Ever since I was a little girl – and even all the way up until about yesterday – if someone asked me where I was from, I would tell them Joplin, Missouri. Then I would promptly start singing the song “Route 66.”
…Now you go through Saint Louis
And Oklahoma City is mighty pretty.
You'll see Amarillo,
Gallup, New Mexico,
Don't forget Winona,
Kingman, Barstow, San Bernandino.
Won't you get hip to this timely tip:
When you make that California trip
Get your kicks on Route sixty-six…
You know the tune, right? Nat King Cole sang this song with my hometown listed in the lyrics and you better believe this little music nerd is going to reference it with pride every chance she gets. I’ve been to many famous live jazz concerts and music performances and when that tune was played and I heard Joplin, MO I went crazy. (Sorry Oscar Peterson, Brad Meldau, and Kurt Elling for the hometown pride disruption.) Nostalgic songs aside, US Route 66 is really important. It was one of the original highways in the US Highway system. One of the main arteries on the map of the United States! Route 66 is also called the Main Street of America or The Mother Road. Those two titles just amp up my hometown pride. Happy belated Mother’s day to you Route 66!
A while ago on Facebook, someone posted this picture of Joplin’s Main Street from 1910. Route 66 wouldn’t be established for another 16 years. I saved this image to my desktop and I look at it often. I go on little daydreams of what it must have been like back then. What people wore, what they ate, how they spoke. When I sat down to write this blog post, I looked up the image and by the magic of the internet (and ebay) this sweet little postcard is on its way to me in New York City!
I love my life in New York City so much and I’m 99.9% sure I’ll live here until the end of my days, but this last trip home to Joplin is really tugging at the strings of my heart. If you read last week’s All Good Things about my dad, yes, that has a lot to do with it. After 14 years, my sister Jules sold her veterinary practice in NYC and moved home to be closer to Mom and Dad. So now even more of my heart is back in Joplin. Luckily, my heart is big and does long distance well. Most of my nearest and dearest aren’t near at all. They are in Washington State, California, Colorado, Texas, Kansas, Georgia, Washington DC, Greece, and some of my dearest ones are in little ole Missouri.
I cook and organize meals pretty much everywhere I go, especially when I visit home. This trip was no different. My friends officially created a tradition in the neighboring town Carthage, MO - also on Route 66, not in the song - of dinner parties with all hands on deck in the kitchen. Last year we cooked an Italian menu (do you need to be reminded of the Nutella Pudding recipe?) and this year I took us all on a culinary field trip to India! Here’s the thing about people you love; you love their people. Their girlfriends, their husbands, their children. Our circle has widened through the years and these additions are especially treasured.
My friends Meg and Jason Shelfer opened up their home once again for the festivities and their ever-spirited child, Flannery, hosted us in the kitchen as my #1 sous chef. I was bossy handing out tasks and instruction, but they were all incredibly good sports to play along and eat strange foods. We had a ball! I want to teleport our merry band of childhood friends to New York City and keep them in my pocket. They are gold pieces. (My New York friends are no slouches either! They helped me raise thousands of dollars to send home to help out with loss and damages from the tornado in 2011.) But the memories I have with these old friends remind me how rich I am. I am rich with history and deep roots. I am rich with midwestern values and hometown pride.
As a kid, one of my favorite things on Main Street in Joplin, MO was Anderson’s Ice Cream and on each visit I would rotate my orders between chocolate malts and cherry lime-ades. Anderson’s was a true malt shop with a real soda fountain just like in the movies. In the spirit of those old fashioned malts, we closed out our hometown dinner party with Toasted Marshmallow Milkshakes with the help of the mustachioed Jason Shelfer and his trusty blowtorch. (His knife skills are wildly impressive too!) Stay tuned for a Macaroni and Cheese contest between me and this fella when I'm home for Christmas...
Toasted Marshmallow Milkshake
- 1 10 oz bag large marshmallows, divided
- 1 cup milk
- Seeds scraped from one vanilla bean or 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
- generous pinch of salt
- 2 cups vanilla ice cream
- 2 tablespoons sour cream, plain yogurt or crème fraîche
Over an open flame or under the broiler, char 1/2 the bag of marshmallows, keeping them as separate as possible. Add them to a blender. Blend with milk until as pureed as you can get them, then pause to individually toast the remaining marshmallows over a gas flame or back under your broiler for a moment. This ensures that they’re warm when they hit the glass. Add vanilla bean or extract, salt, ice cream and sour cream to the marshmallow mix in the blender, and blend until thick and smooth. Pour into chilled glasses, float a few warm toasted marshmallow on top. Raise a glass to your hometown and being a kid again. Slurp through a straw.