spot prawns – spot on

Okay, so I was a little nervous about the spot prawns after reading about the roe, planning them for my turning 69 birthday dinner and all that. No pressure, right? Well, check out the photo. I froze the shells for later and can tell you that the prawns were beautiful, absolute perfection. I only sauteed them about 20 seconds each side in a little olive oil and butter, then put them into a bowl, added lemon, white wine, Thai basil, red pepper flakes, capers and garlic to the pan. Wow. Served with tomatoes, whole wheat thin spaghetti, and asparagus. Maybe a glass or two of white wine. The prawns were tender and sweet.

These beauties came flash frozen as an add-on in our monthly box of wild fish from Wild Alaskan Company.

simple stay home supper

When I ventured to the grocery store recently, there was one little fresh cabbage left in the bin. It was missing most of its outer leaves. I picked it up. Put it back down. It reminded me of Charlie Brown’s Christmas tree. I retrieved it and took it home.

I braised the little cabbage in a bath of chicken broth. It fed us well last night, along with a baked sweet potato and garlic-roasted pork tenderloin.

We are grateful to be in a place of comfort and relative safety here in the Longleaf woods, but our hearts are breaking for New York and the other hardest hit areas.

egg and spinach

Worth a post? Probably not. But damn, it was good. Pretty, too.

Note: I’ve avoided frozen spinach for years because of experiences with rectangular blocks that, when thawed, was coarse, tough, and unappealing. I keep trying to think of ways to get more leafy greens into our diet without having a refrigerator full of stuff in various stages of turning into a science project. So I decided to try a bag of Publix’s Greenwise brand chopped spinach. Well, now, this is a whole different animal than my rejects of decades ago. It’s tender, sweet, chopped into tiny bits, and delicious. Perfect as a base to bake an egg.

gathering strength

I’m getting all the food pictures out of the way so when I write in this space tomorrow morning while it’s still dark, drinking a great coffee so black and strong it barely needs a cup, I’ll be ready to talk some truth.

But for tonight, one more food photo. It’s emblematic of me gathering strength: fresh collard greens made with onions, garlic and a small smoked turkey thigh; boiled plain turnip roots; a buttered cornbread muffin.

Oh, and hey — we’ve got a storm coming — a late tropical storm with an intriguing name: Potential Tropical Cyclone 16. Sounds like an edgy perfume. A cold front and a tropical storm. Should be interesting.

shrimp, blue crab & grouper

Lucky to live here on the Gulf Coast of Florida, where any day of the week Buck and I can drive the shady lane from house to gate in the Longleaf woods and drive roughly 17 miles to Joe Patti’s Seafood down on Pensacola Bay. We come away with treats like the ones you see above. Two pounds of Gulf shrimp go a long way with us: first night peel and eat with Buck’s spicy cocktail sauce, second time around a version of scampi redolent with garlic and laced with capers, then a third go chopped for a lunchtime salad. Similar story with the blue crab claw meat: tossed with a smidge of lemon butter as a delicacy with the boiled shrimp, then another night as a luscious topping for garlic-Parmesan baked grouper.

generous friends

Immokolee tomatoes from Roy and Bette.

The two weeks before Roy and Bette came to visit Buck and me was one of the more miserable chapters in our lives together, something unexpected and generally unimportant that made a hell of an impact: we both got the flu. No, we don’t take flu shots. Haven’t for more than 35 years. Haven’t had the flu, either, until this year.

So will we change course and start taking flu shots? You betcha. That all-nighter in our local emergency room (on my account) was the convincer. Yikes.

Roy and Bette were already scheduled to drive up from beautiful Naples on the southwest Florida coast and stay with us for a visit and to attend Roy and Buck’s 65th Pensacola High School reunion. Buck and I were growing concerned over whether we would be ready for prime time with visitors, even such good friends.

We needn’t have worried. We were much improved by the time they arrived, plus at our age, afternoon naps aren’t considered strange at all, so we had a couple of hours each afternoon to rest.

As always, they brought bottles of lovely wine and a case of fabulous sun-ripened tomatoes from Immokolee, near Naples. Roy shared his recipe for roasted tomato soup and the photo above shows them just out of the oven. The next step is to chunk them in a food processor, then freeze flat in a zip bag until the urge for roasted tomato soup hits.

Sliced Tomatoes and Shrimp Scampi

We’ve enjoyed those tomatoes every which way. I’m even making a batch of taboulleh this afternoon and then baking another pan full for a future pot of creamy soup.

