Thursday, December 22, 2011

Lighten Up


We moved to this neighborhood six months ago, knowing that it was a great area of Jacksonville...but little did we know that our choice of street address would land us in a Christmas light spectacular!  There is always that one street where folks go all out come the holidays, and during the month of December their neighborhood is full of people cruising by in wonder of the twinkling bulbs, and the power bill.
The opposite side of the street from us happens to be such a dazzling display of electricity...lets just say that this joyful discovery is just one more affirmation that moving off our little island to the big city was a grand idea.


The girls and I go on evening strolls to admire our neighbors' handiwork, and on one such occasion we happened to meet the man with the grid plan.  I asked him how it all worked...did he have a generator?  He told me in an unexpectedly sheepish manner that he had two computers, one in the garage and one in the closet under the stairs that powered the operation.  Angels and candy canes dangling 20 feet up in the air, words projected on the side of the house, giant crosses and evergreens, snow ball fights, sparkling deer, stars, inflatable penguins...this man went all out.  In mid-conversation Lil' Bit became suddenly very upset and began to whimper.  "Look mommy!  Look at Frosty!  He is dying!"


"Maybe he is taking a bow?"  Our neighbor interrupted my ridiculous response and expertly explained that Frosty was melting and would soon be back upright.  Lil' Bit was greatly relieved as he re-inflated and we continued on our walk.  I am not a religious person, but I appreciate the homage to light during this dark time of year.  Speaking of...Happy Hanukkah!

Hanukkah is a holiday that calls for oil...aka fried food.  Chef made jelly donuts the first night of the holiday...the beginning of a barrage of sweets to lighten life during the holidays.  This week we received what I call "the holiday diet fucker package."  Chef and I always vow to go on a crazy diet between the Thanksgiving feast and the Christmas feast, but inevitably a DF package arrives and ruins our good will.   Rum balls, truffles, sugar cookies, peppermint bark...a  towering smorgasbord of sinful delights compliments of mom.   I know one day I will too send my brood tins full of empty calories, and they will eat them dutifully with great gusto. 


The idea that we don't have to indulge over the holidays is poppycock.  There is no better way to celebrate the richness of life and the end of a year than with rich delicious food.  So my advice to you this last week of December, this first official week of winter is to go for it.  

Eat as if you are about to enter hibernation...enjoy all food and libation without guilt or shame.  There is no better way to celebrate a year of life well lived.  Besides, New Year's is next week...save your resolve of deprivation for next year.  Just say screw it and indulge in the now!


Sunday, December 18, 2011

Peace



This morning on the other side of the world at 7:37 am the last US combat troop crossed over the border to Kuwait ending our nine year war in Iraq...officially.  My mind returned to the day we began the Shock and Awe campaign.   I was at a friend's warehouse studio listening to the reports coming in on the radio when I went to use the restroom and realized that I had unknowingly been wearing my underwear inside out and backwards all day.

I remember three years later after I had moved back to Florida and went to a craft store to buy some art supplies.  The war was far from my mind until I walked past the aisle that held the Flag boxes on sale.  I stood there and my heart sank.  It hit me that unlike previous generations of war, my generation, in this age of petty distraction, could go days or weeks without a thought about our soldiers abroad because as civilians we have not been asked to sacrifice anything.  

I had the same thoughts every time I saw a soldier in an airport.  I wondered if they were coming or going, and if they were on their way home how difficult the adjustment must be for them.  I witnessed the small ways they were honored in transit:  the rounds of applause at the baggage claim, or on a plane after a pilot had honored them over the intercom, or the smiles and quiet thanks given by individuals to soldiers on terminal trams.

I recall the six months I spent worrying about my little brother while he served in Iraq in his position at the DOD.  I swore an oath to him and myself that if anything happened to him I would devote the rest of my life making sure that the terrible story of this particular war would be impossible to hide through the retelling of history.

We spent Thanksgiving this year with my brother in Washington D.C.  It was his first time hosting the holiday as a young adult in his new apartment.  I was so grateful he was home. We feasted the way only a family with a Chef in its fold can do.  During dinner he told us about the USO volunteers that he encountered all over the world and the platters of baked goods and comfort foods of home that they provided to all personnel serving in the wars abroad.   My brother twice returned from war without family to greet him, and for the kindness shown to him by these folks I will be eternally grateful.

A nine year war ended today.  The last soldiers are now racing the clock home to be with their loved ones for the holidays.  I can't even imagine the relief and strangeness of the new life the Iraqi people are faced with now they are no longer occupied.

Anytime a war ends is a time for joy.  This upcoming few weeks there will be many toasts to be made.  This holiday season the word "peace" is more than some sentiment followed by the word "joy" on a card.  Peace is the epic struggle for our slowly evolving species.  During the holidays as we light our candles lets do so in dedication of peace and hope for the end of the war in Afghanistan.  The cost of war is too much for any people to bear.

Lets give thanks to all the people across the world who bring peace in ways both big and small, and reflect on the meaningful ways that we can follow in their footsteps.



