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My Great American Road Trip – Wyoming and What I’ve Learned.

I wanted to end big. Wyoming is big. And you know what’s there? Buffalo! I’ve never been to Wyoming, but I yearn to go and see where the buffalo roam and skies are not cloudy all day.

I’ve had a buffalo burger or two in my day, and I basically know how to cook ground beef, so I figured I’d go all the way. Buffalo prime rib. I actually ordered the meat direct from Wyoming! Cooking a prime rib seems so scary, but it’s actually super easy.

The first step is a rub of olive oil, salt, pepper, garlic, and thyme. After a little massage, leave the meat in the fridge to absorb the yumminess.

When you’re ready to cook, low and slow is the way to go (rhyme!). Throw the beast in a 250 degree oven for about 25 minutes per pound (a bit more for a fattier cow). At the very end, up the temperature to 500 degrees for the last 15 minutes for a nice criso . Let the meat rest for about 10 minutes and enjoy the deliciousness.

It was super tasty, but actually, I think that beef prime rib, beef might be better than the leaner buffalo. There were no yummy pan drippings from this guy. I had considered making Yorkshire puddings a whole roast dinner, but in the end, I just had a nice thick slice of meat and the cat and I watched a documentary about my boss, MTT.

WHAT I LEARNED!

It’s interesting to be thinking of this as we celebrate the most American of holidays, and my most favorite one, Thanksgiving.

First and foremost, I learned how to cook. Or at least learned a bit of confidence in my cooking. I can deep fry or slow roast, braise and baste with the best of them. I’ve ordered in a few times in the last few weeks (I didn’t at all in the early days of quarantine) and I have to say each time I did, I thought, I could have made myself a better dinner.

But more than what I learned about myself, I learned a bit about us as a country.

First of all, we are all locavores. The food system gets a bad rap these days, but in fact in a lot of cases, the food we cherish is local to where we are. Buffalo in Wyoming, salmon and filberts in Oregon, seafood in New England, and corn in Iowa. We love the tastes of home and we are loyal to them. I had my Thanksgiving dinner this year with friends from Tennessee and there was no pumpkin to be found on the plate (a carnal sin among my yankee kin), but abundant banana pudding.

Next up – we love our immigrant history. Rhode Island Italians, the Basque in Idaho, Scandinavians and Germans in mid-America, and Mexicans along the southern boarder. We have embraced and absorbed the cooking, and with it some of the culture, of the countries of origin of so many Americans. It is what makes us American.

And above all else we love to gather. Big casseroles, snack plates, and healthy, hearty family meals dominate our food culture.

Having joyously consumed the country bite by bite, I can tell you that if we are what we eat Americans care about each other and our environment.

I’ve never felt so proud of my country!

My Great American Road Trip – West Virginia, Wisconsin

I’m so behind in my writing, but not in my cooking. I finished my last three states in mid-October, but haven’t managed to sit down to write them out. Work has started, that’s part of it. And also I’ve been a bit sad. Coronapression? Depression-19? Anyway – I’ve been struggling a bit. Like all of us, but it hit me this past month. Nothing clinical or serious, just generic malaise. It’s been a long pandemic and I feel far from home, and not yet able to make Miami home.

I’m better though. For starters the election went my way, and even better, I was invited to a wonderful, socially distant party to watch the country turn blue.

As we move into Thanksgiving week and the most wonderful time of the year, I can’t help myself from getting happier. Even while I’m alone, even thought it won’t be a white one for me this year, I love this season.

West Virginia surprised me when I went looking for it’s iconic food. Pepperoni Rolls led every list. Wikipedia says it’s the food most associated with the state. So pepperoni rolls it was.

For the dough you heat up a cup and a half of milk, 3 tablespoons of butter til the butter is melted and the milk is just past warm. Then you whisk in 2 tablespoons sugar, 2 teaspoons salt, and 2 teaspoons yeast. Then leave that for 7 minutes or so for the yeast to “activate” – get foamy. In a separate bowl add 3 and a half cups flour and one egg. Mix those and add them to the yeast mixture. Incorporate – a new word for me, food-wise – the mix, it will be loose. Then cover and let rest in a warm place for a couple hours or so to til it doubles in size. Then you punch it down and knead a bit and let it rise again. Luckily, I live in Florida and my balcony is a warm place for dough to rise.

