An All-American Inauguration Dinner

I’ve been pretty transfixed watching the inaugural activities today. If you’ve been reading my blog lately, you will know one of the highlights of the day for me was the incredible poem by Amanda Gorman, the first National Youth Poet Laureate. I had high expectations, but she blasted past them by not only giving us a fantastic poem with an unbelievably self-assured presentation for a 22 year-old, but in such a bold and attractive outfit (apparently with jewelry loaned by Oprah!). Of course, I also loved the songs (and outfits) of Lady Gaga and Jennifer Lopez, the great MC services by Senators Amy Klobuchar and Roy Blunt, and President Biden’s speech calling for unity. Best of all, however, was just the pomp and circumstances around this peaceful transition of power…something that seemed in doubt a couple of weekends ago.

I’ve often said before in this blog that I like to celebrate everything, and today is no exception. My big decision was what was the appropriate thing to make for dinner, and I had been considering it for a couple of weeks. On MLK day, I made some Indian food, both for the influence that Gandhi had on Dr. King’s nonviolence philosophy, as well as in recognition of Kamala Harris’ Indian background. I thought of making pasta with red sauce, which is supposed to be Joe Biden’s favorite (one of Jill Biden’s most famous recipes is chicken Parmesan), but that didn’t seem special enough. I mean, I make pasta a lot, but more during the spring/summer when I have lots of fresh tomatoes to make my own sauce. So that didn’t really feel like the right choice.

I got to thinking that this event wasn’t really about Joe Biden and Kamala Harris per se, but about the entire United States. In contrast to former President Trump’s assertion that “I alone can fix it,” Joe Biden is asking all of us to come together to solve the many problems facing this nation–together. So I started to think, what would be a meal to represent not just Joe Biden or Kamala Harris, but all of the United States.

I figured the best US meal was a meal based on indigenous foods–foods that were originally found only on the American continents. The major ones are shown above. Our indigenous foods include peppers, both chile and bell, tomatoes, and potatoes, both regular and sweet. Then there is squash, avocado, and a mainstay of our ancestors as well as current consumers, corn. While there were beans that originated in Europe, they are not our so-called “common beans,” including pintos, kidney, and black beans. Blueberries are perhaps the most prevalent of the several unique American berries, plus have a ton of vitamins. Finally, we have what I think may be the Americas greatest gift to the world–cocoa, from which we make CHOCOLATE!

I considered what I could make from those ingredients. It seemed obvious to me that the only recipe that could incorporate all that, and hence the MOST AMERICAN meal possible, was…chili.

So that was our inaugural dinner. It was, however, a multi-step process. I cooked the beans in the Instant Pot. I boiled the two types of potatoes together in water. I cooked down the tomatoes and blueberries, then blended them with some canned chipotle chiles in adobo sauce (still an American indigenous food) and the unsweetened cocoa. Everything else except the avocado I sautéed, then mixed it all together. For full disclosure’s sake, I did also sauté a red onion and some red cabbage and some garlic in olive oil, none of which is uniquely indigenous, but I added them anyway for taste and/or color reasons (I had a rainbow going above, so I wanted to “red” onion and “red” cabbage to represent purple). Plus, my family isn’t crazy about all vegetarian chili, so I did add the uniquely American indigenous meat…no, not buffalo. I used the more ground turkey instead of the more typical chili beef or pork, since neither cows or domesticated pigs lived in the US before they were brought here by the Europeans.

For dessert, I made chocolate chip cookies (OK, true confessions: I made those in the morning, so we had them for breakfast. To me, inauguration day is a holiday, so I can ignore my usual healthy eating routines). What, really, is a more everyday-Joe dessert than chocolate chip cookies. It is also a great metaphor for the country, since it takes a European recipe for butter cookies (butter being introduced to the Americas through the importation of cows, although I believe there were some less savory products made from the milk of indigenous mammals) and then mixes in chunks of the indigenous American chocolate to transform the traditional cookies into an entirely different experience. Chocolate chip cookies really are a good metaphor for the US, don’t you think?

As is chili. I always liked the idea of America as a melting pot, but that isn’t really true. I think it is better to think of the US as a chili–a dish of distinct ingredients that all keep their original identities (beans are still beans, turkey is still turkey, the vegetables are still vegetables), yet by being cooked together, produce a dish that is more delicious than each of the ingredients separately. Making a good chili is all a matter of balance, so that the different ingredients all contribute their particular specialty without overwhelming the others.

I like thinking about America that way.

So this is my small domestic technique of supporting the call for unity by the new Administration. Let’s make the most beautiful chili together, shall we?

(PS–I mostly wrote this yesterday, the day of the inauguration, but needed to finish and polish it today)

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