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My Great American Road Trip – Louisiana

The Big Easy.

I once heard Eve Ensler, now known as V, and known for her landmark play The Vagina Monologues, describe New Orleans as America’s vagina – dark, mysterious, and everyone wants to go there. It was at a very swank party and the luminous  Kerry Washington turned to me with a perfect Olivia Pope eye role, but it is how I’ve thought of NOLA ever since.

My first trip to Louisiana, to New Orleans was in the late nineties with my mom, my sister, and my brother-in-law. My soon to be niece was there too, but we wouldn’t meet her for a few more months. We stayed in the famous Hotel Monteleone, with its carousel bar, we took tours of the cemeteries and the voodoo history, and a lazy boat ride down the mighty Mississippi.

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My next trip down south was to celebrate the 10th anniversary of V-Day, the organization founded by Ensler and the occasion at which she unforgettably described the city. My dearest friend Susan was producing the weekend full of women’s empowerment activities. It was during that trip when I so unexpectedly fell a little bit in love with one of the lone men in attendance. Here’s the thing, if you fall in love that fast, it’s not real. And if he tells you he’s in love, he’s probably a sociopath. But it took me a while to figure that out, so at the time it felt like NOLA was working her black magic. And even more fun was walking down Bourbon Street with my friend Cathryn.

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My most recent trip was a couple new year’s ago, when I wiped out any bad associations with the city (the bad beau long gone) and ate and drank and made merry with my friend Siobhan. We had the great good fortune of happening upon a Star Wars second line parade. And just like that NOLA’s black magic kicked in again. It is a truly great city!

I was so happy to finally reach Louisiana, on this journey. I love that state. And nothing is more iconic than gumbo. I am certain that there will be many detractors on my gumbo technique, but I did my best.

First you make a roux. All recipes begin this way in New Orleans. This particular roux substituted shortening for butter, and never got as brown as it should have. I think I should have used butter. Once the roux is medium brown, you add the holy trinity of southern cooking – onions, celery, and green bell peppers. It immediately smelled delicious. (everyone thought so).

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To the veggies you add four cups of chicken stock, once that’s boiled, in goes a can of crushed tomatoes, some s&p and cayenne, thyme, and oregano. Next up, okra. Not my favorite, and I almost skipped it, but in for a penny, in for a pound. Let the whole thing simmer for about 20 minutes while you make rice. Then add in whatever you want for protein – chicken and andouille for me. 10 more minutes and you’re good to go.  Unknown-2.jpeg

I ate mine as I waited for Hurricane Isaias to hit. It did not, but the gumbo….that was YUMBO!

My Great American Road Trip – Kentucky

I’ve been to Kentucky twice, both for work reasons. The first time was a long, long time ago when I was in Cincinnati for a work thing and crossed the river to Kentucky, because I figured I may never get back there. And it took a while, but I did get back with great thanks to the Boston Pops. We traveled (by private plane, thank you very much) to Lexington to celebrate the something-anniversary of the Keeneland Race Track. 290910_10150328926583590_692201693_o.jpg

I love a horse race – the Kentucky Derby is practically a dream come true. And Keeneland delivered for us. We there were cameras waiting on the tarmac when the plane touched down and bourbon chocolates waiting in our rooms.

We were treated to a day at the races. I bet on a horse called For Men Only and he came in nearly dead last – let that be a lesson in the importance of inclusion. But we got to stand in the winners circle as the first place finisher got his roses.

And it was the location of one of my all time fave photos with my friends Vicky and Amanda. I call this Fillies at the Gate. 330101_10150328935518590_609081012_o.jpg

I’m not sure what we ate, but I did drink a lot of Bourbon. I was shamed by a bartender for ordering a mint julep at the track’s player’s club (“only tourists order that” he said ignoring the obvious fact that I was a tourist.)

