decision to marry an American and move out here to the back of beyond, USA. But I do feel sad whenever I miss something big in the lives of my friends and family back home, er back in my old home. I've been invited to weddings, missed births and birthdays and parties. But I'm celebrating from afar, you bet I am, even if I'm in my PJs, drinking too much filter coffee for breakfast and cleaning up bulldog vomit (what the hell did the dog eat!?).

I'm always there in spirit, and I'll be the annoying person who 'likes' all the event photos on Facebook afterwards. I think that's an expat's prerogative.

Wednesday, 19 September 2012

Five places in Pennsylvania I really want to visit

Only one of these photos was taken in St.Andrews
Some of my friends and family are quite surprised that I made the giant leap from St.Andrews, Scotland, to nowhere, PA. So far moving and living here has been challenging but satisfying, and I'm excited to get stuck into the local Fall events. I've even made a calendar marking all the local Fall Festivals, pumpkin chucks, apple cider tasting and hay rides so I don't miss anything!

But there are also loads of non-Fall related places I'm still yet to explore. So, in no particular order, here's a shortlist of places in Pennsylvania I can't wait to check out:

1. Hershey Park
I described this to my younger sister as "a theme park where the theme is chocolate" and I don't think there's much more I need to say about it. I love chocolate, and I love theme parks. Hershey isn't the only theme park around here that looks great though. There's also Dorney, Knoebels, and over the state border in NJ there's Six Flags, home to the the USA's tallest roller coaster. They all do Halloween events that look like a total scream, and if I had the money I'd do them all.

2. Crayons and Potato Chips
Okay, cheating a little again with two very different factory tours in at number two. First off we have the Crayola experience, where it seems you can draw and play with melted crayons, see how they're made and learn the history of the famous brand. I know I'm way too old for this, but admit it, you want to come with me.

The second factory is the Herr's Potato chip factory. I'd reckon I eat enough of these potato chips to warrant me a free tour, but the tours are already free. Not only that, there seems to be some 'zany' chipmunk characters involved, and the site promises 'technological wizardry'. Intrigued?

3. Lancaster
Lancaster county is the heart of Pennsylvania Dutch country. By 'Dutch' the Pennsylvanians actually mean 'Deutsch', and by that they mean the German immigrants, culture and influence on this region of the US. This includes the Lancaster Amish and Mennonite communities, and there seems to be a huge focus on tourism to see these 'plain' farms and homesteads. But a trip to Dutch Pennsylvania also includes pretzel bakeries, the history of the German settlers, and some great gastro-attractions, including the Turkey Hill ice cream experience.

4. Gettysburg
We took a trip to Valley Forge on July 4th, but still have not ventured to Gettysburg, the civil war site famous for a short but nevertheless important speech. I think that while living in PA, a visit here is a must, and will help cement my understanding of how this country came to be what it is today. Fellow blogger Katherine of Of Corgis and Cocktails recently visited the site, and you should check out her stunning and moving photos.

5. Centralia
A completely different kind of attraction altogether. Centralia is a ghost town. It has no zip code (according to wiki it was 17927 until 2002 when it was revoked). The town was blighted by an underground mine fire in the 1960s, which still burns today. Most people left in the 1980s, though a few remain, and although there's little there, the road is torn in two by the still smoldering fire. Apparently the horror movie Silent Hill was partially based on the spookiness of the town. I've read that during snow storms the heat of the fire melts the snow, and steam can be seen rising from underground. For a fan of urban decay photos, that's a site I'd love to see and something I can only imagine would be a fantastic location for a fashion editorial. Who'd like to take me and my trusty DSLR here for Halloween?

What have I missed from this list? What other quirky sites should I check out? What are the hotspots (literally or otherwise) in other states?

Monday, 17 September 2012

Rustic Weekend: Homebrew

Remember when Mark was bottling his home brew? I was eagerly waiting for the day when it would be ready to drink. 