Friday, December 9, 2011

Authentic Celebration



You know you live with  a chef when it comes time to clean out the garage freezer and this is the list of stuff you are going to keep:

pork fat
salmon
rabbit legs & quarters
pork belly
oysters
24 quails
steam buns
cranberries
whole rabbit
whole duck
fruit purees
boneless short rib
pork scraps/neck
corn tortillas
japanese noodle with Uzu sauce?
gyro meat

I am not even going to get into what we threw out.   Lets just say that according to Chef, there is plenty of room now. The idea to catalog the freezer came about in a discussion about what to cook while entertaining over the holidays. I think our stash has the makes for some serious wining and dining.  Flock of quail anyone?

Feasting as a means to celebrate is a tradition that binds humankind.  It is as relevant now as it was in ancient times...perhaps even more so today given that so many of our personal interactions happen in cyberspace.  From the preparation of the food, to breaking bread...every aspect of a feast feeds authentic relationships.  I dare say we could all use a little time devoted to authenticity this holiday season.  

For real.

Friday, December 2, 2011

Ohhh Honey!


This time of year I like to drink.  Well, truth be told I like to drink most times of year.  It is genetic.  But during winter I like to drink things that warm.   I am not a Scotch person.  My parents, they are Scotch people.  As a child, I used to hound them for a sip of whatever adult beverage they had in hand.  They would cave knowing that the burning taste of Johnny Walker would make me gag.  It did.   To this day that first sip of Scotch always triggers churning chills down my spine.  I can drink it if duty calls in certain social situations, but it is not preferred.   I am an American girl when it comes to whiskey.

Bourbon whiskey is made from corn and is unique to the American South, distilled mainly in Kentucky but also Tennessee.  Ironically enough the invention of bourbon is attributed to a Baptist minister named Rev. Elijah Craig.  The term "bourbon" comes from the county in Kentucky where the distillation process of American whiskey was created.  American whiskey producers are mandated by trade agreements to label their booze bourbon, but Tennessee whiskey producers refuse to label their bottles as such.  Instead they use "sour mash whiskey" to disassociate themselves from their brothers in Kentucky, in true bootlegger moonshine feud style.

This week Chef and I were introduced to Jack Daniel's Tennessee Honey.  It was given to him as a gift to nurse an upper respiratory infection.    Like a true southern bell she is warm, inviting, a real sweetie but if you take advantage of her good graces she will bite you in the ass.  She made her debut to society this summer and has had five star reviews from anyone who has taken her for a ride.  

Let me tell you something...this is one of the most sippable liquors Chef and I have ever tasted.  I am not kidding.  This beverage will now be a staple booze in our home. There is nothing syrupy about this drink, just whiskey warmed with honey.  It is extraordinary.

Do yourself and everyone around you a favor and go buy a bottle.  Maybe two.  One for you and one as a gift to someone who needs a drink more than most. This year, this climate, this world we live in now demands too much from us, and there is nothing like a little southern comfort to provide relief from the cold.  A little liquid courage to face the all consuming holiday season.  I am telling you if cheer had a flavor, it would be Tennessee Honey.

Cheers to one of America's finest exports, and congrats to Mr. Daniels for landing himself such an incredible lady!

Friday, November 18, 2011

School Days



This week  I began my new part-time career as a substitute teacher.  I say career because being a teacher, even part time, is more than a job.  Way more than a job. You are responsible for educating and caring for a room full of children that are complete strangers to you, and you to them.

On Monday, I taught "Reading", a class to help 6th graders who struggled with the reading on the FCAT to 3 classes totalling 64 six graders.  I never had to take the FCAT so I had no idea what to expect as far as curriculum  I received the assignment the night before so I didn't have much time to reflect on the students either, except for the obvious preteen angst I would be up against combine with the substitute teacher get out of jail free card they would be waving in my face.

School started at 8:45 and ended at 4 pm.  My first class came to me before lunch, as in 4 minutes before the lunch bell.  I had to march them to the cafeteria.  They lined up and we set forth down the hall, when suddenly one of the boys sprinted back to the room.  I raced after him while the class continued on without me.  He left his brownie in his backpack.  My heart was racing.  The kids were not supposed to be alone in the halls.  Hurry up kid.  I kept saying in my brain.  Finally he gave up searching his backpack.  We caught up with the class and marched to lunch. It was a rough start.

After lunch, they came in like a tornado and raged for the entire 1 1/2 hour time block.  Stuff flying all over the room, note the chinese star above. 

I was mocked. Openly defied constantly.  Completely disrespected.  Lied to.

"What is that?  Food?"  

"We are allowed to eat in here."
"Well, last class I busted someone for eating.  He was keeping it on the down low, which if he was allowed to eat he would have done it openly.  Put it away."

"No."

"Put it away, or I throw it away."

"Fine. Ugh. Someone said you were nice?"

I stood my ground.  I was firm.  I yelled.  I even sent someone to the office.  But it was insane.  Such a rush. What went down in that class room left me in shock.  I was giddy after class, like I had just been skydiving or something.   God help us if this is the state of the next generation coming down the American public education pipeline.   They are buck wild.



Saturday, November 12, 2011

The Butter Song



Weekends are good for love songs.  Actually, any day is good for love songs...except for maybe Monday.  This is a blog about the infinite happening of food in life, and a few weeks ago a song about butter rocked my world.  Balthrop, Alabama, a ten piece+ band, including a visual artist illustrating each song live, refers to themselves as a small township. A brilliant witty auditory landscape if you ask me.  My friend Jimmy Saal, producer of Atypical Arts Presents brought Balthrop, Alabama from Brooklyn to Jacksonville.  Big thanks to him.  There is no better gift than being introduced to wonderful new music.

