As July 4th weekend dawned, several conflicting obsessions gripped me: 1) This is the biggest sales weekend until the holiday season — how much stuff can I rationalize buying / sneak past Stephen without risking a throwdown?, 2) OHMIGOD — where has the summer gone and why am I not at the beach?, 3) What does this holiday mean, really — aside from giving most of the country an excuse to take a day off work, grill stuff to put in their mouths, guzzle beer from 10 am onward without getting into trouble with The Wife and watch shiny things explode in the sky?
The entire country seems gripped with these dueling existential crises. (It’s not just me, right?)
We all know someone who has lost their job, their marriage, their house or worse in recent years; our nation’s essential optimism has been frisked, zapped, tickled, searched and X-Rayed. Anyone who isn’t thinking about the broader implications of being an American citizen these days isn’t thinking at all. Generation X and Y grew up with parents who, in many ways, re-created the definition of America. Now we’re surviving the crash from the fallout of their little social experiment.
We all know the story … The Boomers, dissatisfied with the essentially un-American state of civilian life for minorities, women and the children born to the ceaselessly toiling, uneducated masses living in our city’s slums, marched, rioted, voted and campaigned for change. In the process, they discovered pot, acid, fondue, beaded curtains, fermented food, communal living, birth control, the electric guitar, the aesthetic benefits of frizzy hair, paisley, the conviction that war, by definition, was bad, the notion that unionization, by definition, is good and that everyone, by definition, is a winner.
Civil rights, and the cultural ephemera that accompanied them, forever changed the fabric of our country. We grew up thinking we could do anything and that we deserved everything. In many ways, we were right: after all, a black man is our president; his Secretary of State is a woman; the CEOs of PepsiCo, Kraft, Dupont, Yahoo, The New York Times Company and dozens of other multi-million conglomerates are women, many of them of variously hued ethnic descent and variously privileged (or un) backgrounds; I personally know two amazing women (Rachel and Kathy) who hold major corporate posts while still managing to be jaw-droppingly fab mothers, wives, friends and citizens.
But I also witnessed, first hand, the hideous chaos that the “if it feels good, do it” 1960s mentality wrought.
I mean, seriously, who decided that Frisbee sports, DIY fruit picking, carrying lap dogs in designer purses, internships, high-fives, sub-prime mortgages, tooth-whitening strawberry daiquiri gum, being a gluten-free vegan who occasionally eats salmon fritters, group hug therapy, Danish furniture, Fox & Friends and tinted moisturizer for men were good things that made sense and needed to exist? Addled descendants of the 1960’s, I say.
Fellow patriots, we have spent the last decade scraping the poop off of America’s windshield, poop from the doves and hawks still circling over our heads, fighting over the errant scraps left of medicare, social security, the space program, bailouts and funding for environmental disasters, world conflagrations, yada yada. How can we move forward with so much poop on our windshield?
But now, say it with me in a petulant voice reserved for toddlers on long road trips in desperate need of a tinkle run:
“Where is our piece of the American pie?”
Why can’t average, hard-working Americans afford to have a home, fill their cars with gas, properly educate their children, go on vacation once a year and occasionally hit the town and shell out for a sitter? Isn’t that an American right? I’m not so sure anymore. Perhaps it’s time to rethink what we, as a nation, can afford to expect to deserve. At any rate, I better.
I’ve spent many hours in the last year, walking in the woods, thinking about where Stephen and I want to go with our lives next, what our priorities are and should be, what we can and should afford to be able to do with our little pile of shekels and of course, Thoreau. Any book-lovin’ woods-walkers eventually turns to the original book-lovin’ woods-walker, Thoreau.
More and more frequently, I’ve been turning to his timeless words for guidance, and I meditate on one nugget from “Walden” in particular:
“I went to the woods because I wished to live deliberately, to front only the essential facts of life, and see if I could not learn what it had to teach, and not, when I came to die, discover that I had not lived. I did not wish to live what was not life, living is so dear; nor did I wish to practise resignation, unless it was quite necessary. I wanted to live deep and suck out all the marrow of life, to live so sturdily and Spartan-like as to put to rout all that was not life, to cut a broad swath and shave close, to drive life into a corner, and reduce it to its lowest terms, and, if it proved to be mean, why then to get the whole and genuine meanness of it, and publish its meanness to the world; or if it were sublime, to know it by experience, and be able to give a true account of it in my next excursion.”
It seems to summarize, precisely, what Stephen and I both want. A simpler, less crap-bedazzled existence in which we can enjoy the essence and fruit of a happy marriage and rid ourselves of the agita and propensity for acquisitiveness that New York City eventually sows in even the most Spartan of souls. Maybe someday soon, we’ll gather our shekels and acquire one more thing before digging in: a little cabin in the woods of the Hudson River Valley? Fingers crossed.
In the meantime, we’re frying dogs on the BBQ, singing and laughing along to the “Grand Old Flag” as the night sky explodes in a riot of colors, shucking corn on my parent’s deck, snacking non-stop and exploring the almost painfully adorable farmer’s markets in Putnam County.
Click on for our favorite Patriotic Snacks this weekend: Corn Salad, Two Ways & Blue Cheese Fritters & Soba Mango Toss.