Well, it tasted fantastic, for a first go! I'm sorry you guys don't get to taste it, but it does taste as good as it looks: 

Homebrew made with Mr Beer
Gladley Homebrew
Glad Blog Homebrew
That's the bulldog giving me a high-five in the picture on the right
And now that Fall (AKA Autumn) is fully on its way, we're meticulously planning our fall festival activities and stocking up on pumpkin beer and cider that tastes like campfires. Fall (AKA Autumn) is a huge deal here in rural PA, and I'm willing to get on board with anything that involves rustic baking and tasty spiced drinks.

I'd love for Mr to try brewing his own pumpkin beer but unfortunately all the pumpkins he tried to grow went funky and died, so the next keg will likely be basic beer flavor. I'm totally okay with that.

In the spirit of rural American pass-times, I'm also helping Mr with design, photos and content for a beer brewing (and tasting) blog. You can get a sneaky peak here, but I'll let you know when it's launched proper.

Over the next few weeks I'll be posting lots of Fall (AKA Autumn) related posts and activities. What's your favorite thing about Fall? What do you recommend I try out?

Friday, 14 September 2012

Five foods I eat less frequently since moving to the USA

After doing a list of things I eat more often since moving to this corner of Pennsylvania, I thought it only fair to do a short list of things I don't eat so much anymore.

1. Fruit squash
This is the single food item from the UK I miss the most, and it's hard to explain to Americans: It's not a juice, not a cordial, and definitely not like that artificially neon-flavored Kool Aid. I grew up with Robinson's Fruit Squash (Ribena is okay too, but pricier) and I sometimes wondered when I would ever grow out of it. I never did.

To replace the disappointment of no longer being able to flavor my water with a concentrated fruit-based drink, sometimes my corn-fed American catches me diluting Tropicana or Ocean Spray: One part juice, four parts water. He is suitably disgusted, but I still refuse to pay the expat import prices for a small bottle of Robinson's. One day I'll crack though. I know I will.
2. Muesli
In my poor student days I'd buy an economy bumper pack of cheap muesli from Lidl and top it up with mixed fruit and nuts to make it seem like more esteemed brands of muesli. The US actually does okay for cereals, if you ignore Lucky Charms, Cartoon theme sugar-crusted breakfast boxes and the multi-colored muesli (ie, the stuff with sweetened fruits and nut pieces). But I like my muesli bland and hard to chew, not sweet and enjoyable. Shredded Wheat is the blandest thing I can find here.

UK expat in USA misses curry!
My faux Masala, and Homemade Naan recipe from LOTS a fellow Brit-USA expat
3. Curry
And talking about 'the blandest thing on the menu' the American curries I've had are not on par with anything I've had in the UK. I did once visit a tasty Indian restaurant in the Greater DC area of Virginia, but our local curry buffet doubled as a cheap Pizza shop. And then it shut down.

Chinese food is somewhat better in the US. The sushi, Vietnamese and Korean food is fantastic. Even out here in the country we're not far from a great selection of North Asian cuisine. This is kind of common knowledge though, and reflects the respective histories of the UK and US, and their immigrant cultures. 

I guess it's a fair trade-off, but every now and then I get a hankering for great Peshwari Naan or Aloo Saag. I make a pretty poor Tikka Masala, if judging by authenticity, but Tikka Masala is a made up British Indian dish anyway. Paired with a jar of Lime Pickle from the Indian aisle of the local supermarket, my faux Masala makes for an acceptable substitute for my old Saturday night take away. 

I find it amusing and fitting that the Indian section of our local supermarket is right next to the British section.

4. Lamb
As I said before, America is cow country. BBC's Mind the Gap got it right: Where are all the sheep?
I moved straight from the hills of midland Scotland to this rural space of the USA and I miss seeing the lambs frolicking along the fields.

It's also been a while since I had a real shepherd's pie. I was firm in informing my American family that shepherd's pie is lamb, cottage pie is beef.  A shepherd doesn't herd cows,  so beef pie just ain't the same. Desperate Dan would probably disagree.

