A Round of Applause for the Joy-Givers: A party with American joy-givers of 2021

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‘Role Tide: Bama Game Day Casserole (Beth Rutledge Glasscock)

You sense the joy the minute you enter the room. HOORAY FOR THE JOY-GIVERS! This is a party to celebrate the birthdays this week of great American joy-givers of today and those from the past.

Please give A ROUND OF APPLAUSE for these American joy-givers born in the first two weeks of January:  1—Paul Revere and George Washington Carver, 2—Roger Miller, 3—Victor Borge, 4—Don Shula, 5—Diane Keaton, 6—Danny Thomas, 7—Zora Neale Hurston, 8—Elvis Presley, 9—Edgar Allan Poe, 10—George Foreman, 11—Alexander Hamilton, 12—John Singer Sargent, 13—Horatio Alger, Jr., 14—T-Bone Burnett, 15—Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

Did you know Paul Revere fathered 16 children? I like to share some surprise facts with these salutes. He was of French ancestry. His father, Apollos Rivoire, immigrated to Boston from France and Anglicized his surname to Revere. Besides being the most famous of the midnight riders of our Revolutionary War, Paul Revere was a silversmith, gifted artist, tavern menu illustrator and political cartoonist. He also formed the first “spy ring” in the U.S., a forerunner of the CIA known secretly as the “Mechanics.”

Paul Revere never owned a horse. For his famous awareness campaign, when he rode through the night yelling, “The Regulars are about,” he borrowed a horse named “Brown Beauty.”

After the war, Paul Revere founded a successful hardware business and the country’s first rolling copper mill. His company produced more than 900 church bells, one of which rang in the New Year of 2021 at Boston’s Kings Chapel. Per this American joy-giver, “There is a time for casting cannons and a time for casting church bells.”

The main menu for our birthday party comes from one of America’s greatest plantsmen and culinary giants, George Washington Carver. But, the appetizers, were done on a George Foreman grill. And, there is a tasty, seasoned assortment of Mr. Carver’s favorite plants: peanuts.

George Foreman is a two-time world heavyweight boxing champion and Olympic gold medalist. Known as “Big George,” the 6’ 3” athlete kept his fighting weight around 270. Foreman was known for quick knockouts. After one fight where his opponent hit the mat within seconds of the first, starting bell ringing, a sportswriter commented it looked “fixed.” Foreman’s friendly response was, “Sure, the fight was fixed. I fixed it with my right hand.”

After retirement he became an ordained Christian minister and a hugely successful entrepreneur promoting the sale of 100 million units of the George Foreman grill. He sold the commercial rights to the grill for $138 million in 1999.

We’re getting this party going with George Foreman Grilled Artichokes with Tangy Dipping Sauce, a healthy, vegetarian dish that Dr. Carver would applaud. Recipe at www.foremangrillrecipes.com.

George Washington Carver, one of the greatest botanists in the history of the U.S., was born into slavery in America’s Midwest. Even in childhood, he remembered neighbors bringing “sick” plants for him to cure, which he often did. He was also curious about nature from the “git go” and was what he called–“bookish.” He promoted literacy for all saying, “Education is the key to unlock the golden door of freedom.”

Carver was the first African-American to attend Iowa State University. After completing a master’s degree, he was recruited by Booker T. Washington to create a world-class agricultural program at Tuskegee Institute in Alabama. The never-married scientist worked with monkish obsession, inventing perhaps 300 uses for his beloved peanuts and promoting crop rotation to rehabilitate the nutrients of the soil.

Our dinner party menu highlights plants with African origins, including an okra and smoked sausage casserole, we titled “’Role Tide” for another Alabama institution which is playing a national football championship game this week. The joy-givers will also enjoy sweet potato souffle’, black-eyed pea caviar, watermelon pickles, Benne seed biscuits and a blend of coffees from Kenya, South Africa and Zimbabwe.

Pro-football’s “Winningest Coach,” Don Shula, born on Jan. 4, had this advice for those coaching the teams vying for the national college football championship a week later: “Strive for perfection, but settle for excellence.”