I would have happily made a mint julep for Kentucky and been done with it, but that is not the right “spirit” (get it) for my self-appointed challenge. Kentucky foods include barbecue, bourbon balls, and Derby pie. But beyond all else, is the Kentucky Hot Brown.  I first hear about the Hot Brown when it was featured in my all-time favorite documentary that doesn’t star me, the elegantly titled Sandwiches That You Will Like. The Hot Brown was created in 1926 at the Brown Hotel in Louisville. It was meant to be a variation on the Welsh Rarebit and an alternative to ham and cheese for late night diners.

There are many components to the Hot Brown. First you need to roast a turkey breast. I used a chicken breast because I didn’t have a turkey handy. Then you have to make a mornay sauce. To do that, you start with a roux – butter and four. Then you add a cup of milk, bring it to a boil, and stir til it thickens up. From there you add in cheese (I used white cheddar, cause that’s what I had on hand). Once the cheese is melted, you season with s&p and nutmeg to taste. Nutmeg to taste for me is a whole lot of nutmeg. It was soooo yummy and immediately tasted like Christmas.

Next up you make french toast. For real! You dip heavy white bread in eggs til it is soaked through and then fry til golden brown on each side.

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Once the bread is done you put it on a sheet pan and load it up with turkey (chicken), a couple slices of tomato, and a generous ladle of the delicious cheese sauce, which you top with more cheese – grated parm.

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The whole thing goes under the broiler til the cheese is bubbly and brown. THEN YOU ADD BACON! And a sprinkle of garnish. I used scallions cause that’s what I had.

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This is a terrible sandwich. It is not hangover food, it is I’m still drunk and making bad decisions food. I didn’t eat all day in anticipation of this and I haven’t really eaten anything else in the 20 hours since I had it and I’m only just feeling like maybe I can eat again. Seriously, the only time a Hot Brown is the right answer is if you’re a 20 year old, very stoned guy.

But I do love Kentucky!

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My Great American Road Trip – Kansas

Oh, Kansas, do I ever owe you an apology. I forgot about Kansas. I was all set to have a Kentucky specialty today. I’ll save the surprise for what it will, but I was convinced that Kentucky was the next state after Iowa. But then I was in a meeting and my colleague, the lovely Lona, who is waiting out the pandemic in Long Island, mentioned that Manhasset reminded her of her childhood in Kansas. And I realized there’s a Kansas!

I’ve never been to Kansas, but I have been to the lovely hamlet of Manhasset, and it holds a very special place in my heart. Not only does it have a fabulous shopping mall, it is the inspiration for East Egg (Port Washingtonstands in for West Egg), home to the tragic ingenue Daisy Buchanan, great love of one Jay Gatsby,   namesake of my beloved quarantine partner here in South Egg, the Great Catsby.  So if Kansas is anything like Manhasset, I love Kansas!

Kansas, the sunflower state, has a few iconic foods like barbecue and loose meat sandwiches that didn’t inspire and the sour cream and raisin pie that totally did, but I am trying to at least limit sweets if not calories during this boondoggle. One surprising thing I learned is that there are a lot of Germans in Kansas. Apparently in the 1870s a bunch of German Mennonites left Russia and settled in Kansas (not sure what made them go there, that required more research than I’m willing to do for this blog).  So a lot of iconic Kansas food is inspired by German traditions. Including the bierock, a little meat pie that is pretty much only found in Kansas, but it is found all over the state.

The bierock recipe I used suggested using frozen yeast rolls that you roll thin as the house for a meat, cabbage, and onion scramble.

Unknown-6.jpegThe meat mixture was easy-peasy. Just brown some ground beef and onion with lots of salt and pepper and whatever you want (I put worcestershire sauce in there). When it’s all cooked, you drain it, add in cabbage and stir til the cabbage is soft.

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The hard part is assembling the meat pie. You basically plop a bit of the meat in the middle and fold it into the flattened roll. I didn’t flatten mine enough, so rather than nicely pinched seams, mine was kind of squished together. Unknown-4.jpeg

Then you stick it in the oven until the top is browned, and serve with a little spicy brown mustard for dipping.