Sheep Isle of Lewis
Lambs in Scotland - they're everywhere (pics from Spring 2012)
5. Candy
My husband heartily disagrees with me on this one because on my arrival to the US he greeted me with a pound bag of Jelly Bellies and I ate them in less than a week, and when we saw the Dark Knight I insisted on getting a giant pic n' mix  to munch through the movie. Yeah, so I have a sweet tooth. So what?

But with all the cake n' cookie baking we've done lately I just haven't had the room for candy in my life. Also, again US candy is made with corn syrup rather than actual sugar - so it's less sweet, less natural tasting, less flavorful than British candy. Sometimes I do get a hankering for Twizzlers, and then quickly remember how much I don't like them. I'm not the only Brit who has a problem with American confectionery either.

All things considered, and on balance, my diet is no better or worse now than when I lived in the UK. American food gets a bad rap (and definitely did in some of the comments on my past post) but it's not as bad as all that. I promise to try to convince you…but to square it out I'll also show you some of the amazing processed/junk foods you can get in the USA. Some of it is really special.

Wednesday, 12 September 2012

Stuff wot I brought with me 5 - Journalism textbooks

NCTJ distance diploma in journalism
Studying for the NCTJ distance diploma in journalism is no mean feat!
After working for an innovation agency, attending the Edinburgh International TV Festival trainee scheme, and doing a stint on a BBC consumer news show, I registered to study towards a diploma in journalism. I think journalism skills are going to be vital for the next generation of innovators and entrepreneurs. They should be taught in every high school.

I fully appreciate that journalism is a tough industry. But despite cut-backs and job losses (such as those initiated by the Philly Inquirer),  the shut-down of many local papers in the UK and the USA,  and the revelations of the unethical 'phone hacking' culture at certain papers in the UK, I don't think it's a dying industry. It's changing. Completing the diploma will qualify me a journalist, but I think there's so much more to modern journalism than shorthand and reporting style. With the growing influence of the internet in our lives there are opportunities to re-shape how people get their information and news, and to re-shape how media businesses get revenue.

That's why I also think programming skills are going to be vital for the next generation of innovators and entrepreneurs. At the age of 11 I taught myself HTML and made some zany Geocities sites from scratch. This year I've slowly been working through the Code Year modules, especially in CSS, to brush up my skills. I'm creating my own DIY course in modern journalism skills!

I love to keep tabs on innovations in news, media and community journalism. I love to follow community journalists, journo-bloggers, media analysts and academics on Twitter. Homicide Watch is a really interesting new model for crime reporting in DC and Clear Health Costs is a brilliant initiative set up by journalist-entrepreneurs to help Americans analyze the costs of healthcare options, to name but two exciting examples of new journalism ventures.

My diploma is all long-distance home study, so I was sent a box full of books and I've been working my merry way at them, amongst moving to another continent and spending catch-up time with my hubby. I knew there'd be a time for adjustment to my new country, and doing this has been great for focusing my time while I search for jobs and opportunities. It's tough work though, especially when I don't have class-mates to keep me motivated or to bounce ideas around with and share insights. If you see me on Twitter or like my little blog here, please do send me some words of encouragement!

Oh, and if you love new media as much as I do, I'd love, love to chat to you! Follow me on Twitter or visit my other site where I'm going to try to focus my media blogging in future. And if you don't love new media as much as I do, don't worry, you know I love trashy TV too, and all the new US shows are coming to screen soon.

Are you learning any new skills? What do you think is the future of journalism? And have you been doing Code Year too? I'd love to hear from you!

Tuesday, 11 September 2012

The worst thing an expat can say or think

There's one thing an expat should never say or think. The trouble is that the thought can just creep up on you after a run of frustrations and set-backs. And expat life is often full of frustrations and set-backs:

You go to the British section of the local supermarket for some comfort food and they don't sell Ribena. What's that about? Did the USA ban blackcurrants or something? (Actually, they really did, once upon a time.)

You order something in a restaurant and the staff don't understand what you said, even though you technically speak the same language. You get bored of repeating yourself all the time and ask your husband to order instead. Your husband starts to think you have an irrational fear of saying "fries and a side salad" in public.

