October 13, 2014


Statehood: June 1st, 1796 (16/50)

One of the best vacations I ever took was to Tennessee and I really did nothing particularly impressive.

I didn't take a tour of the Jack Daniel's distillery in Lynchburg (but I did hear about how Mr. Daniel's angrily kicked a safe he couldn't open, broke his toe, and died from an infection as a result) or Graceland in Memphis (named after the daughter of Stephen C. Toof, the owner before Elvis); I didn't see see the Great Smoky Mountains in Gatlinburg (named after the blue-hued, hazy fog that surrounds the mountains) or the Lost Sea in Sweetwater (the largest underground lake in the US); I didn't attend Bonnaroo in Manchester (this music festival translates to "best on the streets" en francais), the Tenneesee Aquarium in Chattanooga (the largest freshwater aquarium in the world), or the Grand Ole Opery in Nashville (originally known as the WSM Barn Dance). But I did drink a lot of good alcohol, eat a lot of even better BBQ, play a lot of guitar (and video games, too), and laughed and enjoyed life with some of the best people I know.

And if that's not "America at it's best" (the official slogan of TN), then I don't know what is.

Time for tasty treats, Tennesseans (and tourists, too)!

State Fruit: Tomato

Tomatoes were designated the official state fruit in 2003. Folks in TN take their Solanum lycopersicum seriously, too - there's a Tomato Art Fest in early August, a community event dedicated to the tomato, seen as the "uniter, not divider" that brings both fruits and vegetables together.

Grilled Cheese Sammies and Tomatah Soup
Makes: 2 sandwiches

Ingredients for sandwich:
4 slices of lemon-flavored bread (something like this)
1 8-oz ball of mozzarella, cut into thick slices
1 quarter cup of fresh basil leaves
1 smaller tomato, cut into slices

Method for sandwich:
This is not for the faint of heart!: layer thick slices of mozzarella on two separate slices of bread, top with fresh basil leaves, slices of tomato, and finish with the remaining pieces of bread. Place in your George Foreman or on a hot skillet, grilling to desired doneness.

Ingredients for soup:
6 medium tomatoes, diced (for 3 cups)
2 Tablespoons olive oil
1/2 an onion, diced (for 1 cup)
2 garlic cloves, minced
1/4 teaspoon red pepper flakes
1/4 teaspoon Spanish smoked paprika
1/2 teaspoon sea salt
1/2 teaspoon black pepper
1/4 teaspoon parsley flakes
1 Tablespoon lime juice (from about 1 lime)
1/2 cup (alternative) milk or cream
1 cup vegetable broth
1 12-oz jar of Trader Joe's fire roasted red peppers, drained

Method for soup:
First thing's first: fill a bowl with ice and water. Set aside. Next, fill a pot with water and bring to a boil. Add the tomatoes to water for one to two minutes (tomatoes will begin to split). Immediately remove with a slotted spoon and plunge the tomatoes into the ice-water. After another minute, remove tomatoes and easily slide the skins off. Chop coarsely and set aside.

In a large pot on medium heat, sauté the onions for five minutes (until they visibly look like they've reduced, but haven't started changing color yet). Add garlic and sauté for another two minutes. Add tomatoes, red pepper flakes, paprika, sea salt, black pepper, parsley flakes, and lime juice. Bring to a boil, then add (alternative) milk or cream of choice and vegetable broth. Again, bring to a boil. When you have, remove from heat and pour contents - including the fire roasted red peppers - into a blender. Blend until creamy, and serve immediately.

State Beverage: Milk
Milk was designated the official state beverage of TN in 2009. Because milk is considered almost a complete food and essential in building strong bones, many states have it as a symbol. Tennessee actually has quite a strong dairy industry; it's an important commodity in the state.

Cheezy Gritz
Makes: enough for 4 people for breakfast

1 Tablespoon olive oil
1/2 a medium onion, diced (for 3/4 cup)
1 clove garlic, minced
1 cup quick cooking grits
3 cups of water
1 1/2 teaspoon Spanish smoked paprika
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon black pepper
1 cup pepper jack cheese

Sauté the onions and garlic in olive oil on medium heat for four or five minutes until translucent, fragrant, and cooked down. Add the grits and sauté with onion mixture for thirty seconds before adding the water, paprika, salt, and black pepper. Bring to boil, then immediately bring down to simmer for 10 minutes. At the ten minute mark, test for doneness before adding the pepper jack cheese and mixing until combined, cooking for another two-ish minutes.

TN.gov: State Symbols
Tomato Art Fest: About