This particular night was special because it was Chef and I's first date night in the big city by bicycle.  We rolled down to grab some mediocre sushi, and then cruised to Five Points Theater  to celebrate its final show before renovation.   The opening act was this gorgeous sassy sweet soulful southern lady named Valerie June.  Chef and I both developed a crush mid set.  Then came Balthrop, Alabama.  In the middle of the show someone appeared with a piece of cardboard ripped from a box that had the words "The Butter Song" scrawled across it in blue marker.  The phrase alone brought joy to my heart, and as members of the audience began to chant the phrase...well this is what happened next.

The lyrics speak for themselves...but you have to listen to the music here

The Butter Song

I was always trying to find the butter knife
you were always trying to find the butter
you and me we should be together

And then you could find the butter knife
and I could find the butter

you could be my pretty wife
and I could be your lover
try to be a little more PC
don't mean to be gettin' so greasy
but I am gonna cover your butt with a big stick of butter

I was always trying to find the butter knife
you were always trying to find the butter
you and me we should be together

and then you could find the butter knife
and I could find the butter
I could your pretty wife
and you could be my lover
try to be a little more PC
don't mean to be gettin' so greasy
but I am gonna cover your butt with a big stick of butter

and the butter
and the butter knife
ran away
and they lived happily ever after
and so should we

I was always trying to find the butter knife 
you were always trying to find the butter
you and me we should be together

and then you could find the butter knife
and I could find the butter
you could be my pretty wife
and I could be your lover
try to be a little more PC
don't mean to be gettin' so greasy
but I am gonna cover your butt with a big stick of butter

That last line cracks me up.  No pun intended.








Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Creepy Meals


My daughters received these in their trick or treat bags.  They were individually wrapped and labeled "Creepy Meals" with no nutritional information.  The man who handed them out was in is sixties, red complexion, white hair, yellow grinning teeth.  Grandfatherly in a truck driver sort of way.  He seemed really proud as he dropped them into their baskets, and we thanked him and wished him a happy holiday.  And I made a mental note that as soon as we got home I would remove them and throw them away.  Take a closer look.



Miniature gummy fast food, combined with human body parts.  Of all the candy, of all the glorious candy in the world...why this?  I just had to share these little culinary curiosities.

Completely unrelated, I have started writing a novel two days ago.  You know, because I have nothing else to do.  It is National Novel Writing Month and I decided to go for it.  55,000 words in 30 days.  Hundreds of thousands of writers all over the world are pecking away like kamikaze typists.  In two short days I have squeezed out 20 pages during nap time, after bedtime, and even at the gym.  Don't ask me how.  I have wanted to write a novel since I was eleven years old, and now with two kids, in school, with a part time job I have finally decided to make the time to do it...or find the time in the little cracks of daily life.

I am  a woman on a mission, so forgive me if my posts in the next three weeks are short.  Wish me luck. 

Friday, October 28, 2011

Tricky Lil' Corn


I say it every year.  I love Halloween.  What is not to love.  Candy corn alone is reason enough.  I waited until yesterday to buy my annual bag and now there is no turning back.  What is candy corn?  It is exactly what you might suspect...sugar, corn syrup, water, fondant, marshmallow, and yes...wax.  I think the wax is what I love the most about it.  The pliable texture it brings to this little iconic candy that is over a century old.  Supposedly 9000 tons of it is sold in America each year, enough to circumnavigate the globe over 4 times if laid yellow head to white toe.  Did you know that the yellow part was the top of a candy corn?  Tricky little treat.


Speaking of corn...we went to the Conner's Farm for their annual corn maze...well actually we just go for the corn pool.  You have to swim at your own risk.


This year I am a little behind the ball.  I just bought my pumpkins today, with a plan to carve them tomorrow while Chef is watching his annual college football game...UGA vs. UF.  It is an excuse for me to make this dip.   Or maybe I will be good and make some kale chips...to dip with.  Long ago, in Scotland, young folks would be blindfolded and go pick kale from the garden on Halloween. They would lay the uprooted plants by the fire and the read them for signs of what their betrothed might look like.  Shriveled and puny, or tall and supple.  The more dirt on the root ball would mean the larger the dowry.  Then they would be tacked in a row over the front door and each visitor that night would be identified with the mangled plant that resembled them most.  

Something about that tradition makes me really happy.


Happy Halloween!  Get your trick on!

Friday, October 21, 2011

Fall Gardens



Sunday afternoon I began our fall garden at home.  Florida may be a place where people come to die, but when the rest of the east coast is witnessing the glorious moribundity of fall, here in Florida there is a rebirth after the dog days of summer.   French radishes, golden beets, red beets, fennel, broccoli raab, romanesco, butter lettuces, leeks, romaine, kale, Brussels sprouts, cilantro.  We started hundreds of seeds, most of which leftover from the restaurant garden, and by Wednesday some had already begun to sprout.


