We’re partying at 167 West 12th Street in New York City, in the cookbook-lined library of The James Beard House. Mr. B was “The Dean of American Cooking.” Across one wall is a giant version of Keith Haring’s graffiti poster, “America’s Music Festival—NYC Ballet,” which shows seven Haring-figures against pop art stars-and-stripes.
Johnny Unitas picks up a roll from the breadbasket and tosses it at Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson, but Bing Crosby deflects it with a swing of his golf club.
You sense the joy the minute you walk into the foyer and see the celebrants of this “God Bless America” party taking “selfies” with the stars-and-stripes painting as a backdrop. HOORAY FOR THE JOY-GIVERS! (Note: The comments attributed to these famous joy-givers come from words they have written or said.)
PLEASE GIVE A ROUND OF APPLAUSE FOR THESE AMERICAN JOY-GIVERS CELEBRATING A BIRTHDAY THIS WEEK:
May 1—KATE SMITH, a soprano from Virginia with a huge, rousing sound was “The First Lady of Radio.” She was well-known for her soaring, bombastic, totally fantastic rendition of Irving Berlin’s “God Bless America.” Miss Smith, who never married, stirred America’s patriotic fervor during World War II and was personally responsible for selling more than $600 million (equivalent to $10.4 billion today) war bonds.
She received the Presidential Medal of Freedom, America’s highest honor, which was presented by President Ronald Reagan with these words: “The voice of Kate Smith is known and loved by millions of Americans, young and old, in war and peace, it has been an inspiration. Those simple but moving words, “God Bless America,” have taken on added meaning for all of us because of the way Kate Smith sang them. Thanks to her they have become a cherished part of our lives, an undying reminder of the beauty, the courage and the best of this great land of ours. In giving us a magnificent, selfless talent like Kate Smith, God has truly blessed America.”
May 2—DWAYNE “THE ROCK” JOHNSON is the only Samoan American in our roster of “365 American Joy-Givers for 2021.” The actor and film producer is regarded as one of the greatest professional wrestlers of all time. Now retired from wrestling, he is one of the world’s highest-paid actors. His films have grossed more than $10.5 billion worldwide.
May 3—BING CROSBY was America’s first multimedia star. The singer, actor and comedian (born Harry Lillis “Bing” Crosby, Jr.) was a national treasure in recorded music, radio and motion pictures from 1930 to 1954. He made more than 70 movies and recorded more than 1,600 songs. “YANK” magazine said Bing Crosby was “the person who had done the most for overseas servicemen” during World War II. As a great example of American ingenuity, Bing Crosby was instrumental in advances of early audio tape recording, helped finance the development of videotape, bought television stations, bred racehorses and co-owned the Pittsburgh Pirates baseball team.
May 4—KEITH HARING merged American “pop art” with New York subway graffiti art to create a widely recognized visual language. After gaining public recognition, he created colorful, large-scale murals in his signature painting style, many of which were commissioned works and many others generously donated by the artist to support worthy causes.
May 5—JAMES BEARD was a television cooking celebrity before people regularly sat and watched other people cooking on television. He was a chef, cookbook author and teacher. Beard emphasized American cooking prepared with fresh, wholesome American ingredients. He mentored professionals and “foodies” and authored twenty-plus books. In 1986, the James Beard Foundation was created to honor American chefs, restaurants, food journalists, cookbook creators, restaurant designers and even social media “floggers”—food bloggers. The coveted James Beard Awards are given each year in early May to coincide with this joy-giver’s birthday.
May 6—RUDOLPH VALENTINO proves a well-loved person has many names. The Italian American screen actor was given these names at birth: Rodolfo Alfonso Raffaello Pierre Filiberto Guglielmi di Valentina d’Antonguella. He starred in several Hollywood movies of the “Silent Era” and was a major sex symbol of the 1920s. He was known by these names: “The Latin Lover,” or “The Great Lover” or as simply, definitively, magnifioso, delicioso—Valentino.
May 7—JOHNNY UNITAS was the prototype of the modern era marquee football quarterback. He played professional football for 18 seasons, primarily with the Baltimore Colts. Unitas set many National Football League records and was named “Most Valuable Player” in 1959, again in 1964…then again in 1967. He was inducted in the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 1979. Mr. Unitas was known as “Johnny U” and “The Golden Arm.”