You're no longer a superstar parallel parker. Everything's backwards and you have to re-learn.

Then you crash your mother-in-law's car.

You're worried about getting sick, not because you don't have health insurance, but because you've just discovered that you can't buy Lemsip in the USA. Where do Americans get their soothing citrus flu placebo effects?

You learn that 3 out of 5 jobs listed on Craigslist probably don't exist, 1 out of 5 seems dodgy and is likely related to porn, and 1 out of 5 isn't a job but an 'unpaid internship' with the potential for a good reference. That's not even including the 'unpaid internship in burrito warfare' you didn't apply for because it involved dressing up as a giant taco and throwing food at people in the street (I'm not joking about this).

And then you think, or worse, you say out loud: I want to go home. 

That's the worst thing an expat can say.

And it's almost always followed by: Oh shit. I AM home.

To be fair, my section of the supermarket ain't too bad, but five bucks for a small bottle of Robinson's? Please… If the culture shock wasn't bad enough.

Sunday, 9 September 2012

Rustic Weekend - Custard Cupcakes by teh cupcake noob

First: Look at these amazing cupcakes baked by yours truly!
I take a mean picture of a cupcake, if I say so myself. 
Pinterest is festooned with sexy gorgeous photos of tasty-looking delights such as these, and I like to wonder what went into them. I do love a good story of a cake pop fail. So, like a VH1 special, let me tell you the story behind the cupcakes.

Husband and I have 'rustic weekends' because for so long, husband and I did not get to spend time together.  We couldn't shop, cook, bake or watch movies together as we had at Grad school.  We celebrated our first anniversary in separate countries. Now we're living together like newlyweds, so weekends are full of simple shared rustic activities. And I am determined to bake. Correction: I am determined to bake successfully.

I am not a natural baker. I just feel so constrained by the rules. I get frustrated that baking doesn't work like making a stir-fry, where I can just throw stuff in a pan and hope for the best. My favorite cookbook on my shelf is The Flavor Thesaurus. No recipes, just tasty flavor combinations that I can throw together. Sometimes they work, sometimes they don't. Believe me and my family, you're taking your chances when you visit me for dinner.

Baking doesn't work like that. Baking is sweet, delicious science. My husband is a great baker because he went to military school and he's a stickler for rules. A lot of these Rustic Weekend posts feature his handiwork, not mine.

Some of the baked goods I've previously attempted used the Mary Berry Baking Bible. She's a British Baking stalwart and scary Bake-off judge. You don't want to get on the wrong side of her baking beans, that's for sure. Her recipes are in metric and imperial, which is a huge help for an expat still weighing up the differences between ounces and grams. Or not.

This US household has no scales, so I've had to resort to using US cup measurements. Complex mathematical equations are needed per ingredient. This isn't as precise as Mary Berry would deem acceptable, and results in some heavy sponge. Heavy sponge is not as rocking as heavy metal.

So for these cupcakes, I used the famous Magnolia cupcake recipe. I know these babies taste good, having queued up in Manhattan for them before like a proper sugar-starved hipster. Plus there was a lawsuit over this recipe, so I reckoned it must be water-tight. It also uses cups. Faultless, right?

I still managed to botch the whole thing by trying to halve the recipe. After more mathematical calculations and a spreadsheet full of altered cup quantities, I accidentally used double the milk I needed, so I had to throw in double of everything else. Limited by cake cases, the whole ordeal resulted in giant cupcakes.

Fortunately they worked. In your face, Berry.

Bulldog eyeing up cupcakes, cupcakes with flower, cupcakes with vintage owl trinket
The 'frosting' (aka icing in the UK) was a basic buttercream frosting, with a couple of teaspoons of Bird's Custard Powder thrown in. I was bored of following the rules at that point. 

They tasted fantastic by the way, but Pinterest doesn't care about that does it?

 Confess all your baking sins and disasters here, and we'll have a good ol' laugh about them. Either that, or tell me your favorite cupcake flavor combos. I'm desperate to try bacon chocolate.

