4th of July post-script

About that pool party we were invited to…

Last Saturday night, July 4th, we went to a pool party at a friends place. The idea is everyone brings a plate to accompany the meat dish put on by our hosts (this week it was gourmet sausages on the BBQ) and we sit outside by the pool, eat, drink and afterwards watch a movie. Of course, there is also swimming in the pool at anytime (and I was in – the water was beautiful)!

I decided to take along a traditional Aussie dessert (a pavlova) and Americanised it!

My American Pavlova!

My American Pavlova!

This was the first time I had made a ‘pav’ that wasn’t circular and definitely the first time I decorated one red, white and blue in a stylised American flag! It seemed to be a hit and was well received; I did receive a few compliments.

All in all – it was a great night!

And the movie we watched? It was Independence Day – naturally! 🙂

Independence Day – July 4th – Let’s Celebrate!

Firstly – a quick note – this post was supposed to upload Friday July 3rd – however I have been experiencing some major server issues – so apologies for being a bit late! I hope you enjoy this post anyway.

This weekend is the 4th of July weekend – celebrating Independence Day – probably the biggest holiday celebration in the US and the city of Sherman kicked it off last night with a big party at a local park where there was live music, food, activities and of course the fireworks display.

OK, so the 4th of July is a big deal in the US. It is day of immense national pride celebrating freedom and liberty. It is traditionally a big weekend full of family, food, sporting events, parades and, of course, fireworks! Last night (Thursday 2nd July) we watched a spectacular display from our balcony. Tomorrow we are off to a 4th of July pool party!

The American Eagle (this one sits on the entrance to the main building at Ellis Island )

The American Eagle (this one sits on the entrance to the main building at Ellis Island)

Technically, the 4th of July marks the anniversary of the adoption of the Declaration of Independence, which proclaimed the United States independence from Great Britain on that date in 1776. Independence Day was born from the American Revolutionary War (1775-1783), also known as the American War of Independence or the Revolutionary War, between Great Britain and 13 of it’s former North American colonies, which had declared themselves the independent United States of America. The war had its roots in Americans resistance to taxes imposed by the British parliament, which ultimately resulted in the Boston Tea Party. This war also pulled in France, Spain and the Netherlands who all aligned themselves with the American colonies.

Declaration of Independence

Declaration of Independence

When the revolutionary war broke out in 1775, there were few colonists that wanted complete independence from Great Britain. However, by the middle of the following year hostility towards Britain was growing and more came to favour the idea of independence. When congress met in June of 1776, Richard Lee introduced a motion calling for the colonies’ independence. The vote was postponed, but a five-man committee consisting of Thomas Jefferson, John Adams, Roger Sherman, Benjamin Franklin and Robert R. Livingston was formed to draft a formal statement justifying the break with Great Britain. On July 2nd 1776, Congress voted (in a near-unanimous vote) in favour of Lee’s resolution and on July 4th, formally adopted the Declaration of Independence (which had been written largely by Jefferson). Some believe that July 2nd is truly Independence Day, with John Adams at the time declaring that July 2nd  “will be celebrated, by succeeding Generations, as the great anniversary Festival” and should include “Pomp and Parade…Games, Sports, Guns, Bells, Bonfires and Illuminations from one End of this Continent to the other.”

It wasn’t until 1870 that Congress declared July 4th a federal holiday.

A note on fireworks in the USA: Regulations governing the sale of Fireworks vary widely from state to state (and even county to county), and include not only the types of fireworks, but also when fireworks may be sold. In Texas, you can let off fireworks year-round, but there are only 2 occasions throughout the year when you can legally purchase fireworks; June 24 to midnight July 4 and December 20 to midnight of Jan 1.

Generally speaking fireworks are illegal in Australia. Sparklers are allowed, but anything that is airborne or explodes you would need a special licence for.

So, Happy 239th Birthday America!

You say…, I say… – A look at the American Vernacular

Americans do not speak English. Well, not proper English anyway – it’s a bastardised version (i.e. it is a unique, distorted version of British English). I once was told a story about an American woman who was at an overseas ATM wanting to withdraw some money. When the teller prompted for the language to use, she complained that there was no button for American – someone nearby told her to use the English option – this hadn’t occurred to her (I am not sure if she was blonde, or if this happens regularly)!

Anyway, as I have mentioned before, although we speak the same language, we have encountered all sorts of issues with being understood in America. Sometimes the word is the same, but pronounced differently, sometimes the word is completely different to what we would use and sometimes it’s just the spelling that is different.

