Thursday, January 1, 2009

Hoppin' John (Southern)

Gentle readers: Happy New Year!  For those of you who filed the multiple missing persons reports due to my disappearance from the blog, rest assured that I am okay.  Between post-election reeling and a mountain of responsibilities involving that thing that pays me every month, I took a break from blogging.  And now, I'm back with a brief list of New Year's Resolutions to usher in 2009 and a great recipe to celebrate another year! 

New Year's Resolutions for Our Nation:

5. If you are not African-American, resolve to not inform every person of color you see, particularly me, that you voted for Barack Obama, particularly if you live in a red state, particularly Oklahoma.  You will not make the point, as Larry David once said, that you are "one of the good ones."  

4. If you are African-American and belong to the Republican Party, resolve to let your friends figure out "Barack, the Magic Negro" all by themselves.  DO NOT get involved.  You don't have to agree with Colin Powell that your party is a big pile of crazy right now, but don't accuse reasonable people of being too sensitive when they alert you or others to the fact that Republicans are not capable of satire.  You exchanged your satire skills for all that money and power.

3.  If you are governor of a state and you are in huge trouble, resolve to develop a sense of shame.  'Nuff said.

2. If you conned, I mean sold, someone a subprime or another terrible and financially crippling mortgage, resolve to write and memorize your plea before God, because you will so need it.

1. If you are one of those people who doesn't like dealing with the real world, so you don't keep updated on news and thinks the "Daily Show" is equivalent to reading a newspaper daily, resolve to get a f----g clue, grow up and deal.

How can you possibly keep all these resolutions?  Well, your best bet is to start with a heaping plate of hoppin' john and greens, a traditional Southern meal that brings good luck throughout the year.  Hoppin' john is a savory meal of black, eyed peas (or whatever bean you enjoy) seasoned with bacon, onions and vinegar if you are so inclined.  A dish of the Carolina Low Country, hoppin' john is said to have originated from slaves, who ate the meal to start their new year's on  an optimistic note.  In some traditions, a coin is hidden in the bean dish, and whoever finds it is granted good luck throughout the year.  In the same vein, greens are eaten with hoppin' john because greens are the color of money.  Considering the economy lately, you may be eating a lot of beans lately, so think of it as more than a sacrifice... it may be your first step out of your worries.

Happy New Year!  Happy Eating!

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Prickly Pear Jam (Arizona and the Southwest)

Where did the time go?  

It feels like it was just yesterday when I sent my husband off to one of his football weekends and I frantically called him while enroute to California to tell him about the Sarah Palin pick for vice-president.  We didn't know what to make of all of it.  Weeks earlier we had just learned about the Maverick herself from a PBS show about corruption in Alaska.  After listening to her first speech, in which she mentioned Hilary Clinton's glass ceiling, her first dude and her mavericky-ness, I thought to myself, "I wonder how this is all going to go down?"  

Well, with one week left until the election, I think it's safe to say that Governor Palin moved from her cozy home in Wasilla, Alaska to the national stage.  And, now as the campaign is huffing and puffing toward the end, Palin has made another move to right under the Straight Talk Express bus.  Oh I guess I should mention the food thing here, so I can go on about how Sarah Palin went from the Juliet to the Lady McBeth to the Ophelia of this campaign?  When my husband returned from the football game (after being deprived of constant cable news), he brought me a lovely souvenir from John McCain's adopted state of Arizona--a jar of prickly pear jam.  Hmm...what's the link between John McCain and a fruit that resides in the desert, is extremely thorny and is so desperate it accuses other fruit of outrageous things (oh, wait, I guess the last one doesn't apply to the fruit).  Let's just say that prickly pear jam best represents both McCain and Palin--thorniness, a slightly cloying sweetness, and usually the jars of jam come in bad packaging reminiscent of an earlier time.  But, unlike the jam which goes well with cream cheese and crackers, the McCain-Palin ticket is hard to swallow.  

The past few weeks of the public vetting of Sarah Palin has not been particularly yummy either. Allow me to elaborate:

1) Palin, like many in our current political moment, mistook sarcasm for political analysis.  They are not the same.  No matter how much Colbert Report or Daily Show you watch, you cannot think that being clever or even funny means you are particularly smart.  Palin's address to the RNC embodied the worst in political discourse--smug, politically immature and mocking in its tone.  Yes, the VP is the attack dog, but she was more like a pitbull, not one of Michael Vick's either, but an annoying one in Valentino.