Thursday, 6 September 2012

Watching the London Paralympics in the UK (cos you can’t in the USA)

Disclaimer: This is a guest post with a difference: It's my mum! As the US coverage of the London Paralympics has been so bad that even the International Paralympic Committee has complained about it, I went to my mum for a review of the UK media coverage.

I do watch a lot of sport on TV – I admit that. From the very moment that London was awarded the Olympic and Paralympic Games in 2005 I was already planning my viewing.

Come 2012 when the Olympics finally arrived, the viewing options on how to watch the Olympic Games had been transformed. The BBC’s coverage was astounding – taking full advantage of digital TV and extensive options on their website. If I wanted to watch every moment of the archery or the women’s pole vault competition then I could. And I did!

And so to the Paralympic Games. Rather than being on the BBC, the Paras were awarded to Channel 4. This to me seemed an unusual arrangement. Channel 4 is partly a public service channel, but also funded by advertising. It has always had a a remit to be alternative and edgy, at the same time aiming for the sensational (Big Brother and Big Fat Gypsy Wedding anyone?) so I could understand the `disability’ aspect falling under their remit. But Channel 4 are not noted as a `sports channel’ – horse-racing and Kabadi aside.

The first test came with the Paralympics Opening Ceremony. The main commentary was by Jon Snow, the Channel 4 newsbroadcaster. For all Channel 4’s sensationalism they do take their news very seriously, and this spilled over on to the Opening Ceremony commentary. As the athletes paraded around Olympic Park Jon Snow told us at length each country’s particular political woes and upheavals. What he didn’t mention though was disability, and it soon felt like the elephant in the room. Happily the other commentators, who have disabilities themselves, did not veer away from the subject, and it made for some informative and compelling exchanges of opinion. Danny Crake, for example, was keen to point out which countries could obviously only afford the cheapest and most outdated of wheelchairs, and how support should be given to some countries or it will never be a level playing field.

The other `elephant in the room’ was of course the adverts – and there were a lot of them. It seemed slightly disrespectful that they waited until a country with many athletes came into the stadium and then cut to adverts because there was time to do so. But then it transpired that whilst the ads were on smaller nations appeared and disappeared and never got their moment of fame at all. Apparently Channel 4 has said that they have actually shown fewer adverts, and advertising does allow for events such as the Paralympics to be shown.

Also unlike our experience of the Olympics, advertising also appears in the Paralympic venues. It is somewhat strange to see BT logos actually on the velodrome track, and the swimming pool to be
festooned with jolly Sainsbury’s bunting, but I understand someone has to pay for all this.

And so to Channel 4’s coverage of the Games, which so far has been, on the whole, very good. The Paralympics have unique broadcasting logistical issues – and how to refer to disabilities has been the least of the problems. In fact, Channel 4 has been candid about the disabilities and has provided LEXI, a comprehensible guide to Paralympics classification. Some sports, such as swimming, running and wheelchair events get a lot of air-time. Others, such as Goalball and Boccia, less so. Even in the dressage, where Team GB have done so well, is not fully covered. However this is due to the Olympic Broadcasting Service and not Channel 4, who went the extra mile to get their own cameras to the equestrian venue.

Also consider that for the 100 metres sprint there are 15 gold medals up for grabs because of the various classifications and you soon realise that to broadcast every event and every medal ceremony must be nigh on impossible. Channel 4 does have its accompanying website with four websites of live action plus a text update service, but even this cannot provide absolute blanket coverage of every minute of the Games.

Having said that, Channel 4’s broadcasting of the Paras has been a huge success: partly helped by the overspill from the Olympics (the warm-up event!): partly because the entertaining and enthusiastic presenters, Clare Balding (a BBC host who is no longer BBC-exclusive and is fast becoming a UK national treasure) and Ade Adipetan deserve a special mention for their entertaining double act; partly because Para events are darned exciting sports to watch (Murderball, anyone?!) and partly because of controversy supplied by a certain Mr Pistorius.

