Saturday, July 6, 2013

Just Like Ma Used to Make It

Nothing quite says “holiday” like the food that defines it.  I grew up eating a set menu for just about every holiday, not just the major ones.  Obviously, we did the traditional spread for Thanksgiving and something similar at Christmas, but we also had a couple of others.

On Fat Tuesday, it was always pancakes for dinner.  To celebrate the Luck of the Irish on St. Patty’s Day, we ate corned beef with sauerkraut.  For Easter, my mom would break out the big guns with a breaded ham garnished with pineapple.  But, my favorite by far was the 4th of July.  Bratwurst, Juicy Lucys (cream-cheese stuffed burgers), baked beans with real Wisconsin cheese curds, corn on the cob, devilled eggs, and don’t get me started on the salads: potato, pasta, garden, take your pick! Now, set all that to the pleasant crackling sounds of sparklers and – for me – you’ve just defined summer.
So, yeah, I love the 4th of July.  I love that even the sleepiest of towns and cities come alive with the Sousa-spangled parades, fireworks, and a sense of community with everyone you meet.  Needless to say, I struggle with the fact that, around here, the 4th of July is just another day at the office.  No stars.  No stripes.  Certainly not forever.

However, over the past two years, I’ve learned an important lesson: when it comes to holiday food, expats can’t/dont/won't shy away from the kitchen, the garden or, if it comes to it, the slaughterhouse.  During his introduction to Thanksgiving, my English friend George not only learned that Americans aren’t crazy for loving this family-filled holiday (tragically slandered in his home country…), but he also got to cut the head off the turkey.  Because, facing a dangerous deficit of Butterball, we’ll get the real thing, feed it for a week, and then spend 4 hours plucking each one of those stubborn feathers out.

Thankfully, hamburger is not in short supply, so we won’t be slaughtering anything this weekend.  But, we are still missing a lot of key ingredients for a properly mid-western Independence Day picnic.  We can’t get brats or the right fruits and berries to decorate the cool-whip cake like a flag (yeah, you know the one). 

For that matter, where's the cool-whip?  And the graham cracker crusts?!
So we’ll have to make do.  Today we’re facing down a lot of serious from-scratch cooking for our 4th of July extravaganza tomorrow.  In the past week, I’ve had ricotta drying from my water tank for an attempt at cheesecake and experiments on our new pasta machine for one of the salads.  Right now, the boys are out looking for a grill grate and, when they return, I'll head to our local western-style grocer who, thank goodness, carries food coloring… because I swear my desert is going to look festive regardless of the presence of strawberries and blueberries.

So, Happy 4th, America - we’ll be celebrating you tomorrow!  And, since he’s here, we’re hoping the Prez will stop by our little barbeque, but I’m not holding my breath…

Before I sign off, though, I gotta lodge one complaint.  Why is it that I can carry firearms and ammunition in my checked luggage but not sparklers?  Dear NRA (because I can only assume this is your fault): WHY ARE YOU THE WAY THAT YOU ARE?!

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