Memorial Day is supposed to be a solemn holiday-- one to reflect on those Americans that have served and died in that service for our country. But the only evidence of reflection I saw this weekend was whether or not the BBQ was too rare to eat. Memorial Day seems to me, at least in this most ungodly and Babylonian of states, more about beer, cookouts and screenings of “Purple Rain” at the cemetery. Not that there’s anything wrong with that... I mean, after all, could a five foot nothing mixed race dude from Minnesota wearing violet lycra pantaloons and pointy boots really be a famous musician and arbiter of style anywhere else in the world besides America? Well, besides France, of course.
Really, what a gloriously mixed-up, mashed about mess of a place this is. We are a nation of ligers; an unnatural mix of a lion and a tiger that makes for one screwed up animal, since lions live in prides and hate the water while tigers are solitary and are great swimmers. Put them together and we are a totally confused animal that has no idea what it wants and needs but is pretty sure it’ll still be killing some giant land animal for dinner. There is such diversity and beauty in this society made up of glaring contradictions that it almost makes the ridiculous religious and political rants some of my facebook friends seem palatable... well, almost.
So I’ve been thinking about what traits we, as a group of more than 310 million people living on one landmass, share as Americans and which of them makes me most proud. And I’ve come to the conclusion that my hands-down favorite is dissatisfaction.
That’s right. I say screw people that are totally satisfied since satisfaction breeds laziness, smugness and the propensity to stick to the status quo. I say be pissed with whatever it is that isn’t working for you and acknowledge that you would like things to be different, and then go and make a change. Not to sound like a Michael Jackson song or anything.
What’s more American than dissatisfaction? This country was born of rebellion stemming from the dissatisfaction of being told what to do by an over-taxing, non-representing absentee constitutional monarch. This country gave old George III a big middle finger and I say you can, too if you would like your life to be different. I’d certainly like mine to be.
I’m dissatisfied with the state of my business. It totally sucks. I’m equally ripped that another designer I know (who doesn’t actually know how to make jewelry, though most don’t, to be fair) just picked up a CFDA fashion fund award for her “eco-friendly” jewelry. Let me be clear. This is an amazingly adept marketing angle, but there is NO SUCH THING ON THE PLANET as “eco-friendly” jewelry if it is made with stuff coming from the ground (AKA stones, metal, etc.). Using recycled gold (um, we ALL do) is like date raping the planet. You think it’s not as bad as regular old rape (it’s not like you didn’t buy the planet a dinner first, and besides it was asking for it wearing that mini skirt) but it’s still a CRIME. Gold was and is still mined and the chemicals used in the refining process and in the manufacture of the jewelry itself are toxic. Not that it matters to most designers because their product is manufactured in other countries because the labor is cheaper and who cares about polluting their environment-- it’s a half a world away. Not to go on and badmouth the industry I work in since I love what I do, but we have to be honest about the realities of what we do, how we do it and how that effects the greater world as a whole.
So it’s patriotic that I’m pissed off and dissatisfied. At least that’s what I’m telling myself today.
But in the interest of balance (and sanity) here’s what I’m satisfied with:
Especially the one I made this week, Rick Bayless’s Aztec tortilla soup, in honor of the opening of the chef’s first restaurant outside of Chicago, Red O, last week here in Los Angeles. I haven’t been yet, but hopefully I’ll be able to get in sometime soon and partake of the sheer fabulousness.
In deciding to make this soup I thought to myself, self, what is more American than both dissatisfaction and apple pie? Why Imperialism of course (though in Texas schoolbooks it will heretofore be known as “expansionism”)! And in honor of being big bullies and kicking people out of their own land and then not letting them back in, I figured we could throw a little Mexican deliciousness onto the stove this week so that’s exactly what I did.
Los detailos (from www.rickbayless.com):
Serves 4 to 6
Recipe from Frontera Grill/Topolobampo
Like guacamole, tortilla soup has a place, I feel, in practically every collection of Mexican recipes. It’s a filling, flavorful meal that can be made with little effort, but one that sings with an unmistakable Mexican harmony. Earthy dark pasilla chile. The softening crunch of toasty corn tortillas. Soul-satisfying broth. And creamy-rich avocado and cheese.