Once it’s all risen, you divide it into eight pieces and roll each out to a flat disk on which you place three or four pieces of pepperoni and sprinkle with a little mozzarella.

You roll them out up like a burrito and line them on cookie sheet for about 30 minutes for them to rise one more time. Then you cook them at 350 for about 30 minutes. I served mine with a side of spicy tomato sauce and a beer.

They were good snack food, but sort of boring in the end.

The next day, with a bunch of pepperoni rolls left over, I was trying to think of a fun way to eat them, which led me to my research for Wisconsin!

I’ve only been to Wisconsin once with, you guessed it, the Boston Pops. We had a day off in the lovely college town of Appleton. It remains my favorite day of any tour I’ve ever been on. In large part because of my exhilarating trip with my tour bestie Amanda to the Houdini Museum. While there, Amanda and I took the opportunity to perform some magic for none other than Santa Claus (he was under cover as a civilian by day, but by night he spread holiday cheer at our Pops concerts.)

Here we are for your viewing pleasure. You can’t see Santa, but that’s his voice. I will never not be proud of this!

On on particular night out with the Pops Dream Team (minus Amanda, alas)

We discovered the bizarre and irresistible beer cheese made from Wisconsin’s two favorite things. Turns out, they can even take it further and before I knew it, I was making beer cheese soup.

Beer cheese soup is easy. First you make stock – chop up carrots, celery, onion, and garlic and heat it up in a stock pot. Add in a bit of cayenne, salt, pepper and pinch of hot sauce. Plus 3 cups of chicken stock. Let it simmer til the veggies are soft.

In another pot warm up a third of a cup butter and whisk in a third of cup flour til golden brown (a roux!) Then add in four cups of milk. When it is all warm, but not scalded, remove from the heat and cut in the cheese. (HA! Cut the cheese).

When the cheese is melted, combine the two pots, add a beer and let it all simmer together. Then blend it til smooth.

It was delicious for about four spoonfuls. It was even better served with some pepperoni rolls.

But in the end, it the pepperoni rolls and soup may just have been the trigger for my depression!

Wyoming though, that was great. I’ll tell you about that soon.

My Great American Road Trip – Washington

That’s right – Washington! I have now traveled through the magical portal in my kitchen to 46 states, with four more to go. All of the one’s left start with a W.

I like Washington a lot. Maybe because my trips to Seattle have been bound up in romance and friendship. I’ve have a rendezvous or two in rainy Seattle. In fact – what I haven’t had in Seattle is rain, now that I think of it. Seattle is so beautiful.

It was in Seattle that I visited one of my first Frank Gehry buildings – the Museum of Pop Culture (a museum designed for me). Now I work in a Gehry building!

The crazy glass artist Dale Chihuly is based in Seattle, and offers a magical way to spend a day.

Fun fact, I once watched a documentary on Chihuly and somewhere in the middle he started wearing an eye patch, that he wears to this day with no explanation why. (I know I can google it. I like the mystery).

And the last time I visited Seattle, in addition to a little romance, I got to see my wonderful friend Charlie and my gorgeous cousin Nelle.

I like Washington. And I like eating in Washington. Lots of seafood and fresh veggies, but, like Oregon to its south, it is a lot of ingredients in search of a recipe.

But then I remembered my first trip to Seattle, lo these many years ago. During this particular assignation, my friend brought me to an area he referred to as the “Brooklyn of Seattle,” probably only as a way to convince me to look away from the over priced tourist areas that I gravitate to. There we sat by the water, drank wine, and ate the King of Salads, Crab Louie. Seriously, it is known as the king of salads. And for good reason.

There is some debate about whether this dish has its origin in San Francisco or Seattle, but it is a Pacific Northwest specialty. The crab should be Dungeness, which, miraculously I was able to find, though it had been previously frozen. The hardest part of making this was getting the meat from the shells, but like any true New Englander, shellfish is no match for me!

The next step is to make the dressing. Crab Louie is served with a Russian dressing (can you see Russia from Washington?). Russian dressing is basically one part mayo, one half part ketchup, one quarter part sweet pickle relish. But I really like relish, so I might have gone a little heavy.

The dressing also called for chopped hard boiled eggs, check, and black olives, NO WAY. I hate olives.

Then you assemble the salad, All Crab Louie’s have lettuce, asparagus, and tomatoes, and then there’s a little room to go crazy. I added some sliced avocado and English cukes.

