As American as Peanut Butter

Photo by BrianC

I have no idea who came up with the phrase “as American as apple pie,” but I can assure you that no one outside of the U.S. considers apple pie to be as American as Americans think it is.

Peanut butter…well, that’s a completely different story. I don’t think there’s anywhere else in the world that uses as much peanut butter as the U.S., if they use it at all. Or if they even know what it is.

On our trip back to the Olde Country, my brother-in-law’s girlfriend was trying to figure out what the heck peanut butter is. Mind you, she’s an intelligent woman, with her own law firm and all. The woman can even cook, but the whole concept of peanut butter was beyond her. The conversation went something like this:

BIL’s GF: “So, what exactly is peanut butter?”

Me: “It’s just ground up peanuts.”

GF: “Just peanuts?”

Me: “Well, if you’re making it yourself, you may want to add a tablespoon of peanut oil to make it smoother…but yeah, it should just be peanuts.”

GF: “So there’s absolutely no butter in it? Well I guess it can’t be that bad for you then.”

Apparently, the term “butter” throws people off. Outside of the U.S., it’s not seen so much as a texture, but as an ingredient. It made me wonder what foreigners think when they see apple butter or pumpkin butter in the market.
Until recently, I was not such a big fan of the PB myself (that whole cleanse thing I did about a year ago changed that–it was big on nut butters). I still have this theory that no one born outside of the U.S. can really really love peanut butter. A. isn’t a big fan. He’ll pretty much eat it if there is nothing else around and he is famished.

It’s probably like Aussies and Vegemite. Or living in Rome. You just have to be born into it or else it’s never going to feel natural.

So it shouldn’t have come as a total shock (though it kinda did) when I discovered that P was crazy about the stuff. But not in a I-will-have-a-PB&J-sandwich-everyday type of way. More like peanut-butter-reminds-me-of-home type of way.

When we were in Italy, we visited some friends who had just moved away from the Bay Area to live in Venice. They missed some American yumminess, including (but not limited to) dried mangoes from Trader Joe’s, Mexican food, and of course, peanut butter. They were super excited because they had just made a batch of PB using a very powerful food processor. They brought the jar out of the fridge, and P’s eyes just lit up.

Vigorous nodding was happening when I asked if she wanted to taste some. I took a spoon and started scooping some out. One spoon led to four, at which point I gave my friends the jar back. Poor things, I didn’t want P to devour their tiny jar of prized PB in five minutes.

Moments like these always come as a surprise to me. Logically, I know that P was born here and is growing up here. Emotionally, it’s still strange to be bringing up an American girl.

She probably won’t be a completely all-American girl, but much closer than an all-Iranian or all-Italian girl. She will most likely like chocolate more than lavashak (the original fruit roll-up…but without sugar and SUPER tart…what all the Iranian kids want as a treat) and know the names of all the Sesame Street characters (I still don’t know Bert from Ernie).

She’ll like Dr. Seuss and Maurice Sendak books, and wonder why I gush about Tintin all the time.

Will P really be as American as peanut butter? We may have to start her on Vegemite soon, just to stir the pot (or jar) a bit.

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Thanksgiving in April

The other day I was walking to work when a bus drove by, the side of it practically screaming the new spring Gap ad with the following slogan: “Be Bright.”

The ad made me think of the Christmas cards we sent out a couple of years ago (which said “Be Merry, Be Bright”), which then made me think of the holidays, and then my favorite holiday, Thanksgiving. Then it made me think of one of my favorite parts of Thanksgiving: reading all those blogs in which bloggers state why they are thankful.

I made a mental note of writing a thankful post for Thanksgiving, and then reminded myself that I would never remember. So I figured I would just do it now. If you can have Christmas in July, why not Thanksgiving in April?

Here goes.

Every weekend, I am thankful that I have a husband who is much, much cleaner than I am. He won’t rest until the bathrooms are cleaned, the house is vacuumed, and the wood floors are Swiffered. It makes me feel slightly guilty for not being so neat, but at least someone will keep me honest–and keep the house from being a complete hovel.

Even though P gets more colds than _______ [insert name of person you know who gets the most colds], I’m eternally grateful that the only health issue I have to deal with are sniffling noses and coughing. Knock on wood, tocca ferro, etc.

I’m so thankful that my parents live nearby, so all those sniffling noses don’t force us to decide whether to skip work or send a sick child to preschool.

I’m excited that close friends are having (or have just had) kids, so P will have playmates outside of her circle of friends in preschool and beyond.