Unknown-2It was so surprisingly good. The yeasty roll got nicely crunchy on the outside and melty in the middle. I loved the cabbage in there. I really thought that it would be dull, but it was so much more than the sum of its parts. And I almost didn’t buy spicy brown mustard, since I got yellow mustard for my Florida Cubano, but it would not have been the same.

I ate it while I went back to watching Glee. My intention was to watch the whole thing start to finish, but there was a point that I realized why I never finished the series the first go around. I couldn’t do it this time either. I bailed out some time around the beginning of the fifth season. But, since I’m not a quitter (I totally am), and in the name of closure, tonight I decided to watch the series finale. The series ended in 2015, and, I suppose taking a page from the greatest finale of all time, Six Feet Under, they decided to show the characters a few years hence and how their lives worked out. Unknown-1.jpeg

In the 2020 they promised us, crazy cheerleading coach Sue Sylvester is vice president to Jeb Bush about to win his second term. I’m pretty sure they thought that was the most outrageous outcome they could predict.

Toto, we’re not in Glee anymore!

My Great American Road Trip – Iowa

Finally, some vegetables! At least one – corn.

I was in Iowa once – 2011 with the Boston Pops. We performed in the absolutely delightful college town of Iowa City. As usual, I don’t remember what I ate (I’m sure most of it was backstage catering), but while the orchestra was rehearsing, I took a loooooong walk around the town. It reminded me of my childhood in New England. It would have been sometime between Thanksgiving and my birthday (December 3, for those of you who don’t already have it in your calendars), so there was the right amount of chill in the air and neighborhoods with houses that screamed American dream. I finally made it to the Prairie Lights Bookstore that put just about every other bookstore to shame – big enough to find what you wanted, but purposefully curated, with rows of comfy chairs and coffee from not Starbucks. I was so pleased to be there that I took a picture.

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I love those gloves. I wonder where they are…..

It was an election year in Iowa, so on the long drive the next morning to take Keith Lockhartto Des Moines for morning television, we learned why Iowa is a swing state. Also – they quote god a lot in their political ads.

Anyway – I knew it was going to be corn, but wasn’t sure what, so to the internet I went. If you type in Iowa corn recipe, the thing that comes up the most is corn casserole. There are many many recipes out there, and it seems like none of them call for fresh corn, which is actually fine, since it’s not really prime corn season. The recipe I used had me chop some yellow onions and green peppers and saute them til they’re soft (I had a jalapeno on the brink of going bad, so I threw that in there too). Then you add two cups of milk and three tablespoons of flour and stir til the whole thing thickens up. Next up add in a cup of shredded white cheddar (orange will mess up the color of the dish), and two beaten eggs. This is one of those cooking patience activities. You have to add a little egg, stir quickly, a little more egg, another quick stir, and so on, or else you have scrambled eggs. Also you add in a couple cans of corn. Then the whole thing is covered with a generous shake of bread crumbs and cooked at 350 until it is browned and bubbly.

I packed up a big helping along with a blanket and headed out to meet Jack in the park, where he killed me at Monopoly and we drank beer and hard seltzer and ate corn casserole and life almost felt normal.

Iowa is all about wholesome pleasures and so was my Sunday in the park with Jack.

 

 

 

My Great American Road Trip – Indiana

Hoosier daddy? Or, better question, hoosier cardiologist?

I don’t know anything about Indiana. When I did a google search I got like ten results for Indiana Jones before I got a result for the state. I think my first awareness of Indiana was the late 70s bicycle film Breaking Away, which also solidified my love of the underdog and an inspirational training montage. I’ve also seen Hoosiers (underdog story), Rudy (underdog story),  A Christmas Story  (underdogs who’ll shoot their eye out) and Close Encounters of the Third Kind (underdogs and aliens),  but thus ends my knowledge of Indiana. Indiana Jones – not an underdog. Indiana – definitely an underdog!

