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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.

My Great American Road Trip – Oklahoma

Oklahoma – where the wind comes sweeping down the plain. And the waving wheat can sure smell sweet when the wind comes right behind the rain.

I’ve seen the Rodgers and Hammerstein take on the great state of Oklahoma many times, starting with my middle school production in, well, whenever it was a while ago. And I saw it in London in the 90s with Hugh Jackman and a few years later on Broadway with Patrick Wilson and last year in Brooklyn in a very dark adaptation where they served us chili and cornbread while we were challenged to rethink how kind of not ok a lot of the things were, even if they had catchy tunes attached to them. I’ve never seen the movie version, I don’t think.

Anyway, I’m sure people in Oklahoma hate it when you sing that song to them. And, make no mistake on my one very brief (like 5 minutes) time in Oklahoma, I did sing it. I also sang “What’s up Buenos Aires” walking through the streets of that city, so yeah, I don’t have a lot of shame.

I was in Fort Smith, Arkansas many years ago with the Boston Pops, with whom I’ve seen a lot of parts of this country that are not the coastal bits. At some point we learned that there was a bridge that was only about a mile long and on the other side of that bridge was Oklahoma. At the time, I thought that might be my only chance to get to the state, and I may well have been right, I haven’t gotten there yet, but I know have some friends in the state including the executive director of the Tulsa Symphony, who happened to be with me in Fort Smith that fateful day and who opted not to walk over the bridge with us. So it was my friend and colleague Susan and I. We walked over, took pictures that I can’t find under the sign that said “Welcome to Oklahoma,” looked at a used tire pile near the river, and then walked back to Arkansas. My only image of Oklahoma is that pile of tires. And of course a hawk making lazy circles in the sky.

I looked at a lot of different recipes for Oklahoma, but one thing came up list after list and that was chicken fried steak, also known as country fried steak. Chicken fried steak is a thing I’ve heard of, but something I’ve never eaten nor have I ever seen anyone eat it. I’m not entirely sure what the point is, but here we go.

The typical steak used is a cube steak. I’ve never heard of that actually. I got sirloin. You pound it thin and then go through the flour, egg, flour drill. I did an egg and milk mixture in one bowl and a flour, cayenne, and paprika in the next. You flour the meat, then put it in the egg then back in the flour and then into a pan with hot oil.

You cook for a few minutes on each side until the batter is golden brown. There is now way that I could find to tell how well cooked the steak was.

While the steak is resting, you get rid of most of the oil in the pan and add in some flour to make a roux. Then you put in some milk, salt, and pepper and whisk until it is smooth.

The proper way to serve chicken fried steak is with mashed potatoes and fried okra. I opted for green beans – not fried – since green has not been a big part of my diet through this project (c’mon states one of you have to be proud of your salads!).

I don’t know how it happened, but the meat was pretty perfectly cooked.

Chicken fried steak was quite tasty, and thought I got carried away with the cayenne, the spice was fab. But chicken fried steak also feels completely unnecessary. I’d rather just eat steak. But if I was a cowboy in Oklahoma (next life, fingers crossed) it would be perfect!

My Great American Road Trip – North Dakota, Ohio

I keep thinking I know things about North Dakota and they keep being about South Dakota. Like Mount Rushmore and the Corn Palace and the Crazy Horse Memorial. Even the thing I thought I was going to make for North Dakota is really more common in South Dakota. I really want to get to South Dakota one of these days! (I REALLY want to go to the Corn Palace!).

But North Dakota. Here’s what I know about it. The delightful Coen Brothers movie Fargo (and the tv series of the same name, but I’ve never seen that. I might watch the movie again today, cause I loved it so much). But before there was Fargo, there was Fargo North, Decoder, my most favorite character from The Electric Company, followed closely by Morgan Freeman’s Easy Reader ( and in case you missed it, that’s Rita Moreno in both clips).