Now, we can thank one Noah Webster (founder of the American dictionary) for all the variations in spelling between British English and American English. In 1801 he started work on his American dictionary because Americans were using words that just weren’t in English dictionaries – for example – ‘skunk’, ‘squash’, ‘chowder’. Webster also believed that English spelling rules were too complex and sought to simplify them; thus changing the spelling of ‘colour’ to ‘color’, ‘metre’ to ‘meter’ and ‘plough’ to ‘plow’. There are plenty of other examples, like ‘masque’ to ‘mask’, ‘gaol’ to ‘jail’ and ‘tyre’ to ‘tire’. However, he thankfully didn’t succeed in the following: ‘cloak’ to ‘cloke’, ‘women’ to ‘wimmen’, ‘tongue’ to ‘tung’ and ‘ache’ to ‘ake’.

Changing the spelling is mostly ok, since it generally hasn’t changed how the word is pronounced. However, when the word is spelt the same, but pronounced differently, that sometimes causes a bit of a smile or a “what the…” reaction. Now it is also true that there is differences between the states with what things are called as well as how words are pronounced (particularly between Northern & Southern states – and New Yorkers seem to have a dialect all their own); I have just listed a few words that we have found differences with here:

English word: How Texans pronounce it: How Aussie pronounce it:
Pecan Pe-kahn Pea-can
Bowie Boo-ey Bow-ie
Caramel Car-ml Car-a-mel
Herb ‘erb Herb
Vehicle Ver-here-cal Veer-cal
Coupon Qu-pon Coop-on
Second Sec-nt Sec-ond
Golf Goff Golf

Words that start with an “h” seem to render the “h” silent as in herb = ‘erb, hotel = ‘otel, etc, but if it’s in the middle of a word, for example, as in “vehicle”, then the “h” is almost stressed.

Then there are the instances when the word for an object is different and when we ask for something using the word we know – we can get a completely blank stare or the “huh?” response. So, here are a few notable differences we have found:

What Aussies would say: What Americans would say:
Petrol Gas
Service station (or Servo) Gas station
Serviette Napkin
Cutlery Flatware or silverware
Garbage Trash
Toilet Bathroom or restroom
Tap Faucet
Runners (or joggers) Tennis shoes
Footpath Sidewalk
Take-away Carry-out
Bench-top Counter-top
Entrée Appetiser
Main Entrée
Thongs Flip-flops
Biscuit* Cookie
Arnotts biscuits - delicious!

Arnotts biscuits – delicious!

*A note on the humble biscuit. Now, in Australia (& Britain & New Zealand too), a biscuit is a sweet, delicious thing (similar, but not the same as an American cookie) and is often dunked into your tea or coffee. My favourites are probably all made by Arnotts; check out their website to understand more about this iconic Aussie company and their products.

Biscuits in America are a bread-like item and more like a scone than anything else and are often served with a main meal and with gravy.

But some of the most interesting sayings – I have at times almost needed to ask what they were talking about, or indeed have felt the need to correct their grammar. The word “drug” is used instead of “dragged” and a bedroom suite (Aussies would pronounce that as ‘sweet’ and refers to a bedroom setting made up of bed, bedside tables, dressing table and drawers) is referred to as a bedroom suit – when I first heard this one I thought it might be something akin to your birthday suit, but worn in the bedroom!

Not all are bad though, and some of my favourite (not favorite) Texan sayings include: “Y’all” and “Do what now?” – meaning could you please repeat what you just said.

The development of language and dialect is interesting and I am not saying Aussies are perfect either – we have a terrible habit of abbreviating just about everything wherever possible – see the “servo” example above (and maybe that’s something to look at in a future blog).

Please share your views and thoughts in the comment section below: 🙂

Bread – why so sweet?

OK – why is bread so sweet in America?

Since we have been in the US of A, one of the things we miss most about home is the wonderful fresh bread we have ready access to (particularly the fresh delightful “Bakers Delight” bread, oh I miss that so much!). Bread in the US is VERY sweet; it is impossible to find bread at the supermarket, or even a “bakery”, without a significant amount of sugar in it (up to 4 or 5 grams per serve – more in buns and rolls). I just don’t understand Americas need to add sugar to just about everything (no wonder they have health and weight issues). And from what I can gather, anyone coming from outside of America doesn’t like their bread either – even Americans returning from overseas stays!

I think going home and eating good bread made me realise how much I like and miss it. Last week I finally reached a point where I decided it was time to try my hand at making my own bread and ordered a bread maker/machine!

My first homemade loaf of bread!

My first homemade loaf of bread!