2) Palin should have NEVER been hung out to dry on the clothing thing.  It's absolutely ridiculous.  Readers, a quick tutorial on what is sexist and what is not; please listen Elizabeth Hasselback.  It's not sexist to expose the astronomical cost of dressing her and her family.  It is sexist to portray a woman candidate as if she is Lucy Ricardo pissing off Ricky because she spent too much money at the local department store.  It is not sexist to criticize her judgment or complicity in the makeover.  It is sexist to blame the campaign's incompetence on Sarah Palin because she is one of many poor strategic decisions.  It is not sexist to point out Palin's lack of experience, lack of knowledge on the details of the position she is working tooth and nail for, and her desire to be the newest Republican sex symbol.  It is sexist for the McCain campaign to expect women who supported Hilary Clinton to sign up for her COMPLETE AND TOTAL OPPOSITE because they are both women.  It is a sexist to call Palin a diva because she is trying to salvage her political image.  It is not sexist to call her a whack job.

3) History will ultimately judge McCain's decision to entrust the future of his campaign to someone he barely knew.  Palin saw an opportunity and seized upon it because she, like McCain, have so little faith in the American public that they felt that simple manipulation, red-baiting and wild accusations could help seal the deal for the White House.  Instead their fear mongering, talking down to the working class and inability to maintain the loyalties of their parties and respective staffs, has helped seal their fate and ensure they will be punchlines in the annals of electoral history.  I hope it was all worth it.

So folks, if you are ever in Arizona pick up a jar of prickly pear jam and raise a jar to what America should be about: reasoned responses to crisis, respect for others and the ability to change the nation.

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Sopapillas (New Mexico)

After recovering from the exhaustion of my Ireland trip, I had to harness the power of positive thinking to gear up for my next trip two weeks later.  My outlook changed when I realized that I would get to sample some great regional foods when I traveled to Albuquerque, New Mexcio for work. Although I planned on taking advantage of a series of receptions hosted by colleges and academic centers, my friends persuaded me to go to actual restaurants.  I sampled favorites like green and red chile enchiladas, fresh tortilla chips and guacamole, quesadillas and frijoles.

My absolute favorite item on my New Mexican tour was the complementary basket of sopapillas and the squeeze bottle of honey that accompanied it.  Prior to my first trip to Albuquerque, (when I traveled with my then-boyfriend and now-husband from Chicago to Los Angeles after knowing each other a total of six weeks; I was lucky that it all ended in love and marriage and not a Lifetime Movie entitled "Highway to Death: The Regional Food Reporter Story," starring Markie Post as yours truly), I had only heard of sopapillas from one of my favorite Judy Blume books, Tiger Eyes

Sopapillas have the consistency of fry bread (see Indian Tacos) and the puffiness of Indian naaan.  The doughy treat itself is not sweet, but with the a touch of honey, it's transformed into a perfect sweet ending to any meal.  In Tex Mex restaurants, they often come as part of your meal and they can be a nice way to mediate the carb withdrawal felt after finishing an entire basket of chips and a warmer of tortillas.  Sometimes, restaurants will dust the sopapilla with powdered sugar and cinnamon to evoke a funnel cake feel, but the honey is what really makes it taste like pure heaven.  You can also find sopapillas filled with beef, pork or beans in the Southwest.

Happy Eating!

Monday, October 20, 2008

Special Report: Sticky Toffee Pudding (U.K.)

While I was away on my European tour, I made an effort to eat as many local or national specialties I could get my paws on. It was quite a challenge, but I sacrificed my fiber intake and HDL levels to report back on the best of Ireland. I ate scones, drank Guinness, paired chicken curry with chips, scarfed down the plate piled high with boiled potatoes and nearly choked on shepherd's pie. I was a real trooper. The best of all these culinary opportunities was the ending to a risotto-steak-lots of red wine-chips meal. I skipped past the tiramisu and cheesecake and ordered a lovely sticky toffee pudding. I had only heard of the dessert from the expletive-loving television chef Gordon Ramsay. And I didn't f---g regret it.

Sticky toffee pudding is a simple dessert of sponge cake made with finely chopped dates drenched in a caramel-colored toffee sauce. With each sweet spoonful, I thought about all the sticky situations the world's leaders find themselves. Okay, I didn't really think about that, but I finally have a dish that yields an easy passage into politics talk. Just let me have this one.