So what do we cook for North Dakota. There is something called cheese buttons, that were for sure a contender, and seem to be sort of like cottage cheese raviolis. Mostly the food choices reflect the German and Norwegian immigrants who settled in the area. Lots of meat filled pastry, which I’ve made enough of in this quest, and some good old fashioned hot dish, which, though one can never get enough of tater tots, I wasn’t revisiting. I settled on lefse, sort of a potato crepe.

Step one for lefse is to make mashed potatoes. This is a thing at which I am extremely accomplished. Peel some russets, chop them into chunks, and boil in water until they are soft. Drain them, mash them, add in some butter and cream until they are smooth. I used a hand mixer, because I don’t have a potato ricer (hint for those of you with whom I spend Christmas).

The potatoes should be very smooth. When they are you chill them for an hour to a day. I chilled all but a bowl full of the fully potato perfection I had created, which, with some pepper and horseradish (trust me), became lunch.

When you’re ready, you add a cup and a half or so of flour to mix, roll it into a log and cut that into twelve equal pieces. (Equal is relative for me). Then you flatten each piece into a very thin disk.

Each disk is fried in a hot, dry pan, I used a cast iron one, til you have a stack of delicious lefse. For serving, you take a piece, add your topping of choice, and roll it like a cigar. I used butter and cinnamon sugar, and, even better, rubbed it with a clove of garlic and butter.

They were a lot of work, and you know what, a flour crepe would have been better. I think if you’re a Norwegian house wife, whose many kids have come inside from a day of playing in the snow, this is a perfect, healthy-ish filling snack you can make on a budget. If you’re a single career girl on Miami Beach, I’d rather just go for a bowl of mash.

And on to Ohio we go. Some states make it really easy to choose what to cook. Ohio is one of those states. On my one trip to the state, to Cincinnati for an Orchestra conference, I became aware of what seemed like the most bizarre chain of fast food restaurants ever, Skyline Chili, which served, if you can believe it (I couldn’t) spaghetti topped with chili. I have a vague memory of ordering some at an airport kiosk and not hating it.

Cincinnati chili is a thing. It was developed by Greek immigrant brothers who used Middle Eastern spices in the mix and served it in a variety of ways including on spaghetti (two way), on spaghetti, with cheese (three way), on spaghetti, with cheese, and onions (four way), on spaghetti, with cheese, onions, and beans (five way). It’s also well loved on top of a hot dog.

It is super easy to make. You just throw all the ingredients in a pot and let it simmer. Each recipe on line had the same basic ingredients, with slight adjustments in the amount. I just sort of winged it (a little more of this a little less of that) based on how much I liked each.
So here we go – six ounces of tomato paste, eight ounces of tomato sauce, four cups water, a large minced onion, 6 cloves of garlic chopped up, a pound or two of ground beef, 3 tablespoons chili powder, 2 tablespoons Worcestershire sauce, and then one half to 1 teaspoon of cumin, allspice, cinnamon, cloves, nutmeg, cayenne, and salt. Simmer for at least one hour, but up to three or so – the longer the better. When you’re getting close to time to serve it crumble in an ounce of unsweetened chocolate and a tablespoon of cider vinegar.

The first serving I made for myself was just the chili topped with raw onion and shredded cheddar cheese. It was so good. So good. The spices added an interesting complexity and while the Middle Eastern influence was clear, it also was a little molé like. I can’t believe I’ve been eating the wrong kind of chili all this time. And I say this like I’ve ever made chili before, but I’ll never eat it any other way again.

For my next meal, I went all out, and piled it up on pasta. It seemed so illogical as I did it, but in fact its basically the same as bolognese, but so much more interesting.

Three days of chili and pasta means that I need to spend a couple on a juice fast before I venture to Oklahoma. (Oklahoooooma, OK!)

My Great American Road Trip – New York, North Carolina

Labor Day weekend is for barbecue, and I’m up to North Carolina, so that’s convenient.