The new Bread-maker in action

The new Bread-maker in action

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

So yesterday I had a go at making a basic white loaf, following the directions (but halving the sugar amount). It turned out ok and although my first attempt was not an unmitigated disaster, there certainly is room for improvement – it was still a bit dense and heavy for me. Does anyone have a good recipe for light, fluffy bread you can make in a bread maker? I’d really appreciate your thoughts on this one!

Meanwhile, I have some bananas that are too ripe – a great excuse to attempt a banana bread loaf! 🙂

A lesson in Chickasaw

A trip to the Chickasaw Cultural Center: A lesson in Native American History

I have been wanting to take a trip to the Chickasaw Cultural Center for a long time now and this past weekend we finally made the trip.

Chickasaw Warrior statue

Chickasaw Warrior statue

The Chickasaws are one of the Five Civilised Tribes, (which refers to the five Native American nations – Cherokee, Chickasaw, Choctaw, Creek (Muscogee), and Seminole), they have their own constitution and are federally recognised as a Native American Nation – the Chickasaw Nation. The Chickasaw’s traditional lands were originally in the south-eastern states of America – principally Alabama, Tennessee & Mississippi before they were forced to relocate in the 1830’s. The US government wanted to acquire all the lands east of the Mississippi and therefore forced the re-location of thousands of Native Americans to “Indian Territory” (Oklahoma).

The Chickasaw Cultural Center is located in Sulphur in Oklahoma, about an hour & 40-minute drive for us from home.

Cloak made from turkey feathers

Cloak made from turkey feathers

The Center is located within a 109-acre property. The Cultural Center is made up of a collection of buildings set in beautifully landscaped grounds and is dedicated to the history and culture of the Chickasaw people. There is an exhibit center/museum with plenty of information and some interactive displays, a research center & library where individuals may trace their genealogy and study the Chickasaw history, culture and traditions, a 350-seat theatre, a replica of a traditional Chickasaw village and even a café (we had lunch here and the food was great). There are several water features throughout the grounds, an outdoor amphitheatre and a sky terrace where you can observe the traditional village from above. I have to say that this is a world-class facility. The buildings and amenities are brilliant. My only complaint would be that there were a lot of exhibits that were obviously replicas; there didn’t appear to be very many genuine artefacts on display. However, what was there was good.

The Chickasaw Village

The Chickasaw Village – viewed from the Sky Terrace

It is free to look around the grounds, the village, the theatre and the library – the only thing that requires a fee is admission to the exhibit center which house a “museum” that offers a walk through Chickasaw history and culture with displays of and any special exhibits, but at $6 per adult, I think it is good value for money and worth the effort. All-in-all it was an interesting trip and I learnt something new – always good!

The Center is open Monday to Saturday 10am to 5pm and Sunday midday to 5pm all year round (except major holidays)

The Issue of Pie – not just a dessert food!

Note: Sorry for the lateness of this post – it was supposed to happen last week!

a tomato & onion pie for one!

a tomato & onion pie for one!

After returning from my recent trip to Australia, I had a longing for a good meat pie (having enjoyed a couple whilst I was there) – and since you cannot buy a meat pie here in Sherman, Texas, I set about making my own family sized meat pie (I added tomato and onion too, because that’s my favourite).

In America, a meat pie (as an Aussie or Kiwi would think of one) is practically unknown and although pizzas are sometimes referred to as pi’s, a pie in the US is generally of the sweet, dessert variety.

berry pie - courtesy of my friend Becky Goldsmith

berry pie – picture courtesy of my friend Becky Goldsmith

American’s love their pies and the research I have done indicates that there are dozens of favourite varieties including: pecan (definitely a Texan favourite), apple, coconut cream, custard and cream, strawberry, rhubarb, key lime, cherry, Mississippi mud, banana cream, blueberry, lemon meringue, peach, etc., the list goes on. However, in Australia, if you mention pie, most people would conjure up the image of a good old meat pie smothered in tomato sauce (ketchup). And a meat pie has a pastry top as well as a pastry bottom. A true meat pie should not be confused with an American “pot pie” which is served in a crockery pot with a pastry top (not a true pie)! Americans, please be advised –  pies are not just for sweet things and can be equally delicious when filled with savoury flavours (pumpkin and sweet potato don’t count).

One family sized meat pie!

One family sized meat pie!

The meat pie is a staple in Australia – a favourite at all sporting events (as Americans would consume hotdogs at the football, Aussies would eat a hand-held meat pie), it could almost be considered a favourite national dish. The traditional meat pie is made of diced or minced meat and is most often smothered in tomato sauce (ketchup).

Dinner: a slice of meat pie served with veges and a glass of red wine!

Dinner: a slice of meat pie served with veges and a glass of red wine!

