It is Thanksgiving week, which informally marks the end of fall and the start of winter.
As a former Wellingtonian I'm not used to having four defined seasons, each with their own marketing spin and product line. I'm used to waiting around for that terrifying week in April when summer becomes winter in the space of a day or two.
I've spent most of the season ignoring the fall hype, but in a fit of regret and curiosity spent the last week trying to catch up.
"Fall" is a big deal in New England. In late September, the leaves begin to turn and the tourism industry begins to explode. The leaves are nice for a few minutes and great to have as a backdrop to the city for a month or two. But they fail to hold my attention.
After the leaves begin to turn, and as Halloween approaches pumpkins begin appearing on porches everywhere.
Simultaneously pumpkin spice everythings and special fall items begin showing up in every store.
I ignored this marketing hype initially. But at the last minute, in the dying burst of fall, I felt that just maybe engaging myself with these fall-flavours might help me start appreciating the season a little more.
My first stop was Dunkin' Donuts. Not out of any preference, but because LP and I had a drive to make and it is at the end of our street.
Dunkin' Donuts sells three-star donuts, and two-star coffee, in outlets with the décor of a high-school cafeteria. That aside, I do love going there.
Dunkins' signature fall items were its fall harvest and pumpkin donuts and its hot apple cider. The fall harvest really just transpired to be a plain donut with red, sugary icing and hundreds and thousands on the top.
"If I close my eyes as I eat this, I could really be eating anything," LP said. She was right. There was nothing seasonal about it.
The pumpkin donut was a bit more memorable. It had a distinct flavour and a less generic donut texture.
As someone who grew up loathing the pumpkin as an abhorrent, vile thing good only for ruining roast dinners, the "pumpkin" obsession in the USA is confusing. Pumpkin, especially pumpkin pie, has little to do with pumpkin flavour. The taste is dictated by what are referred to as the pumpkin spices: allspice, cinnamon and nutmeg. Pumpkin is merely the base material. It lends its consistency but not its taste.
Which seems a bit of a misnomer to me.
I came back a day later for the apple cider, and drank it on my walk to school. It was like drinking hot apple juice. Not the good, farm grown and freshly made stuff either. It was a little like someone had put Fresh Up in the microwave.
My next port of call was at Starbucks for its infamous Pumpkin Spice Latte. This drink goes on sale in early September and is just sold for just the fall months. It is a drink that inspires devotion in the USA: Facebook groups call for its year-round availability and CEO's hype its popularity in earning reports.
I took mine to go, indulging myself in a little whipped cream on the top for extra seasonal enjoyment. It was a beautiful, crisp fall morning - the sort where the air feels so alive that you could almost grab it and crumble it in your hands. The trees that line the road through Boston University were a burning shade of red. Maybe this was it? Maybe I was having my first transcendental fall moment? I drank it in, cupping my drink with two hands, a little like how I imagine Oliver Twist consumes soup. It was sweet, yes, but the flavour of the spices and the coffee came nicely through the whipped cream.
This was magical. But...
Less than quarter of an hour later I felt woozy, sick to my core and a little dizzy. For all that promise, the pumpkin spice latte is a high that fades quickly. I'd suggest consuming just a thimble.
Peets Coffee was the next batter up. Peets is a cross-country coffee chain in the USA that has managed to offset itself against Starbucks as being a little less corporate and a bit more down-home, all the while still being a mass-market, mass-produced chain.
Peets' pumpkin-spice effort had a tough road to conquer after the trauma of my Starbucks' over-indulgence. Peets did a great job of it though. No whipped cream was offered and the sugar level was dialed right back, placing just the right emphasis on the mixture of coffee and cinnamon flavours.
My last effort to engage with these fall flavours, coffee dosed with (non-alcoholic) eggnog, has been keeping me company as I write this out at my desk on this Sunday morning.
Eggnog, which is made with milk or cream, sugar, eggs and booze if you're up for it, goes on sale in the fall. It does cross over into the winter months, not like the pumpkin stuff. LP gets more excited about this than anything and applies it liberally in her morning coffee.
I just pored a second cup of coffee, and left the eggnog out this time. I'm a black coffee guy, so maybe I was not inclined towards it from the start. But it tasted a little like sweetening my coffee with custard.
It's going to be winter in a week or two. And such is the parlance of this country I can sense whole new marketing campaigns starting to move up a gear.
Such ingrained seasonal tradition is not a big thing in New Zealand. I couldn't think of one that was shared across much of the country. (Summer barbecues don't count.)
I know we're moving in the opposite directions seasonally, but what are some of your favourite seasonal activities?
And for any New Zealanders abroad in the USA, how have you adapted to fall madness?
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