I enjoyed this salad so much, I had it for three meals in a row. For the fourth I had crab cakes and some grilled romaine. I’m finally out of crab, but it was great.

Oh, Seattle, the special memories you hold! As I left my oh so special friend on my last trip, I passed a sign that made me think…..

I thought “thank goodness I don’t believe in signs!”

My Great American Road Trip – Vermont, Virginia

I’ve been to Vermont a lot. A lot. I’ve got cousins there and friends with ski houses, and an over all love of the wacky, hippy, beauty of the Green Mountains. The last time I was in Vermont it was to see my niece perform a heartbreakingly beautiful monologue she wrote while a student at Bennington College. The time before that was for my first-cousin-once-removed’s wedding to my new first-cousin-once-removed-in-law. It was a fab wedding and I gained a whole new fab family.

They got married in Rachel’s hometown of St Albans. I stayed next door in tiny Georgia, Vermont. I drove up there from NYC, following the GPS directions that eventually said drive onto the boat. So I did.

On the other side of Lake Champlain I spent a few days celebrating the happy couple and enjoying the beautiful local. And I bought some local mustard. I don’t know why, I love buying mustard or hot sauce where ever I go. What I didn’t do was sample enough of the local cuisine.

I bet you thought for Vermont I’d do this:

And you wouldn’t really be wrong. I did have to buy the pint in anticipation of this photo, and then I ate the pint and had to wait a whole day before making my Vermont food.

My first choice for Vermont was something with fiddlehead ferns or gilfeather turnips, a veg my friend Linda helped get official status, but fat chance I could get either of those in Miami Beach. The Food Network led me to one of the states most beloved dishes – from none other than the Center Market in good old Georgia – baked beans. Now you cannot, or at least I could not, find the Center Market’s recipe on line, but with a little help from Vermont Public Radio, I cobbled together my own version.

First you need yellow eyed beans, it’s Vermont, that you soak over night.

When they’re nice and soft, you add some slab bacon or salt pork, sliced onions, a cup of sugar (I couldn’t, I only did a half a cup), and a cup of maple syrup (from Vermont please), some salt, and a couple teaspoons of dry mustard, but I didn’t have that, so I added Coleman’s yellow mustard. Then you cover the whole thing with water and put it in the over at 300 for like 8 hours.

Holy cow my house smelled good. But after 5 hours it was still soupy. And then like a miracle, it was baked beans. I had a bowl for dinner and they were so good. But man are they sweet. I actually added a little dash of apple cider vinegar, and perfect! Then next morning I had them with toast for a little taste of the UK.

After a couple days of beans (which were no treat for my pilates teacher), I moved on to Virginia. I was in Williamsburg once with the Boston Pops. And I’m pretty sure I was there in high school as well.

Virginia, surprisingly was a state with no ambiguity about what to cook. Every list I looked at started with Brunswick Stew, a hearty tomato based stew meant to keep the colonial troops fortified.

Brunswick stew is another easy, but slow creation. First you brown up some onions with some bacon in a big pot. Add in a bag of beans, whatever are local I suppose. I used lima beans, 4 chopped up potatoes, and a can of diced tomatoes. To that you add in a couple raw chicken breasts, bring the whole thing to a boil and then let it simmer for an hour or so.

When the chicken is cooked through and starting to break down, use two forks to pull it apart pulled pork style and add a can of creamed corn, which thickens the stew.

Let the whole thing cook for another 5 minutes or so and you’ve got stew. Except it was pretty bland. I added some oregano, thyme, and a dash of Frank’s red hot and then I had stew.

It was good with some brown bread, but it was a little boring. The next day though, when it got to 3 pm before I had a minute to eat anything, the hearty soup was exactly what I needed. I think, like Louisiana gumbo, this would be a perfect thing to have in my freezer for the winter. I just don’t have winters any more.

My Great American Road Trip – Texas, Utah

My couple of trips to Texas have been memorable.

The first time I went was on June 13, 1994. I know that because all anyone on the plane was talking about was the murder of Nicole Brown Simpson, which happened the day before. I was there for an orchestra conference and while I was there my friend (and at the time boss) Gene and I ate at the famous Mansion on Turtle Creek which I remember as being the height of elegance, and went to a baseball game at the newly built Ranger Stadium, that was mostly notable because OJ was on his epic slo mo car chase.