But First New York. I have lots of New York stories that you don’t need to hear. I’ve lived in three of five boroughs (Manhattan, Brooklyn, and the Bronx), my step-mom grew up in Queens. And by the end of my first visit to Staten Island, I was convinced it is where I would live out my days, but then I missed the ferry home, had to wait nearly an hour for the next one and swore I’d never go back there again. My sister lives in Westchester, and I briefly, and ill-advisedly worked on Long Island. I’ve explored the corners of Duchess and Columbia Counties, and I feel like I have New York covered. I did leave a lot of friends there, when I came here, though I loved the parade of going away celebrations that led to.

Before Covid, some of them came south, and I thought I’d be heading north. After Covid, it was only my crazy beloveds – my friend Lynn, with whom I spent my 20s and 30s in bars, and her two children who may or may not turn to me later in their lives for tattoos, piercings and (bad) romantic advice – who popped down, not to see me, to visit the Magic Kingdom, but I forced my way onto their trip!

Anyway, I’m not making more pizza, and I’ve never actually eaten a true New York dirty water hot dog, so that’s out. There’s a whole lot of New York that I don’t know all that well, though, and it is from there that I get my inspiration.

I was only in Buffalo once, on my way to celebrate New Year’s Eve at Niagara Falls with my friend Gene.

I don’t love Buffalo wings, but it felt right. I think its because I don’t love Frank’s Red Hot sauce. I do love hot sauces though. I have a lot.

Pretty much every Buffalo wing recipe is the same. You crisp the wings in a 400 degree oven for about 50 minutes or so. While that’s cooking you make the sauce – a quarter cup Frank’s Red Hot, 2 tablespoons honey, and 4 tablespoons butter. I didn’t have quite enough honey, but it worked all the same. When the chicken is done you throw it in a bowl with the sauce til it is well coated and put it under a low broiler for about 3-5 minutes or until the sauce is carmelized. Serve it with carrot and celery sticks and some ranch dressing.

I feel live I’ve been cheated out of delicious wings my whole life. They weren’t drenched in sauce. It was so good.

And on we move to North Carolina. I was there once – 18 years ago this November. I know this for certain, because I was there the day my youngest niece was born. I was in Charlotte for a conference sponsored by the Knight Foundation and in which my then orchestra, the Brooklyn Philharmonic was participating. Also participating was my now orchestra, the New World Symphony. It was the first time I became aware of this amazing organization and I am forever grateful.

Barbecue in North Carolina is a heated topic. There is Eastern and Lexington style barbecue. Both use vinegar, both use pork. Eastern style is whole hog, literally, they require the whole hog. I can’t really cook a pig in my little apartment, so that was out. I opted for Lexington style.

Initially, I was planning to make ribs, but that was a bit more of an undertaking that I was up for, so I decided on the always delicious pulled pork.

First you make the barbecue sauce – 3 cups vinegar, 3/4 of a cup of ketchup, 6 tablespoons of brown sugar and 3 of white sugar, salt, pepper, and red chile flakes. Marinate a pork shoulder (I used a loin because that’s what I had) for a while (one hour, a day, whatever). Then you brown all sides and put it in the oven low and slow for about three hours.

When its done, you use two forks to pull the pork apart – it just falls apart.

Before you serve it though, you need a side dish, and with barbecue, you need hush puppies, which are super easy to make. 2 cups of corn meal, 3tablespoons flour, one cup milk one egg, and a whole lot of chopped green onion. I’m terrified of deep frying things, but there’s no getting around it for these. You drop them in to hot oil one spoonful at a time and roll them around until they’re golden brown.

I made mixed together some sriracha and mayo to accompany the hush puppies and loaded some of the pulled pork mixed with a bit more bbq sauce on a bun and it was a perfect weekend lunch!

Not something you can eat every day, but I’ve labored all year long and I deserved it. The only thing I’d change if I did it again, is to consume it with a beer!