And no wonder by the way they eat. Lots of beef, noodles, chili, and something called Hoosier pie, which is a sugar cream pie. But, so the internet tells me, nothing is more Indiana than a pork tenderloin sandwich.

Step one, get a pork loin and cut it lengthwise, but stop about an inch before you cut all the way through. Open it like a book and pound it til it is about 1/4 inch thick. I very much enjoyed this step.

When it’s all pounded out, you soak it in a bath of buttermilk, salt, pepper, garlic, and, I added a cayenne. You leave it there for about 4 hours. While that was soaking, I prepared my french fries. You cut potatoes into thin strips and soak those in water for about 3 hours. With several hours to kill, I went to Flamingo Park with friend Jack. We bemoaned our lack of a blanket, beers, and board games and made a plan to do better the next day.

Back at home, I pulled my very relaxed pork from its milk bath. Unknown-3.jpeg

The breading step required smashed saltines, which I happened to have on hand, because of my father’s wise warning that you would never stave as long as there were saltines and peanut butter around.

The pork gets dredged in flour, then back into the butter milk, dredged in the saltine powder and then you fry them up in hot peanut oil. I used the last of the peanut oil I’d picked up on a trip to a windmill outside of Amsterdam with my friend Gene. That was also the trip where I realized that windmills are not just decorative, they mill things using wind power. Like peanuts for oil! I’m certain you all knew that, but I did not.

(I know it’s a shock, but in this one instance, I did not buy the shoes!)

While the pork is cooking (a few minutes on each side), I prepared the bun – it should have mayo, yellow mustard, a slice of yellow onion, a slice of tomato, then you place the cooked pork and top with dill pickles and some iceberg. The key to this sandwich is that the bun should look dwarfed by the meat. Unknown-1.jpeg

But, we’re not done yet. This must be served with french fries. I did the pork first, because there was no way I was going to cook two thing simultaneously, and I figured cold pork was less egregious than cold fries.

So the fries come out of the water, pat dry and go into a couple inches of oil (I used canola, cause that’s what I had that wasn’t olive). The oil should be about 300 degrees, but since I don’t have a thermometer, it was just a medium high setting. You just leave them in until they translucent and then you take them out, pat them dry and turn the oil up to 400 (or high in my case). Then you put them back into the oil so they get golden brown. Unknown-2

It is a very stressful process, but in the end – I made PERFECT french fries. Onto the plate they go, and voila, an Indiana heart attack!

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It was a ridiculous thing to eat, but each component was tasty enough. It is unlikely I’ll make the pork again, although the saltines and peanut oil made a delicious crust. But those fries – they were fabulous!

 

My Great American Road Trip – Illinois

Illinois has some crazy iconic foods – a horseshoe sandwich, which is basically an open faced burger, covered with french fries and a cheesy sauce, hotdogs with the works (except ketchup), and the thing I really wanted to make, a jibarito sandwich which uses smashed up plantains instead of bread. But there’s really only one thing. The deep dish pizza.

I like Chicago and I’ve been there a few times, but I’m pretty sure I’ve never had pizza there. My knowledge of deep dish pizza is Uno’s, which immediately sends me back to high school. Appropriate since my tv viewing at the moment is a rewatch of Glee from start to finish. No, I wasn’t in show choir in high school, but besides being tv candy for me (I do love a musical), the showrunner Brad Falchuk is, like me, an alum of Beaver Country Day School. The show is full of Beaver easter eggs (Mr. Klippinger monitoring detention, and the rivalry with Newton South), so good!

I’ve also been cruising the Benetton website and practicing overly charcoaled eyes. I should probably get over the 80s…..

