Thursday, July 30, 2009

Ever fresh milk

Check out the date of this post and cross-reference it with the "sell by" date on the carton of milk pictured opposite. Spooky, isn't it? If you're British, that is. But utterly unremarkable if you're American. It's not UHT. God only knows what they do to it that allows it to stay fresh for seven or so weeks. In any case, I had to share this with you before it becomes quite unremarkable to me too.

Monday, July 27, 2009

So that's where all the cowboys went

It's 7pm, 102°F outside, 89°F inside - and climbing. Rachel and Ethan have taken refuge at the lake. Our recently installed and literally fantastic whole house fan is a modern wonder, but only works when it's cooler outside than in, i.e. in the case of tonight, probably about 2am.

Of course, most of suburban America is air-conditioned these days, at considerable expense both to the individual and the environment, but with the advantage of making vast swathes of the country habitable to people other than hardy pioneering folk.

Still, the hardy folk abide. I've seen them with my own eyes. July the Fourth was the day we headed down to the Molalla Buckaroo Rodeo - an event on a smaller scale that its sister in St Paul, OR (check out the video on the homepage), and thus cheaper and more down to earth. Ethan's ice-lolly cost a dollar which seemed such a ludicrously low fee that I thought I had misheard him, and when the price was confirmed, was tempted to tip (note just tempted, of course). The audience is for the most part rural, white and Hispanic, and charming to the point where even the most misanthropic Englishman (Will Self?) might temporarily relax amongst his fellow man. The soundtrack is of course Country (I don't think anyone calls it Country & Western any more), and leans heavily towards the jingoistic end of the spectrum, the kind of sound that used to make me want to laugh and hurl simultaneously, but which I have now learned to tolerate, though without nearly the grace with which the fans of this music appear to tolerate my presence in their country. And it was Independence Day. Of course, it still makes Rachel want to hurl ~ Exhibit A: Darryl Worley - Have You Forgotten?

Anyhow, let's side-step the politics and concentrate on the entertainment; it is, after all, one of the great liberties of my alien status that I can ignore the (polite) scoffing of my fellow Portlanders and indulge my love of Americana without heed to the confines of class or upbringing which might prevent me, say, from attending an underground bare-knuckle boxing match in Stepney or, indeed, a jolly old fox hunt across the Downs.

Rugby players are a fairly tough crowd, granted. Far, far tougher than I. These fellas, however, make the Five Nations look like the chess club I used to attend at Streatham Wells Primary School. The whole thing is a truly incredible spectacle of training, horsemanship and machismo. I for one will be back next year - and I'll be wearing my Stetson.

Left: that would be a cowboy. Right: Ethan cools off with an Italian ice. It was ninety-something degrees.

The event kicked off with what I'm going to call synchronized riding. It was all highly choreographed and impressive. All cowgirls here, I think. This is probably considered the dainty stuff.

A rescued wrangler dismounts...

and makes his dusty way back to the stalls.


Wild horses a bit soft for you? Why not try one of these fellas.

My very own little cowboy cools off under a misty sprinkler system designed for exactly that purpose.

Tuesday, July 07, 2009

Strawberry Picking

Ethan bear, you stand accused of Grand Theft Strawberry.

June heralds the start of strawberry season in Oregon, and the "U-Pick" season with it. The wet spring, warm, dry summers and fertile soil conspire to make the Williamette Valley ideal farming country in the French style, that is to say the bucolic, romanticized French style without the antifreeze, fascist collaboration and sheep-burning.

Thanks to Rachel and Ethan's efforts, our own tiny garden boasts tomatoes, peppers, cucumbers, courgettes, rocket, lettuce, peas, string beans, tarragon, oregano, chives, dill, basil, mint, parsley, sage, thyme and rosemary. No strawberries though, but for these you do not have to travel very far out of town. And, much to my delight, when you get there you'll find them every bit as good as the English equivalent... Whilst most of America suffers monstrous, watery, fibrous and largely flavourless genetically-modified frankenstrawberries from the Californian valleys, we get them much like nature intended, for $1.99 a pound, including a few, ahem, samples. Once picked they seem to hardly last at all, so the secret is to pick only as many as you can possibly stuff yourself with in twenty four hours, or process them immediately into jam or ice-cream or whatever amazing uses industrious people have for strawberries besides Strawberry Shortcake, or its Imperial analogue, Eton Mess.

Ethan, now three years of age, cannot be relied upon in a picking capacity, but excels in the office of quality control. Otherwise he finds much delight in running up and down the ploughed rows and around the wide open spaces. Ever since he was tiny he has preferred to be outdoors, a trait which he did not inherit from me, but which I find entirely admirable.

Now of course it is July, the strawberries are already on the wane, and raspberry and blueberry seasons are upon us. I know, I know - it's a very tough life out West.

Rachel combining strawberry picking with Ethan wrangling.

Left to right: Linda, Ben, Ethan and Rachel.

Caught red handed.