My Great American Road Trip – New Mexico

I was only in New Mexico once. It was like twenty years ago when my eldest niece was still fresh and new. Sister, brother in law, and their new little monster darling drove from LA and my mom and I flew in from the Eastern side of the country to celebrate Christmas in Santa Fe, which if it isn’t already the title of a Lifetime TV movie, I would like to claim it. I’m sure I can bang out the script this weekend.

We were in Santa Fe before there were cell phones and the last avid photographer in my family was my grandfather Doc Smith (or Bubba as he was know to my generation). Bubba was rarely without a camera and is the eye behind nearly every photo from my youth.

Without Bubba, and before cell phones, we relied on disposable cameras. And half the time, we’d forget to develop the photos, so we’d have to rely on our memories. I was only able to find a couple photos from that trip. One of us all in a restaurant that could be anywhere, but trust me was Santa Fe, and one of our stockings all hung by the kiva fireplace with care.

My talented sister embroidered all those stockings herself. Mine is the one that looks like an LLBean boot (the biggest, natch). Her’s is the odd one out, the red one, which is the first stocking we ever had and, as much as I love my boot, the stocking I intend to use for the rest of my life. Don’t believe me?

I loved Santa Fe. The whole town, the whole pueblo, smells like piñon, which is hard to explain, but it a little smokey and warm and forest-y. It is from the piñon pine that grows in the area and it is my most vivid memory of being there. Even now, a whiff of it brings me back to us walking along the streets of adobe houses, twinkling lights, and big sky. Magic.

A lot of the food in New Mexico is inspired by the food in Mexico. Because I value comfort food above all else, I decided to make posole (or pozole). Posole is a stew that is used in celebrations like New Year’s Eve, Christmas, and Mexican Independence, as well as an easy weeknight meal. It has two essential ingredients – hominy and meat – and it can be prepared rojo (red), verde (green), or blanco (white). I went for rojo, but instead of meat (I’ve had SO much meat) I used pinto beans.

This is a super easy, and super delicious meal, with such depth of flavor even without the meat. In a large pot you warm up some olive oil. When it hot, sauté one chopped medium red onion until it’s translucent. Then add 2 chopped poblano peppers (please be careful of your eyes when chopping peppers – don’t be like me), one chopped zucchini, and three, you guessed it, chopped carrots. Cook those til they’re golden and throw in a cinnamon stick, 1 tablespoon (that’s a lot, its spicy) ground chipotle pepper, 2 teaspoons dried oregano, 2 teaspoons ground cumin (the miracle spice), and 1 teaspoon ground coriander. In about 30 seconds you’ll be overwhelmed with the fragrance which is like, I imagine, walking into your abuela’s cocina.

Next you add 2 cans of hominy and two cans of pinto beans, one can of fire roasted diced tomatoes, and 4 cups of veggie broth. Bring the whole thing to a boil and then let it simmer uncovered for 20 minutes or so.

When its done you top it with cilantro and squeeze of fresh lime and serve it with rice or, as I did, flour tortillas. It was so delicious and warm. The hominy had almost a potato like texture and the spices were just enough to tickle your nose, but subtle enough for each flavor to still stand out. And it was the perfect thing to eat as I did my Duolingo Spanish homework.

Yo queiro viajar, otra vez…..

My Great American Road Trip – New Jersey

Here’s my secret shame – I was born in New Jersey. I claim other places as where I’m from. Maine, where I lived from the time I was 6 to 14. And even more so Boston where I lived from about a year to 6 and then again from 14 to 18 and, then again for several years in my adulthood, whilst working for the Boston Symphony. I never claim New Jersey unless I have to.

But having spent as much time in New York City as I did, New Jersey became a different part of my life. My closest friends from college were all from that side of the river. We are rarely all in one place together, but we stay in touch in small groups, and, when it matters, like during the 2017 Women’s March on Washington, gather together. They are my forever posse. And we are all Jersey girls (them more than me).