COMMENTS OVERHEARD AT “THE GOD BLESS AMERICA BIRTHDAY PARTY” FOR AMERICAN JOY-GIVERS:
“I sometimes get that wonderful sympathy between me and the audience, telling me I’ve reached their hearts. And, when I do, the thrill is mine.”—Kate Smith
“Listen a lot and talk less. You can’t learn anything while you’re talking.”—Bing Crosby
“Whatever you do, the only secret is to believe in it and satisfy yourself. Don’t do it for anyone else.”—Keith Haring
“A gourmet who thinks of calories is like a tart who looks at her watch.”—James Beard
“Grind hard. Shine hard.”—Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson
“Women are not in love with me but with the picture of me on the screen. I am merely the canvas on which women paint their dreams.”—Rudolph Valentino
“There is a big difference between confidence and conceit. Conceit is bragging about yourself. Confidence means you believe you can get the job done.”—Johnny Unitas
“I know I’m fat and I know my hair is straight, but I can sing.”—Kate Smith
“I grew up in a musical family. The majority of my growing up was done in Hawaii. It’s what we do. You sing, you dance, you play ukulele and you drink.”—Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson
“Everyone knows I’m just a big, good-natured slob.”—Bing Crosby
“There is nothing that makes me happier than making a child smile. Children know something that most people have forgotten. All children draw.”—Keith Haring
“I don’t like gourmet cooking or ‘this’ cooking or ‘that’ cooking. I like good cooking.”—James Beard
“I am beginning to look more and more like my miserable imitators.”—Rudolph Valentino
“I could have played football for two or three more years. All I needed was a leg transplant.”—Johnny Unitas
“There is no second chance on stage, I was trained to make the most of my first chance.”—Kate Smith
“When you walk up to opportunity’s door, don’t knock on it. Kick the b*tch in, smile and introduce yourself.”—Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson
“There is no labor anyone can do that’s not dignified, if they do it right.”—Bing Crosby
“I will draw as much as I can for as many people as I can for as long as I can.”—Keith Haring
“The only thing that will make a souffle’ fall is if it knows you’re afraid of it.”—James Beard
“A man should control his life. Mine is controlling me.”—Rudolph Valentino
“I had confidence in my ability. You have to. If you don’t, who will?”—Johnny Unitas
“And when all is said and done there is no greater success in the world than just being happy.”—Kate Smith
“Wake up determined. Go to bed satisfied.”—Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson
“When I’m worried and cannot sleep, I count my blessings instead of sheep.”—Bing Crosby
“Art is for everybody.”—Keith Haring
“If I were ever to have a symbol attributed to me, it would be a heart, the outline!”—Rudolph Valentino
“Good cheese needs good companions.”—James Beard
“Nothing is dangerous if you know what you’re doing.”—Johnny Unitas
“Be the person who when your feet touch the floor in the morning, the devil says, “Aw sh*t, they’re up.”—Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson
“My golf game is woeful, but I’ll never surrender.”—Bing Crosby
“I believe if I ever had to practice cannibalism, I might manage if there were enough tarragon around.”—James Beard
“To generalize on women is dangerous. To specialize in them is infinitely worse.”—Rudolph Valentino
“Ice cream was my undoing, and six chocolate milkshakes in a row were nothing to me at one time.”—Kate Smith
“Talk is cheap, let’s go play.”—Johnny Unitas
PARTY MENU FOR “THE GOD BLESS AMERICA BIRTHDAY PARTY:”
APPETIZER—Kate Smith Mini-Milkshake Smoothies (thespruceeats.com)
SALAD—Johnny Unitas Golden Rice Salad (cooks.com)
ENTRÉE—James Beard Pecan-Coated Roast Loin of Pork (see below)
SIDE DISH—Keith Haring Grilled Graffiti Eggplant (afamilyfeast.com)
BREAD—Rudolph Valentino Latin Loaf Loaf (belatina.com)
BEVERAGE—Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson’s Samoan Fogcutter (us.inshaker.com)
DESSERT—Bing Crosby White Christmas Pina Colada Tube Cake (tasteofhome.com)
ONE TO GROW ON—All the “live” events at The James Beard House have been canceled for the past year as New York City still struggles with the COVID-19 crisis. However, there are wonderful virtual events available at www.jamesbeard.org. Try this one Thursday, May 20, “FEEDING THE SOUL: Grief, Loss and Healing in a Pandemic.” The presenters underscore how the joy of planting, harvesting, eating and sharing food have helped us navigate the past year together.
The entertainment for “The God Bless America Birthday Party” was Bing Crosby and Kate Smith performing a spirit-lifting medley of songs from the WWII era. At one point, they sang a Latin-tinged number and took turns dancing a comic tango with Rudolph Valentino.
The finale for the evening had the crowd on their feet as Kate Smith belted these lyrics to roaring shouts of applause:
“God bless America, land that I love.
Stand beside her and guide her,
through the night, with the light from above.
From the mountains to the prairies,
To the oceans white with foam.
GOD BLESS AMERICA, MY HOME SWEET HOME!
James Beard Pecan-Coated Roast Loin of Pork
(source: Jessica B. Harris at jamesbeard.org)
4 pounds boneless loin of pork
¼ cup olive oil
1 tablespoon packed dark brown sugar
2 teaspoons powdered sage
1 teaspoon dried thyme
1 teaspoon minced garlic
Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
¼ pound shelled pecan halves
Rub the pork loin with olive oil, cover well. Combine brown sugar, sage, thyme, garlic, salt and pepper and a drizzle of olive oil in a blender to make a paste. Slather pork loin with the paste, cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate overnight.
Preheat the oven to 400 degrees. Pulse the pecans in a blender until finely chopped. Roll roast in the chopped pecans and put in a roasting pan. Make a tent of aluminum foil and make certain to cover all pecans so they will not char.
Roast for 30 minutes at 400 degrees, then lower heat to 350 degrees and roast for 30 more minutes.
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