The next time I went to Texas was in late December, 2018 to celebrate the new year. Gene, with whom I had been in Dallas all those years earlier and I took the pilgrimage to Marfa, a bizarro little border town that has become famous as an arts destination. The way you get to Marfa is to fly to El Paso and then just drive for hours on a long empty road. Even the Simpsons (not the ones from my last trip) couldn’t believe it!

Marfa became an arts hub when Donald Judd, he of the giant concrete boxes, moved down there. Now it is a bustling little artsy town that feels like Brooklyn with a bigger sky and tumbleweed. We loved it.

We took a night off to go see the famous Marfa Lights, which we did not actually see. And of course, no trip to West Texas is complete without a visit to Prada Marfa.

What we ate in our little border town visit was bbq and Mexican food. And for Texas, I decided to go with the tried and true and delicious, enchilada.

They are very east to make and very worth it.

The enchilada filling is basically ground beef, but I has some steak left, so I just chopped it into pieces and browned it with some onions. While that’s browning, you make the chili sauce which is a can of tomato sauce warmed up with 2 tablespoons shortening, 2 tablespoons flour, some chili powder, s&p and 2 cups of water. Then you warm up some corn tortilla so they are soft and pliable Corn please, none of this gringo flour tortilla bs.

Next comes the assembly. Roll a little bit of the meat mixture in the tortilla. (turns out that ground beef would have been way easier), top with a little cheese and put it in a baking dish. When all the tortillas are rolled cover the whole thing with the sauce, green onions, and cheese and bake until it is bubbly and brown.

They were so good. I wold make this over and over again.

For dessert, I had my Utah offering. I’ve had it for a few days now. I’ve never been to Utah, but what I know about it is Mormons and the Salt Lake City Olympics. Turns out, the both played a role in my cooking.

For some reason, that has to do with one time NEA chair, Dana Gioia, who was an ad rep in an earlier life, and a desperate attempt to market the jiggly goodness to families, jell-o and particularly green jell-o became the go to food in Utah. In fact the most prized pin from the Salt Lake City Olympics depicts a bowl of the little gel cubes.

I used a most traditional recipe for my green jell-o salad. Make some green jell-o. The add a jar of pineapple including the liquid into the mix (don’t use fresh, even if you live in Florida).

Next whip up some heavy cream til its so stiff that it won’t spill on your head when you hold the bowl over you (I’ve always wanted to do that.)

Add it in, spread the whole shebang in a dish of some sort and let it chill til it’s set.

I would have told you this is a completely foreign concept to me, but when I bit into the creamy mess, it was the most familiar flavor. Somewhere in my youth and childhood, I must have eaten my share of this concoction.

It lasted about a week and was the best snack, dessert, and sometimes lunch. I might even make it again.

My Great American Road Trip – Tennessee

Tennessee holds a very special place in my heart. I’ve only been there once and it was only for a couple days, but oh what a couple days they were. Was it Nashville, you ask? Memphis? Chattanooga to take the choo choo? Nope, I went to Pigeon Forge and it was AMAZING!

In August of 2017, I found myself unemployed in a coffee shop reading about the upcoming solar ecplise and figured “why not…” I managed to convince my friend Lynn and her two very adventurous daughters to join me and just a couple days later we were Pigeon Forge bound.

You probably know Pigeon Forge because of its most famous native daughter. The one and only Dolly! They’re pretty proud of her – there’s a lot named after her.

There were some yucky things too, like a lot of confederate flags, and a suspicious shop clerk who told us to “go to the island,” (we later found out The Island was a fancy shopping mall, but that didn’t lessen the creepy feel of her directive). We didn’t make it to the mall, but we found the Jesus Saves souvenir shop.

But in general, we loved Pigeon Forge. I pretty town with the kind of walkable center square dotted by coffee shops with gingham curtains, and pottery and craft stores.

The next morning we drove a long winding uphill journey into the Great Smokey Mountains to Cades Cove to join a collection of open hearted adventurers to watch the moon cross in front of the sun.

The park was peopled with rangers handing out special glasses and explaining what to expect, teenage counselors leading eclipse related craft projects, and picnickers. Penelope and I took a little walk about and found an old corn mill, where I picked up corn meal that has lasted me a bit longer than it should have.

Soon it was time for the big moment and holy cow did it not disappoint.

