Big Friend, Little Friend, and I celebrated the Fourth in a typically American way: eating traditional Iranian sandwiches. Actually, for a couple of hours this morning, I was planning on typing the following opening line: “We celebrated the Fourth in an ironically un-American way.” Because really, have you heard of anyone else forgoing the hot dogs, hamburgers, slaw and blueberry pie of Independence day celebrations for Kubideh, a sandwich I can barely spell let alone pronounce? You have to be either crazy or semi-oblivious to pass up the baked beans. I fall into the semi-oblivious camp, I think. At least that’s what the voice in my head is telling me.
Here’s why I decided to call our Iranian food celebration “typically American.” It struck me, as I unwrapped my delicious sandwich, that America is a nation built on the precept that we can and will look past differences and disputes to come together on common ground. (Hello, sandwich from Iran. You make my tummy happy.) I also thought back over past years to treasured memories of when I’ve celebrated the great American holidays in places less than American. There was that Thanksgiving in Paris at a fellow expatriate’s apartment when the baguette and red wine seemed to pair perfectly with the roast turkey. Or the Independence Day fêted in Aix-en-Provence when the Cavaillon melon juice dripped down our chins sweeter than any red watermelon States-side. And now, the surprising Iranian combination of mint and basil with seasoned ground beef. I seem to spend quite a bit of time gaining a foreign perspective of our nation.
Just to prove I have some red-white-and-blue running through my veins, I’m going to share my mother-in-law’s spectacular blueberry pie recipe. If your mouth is already salivating, and you have a couple of blueberry pints waiting in the fridge, feel free to skip the rest of this post and scroll to the recipe at the bottom. My musings on Independence Day also drove me back to some old travel journals from a coast-to-coast roadtrip. What follows is a guest post by none other than Big Friend. He shares his thoughts from July 4, 2007, when I turned my road trip travelogue over to him to describe our Independence Day Grand Canyon adventure:
From my travel diary on July 4, 2007: Happy Fourth of July! We searched all over the Grand Canyon to bring you the one image that we felt best represented the spirit of America on this great celebration of our Nation’s Independence. Please refer to the picture featured in this entry and note carefully the selection of socks and sandals and the redundant American flag stuck in the be-jeweled star hat.
James is going to share his thoughts on today’s discovery that has been cited as one of the seven natural wonders of the world since he’s viewing the sight with fresh eyes. Mine are clouded by memories cherished from over twenty years ago (one of my most vivid memories being the soft, bleached snout of a mule pointed downward to the canyon, and at the time I was too young to make the descent.)
“Beth and I both thought that the Grand Canyon would be completely packed on the 4th of July; full of giddy Americans come to celebrate the nation’s independence at the country’s most magnificent landmark. While it was busy it wasn’t as crowded as we had expected and there did seem to be a lot of non-Americans there which was a nice touch. So the lesson we learn from this is that Americans stay home and watch Joey Chestnut beat defending champ Kobayashi in the Nathan’s hot dog eating contest and stay far away from our national parks.
Some more lessons learned from this trip… Stay outside of the park (we stayed at the Holiday Inn Express…while I’m unlikely to perform surgeries or lead sky diving tours because of my good night’s rest, it is a pleasant place to stay). The old hotels located on the rim of the canyon are nice, but you really don’t need to be that close to the canyon (in fact, leaving at night is a nice break). Also, the national park is kind enough to offer free shuttle services (with Park Admission of course) throughout the park. During the day the shuttles run about 10 mins apart and in the early morning or at night they run every 30 mins or so. Our bus driver (in a natural gas powered bus…nice touch NPS!), informed us of the following about the tours run by the resorts:
* The resort’s tour guides work for tips and are paid a lower hourly rate than the NPS bus driver (plus a tour guide working for tips is annoying)
* Many of the NPS buses are air conditioned (and run on Natural Gas) and the resort’s buses don’t have AC
So sometimes you get what you pay for, and sometimes you get what you don’t pay for.
Oh, Beth and I both thought that there might be fireworks, but with the wildfire warning at EXTREME that was completely out of the question, so our fireworks were of the natural sort…watching the sunset over the Grand Canyon. It is amazing to me that something 93 million miles away that does the same thing everyday can still draw applause when it performs the feat over the Grand Canyon. The sunset really was beautiful, even if the Canyon was a bit hazy. I am amazed at what a difference the time of day makes. During the day, the Canyon looks almost flat, like a painting, but as the sun sets it takes on rich dimensions.
The Grand Canyon was definitely worth the visit; it is absolutely stunning in its enormity. Pictures of the canyon are a joke because you can’t feel it take your breath away in a picture or hear the hot desert air blow through the canyon making slight whispering sounds.
Finally, my caring and beautiful wife is adorable to watch because she gets so nervous for all of the crazy people who walk all the way to the edge. Her hands sweat nervously as she wills them back from the edge, as I read the “Stay on the Path” sign that concludes by saying “Most people who die at the canyon die because they left the path.” I wonder about those who die while on the path. Did a big wind gust pick them up and carry them over the edge? Did they trip and tumble over? Were they pushed? I suspect I won’t find out the answer to this question, but it does make you wonder.
I’ll let Beth continue the updates…I’m tired of writing, and she is much better at this than I am.
p.s. To my parents who were wondering if the Great American West killed us because you haven’t seen a blog entry since Nebraska…well there weren’t a lot of Internet cafés 12 dirt road miles off the highway next to the Rio Grande where we stayed. In fact I only have cell coverage at the Grand Canyon if I stand in front of the hotel. Hopefully we’ve blogged enough today to let you know we are still going strong. Love, James”
Thank you, Big Friend, for reminding me that on at least one Fourth of July we actually celebrated in the lap of Americana. (And thank you also for making a July 4, 2010 dinner of blueberry soy smoothies and zucchini ricotta cheesecake. I enjoyed my evening off.)
To read the complete Travelogue of our road trip across America (pre-Little Friend), click here. For a quick, easy, and immensely satisfying blueberry pie, pick four cups of blueberries (or four and a half if you can’t resist stuffing a few handfuls in your mouth), and try this recipe from my mother-in-law, a gifted and inspired cook.
Grammy’s Fresh Blueberry Pie
1 1/2 cups flour
1 cup sugar (I substitute natural cane sugar)
1/2 cup margarine or butter
Mix together flour and sugar and then add margarine. Mix until crumbly. Use what you need to top the pie and then put the rest in the freezer for later. One batch makes enough for two pies, but the crumb topping also tastes great sprinkled on blueberry muffins. (Or, if you’re like me, you’ll eat the remainder of the crumb topping by the spoonful as you work, thereby eliminating the need for freezing.)
1/2 cup sugar (I substitute natural cane sugar)
1/4 cup flour
1 tablespoon lemon juice
4 cups blueberries (or more, if you can fit them in)
1 prepared pie crust (or make your own with my favorite crust recipe from Smitten Kitchen)
Pre-heat the oven to 400 degrees. Line a deep pie dish with the unbaked crust. Mix together the sugar and flour. Put the berries in the crust and sprinkle with the sugar/flour mixture. Sprinkle with lemon juice. Put the crumb mixture on top. Bake at 400 degrees for 30-35 minutes or until the crumb topping is golden. Be prepared to lick your plate clean and still go back for a second slice.