There was this one time I was in Atlantic City with my friend Lynn, who had been hired to work on a project with the great Donna Summer (also from Boston). On our first night seeing her in concert, my friend wanted to go backstage to say hello. I did not, because I had a rip in my stocking! Lynn dragged me back there, and Donna immediately noticed I was failing to cover my growing run. She grabbed my hand and took me to her dressing area, where she handed me a pair of Wolford panty hose. Use these, she said. They never run. I wore the pair she gave me for years before they no longer held their shape, but they never ran. And I have splurged for Wolford ever since! I thought of Donna Summer, as I put them on the day I went to the Oscars, thinking she’d be so proud. Toot toot, ah, beep beep!

A couple years ago I was in Atlantic City again. This time for a conference and I met Billie Jean King (I don’t even know why I’m linking her – you know who she is). I told her my mother loved her, and she asked if my mom was still alive. I said no and she asked if she could hug me. I cried when she did, and she told me about her mother. Sometimes meeting your heroes is all you want it to be and more.

Anyway, all this to say, I sort of have a soft spot for New Jersey, but I’m still a little embarrassed by it. But not anymore! New Jersey delivered what will absolutely be a staple of my cooking from here on out. Chicken Savoy – and trust me, you want to make this!

Legend has it that, as it’s properly called, Stretch’s Chicken Savoy, was created by Charles “Stretch” Verdicchio, a butcher turned chef at the Belmont Tavern in Belleview, NJ. They even use a photo of the house specialty as their facebook cover shot. There’s some question about the wiseguy history of the Belmont, and the mysterious lack of info about Stretch, but I don’t care. This chicken rocked.

Step one, you get a whole chicken and butcher it into eight pieces. Sounds easy enough, you say? Martha Stewart even has a two and an half minute video about how to do it in less than a minute. But for me, not worth the tiny savings of just buying pre-butchered chicken. Also I only ended up with six pieces, I couldn’t properly separate the thigh from the drumstick. I’m sure with practice this is easy enough, but I’m not interested in getting better at cutting apart bodies – bird or otherwise (talking to you wiseguys!).

Once butchered, you brown the meat skin side down in oil on the stovetop (I always over crowd my pans. Gotta work on that).

While that’s browning you use a mortar and pestle to make a paste of oregano, thyme, pecorino romano cheese, garlic, and olive oil. In seconds, your kitchen will smell like every restaurant in Little Italy or the North End.

When the chicken skin is browned, you spread the paste evenly over the bird and put it in a 500 degree oven for about 20 to 30 minutes. After you pull it out, you scrape off the grease and add a cup of red wine vinegar to the remaining pan drippings. Then you spoon the vinegar sauce over the chicken.

Holy crap was that delicious – the vinegar tang with the deep herby cheese – heaven! And I had some of the herby, cheesy paste left so I slathered it on some bread and…..comfort food heaven. The next day I used some more of the paste and a cut up bit of the chicken in pasta and….well you know.

This was super easy (except the butchering) and so, so good. Make this one, you guys. You won’t regret it!

My Great American Road Trip – New Hampshire

Ah, New Hampshire. I’ve spent some time in New Hampshire. A lot of time.

It is the home to generations of my family and while I’ve never officially lived there, it’s possible that I’ve spent more time in New Hampshire over the years than I have in Brooklyn.

I went to summer camp in New Hampshire as a camper and a counselor- my beloved Waukeela Camp for Girls . My mom and my aunt went there too, as did both of my nieces. If you know any girls, you should send them there as well. It is perfect!

My father’s family spent their recreation and sometimes retirement along the state’s rocky shores (that’s my dad and stepmom in red in the back of the family reunion shot) and I make a stop every holiday season in Rye Beach to celebrate with my dad’s wonderful cousins Brenda and Frank and, when I’m very lucky their kids and grandkids.

Most of my trips to the Granite State are in the summer or the holidays. My mom’s parents built a house on Lake Winnipesaukee, the location of many of my most favorite family memories, as is North Conway, where I spent my Christmases.