Our birthday dessert, Cape Gooseberry Cake, comes from Harlem Renaissance writer, Zora Neale Hurston, who immortalized a time and place in Florida the way Faulkner did for what he called his little “postage stamp” of Mississippi. The simple cake recipe comes from the cookbook, “Zora Neale Hurston on Florida Food,” and there are step-by-step directions at www.betterbutter.in .

Zora Neale Hurston is having a resurgence of popularity and I have a collection of her short stories in my Amazon queue. She seems to have been prescient about 2020 and 2021 when she stated, “There are years that ask questions and years that answer.”

Though mysteriously not an entire cask, there is Amontillado sherry to tipple with Edgar Allan Poe, who wrote “The Cask of Amontillado” and created the mystery novel. The cocktail cart also boasts a good quality Scotch, the occasional cocktail of choice of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., who is honored with a national holiday on Jan. 18 this year.

Our party décor reflects the chic restraint with a wink of wit that is divinely Diane Keaton. As she explained, “We could choose to live graciously or gorgeously. I pick both.”

The ever-stylish, Oscar-winning actress, Keaton, has also authored books on interior and architectural design. Explore these titles by her: “The House that Pinterest Built,” “California Romantica” and her ode to minimalism, with the minimalist name: “House.”

We leave the party music to multiple Grammy Award-winning record producer/guitarist/songwriter, T-Bone Burnett with our special requests for Roger Miller’s “King of the Road” and anything by Elvis “The King of Rock and Roll” Presley, and while we enjoy dessert, we’ll have classical piano favorites tickled by comedian and symphony musician Victor Borge.

Near the end of the early January evening, all gather around the fireplace in the sitting room. On a large easel, there was a masterpiece by John Singer Sargent, the leading portrait painter of his time. When the others commented on how beautifully the artist had rendered his subject, Mr. Sargent quipped, “Every time I paint a portrait, I lose a friend.” And, continued with a grin, “The sitters I’ve immortalized have taught me a portrait is a picture in which there is just a tiny little something not quite right about the mouth.”

Many of the joy-givers had particular causes they were passionate about and the joyful talk centered around those.

Danny Thomas recalled that when he was a young, starving actor he vowed if he were to become successful, he would open a shrine dedicated to St. Jude Thaddeus, the patron saint of despairing causes. The comedian and nightclub entertainer said after he landed a network television show, he and his wife began touring the country to raise money to build what would become St. Jude’s Children’s Research Hospital in Memphis. The “Make Room for Danny” star beamed with gratitude that now the hospital spends $1.4 billion each year on treatment and research and does that with $1.5 billion in annual donations.

Dr. King spoke fondly on Memphis and said he knew of a black nurse, Clara Mason, who started working at St. Jude’s back in 1966. He said, “When I spoke about having a dream of little black boys and little black girls joining hands with little white boys and little white girls as sisters and brothers, that certainly includes all those children who are suffering and all their talented and loving caregivers.”

Alexander Hamilton, who had been a banker and created the nation’s financial system, said he was impressed with how Americans regularly give money to the causes they value.

When someone in the group commented on how we must not get discouraged when we are faced with obstacles that keep our cherished causes from soaring, Horatio Alger, Jr., who is known as one of the greatest American motivational writers, said, “You are all successful in your careers and in your compassionate causes, but we all have encountered naysayers. I’ve written this same message in many variations in my rags-to-riches stories, “If at first you don’t succeed,” and the others joined him, “TRY, try again.”

As a final toast, John Singer Sargent, who had trained in Paris and lived mostly in London, raised his glass to his ancestor, Epes Sargent, an American revolutionary military hero, said, “Here’s to a new year, and to each of you, American joy-givers. If I may borrow a line from Dr. King, I have a dream that all the good cheer we have enjoyed this evening will radiate more joy throughout the coming year.”

HAPPY NEW and JOY-FILLED YEAR!

