Because we are People of the Border Zone, one of our projects this year was getting everybody’s travel documents up to date. Kate got her first passport, Alan got his expired one renewed, and I merely hectored everyone to get pictures and birth certificates and get their butts down to the post office. (I have six years left on mine.)
They keep telling us that any day now, we won’t be able to cross the Canadian border without one, only they keep extending the deadline, due to onerous delays at the passport office. NPR had a story a few months ago, interviewing panicky people holding non-refundable tickets to France but no passport, and they applied four months ago. (To these people, I say: Apply in Detroit. Ours arrived in three weeks.)
Anyway, our two newest passports are cutting-edge technology — e-passports. They have a chip inside so the U.S. government can track our movements around the globe, or something. Also, they appear to have Added Patriotism for Extra Glares at the Border. Really. The new design, which debuted earlier this year, is called “American Icons,” and looks like it was brainstormed in Vegas. The timeless plea of diplomacy — The Secretary of State of the United States of America hereby requests all whom it may concern to permit the citizen/national of the United States named herein to pass without delay or hindrance and in case of need to give all lawful aid and protection. — has been moved from the ID pages to the inside front cover, and now the ID facing page carries the preamble to the Constitution, watched over by a fierce carrion-eater.
(It’s times like this I’m sort of sad Ben Franklin failed in his bid to get the wild turkey named as America’s official ornithological symbol. That would be a sight to see.)
Most of any passport is the blank visa pages. In mine, there’s a subtle pattern of state seals. In the new one, it’s where the “American Icons” theme really shines. Mt. Rushmore, the Liberty Bell, a steamer on the Mississippi, a farmer plowing with oxen. I think they should have embedded that chip with a little MIDI version of the National Anthem that would play when you open it, like a birthday card. It really would have nailed the theme. An NYT story on the redesign gets the design flaw exactly right:
“It is like being given a coloring book that your brother already colored in,” said Michael Bierut, of the design firm Pentagram in New York City. A passport, not unlike a scrapbook, gets its allure from gradually accruing exotic stamps, with the blank pages holding the promise of future adventure, he and other designers said. But they find that the new jumble of pictures detracts from that.
I crossed the Canadian border in 2004 with my fellow J-fellow, Jay. (Say that last phrase 10 times fast. It’s fun.) Jay was a producer for “Nightline” and had a passport worthy of an international man of mystery, with stamps from Arabic and Turkish and Cambodian border crossings, while mine had a single dumb mark from Heathrow. And now that would be dwarfed by the enormous heads on Mt. Rushmore.
Might as well stay home.
Since it’s Thanksgiving week, how about a recipe in lieu of bloggage today? Sure, you’d like that.
I know a lot of people out there have competing constituencies sitting around the table on the big day, everyone from adventurous foodie snobs to dug-in traditionalists, and nowhere do the two styles clash more obviously than over the green beans. The first group wants to tart up the dish with sesame oil or some other exotic flavoring, while the latter wants the kind made with cream of mushroom soup and fried onions. The following dish pleases everyone; it contains a major note of the Campbell’s version (onions), but substitutes a tangy sweet-and-sour sauce that’s much lighter. You can also make most of it ahead of time, and just add freshly cooked beans right before serving. It’s from Betty Rosbottom’s American Favorites cookbook, and Betty is, for my money, the best food writer you never heard of. A friend of mine, also a food writer, says, “I’d eat fried gravel if Betty had a recipe for it.” So buy the book, and enjoy…
Green beans with roasted onions
4 medium onions
2 T. unsalted butter
salt and pepper
1 cup chicken broth (can use reduced sodium, fat-free, whatever)
2 T. red wine vinegar
1 T. plus 2 t. sugar
2 pounds tender green beans, trimmed on the diagonal
Preheat oven to 450.
Peel onions without removing roots. Halve onions lengthwise, cutting through center of root. Cut each half into eight wedges, keeping some of root with each wedge, so wedge holds together.
Spray a large, flameproof baking pan with nonstick cooking spray. Arrange onion wedges, slightly overlapping, in pan. Dot with butter, season generously with salt and pepper. Bake until onions are browned and tender, 50-60 minutes, checking after 40 minutes, as ovens can vary.
When onions are cooked, remove from pan and set aside. Place pan over high heat and add broth, vinegar and sugar. Whisk constantly, scraping up brown drippings into sauce. Cook until sauce reduces to a thick syrup, about 4 to 5 minutes. Return onions to pan and toss in thickened sauce. Remove from heat. (Can be prepared one day ahead. Cover and refrigerate. Reheat, stirring, over medium heat when needed.)
When ready to serve, cook beans in a large pot of boiling, salted water until just tender, about eight minutes. Drain well. Season with more salt, if needed. Mound beans on a warm serving platter, and arranged warm browned onions on top.
(That’s the official text. My notes: My onions usually cook in half an hour, not 50 minutes. I’ve never succeeded in getting the sauce to reduce to a thick syrup in under 20 minutes, but it doesn’t really matter — it tastes great even if the sauce is thin. Also, although the onion slices look great when they’re bound by the roots, that, too, is mainly a presentation thing. If yours fall apart, never worry.)
Have a great day. Mine will be a busy one.