72 hours.  Spindly stalks stretched their way through the darkness lifting their tiny leaves into the warm fall sunshine.  It always blows me away when I think of plants moving on their own accord.  Their pace is so remarkable, their steady slowness is constant and unwavering.  Everyday, all around you, plants are on the move...up, down, reaching, bowing, opening, coiling, closing.  All this motion is so slight it is barely registered by the human eye.


We are a lot like plants.  We all have dormant seeds with huge potential sleeping inside.  Sometimes a catastrophe triggers our inner seed to sprout, and sometimes the awakening is due to nurturing intent.  But I dare say that for many of us our seed just remains asleep, and we dream of it on occasion. 

Lately though, it seems like all over the world seeds are starting to sprout. Egypt, Libya, Tunisia, USA, Chile, Britain, Greece,  the list goes on and on covering every continent.  People in their own ways are unfolding their hearts and minds to a brighter future.  The ways people bring their seedlings into the light are infinite...like the complexity of humanity...but one thing is certain - no matter what your potential is, in order for it to be met you have to dig in to dig out.

Besides, it is always fun to get your hands a little dirty. 

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

The Pursuit of Happiness


In searching for my video clip for last week's post I came across this image.  In the first days of Occupy Wall Street as the activists marched down Wall Street power lunchers at the Cipriani Club 55 enjoyed the spectacle from the club's balcony, champagne and cocktails in hand.  This video has understandably bothered many people because it seems to define the attitude of Wall Street.  We are untouchable from our perch, and we know it. Cheers.

I went online to read more about the Cipriani Club 55, and I found this description on their website:

The Club will provide you everything essential to live the good life.  The on-site Cipriani Clubb 55 is the natural extension of your professional and social life; an outstanding restaurant, a proper bar, a stylish and complete library, a traditional barber shop, a discreet business lounge, a full-service spa, a billiard room, a state-of-the-art screening room and Cipriani boutique.  The 24 hour concierge service, carried out by the best professionals in New York, will make the world become small and easy.  We like the pursuit of happiness for all our customers.

I love this.  Particularly the last two sentences.  The world for the top 1% is delectably small and easy.  
Last Saturday, my daughters and I went to Occupy Jacksonville.  It was their first experience as activists and it was open and welcoming.  



There were hundreds of people there representing a big world that is far from easy.  Elderly people, professional people, college kids, families, homeless people, the whole gamut. We came out in the middle of a tropical storm in solidarity with our fellow Americans.  The rain held out for us...it was that perfect windy tumultuous weather that adds a spark to the air before a storm.  City council member, Don Redman, tried to shut the gathering down, but the police would not engage...probably because of the 48 officers that had been laid off the week before by the City.  And besides...we were just private citizens peacefully enjoying a day at a public park.

Many people have asked me lately why did I go to Occupy Jacksonville?  What is this movement about.  And ironically enough I think I found my answer in the luxurious description of Cipriani Club 55 that echos our very Declaration of Independence.

The Occupy Wall Street Movement is about the pursuit of happiness.  My two favorite Founding Fathers, Ben Franklin and Thomas Jefferson declared it an "unalienable right" for all Americans in the Declaration of Independence.  Most of us find ourselves today playing by the rules, doing what our parents did to get ahead and provide us with a better life, a happier life, but our own government no longer protects or even recognizes our unalienable rights.  This is because our legal system is held in the iron grip of Corporate America.  Since corporations were given personhood in the 1800's their unalienable rights just seem to grow over the years while ours diminish.

But they are not human beings, they are entities created by human beings.  Like robots.  They do not have one heart, corporations are comprised of millions of hearts.  The hearts of those that work to make them successful, and the hearts of those who support them as consumers.  The fastest way to the human heart is through the stomach.  

Starve the beast.  Buy local.  Support small business, not Big business.  Put what little money you have where your mouth is...because to the Wall Street Club money talks.    

Oh and share this with folks if you find any truth in it.   We all need to keep the dialogue rolling.

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

Dining at Occupy Wall Street



Have you ever been to a protest?  Well, if not...you should.  It is one of our most important rights in this country, the right to peacefully assemble, and if you have never exercised it take the time to do it at some point in your life.  It is a right that creates real change.  Change you can see and feel, not just change you can believe in.  And, exercising your right to assemble is more empowering than you can imagine...the sense of freedom and community combined is electric.

In college I went to more protests than I can count.  WTO, IMF, FTAA, Iraq War...if I had a ride I was there.  The thrill of activism made me feel more alive than anything else. I was tear gassed in Quebec City and made the cover of many national papers in Washington DC.  During both circumstances I was not doing anything unruly, just standing there peacefully...okay maybe I did raise my voice a bit, but I was just excited.  Peacefully excited.

As I read about the patriots assembling in NYC, I thought to myself...who is feeding them?  At all the protests I have attended there have been makeshift soup kitchens organized by various organizations like Food Not Bombs or food camps set up by the organizers of the action.  In my experience there was a lot of vegetarian stews, beans, and rice.  Fruit. Bread stuffs.  And looking back the food was always served on real plates with real silverware,  and a three sink wash basin was there for washing.  You can't exactly protest environmental degradation and be using paper plates now can you?

