The last class I took in College as a requirement to graduate was a Seminar on Contemporary American Fiction. We read big books like The Corrections and Graphic novels like Maggie the Mechanic and almost anything in between. Although the material itself was all over the place, the thread that ran through the entire class was the question: What is American about this book, text, or idea?
We tried to answer this question every week with stereotypes and generalizations and sometime even explicit specifics about life in Brooklyn (with reference to Lethem’s Motherless Brooklyn). At the end of every class, we walked out no closer to the answer of “What is American?”
This past July 4th I tried to ask myself the same question, one more time. Not about books, or ideas, or motifs, but about the day in general. What is American about this day? Or, more specifically: how can I make this day as American as possible. What was my conclusion? I figured a big barbeque with family, friends, and lots of good, local food was pretty American.
To start the American meal I envisioned, I actually began at the end, thinking about the dessert first. I have – over the years – made a lot of desserts. I actually started out my cooking career making desserts. Scones, cookies, cakes, flan, crème brulee – I’ve at least attempted to make anything that might have a hint of “that would go well after dinner.” After some thought, and time spent in the City the week before, I was inspired to make Banana pudding from scratch. Inspired mainly by Magnolia Bakery, located both in the West Village and the Upper West Side between the 60s and 70s around Columbus. They have some of the best banana pudding I’ve ever had so, why not try to make it? And come on, Banana Pudding? Naner Puddin’? It’s so American it hurts.
You can’t have an end course without a few before it, so an entrée had to be created.
Being the fourth and all, aka America Day, burgers on the grill seemed ideal. Since my family has now started up a meat C.S.A. in addition to a vegetable one, I used local grass-fed beef with a few ingredients mixed in. Imagine this: burgers that are rich and meaty, infused with feta, dill, seared garlic, salt and a whole lot of pepper served on slightly staled crusty bread. Perfect, I say, for an American celebration.
Meat and Naner Puddin’ for dinner. I can’t say that isn’t American, but I also can’t say that’s a full meal in my book. To accompany the burgers, I had two sides – sautéed greens with garlic, salt, pepper, garlic snapes, and butter to give it a full- bodied flavor.
And a cold sautéed zucchini salad with garlic snapes, salt, pepper over a bed of arugula, cucumbers and feta.
Top this all off with family, friends, a cold beer, and serve it up on a deck in the middle of the woods on a beautifully sunny day in Upstate New York and I think that’s pretty American. I can’t say why, but I just think it was a great American way to celebrate this country’s independence.