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My Great American Road Trip – Arizona, Arkansas, and California

July 12, 2020

To make a busy Saturday busier, I decided to hit three states today. Three states that are very different from each other – Arizona, Arkansas, and California. I ended up eating from each of them in reverse order.

I was starving when I got home from my long morning walk (I have been trying to get my 10k steps in every day of quarantine and it’s a billion times more important as I cook and eat up a storm). So California here I come! Holy cow, California has a lot to choose from – the Cobb Salad was invented in Hollywood, and there is a lot of super fab Mexican food (I LOVE a fish taco), not to mention all the San Francisco cuisine and the iconic In n Out burger. A lot of Cali cooking is immigrant inspired, which is inspiring to me, but since I was going to tackle three states today, I needs to start slowly so I went with California hipster – avocado toast! I use a very thick slice of sourdough bread (hey there, SF). Sticking true to the Cali ethics, I kept it local, and got my bread from Zak the Baker in Miami’s most hipster hood, Wynwood. I fired up my cast iron grill pan for the third day in a row and threw the bread on there til it had gorgeous dark grill lines on each side, then I scrubbed it with clove of garlic. The spread is mushed up avocado and anything else you want to mix it with. I added some green onion, red onion, cumin, red pepper, and a generous shake of s&p. Spread the whole thing on there and then added chopped up roma tomatoes and cilantro on top. It tasted like breakfast in Brooklyn. I mean California.

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It was especially great to eat it during my weekly Saturday zoom breakfast with friends in NY, MA, PA, and DC. (All places I haven’t gotten to on this journey yet). And the Great Catsby liked it as well.

This was the day for my long awaited hair color and cut. So, so excited and a little bit scared. But before I head out, it’s time for a snack! And that snack is coming from Arkansas.

I’ve been to Arkansas! I was in Fort Smith with the Boston Pops. There was a dog show happening in the hotels where we were staying so you had to step over poo. I remember it rained a lot and I went to the gallows there, where “Hanging” Judge James Parker sentenced many many men to die, the vast majority of whom were Black or Native American.  It was awful.

But, other than that, I had a good time in Ft. Smith otherwise and it is where I met my now dear friend, David, and where he blew my mind by singing me the states in alpha order! It is my theme song for this project! I ate a lot of Mexican food (another musician taught me about tequila!), and have no memory of any of it really (except the tequila).

A google search of the food of Arkansas offers up some interesting options including cheese dip, sugared rice, chocolate gravy, and possum pie (no possums are hurt in the making of that.)  All good choices, but I decided to go for the classic fried pickles. If you know me, you know about my love for things pickled. Especially cucumbers. I love pickles.

Fried dill pickles were “invented” by Burrell “Fatman” Austin in the mid-sixties at the Duchess Drive In. His recipe is a secret and only made once a year these days at the Annual Pickle Fest in Atkins, the “pickle capital of Arkansas.” Sadly this year’s festival has been postponed because of Covid, so I will fill the void. Also – I know where I want to be next May!

The secret ingredient to Arkansas fried pickles seems to be Cavendar’s Greek Seasoning, an Arkansas based, family own spice mix. The ingredient list includes dill, nutmeg, pepper, and MSG, so there’s that. But I’m in for a penny and in for a pound – bring on the MSG. They say you should use pickle chips, but I had thin slices spears already, so that was is. Heat up the oil, there’s a right temperature, but since I didn’t have a thermometer, it doesn’t matter what it was. In one bowl is flour seasoned with s&p and a whole lot of Cavender’s. In another is whisked egg and milk mixture. Pickles go in the flour, egg, flour and to their destiny in the hot oil they go. I always chicken out when frying things and pull them out too early, but I stayed strong and left them in for about 3 minutes each and pulled them out when they turned golden. A little blotting and on the plate they go. Recipe said you could dip them in ranch dressing, which I didn’t have. But you know what I did have? Alabama white barbecue sauce! SO GOOD!

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Also – I got a hair cut! It was very exciting and, insanely, the first time I’ve been touched by another human being since March 12.

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After a little afternoon walkabout to show off my new hair to basically no one, it was time for a trip to Arizona for dinner! I’ve only been to Arizona once, when I was about 12. We rode donkey’s into the Grand Canyon and horses into the desert while we stayed at a Dude Ranch. This was the 1970s at it’s best. Not the Arizona of Red Rock and spiritual retreats.  My choice for Arizona was easy. Every food round up list went straight for chimichangas, the fried burrito that was created by accident when a burrito landed in the fryer (or so the legend goes).

The most important thing for a chimichanga is a flour tortilla. From there, just stick in whatever you would stuff in your burrito. For me it was re-fried pinto beans mixed up with chopped onions and peppers, shredded cheese, salsa, garlic, red pepper, and cilantro. Don’t over stuff! You roll up like a burrito and put it in a hot skillet with just a bit of oil seam side down (or deep fry them, but…no). After 30 seconds or so, turn it, and then hit all sides and it’s ready to eat. I had some left over avocado mix from the morning, which when dolloped on a plate looks a lot like quac. That, with some salsa and sour cream made for a spread. It was so crunchy on the outside and rich and creamy on the inside. YUM!

This morning, before heading out for a morning walk, I made a breakfast chimichanga with some of the black bean mix, a scrambled egg, and a bit of leftover Alaskan salmon. Unknown.jpeg

So easy, so good. And pretty healthy,-ish too.

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