Now meat pies are not solely made of beef; in Australia pies often contain other, flavour enhancing ingredients (mushrooms, tomato & onions, cheese, bacon, peas, carrots, etc.) or instead of the traditional beef, the main filling could be lamb, chicken or even seafood. The humble meat pie has come a long way in Australia; there are now many gourmet-type pies. (I should also mention this applies equally in New Zealand – where you can find some mighty fine and delicious pies. I know because I have lived there and enjoyed quite a few).

Meat pies also feature in an iconic jingle to promote Holden cars in Australia (made by GMH, a subsidiary of the US General Motors) “…football, meat pies, kangaroos and Holden cars.” Perhaps Americans would recognise a similar jingle by American Chevrolet: “…baseball, hot dogs, apple pie and Chevrolet”?

Aussies are so passionate about their pies, there is an annual competition to determine the best pies in the land – The Official Great Aussie Pie Competition http://www.greataussiepiecomp.com.au/

Do you have a thought or comment about pies? I’d love to hear it. Post a comment below.

Memorial Day – what’s it all about?

This weekend is a long weekend in the USA with Monday being Memorial Day. This seems to be a significant holiday here – another day for Americans to demonstrate their pride in their country and pride and gratitude for those who serve, fight and die for it. There are plenty of American flags about and lots of American paraphernalia to entice consumers. So, I thought I would find out what it’s all about.

Memorial Day

Memorial Day

Memorial Day, “the most solemn of American holidays”, is a day of remembrance for those who have died whilst serving in the military for the USA. It was originally called Decoration Day and was borne out of the desire to honour the dead of the Civil War (1861-1865).

General John Logan first declared that Decoration Day would be held on 30th May 1868 (not being the anniversary of any battle in particular) where people could place flowers on, or otherwise adorn the graves of fallen soldiers.

All northern states recognised the holiday by 1890, but the south refused until after WWII when the day changed from honouring those who died in the civil war, to those who had died in any war. In 1968 Congress passed an act that would see Memorial Day celebrated on the last Monday in May, allowing for a 3 day weekend. Memorial day is now observed in almost every state on the last Monday in May (although several of the southern states still have an additional day for honouring the Confederate dead).

The Memorial Day weekend generally also signifies the beginning of summer in the USA.

I guess an equivalent holiday would be ANZAC Day in Australia.

ANZAC stands for Australia and New Zealand Army Corps. ANZAC day commemorates the anniversary of the landing of the ANZAC forces on the Gallipoli peninsula (in order to capture the Dardanelles) in 1915 during WWI (the first major military conflict that the ANZACs fought in).

Lone Pine - Gallipoli

Lone Pine – Gallipoli

It was first celebrated in 1916 however, the first organised dawn service is generally regarded as being held in 1928 where two minutes silence was observed and wreaths were laid at the Cenotaph in Sydney. The tradition continues and now includes the honouring all Australian service men and women who have been killed in any military operation which Australia has been involved in, with commemorative services taking place at dawn (the time of the original Gallipoli landing) and includes the laying of wreaths, playing of the Last Post and a period of silence. The day also includes marches (involving past service men and women) and the playing of two-up.

More information about ANZAC Day can be found at the Australian War Memorial web site.

How Big Is Australia?

It didn’t take me long to appreciate the size of the USA and all it has to offer. The contiguous US (the 48 adjoining states) is vast, covering an area that is a bit smaller than the size of Australia. Although I am now more familiar with the geography, history and culture of the US, I realise that many Americans know very little about Australia (most Americans don’t get to travel too much and seem to be indoctrinated from an early age that America is the greatest and best nation on Earth; they forget there is a whole other world out there and that the USA is just one part of it, not the centre of it). We have been asked many questions about our homeland, which we are happy to answer; on one occasion we were asked what language we spoke in Australia!  (Yes, it is English). So, I thought I would share a few facts.

Map of Australia

Map of Australia

Some in the USA do not realise just how big it really is, or the diversity we have. Australia is the smallest continent, yet the 6th largest country in the world. We have temperate and tropical rain forests, snow-capped mountains, and quite a bit of desert (~ 70% of the country). In fact, only 10% of the continent is inhabited and 85% of the population lives within 50km (31mi) of the coast.