I have never been a fan of the 'Stick the microphone under the nose of the athlete that’s just competed (and lost)' approach, but boy, it did Channel 4 no harm at all as Oscar let rip with his immediate reactions! Whatever the reasons, the Paralympics on Channel 4 have become so successful that they have increased the number of hours broadcast on the main channel.

During the first week the Paras were demoted to one of their digital channels to make way for such delights as teen soap Hollyoaks. In this second week, it is Hollyoaks that has to move. Only the Channel 4 News stays in its prime-time slot and that is because of broadcasting regulations, and Jon Snow no doubt. However, last night there was a women's swimming final with a GB medal chance so they showed that on More 4. But this clashed with the 200m heats featuring a GB guy and Oscar Pistorius, so they showed the heats during the News. The Channel 4 News has effectively become another Paralympic programme; clever way to get round the regs and the clashes!

Whatever the reason for increased viewing figures, be it Clare Balding, patriotic fervour, Olympic withdrawal symptoms or the impromptu stooshies* over prosthetics, it has to be good news for sports broadcasting, disability sports and Channel 4.

*Stooshie = argument.

Thanks mum.

Watching the London Paralympics in the USA

This week and last week the US media has been focused on the Republican and Democratic Conventions, respectively. As TV news in the USA is not required to be impartial, unlike in the UK, each channel has its own spin and angle on the events in Tampa and Charlotte, which are also streamed comment-free on C-SPAN. There really is a super-serving of political rhetoric on US screens. It's a far cry from the staid UK political party conferences: Gearing up to the US election is a TV broadcasting sport.

And talking of sport and TV broadcasting, there has been no spin or angle on the Paralympics, which officially opened last week. My experience of watching the London Paralympics in the USA has been non-existent. At one point some footage of the Paralympics did catch my eye on TV, and I realized it was a BBC America news bulletin. I don't think that quite counts. At least the interwebz came to the rescue.

While some folks on Twitter were going wild over Obama's appearance on Reddit, the Paralympics opening ceremony was taking place and being broadcast on Channel 4, the UK's public/private terrestrial TV channel. British viewers, perhaps spoiled after the generous helping of sports broadcasting from the BBC, did not appreciate the trappings of commercial broadcasting:

Random screenshot of random Tweeters (ie I don't know any of them)

This reminded me of my reaction to watching the Olympics opening ceremony on NBC. Not only was I experiencing such a spectacle from another country's perspective for the first time, I was experiencing it with commercials for the first time. The commercials were a nuisance, but not enough to ruin the experience. Certainly not as much as a tape-delay, or discovering that whole sections of the event had been cut to squeeze the commercials in. And certainly not as much as discovering that scraping Twitter would be as close as I'd get to seeing the Paras ceremony.

I was further amused when some viewers expressed renewed appreciation for public television (which is an entirely different concept here in the USA):

UK broadcaster Tony Blackburn.
"Choose sitting on that couch watching mind-numbing spirit-crushing game shows"
That last one, yes, is Scottish author of Trainspotting Irvine Welsh bemoaning the quality of his 600 US TV channels. US TV has succeeded in making political broadcasting a sport, and international sport broadcasting an eerie spectre; I know it's happening somewhere but I just can't see it.

Tuesday, 4 September 2012

Five foods I eat more frequently since moving to the USA

The American diet is fascinating. I mean it.

The culinary history of the USA is a tale that parallels the country's socioeconomic past, and it's something I've been really engaged by since moving here. In the near future I'll write much more about some of the stories of American cuisine past and present. For now here's a short list of some things I definitely eat more frequently now that I'm an American resident.

1. Beef
America is cow-grazing country and beef finds its way into many of the meals I eat, from a cold beef sandwich to meatloaf, hamburgers and that old favorite, spag bol. Even the hot dogs are made of beef. Beef is everywhere around me literally, as we are surrounded by farms, including veal farms. My husband says that it's American beef and full-fat milk that turned him into the man he is today. I think that's a moo-t point.