After a day of walking miles of city blocks and standing on your feet for 12 hours straight food takes on an entirely new meaning.  As Chef says, hunger is the best sauce, and let me tell you vegan stew never tasted so good.  But the folks in NYC that are striving to wake up the nation they have a different menu all together.  It is NYC, dining destination of the world.  According to this article, the charity of supporters has dished out some pretty great grub.   Local restaurants have opened their kitchens so activists can cook the food for the hundreds of people gathered, an estimated 200 pizzas a day are delivered to the food camp,  giant six foot subs, and even fruit bouquets from Edible Arrangements.

There is one pizza place in particular, Liberatos Pizza, that has lost count the number of pizzas it takes to Zuccotti Park, and even has a special discount for a pizza fittingly dubbed the "Ocu Pie."  People from all over the country and the world have been ordering pizzas from this place to be delivered to Occupy Wall Street.

We all have different comfort levels when it comes to activism, but I think we call agree that our fellow Americans striving to bring real attention to our plight as the 99% struggling every day in the richest nation in the world just to make ends meet are doing us all a big favor.  Huge favor. 

To better understand their message, because lets face it the corporate media is a joke, go here.  Please, check it out because this is as real as apple pie.  As real as the on-going revolution in the Arab world.  In fact on October 6th Occupy Washington DC begins.  And if you go the the 99% tumblr, and it moves you to buy a pizza for your fellow citizens give Liberatos a call at 212.344.3464. 

Take time this week to help feed liberty.

Oh, and share this post wherever you can.  Every little bit of solidarity is worth its weight in freedom.

Friday, September 30, 2011

The Butterfly Named Mango



My three year old celebrated Rosh Hashanah at preschool this week.  The Jewish New Year has many traditions that revolve around food...from eating apples and honey to celebrate a sweet new year, to Tashlich where bread is thrown into a body of water to signify the casting off of sins to start the year with a fresh slate. 

This week a piece of paper came home in her backpack.  It is a blessing that they worked on as a class, and I would like to share it with you.  There is an utterly random food reference that made me laugh.

The Blessing For The World

We wish the world would have millions of monkeys and a butterfly named Mango.  Also, the world needs lots of present.  The world needs kisses and cakes and princesses.  We wish for peace, justice, and lots and lots of Mommy love and many beautiful flowers.  That's all.

The butterfly named Mango.  Why Mango?  The national fruit of India, Pakistan, and the Philippines.  The mango is used in rituals of Ganesha, remover of Obstacles, patron of arts and sciences, and deva of intellect and wisdom.  Butterflies in many cultures signify the soul of either living or dead.

Combine the two: the world needs a soul that removes obstacles by nourishing art, science, intellect, and wisdom.  A butterfly named Mango, mascot for world peace.

Thursday, September 22, 2011

Coffee at the Breastaurant


If you haven't noticed, lately I have been blogging about coffee.  Lately being the past year of my life, but having two children between the ages 1 and 3 has that effect on people.  Lil' Bit started school, and I volunteered to be a "room mom."  This week I will meet with the other "room moms" to talk about...well not sure...the room? 

The "room moms" discussed where to go have a cup of coffee and figure out this vague job for the year, and I thought to myself Hooters.  What would these two other thirty-something women, I barely know say if I threw out the name of the local breastaurant?

"Hey ladies I have an idea.  What about Hooters?  I hear they have great coffee and it is loud with plenty of room for my 1 year old to roam around.  If it is nice we could sit outside on the deck...."

What I if I said that with a warm straight face to these two women, these mothers, with whom I have never had more than a three minute conversation? 

Breastaurants are strange.   I first learned this word about 2 months ago when Chef says to me one night while lying in bed, "So breastaurants are pretty lucrative, and there is a new one that is a bit more sophisticated than Hooters that is really taking off.  It is called Twin Peaks. What do you think?"

"Did you just say the word breastaurant?"  I had never heard that word before, and I found it utterly hilarious and perfect. Breastaurant.

"As long as people have to sit at tables to eat and the food isn't total crap, I am cool with it.  I mean, if that is where you want our daughters to pick up shifts as teenagers during the summer.  I had a friend in high school who really worked her way up the Hooter ladder.  Got into a calendar or something." 

Chef dropped it.

The girls and I drive past a Hooters on the way to school every morning.  It sits nestled on the water next to a small bridge and marina.  It is a place where some people come to eat, watch sports, and stare at tits, and where some people work. They fry wings, or sling beers and cleavage.  It is a lucrative business model that has its rightful place in society.

I think we need to explore this restaurant concept further.  Maybe transform the common package store and bar to a haven for the under-appreciated heterosexual woman.  A softly lit tavern where you can get 2 for 1 margaritas, where you can watch talk shows or reruns of dramas and comedies from the 90's...like Melrose Place, or the Golden Girls, or My So Called Life.  Where you can get a great mixed salad and buy your bottle of gin for the week, and perhaps where the waiters strut about in black Speedos, and retro threadbare shirts that are just a little too tight.  A Package store with a big P.

Now that is an idea I will run by Chef.  A market that really needs to be tapped....

Friday, September 9, 2011

Late Summer Harvest


The eggplants were tired at 29 South, so Shannon pulled them.  Before our amazing gardener did the dirty work I managed to snag a few fruits.  Eggplants and peppers are amazing vegetables.  Through the maddening heat of late summer they push through a bounty that is unbelievable given the circumstances.  They are relatively small plants, with smallish leaves and it is surprising how they produce so much fruit, and they seem to thrive in the dead heat of summer.   

