Thursday, January 28, 2010

Ode to Citrus

One of the luxuries of living in Florida is fresh citrus.  I remember one of my grandmother's cousins, Carol, a wonderful woman who passed away last year at the ripe old age of 89, told me once how she would get oranges in her stocking at Christmas.  Those were the days when fruit was not taken for granted.  Oranges were not at the local grocery unless they were in season, and therefore a real treat only available certain times of year.

About a month ago, my good friend Raegan invited Lil' Bit and I to go pick citrus at her parents' grove.  Her daughter Kate is Lil' Bit's first friend...the two were born just 5 days apart.  We set out the week before Christmas to Sandy Point Grove a little piece of paradise on the Amelia River.  There we rendezvoused with two other mamas and their little ones and set forth on foot and by golf cart into the mossy grove.

Raegan's dad, Mr. Alison grows over 21 different varieties of citrus on his 27 acres.  Clementines, navels, tangelos, tangerines, valencias, satsumas, parson browns, blood organges, red and white grapefruits, lemons, pumellos,  He has his special trees that nobody can touch the fruit on, as does his wife.  The two juice every day, and Mrs. Alison strolls out in her robe every morning to her favorite ruby grapefruit tree to pick a big juicy orb ripe for breakfast.  Needless to say, they live the good life.

Lil' Bit and I walked away with about 30 lbs of fruit that crisp sunny morning. They made wonderful additions to our little Christmas goodie baskets we made as gifts for family, and were the perfect addition to the bottles of wine we handed out to friends.  We even used some as a part of our Christmas table centerpiece. 

About two weeks ago, while we were braving the snow of Utah a terrible freeze hit North Florida, and unfortunately quite a bit of the citrus at Sandy Point took a hit.  Although, last week Raegan shared with us a bag of blood oranges and a basket of Valencias that survived.  We are so lucky, and grateful for friends like her.

In between our special local delivery, and our December harvest Chef indulged in purchasing one of his favorite fruits at the grocery store, where this time of year clementines start appearing on display in their retro wooden boxes.  These little fruits have sailed across the Atlantic from Spain to make it to our shores.  Chef loves clementines, as does our dog Clancy much to our surprise.  When he arrived home with a hip little box of citrus, while the slow foodie in me moaned...I was thrilled to have the wooden crate for storage.

As much as I hate to admit it, I am a Florida girl at heart.  I say this for the soul reason that I have yet to meet a piece of citrus I did not like.  My dad worked in a Tropicana plant before I was born, and I remember as a child smelling the acrid scent of burning orange peels when the wind blew a certain way.  I love the smooth round shape of citrus, and the vibrant colors.  The way that when you pierce its skin its scent immediately fills your nose.  I find that it is segmented wonderfully convienent.  It tastes good in water, and on fish.  OJ is the perfect beverage to accompany an omelette, and lemons make a wonderful addition to a roasted chicken.  Cures scurvy.  I could go on and on.   To sum it up...citrus is fabulous.

Thursday, January 21, 2010


I thought I would devote this week's post to Haiti. Four years ago I spent two weeks in Oaxaca, Mexico. I was working for an art gallery at the time and was there in search of artists. While I was there I went to a photography exhibit featuring a Mexican photographer's images of a ritual in Haiti. The pictures were extraordinary. The ritual took place in a river where women of all ages, grandmothers, mothers, sisters, and children gathered. They danced, sang, swayed, cried, and screamed as the water rinsed over their naked bodies. If I recall, I think it was a fertilization ritual. The raw beauty and passion I saw in those images transformed my meager understanding of this island nation. It is a powerful place.

Haitian culture is often misconstrued as shadowed by underworld darkness, haunted by voodoo and demons and while I have never been there, I have been to its neighboring country, the Dominican Republic. Twelve years ago I purchased the painting above at a street market. "It is a Haitian painting", the vendor explained to me with animosity in his voice. Our guide and interpreter explained that the Dominicans are very prejudiced against the Haitians. Two nations, one island...their rift was vast. The market was full of vibrant Haitian artwork, colors like a flock of exotic birds, and lately I have been wondering about Haitian cuisine and if their culinary culture is similar to their visual art.