If only a nice dish of dessert could fix awkward moments like if you were running for Vice President of the United States and you start mistaking people shouting your name for people protesting against your crazed, reactionary political rhetoric, but then you find out that they were just asking you to speak louder. Or maybe when you are losing a presidential election and start resorting to the underhanded tactic of robocalling, even though that same method was used against you in a racist ploy to hamper your chances of winning the Republican presidential nomination, wouldn't some sticky toffee pudding be nice? Or perhaps, you could keep some sticky toffee pudding handy in your car if you are an asshead radio show host who has so little regard for a general who exemplifies the values you purport to defend, that you suggest that his sophisticated and thoughtful explanation of his support of a political candidate is only about race, as if your entire career was not only based upon race, but also racism and racial hatred; wouldn't a pudding be more beneficial than prescription medications?

See folks, sticky toffee pudding is as reliable as the pro-Americans in the pro-America part of America. Oh wait, sticky toffee pudding is not American, so can this dessert help pro-Americans be pro-Americanish while doing pro-America activities? Don't fret dear reader, I have a version of this recipe that will fulfill your desire to be pro-American, and it will save your teeth from a serious sugar soak. Besides, you probably need to save on visits to the dentist. For a Freedom version of sticky toffee pudding, may I suggest using a basic angel food cake, then preparing a sauce of sugar-free pancake syrup, chopped walnuts, and diced apples. Heat the sauce ingredients over medium heat until the syrup thickens. Pour over angel food cake and let sit to allow cake to absorb the syrup. Serve warm with chopped walnuts. Then, go out and get into even stickier situations.

Happy Eating!

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Special Report: English Tea Sandwiches (U.K.)

Folks, I've been out of commission for a little while, and I apologize for leaving you without that witty and slightly caustic perspective you have come to rely upon in these dizzying times. My trip to Europe was so overwhelming, it took me a while to find the food that best exemplified my experiences as a member of the TN2020 experience. The British Council's one-week summit brought together an assortment of public servants, politicians-in-training, intellectuals, artists and activists to discuss the historic, yet currently strained relationship between North America and Western Europe. Against the backdrop of the verdant cities, hills and mountains of Ireland, I spent a week asking some critical questions about what it means to be an American in the era of American imperialism. So, where does tea time fit in to all of this? Well, while I was in the Emerald Isle, we were often treated to fabulous lunches of English tea sandwiches. They were so neatly arranged on platters; each sandwich had the crusts removed, which allowed me a better view of the brightly colored and flecked fillings and layers. The challenge and the beauty of these sandwiches is that you may discover you love a new flavor combination your palate has never experienced (like yummy coronation chicken) and a few items that you wish you never encountered (is that beef tongue or shrimp in mayo?). The lovely assortment of sandwiches was not unlike the lessons learned while across the pond. So, allow me to share in a segment I like to call, "Good Sandwiches" and "Sandwiches that Make me Want to Vomit."

1) Good Sandwich: One of the highlights of the summit was the opportunity to discuss issues such as leadership and voting on BBC's fabulous "World Have Your Say" radio show. The voting segment involved a debate on whether voting should be made mandatory. I entered the debate on the "what a ridiculous idea" side of the discussion. I raised the issues of cost, general ineffectiveness, the creation of a massive bureaucracy and the sacred nature of the vote considering the work of the Civil Rights martyrs (see Mississippi Mud Pie) as all reasons to why voting or not voting is an important right to be preserved and not trampled upon in order to give the appearance of democracy in action. I was told by a peer from a Western European nation which will not be named, (but I will say this place is known for its fine wines, love of Jerry Lewis and penchant for exploiting the binding powers of butter), "You can't make Americans do anything." Damn, right. U-S-A. Drill, baby drill. Just kidding on that last one, I'm not an idiot.

2) Bad Sandwich: Not unlike that gelatinous beef tongue treat I accidently tasted, there were some moments of unease for me as I engaged in political discussions with my fellow conference folks. I was expecting some critical perspectives on Americans; I am a part of the liberal elite, so I share some of my European pals concerns about U.S. imperialism, the Bush administrations erosion of transatlantic cooperation and the number of Eddie Murphy 'family movies.' Yet, I was a bit surprised by some of my fellow Americans' distaste for the values I hold dear. A few conversations with some of my more conservative pals revealed that some of the young blood of the right are painfully in love with the past. Due to my support for an unnamed candidate for president (hint the guy who doesn't need to suppress his rage in order to get through a debate), I was called a communist, a socialist, and un-American. I was admonished for suggesting that race matters in America, and that the aforementioned candidate's often erratic and problematic message may have to do with race in America. (Gasp!) Even better, were young conservatives suggesting that Hilary Clinton was a victim of sexism and that Sarah Palin is a feminist hero, meanwhile refusing to take seriously the problems of gender inequality, homophobia and the subjugation of women of color in foreign wars and domestic affairs. What bothered me the most of this attitude toward Obama supporters or liberals in general, is that my peers are steeped in an anti-intellectual, Cold War era sensibility that should serve as a cautionary tale, not a political strategy for people of my generation.