I think we could learn something from late summer vegetable plants.  They have extraordinary stamina during a time of year when everything else seems to be dragging.  And they do so with panache.  I mean look at these colors.



It is hard to go wrong with roasted vegetables.  Olive oil. Salt. Pepper. 
A holy trinity.  
 
I needed a quick fix for dinner the other night and looked to the veggie bowl.   Eggplant from our garden and summer squash, red and green peppers from the farmer's market.   There was some Israeli cous cous in the pantry.  Feta in the fridge.

It is hard to go wrong with roasted vegetables.  Olive oil. Salt. Pepper. A holy trinity.  
 
The end product was so good I forgot to photograph it until it was almost finished three days later.  This is one of those dishes that just gets better as leftovers.



The recipe is so easy and you can use it for any veg.  Here...try it this weekend.  It will become a regular go to in a pinch.  This is my recipe, one I concocted using broad strokes of improvisation...so excuse the vagueness.

Ingredients:
  • 4 cups of seasonal vegetables chopped in 1/2 inch cubes.
  • 2 tablespoons of olive oil
  • 1 tablespoon of salt and pepper to taste
  • 2 cups of cous cous of any kind
  • a big hunk of feta cheese, crumbled (Buy feta in a block and crumble it yourself...not as dry as pre-crumbled cheese and no low fat cheese...unless you must.  The real deal adds a creaminess to the dish.)
 Directions:
  1. Preheat oven to 400 degrees
  2. Chop your veg and put it in a bowl.  Toss it with olive oil, salt and pepper
  3. Spread veg out on a cookie sheet and put in oven.  Roast for 30 minutes.
  4. While veg is cooking, make the cous cous according to the package directions.
  5. When cous cous is done put it in a large bowl and add veg to cous cous.
  6. Add feta to bowl and toss and drizzle with olive oil.
  7. Add salt and pepper to taste.
*As a side note:  I like to add fresh basil, or mint, lemon or chopped kalamata olives to this dish depending on the veg flavors.   












      Friday, September 2, 2011

      Wild Horses, Wild Women


      This summer I went to an epic bachelorette party, or as they say in England...an epic "hen" party. It is a new tradition for a woman to be thrown a raging party by friends before marriage compared to its compliment, the "stag" party.   While the latter has been around for centuries in its common form, the idea for women to go out and get plastered as one last hurrah has really only become common since the 1960's. 


      This particular party was no bar hopping hose down.   Nope.  The bride to be, my cousin, brought 11 of her closest gals to a sea island where she spent much of her childhood exploring life.  That is Sarah above showing me how she can peel a shrimp in two moves.   I prided myself as a three stage peeler, but growing up on an island as the daughter of a ship captain...well lets just say the girl knows her way around seafood.

      As family in the restaurant business, I volunteered to be in charge of food and beverage...the duty of a bridesmaid called.  I did this without much thought to what it would entail, you see Cumberland Island is mostly National Park.  You have to get there by boat, cars are allowed only to the handful of people that live there, and there is no grocery or liquor store to restock if the cupboard runs dry. 

      Chef and I set to work listing all that would be needed.  There would be two breakfasts, two lunches, and one dinner to be prepared on site.  I asked the bride to be what her favorite foods were for each meal and a menu took form.  As did a cocktail line up.  Not hitting a bar scene had no bearing on the debauchery we had planned.   Beer, Wine, Tequilla, Vodka, Gin, and Goslings Rum for the bachelorette's favorite beverage the Dark and Stormy (captains daughter classic) were boxed with appropriate mixers and readied for the boat ride.  

      The day before we set off we began stockpiling boxes and coolers in our living room for the voyage.  A repair man came to our house to fix something and asked what it was all for.  I told him "camping" not wanting to explain that we rented a house on an isolated island...yada yada yada.  He looked at me like I was a capricious lunatic. 

      One of the other bridesmaids was helping us with this endeavor and when it came time to load our little fishing boat she doubted it would run with such a load.  Oh, but run it did.  We cracked open some beers for the ride and Sarah, her sister/maid of honor, and two ginger bridesmaids cast off with Chef as our captain.  He got us to the island safely, did his Sherpa duty, and then left us to our business.

      I had a game plan, and each meal went wonderfully.  Breakfast happened spontaneously as we dragged ourselves out of bed.  We had two fabulous picnic lunches.  One at Plum Orchard, a grand abandoned home perched on a field scattered with wild horses.  There we dined on a variety of gorgeous cheeses shipped from California, by a bridesmaid that was unable to attend.  Another lunch on the beach with a variety of salads brought by the bachelorette's sister in laws.  We had two dinners on the island.  The first meal we made at our little cottage.  The menu:  boiled shrimp, Sarah's father's grouper with special sauce,  grits, and mixed green salad.  Chef had taken the grits out of the package, and without internet we had no idea the proper way to cook them.  Luckily, a southern sister in law swooped in and gave us a lesson. 


      The last night we had dinner at the Greyfield Inn.  Every Christmas Eve, Sarah's family comes to the inn for dinner, and she wanted to share a taste of her family tradition with us.  It was a gorgeous meal.


