Here’s me about to enjoy a lazy float in the crick with my little brother in the midday sun…I’m so summer.
Everybody’s always going back to Cali. Not me. When I go back I go back to Jersey.
And I love it the same every time.
I think I’ve shared this sentiment before, but the opportunity to travel around Europe has reinvigorated me to travel, investigate, and appreciate more, the things that were always in my own backyard of America.
Not waiting for the day when I move back; I explore that energy every time I go home for a visit.
I took a trip back to New Jersey recently. It was a lot of time spent with my family at home, but there were a few moments and places I was able to appreciate. I’ve highlighted them in my mind as events and treats specific to New Jersey.
In no other nation are the people such consumers as in America. I think it’s our curse. In true form I name my favorite stores first.
I took a trip to the Ski Barn, in Lawrenceville, NJ. There is no better place to purchase winter clothing than a New Jersey ski shop in summer. You get great deals. My relationship with the Ski Barn goes a bit deeper than that however. I think we all have a place that we worked as a kid, where we didn’t just work, but we grew up too. The Ski Barn is that place for me. The business, the family that owns it, the industry it is supported by; I loved it all. It’s the only place I’ve ever worked and looked forward to work everyday. This is also where I met my husband. We are one of thirty marriages to come out of the Ski Barn’s (familial) history. Walking through the front doors of the store since Phil and I stopped working there in 2007, despite all of their renovations and upgrades, still feels just as much like going home as going home.
I also took a trip to JoAnn Fabrics. I have never been so thankful to have all of my sewing needs under one roof; and at reasonable prices too! This store in particular makes me feel like a spoiled human. No matter how comfortable, and adapted, I get in Germany I have yet to discover a store that can compare to this mecca of sewing and crafting needs.
No trip to America would be complete with a stop in the dreamiest supermarket ever; Whole Foods. I recently read a quote from author Michael Pollan. In his book The Omnivore’s Dilemma he compares a trip to Whole Foods to that of a trip to the book store. I get it. You’re there to buy stuff, but you’re really there to browse. You want to lose an evening in its aisles. It’s pretty, it’s organized, the staff is knowledgable and helpful, it smells like coffee, there’s snacks, there’s flowers, there’s a lot of cardboard, and there’s a story in every item on the shelf.
That’s enough about my shopping habits. Let me now chronicle my data on another habit we all have in common; eating.
While in America I revisited some of my favorite regional culinary classics…
Pork Roll with Cheese on a Kaiser served with Old Bay French Fries and Ketchup
Real Mexican Food…Mexican Food Factory Style…Homemade Guacamole, Nachos with Cotiha Cheese, Pico de Gallo, tons of Cilantro, Chiles Rellenos, Grilled Tuna Tacos with Jicama Salsa, and (of course) Fresh Margaritas with Cheap Tequila and Real Limes
Sicilian Pizza…thick crust, deep dish, giant, square pizza with more sauce than cheese
Corn on the Cob…Jersey is famous for its corn on the cob, so I bought some at the supermarket. It wasn’t until I got it home that my friend taught me that it wasn’t Jersey corn. It was too early for corn on our Jersey farms. I was eating California corn. I appreciated my imitation summer treat none-the-less.
Crab Cakes…which can only be correctly made with large lump meat from Maryland blue claw crabs and pan fried, not deep fried. This delicious ocean dish can only be appreciated with a wedge of lemon, no tartar, thanks.
The Family BBQ…It isn’t exactly a food, and it isn’t exactly a place. But it is specifically American; an institution not to be duplicated on any other land though we that live abroad may try. My family and I cleaned up the back porch at my grandmother’s house, wiped off the picnic table and chairs, and had a game of catch with the only dirty tennis ball we could find. All the while the grill was warming and the food was being prepped. Tomatoes were sliced and salted, and served aside overcooked chicken smothered in BBQ sauce, and paired with a side of canned baked beans. After dinner, while being eaten alive ourselves by mosquitos, we played a rousing game of lottery ticket trivia by the pale light of the setting sun and citronella candle. We drank through the evening and into the night; the party moving to the miniature backyard fire pit about to lose its bottom to overuse. Uncle Dan broke out the guitar and we sang along to his strumming semiconscious of neighbors that may not have wanted a serenade.
And now, for the only legitimate field trip of my vacation…Fairmount Park. I was born and raised in the Jersey suburbs of Philadelphia and have never appreciated this park until last weekend. Born in 1812 the park has grown to the 9200 acre size it is today. It is the largest state park within city limits; anywhere in the world. It’s got hiking, biking, and horse trails. It’s also got a couple of concert venues and special restaurants. It includes the Philadelphia Zoo, and can be accessed from just outside the Philadelphia Art Museum and Boat House Row. While on my family hike I thought of Catharina and Ludwig. They would love it; hiking along in a beautiful forest-park, fellow countrymen all around, shaded from the sun, serenaded by the river, discovering wildlife and appreciating the foliage, and stopping halfway through the journey so the kids can buy an ice cream and the adults can buy a beer. There may be no finer way to spend a sunny, summer afternoon in Philly.