3) Good Sandwich: One evening while experiencing a beautiful retreat in the Wicklow Mountains, some of the participants decided to cross our cultural divides by staging an experiment in Transatlantic Dating. Each participant represented their homeland by pretending to be on a first date. Some of my colleagues were in love instantly, others relied heavily on dirty jokes and references to football teams to guide them toward true love and others determined that love is indeed a battlefield and deployed the aloofness that only a person who has never been to therapy could enjoy. And at the end of the day, I discovered that as an American, I believe that the values of the marketplace, the conventions of the workplace and the sexual standards of MTV's "The Real World" cast are great models upon which to set my love and dating priorities. And, I'm proud to be an American. U-S-A. Drill, baby drill. Nope, still stupid.

4) Bad Sandwich: Like the stomach-churning cheddar chutney tea sandwich I gagged on, financial crisis 'jokes' are not appetizing. Whilst attending a 'political cabaret' 'performance' by a 'political comedian' who considers himself 'talented,' 'amusing' and 'educated,' I was treated to an onslaught of anti-American jokes. While I'm willing to skewer our leaders and institutions like a chicken kebab, I truly believe some thing's aren't amusing; they are just plain sad. Whether you are pro-bailout or not, the realities of the market meltdown is now the business of all Americans. For people my age who have many years ahead of them, we can wait this out, and we can learn a valuable lesson about living on borrowed money and in a financed world. For working-class older folks who need to retire soon, life just got a little more complicated. I heard one man say after the bailout passed that he wanted to see people "pay for their mistakes." By people he meant the people who are facing foreclosure, possibly headed toward homelessness, moving their children away from friends and schools, taking extra jobs to make ends meet, having their voter rights challenged and hoping they can crash on their kid's sofa until the market comes back up again. Yeah, those people are not paying anything for the nationalization of previously private industries. If you stand quietly, you can hear the sound of the government drilling all those people a new one.

So dear readers in these tough economic times, save a few bucks with some of these delightful tea sandwiches with an American twist. How about peanut butter and apple with honey on a nice wheat bread? Or use leftover stew meat and simmer in your crock pot with barbeque sauce and serve between some split Jiffy mix cornbread, with a nice pickle slice sandwiched in there? May I suggest a festive lunch of tomato slices and some cream cheese and basil? Then, invite Joe Six Pack, Joe the (Lying) Plumber and Joe who Just Lost his Job over and learn how truly wonderful it feels to 'spread the wealth' of a nice meal with someone who needs it. Try it and see if you turn into a socialist afterward.

Happy Eating!

Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Special Report: Irish Breakfast (Ireland)

Considering I hail from an Egg McMuffin kind of world, it's quite refreshing to spend some time in Ireland, where breakfast is a serious affair.  Continental breakfast at most U.S. hotels involve a muffin or a pack of Donettes and cup of coffee. Irish breakfast, by contrast, is a celebration of food groups, cuisines and a formidable challenge to the digestive system.  A traditional Irish breakfast comprises rashers (or bacon), sausages (I tried a pork and leek version) fried eggs, puddings (white and black blood sausages), toast, potato cakes, baked beans, fried tomatoes and sauted mushrooms.  And breads and pastries.  Yes, all for breakfast...

My mom always advised that you start the day with brain food.  We ate oatmeal not blood sausages, but my mom was so right.  Breakfast isn't just about nourishing the mind either, it's also about nourishing communities.  When the Black Panther Party for Self Defense formed in 1966, its youth leadership organized to protect their neighborhoods from police brutality.  This vision grew into a wide array of programs ranging from education to health care.  One of the Party's most visible programs was the Free Breakfast for School Children program, one of many 'survival programs,' that helped sustain the Party's many goals.  Started in August of 1969 at Oakland's St. Augustine's Church, the breakfast program was the realization of a new vision for social programs that uplifted the dignity of its service recipients.  At the breakfast programs, kids did not have to be embarrassed, families did not have to hide from prying social workers and youth learned that feeding your neighbor meant empowering your neighborhood. That is why police raids on Party food pantries, among other acts of violence, were particularly devastating to the organization's morale.  The Party's history and its members is not a perfect story; yet, the successes and the programs of the movement can help us think creatively about our meals and how they can transform our lives.  So, this weekend, how about you go to your local church, neighborhood association or group of friends and talk about ways to collect foods for families that are hurting during this financial crisis.  Become inspired by the movements that shaped our nation, learn about the young, Party martyrs Fred Hampton and Mark Clark.  Learn from the Party's failures to stand up for the freedom and dignity of women and abolish gender discrimination within its ranks.  Reflect on the words of former Party member Marion Stamps: "It is our responsibility to see to it that our people have a decent place to live, decent food to eat, and quality health care."