African and French cuisine are the major influence on the food culture in Haiti, combined with Spanish and the native Taino technique. The Taino people were from the Pre-Columbian era of the Carribbean and Antilles. Their diet consisted mainly of vegetables,fruit, meat, and fish. While large animals were few and far between, they mainly ate turtles, birds, hutias which are like squirrels, and unfortunately manatees. Yuca was a staple of their diet as well as sweet potatoes, and they also grew beans, peppers, peanuts, pineapples, and squash.

Like their artwork, Haitian cuisine is ripe with flavor due to the heavy handed use of peppers and herbs. Their cuisine is not too spicy, but has just enough zip. The flavor profile for thier culinary world is called
epis. Peppers, garlic, and herbs cooked down into a sauce which is as a fundamental condiment. Lots of veggies, like tomato, oregano, cabbage, avocado, and red and green peppers are used in their dishes along side chicken, goat, beef, pork, and fish...often red snapper. Fried plantains, sliced and flattened can be found as a side with many meals, or just eaten as a snack. Delish.

Rice is something that I can eat with every meal, it is my favorite grain and it turns out to be one of the staple foods of Haiti. Throughout the different regions of Haiti rice and beans are eaten in a variety of ways. Haitian Creole cuisine is the umbrella in which most of the food falls.

A typical Haitian Creole meal would look something like this:

First Course :
Pates - Meat patties with a crispy bread crust

Second Course: Du Riz Colee a Pois - a pois sauce which is usually red kidney beans or pinto beans glazed with a marinade of herbs, mixed with brown rice finished with a beautiful peice of red snapper, tomatoes, and onions.

Third Course:
Pain Patate - a soft sweetbread made from sweet potato, evaporatd milke, and cinnamon, served cold.

And what do they wash this wonderful food down with? Juice is the most common beverage of choice, guava, mango, and a variety of citrus juices because it is easy to come by. For a more spirited drink, one of the best rums in the world Rhum Barbancourt. It is distilled siliar to cognac, but is done so with sugarcane juice, rather than molasses like most other types of rum. If you have never tried it, treat yourself. It is exquisite.

A people that drink fresh fruit juice as a staple and dine on food rich with flavor have a certain understanding of life. The strength of its culture will pull its people through, and Haiti will survive this tragedy like it has so many times in the past.

Check out this article, Food for Haiti for a number of organizations which are accepting cash and food donations to feed the 3 million people in need.

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Put Your Money Where Your Mouth Is

Winter finally came to Florida last week. Chef and I love winter in all of its desolate glory, and I for one was glad to return home to a normal temperature for the season. This week has been a lot of catching up after being gone, and to be honest I am feeling a little exhausted. The fact that I decided to cut caffeine totally out of my diet for the remainder of my pregnancy has only compounded my lack of energy.

Last night my Aunt Nan came over for a glass of wine. There are few better ways to relish exhaustion than with a glass of wine, and there are few things I enjoy more than sharing great conversation over vino. My aunt had recently seen the movie Food Inc. and was struck by the state of our food policy in this country. So much so that she actually watched it 3 times to garner as much info as possible.

Aunt Nan has been a vegetarian for as long as I can remember, and what really hit her was the GMO factor in all the soy she eats. Her husband, Uncle Geno, has been working in Pakistan for the past 3 years and she was on the phone with him explaining all the terrible information she had learned. He asked her a question that she didn't know the answer to..."Do they know what the effects of eating GMOs are on the human body?"
She asked me this question last night, and I responded that it is all such relatively new technology that it is probably too soon to really tell what the cumulative effects will be.

That evening, after she left I was reading the Huffington Post online, which I do everyday periodically to stay updated on current events. On their Green page, as if it were destiny, was the article
Monsanto's Corn Linked to Organ Failure in Rats. Turns out that three varieties of their genetically modified corn cause "hepatorenal toxicity" in rats, which means that most of the damage happens in the kidney and liver, the organs that our body relies on to detoxify our diet.

Just one more reason to buy organic and to stay away from processed foods in general. GMO corn is in practically every processed food on the market, even "organic" processed foods. Processed foods only have to be 95% organic, and it is usually the corn byproducts used in processed organics that don't make the cut.

It is the New Year...a good time to make new changes. Ask yourself, what is it worth to me? What things am I willing to spend more money on for better jeans? hair products? Why not apply the same value to food, something that actually has a meaningful impact on not only your health therefore your life, but the environment as well. What is more important? Even if you can't afford to go all out organic, start somewhere...pick an item or two and make the switch milk and eggs, or meat and salad mix, just do what you can.
Something is better than nothing.