What a great day that was! I knew it would be great, but I had no idea how great it would be.

While we were in Tennessee we ate a lot and it was all so good! There was some bread that we still talk about. But in researching Tennessee for food, I was stumped. I almost made banana pudding, because, well, one, it’s banana pudding, but also they have a festival devoted to that deliciousness.

But ultimately, I decided a little challenge, and a lot of leafy greens were in order and I opted for something I’d never actually heard of but apparently if you’re from the south this will mean something – greens and potlikker.

Greens and potlikker is a traditional New Year’s meal and it was hearty. Comfort food at its comforting best. But it was a long slow cook.

Chop an onion into a large pot or dutch oven and heat it up in olive oil with some garlic and red peppers for a few minutes. Then add in a smoked turkey wing and like 10 cups of water, and a little s&p.

Bring the whole thing to a boil and let it simmer for an hour or so. Then you take the turkey leg out and add the collard greens in and let them simmer. When the turkey is cooled down take the skin off and discard it, and add the meat and bones back in the pot and let the whole thing simmer for like another 30 minutes.

While all that’s underway, you may as well make cornbread. Cornbread is a low effort high reward undertaking. One cup flour, one cup cornmeal, one cup milk, one egg, 1/4 cup sugar, 1/4 cup oil, and 4 teaspoons baking powder. Combine the dry and wet separately and then combine them. Drop them into the vessel of your choice, I used a cast iron pan, because it felt authentic, and cook at 425 for about 20 minutes.

By then your greens are done. Serve a nice helping of the greens and turkey, a wedge of cornbread, and a little bowl of the potlikker (the broth) for dipping.

It was a perfect lunch. And even more perfect was lunch the next day, a piping hot mug of the potlikker, which is basically the worlds best bone broth. Seriously, in the East Village you’d pay 10 bucks for that. I will be making this all the time.

Also – the day after we got back from Tennessee, I went to the fair with my niece Ava, where I captured what will always be one of my favorite photos of her, which I found as I was pulling Pigeon Forge pics.

How great is she?

My Great American Road Trip – South Carolina, South Dakota

I’m behind in writing about my cooking. I’m less behind in the actual cooking. The past week was the stinkiest one in a year of stinky weeks. I am so grateful for my gorgeous family and a great job. And I have the most wonderful, loving friends in the world, whose numbers were heartbreakingly decreased this week by one powerful, beautiful badass.

I can’t believe I’m saying this, but cooking has become a source solace to me. Eating has always been what I do during the tough times, but cooking? That’s new. And my first stop was South Carolina.

I’m not sure if I’ve been to South Carolina. I don’t think I have, but who knows – I might have made my way through at some point during a Pops tour, I forget all the places we went, but that would be the only way I’d have been there.

South Carolina cooking is lowcountry cuisine – seafood based with some African influences. And among the most popular dishes associated with lowcountry cuisine is the one and only shrimp and grits. Shrimp and grits have come up often as I traveled through the southern states, but it felt so intimidating to me, but I had to face it eventually, so here we go.

First up, make grits. Boil the grits in water until they absorb it all and are tender. Then remove from the heat and add lots of butter and cheese and stir to melt them both.

While that is getting good and creamy delicious, fry up some bacon, then set it aside and cook up some shrimp in the bacon fat til it is nice and pink. Crumble the bacon back in and add in some thinly sliced scallions, parsley, and garlic. Full disclosure, I didn’t have bacon, so I used some of the andouille from my Rhode Island stuffies. I think that is the spirit of lowcountry cooking – improvisation.

Then you put a healthy scoop of the shrimp on an even healthier scoop of the grits.

One – there is no arguing with cheesy grits. I could eat a bowl of them every single day. The bright crunch of the scallions were a good counter-point to the richness of the grits. I can’t wait to eat this one day in Charleston.

The next day I traveled far north to South Dakota, a state that anyone who knows me know how much I want to visit. The Pops actually did go like the year after I left. I was so mad. But, I’ll get there one of these days.

In South Dakota there is a leading contender for the official state food – chislic – yet another thing I’d never heard of. Chislic is bite sized cubes of meat, deep fried in oil. Its origin is Turkey or maybe Crimea, and it is now served as finger food in bars, at summer picnics and baseball games. Its generally lamb or mutton, but could be venison or beef, which is what I used. It is crazy simple to make.