The entrée for this American joy-givers dinner party was created by Beth Rutledge Glasscock, a truly great cook, and most of the time, a pretty good friend of mine. In my experience with almost seven decades eating my way through Alabama, Beth is one of the finest culinary creatives in the state. This delicious and festive casserole is perfect for a winning dish Jan. 11 as top-ranked, University of Alabama plays Ohio State University for the National College Football Championship.

‘ROLE TIDE: BAMA GAME DAY CASSEROLE

Makes 8 servings

Ingredients

Cheesy Grits

  • 6 cups milk (or use 3 cups milk & 3 cups chicken broth/water)
  • 4 tbsp. unsalted butter
  • 1½ cup, uncooked, quick cooking grits (or use regular grits and follow cooking time on package)
  • 1 large egg
  • 2 cups (8 oz.) any sharp or extra-sharp cheddar cheese
  • 1 tsp. salt
  • ½ tsp. ground black pepper
  • ½ cup grated Parmesan cheese

 

Smoked Sausage & Vegetables

  • 14 oz. package smoked sausage, diagonally cut into ¼-inch slices
  • 2-3 tbsp. vegetable oil
  • 2 cups frozen okra (without breading) or ½-1 pound fresh okra, cut into ½-inch pieces*
  • 1 large onion, chopped
  • 1 bell pepper, seeded & chopped
  • 10 oz. package frozen whole kernel corn or 2 ears of fresh corn, cut off kernels
  • 3 garlic cloves (1½ tsp.), minced
  • 1-tsp. red pepper flakes
  • Salt & pepper to taste
  • 28 oz. can diced tomatoes, undrained or 2-3 large fresh tomatoes, diced & undrained

 

Directions

Step 1:  Preheat oven to 350°.  In a large saucepan over medium-high heat, bring milk just to a boil; gradually whisk in butter and grits.  Reduce heat, and simmer, whisking constantly, 5 minutes or until done. Remove from heat.  In a separate bowl (or your measuring cup) whisk egg; add a big spoonful of hot grits to egg whisking to prevent curdling; add mixture back to saucepan.  Stir in cheddar cheese, salt, and pepper.

Step 2:  Pour into a lightly greased 13 x 9-inch baking dish.  Sprinkle with Parmesan cheese.  Cover with aluminum foil and bake at 350° for 35 to 40 minutes.  Uncover the last 5 minutes to lightly brown top.

Step 3:  While grits are in the oven, prepare sauté.  Add vegetable oil to a large cast iron skillet on high heat; when the pan is hot, add the okra and cook 4-6 minutes (time varies if using fresh or frozen okra) shaking the pan every couple of minutes to brown okra evenly.  Remove from skillet and set aside.  Reduce heat to medium, add the smoked sausage, and brown both sides.  Remove sausage; set aside with okra

Step 5:  Turn heat down to low and add the onion; cook for 2-3 minutes or until tender; add red pepper flakes and bell pepper.  Cook another 2 minutes, stir to prevent burning.  Add corn and cook for 3-5 minutes or until corn is tender.  Add garlic and stir.  Season with salt and pepper.  Add tomatoes and cook for about 5 more minutes or until tomatoes are starting to break down; stir frequently, scraping the bottom to loosen up any bits stuck to the pan.  Add sausage and okra back into pan to reheat.  Taste and season with additional salt and pepper, if needed.  Serve immediately over grits.

Tips

  • Cooking the okra at a high heat helps prevent it from getting slimy. Make sure your pan in hot!
  • You might need more liquid using fresh vegetables as opposed to frozen or if you accidentally drained the tomatoes. After sautéing your vegetables and before adding the tomatoes, add ¼-cup liquid (water, chicken broth, or even wine) to deglaze the pan, scraping the bottom to loosen anything stuck to the pan.  Using liquid to loosen up those little bits of meat and vegetables stuck to the bottom of the pan are the secret to making any type of sauce. 

Substitute the vegetables or their proportions if you do not enjoy these.  Summer squash or asparagus would work well, and shrimp seasoned with Cajun or Creole seasoning would be delicious!

Copyright 2021 Humble Roots, LLC. All Rights Reserved.

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Ben South