Friday, October 4, 2013

A taste of Americana

I have a friend who, every so often, decides that it is time for a change.  She thinks carefully about her trip, preferring to avoid heavily-traveled interstates and other highways that are clogged with travelers.  Instead, she prefers the quiet, scenic routes.  She packs up what she can fit in her compact car, gathers her maps and then sets out on her travels with a kind of intention and care toward nourishing her soul.  This sort of journey is rarely experienced or witnessed by any of us.

She stops when and where she wishes, driving almost exclusively in silence so that she can reflect, meditate and allow the scenery to deliver its gifts to her.  She will often linger for a day in what she calls "seriously cute towns," browsing through museums when she gets the urge, and amble through antique shops.  She talks to the people she meets along the way, savoring her interactions.  She stops along the roadside to take pictures, she sends postcards from the towns and villages she's most impressed with and, what I most appreciate about her, writes beautiful posts about her trip and experiences.  She is an artist with words and paints the most heartbreakingly beautiful pictures in her narratives.  All of her friends think she should write a book.

She is a very rich woman in so many ways, and I am blessed to know her.  She savors everything, both sunny days and thunderstorms.  She allows herself to sit with fear, discomfort and to simply be in the Now.  She has taught me a lot about being present, attentive, alive.

Here is her latest picture to me from Yellow Springs, Ohio:

My traveling friend takes beautiful pictures.
Traveling through small towns evokes the pure essence of Americana, and rummaging through antique shops and flea markets, purveyors of both the distillation and the detritus of our culture, often bring a sense of wistful longing and sentimentality about what once was.  Even though our recollections aren't always accurate.

Another friend, Christian Montone, creates vivid, pigment-infused images of the architecture and objects of Americana (although he may not think of his art in that way) that he encounters in his travels and everyday experiences.  See his website, Art Skool Damage, here.  Please tell him how much you like what he sees and how he sees it.

Photo by Christian Montone, 2013

Photo by Christian Montone, 2013

Americana through Christian's eyes.

Americana is not only in the fields of sunflowers, mid-century architecture and flea market kitsch, it's in every bite of the foods we love.  It's the foundation of comfort food and the very essence of Back Home, that nostalgic place in our minds and hearts that means family, warmth, togetherness, and a deep sense of satisfaction that all is as it should be.  We each have our own Back Home, a place where the food is familiar and nourishing, made from scratch and from time-honored recipes that Grandma scrawled on the inside of her Bible, or that got passed down at family reunions.  And it seems that each region in America--often, each state--takes pride in a comforting, crowd-pleasing favorite--Texas Sheet Cake, y'all?  Utah Funeral Potatoes?  Classic Chicago Hot Dog?  Find a great tribute to and a recipe for this amazing all-American icon-on-a-bun here.

Recently, at a large dinner party, I took my guests on a brief summer road trip Back Home in the form of America's regional foods.  The two dishes that absolutely got demolished were the Oklahoma BBQ--tender, shredded beef roast slow-cooked in a delicious piquant sauce that's not too sweet and not too sour, and the Kansas City Coleslaw, which is a simple but excellent recipe that I've been using from the back of the Dole coleslaw bag for years.  The coleslaw recipe doesn't seem to be on the Dole website any longer (but it appears below), although this coleslaw recipe is also really yummy.

Serve Oklahoma BBQ on large, crusty or soft rolls or on slider buns (more fun because obviously, you can have two!), along with the coleslaw, your favorite potato salad or chips and of course, garlicky dill pickles.  Since we are still enduring enjoying warm weather in Texas, Oklahoma BBQ is a perfect bridge to cooler weather.  Start it a day ahead and finish cooking the next day for best flavor.  It makes a lot, so freeze leftovers to enjoy on a cold, blustery night in December when you're needing a bit of Americana and the comforts of being Back Home.

My photos are not nearly as good as my friends', but I might be a better cook!

Oklahoma BBQ
     A long-lost friend shared this recipe with me when I was in my early 30's.  It's been a favorite ever since.  

5-7 lbs. rump roast or other beef, such as brisket
4 cloves garlic, minced
2 large onions, minced
2 tsp. celery salt
2 Tbs. Liquid Smoke (such as Figaro, or see how to make your own here)
1 tsp. ground black pepper
2 1/2 oz. Worcestershire sauce

1.)  Put meat, fat side down, in a large Dutch oven.
2.)  Cover with ingredients listed above, wrap or cover and chill overnight.
3.)  The next day, bake for 6 hours, covered, at 275 degrees.
4.)  Meanwhile, prepare BBQ Sauce (recipe follows).
5.)  Remove from oven and cool; drain and discard liquid.
6.)  Shred the meat, discard the fat and mix with BBQ Sauce until the proper consistency is achieved.
7.)  Serve hot on rolls with you favorite sides.  Serves 12 generously, with leftovers.

BBQ Sauce

     This sauce is looser than commercially-prepared sauces, but you can decrease the amount of water to your liking.

32 oz. catsup
2 cups water (use 1/2 cup less for a thicker sauce)
1/2 cup packed brown sugar
1/4 cup Worcestershire sauce
2 cloves garlic, minced
2 Tbs. vinegar
2 or more dashes hot sauce
1 tsp. dry mustard
1 tsp. chili powder
1 Tbs. Liquid Smoke (see notes in above ingredient list)
1/4 tsp. cayenne
1 1/4 tsp. coarsely ground black pepper.

Combine all ingredients in a 4 quart pot, stir well and simmer for 30 minutes.  Makes about 6 cups.  Leftover sauce is great for other meats (such as grilled salmon) and can be frozen.

Kansas City Coleslaw

1 16 oz. bag coleslaw mix (or shred 2 generous cups cabbage and carrots)
1/2 cup good-quality mayonnaise
2 Tbs. milk
1 Tbs. cider vinegar
1/2 tsp. sugar

1.)  Put shredded cabbage and carrots in a medium-sized bowl.
2.)  Mix together well the remaining ingredients in a small bowl or mug and pour over cabbage and carrots.
3.)  Toss until well-coated.
4.)  Chill at least one hour before serving.  Serves 4.

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