Self-Care in the Age of Election Anxiety & The Super Bowl ‘Snackadium’

February 6, 2020

By Al Giordano

Most humans do not live on politics alone. And if one goes down that rabbit hole in the Trump era, one plunges into a level of nonstop anxiety that risks turning us all into part of the borg: tightly-wound spring-coils of negativity that seek only miserable company.

When I realized that the first-in-the-nation Iowa caucuses were scheduled one day after the 2020 Super Bowl – my twelfth US presidential campaign as a volunteer or journalist since I disappeared from high school to trudge through the New Hampshire snow as a volunteer for Fred Harris’ 1976 campaign, but also my 54th Super Bowl – I had to do some thinking about how to navigate such a busy weekend.

Truth is, at this altitude of years, I’ve prioritized taking daily breaks from my work as a political junkie and analyst: to go for a walk each day, work on recipes in the kitchen, practice piano (I’m a couple months into weekly lessons), make time for friends and revelry, very consciously to avoid getting swallowed up by the collective psychosis of American politics. I still love the adrenaline and continue to find it meaningful to observe, study and participate. The cause, in many ways, is worthier than ever. But gone are the days of doing this work 24-7 to the exclusion of all other activities during campaign season.

The most important thing I’ve done to keep myself clear-headed in all the craziness is to limit the time I spend plugged in to cable news TV and to the Internet.

With that as a working formula for life, I invited friends over to watch last Sunday’s Super Bowl between the now-champion Kansas City Chiefs and San Francisco 49ers. NFL football is bigger here in Mexico than many North Americans imagine. It’s the second-most watched sport, behind fútbol, also known as soccer. And when I saw my local friends’ excited reactions to the news that Shakira and J-Lo would do the halftime show I knew I had to be ready for a crowd.

Wow, that was the greatest halftime show yet – and a perfect antidote to all things Trumpian.

While my Kitchen Blog has been so far separate from the front-page daily political coverage of Organize & Win, this will be the first entry that occupies both spaces. I sense that a lot of people are finding the news cycles and keypad wars of the 2020 campaign less enjoyable than we remember some past primary campaigns. Trump and the social dynamics that created him have even made a toy like the Internet no fun anymore.

So today, while awaiting fresh data with which to forecast Tuesday’s New Hampshire primary results, I’ll share with you some tips I learned from constructing the “Snackadium” on which Sunday’s feast was served…

“Pile High Stadium.”

Two aluminum trays in the middle would serve as the “football field” – guacamole and cucumber slices with a sour cream gridiron, squeezed from a pastry bag, with end zones in the red and white colors of the two teams.

The “stadium” seating areas to each side were easy enough to craft out of six 25-by-25-by-25-centimeter square boxes acquired from the Home Depot outlet in the state capital (about 10 cubic inches).

On the left side of the stadium (near the window and wall) went the sweet and salty snacks, assorted wrapped candies, crackers, tostadas, nuts and boxes of popcorn.

With a box cutter and ruler, I sliced an angle from the top of each on each side, leaving a couple inches on the short end to hold in the treats. The angle from the top is less steep than a perfect 45 degrees (roughly 51 degrees if you use a protractor drawing tool) and then a horizontal cut across the field-facing side of the box, leaving about two inches of “stadium wall” at bottom.

The top flap on the tall side was left on and along with the short-side edge I used stick glue to apply turquoise tissue paper in the colors of Miami’s Hard Rock stadium, the color of its home team, the Miami Dolphins.

Using the cardboard from what was left of the boxes I halved the space in each and built seating “levels” in which to place the treats as game spectators.

The goal posts, football-themed popcorn and chip boxes, and similar NFL-themed decorations came inexpensively from Party City.

On the right side I used just two boxes, cutting them in a way that would create two of the same shape and size, at a shallower angle, so as to leave two inches on each side for the stadium wall, then covered them with foil. There went the greasy snacks – one for a variety of tortilla chips, the other for some potato chip options – and in the middle all night long went various courses of hot and grilled meats.