A note about pasilla (sometimes called negro) chile: Its unique flavor defines tortilla soup in central Mexico. In Michoacan, it’s ancho chile. In your kitchen, it might turn out to be another chile, like New Mexico or even a little smoky chipotle (be forewarned that chipotle will make the broth quite spicy). Though for these everyday recipes I’ve relied heavily on the easier-to-use powdered dried chile, finding powdered pasilla (negro) can be harder than finding the whole pod. Should powdered chile be at your finger tips (be it powdered pasilla (negro), ancho or beyond), add about 1 tablespoon to the pan about halfway through the cooking of the onion.
In Mexico, it’s more common to crush toasted chile pods over the soup than to add it to the base. You can follow that lead, or do both as we do in our restaurants.
1 large dried pasilla (negro) chile, stemmed and seeded
One 15-ounce can diced tomatoes in juice (preferably fire-roasted)
2 tablespoons vegetable or olive oil
1 medium white onion, sliced 1/4-inch thick
3 garlic cloves, peeled
2 quarts chicken broth
1 large epazote sprig, if you have one
4 (about 1 1/4 pounds total) boneless, skinless chicken breast halves, cut into 1/2-inch cubes
1 large ripe avocado, pitted, flesh scooped from the skin and cut into 1/4-inch cubes
1 1/2 cups (6 ounces) shredded Mexican melting cheese (like Chihuahua, quesadilla or asadero) or Monterey Jack, brick or mild cheddar
A generous 4 cups (about 6 ounces) roughly broken tortilla chips
1/2 cup Mexican crema, sour cream or creme fraîche for garnish
1 large lime, cut into 6 wedges, for serving
Quickly toast the chile by turning it an inch or two above an open flame for a few seconds until its aroma fills the kitchen. (Lacking an open flame, toast it in a dry pan over medium heat, pressing it flat for a few seconds, then flipping it over and pressing it again.) Break the chile into pieces and put in a blender jar along with the tomatoes with their juice. (A food processor will work, though it won’t completely puree the chile.)
Heat the oil in a medium (4-quart) saucepan over medium-high. Add the onion and garlic and cook, stirring frequently, until golden, about 7 minutes. Scoop up the onion and garlic with a slotted spoon, pressing them against the side of the pan to leave behind as much oil as possible, and transfer to the blender. Process until smooth.
Return the pan to medium-high heat. When quite hot, add the puree and stir nearly constantly, until thickened to the consistency of tomato paste, about 6 minutes. Add the broth and epazote, if using. Reduce the heat to medium-low and simmer for 15 minutes. Taste and season with salt, usually about a generous teaspoon (depending on the saltiness of the broth).
Just before serving, add the chicken to the simmering broth. Divide the avocado, cheese and tortilla chips between serving bowls. When the chicken is done, usually about 5 minutes, ladle the soup into the bowls. Garnish with the crema. Pass the lime separately.
Firstly I would comment that there is no improving the genius of Rick Bayless. But I do think saying that you only need about 1 tsp of salt is a gross under exaggeration. Also, I was lucky enough to have access to pasilla chiles, which I roasted over my gas stove, though I could have seriously charred them more. The soup was smoky and lovely and not too spicy even with an added couple of tablespoons of ancho chile powder and valle de sol chile powder. Oh, and also a dash of chipotle tabasco for good measure (and acidity).
But the real beauty of the soup was in the garnishes-- fresh grated quesadilla cheese, broken tortilla chips, cilantro, a lime wedge and diced avocado.
I wasn’t the least dissatisfied. In fact, I was downright pleased. Self-satisfied even. And my fellow ‘poloozians all seemed content. But maybe that’s also because I plied them with my hand made margaritas before they ate the Bossy Blonde’s grandmother’s guacamole, the soup and then finished the night off with Mayan honey liqueur and white chocolate ice cream.
What a divine way to celebrate an American holiday. But I guess now I have to go and figure out how to market my non-eco friendly jewelry. After all, it is the American thing to do.