My mother was even Miss Lake Winnipesaukee! For all you music fans out there – that’s John Adams’s grandfather crowning my mother.

And New Hampshire is where I learned to love to hike. Who knew that I’d go from Mount Chocorua to Mount Everest.

Anyway, all that to say, I know New Hampshire. I was golden when it comes to cooking for New Hampshire. And as predicted, I reached a new milestone cooking New Hampshire – I made myself sick.

I decided to make apple cider donuts. YUM! Donuts are not easy to make. Or maybe they are, but just not for me.

To start you have to boil down a cup and a half of apple cider to a concentrated third of a cup. While that’s happening you cream together a cup of sugar with 5 tablespoons butter. To that you add the apple cider, a half cup buttermilk, and a tablespoon of vanilla. In another bowl you mix together 3 and a half cups flour, 2 teaspoons baking powder and one of baking soda. Then you mix the dry with the wet ingredients. Then the whole thing gets wrapped in plastic and popped into the freezer for about half an hour.

When it comes out you cut it with a donut cutter. I totally don’t have one of those, so I tried to form something that looks like a donut which you drop into hot oil. My broke apart in seconds.

After I fished the bits out, I ate them and it was awful! Greasy and not cooked through and I felt sick for 2 hours.

After I felt better I looked up alternatives to deep frying, which is a thing I will never do again. You can bake them in a donut pan, which of course, I also don’t have. But what I do have is a madeleine pan! I filled the pan and put it in the over at 350 for about 10 minutes. They puffed up with the right little bottom mound, which Top Chef tells me is key for a proper madeleine. Then, to get the right donut feel, I dipped them in a mix of sugar, cinnamon, and, to shake it up, a little cardamom.

They smelled like the apple cider donuts, and happy memories, of my childhood and when I bit into one, like all good madeleines do, they sent me down a rabbit hole of reminiscing.

My Great American Road Trip – Nebraska, Nevada

I’ve never been to Nebraska. I did have a boyfriend from Omaha once though. He was very tall and sturdy, like a farmer, although he was an artist. He was so nice and dependable and sort of uninteresting.

The other thing I know about Nebraska is Mutual of Omaha’s Wild Kingdom. I was older than I want to admit when I realized that Mutual of Omaha was sponsoring the program. It was a great lesson in the power of good sponsorship!

Nevada though, I’ve been to Nevada many times and almost always with my friends Nic and Tif from the UK and some combination of others from the US. Their friends Mike and Jill who are married, but have joined us individually, and my sister, who is a very good blackjack player. I’ve also been with other folks as well. I spent a New Year’s eve there many years ago with my friend Leslie and Lionel Ritchie, and I’ve been there at least once for work purposes, but maybe even more than that.

My most recent trip was with Nic, Tif, and Jill. The hotel was so high tech, that I spent the first night with the lights on because I couldn’t turn them off. We (Nicola) tried to embarrass the folks at Starbucks and ended up just embarrassing ourselves. And we got dressed up to see Lady Gaga!

So when I think of Nevada, I think of Las Vegas. The most indulgent city in the world. There are nearly 100 buffets to chose from, but they all have some staples – prime rib, cheap champagne, and shrimp cocktail.

Shrimp cocktail was the most elegant thing I could imagine as a kid and I ordered it every time my parents would indulge me. It is very easy to make.

Boil some shrimp for a couple minutes – til they turn pink. Then serve them with cocktail sauce. Cocktail sauce is ketchup, Worcestershire sauce, horseradish, hot sauce, and lemon. A little vodka and you’ve got a bloody mary. Because this is Vegas, I served mine in a martini glass and felt very special as I nibbled away while I worked.

At dinner time, I turned back to Nebraska. Besides my old beau and Wild Kingdom, there is one other thing I know about Nebraska – Omaha Steaks. Every list I looked at about food in Nebraska was very steak heavy and in particular – the bone in rib-eye. I’ve never cooked a steak before. It seems like a lot of money for me to ruin, so I avoid it. But in for a penny and in for a pound. So a bone in rib-eye it would be.