Anyway, as I set out to make my deep dish pizza, I got the right pizza dough, full of gluten (I am still not ready to make my own). Deep dish pizza is pretty easy. I used a cake pan. You roll the dough thin and spread it in the pan and up the sides. Every time I got the dough in place it sort of shrunk. So I had to spread it out again and again. You then just layer away – mozzarella, sausage – then you take canned whole tomatoes, crush them by hand and spread them on top. I added spinach, because, you know, I’m desperately in need of leafy greens.Then put a generous shake of parm over the top.

Unknown-3.jpegInto the oven it goes until the crust is golden brown and the the cheese is bubbly delicious.

It was so good! My crust was too think, especially around the seam, but it was really delicious. It is the third pizza I’ve made since the pandemic began, and the best yet. I think from here on in, I’m going to be making my home pizzas deep dish! (I will be eating thin crust New York pizza when I go out!).

And best of all, asThe Great Catsby and I settled in to eat pizza, the Glee cast performed Chicago!

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My Great American Road Trip – Idaho

I have some potatoes that I bought before jumping down this rabbit hole of a culinary road trip, so I was very happy to get to Idaho for the chance to use them up. Unknown.jpeg

But, of course, Idaho is not that simple. Among the iconic foods are huckleberries (I’m not even sure I can buy those in Florida), Idaho caviar (I don’t even like Russian caviar, so no way), and ice wine, which is very sweet and made from grapes that have been frozen on the vine. I love ice wine, but I still have some from a trip to the most beautiful little town of Niagara on the Lake, Canada (can’t wait to go back there) so, I don’t need that.

There is also the most wonderful sounding Ice Cream Potato! Vanilla ice cream is molded to the shape of a potato, dusted with cocoa powder to look like one and topped with whipped cream to look like sour cream. I love it, I want one, but I’m not making it.

The most interesting thing I learned about Idaho, a state I’ve longed to go to in order to visit the gorgeous national parks, is that there are more Basque Americans in Idaho than anywhere else in the US and therefore throughout Idaho, but especially in Boise, Basque food is iconic. They came over mostly in the 1830s to escape a war in Spain, and landed in Idaho because of the promise of silver.

Well – that is some food I can get behind. And with Basque food the gateway drug is tapas, and the first thing to order in any tapas place is croquettes. So here I go.

First you need to make mashed potatoes. They need to be super creamy. I am an expert at super creamy mashed potatoes and I make mine with butter, cream, and a lot of pepper (FYI – black pepper is the world’s most perfect seasoning). Into that one adds some grated cheese. Different recipes suggest different cheese options, I went for gruyere. Then you chill for about an hour in the fridge.

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When it’s cold, you take them out, form then into spheres or tots or whatever shape, shove some diced ham in there and dredge then in flour, egg, panko. Then into hot oil they go. It’s only a few minutes to crisp them up on all sides and warm the insides. I had a little trouble making my shapes hold, because my potatoes were too creamy – my potatoes were too perfect! Unknown-1.jpeg

But they were easy and delicious. a perfect snack for a super rainy night. I have to work on my precision, but I’d do them again.

And, I still long for a trip to Idaho and Yellowstone!

 

My Great American Road Trip – Hawaii

I have a couple rules for this blog. They’re pretty simple – don’t buy anything that I can’t use again if there are leftovers and don’t eat anything gross. I broke both of those rules in during my imaginary trip to Hawaii. Unknown-5.jpeg

Sunday’s are the worst. During the week I have lots of work meeting and zoom calls, and on Saturdays I have a pilates class and a standing zoom brunch, but I don’t have anything scheduled for Sundays, and the day goes very slooooooowly. In order to put off eating Spam for as long as possible, I walked across the Venetian Causeway that connects Miami Beach to Miami, passed many lovely estates including the one that served as home to Tony Montana.