Corn Salad, Two Ways
Makes 4 giant servings of each
- 6 ears of fresh corn, husked and cut off the cob, raw (cut the corn over a large bowl, to save the “milk”)
- 1 TBSP (more to taste) minced jalapeno (or cayenne pepper)
- 2 TBSP unsalted butter
- 1/2 red onion, diced fine
- 1 red bell pepper, cored and seeded, roughly chopped
- 1 green bell pepper, cored and seeded, roughly chopped
- 1 cup mint, chopped fine
- 1 cup basil, chopped fine
- paprika and salt and pepper to taste
- Naughty add-ons: 2 oz grated cheddar cheese, 1 cup mayo
- Nice add-ons: 1 TBSP lemon juice , 1/3 cup olive oil
- Heat large skillet over medium-high heat, melt butter.
- Add corn and its milk, jalapeno, paprika, salt and pepper and fry until cooked through and slightly browned, about five minutes.
- Toss with the rest of the ingredients and either the naughty or the nice add-ons.
Nutritional breakdown for Corn Salad, Two Ways: Corn salad is shockingly caloric. The salad with the healthy-ish add-ins clocks in at about 400 calories and 22 grams of fat (almost all skin and cardio-healthy unsaturated), while the glaringly naughty add-ins pack a 650 calorie and 45 grams of fat (still primarily unsaturated, mayo is low in saturated fat). Full of antioxidant carotenoids, fiber, which balances out the high sugar content, Vitamins A and C and various B Vitamins.
Cost breakdown for Corn Salad, Two Ways: If you go the organic route, about $1.25 a serving.
Verdict / In the Future: Both are great — but the unhealthy version “holds” better. If anything, it tastes even yummier after a day in the fridge. The healthier version tastes like summer, and any of the herbs could be swapped for parsley, arugula or cilantro. Crank back the olive oil for an even healthier version.
Blue Cheese Fritters
Makes about 16 large fritters, or 8 servings
- 2 oz. butter
- 1/4 cup water
- 8 oz. flour, separated
- 3 eggs, separated
- 4 oz. boiled potato, grated (peel before boiling; boil until fork tender; cool; grate)
- 2 oz. gruyere cheese, grated
- 6 oz. blue cheese, crumbled
- 1/4 cup basil, finely chopped
- salt and pepper, to taste
- cayenne pepper, to taste
- 1 cup panko crumbs
- vegetable oil, for frying
- Bring butter and water in medium-sized saucepan to boil; lower heat and whisk in 3 oz. of the flour. Take off the heat and whisk until roux reaches a golden brown hue; this will happen very quickly.
- Beat one egg in small bowl. Add 1 TBSP or so of the roux to the egg to temper it. When roux is still warm but not too hot, add the tempered egg mixture and incorporate into roux, whisking together. Add the grated potato, gruyere cheese, salt, pepper, basil and cayenne, finishing with the blue cheese mixture. Stir until everything is incorporated.
- Put the rest of the flour in one small bowl; put the remaining eggs in another; panko in a third. Add salt and pepper to taste to each bowl.
- When cool enough to handle, form the potato and cheese mixture into small patties.
- Go through the standard breading procedure: dredge in flour, egg, then panko. Heat oil in medium-sized saucepan until hot, but not smoking. Fry each fritter until golden brown.
Nutritional breakdown for Blue Cheese Fritters: About 240 calories and 15 grams of fat per serving, mostly saturated. Full of terrible, but yummy saturated fat, cholesterol and sodium. Mmmm.
Cost breakdown for Blue Cheese Fritters: If you go for middle of the road fancy cheeses, about $1.25 per serving.
Verdict / In the Future: Stephen liked them, but could only eat a few at a time because he fears stinky cheese the way Pat Roberts fears Beezlebub. My parents likened the experience of eating them to digging into a particularly rich and delicious chocolate molten cake; the cheese does explode in melty blobs of rich flavor. These are great sitting around the table with a glass of wine, but they’d be great as an hors d’ oeuvre or first course at a little dinner party.
Mango Salad Toss
Adapted from Bon Appetit
Makes 6 servings
- 1/2 cup rice vinegar
- 2 TBSP granulated sugar
- 1 jalapeno, diced (remove seeds and ribs carefully and wash your hands immediately, the spice will burn your skin)
- 3 garlic cloves, minced
- 1 lime, juiced
- 1 TBSP toasted sesame oil
- 8 oz. soba noodles, cooked in salted boiling water until tender
- 1 mango (cut two large sections off, avoiding the pit, remove two smaller sides; discard pit. Cut the mango flesh cross and lengthwise, then cut out the chunks; discard the skin)
- 1-2 cups mint and basil, cut into thin strips
- 1 cup roasted and salted peanuts
- Heat vinegar and sugar, stirring for about 1 minute until sugar dissolves. Remove from heat, add jalapeno and garlic. Cool to room temp. Whisk in lime juice and sesame oil.
- Drain and rinse the cooked noodles well in cold water. Toss noodles and mango with dressing. Garnish with peanuts, herbs.
Nutritional breakdown for Soba Mango Toss: About 325 calories and 13 grams of fat. Super filling and healthy, this is a great noodle salad for dieters. Soba noodles contain a type of polysaccharide that makes it super easy to digest and they’re full of manganese; the dish is low in saturated fat and cholesterol and has a healthy helping of Vitamins A, C and antioxidants.
Cost breakdown for Soba Mango Toss: About $2 per serving.
Verdict / In the Future: The dressing isn’t super spicy, but it has a kick, which is tempered with the sugar. Noodle salads are always a hit around here, but Stephen wasn’t a huge fan of the peanuts. The flavor worked for him, but the peanut chunks seemed unwieldy and out of place. Next time, I’ll add tahini or peanut butter to the sauce for the flavor, but 86 the nuts themselves.