Win or Lose, We'll Feel Better When We Eat

By Jane Black
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Just about everybody has been swept up in the drama of Campaign 2008. Unfortunately, that includes the PR masterminds at restaurants, bars, bakeries and convenience stores. · I've had the chance to "cast my vote" by ordering Obamalettes or McCainlettes at Silver Diner; Jager Bamas (a combo of Red Bull and Jagermeister) or McHitos (basically a mojito) at Degrees, the bar at the Georgetown Ritz-Carlton. Bethesda's Burger Joint invited me to "go with my gut" as I chose between the McCain Burger, topped with "South-west influences like poblano chili and chipotle peppers," and the Obama Burger, stacked with -- wait for it -- "authentic Vienna beef hot dog imported from Chicago."

Cooking Light even sent me menus that could be "just the ticket" for obsessed politicos hosting election-night parties. For Republicans, there's roasted red pepper soup, red lentil rice cakes and beef tenderloin. (At least it bucks the stereotype that Republicans don't like anything beyond burgers and Bud.) For Democrats, it's an anything-but-light meal of grilled blue cheese burgers served with blue-cheese-and-bacon baked potatoes and blueberry cheesecake ice cream.

As humorist Dave Barry likes to say: I am not making this up.

I know this country has bigger things to worry about: two wars, an economic meltdown, the end of Madonna and Guy Ritchie's marriage (which really did seem promising at the start). But it got me thinking. Perhaps the deluge of contrived election ideas says as much about us as about the current state of public relations. Why in the self-proclaimed greatest democracy in the world do we have food traditions for the Super Bowl but none for election night?

Yes, the presidential election happens only every four years. But you'd think that if nowhere else, Washington would have some kind of quadrennial ritual. (Interns of losing incumbents could streak naked around the Capitol, at the very least.)

But Washington might in fact be less likely to have election traditions than other American cities. Political staffers have headed back to their districts to canvass and, hopefully, celebrate. Consultants have signed on for punditry duty on TV, where the best they're likely to eat is a slice of cold pizza in the green room. The media elite? They're at work.

Without leadership, we, the People, are unsure what to do. And so most of us instinctively follow that all-American urge and order takeout. Chinese food, pizza and bar staples such as nachos and wings seem to be popular. The Seattle Times recently reported that restaurant to-go orders skyrocketed on debate nights this election season, putting them on par with real holidays such as Halloween and Super Bowl Sunday.

To be fair, it is tough to decide how to mark the day. Will it be a party or a wake? How late in the night will it be before you even find out?

Who will be watching the returns with you? If it's a bipartisan group, the etiquette can be tricky. Do you pop open a bottle of bubbly for the victors and offer something stronger to the losers? A good friend suggested that the only politically correct course might be to encourage everyone to drink heavily.

Then there's the food. You're all in front of the TV, so you'll want to avoid things that require a fork and knife. (That is why chili works so well for the Super Bowl. It's meaty and manly, and you can eat it with a spoon.) On the other hand, there's loads of downtime. After the East Coast results roll in, those pizza-scarfing pundits spend hours killing time until they can call Midwestern states (read: Ohio). So it's not unthinkable that guests would take a stroll over to the buffet table.

Here's what shouldn't be there: Mini quiches. Frozen pizzas. Chinese takeout.

Here's what could: Warm butternut squash salsa with roasted pumpkin seeds. Homemade wine-pepper biscuits served with a spread of ricotta, spiced apricots and Marcona almonds or with a selection of cheeses. Pulled chipotle pork with avocado cream that can be piled on soft rolls and topped with a dollop of avocado, or layered in a casserole dish for another spicy dip. (Find these recipes here).

Every dish has vibrant flavor and, save for the bell peppers in the salsa, there's not a red or blue ingredient in sight. Better, each of the dishes can be made in advance and served at room temperature.

Call it my vote for change.

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