After seeing Food Inc. my aunt now goes to the grocery store with a sense of righteousness. "I walk up to the cashier and slap down my organic foods casting my vote with my pocketbook." Right On Aunt Nan!

Way to put your money where your mouth is!

Thursday, January 7, 2010

Winter Hunger

This is the view from of Deer Valley from the living room window this morning. The landscape laden with snow seems far from teaming with life, but the trees are alive and well sleeping naked under their white blankets, the birds are still chirping, the deer strolling, and the humans racing about.

It seems that I find my appetite to grow substantially during the winter. I want to eat hot, heavy food. Food that sits in my stomach like a warm stone. Food that grounds the body. It turns out I am not alone. A University of Houston 2008 showed that adults take in 6% to 7% more calories in the winter. It is some sort of biological memory hardwired into our bodies prior to our agricultural revolution.
This ski trip seems very food centered for me, because a. I am pregnant and b. I am not skiing so I am the one responsible for shopping for our evening meal, which Chef inevitably does most of the preparing with me a modest assistant. Our meals have to be simple and hearty to meet the requirements of our fellow ski party members, whose palettes lets just say are very "American." Thus so far....hamburgers (Julia Child style...ground beef with butter, salt, and pepper kneaded in), barbecue pork (Boston butt roasted for ages due to a faulty oven), spaghetti and meat sauce (there is little to add here. jar sauce, meat, noodle), with two evenings of take out, one local pizza and the other the worst Chinese food any of us have ever eaten. Word of advice: Do not eat Chinese food in the small mountain towns of Utah.
Our meals have been comprised of simple food, but far from elegant. I have made a green vegetable a requirement of every meal, a simple salad, peas and butter, what have you. Just a little plant to brighten up the plate.

One thing that has been nice is that we have all sat down to breakfast together every morning. Eggs, bacon, sausage, fruit, the works. I love sharing a big breakfast with people I love. This morning after the skiers set off, I put on the giant pair of pregnant lady snow pants and Lil' Bit donned her adorable snow suit and we set off to make some snow angels.
Let's just say she isn't a big fan of the white stuff. We plopped down in a snow bank and she stared down at her boots and broke out in tears shouting "shoes! shoes! dirrrtyyy!" After spending ten minutes trying to convince her snow was not dirty, but fun...I scooped her up and we went for a walk.

She was appeased for a short while listening for birds. As we stood there trying to place their chirps I couldn't help but wonder what on earth they ate during the winter. Maybe this tree knows...
Then the winter hunger struck again. Lil' Bit and I staggered back indoors. I took off my snow crusted boots and chunks of snow spread about the floor. Lil' Bit proceeded to tell me it was ice and eat it. I flipped on the gas fire and once she was done cleaning the floor we shared a bag of popcorn, snug in the comfort of little modern luxuries. Not a bad way to spend a morning in Utah.

Monday, January 4, 2010

Lunch without Lil' Bit

Utah. Land of rocky mountains, Mormons, and buffalo meat. Three hours ago I left Lil' Bit at "Snow Care" for the day so I could have a lil' vacation on our ski vacation. I imagined myself walking out of the beautiful ski resort child center with a sense of exhilaration at the prospect of having an entire day to myself. Instead I felt a little lost.

It is her first time in any sort of daycare type setting, and I left her with a kiss and a hug. I didn't want to make a big deal about leaving, but I didn't think it is right to sneak out either. I told her "I love you. Mama has to go." I just couldn't say the word goodbye. She was wrapped up in playing with a semi-truck and a yellow plastic house while trying to fend off another baby from taking what had quickly become "her toys." She was so distracted I don't think what I said registered on her pint sized radar. I stood up, gave her one last look and left.

I returned to the condo and ate three pieces of delicious cold pineapple and jalapeno pizza. A sick combination of pregnancy craving and stress eating. I wonder what Lil' Bit is having for lunch today. It is a strange feeling, leaving your child with total strangers for the first time. Granted they are childcare professional strangers, but strangers none the less. I have left her for the weekend with her dad, and it felt wonderful. But this, it is a vacuous emotion.

Sleep has thus evaded me this afternoon to myself. I feel the need for distraction more than rest. So, thank you for being here to let me share.