Every weekend some neighbors make barbacoa, a slow-cooked (overnight!) seasoned lamb favorite. I asked for a kilo (about two pounds) of the rib meat which is fattier and most tender, and heated shortly before game time with a Mexican “mixiote” salsa I made from two kinds of medium-spicy roasted chilis (guajillo and pasilla), pan-roasted onions, garlic, tomatoes, bay and avocado leaves, oregano, anise, cinnamon, a pinch of cumin, salt and pepper then liquified in a blender with fresh-squeezed, strained orange juice.

On a separate table I placed hot packets of local fresh corn tortillas. (A quick hack on that is to wrap six apiece in aluminum foil and oven-warm the packets.) And also various kinds of baguette, sliced breads and bagels for those who wanted to make sandwiches or tortas. On the same table was a sandwich bar with cold cuts, salsas and dips for the chips, and condiments (mayo, mustard, Vietnamese chili-garlic paste, and such), and a frequently replenished ice tub of small bottles of Corona beer and assorted soft drinks. For any gathering I always make plentiful and clean water available as well.

From three p.m. onward (the Super Bowl started at 5:30 p.m. in this time zone), my friend Ken, a tech-savvy Texan expat who helps keep Organize & Win running, and barbeque ace, captained the charcoal grill.

Ken, who masterfully captained the grill through afternoon and evening, slicing the tenderloin fillet.

Over that grill passed: 25 chicken legs (brined overnight in a cold salt, sugar and spices tea), patted dry and rubbed with Montreal mix, chorizo sausage and the big hit of the night: a five-kilo (11-pound) beef tenderloin that a friend had donated in exchange for a subscription to Organize & Win! That would cost $120 in the US but well under half that price here. It was so large it had to be cut into two slabs and grilled in shifts, after generous seasoning with salt and pepper, and came out perfectly medium rare, au jus.

For the near-side end zone salsa I roasted tomatoes, onion, garlic and Serrano chilis, adding salt to taste, blended in a mixer and brought to a boil with a little bit of olive oil.

Guests brought beer and generous donations of wine, tequila, mezcal and other bottled spirits, and there was enough food and drink for the few dozen guests, mostly locals, from nearby towns or who came in from Mexico City, in their teens to their seventies, as well as some expats from France, Holland, Spain, Serbia and the US. While the football fans were glued to the game, others gathered in the yard around the grill – and everyone came in for the halftime show (a roar went up when Jennifer Lopez and daughter performed a musical protest of kids in cages).

Of course there was plenty of conversation about the next day’s caucuses – there were a couple of (non-annoying, thankfully they do exist) Bernie Sanders fans in on the festivities, but they were outnumbered by about four-to-one by Elizabeth Warren fans (yes, people around the world study US elections since all have to live under its foreign and economic policies) – but for an evening we had mostly forgotten about politics and were able to feast and enjoy each other’s company to an exciting show and game.

I had spent the days prior digging into the math for my Iowa projections, thrown a curve ball Saturday night by the cancellation of the Des Moines Register Selzer poll. Guests stayed hours past the game, and some played a little touch football in the yard. A handful stayed over and I rustled them up a breakfast of chilaquiles and cecina – a locally-made thinly-sliced salt-and-air-cured flank steak – with coffee and as they continued conversing the morning away I sat back down at the laptop, finished the projections, and sent them to subscribers.

There is life before, after and in between politics! Let’s not forget that during this increasingly crazy and sometimes anxious primary season. And if you’re sorry now that you missed the festivities, you are cordially invited to join us four years from now for Super Bowl LVIII when the first-in-the-nation primary will be somewhere more appropriate – like, say, Georgia – will no doubt reelect a more human president and of course the New York Giants will surely win.

But yes, in an age of political anxiety, there is so much work yet to do. What’s wrong with the world won’t fix itself. Like many people, I’d love to retreat from society, build a wall around my moments of joy and make Donald Trump pay for it. But there’s no hiding place from the rest of humanity, what it has already done – bad and good – or what it will do when led astray. And so we wake up tomorrow, pick up the skills that we’ve been lucky enough to learn from our experiences in that same world, join with those of good will ready do the same, shake off the bruises, the traumas and the fears they brought, and, together, get back to work to fix it.

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