A Taste of Americana

Representing nations from Africa and Asia, I recently attended a discussion with four visiting academic fellows. Drawn into their world, I was captivated by the stories-- a former Lost Boy talking about his current work in peace & reconciliation, the shy and diminutive Indian woman who fought for fishermen rights, the cooperative farmer advocating for pesticide-free crops in Africa, and then there was Betty.

With ready smile, she laughs easily, radiating a certain conviviality to all those around her. When asked about her work, she speaks earnestly about the need for HIV and AIDS awareness in Africa. The issue of gender inequality arises and her brows furrow, knitting tightly together with an intensity that surprises me. "In my country, when you eat a chicken, there are 'men's parts' and 'women's parts'. How can we have equal rights when even the food is not equal?"

Addressing the group, someone asks, "How do you like American food?" An extended pause falls over them.

After months of being in the U.S. the response is simply, "We haven't had 'American' food."

I suddenly realized, in our multi-cultural city, it's quite easy to go for days without eating a typical "American" meal. French for breakfast, Thai at lunch, and Chinese for dinner. How often do I even eat 'American' food?

An idea was born.

Joining forces with the host organization, iLEAP, we decided to have an all-American potluck. Friends of mine at Stumptown Coffee Roasters offered their roasting facilities as a party space and an invite was drafted. The theme sparked many discussions...what is Americana? What does it mean to you? Regional differences abound. It was a blast comparing notes.

And finally, Monday night we welcomed friends old and new (hello, new-found Twitter friends!). We were all more than a little astonished, watching the giant table fill with American favorites: pulled pork sliders, hot wings, mac n' cheese, Texas caviar, potato salads, deviled eggs, homemade bagels, cup cakes, apple pie, chocolate chip cookies, rice crispy treats, cakes, ice cream...it was a cornucopia of goodness!

On the libation side of things, folks brought everything from Rainier beer, microbrews, homemade wines, local vintages, and sweet tea.

Ah, Americana. What does it mean to you?

Here are a few snaps from the evening:

Homemade bagels and jello salad

What's in the bowl? I can't remember...but even the bowl was made by hand.

Rice crispy treats with Cocoa Puffs

A tribute to the Japanese-Americans interned in WWII, fried rice with hot dogs.

Funny, this is the only dish that never got eaten.

Derrick's smoky ribs

Pulled pork sliders with pickled cabbage.

The table, loaded with contributions.

Pie, chocolate chip cup cakes, rice crispy treats, Indian pudding and local Rainier beer.

Before we at, 90+ people gathered around the table, introduced themselves and mentioned their dish. In the middle are two of the visiting fellows.


The food keeps coming...

Chickpea salad

Flashback to my childhood...carrot & raisin salad

Headed home. How cute is that cake carrier?