Wednesday, September 11, 2013

Martha's American Food

In remembrance and reflection upon the 12th anniversary of the tragedies of 9/11/2001, I found myself pondering what unites us as a people. In the days after tragedy shook our nation, we became the most cohesive unit we have ever been; brought together by the admiration for the heroes, our fellow citizens, who risked their lives to take the chance of saving another. Even twelve years later, this cohesion still echoes throughout our culture. This day always leaves me reflecting on what makes us "American"? Each year I can come up with a different facet of our culture that brings us together and craft the definition of what it means to be American; we are an everchanging people. 

This past weekend I was enjoying dinner out on the patio of Grace's Mandarin in National Harbor, MD. As we finished up our Key Lime Cheesecake, the two ladies sitting next to us asked about what we were having for desert; two strikingly different women than my friend and I, sharing a common bond- desert. We then began to chat through the remainder of our meal and bid them a farewell as we left as if they were old friends. 

One of the many facets of our culture that unite us: food

As Americans, we love to eat.  

Within this past year, my interest in the power of food has sparked me to think about our cohesion in culinary terms. The American people are a melting pot, after all, as cliche as that may be. We are a blend; different hues, various consistencies, acquired tastes, some spicy, some salty, some so insanely sweet, some we may consider umami, those ones that we just cannot figure out. This cliche of our culture as a melting pot left me reminiscent of a recent book I stumbled upon which encapsulated the culture of American food and features an echo of the patriotism that was reborn after we faced catastrophe in New York, Pennsylvania and Washington, D.C. on that beautiful September day.

On my most recent weekly stop by the public library, I stumbled upon one of the best cookbooks I have yet to lay hands on. This book was the perfect combination of history, recipes, photography and expert insight. 

I picked up "Martha's American Food" and absolutely fell in love. It is everything I've been wanting to see in an American cookbook. Published in 2012, this book breaks down American fare by geographical region. Beginning with All-American and moving to Northeast, South, Midwest, Southwest and finally, West, this book covers the cuisine from "sea to shining sea." Upon the perusal of each region, Martha spotlights regional flavors which influence the dishes of that particular section. From clams in the Northeast, sweet peaches of the South, sour cherries of the Midwest, poppin' peppers of the Southwest, and toasty hazelnuts of the West, the flavor profiles that this book provides stretch far beyond informative. Shoefly Pie, Hoppin' John, Boston Baked Beans, Mac and Cheese (with 6 CUPS of CHEESE!), Blueberry Crisp, Fried Green Tomatoes, Sauerbraten, Persimmon Pudding, Skillet Cornbread, Texas Sheet Cake, Crab Louis, and Cioppino; these dishes are only a few of the many American classics that Martha has included in her book. Not only does "Martha's American Food" feature a wide array of dishes from each region, but it also provides recipes for the traditional drinks. Think Mint juleps, Cape codders, Manhattans, Micheladas; intoxicating just to read. The ultimate sips and bites from each and every corner of our nation. 

Within each individual recipe, the book provides a snippet called the "Backstory" where the brief history the dish is told. Who originally picked it, the not-so-secret secret ingredients and transformation of the recipe; Martha dishes it up in a casual and inviting tone which certainly inspired me to get in the kitchen. In addition, every recipe in the book is coupled with a mouthwatering photograph of the final product. 

I wanted to post about this book because I see it as being a gateway for beginners yet a piece of art for masters. If you find yourself unable to define American cuisine, this book will help you work toward a diverse and satiating definition. I have this book out on a loan from the library right now but I have already ordered my own copy and it is on its way to me. I hope you find this book as a bridge between diversity and region; an unintentional attempt to unite people through one thing we all know and love: food. 

You can find your own copy of this beautifully crafted cookbook right here.

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