I eternally grateful that someone (ahem, my mother-in-law) finally taught me how to fold fitted sheets, so our linen closet doesn’t look like a bulging mess.

I thank my lucky stars for fantastic friends near and far, especially when they do incredibly generous things like treating us to a hotel stay in Seattle.

I’m grateful that what I thought was a catastrophe a few years ago (being laid off during the height of the economic downturn) actually turned out to be a blessing, leading to a second career as a writer. Things like this will give me perspective when I’m in a funk or generally down on myself.

I’m beyond thankful that the second career in writing gives me the ability to work from home twice a week, saving me from a commute and giving me more time to spend with P.

I’m ecstatic that despite the responsibilities of a family, a job, and a new obsession with the Game of Thrones books, I have some time to jot down a few thoughts once in a while and have people like you read them.

Don’t wait until Thanksgiving. Tell me what you’re thankful for this spring.

The Vacation Edition

We just came back from one of the best vacations ever, visiting the in-laws in the Olde Country. It was one of those vacation when you think…I totally want to move here. Until you slap yourself and think, wait, I already did that.

Anyway, I wanted to do a brief run-down of the 2.5 weeks, so here it is before I forget all the good bits.

The Good

  • Family. P’s complete love for her cousins, especially my 15 year-old, super cute, super patient nephew. She followed him around like a little disciple, and he patiently let her. They watched cartoons together, played with PlayDo, read books, and of course, played soccer. It was beautiful to watch.
  • Sorrento. It’s good to have friends in high places, or friends who have houses in Sorrento. P outdid herself by eating an adult-sized Neapolitan pizza. The original is still be best.
  • Venice. Again, it’s good to have friends in high places, or friends who rent boats for you when you visit Venice. I lived in Venice for a year, so I know my way around the city by foot, but seeing the city from the water is another thing in itself.
  • Beautiful weather. The reason we decided to go at the beginning of March was that last year, when we visited for Christmas, the average temperature during our stay was around 30 degrees. There’s nothing worse than flying across the world to then sit at home for three weeks. This year, it was nice enough that we took a few bike rides along the river that runs through the town A is from.
  • Beautiful food. And wine. I mean, we were in Italy…need I say more?
  • The politics. My brother-in-law is running to be the mayor of their little town. Rather surreal, but very cool.
  • The language. At the start of the trip, P was still mostly conversing in English, even though she was understanding everything in Italian. Her poor grandparents were learning random words in English (including monkey and book, two very important words in P’s repertoire). By the end of the trip, she was definitely talking more in Italian, a habit she has continued on our return.  There was even a funny language moment: when we were in Sorrento, our friend was teaching his daughter to call to a dog in the local Neapolitan dialect. “Vien a qa! Vien a qa!” he kept saying, so the dog would come to him. A week later, we were at dinner again in Northern Italy, and the hosts had an adorable little dog. All of a sudden, P started saying, “Vien a qa! Vien a qa!” Because obviously all dogs in Italy speak Neapolitan.

The Bad

  • The too-muchness. For poor P. She met around 100 people (give or take a few) in a span of 17 days. It was a bit too much. P loves people, and is well on her way to becoming a social butterfly. But even she would flip out after a few hours. One night she started talking in her sleep, saying “no bacini! no bacini! (no kisses!)” over and over again. She was even freaked out by her grandmother, who wanted nothing more than hang out with her. Which was the problem…grandma wanted to be there every minute, while P wasn’t sure she wanted to hang out every minute. By the time she felt comfortable enough to stay at home with the grannies, it was time for us to come back to California. Sigh.
  • The jet lag. I had a friend mock me (mock!) for complaining about the jet lag when I would have a fabulous vacation in Italy to show for it. I don’t care where you are, though, when your toddler wakes up at 1am and is completely wired until 5am, you’ll be pretty miserable. Thankfully, she got over it in a couple of days.

