Sea to shining sea.

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.

Posted at 9:47 am in Same ol' same ol' |

35 responses to “Sea to shining sea.”

  1. John C said on November 20, 2007 at 10:17 am

    I’d like to add a recipe I learned a few years ago, when I made my first attempt at brining a turkey. I put it in the basement fridge overnight, not thinking a thing about the fact that the basement fridge is only used for beer and soda, and is turned up cold. The bird, unbeknownst to me, started to re-freeze. This fact was unnoticed until I took the thought-to-be-cooked bird out of the oven grandly, only to figure out pretty quickly that it wasn’t done yet. It needed another full hour, at least. So this is my recipe for when things don’t go quite right and you want to divert attention from your ineptitude, or at least make it funny.
    I call this recipe …. wine.


    Pass around.
    Repeat as many times as necessary.

    Happy Thanksgiving to all.

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  2. brian stouder said on November 20, 2007 at 10:21 am

    Re – the updated passports: My God!! Nance is becoming….one of those cranky old ladies who call into local talk radio! (can’t remember that woman’s name – Lucile?)

    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.

    Have you seen scrapbooks lately?? Whole industries have sprung up, supplying caloozles and embellishments and designer papers and pages and so on and so forth, ad infinitum!

    OH! For the good ol’ days! When we taped snapshots onto heavy paper, and bound the papers in three-ring binders! And when passports were plain, and depended on people with travel expense accounts for any adornment!!

    Just kiddin’. Happy Thanksgiving, everyone! (And travel safely, if you’re going to be out and about – even if not internationally)

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  3. Cathy D. said on November 20, 2007 at 10:33 am

    I’m kind of scared of any recipe that includes this phrase: “large, flameproof baking pan,” but also comforted, because if there is such as a thing as a flameproof pan, I’m going out looking for one, because I’ve set almost all of mine on fire at one time or another.

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  4. LA mary said on November 20, 2007 at 10:57 am

    I hate the usual sweet potato and marshmallow glop, so I do a gratin of sweet potatoes and granny smith apple slices, add a few butter pats and pour a little apple juice in the baking pan. Cover it with foil and bake it for about an hour. Much nicer than the marshmallows, but still sweet.

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  5. Marie said on November 20, 2007 at 10:59 am

    “Added Patriotism for Extra Glares at the Border” made me laugh so hard, but in a sad sort of way for my lovely, plain passport with all its pretty stamps that I’ll soon have to replace with the Vegas model. Wow, those things are TACK-Y.

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  6. MichaelG said on November 20, 2007 at 11:08 am

    I was living in SF the first time I applied for a passport. I got some pix and went down to the passport office. Filled out app, paid $$ left pix and went home. I got the passport in the mail in 3 days. The last time I renewed it (in 2000) I went to the office in SF and with a little whining was able to get it while I waited. Guess those days are over.

    Green beans: French cut whatever amount of greenies suits you. Steam to desired degree of doneness. Saute briefly in butter with lots of sliced almonds. Season to taste. Yum.

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  7. nancy said on November 20, 2007 at 11:15 am

    Jon Carroll wrote a funny column about getting his passport renewed in San Francisco in a hurry-up situation. I loved this part:

    It was still dark outside. I sat on the narrow steps of the passport building. I guess I must have been looming in the gloaming, because I alarmed passers-by who suddenly rounded the corner and encountered my slumping form. I dialed the number on the window. I was placed on hold. I was on hold for quite a while. I began to realize that I looked a lot like an indigent person, huddled in a darkened doorway with an old cell phone pressed to my ear. Were a police officer to come along, what would I say? “I’m on hold with the State Department?” Yeah, I bet that works.

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  8. Dorothy said on November 20, 2007 at 11:22 am

    I’ve never understood putting marshmallows on top of sweet potatoes or yams. To me they are sweet enough already – but we add a little brown sugar to the butter when cooking them. That’s good eatin’!

    I hate traveling on Thanksgiving, but if the end result is being with family, then I don’t mind it a bit. We’re headed to my sister Diane’s in Indiana, PA on Thursday early, early, early.

    Happy T’day everyone!

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  9. Jolene said on November 20, 2007 at 11:29 am

    Oh good, recipes! I made an apple pie from a new and somewhat unusual recipe last week and have been evangelizing on its behalf ever since. It’s Golden Raisin and Apple Lattice Pie. Easy, as pies go, and re-e-e-e-e-ally good.

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  10. Connie said on November 20, 2007 at 11:37 am

    My daughter applied for hers in Indy in September and it came in two weeks. I had heard that NPR story and we worried she was applying too late for her January departure.

    My Thanksgiving will mostly consist of a round trip to Flint and back where I will eat whatever is served at my 87 yr old mother in law’s house. She is recuperating from major surgery last week so who knows what to expect. Besides the usual Chinette.

