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Archive for June, 2010

Tallahassee, Florida is home to the Florida State Seminoles, state government, and my family.  It’s located in what we call the “panhandle” of our Sunshine State.  As you know, the Panhandle borders the Gulf of Mexico, a body of water that has recently met its match thanks to the unbelievable Deep Water Horizon oil spill.

I’m bitter – can you tell?  These are the beaches that I grew up on. I spent family vacations, spring breaks, and days in college when we just wanted to relax instead of going to class.  I caught my first “real fish” on this shoreline (a 10 pound black drum that was almost as tall as me!), jumped waves with my grandmother, and caught crabs in order to orchestrate “crab races” (it really didn’t take much to entertain me as a child!).

Over the last few weeks, I’ve experienced predictable emotions in response to disaster in the Gulf: anger and sadness.  But I’ve also experienced, unpredictably, joy.  Unable to to see into the future, Mike and I planned a trip with Boulder friends (who happen to be originally from Louisiana) to head to the beach in the Gulf.  And so, while I am angered and saddened by the oil disaster, I am grateful that in light of all of this, we were able to hop on a plane and beat the oil to our destination.  We made it.  I savored the trip as much as possible, realizing that this would be (short of a miracle) the last chance we would have to visit “my ocean” in the way that I remembered it.

And so, we chartered a boat for a little deep sea fishing and caught, cooked, and ate some snapper

We went to the local seafood market, Goatfeathers, for some grouper, shrimp, and tuna

Goatfeathers

Robert preparing the grouper for the grill

Grouper with blackening spices

Grouper on the grill

Bay shrimp (grey) and Gulf shrimp (pink - saltier, and sweeter)

My cousin Katie's, famous shrimp!

Tuna

Prepared tuna platter with wasabi paste - compliments of Mike

And we made sure to spend plenty of time in the ocean and on the beach…

My two loves - Mike and ocean

Santa Rosa Beach - 10 miles from Destin, FL

 

Cousin Katie’s Delicious Peel n’ Eat Gulf Shrimp Recipe

Serves 2

1/4 cup of Old Bay seasoning (classic – loose powder, not in the bag)
1/4 cup of caraway seeds
1 lb of shrimp (shell and tail on, preferably fresh, if not fresh then at least thawed)
Large pot of water (filled with 1 or 1.5 gallons of water)
Seasoned salt (we like this one called Aunt Cora’s but I think that’s only available regionally)
1/4 cup of white vinegar

Fill the pot with the water, vinegar (vinegar helps make shrimp easy to peel), seeds, salt, and Old Bay.  Bring to a rolling boil and add shrimp.  Continue cooking until the water just comes to a boil again (sometimes even before.) It’s very important not to overcook the shrimp or they will be rubbery.  Once cooked, remove the pot from the heat and strain the shrimp.  Your strainer will collect seeds and spices.  I serve the shrimp hot or ice cold in a bowl with their seeds and remaining spices.  I also dust the shrimp with fresh Old Bay – or even sprinkle it on a plate to dip the shrimp in as I peel them.

Mike and I read about using the famous (or infamous) Sriracha Sauce (with the green lid and rooster on it) to mix with a little mayo.  It didn’t sound appealing to me at first but I tried it and it makes for a great tangy yet spicy dipping sauce for the shrimp.

Optional Sriracha Sauce Recipe

Sriracha Sauce
1/8 cup of mayonnaise
However much Sriracha you can handle

Mix together to your taste and voila!

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My little garden is really starting to produce: my first cherry tomatoes have ripened, the first large green tomatoes are ready to ripen, we’ve enjoyed many wonderful leaf lettuce salads, and now the cucumbers are going crazy.

Mimi and Granddaddy always had a big garden when I was growing up.  In the summertime, they grew sweet and hot peppers, tomatoes, eggplant, onions, potatoes, cucumbers, summer squash, zucchini, scallions, and green beans, at a minimum.   I remember helping them sometimes, mostly with the harvesting: crouching along the rows of green beans, making sure to get all the little pods.  Or helping Granddaddy in the winter, washing his harvests of collard, mustard, and turnips greens in successive water baths in big white buckets in the carport (don’t you know, there were no “garages” back then – just carports!).   Somehow, though, I escaped most of the labor involved in their garden and simply got to enjoy the fruits: those greens, cleaned, cooked, and doused with Granddaddy’s home-grown and -made pepper vinegar; soft, cooked green beans with onions and ham hocks in the summer and crisp canned green bean salad with tangy dressing and sharp onions in the winter; steaming hot cornbread sticks – like the ones Rachael made here – slathered in Mimi’s home-made and -grown pepper jelly; Mimi’s ratatouille, surely inspired by Julia Child’s introduction of French cooking to America’s home cooks, composed of stewed eggplant, peppers, and tomatoes.