The Ugly

  • The soda. Every time we go to Italy, A’s parents have a party that involves a lot of food and a lot of people. This year, the main event was a roasted little boar…yum (this is not the ugly part). I was sitting across from an acquaintance’s wife, who was keeping an eye on her two kids (four year-old son and two year-old daughter). Trying to make small talk, I commented on a dark liquid in her daughter’s sippy cup. “Looks like she’s nipping at the wine!” I said. “Oh no,” she responded, “it’s Pepsi.” Wait, what? Here I was, in the heart of fine dining, eating a roasted boar hunted not too long ago…and a mother is giving her two year-old Pepsi? Really, no words.
  • The doctor. A friend, L (half American, half Italian) and his wife S (from Tonga via New Zealand and the U.S.) moved to Italy not too long ago. S is now magnificently pregnant, ready to bring a half Tongan, quarter American, quarter Italian baby into the world. She was telling me about their experience meeting with a pediatrician. L and S were happy to hear that she was really into holistic healing, all down to earth. Until they heard her talking about American healthcare and children. Apparently, on this side of the ocean ALL children suffer from ADHD and ALL kids are hopped up on Ritalin. Obviously. Again, no words.

So that pretty much sums up the vacation. As with every vacation, it was too short. Thankfully, I’m pretty sure we’ll be back.

Natale con i Tuoi

[NB: I actually started writing this on January 1. I then got distracted.]

The Italians have a saying: “Natale con i tuoi, Pasqua con chi vuoi.” A rough translation goes something like this: Christmas with your parents (or family), Easter with whomever you want.

As a good Italian, A has lived by this rule most of his life. Of the 37 years he’s been on this earth, he has spent 34 with his family. This last Christmas marked only the third year that he was not in Italy with the whole gang.

We wanted to spend our first Christmas as homeowners in our new house. We bought a tree (a first!). Heck, we even chopped it down ourselves. (Just in case you didn’t know, a Christmas tree FARM is one of those places where they give you a dull saw and expect you to haul your own tree. FYI. In the off chance you were confused or something.)

We bought a string of lights, some tinsel, and hung up two (count ’em: TWO) ornaments. We had a lovely Christmas Eve dinner (menu: homemade lasagna [yes, including noodles] with mushrooms, roasted leg of lamb with tiny potatoes, and trifle for dessert) with my sister and her husband, and some dear friends. We went all out and bought a toy kitchen for P.

It was lovely.

And then on Christmas day, my sister and I hopped in the car for a last minute road trip down to Southern California to help my parents pack up their home in the final chapter (hopefully) of their long move to Northern California.

Christmas and Boxing Day were spent in a flurry of packing, sorting, throwing things away, and most importantly, reminiscing. My parents lived in their SoCal house for almost twenty years…longer than they’ve ever spent anywhere (see my previous post about moving.)

You tend to accumulate a lot of crap in that span of time, especially if you’re big fans of 99 cent stores (which my father is, unfortunately).

But I had to share some highlights of things long forgotten that my sister and I found among the piles and piles and piles of stuff.

  • My tattered Stefan Edberg T-shirt (below). I wore that thing and wore it and wore it until it became a rag. Stefan was my hero.

Stefan Edberg shirt ca. 1989.

  •  A winter ball dress my sister wore in high school. With matching blue suede shoes (totally not kidding). Anyway, she bought it from Macy’s and it still had the $88 price tag attached. Because she was totally planning on returning it after the dance, but apparently never got around to doing it. FYI, price tags have changed a lot in the last 20 years.
  • A home-made bag I made out of jeans for my fourth grade class from when we used to live in Texas. We had to bring in these little bags to attach to our desks, and fill them with stuff that didn’t fit into our desks (extra paper, pens, etc.). Anyway, the pair of jeans I used to make the bag was the last pair of jeans we bought in Iran (I was in third grade when we moved). Some key features of the jeans-bag:

Jeans bag.

Super-fancy decorations with markers, naming my fave bands and actors. A-Ha is on there not once, not twice, but THREE times. (I did have a thing for Swedes, apparently.)

The button.

Just the slogan you want on a button on the pants of a 10 year-old girl.

The tag.

And the best part: the tag. It’s super faded now, but here’s what it says: Blue Jeans Iran. 100% Cotton. Down with U.S.A.

No one saw the irony of putting that on a pair of blue jeans. It’s priceless.

“Natale con i tuoi” totally happened for the good Iranian girls this year. Next year, it might be the good Italian boy’s turn.

The Cleanse in “Marathon Pants”

A lot of people have expressed an interest in the cleanse I mention in “Marathon Pants.” I didn’t feel comfortable “endorsing” a book or a diet on a national website, but hey, I can say whatever I want on my own blog, right? Anyway, it’s a book called Cinch!: Conquer Cravings, Drop Pounds and Lose Inches by Cynthia Sass. It worked for me, but who knows if it works for everyone. Good luck and thanks for reading!

And while you’re at it, take a second to “like” my blog. Thanks!