It’s As American As……..

I have said it before and I will say it again now, I am often troubled by the vituperative nature of the dialogue in America these days.  It feels as if people are fighting each other verbally for some idea they have of what is “American”.  It feels often as if people are saying “I am more American” than you and I am right.  And if you think I am not right, then you are not really American.  I say that what is American is the dialogue itself, and we have lost sight of that I think.  What is important about America is that we have always had the dialogue and respect for the dialogue and for those engaged in it.

It seems, currently, that it is futile to engage in talk, if I express a political opinion I am either wrong or silly or I am simply dismissed or ignored.  So I decided to take a different tack and talk about what is really and indisputably American; food.

Almost as much as sports, food is a matter of regional and ethnic pride in this country.  I was lunching on barbecue the other day and the restaurant offered a stunning array of sauces.  I knew, for example, that the golden mustard based barbecue sauce is a staple of the Carolinas, and the sweet generally associated with St. Louis.  And I am not a barbecue expert by any stretch.

I have lived in many regions of the country and have had the privilege of learning in each one.  Fresco in southern Cali, green chili in Nuevo Mexico, crab cakes in Maryland, maple syrup in New England and cornbread and fried green tomatoes in Florida.  And so much more.  As a result of living in New England I still make applesauce and can it every year.  As a result of living in New Mexico I still wrap lots of things in a warm flour tortilla.  Since I grew up in New York, I still love good rye bread, especially with pastrami.  And Florida strawberries make the best jam. And so much more.

Starting with politics and ending with food.  Maybe if we all just sat down to a meal and tempered our dialogue with shared food we would understand each other better.  Maybe if we broke cornbread together the dialogue would be tempered with respect.  A ridiculous idea I know, but this baker of apple pies can dream, because our food is as much a reflection of our diversity and the rich tapestry of our culture as our political points of view.

Home Skillet

My son, somewhere around the age of ten, went through a phase of “naming” people after the fashion of hip hoppers.  This included random strangers and usually the names were pretty imaginative.  My personal favorite, although somewhat mortifying at the time, was as follows.  We were riding down the street in my car when my son spied a very large man walking down the street.  Without warning he whipped down the rear window, stuck out his head and yelled “YO, butter biscuit”.  Fortunately I don’t recall that the random stranger at whom this was aimed realized that it was directed at him.

It has always been my way to cook from scratch and when the above son was small, many things were homey things kids like; what you might call comfort food.  I often made things like applesauce, spaghetti sauce and chili with biscuits.  I recall when my son was presented with yellow jar applesauce at preschool and asked with astonishment what it was; it was the wrong color (cinnamon, you know)!

I don’t often make what I consider “comfort foods” nowadays as they aren’t all that healthy generally (I still make the chili, it is healthy).  But when my husband decided to work at his barbecue/smoking skills I thought about what should go with it.  As a result I stumbled on a fabulous recipe for Mac and cheese with mega cheese in it.  It was so good it was requested by a returning guest for another dinner.  And as you can see, I had to make double so my son could have it for breakfast and the guests could take some home.

So, I know you were wondering how the “naming” relates.  First, it was good to find my comfort food skills still intact and second, it was great to live up to the name my son gave me years ago…. Home Skillet.image

 

 

 

What Your Uncle Dan Wants You To Know #1 ~ Make Your Own Sauce

Dear Jake,

I’m proud of you for surviving high school as a thoughtful and caring kid. You are perceptive, probably more than you realize, and that, my friend, makes you really interesting. At this jumping-off stage of your life, the most important things I can tell you are 1) character counts and 2) make your own barbecue sauce.

Character — You’ll always have ups and downs. You’ll make a lot of money or a little money or a lot and then a little … whatever. What matters through all of that stuff is who you are. Are you the guy people turn to for counsel? The one whose honesty and good sense folks have faith in? It’s what I admire about your mom and dad, by the way. When Bill and I played golf, he always had to interrupt the game to take a call from someone who needed to check in. What an incredible compliment. Being of service — what can be better than that? And you see it with your mom and the people she helps, takes in, listens to. My mom and dad had that same streak. My dad was a tough customer in some ways. He had a big old stubborn streak and got himself worked up into high moral fever. But that’s a good thing. He cared. He didn’t let things slide. After he died, one of his former college students — the guy was now in his 40s and a professor himself — talked to me about how, long after school, he would call up my father to ask him “big picture” questions. Do I cross a picket line? Do I do the political thing or the moral thing? So there’s Bill getting calls … and there was my dad getting calls. Hmm. The only time I saw my straight-laced father a wee bit tipsy was when his university gave in to demands of student protesters over something. He was outraged at this abandonment of principle. And my mom was the most straight-forward person you could ever meet. She saw the good in people and she believed in helping out.

Me, I was never the most gifted person. Not the smartest, not the best athlete, not the most good looking guy in the room, although I know that’s hard for you to believe. So I knew early on that whatever I got I was going to have to earn. I can’t say I killed myself working in high school — sorry, I know your mom would like me to tell you something more inspiring! But in my working life I did bust my butt and I also had same that sense my mom and dad did, and that your parents do, that it mattered who you were and how you acted. I’m not saying I did everything right. Nobody does and I sure didn’t. But most nights I slept just fine knowing that I’d been honest with people, hadn’t taken advantage. It’s good stuff. You do that too, OK?

Barbecue — Now this is really important. Make your own sauce. Sure, buy a bottle of something if you have to for emergencies. But BBQ sauce is a place where you can stake your claim on a taste and show people who you are. You need:
— White Vinegar
— Honey
— dijon mustard
— minced green onions
— lemon juice
— garlic
— ginger
— really finely diced celery
— beer can be good
— whatever other spices interest you, depending on what you’re cooking and what mood you’re in. Do buy Jamaican jerk flavor in case the mood strikes.

Not telling you how much to put in. You mix things up, taste, and add. OK, I will say go easy on the ginger and be liberal with the honey. But that’s all, not another word out of me.

Jake, it’s a great big fascinating world out there. Go get it with enthusiasm and integrity. Make your own sauce.

Love,

Uncle Dan