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  11. Connie said on November 20, 2007 at 11:38 am

    And I was wondering, can I renew a passport that has been expired for over 20 years? I would need a new picture of course.

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  12. Peter said on November 20, 2007 at 11:56 am

    Sorry Connie, if it’s expired over five years you have to start from scratch, which, comparatively speaking, doesn’t take much longer.

    Our family’s favorite Thanksgiving tradition returns this year – we serve jellied cranberry sauce straight up on a paper plate, and the guest of honor gets to lop off the top with the imprint of the expiration date stamp on it. Last few years, they’ve been putting the date on with ink, so Thanksgivings were just a little less special, but yesterday I found a bunch of cans with the old fashioned stamp, so we’re living large!

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  13. nancy said on November 20, 2007 at 12:30 pm

    Connie, I think you can still use your old passport in lieu of a birth certificate — a document that becomes more difficult to find every year — but I could be wrong.

    And Peter, that’s a tremendous tradition. I love cranberry sauce at Thanksgiving, probably because it cuts through the sweetness of the marshmallow-topped sweet potatoes.

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  14. Mindy said on November 20, 2007 at 12:32 pm

    My travels haven’t yet required a passport, but I’ll be getting one some day. I have a history of terrible driver’s license photos and am not looking forward to the one that’s bound to be on a passport.

    I bought the Betty Rosbottom book the last time Nancy mentioned it along with the fried gravel. Great stuff. As for a recipe to share, I can offer one that was on the box of Nilla wafers back in the late 50s and early 60s. It was lost and its existence denied by Nabisco probably because it calls for raw eggs. Found it stuffed in an old cookbook many years later much to the delight of my father. It’s his favorite and I am required to bring it at Thanksgiving. I prepare half the recipe in an 8×8 square dish lest he kill himself with it. Very, very sweet. Happy Thanksgiving, everyone.

    Nilla Original French Pudding

    1 lb box Nilla vanilla wafers
    2 sticks butter, softened (no substitutes)
    2 cups powdered sugar
    4 eggs
    1 cup chopped nuts
    1 cup maraschino cherries
    1 pint heavy cream
    2 tablespoons sugar
    1 tsp vanilla extract

    Blot cherries dry and cut them into quarters; set aside. Crumble wafers and spread a little more than half on the bottom of a 9×13 glass baking dish. Whisk eggs, add powdered sugar, butter and nuts. Stretch this mixture over the crumbled wafers almost to the edge. Whip cream with sugar and vanilla until peaks form. Fold in cherries. Spread over egg mixture. Top with remaining crumbled vanilla wafers. Refrigerate.

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  15. beb said on November 20, 2007 at 1:02 pm

    Green Bean casserole. Ugh! The only green beans I ever liked where ones my mother make by sauteeing green beans with a handful of diced bacon in a heavy sauce pan for an hour or so.

    Another recipe the family likes is faux Lemon Rice Soup. Bbasically it’s one can chicken with rice soup, plus one can of cream of chicken soup, a half cup of instant rice. Combine and cook until rice is done, add a couple tablesppons of concentrated lemon juice (adjust amount to taste) and enjoy. It’s not as good as the soup at Laikon’s which tastes like it was made from mutton stock, but our recipe makes a nice hearty soup in under a half hour.

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  16. Dorothy said on November 20, 2007 at 1:16 pm

    My brother noted years ago that you should not take a bite of cranberry sauce, and then take a swig of water. He said it tastes just awful. I can’t remember if it does or not cause I haven’t tried it in ages!

    I’m making a frozen cranberry concoction to take to my sister’s. I have the recipe at home – otherwise I’d share it here. It has cool whip, cream cheese, whole cranberry sauce, and chopped walnuts. Maybe one or two more ingredients.

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  17. ashley said on November 20, 2007 at 1:24 pm

    Nance, on Monday, I, too will have an Arabic stamp in my passport. BTW, if you hit your new passport with a brick, you kill the RFID chip, and render it useless. Or so I’ve heard.

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  18. 4dbirds said on November 20, 2007 at 1:30 pm

    My first passport was a family passport. The picture included my mom and the six of us kids. Dad traveled on his military ID. We traveled to Okinawa and Germany on that thing. By the time we left Germany in 1965, the government required individual passports.

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  19. LA mary said on November 20, 2007 at 3:14 pm

    Whatever you do, don’t make that cranberry recipe that Susan Stamberg gives out every year on NPR. I’ve never tried it but it sounds nasty.

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  20. Jolene said on November 20, 2007 at 3:59 pm

    Try this cranberry sauce instead. It’s made w/ tequila and jalapeno. I made it when the recipe was first published, and everyone thought it was terrific. Do, though, make it the day ahead or even this evening. At first, it had too much of a kick, but, after mellowing a little, was delicious.