For those who like a visual feast – check this link, which illustrates just how big Australia is. 17 Maps of Australia

How does Australia compare to the USA? Some facts and figures:

  Australia USA
Total land area 7.68M km2 (2.9M mi2) 9.16M km2 (3.8M mi2)
Ranking in world by area 6/194 3/194
Population 23.6M ~319M
Population density 2 per km2 (0.8/mi2) 34 per km2 (13.1/mi2)
Coastline length 25,765km 19,924km
Capital Canberra Washington
Number of states 6 (+ 2 territories) 50
Largest City (population) Sydney (4.5M) New York (8.4M)
Highest mountain Kosciuszko (2,228m) McKinley (6,168m)
Lowest point Lake Eyre (-15m) Badwater Basin (-86m)
Longest River Murray (2,375km) Missouri (3,767km)

Some more interesting facts about Australia:

Australia:

  • Is the driest inhabited continent on Earth
  • Is the only continent without an active volcano
  • Has the worlds largest coral reef complex – The Great Barrier Reef (off the coast of the state of Queensland)
  • Has the longest fence in the world – ‘The Dingo Fence’ stretches 5,400km from Queensland to South Australia
  • Has the largest cattle station in the world – Anna Creek Station in South Australia is 8 times bigger than the largest ranch in Texas, USA
  • Chose the Emu and Kangaroo for its coat of arms as these animals are incapable of walking backwards, so represented a nation moving forward!
  • Was claimed for Great Britain in 1770 by Captain James Cook
  • Was settled in 1788 (when the First Fleet arrived in Botany Bay) as a penal colony. (Botany Bay proved unsuitable, so the colonists relocated to Port Jackson – now Sydney Cove)
  • Became an independent nation January 1, 1901. The Commonwealth of Australia was established as a constitutional monarchy. (Australia did not gain true independence until 1986 when the Australia Acts came into force, where the British government would no longer be responsible for the government of any state and the Westminster parliament could no longer legislate for Australia. Additionally, Australia took full control of all Australia’s constitutional documents). Ref.

I know Americans fear Australia because of our reputation as having some of the deadliest creatures on the planet. So, here are some facts about our ”deadliest creatures”.

Australia:

  • Has 4 of the 5 most deadly snakes in the world
  • Has the most poisonous spider in the world: the Sydney Funnel-web
  • Has the most poisonous fish in the world – the stonefish (in Australia, this is only found north of the Tropic of Capricorn, on the Queensland north coast).
  • Has the largest species of the Box Jellyfish (Chironex fleckeri)– the “most venomous marine creature” in the world, responsible for at least 64 human deaths since 1883
Sydeny Funnel-web spider

Sydney Funnel-web spider – image courtesy of Daily Telegraph

I came across culture guide to Australia web page that you might find interesting. http://www.australian-information-stories.com/

If you enjoyed this post, please like and share 🙂

Imperial vs Metric!

Why does the US persist with the Imperial system of measurement? It is archaic and extremely frustrating. The USA is one of only 3 countries left in the world where the Metric system has not officially been adopted; the other two are Myanmar (Burma) and Liberia!

I am constantly frustrated by the continued use of Imperial measurements in the USA. Whilst cooking the other day, a recipe called for a quart of water – I had to go and look it up – I had no idea (it’s just short of a litre, or almost 4 cups, by the way)! Using miles instead of kilometres is bad enough, but having to convert pounds and ounces, inches, feet, yards and miles and fluid ounces, quarts and gallons does my head in! Not to mention the use of Fahrenheit instead of degrees celsius – that is just annoying. Celsius is so much easier – water freezes at 0°C and boils at 100°C – simple! (For those curious, the respective values in Fahrenheit are 32°F & 212°F). But Americans are afraid of change (I’m hoping it’s not arrogance). So, let me reassure my Americans friends, there is nothing to fear – it’s easy – the Metric measurement system is all based on a factor of 10 – simple really!

The below image showed up on Facebook, so I’ve borrowed it from there to illustrate:

Imperial vs Metric

Imperial vs Metric

The metric system is used in the fields of medicine, science and technology and even in international sporting events like the Olympics (e.g. the running track is 400m). It is after-all, the International standard for measurement. So, when will the USA catch up to the rest of the world and switch to the International System of Units and embrace the metric system?

For those Americans who would like to know more I have added  simplified (I, hope) table to explain, otherwise –  here might be a good place to start.

Base units for each measurement type:
Length Metre (m)
Weight Gram (g)
Volume Litre (L)

What the prefixes mean:

Milli (m) 1/1000
Centi (c) 1/100
Deci (d) 1/10
Deca (da) x10
Hecto (h) x100
Kilo (k) x1000
* Deci, Deca & Hecto are not routinely used in everyday measurements

For weights and volumes generally only the base unit and the milli and kilo prefixes are routinely used in everyday measurements. For lengths – the additional use of centimetre (cm) is common. So, the most common examples would be:

Lengths: 1km = 1000m and 1m = 100cm = 1000mm

Weight: 1 kg = 1000g and 1g = 1000mg

Volume: 1L = 1000mL

🙂