Cube your meat and marinate it in Worcestershire sauce, garlic powder, red pepper flakes, and s&p for at least an hour, but up to 24 hours. Then you deep fry it. I don’t have a deep fryer, so I put a couple inches of oil in a cast iron pan and did my frying there.

When the outside is crispy, but the inside is still pink, you scoop them out and let them rest on paper towels. Then, if you have them, you stick little toothpicks in each to make snacking easy and serve it with a spicy sriracha sauce. I didn’t have toothpicks.

It was delicious, but a waste of a good steak. I think this is probably the exact right thing to do with mutton. But as part of a spread of snacks – next to the buffalo wings I made for New York, and the Rhode Island stuffies, with some good friends it would be perfect. I spent many a Superbowl Sunday with the friend I lost this week. I think this is a spread that would might even have been worthy of one of her parties. (It wouldn’t – she was amazing. But she would smile kindly at my effort, and let me lay it out right next to her gourmet spread! I miss her so much already).

My Great American Road Trip – Rhode Island

My cousin Jon’s wife is from Rhode Island, and boy is she proud of it. Gail, has been part of my family for so long I can barely remember a time before she joined our merry band (but don’t get too cocky, Gaily, I do remember…). She has lived in New Hampshire the whole time I’ve known her, but she is a Rhody through and through. And she’s a lot of fun!

My experience in Rhode Island is mostly driving through it on the way between New York and Boston. And, you know, many, many Pops concerts including an unforgettable one at Pawtucket Stadium with Kenny Loggins.

I remember long ago, like 30 years or so, my sister and brother in law lived in charming Portland, Maine, a short drive from charming North Conway where cousins Jon and Gail live. They would often make the trek across state lines for Sunday football and Rhode Island stuffies. My sister would call me to tell me how fun it was and I was always so jealous that the trip from New York prevented me from participating.

But not any more, because for this one Sunday, celebrating Rhode Island, I made stuffies!

The first thing you need are quahogs, the giants of the clam family. Much like hazelnuts, there was no way I was gonna find quahogs on Miami Beach, but unlike hazelnuts, I wasn’t going to turn to Amazon for help. So I opted for cherrystone clams, which are one size down. You put the clams in a thin layer and cover with water. Simmer covered for about 5 minutes until they open. With all bivalves, if they don’t open you throw them out. I can’t tell you how self satisfied I was that all my clams opened. (yes there were only six of them. Your point?)

You take the meat from the shells (but save those shells) and finely chop it up. Also finely chop up some yellow onion, celery, and bell pepper, except I forgot to buy bell pepper, so I skipped that. You also need some sausage, I used andouille, but I suspect Italian sausage is more true to the state. There are a lot of Italians in Providence, including Gail’s family.

When everything is well chopped (my least favorite cooking instruction is finely chop – I need to take a knife skills class), cook up the sausage in a pan, then scoop it out and set aside while you cook the celery and onions in the sausage drippings. When it’s soft add finely (ugh) chopped garlic and take the pan off the heat. Add the sausage, clams and some breadcrumbs (I made my own from the leftover Pennsylvania hoagie roll.). Add a little of the clam juice from the pot in which you steamed them to moisten the whole thing, and then chop in some fresh parsley (Italian parsley, natch).

This is the best part, you spoon this into each half of the clam as its little serving dish, and then put the stuffed clams into a 400 degree oven until they’re nice and golden on top.

When they come out you put a little squeeze of lemon on top and, if you’re playing by may family rules, eat them while rooting for the Patriots. Bonus points if you’re wearing team colors. Since I couldn’t find a Patriots game (or even the Buccaneers, since at least Tom would be representing), I did the best I could and put on the Kansas City game. And since I don’t have a Patriots jersey, I improvised.

I wish you were here Jon, Gail, and the rest of Clan Peterson, but you were with me in spirit and they were delicious!

My Great American Road Trip – Pennsylvania

Some states, like Oregon, offer lots of flexibility in what I should be making to honor them. And with some, like Pennsylvania, there is is only one choice. In this case, obviously, it is the Philly cheesesteak.

I’ve been to Pennsylvania a few times. Like many other locales, Philly was a regular stop on the Boston Pops Holiday tours. Those tours always overlapped with my birthday, and one year we had a day off on my birthday in Philly and several of the wonderful Pops musicians took me out to a fancy dinner at a fancy restaurant. No cheesesteak for us.