We send Roy and Bette a few pounds of stunningly delicious pecan halves from local grower Renfroe Pecans. The price has grown stunning over the years, too, but when Roy hands you a small pizza box that feels strangely heavy and you discover one of his luscious chocolate caramel pecan pies inside (made with pecans we sent at Christmas), you know that someday Renfroe will get those pecans up to the price they’re worth, but that day has not yet arrived.

Sweet, generous friends. Lou Lou Belle loves them, too.

chicken in a pot

Between working on a manuscript, following the Kavanaugh hearings, and fretting about whether Hurricane Michael was going to hit Pensacola (have you seen the video from poor, devastated Mexico Beach and Panama City?), I realized yesterday that I’ve gotten myself into a state of sleep deprivation. Never good. So last night I brought out the big guns: a beautiful whole chicken, carrots, onion, celery, broth and a generous splash of dry vermouth. Settled down with Buck for our usual evening cocktail — a Manhattan for him and scotch and water for me while the ingredients simmered into heavenly medicine. It worked its magic and I got the first really great night’s sleep I’ve had in days, if not weeks. Woke up feeling like a tigress and ready for a dash to the gate with Lula Belle. We dashed because a cool front had rolled in, at last, and the temp at seven was 54 degrees, a tiny bit cool for gym shorts and tank top.

a simple september supper

Years ago, I never met a kitchen gadget I didn’t like, but these days I like to fill the freezer with simple favorites, tried and true. I like to make a huge vat of Great Northern bean soup seasoned with a smoked turkey leg. It has a silky texture that causes me to murmur endearments to my bowl.

Flexitarian Whiskypalian

When Buck and I modified our approach to what we eat several months ago, I ran into a word that seems to describe it well: flexitarian.

The word was coined sometime in the early nineties, and was named “most useful word of 2003” by the American Dialect Society. And in 2012, “flexitarian” was listed for the first time in the Merriam-Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary.

But we only discovered it after searching for a way to describe our mostly plant meals. It’s sounds like one of those weasly bureaucratic made up words. Something to describe a wanna-be vegetarian with no spine.

Makes me think of Protestants who disdain Episcopalians by calling them “Whiskypalians” and say they’re former Baptists who like to drink. Well, yeah, I resemble that remark.

And so, I guess I can live with being a Flexitarian Whiskypalian.

So what’s happening with us on this new regime? Any cravings for the old “meat and three” way we grew up? Dreams of butter and cheese? Do we drool over ads for Ruth’s Chris Steakhouse?

In a word: No.

I can’t explain it, and I’m surprised. First and foremost, we’re enjoying meals more than we have in years. They’ve become un-boring. Buck continues to have zero IBS symptoms, which means more energy and a more relaxed and comfortable man. I’m sleeping sound as a young child, a welcome change. Whether this is related to our diet change, I can’t say. I can say the allergy-related puffiness under my eyes (which I hate) has improved significantly, and weight creep has reversed. Yeah, I know. I’ve got New Convert Syndrome. Ask me again in six months.

Meanwhile, a few photos . . .

House-Smoked Turkey Breast

Here’s an example of the “flex” in flexitarian. The meat on the plate is house-smoked turkey breast. We don’t grill outdoors anymore. I lost my taste for using charcoal, and have always been scared to death of using propane tanks on a gas grill. Silly, but true. But my little secret for the best smoked foods I’ve ever tasted is an inexpensive indoor stovetop smoker made by Cameron. For this turkey breast, I used pecan wood chips. The wood chips come in pecan, cherry, oak, alder, hickory, mesquite, and maple, among others. The veggies here are a mix of roasted Brussels sprouts, yellow squash, slow-roasted tomatoes, and garlic-and-herb-marinated olives, a perfect foil for the Texmati brown rice.

Red Beans and Rice February 2014

Our new favorite is red beans and (brown) rice. We split an Aidell’s Organic Cajun-Style Andouille (made from chicken) link, which adds huge spicy flavor. The roasted miniature zucchini and wedge of cornbread completed this luscious meal.

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More flex, here, with sea scallops and capers with whole wheat couscous and roasted asparagus. No butter in the fridge anymore, but I’m experimenting with a soy-based substitute made by Earth Balance.

Roasted Brussell's Sprouts

First time I’ve ever eaten Brussel’s sprouts and liked them. These were tossed with a bit of olive oil and roasted with shallots.

More later. Time to go to work. Buck had one final (seriously, I promise) rewrite of the first two chapters of his manuscript and one more polish to add sheen to the total book, so we are set up on the conference table, reading aloud, with me challenging, then making changing to the computer file, and laughing (a lot). Buck’s manuscript has gotten commercial-grade good. And we’re having a blast. We sent a few query letters out late last year, then took a good hard look and realized it wasn’t quite ready for prime time. Different story now. This baby is ready to fling out into the world.