Nebraska’s favorite marinate, so the internet tells me, is also my mothers. Worcestershire sauce, a little red pepper flakes, and some garlic. I bagged up my steak with this magical combination and felt it in the fridge for a while.

When it was time to cook them, I fired up my cast iron grill pan until it was very hot added a bit of oil and put the steak on. It is meant to be turned frequently until it has a nice char and feels a bit like your cheek when poked (for medium rare). I pulled mine off a little soon, but it was pretty perfect. And delicious.

The only thing wrong with this meal is that I didn’t have a good red wine. I’m totally cooking steak again though. YUM.

My Great American Road Trip – Missouri, Montana

I’ve not been to either Missouri or Montana. I’m sure they’re both wonderful, but I’m only longing to visit one of them. Spoiler alert – it’s not Missouri.

I don’t know a lot about Missouri. Mark Twain is from Missouri, but in my mind he’s from Connecticut (he’s from both places). Also from Missouri – Dick van Dyke, Jon Hamm (<3), Maya Angelou, and Harry Truman. And of course, Kansas City is in Missouri, not Kansas (talking to you Donald Trump) and they won the Superbowl – maybe the last one we’ll ever have.

Food wise, though – there’s not a ton that’s all that interesting. There’s something called Gooey Butter Cake, that I so wanted to make, but I didn’t want the hit to my self-esteem that eating that would deliver, there’s a St Louis style pizza, which I think just means pizza cut in squares not triangles, and the most delicious burnt ends, but that seemed like a series undertaking – you need a brisket first and then you take the ends to the edge (yum, but nope). And then there’s what I’m told is a staple in St Louis bars – the kind where you might have been watching the Superbowl. Fried Ravioli.

Fried ravioli is very easy to make. You start with prepared ravioli – I used spinach and cheese – and you batter and fry it, and voila. I’m very good at battering and frying through this project. There are a lot of fried options out there. I used an egg with a couple tablespoons of milk for the first dip and a mix of breadcrumbs and Italian spice for the second dip.

Fry them up in veggie oil for a minute or so on each side and serve them with marinara dipping sauce.

I made these for lunch and snacked on them all day! If you think that fried mozzarella needs more carbs or regular ravioli needs more fat, these are for you. I loved them and I can see how they would be perfect bar food. I did not eat for the rest of the day.

A couple days of digesting later, I headed to Montana. I also know nothing about Montana, but what I do know is that is has lots of things I like – natural beautiful, national parks, and big sky.

My cousin’s daughter Nelle is getting married in Montana next spring, so I know that Montana is on my list to visit soon and I can’t wait. When my sister got married, this cousin’s son was the charming ring bearer and my cousin made me promise that when I got married Nelle could be my flower girl. Well – we all know how that turned out, and now it is Nelle’s turn and I couldn’t be happier for her. I am also available to be your flower girl, Nelle.

I think I’ll be eating a lot of steak when I get there, and there’s something called Beans and Sheepherders that I’m kind of into, but the one thing that kept coming up was huckleberries. There are a lot of huckleberries in Montana. I tried to find them in south Florida without a lot of luck, but what I could find were blueberries!

Now I know purist will tell you that huckleberries are not blueberries, but they are close and they are delicious. And nothing is better than huckleberry blueberry pancakes.

I’ve never made pancakes form scratch before (love you Bisquick), but I mixed together flour, sugar, baking powder and soda, a couple eggs and some buttermilk. In the pan you top with a few of the berries – this is very important, DO NOT stir in the berries they will break and you’ll lose that fab pop in you mouth sensation (and taste).

Pancakes should be topped with real maple syrup heated up with a little butter.

With the fabulously light and fluffy pancakes for dinner (we’ve broken up Bisquick), I have now completed 26 states.

At this halfway point, I am taking a break for a week of salads. I’ll see you around Labor Day to tackle Nebraska and the second half of our country!

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