More than anything, though, summer at Mimi and Granddaddy’s house meant dinners full of crisp, beautiful, home-grown cucumbers – very often, cucumbers simply peeled, sliced, and bathed in white vinegar, topped with ice cubes and chilled in the refrigerator.  Crunchy, light, tangy, and cool, biting into these helped combat the sweltering blanket of heat that covers North Florida in the summertime.

Iced cucumber salad

My one cucumber plant is producing about one or two cucumbers a day right now – that’s upwards of a dozen a week, and I don’t pick them until they’re pretty big (the ones pictured above are actually from the farmer’s market, before mine were ready to harvest – much smaller than what I’ve been picking at home).  We have a lot of cucumbers to eat!  Mimi canned many of hers, of course, making a couple of kinds of cucumber pickles, in addition to her green tomato pickles, canned green beans, jellies, relishes, and frozen home-grown fruits and veggies.  But I wondered what other fresh preparations of cucumbers she made, so I turned to the pile of hand-written recipe cards I brought home after her funeral last Christmas.  Of course, Mimi didn’t disappoint.

“Buttermilk Salad” was the answer I came away with.  I don’t remember ever eating this growing up, but that could be because I turned my nose up at it.  I thought I hated buttermilk, one of those decisions you make as a child and don’t question until you’re old enough to have forgotten why you thought you hated that thing in the first place.  I don’t think I could drink a tall glass of buttermilk with dinner, like my mom is apt to do, but sliced fresh cucumbers drenched in the creamy, tangy stuff?  I’m there.

Mimi’s Sliced Cucumber Salad with Vinegar

Cucumbers, peeled and thinly sliced
White Vinegar, enough to cover sliced cukes
Sliced sweet white onion (preferably Vidalia)
Salt & pepper
Ice cubes

Peel and slice as many cucumbers as you’d like and place in a bowl.  Add sliced white onion, season with salt and pepper to taste, and mix.  Cover with white vinegar – if you want the salad to be a little milder and less vinegary, replace some portion of the vinegar with water.  Top with ice cubes and place in refrigerator to chill before eating.  This is best made an hour or less before you plan to eat, so that the cucumbers are at their freshest.

Mimi’s Buttermilk Salad
Serves 6

3 medium cucumbers
1 small clove garlic
1/2 tsp. thyme (I used fresh lemon thyme)
Salt
1 quart buttermilk
Optional: thin slices of sweet white onion

Peel and slice cucumbers as finely as possible.  Put the garlic through press and add with thyme to the cucumber.  Add onion if you’re going to use it – only use a small amount and slice very thinly.  Mix thoroughly with the cold, fresh buttermilk and season to taste with salt.  Serve immediately or chill for an hour and serve.

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OK – so my story doesn’t have any sort of sad component about getting metaphorical lemons; instead, I just got a bunch of actual lemons!  And when life gives you actual lemons, why make lemonade when you can make limoncello?  One of my girlfriends from business school offered to have her family tote home-grown lemons from California to Colorado over graduation weekend.  I gratefully accepted and immediately following graduation, she hosted a lemon zesting/limoncello preparation party.  Wine was consumed, gossip was spilled, and pictures were taken.  If there was ever a time when I felt unsure about whether I should have pursued the MBA program (rarely ever), moments like these reassure me of my decision.

I thought it was funny when one of my girlfriends pointed out how each of our lemon zesting styles represented our personality.  Nancy, you are always so insightful!  Below is a depiction of my friend Emily’s personality – graceful, and deliberate.

Emily's lemon

If I had a picture of the lemons I zested with my gnarly grater – well let’s just say it would look a little rough around the edges.

The recipe is simple although it does require one ingredient that I find hard to use: patience!  That’s because the main secret with limoncello is that it must age for a period of time.  According to this recipe, we are supposed to let it age for 40 days initially, and then after we add the simple syrup, it should age for another 40 days.

Susan Holtzman’s Limoncello

The zest of 20 lemons
A bottle of 100 proof Absolute Vodka
Juice of 1 lemon

Combine ingredients and then age for 40 days.  Mine is in a glass dispenser/ container sitting on the kitchen counter.
After aging, add 5 cups of simple syrup (see recipe below).  Age for another 40 days (in the same container) and enjoy!  I plan to buy smaller bottles and bottle the finished limoncello as a gift for friends.

Simple Syrup

1 part water to 1 part sugar (in this case, I used 2.5 cups of water and 2.5 cups of sugar to make 5 cups of simple syrup)

In a saucepan, combine sugar and water.  Bring to a boil, stirring, until sugar has dissolved.  Allow to cool.

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