U is for United States!

We’re back from our little mother and son Disney jaunt, so it’s time to get back to our alphabetical trip around the world. I had considered quite a few options for the letter U, but I decided in the end to go with the most obvious choice, the giant country just to the south of us that happens to start with a U.

I’ve noticed that there are a few Canadians that have a knee jerk negative reaction when anything American is mentioned. I don’t think that it’s a coincidence that the people who have this attitude are usually the ones who haven’t travelled there very much. I even had someone ask, “Why would you want to pick the U.S.?” when I mentioned we were planning to study the United States this week. My answer was that it was amazing and cool, just like every other place we’ve studied.

I do have to admit, though, that it’s hard to avoid the fact that American culture has invaded every part of the world to the point where it’s hard to put your finger on where “American” food and culture ends and the more general concept of “Western” food and culture begins. Here in Canada we eat at the same restaurants, wear the same clothes and watch the same movies and TV shows as our neighbours to the south. And yet, when I make the 15 minute walk from our house to cross the border to mail a letter or pick up a package, it does feel distinctly different. Kids in the streets are throwing baseballs instead of playing street hockey and the post office has a notice stating that concealed firearms are not permitted inside the building. The cultures may be similar, but the are definitely not identical.

Even though it may not be the most exotic of places, it does offer a lot to the family traveller. So far we’ve been to six different states  as a family (Washington, California, Nevada, Florida, New York and Alaska) with Hawaii coming up later this month. And that still leaves us 43 more states to explore! I would love to take the kids to see the Grand Canyon, Washington DC, New England, Charleston, the Everglades and the Florida Keys just to name a few. There really is no limit to the interesting things you could see just in this one country.

For our USA craft I kept it simple and printed out colouring pages of a map of landmarks in the United States. The kids found it quite interesting and we looked up larger pictures of some of the images. They were quite fascinated to learn that their grandparents went to Niagara Falls for their honeymoon way back in 1971!

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For my USA meal I had a lot of options to choose from. I tried to pick recipes that were distinct to the United States and had a strong regional background. I ended up finding a list of recipes of the state dish of each state and selected from there, trying to get a representation of each region. For my final menu I chose Kansas City style BBQ ribs (midwest), Cobb Salad (California), and fried green tomatoes (the south). For dessert the choice for an all American meal was pretty obvious; apple pie! I found a recipe from Vermont to represent New England. I also added San Francisco style sourdough bread and a red wine from the Napa Valley.

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And the verdict? Well, it certainly wasn’t one of the most exotic meals I’ve made so far. I had never actually made that style of ribs before and my husband really liked them, although the kids found the seasoning rub to be a bit too strongly flavoured. I enjoyed the Cobb Salad and as always the kids appreciated the bread. The one disappointment was the tomatoes. It was the only thing on the menu that wasn’t familiar to me and I don’t know what I was expecting, but they tasted just like cooked, mushy tomatoes. I can think if a lot of other vegetables I’d rather go to the effort of battering and frying. But that’s just me. Maybe I cooked them too long or something. I’ll just have to try the real thing in the American South sometime and see if it changes my mind.

So that was our  brief but entertaining exploration of the United States for this week.  And it’s one place that I’m pretty much 100 percent sure that we’ll be visiting again. Especially since we have a package waiting for us to pick up a 15 minute walk away!

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