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Simple meals with honest ingredients help keep me focused on the beautiful and the true, and away from things that mess with my zen, like some of our homegrown social media bullies who have become legends in their own minds and delight in the cruelty of wielding reputation-destroying power over ordinary folks.

adaptations in the era of Covid-19

So masks were difficult to find in the early days. Thank goodness for our local Buddhist community who went to work sewing beautiful, useful face cloths. Now, of course, they are widely available and even more widely argued about. When or whether? Helpful, useless, or possibly even harmful? Cloth vs. paper. Whatever you do, don’t touch your face.

Then there is the learning curve. I saw a woman speaking at a local county commission meeting — one of the first in-person but socially distanced masks-optional ones we have had since the phased re-opening started. She sat in the audience, mask in place. But when she walked to the podium to speak her mind, she removed the mask. At first, she held it gingerly in her left hand, letting it dangle by one of the ear-holds. But as she grew increasingly agitated during her allotted three minutes, she began to ball the mask up in her fist, gesticulating with both hands, voice rising. At last, spleen fully vented, she returned to her seat and reapplied the mask to her face.

Watching a re-run of the meeting video from home, I shook my head and sighed.

Like many folks, Buck and I are assembling a small collection of masks, from an ancient N-95 that was still in its original packaging and had been languishing in his tool shed for years, and a package of the ubiquitous pale blue paper surgical ones, to ones you pull over your head and pull up to cover your nose and mouth. My current favorite is a cloth one made by two local women. It’s bright yellow with navy blue squiggles. But the ones I’ve ordered for both of us may (I hope) be the best yet. They are cloth, with a vinyl window over the mouth area, and were originally designed to help hearing-impaired folks – like Buck – as they augment their hearing aids by reading lips. Fantastic adaptation, and I like the idea that our smiles won’t be hidden in the grocery store or other public places.

We are still spending most of our time at home, but that is really not much of a change for us. We are both fit and healthy, but in the older cohort for whom catching the virus could mean more than a bad day at the beach.

So we’ve made some other adaptations, too, including deliveries of frozen wild salmon and white fish from Wild Alaskan. We signed up for an every-other-month delivery, but I am finding we’re eating a lot more fish and loving it, so I keep bumping up the shipping date so that now, on our third box, we’re getting a delivery about every six weeks. This is something we’ll continue, Covid or no Covid. Same for deliveries of frozen chicken directly from Purdue Farms. The first box was a terrible disappointment, because the dry ice was completely melted and so was all the chicken. I hated the waste, but can’t fault the company. They were dealing with huge issues in trying to get their product to customers in pristine condition despite hiccoughs in the shipping chain and delivery timelines. Purdue Farms’ customer service was fantastic. They offered me a refund or a new order. I took the new order, and it arrived with extra insulation and dry ice in perfect condition. Most of the order was free range and organic, packaged in convenient serving sizes. It’s great. So far, we’ve made a teriyaki-style stir-fry from a package of boneless chicken thighs, fajitas from chicken tenders, and lemon-herb marinated boneless chicken breasts cooked on an indoor grill pan (photos below).

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.

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.

suppers: quick shots

Here at what we fondly call The Longleaf Bar and Grill, it’s eating for two most of the time. After many (many) years of playing in the kitchen, I’m much more interested in playing at my desk or elsewhere with a notebook and pens rather than a whisk. Still, food is the fuel, so Buck and I have a collaborative style that gets the job done in an enjoyable way. Here’s an example from the last three suppers.

Great Northern Bean soup with smoked turkey and a spoonful of basil pesto. I make a cauldron of this stuff. It’s ultimate comfort food and freezes like a dream.

The ubiquitous sheet pan chicken, thighs with potatoes, carrots, onion and capers variant. Includes a chapter on how I learned to love those little green cabbage-looking veggies.
Salmon with brown sugar and bourbon is like soup with pesto. What’s not to love?

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.