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  21. harry near indy said on November 20, 2007 at 4:28 pm

    beb likes bacon flavor in the green beans. i do, too.

    btw, does anyone else eat bacon or any pork product with green beans? for thanksgiving, i’m going to my parents’ house, where my mother will cook, and i’ll bet she’ll have green beans with bacon and diced onions — a dish she learned from her mother.

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  22. ashley said on November 20, 2007 at 5:05 pm

    Pork is in everything…

    I’m trying a new technique for my deep fried turkey this year: instead of flavoring the bird with an injector, I’m going to fry 2 lbs of bacon in the peanut oil before frying the bird. This is supposed to give the frying oil all that bacony goodness.

    And man, green bean casserole with fresh beans is just wrong. Lots of french cut canned beans, lots of french fried onion rings, and sometimes I even add cream cheese to the dish for added bloatedness.

    And bacon.

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  23. nancy said on November 20, 2007 at 5:07 pm

    And you’re getting an Arab passport stamp? They’re going to take one whiff of you in customs and put you back on the plane. Your ass will definitely not be halal.

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  24. joodyb said on November 20, 2007 at 5:14 pm

    did anyone catch paula deen’s sons (foodnetwork) making the deepfried jellied cranberry fritters? i’ve seen it all now!

    this year’s festive addition to the menu: red roosters (OJ, cranberry juice and vodka frozen into a slush). yum!

    LA Mary: i’m making Mama Stamberg’s relish this year! i have to do it and get it over with. it sounds disgusting (and looks even worse), but i’m betting it’s pretty delish on a turkey sandwich.
    be careful, all.

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  25. Deborah said on November 20, 2007 at 9:39 pm

    I love my sweet potato recipe and so do many others I’ve served. bake the potaotes (about 4 medium), remove them from their skins when fully baked (try to keep from burning your fingers). Mash and mix with about a cup of sour cream. Put mixture in a casserole dish, cover with a layer pecans and bake until hot and tasty. It’s delish. Not too sweet, but rich and creamy.

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  26. Jeff said on November 20, 2007 at 11:40 pm

    Susan Stamberg’s mauve wickedness is perfect on a turkey sandwich, but that’s the best use i’ve found, other than with roast beef if your Thanksgiving swings that way.

    Robert Irvine on “Dinner: Impossible” did a nicely bizarre version of “Nilla Original French Pudding” for his challenge at Graceland, with a tragically waxy Priscilla stiffly smiling/wincing her way through the events.

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  27. alex said on November 21, 2007 at 9:12 am

    Harry, beb–

    The only way to make green beans palatable is bacon. First time I ever had any that I could stand was at a friend’s house. His mother, a farm woman, would put beans in a pressure cooker with a huge chunk of bacon and… presto! In fact, she’d have multiple pressure cookers going, one full of chicken, one full of beef, and serve meals on any given day that would put most Thanksgiving feasts to shame.

    All the men in that family either died or had quadruple bypasses by the age of 45.

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  28. brian stouder said on November 21, 2007 at 9:27 am

    All the men in that family either died or had quadruple bypasses by the age of 45.

    ha! Sounds a little Hitchcockian!

    (Didn’t he make a movie where the murderous woman whacked her fella with a frozen leg-a-lamb, then cooked and ate it – thereby disposing of the murder weapon?)

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  29. Dorothy said on November 21, 2007 at 10:15 am

    My hubby makes fresh green beans with shallots and ginger, sauteeing them in olive oil and about 1 tbsp. of butter or margarine. They are to die for.

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  30. Cosmo Panzini said on November 21, 2007 at 10:17 am

    No, it wasn’t a movie, it was a TV episode of his from the 50’s.

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  31. brian stouder said on November 21, 2007 at 10:32 am

    Ahhhhhh – thanks! Just that one random scrap of a memory was all that remained (must have been a mis-file!), and it flitted across my consciousness when Alex’s dead/bypassed farm hands blew past (and Dorothy, you made me laugh out loud with your ‘to die for’ pun!)

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  32. LA mary said on November 21, 2007 at 10:47 am

    I really like my green beans on the plain side, just some butter or olive oil and salt and pepper, cooked so they’re still slightly crunchy.

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  33. nancy said on November 21, 2007 at 11:03 am

    aka, “California fag-style.”

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  34. LA mary said on November 21, 2007 at 11:25 am

    Hey. I’ve been eating that way back to my NJ years. It was a reaction to growing up on my grandmother’s canned green beans cooked to mush. The in-house Brit likes the cooked to mush variety, but no surprise there.

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  35. basset said on November 21, 2007 at 10:59 pm

    The one true way to make really good green beans: pick them on the same day as some new potatoes, can them in quart jars with a little bacon, then when the weather gets good and cold that winter simmer ’em in the slow cooker and make some cornbread.

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