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In Hawaii fashion, I had a coconut water when I got to Miami, and then turned around and headed back – working my way through several podcast episodes

When I couldn’t put it off any longer, I settled in to make something with Spam. Much of the iconic food of Hawaii is slow-cooked underground, so as much as I would have liked to make Lau Lau or  Kalua pork, they weren’t in the cards. Poi is not readily available on the beach, so despite my best efforts, Spam seemed to be my best bet. And nothing, apparently is more iconic than Spam Musubi – sushi minus the fish, plus Spam. Step one is to marinate Spam in soy and oyster sauce and sugar. I added some ginger.  Then you wait. Unknown-4.jpegWhile I waited, I went looking through a box of old photos and found a few from my long-ago trip to Hawaii with friend Deborah. We drove the exhilarating Hana Highway, were pampered at the Four Seasons in Maui, and decompressed in a little house on a black sand beach in Kauai. I loved that trip and the scent of fresh ginger flowers will always take me back there.

Making my way back up from the rabbit hole, I had to make some sushi rice, which is white rice flavored with some sugar (so much sugar in Hawaii), and rice wine vinegar, stirred til the liquid is absorbed and the rice is sticky.  You form it into little sushi shapped balls, and place on a strip of nori. The Spam is fried a couple minutes on each side and then placed on top of the rice and the nori wraps it like a ribbon. Unknown-3.jpeg

I felt like I deserved a break since I was eating Spam, so I served it with a pina colada and some green beans (not Hawaiian, but I’m desperate for greens. Unknown-2

The Spam tasted like a hot dog, sort of. The rice was great. Overall it was fine, but I threw out the rest of the Spam. The string beans were great. And, you know, I like pina coladas.

My Great America Road Trip – Georgia

I woke up on the rainy morning of my imaginary travels to Georgia to learn of the death of the great civil rights leader and longtime Georgia representative, the great John Lewis.  I spent the next couple hours going down the rabbit hole of social media posts celebrating his leadership and bravery and wisdom, which sent me into a bit of an existential spiral about our current leadership (or lack there of).

On Saturday mornings I take a long walk to a pilates studio in the Mid-Beach area of the Miami Beach island (I live in South Beach), an hour private class, and the long walk back. Because of the rain, two thirds of my sanity ritual was impossible. Pilates, though, was good. Every week I can do something I couldn’t do the previous week. If it weren’t for my pandemic imposed shopping dry spell, I could never afford these classes, but boy and I grateful for them. My other Saturday ritual is a zoom brunch with dear friends.

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A scheduling shift meant we had to cancel for this week. We’ll be back next week, and it was an unavoidable and good reason, but still. My day was off to a not great start. We’ve all had those days during this time. A little pandepression. And trying to find something to cook for Georgia did not help it.

I’ve been to the Atlanta airport a lot of times, on they way somewhere fabulous. Most recently in December, 2018, on my way down to Costa Rica to meet my favorite Brits. It’s a great airport, with a very expansive Duty Free shop where I stocked up on champagne for our trip. Georgia itself though, I haven’t spent much time visiting. I was there only once in 1996 for the summer Olympic games. And when I say that, I mean for the closing ceremony only. We had tickets to a few events, but the transportation was so awful that we missed them all. The given to me by a creepy vendor trying to sell me something, and using the tickets as leverage. Don’t remember if I worked with him after that and don’t care, but the idea of going to the Olympics was too exciting to pass up. My friend Angela and I spent a lot of time getting confused by which Martin Luther King Street, Road, Boulevard, we should be on. The closing ceremonies were great with a little John Williams, Gloria Estefan, Faith Hill, Wynton Marsallis, Trisha Yearwood, and so many more. We met medal winners in line for McDonalds, and danced under the fireworks and I started to like Atlanta a bit again.

Once again, I don’t really remember the food, though. What I do know about Georgia are the peaches, and I do love a peach, so in search of fresh, delicious peaches I went. There were none. Other foods of Georgia, it seems are shrimp and grits, but my local grocery didn’t have grits, fried chicken, which didn’t excite me, and boiled peanuts, but I couldn’t find raw peanuts in their shells (I realize that I could plan better and order ingredients in advance, but I won’t be doing that).

