Archive for August 2010

“A Taste Of The Gulf Coast”

August 26, 2010

I’m not saying you should eat Gulf Coast seafood.  And I’m not saying you shouldn’t.  We’re all wrestling with that conundrum, and I leave it to your best judgement how you implement these recipes.  But try them you should, in the spirit of solidarity with the poor Gulf Coast, which has been hammered beyond belief these last few years, and in the spirit of purely good food.

If you’re the lucky winner of this nice book by Jessie Tirsch, you can soon be cooking such delights as Louisiana Shrimp Stew, Galveston Bay Seafood Soup, Mr. Allen’s All-Day Fish Chowder, Lobsters with Oyster Dressing, Roast Duck with Sweet Potato Stuffing, Candied Ham with Sweet Mustard Dip, Fried Tomato and Bacon Sandwiches with Tomato Milk Gravy, Guava Duff with Brandy Sauce…you get the idea.  The kind of food we always crave but seldom get to have.  In addition to the recipes the book is filled with little “Coast Story” sections imparting Gulf wisdom, factlets, and cool stories at no extra cost.

So if you’re ready to plunge into the art and soul of Gulf Coast cooking, just leave a comment saying so.  If several people would like this book, I’ll put your names in a mixing bowl, give them a good stir, and draw one.  I’ll send it to you and I’ll ask you to pay for the postage, if you can, via PayPal.  For security and anti-spam reasons, please don’t put your email address or snail mail address in the Comments section.  When you comment I see your email address and I’ll contact you soon if I draw your name.  Give this book a good home, make something delicious from it, and I’ll be happy.

Summer Dreams

August 19, 2010

Last week we finally had summer here in the North West.  This week it’s back to gray skies and sleeping with two blankets, but I’m still dreaming of those hot, hot days when my entire body was dripping and salty for three days and nights straight. A trip to the farmer’s market produced these delightfully cooling dishes for a sweltering summer’s day, and just in case it’s still summer where you are, try these.

Slice the tips off peppers of many colors so that you have a heap of bright pepper rings.  Mini peppers are very useful here. Place the pepper rings in a ziplock bag with a cup or two of your favorite vinaigrette and let them marinate for a few hours.  Be sure to salt the vinaigrette to help the marinade penetrate into the peppers. Meanwhile, blanch and shock a heap of Romano beans, or other green beans.  Drain well and chill them until the peppers are ready.  Assemble the salad as shown.  Sprinkle the beans with salt and pepper. Dress the beans with this creamy dressing.  Stir together:

1 cup crème fraîche or sour cream
2 tsp Dijon mustard
1 tsp red wine vinegar
1 handful chopped green onions
2 T chopped parsley
2 cloves garlic, pressed
salt and pepper to taste

Thin the dressing with water until it’s a thick drizzling consistency.

Sprinkle the beans and dressing with finely diced radishes. This improbable combination makes a strangely addictive accompaniment to grilled or smoked meat.

This is also the season for stuffing squash blossoms.  The simplest possible stuffing for about a dozen flowers is to take an 11 oz log of goat cheese like you get at Trader Joe’s or Costco (no need to use the fancy stuff here), blend it with an egg, stir in about 1/2 cup of finely slivered basil, 1 1/2 ounces freshly grated Parmesan, and a clove or two of pressed garlic, a bit of salt and pepper, and gently stuff the flowers, twisting the ends together.  Set them in an oiled pan and drizzle them lightly with olive oil. Bake them at 350° for 10 minutes, then cover the pan with foil and bake for another 5 minutes.  If you have enough flowers, make 2-3 per person, because these have a tendency to vanish instantly.

And finally, for a quick and fun “burger bar” meal, grill some beef burgers and some lamb burgers, and set out a variety of toppings.  Here we have caramelized garlic, cherry tomatoes, feta slices, piquillo pepper strips, crisp romaine, garlic dill pickles, onion rings, and cheddar slices, but you can wing this to suit the tastes of your family and friends.  There were caramelized onions as well that escaped the picture, and of course catsup and mayo and mustard.  People love to assemble their own burgers with a variety of toppings, and straying beyond the usual offerings is sure to content your guests.

With any luck we’ll have a few more summery days, and I’ll be reprising these. But in the meantime, I’ll be summering in my imagination, dreaming my way through a summer where the grill is always fired up and the salads are cool and fresh, there’s always something cold to drink, and friends with whom to share it all.

Zero To Sixty

August 17, 2010

photo credit Kathy Patton

It happens in the blink of an eye.  Well, maybe two or three blinks, but if you’re lucky, it happens: you get to turn 60.  It happened to me this week, and with a lot of help from my loved ones, it’s been one of the nicest weeks of my life.  I won’t pretend that it didn’t have its rough spots, a few stolen moments of looking at myself in the mirror and thinking “Really? 60?” but they passed remarkably easily and here I am, still in one piece and ready for anything.

Our beloved friends Kathy and John came to stay for the week, and our sons were with us, which gave us a great excuse to take little trips to beautiful places and to have several parties, so I was surrounded by friends and family and love and presents and birthday greetings from all over the world all week long, taking the sting out of the ever-increasing distance between my birthdate and the present moment.

When we’re young we can’t wait to be older, and then, the balance shifts, and we begin to resist the passage of time.  We start to realize that getting older cuts both ways.  It means that you have to be 60.  It means that you get to be 60.  Have to be….get to be…. I see-saw, yo-yo between the perspectives. What’s in a number, Shakespeare might have asked, but didn’t.  Is any age as sweet as any other, like his rose?  Is every year the sweetest year?

From year to year I feel myself ripening, but I’m still a long way from drying up or decaying. Do I rue the loss of my younger self?  Yes, sometimes.  Do I appreciate my ever-developing maturity and wisdom? Occasionally.  Am I just plain glad to still be alive and well on this wonderful planet?  Every day.

So here’s to getting older.  Because the alternative, not getting older, is too terrible to contemplate, especially at a young age, like 60.

The Return Of Zazou

August 8, 2010

Last night, in the middle of a dinner party, with twelve people noisily celebrating a friend’s birthday, three weeks to the day after her mysterious disappearance, Zazou appeared at the door.

Lots of you had commented that cats sometimes do come back, even after long absences, but since we’ve been hearing the coyotes almost every night, we’d really given up on her.  And yet, here she is.  She arrived clean and shiny, with only one small paw injury.  Famished, she’s been eating nearly non-stop since last night. And sleeping the rest of the time.  On laps, snuggled up next to us in bed, sticking as close to us as she can get. Mewing plaintively in her sleep sometimes.  It’s a heartbreaking thing, a small cat crying in her sleep.

The thing is, she was never a cuddly sort, so it’s hard to get used to her new attachment to us.  And maybe she’ll revert to her former independence, but for now we’re taking all the snuggles we can get.  We keep asking her where she’s been, but she just won’t say.  That she’s been through something difficult seems clear, but what? And why?  And most important, will she leave us again, or has she learned a valuable lesson, that family comes first, that freedom’s just another word for being a small animal all alone in a very big world?

For now we’re keeping her tucked in tight.  The cat door’s open, though, so she’s free to leave.  So far she’s shown no sign of wanting to be anywhere but wherever we are.  She’s like a whole new cat, and we like her like that.