One year Hershey was also a stop, and man, after two days of chocolate themed hotel food, was I eager to leave.

I spent a lot of time in talks about a job in Philly until I did myself in by half-assing a step in the interview process. I’m sure there is some reason we can uncover for my self-sabotage, but it could just be that I didn’t want to live in Philly and/or work for that particular manager.

The last time I was in Pennsylvania, I was driving through on the way to Tennessee (you’ll hear about that trip soon). I was with my friend Lynn and her kids and we stopped at a gas station, somewhere in Amish country, for a fill-up. I pretty promptly locked the keys in our rental car. While we waited for the mechanic to come free us, we bought a deck of Pennsylvania cards to kill the time. Along with hot sauce, one of my usual take homes from a trip are souvenir cards – I have some from Iceland, the Vatican, Las Vegas, Tanglewood, the Appalachian Trail, and the Titanic Museum. I have so many others from other trips, but they seem not to have made my move.

But in all my trips to the Quaker State, the one thing I’ve never done is have a cheesesteak. It just didn’t seem like it would be my thing. (I’m not going to get into the great cheesesteak war, but even that wasn’t amusing enough to get me to order one).

I can’t win here. I’m certain some of you will hate the way I prepared the meat, others the cheese I used, others the toppings or the bread, or whatever. But here is my best shot.

The first thing you need for a Philly cheese steak is the right bread. I used a hoagie role spread with garlic butter and toasted brown. Then set aside to wait it’s turn.

Next saute chopped onions until they are very soft. Set them aside and saute thinly sliced steak in the same pan. When the steak is cooked through add back the onions, then portion the steak and onions to fit into the role and add a couple slices of provolone on top.

Then you place the role over the cheese and pinch together to pick up the whole thing so the cheese is next to the bread. I did not succeed at this step and ended up spilling onions and steak every where and then had to just jam them back into the bread.

It was hearty and quite yummy but I couldn’t eat it in one go. The best part by far was the garlicy, buttery, onion soaked bread.

I probably won’t make this one again, and I will likely not rush to order one next time I head to the City of Brotherly Love, but it was fun.

My Great American Road Trip – Oregon

The rocky coast of Oregon might be the most beautiful landscape I’ve seen in all of America. And I’ve seen some beautiful landscapes (hello – Alaska). Of course I was always going to like Oregon. Its got beautiful countryside, a never ending supply of outdoor activities, great food and drink, and a stop on the Stephen King site tour. It’s a lot like my beloved Berkshires, but in Portland there are more tattoos (and there are a lot of tattoos in the Berks, so that’s saying something).

A few things about Oregon. I had the best glass of wine of my life at the Timberline Lodge, site of at least some of scenes from The Shining. Also while we were there, we saw some twins, but, I am opposed to the blanket idea that twins are creepy (a myth that movie perpetuated). Portland is home to the world’s greatest bookstore, a lot of micro brews, and some ridiculous doughnuts. A little piece of my heart lives in Portland.

But what to make from Oregon is a bit harder. It is a state with many great ingredients, but they trust you enough to come up with the recipes. I decided to combine two of Oregon’s claims to food fame and make hazelnut crusted salmon. And – spoiler alert – YUM!

This could not have been easier except one small step. I could not find hazelnuts, or, as I’ve been told I need to refer to them at least when I next find myself in the Beaver State, filberts. I’m from NYC, where one can get anything one needs at pretty much any time. Miami Beach – not so much. I had to order my filberts to be sent directly from Portland. And then I had to stop myself from eating them all before I got to cooking.

Step one – grind up the filberts until they’re a bit of a crumble.

Step two – take your salmon filet and spread with a very thin layer of mayo (very thin, its just so the nuts stick, I put a little too much on). Salt n pepa that baby, then spread the nut crumble, some orange zest, and some fresh taragon.

The whole thing goes in a 400 degree oven for about 15 minutes or til the fish flakes. I alway under cook my fish a bit – I like it rare. Then I served mine with a bit of orange scented rice (I had some old rice in the fridge and I added some orange zest and the tiniest squeeze of juice to it. Plus a good dash of salt.

Holy crap. Easiest thing in the world and so wonderful. Which I think is a lot like living in Oregon. Except these days. My heart is with you Pacific Northwest. Stay safe.

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