The inaugural ceremony was on all the international news programs I saw this morning, and it was nice to see so many regular Americans and remember that they come in all ages and colors and backgrounds. The inaugural luncheon menu was very American. Steamed lobster with New England clam chowder with sauteed spinach and sweet potato hay. Hickory grilled bison with red potato horseradish cakes and wild huckleberry reduction, butternut squash puree, baby golden beets and green beans, strawberry preserves and red cabbage. Hudson Valley apple pie with sour cream ice cream and maple caramel sauce, artisan cheese and honey. Naturally, because the president is not allowed one day off from media criticism and negativity, the meal was judged to have too many calories. How can Michelle Obama promote healthy eating when this meal has too many calories?
The American products I most often see in supermarkets here are Kellog’s Corn Flakes, Jiffy Popcorn, Snickers bars, Reeses Peanut Butter Cups, Ritz Crackers, Kraft cheeses, Ba-co Bacon Bits, Cambell’s soups, Doritos. What I think is strange is how many of these brand product jingles and slogans I have memorized from TV as a child and still clearly remember. I wasn’t even allowed to watch that much television. Oscar Meyer Wieners (“My wiener has a first name…”); Paulmolive Dishwashing Liquid (“You’re soaking in it!”); Folger’s Coffee (“Good to the last drop”); Rice-a-Roni (“The San Francisco treat”); Hienz Ketchup (Carol King’s “Anticipation”); Cambell’s Soup (“Mmm-mmm good”); Sunkist Tuna (“Sorry, Charlie”); Kellog’s Frosted Flakes (“They’re great!”). That brain space could be used in a much more productive way.
I’m always surprised at the brand loyalty some Americans in Japan have. It’s depressing to see someone’s Thanksgiving dinner and instead of using local ingredients they have been imported, and that I know what brands everything is before they even say so: Butterball Turkey; Stouffer’s Stove Top Stuffing; Ocean Breeze Cranberries; Libby’s canned pumpkin; Carnation evaporated milk. As Andy Warhol wrote, “Buying is more American than thinking and I’m as American as they come.”
Other really American things:
Eating with hands, picking up things with both hands and needing lots of napkins: hamburgers should drip with sauce, pizza crust should bend under the weight of cheese and too many ingredients and grease, hot wings should stain fingers. Dipping and dunking. Children drinking milk with meals, adults drinking coffee with meals. Walking around with coffee, soda, or bottled water. Take out. Doggy bags. Bottomless coffee refills. Happy hours. Complementary bread baskets, free rice at Chinese restaurants, free tortilla chips and salsa at Mexican restaurants. Putting cheese on everything. Putting jalapenos, hot sauce, BBQ sauce, salsa, or Ranch dressing on everything. Brunch, all-day breakfasts, buckwheat pancakes with maple syrup and bacon, cinnamon rolls, blueberry muffins, steak and eggs with hash browns, enormous omelets named after cities or states, grapefruit halves with sugar, orange juice, cinnamon raisin toast. Long menus that make it difficult to decide.
Sandwiches as big as your head, regional versions of sandwiches and hot dogs and hamburgers. Sloppy Joes. Taking an inexpensive food and making an expensive gourmet version: coffee, ice cream, cupcakes, cookies, popcorn, hamburgers and hot dogs, pizza. Choose-your-own-topping pizza, pizzas made with eccentric ingredients, pizza crusts made with spent grain from beer, Canadian bacon and pineapple pizza, pan pizza. Salads as meals (containing meat, seafood, eggs, noodles, croutons, cheese, nuts, fruit, herbs, lettuces, tortilla chips, etc.), Iceberg lettuce wedge with Ranch dressing, Caesar Salad, Jell-O salads, cottage cheese and pineapple, salad bars, an infinite variety of dressings.
Hamburgers with French fries and too much ketchup, fries dipped in a thick milk shake. Onion rings. Pickles on hamburgers and relish on hot dogs. Veggie burgers. Buffalo chicken wings with blue cheese dressing and celery. Peanut butter in celery, peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, peanut butter cookies, peanut brittle. Chili and cornbread, grilled cheese sandwich and tomato soup, clam chowder and soda crackers, geoduck chowder, oyster stew and oyster crackers. San Francisco cioppino, Hangtown fry, sourdough bread. Meatloaf with mashed potatoes and gravy. Spaghetti and meatballs with garlic bread. Steamed clams in a bucket with melted butter, crab cakes, Seafood Boil, cedar-planked salmon, trout with wild rice, Shrimp Cocktail, fish sticks and tater tots, fried clams and tarter sauce. Beef jerky, salmon jerky. Applesauce. Fry Bread tacos, fish tacos.
Fried pickles. Kung Pao Chicken, Sweet and Sour Pork, fortune cookies. Barbecued ribs, pulled pork, baked beans, macaroni & cheese as a side dish. Biscuits and gravy. Fried chicken and waffles, buttermilk fried chicken and potato salad. Deviled eggs. Jambalaya, black-eyed peas, grits, fried green tomatoes, sweet potato pie, pickled watermelon. Hickory smoked ham, fried pork rinds. Chicken pot pie. Corn on the cob, creamed corn, corn dogs, Hush Puppies, popcorn with melted butter, popcorn balls made with marshmallows, molasses, or maple syrup. Steak with baked potato and sour cream and chives, potato chips and sour cream onion dip, BBQ flavored potato chips, candied sweet potatoes.