Happy (communal) eating!

Monday, September 29, 2008

Special Report: Fish and Chips (U.K.)

Belfast, Northern Ireland--I'm finally here.  After six hours of flying, several
conversations involving me pretending to understand an Irish accent, a "Monk" episode and several meals in teeny, tiny airline trays, I landed safely in the capital city of Northern Ireland.  I do love my American foods, but I decided to bring my dear readers with me in my journey as a TN2020 participant and first-time visitor to Northern Ireland.  

Regional and local foods are important, whether you are in Bangor, Maine or Bangkok, Thailand.  I implore you to resist the international Pizza Huts, Chilis, and Dunkin Donuts outlets, and eat locally as much as possible when you travel.  One of the first things I did when I got to Belfast was head to a local pub for some golden fish and chips.  Fish and chips is the U.K.'s most popular dish comprising a lightly battered piece of haddock or cod, served with what we know as steak french fries in the states.  Similar to catfish in the U.S., the subtle flavor of the fish is seasoned by the what it's battered and what you put on it.  So your flavor sources come from the beer and salt in the batter and the vinegar.  Proper fish and chips also includes peas or mashed peas and a simple salad.  

As I plunged the side of my fork into my crisp piece of fish, I breathed in the sights and smells of the pub, and I sighed to myself.  I was wondering if people were looking at me, considering I was the only brown face in the room.  I can't assume I know what people think when they see me here, but I can wonder if the history books in Ireland have done a better job than the ones in the U.S. in celebrating the complicated history of African-Americans and  the Emerald Isle. Ireland, particularly cities Dublin and Belfast, has had a tremendous impact on African-American life and culture during the most important times in U.S. political and cultural history.  From the anti-slavery movement of the 19th century to the Harlem Renaissance of the 1920s, Ireland has been a source of inspiration and support for African-Americans.  

When on a black taxi tour of Belfast, I was thrilled to see a mural in commemoration of abolitionist-feminist Frederick Douglass on a wall of political images in the city.  Douglass spent two years in the United Kingdom beginning in 1845 to plead the cause of abolition to Brits.  Douglass arrived as the Potato Famine was ravishing Irish livelihood and he was in a unique position to truly empathize with the small farmers and families uncertain about securing their most basic needs under an oppressive regime.  His two-year stint in Europe helped him secure the monies for his freedom, and Ireland remained deep in his heart for decades to come. As a lover of freedom, he supported Irish Home Rule, and visited the place where he said he was treated not "as a color, but as man," again in 1886.  

The mural reminds the Irish, and visitors that Douglass was:

"Inspired by two Irishmen to escape from slavery Frederick Douglass came to Ireland during the famine.  Henceforth he championed the abolition of slavery, women's rights and Irish freedom."  
The mural also includes a message from Douglass to the Irish: 

" Perhaps no class has carried prejudice against colour to a point more dangerous than have the Irish and yet no people have been more relentlessly oppressed on account of race and religion." 

Later generations of African-American leaders would continue to see the Irish struggle as paralleling Black life in America.  On the precipice of constructing a 'New Negro' movement in the U.S., philosopher and scholar Alain Locke declared, "In Harlem, Negro life is seizing upon its first chances for group expression and self-determination.  That is why our comparison is taken with those nascent centers of folk-expression and self-determination which are playing a creative part in the world today. Without pretense to their political significance, Harlem has the same role to play for the New Negro as Dublin has had for the New Ireland..."  

To learn more about Black America's green roots, for all the good and bad, check out Ken Burns' New York, enjoy some Harlem Renaissance writings and art, learn about Zora Neale Hurston's roots in Eatonville, Florida and raise a pint of Guinness to the spirit of our struggles and our common bonds.  

Now that is food for thought...

Happy Eating!