So I chose the one thing every Georgian I know loves, but something I never thought I’d eat –pimento cheese. My first step in making pimento cheese was figuring out what pimentos were. They are pretty little heart shaped, very mild, peppers that are often pickled and stuffed in things like olives or lunchmeat. Pimento cheese is made by combining a jar of pimentos, chopped jalapenos, a package of softened cream cheese, a bunch of shredded sharp cheddar, some onion powder, cayenne, and a half a cup of mayo in a blender and pulse til its creamy. The spicy peppery yumminess works well on a nice buttery cracker (hello Ritz!).

I served mine as alongside some fried green tomatoes, which are not Georgian exactly, but are southern, which I made with some of the Arkansas Cavendar’s Greek seasoning and paired with Alabama white barbecue sauce for dipping, and a slice of my Florida roast pork. As I settled into watch the John Lewis documentary Good Trouble. Unknown.jpeg

In the morning, I spread a little on my last tortilla from Arizona, added a bit of Florida pork, and some scrabbled egg and had the most wonderful breakfast chimichanga.

In my little way, I feel like I honored John Lewis by crossing the boundaries and combining our countries flavors.

My Great American Road Trip – Florida

Florida. The only place I can actually be on this imaginary journey around the country and the place I least want to be right now. When I moved to the very bottom of the state and our country as 2020 dawned, I was so optimistic about the new decade, new job, new beginnings. For two glorious months, I took morning walks on the beach before settling into my office in the super coolFrank Gehry designed New World Center. On the weekends I would wonder the farmer’s and antique markets on Lincoln Road. And so many friends popped down in those two months that was too busy to make any new ones in my new town.

And then the world ended. I’m not good at working from home, but at least I had my best buddy MagnifiCat. Unknown.jpeg And then my cat died. So, not really feeling Florida.

But, on we go. The Great Catsby came to live with me, I figured out my work from home groove, started going on daily walks, and weekly drinks with a workmate, and as well as regular zoom calls and facetime and it’s almost like normal. Except, you know…

Anyway – food for Florida. Hmmm – well there’s Key Lime Pie, which I don’t love and anywhere there is one in my freezer from my day trip down to Key West to satisfy a little wanderlust.

Unknown-14Stone Crab is a big deal in Miami, but, as with Delaware, I think I have to wait on crab for Maryland (also crab feels like a lot of work for not so much payoff. Also, also – there’s no substitute for Joe’s.). Other foods that come up are orange juice, strawberries, and oysters. All things I love, but they don’t involve much cooking. And then there was the Cuban sandwich. Cuban sandwiches, for the record, not from Cuban – from Florida. I love a Cuban sandwich and after making pizza and dumplings, that seemed simple enough. So it was decided! Easy.

It is not so easy! Step one of a Cuban sandwich is to roast a pork shoulder! I marinated mine in a mix of brown sugar, orange and lime juice, cumin, paprika, and garlic. Unknown-17.jpeg

I cooked it using my mother’s secret hack. Put it in a very hot oven for like ten minutes then turn the oven off, but leave the roast in there as the oven cools. It works every time and leaves the meat moist and perfect.

So then it’s time to assemble. A Cuban sandwich should be made with Cuban bread. It is a white loaf that is a lot like a French baguette. Apparently, Cuban bread was invented in Florida – either Tampa or Miami. Since I live in Miami, I’m voting for that, but the smart money is on Tampa (created by a Sicilian, no less). I tracked mine down at a local bakery. You slice the bread down the middle and butter the outside. On the inside you slather each slice with yellow mustard (don’t even try fancy mustard!). Then layer some sliced ham, dill pickles, swiss cheese, and some of the sliced pork. Then you pull out your panini maker, which obviously I don’t have. So I heated up my trusty grill pan. Butter side down, I pushed down with another cast iron pan and grilled each side for about 3 minutes.

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The end result is crunchy and meeting and tangy. This might be the best sandwich ever invented.

Ok – Florida. I’m back in.

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