Apple pie with cheddar cheese, cheesecake with graham cracker crust, carrot cake with cream cheese frosting, banana bread and butter, oatmeal cookies and milk, pies made from rhubarb, pecan, pumpkin, huckleberries, layer cakes, banana splits, pie with vanilla ice cream. Caramel apples. Root beer floats, ginger ale, Dr. Pepper, lemonade, iced tea in a Mason jar with a straw, cream soda, black-cherry soda, Orange Julius, Red Hook ESB. Vegetarians, vegans, the gluten or lactose intolerant, low-fat, low-cholesteral diets. Inexpensive food from around the world made by people from those countries. The more expensive fusion versions. American sushi: a roll made of beef, bacon, jalapeno wrapped in nori and deep-fried, topped with marinated tomatoes, Pepper Jack cheese, and cashew-cilantro pesto; a roll made of bison, fried green tomatoes, grilled onion, feta, topped with chipotle aioli, jalapenos and red onions; a roll made of crab, avocado, cucumber, tobiko, with a red miso BBQ sauce. Spam Musubi.
On TV right now there’s a 1941 movie, Tobacco Road. Poor whites in the South whose ancestors used to be farmers but the banks took their land, because the civil war, I assume. They are dirt poor and don’t bathe or have many teeth and live in shacks with barking dogs and yell at each other and be lazy. One of them is named “Dude.” Some of the women are religious fanatics. They steal turnips and corn. They eat the turnips raw. I think of Here Comes Honey Boo-Boo, except they never eat vegetables. I watched their Halloween special (strictly for anthropological purposes, I swear) and they threw the apples they got trick-or-treating out on the lawn for the animals to eat, they literally never eat fruit and don’t seem to know what vegetables are. So the Tabacco Road descendants are the ones buying guns and voting against their own interests because of their old grudge against Northerners and minorities. We are obviously supposed to laugh at them in the movie, as we are supposed to laugh at Honey Boo Boo. The South, I don’t know. They should go back to eating vegetables at least.
From Mark Twain’s A Tramp Abroad:
“After a few month’s aquaintance with European ‘coffee,’ one’s mind weakens, and his faith with it, and be begins to wonder if the rich beverage of home, with its clotted layer of yellow cream on top of it, is not a mere dream, after all, and a thing which never existed. … Then there is the beefsteak. They have it in Europe, but they don’t know how to cook it. … It lies in the center of this platter, in a bordering bed of grease-soaked potatoes; it is the size, shape, and thickness of a man’s hand with the thumb and fingers cut off. It is a little overdone, is rather dry, it tastes pretty insipidly, it rouses no enthusiasm. Imagine a poor exile contemplating that inert thing; and imagine an angel suddenly sweeping down out of a better land and setting before him a mighty porterhouse steak an inch and a half thick, hot and sputtering from the griddle; dusted with fragrant pepper; enriched with little melting bits of butter of the most unimpeachable freshness and genuineness; the precious juices of the meat trickling and joining the gravy archipelagoed with mushrooms; a township or two of tender, yellowish fat gracing an outlying district of this ample country of beefsteak; the long white bone which divides the sirloin from the tenderloin still in its place; and imagine that the angel also adds a great cup of American home-made coffee, with a cream a-froth on top, some real butter, firm and yellow and fresh, some smoking-hot biscuits, a plate of hot buckwheat cakes, with transparent syrup — would words describe the gratitude of the exile?
“The European dinner is better than the European breakfast, but … it does not satisfy. There is here and there an American who will say he can remember rising from a European table d’hote perfectly satisfied; but we must not overlook the fact that there is also here and there an American who will lie. … Perhaps if the roast of mutton or beef — a big generous one — were brought to the table and carved in full view of the client that might give the right sense of earnestness and reality to the thing; but they don’t do that, they pass the sliced meat around on a dish, and so you are perfectly calm, it does not stir you in the least. Now a vast roast turkey, stretched on the broad of his back, with his hells in the air and the rich juices oozing from his fat sides … but I may stop there, for they would not know how to cook him. They can’t even cook a chicken respectably; and as for carving, they do that with a hatchet.
“I have selected a few dishes, and made out a little bill of fare … and be hot when I arrive — as follows:
Radishes. Baked apples, with cream.
Fried oysters; stewed oysters.
American coffee, with real cream.
Fried chicken, Southern style.
American roast beef.
Hot buckwheat cakes.
American toast. Clear maple syrup.
Virginia bacon, broiled.
Prairie liens, from Illinois.
Bacon and greens, Southern style.
San Francisco mussels, steamed.
Oyster soup. Clam soup.
Soft-shelled crab. Connecticut shad.
Brook trout from Sierra Nevada.
Black bass from the Mississippi.
Roast turkey, Thanksgiving style.
Cranberry sauce. Celery.
Boston bacon and beans.
Hominy. Boiled onions. Turnips.
Sliced tomatoes, with sugar or vinegar.
Pumpkins. Squash. Asparagus.
Butter beans. Sweet potatoes.
Lettuces. Succotash. String beans.
Mashed potatoes. Catsup.
Green corn, on the ear.
Hot corn-pone, with chitlings, Southern style.
Buttermilk. Iced sweet milk.
Pumpkin pie. Squash pie.
Fresh American fruits of all sorts, including strawberries which are not to be doled out as if they were jewelry, but in a more liberal way. Ice-water — not prepared in the ineffectual goblet, but in the sincere and capable refrigerator.”