      After dinner, we had a lingerie party, did shots and went skinny dipping in shark infested waters.  Who needs a table top bar dance when you have man-eating fish, rip tides, and tequila to make your last hurrah wild and crazy?   Tipsy girls being circled by large predators...just like any run of the mill bachelorette party bar scene right?  Wrong.  This bachelorette party was extraordinary, just like the lady it honored.

       (Sarah on the right, with her sister Molly...beauties!)











      Friday, August 26, 2011

      Sister


      Today is a coffee with lunch kind of day.  My grandmother told me her mother always kept a pot of coffee on the stove and a pot of rice.  That is my grandmother above, an exceptionally classy lady, a member of the Greatest Generation, a dying breed of women, who always had coffee with lunch.

      One of my earliest memories is standing behind her in the kitchen.  Sister, as we called her, has her back to me at the stove.  She is in an A-line skirt, navy blue heels, and cream blouse, with an apron tied in a tight bow above the hip.  My father's mother cooked a formal dinner every night for her family of six, usually in heels.  She never spat, except when brushing her teeth, and she gave me my first set of pearl earrings.  Oh, and she loved Chardonnay.

      One of my earliest posts here on Ecoculinaire was about Sister. She passed away early this June, and I will never forget the last living moment we shared with her as a family.  We were gathered around her bed, where we had been the entire week.  Around this woman who touched so many hearts with her bright smile and open mind.  Her bedside had been a peaceful, solemn place, where stories were quietly shared as friends and family gathered.  But that Friday, at around Happy Hour, there was a shift in the air.   My grandmother always had nibbles out at 5 and an open bottle of white wine to be enjoyed by anyone who stopped by...and people did stop by to sit a spell.  She called this hour "wine time." 
      It was as if the idea came in on a sea breeze.  It was not discussed.  It was not planned.  A spontaneous wine time erupted at Sister's deathbed.   Suddenly my aunts began bustling about in the kitchen.  Cheese plates were brought out, and my Uncle's incredible crab dip.  Glasses brimming with Chardonnay and crackers piled high were passed from hand to hand around my grandmother.  The hands of her children and one of her six grandchildren.  We were there, and even though she had been unconscious for almost a week, we knew Sister was there too.

      My grandmother was the essential Southern lady.  A Yellow Dog Democrat who practiced tolerance and lived with an open intellect which allowed her to befriend people from all walks of life. A woman who exuded both a rich warmth and a delicate elegance, like a meringue.   Women of her caliber are dwindling and I think we all need to take a hard look at ourselves today in relation to our grandmothers.  Women born long before the Women's Liberation Movement, who held pride as matriarchs and found their own stride as their children opened new doors for them. 

      What doors will we open for our mothers?  Just something to think about over a cup of coffee at lunch.






      Saturday, August 20, 2011

      Boiling Over.

      So sorry for my spotty posts this summer.  Have you ever had a window in life where no matter what you do nothing seems to get you ahead of the game?  Weeks of time pass and one thing happens after another in such a fashion that you know the Universe is trying to tell you something, but there is just no time to digest any of the change because there is just almost too much to bear?  I feel like we all go through certain periods of life where change rolls in like a pot coming to a boil, one bubble popping at a time until everything is up in the air.  You just try to keep it together so you don't loose your lid...then things begin to fall into place.

      The dust has finally settled here, and so have my nerves.  We are at that point after a move where you feel comfortable enough to have a friend over for a glass of wine without worrying that they might think you are a terrible hoarder.  I purchased my first house plant for our new digs, a big beautiful fern from the Riverside Arts Market...an incredible food and arts market that just so happens to occur about a mile from my house on the banks of a huge river in the shade of a gigantic bridge.  The market happens every Saturday, and it is fast becoming a weekend tradition. 

      There are many new wonderful things in our life now we are living in this city of rivers.  As we slug our way through the end of summer, I sense a lot of new beginnings.  The next few weeks I will be sharing with you some of the more extraordinary experiences I had this past summer, now that I am in a place where my lid is secure and the dust can be easily swept under the rug...if need be.






      Thursday, July 7, 2011

      Unpacking Chef's Kitchen


      You know you live with a Chef when you unpack your kitchen after a move and just the variety of salt alone takes up half a shelf.  Chef and I have had to do some serious downsizing.  Our new digs is literally half the size of our last home, and while we have given away contractor bags full of clothes and toys...all kitchenware is sacred.

      Do we need two mixers?  Yes.  Do we need two ice cream makers?  Yes.  Do we need three can openers?  Maybe.  It is impossible to use two can openers simultaneously, much less three.  You never know. 

      For some reason I was given the task of unpacking the kitchen.  Perhaps because I am the "homemaker" and the kitchen is the center of our home.  Or it could be because it is the most daunting of the rooms to unpack.  There are so many different tools that categorizing them in any meaningful way is next to impossible.  Where do I put the meat cleaver?  The tortilla press?  The crepe tool?  The pasta drying rack?  Egg mold?  Silplat? The entire collection of random Asian ingredients whose labels are a total mystery? 

      When you share a home kitchen with a culinary artist, your kitchen is not just a place where family meals are prepared...it is also an artist's studio.  Like any other professional artist, a chef's tools are utterly essential to the creative process.  So I will find each a home in our little bungalow kitchen, so Chef has all he needs at his fingertips to concoct his artworks, and continue to bless our table with masterpieces. 