2. Pretzels
Back in the UK pretzels were a Christmas thing - the tastiest part of those 'party snack' pots. Now I live in the pretzel capital of the world where they are a matter of local pride, owing to the local German history.

According to wikipedia, Philadelphians eat twelve times as many pretzels as the average American. Big ones, small ones, soft ones, hard ones, skinny ones, chunky ones, long ones, round ones. Plain, chocolate, yoghurt, cinnamon. In sticks, in pieces, in m&ms. Pretzels in ice cream, in salad, covered in cheese or stuffed with beef. I'm keeping up my Philly quota, for sure.

3. Pickles
When I was a kid, pickles, or gherkins, were the slimy bit of the McDonald's burger you fished out before tucking into a Happy Meal. Now I've cultivated a healthy addiction to pickle spears - I eat them out of the jar. Pickles come in a variety of sizes and marinades and you can buy local options at local farmers' markets. US restaurant food is often served with a giant pickle spear on the side. Sweet, sour, delicious and healthy, kinda. It's the US alternative to a cucumber sandwich.

Corn then and now - from June to September
4. Corn
Again, I'm surrounded by corn, literally! It's been growing by the day since I arrived. Acres and acres of corn fields. Hand painted signs at small intersections advertising Sweet Corn at a local farm. Small un-manned stalls by a farm, stocked up with corn and other produce, with an honesty box to drop your money. Farmers markets. Displays of corn in supermarkets.

But also everything else. The beef is likely corn-fed (unless you buy from a local farm proudly advertising its grass-fed cows). Processed products often contain corn in various guises, including the much maligned High Fructose Corn Syrup. But don't be fooled, the UK calls it fructose-glucose syrup so I probably ate plenty of it before I moved.

I could talk about corn forever, this country depends on it.

5. Fries
It would seem like too much of a stereotype that I was eating more beef and potatoes, ie. Hamburgers and fries! It is true though.

First of all, the BBC America expat blog Mind the Gap is correct when it says restaurant food is cheaper than in the UK. Fries are a staple in basic American cuisine. My husband and I go to local civics meetings and happy hours which are often held in traditional American bars - weak bear, bottomless soda, fried food and good conversation abounds!

Secondly, we often make baked potato wedges at home which is a far healthier alternative. They cook faster than baked potatoes, which is key when the weather's hot and humid.

Of course, they don't quite do fries like the Brits. Fish and chips, that Victorian invention, is tough to find here, and it never quite matches the crispy freshness of the seaside towns of England and Scotland. Southend and St.Andrews, I miss your chips!

Overall, I definitely eat more meat, but otherwise my diet is no more unhealthy (or healthy) than it was before. Now, where's that pickle jar?

 If you're an expat or living abroad, how has your diet changed?

Monday, 3 September 2012

Rustic (Labor Day) Weekend

Happy Labor day folks! What does this mean? First, it's officially the dregs of summer: The corn is high. The local kids are back at school. The American Football season starts. The weather is gray but warm and muggy.

Yesterday was a lazy Labor weekend Sunday for baking cookies and watching Newsies, which I thought was appropriate viewing for a holiday that honors unions and workers.
the lime is marking out my chili and lime cookies from Mark's oatmeal cookies
US President Grover Cleveland created this US federal holiday because he wanted to the gain support of unions and workers. May 1st (May Day/International workers' day) had begun to be associated with socialists and communists so this September weekend, the date of a big labor conference, was chosen instead. The move failed but the holiday stayed. Fittingly, it's the DNC Convention right now.

This isn't too unlike the September weekend holidays celebrated in cities across Scotland, although these tend to be later in the month. Compare these holidays to the annual UK May Day demos, where predictably a Starbucks or McDonald's ends up with a smashed-in window.

It's the last big weekend of the summer.

One thing I can't figure out for sure is whether I'm allowed to wear white after today or not. The Americans I asked say that's an old-fashioned thing and I can wear whatever I like. Can anyone else enlighten me on this?

Can I wear white after Labor day? How do you celebrate this weekend?