      Now where to put the blowtorch? 



      Friday, June 10, 2011

      On the Move


      Sorry about the radio silence, but the past two weeks have been a doozy.  We are on the move.  Chef, the girls and I are moving to Jacksonville this month.  Above is a snack I created when in desperate need of a quick refuel.  Let me present a perfect food for the throws of moving:  Tada...Branston Pickle & cream cheese on a mini bagel.  Only 215 calories, vegetarian, and really delicious. Even the Sprout likes it, which makes it an even better food on the move.  Food on the move has to easy to prepare, easy to eat without utensils, and something liked by all.

      I love to move.  I feel it is intrinsic because we are naturally a nomadic species.  Migration is an essential part of our evolution on this planet. The agricultural evolution definitely changed our patterns, but even in the 21st century many of us spend our days running around, conducting a micro-migration about our little lives from place to place.   According to the Merriam-Webster Dictionary, to migrate is to move from one country, place, or locality to another.  For many species this movement is driven by food and sex.  Food, sex, and movement.  Pretty key components of the good life if you ask me.

      I have lived on this island for nine years now.  I met my love on this island and became a mother here.  For over 150 years my family has lived on Amelia in their ancestral homes.  It is a rare thing in America for a family to stay in one place for so long, and I am grateful for those that have held down the fort here in Fernandina.

      This is our first migration as a new family.  Granted we are only moving an hour away, but anything off the island seems like a great distance.  A small adventure in the grand scheme of things, but who knows?  

      We are moving to the Bold New City of the South.

      Friday, May 27, 2011

      Farmer to Table


      Beach season is in full swing, and so is the S & N Bed and Breakfast.  From late spring to early fall friends and family flood our home to enjoy a taste of island life.  While at times I find the constant changing of linens overwhelming, both Chef and I love to have guests stay with us.  It gives us a reason to indulge in both eat and drink, our children the chance to share their hoard of toys, and our pets get the rub downs that they deserve.

      Speaking of Bed and Breakfasts, above is the Greyfield Inn.  What is the difference between an inn and a bed & breakfast?  The mealtime.  Inn's serve dinner, while B&B's do not.  Dinner at the Greyfield Inn with the man I love was what I wanted to do the night of my big 30.  It is a little gem tucked away in an oak hammock on Cumberland Island, GA. Built in 1900 by Thomas and Lucy Carnegie for their daughter Margaret, the home was made into an inn in 1962 by her daughter Lucy Ferguson. It is where JFK Jr. was married and wild horses roam. 

      Chef and I ventured there at sunset in our little fishing boat for dinner. Doesn't he look dapper? We cruised up the Amelia River and through the Cumberland Sound.  It was my mission to have a day of firsts in celebration of this monumental day, and while I have been to Cumberland Island more times than I can count, this was my first time dining at the award winning inn. 
      When we arrived we were greeted on the dock by two young women with lulling southern accents.  They drove us to the inn in a vintage Land Rover Defender,  a vehicle Chef dreams of owning one day.  We bumped up a dirt road to the graceful mansion just in time for drinks at the Honest John where a spread of cocktail fixings awaited.
      There is something special about a tiny bar unguarded by a tender, with nothing more than a notebook for patrons to calculate their mischief.  My handsome date made me a gin and tonic, himself a Negroni and we then ventured into the library.
      This room immediately filled me with a sense of easy wonder.  It is the kind of space that you could easily sit in silence for hours, or ramble on  in deep conversation in front of a roaring fire listening to jazz.  The tomes that lined the shelves wore the marks of avid readers from generations of life.  If I ever have the luxury of a library at home, this space is what I will use as my inspiration.

      We made ourselves another round and headed into the drawing room where some of the other dinner guests were mingling.  We grabbed a few small bites and decided to head to the porch to enjoy the twilight.  I sat on a porch swing with the girth of a daybed, and Chef in a rocking chair.  We searched the grounds for wild horses that drift across the island, but none graced our presence.  The dinner bell rang and we made our way back inside.

      One giant table was set in the dining room.  At the Greyfield Inn you dine with whomever is a guest that evening, and on this particular night it was as if the Fates planned the seating chart. There were eight of us dining in total, and two of the couples were farmers.   We were all to sit at one large table in a room with a fire crackling in the hearth.  We were surprised by this style of dining, but happily took our places at the table.


      There is a wonderful intimacy that develops amongst strangers sharing a meal.  We quickly fell into conversation with the couple who sat across from us, owners of Deep Creek Ranch.  They supply grass-fed beef to some of the finest restaurants in Orlando, and it was fascinating to talk shop with them.  There was also a pair of farmers from New Jersey, and a couple from Wisconsin as well.  The company was excellent, the four courses were superb, the ambiance was perfection.  

      After the meal we made our way down the dark dirt road to the docks and cast off into the night.  There was no moon to speak of and a brisk wind on the water, but we were still warm from the cozy dining room.  The whole evening was wonderfully old fashioned and intimate: from arriving by small boat, to classic cocktails on the porch, to the charm of dining by fire and candle light in a century old home on a small island in the deep south, where hospitality is still more than a mint on your pillow.