Feeds:
Posts
Comments

Posts Tagged ‘rum’

IMG_5332

The groovy thing about honeysuckle is you smell it before you see it. The other groovy thing is the stuff you can make with it.

By last fall I missed my chance on the making stuff part, and mourned about it here. This year, I’ve been picking flowers like a nice little Victorian who’d hit the Coca-Cola just a smidge too hard*, and making simple syrup infused with them. The flowers, not the Victorian and Coke.

Growing up we used to love to pull the stamens very gently through the flowers and drink up the drop of nectar that emerged. This past weekend’s syrup project was an elaborate version of this.

Step 1: Find honeysuckle, which, being invasive, is everywhere in the suburbs in June. I went for ones that weren’t on people’s property because it would likely have come into contact with pesticides. That and the homeowners might have taken issue with me swiping their flowers and all. Choose flowers that aren’t wilted, and get a mix of yellow and orange. The former’s flavor is lighter; the latter’s is deeper.**

IMG_5338

Step 2: Take them home and rinse them gently. (Inherently sticky plus dusty is an undesirable combination.) In a small, heavy saucepan whisk together 2 cups filtered water and 1 cup granulated sugar. Bring that to a boil. Then take it off the heat and immerse your flowers into it.

IMG_5341

Step 3: Wait nicely until it comes to room temperature, then strain out the flowers through a sieve lined with cheesecloth. Pour into an airtight container. Taste, and promptly swoon. (I wrote to my friends on Facebook: ‘If Hawaii were a liquid, it would taste like this.’)

IMG_5343

Step 4: Offer some to your favorite local bakery, whose pastry chef loves to work with infusions, then get mightily stoked when he uses it in whipped cream to top a lavender panna cotta.

Step 5: Muse on how to use it in mixed drinks, and call upon the prodigious powers of your brother-in-law, who knows from these things.

Step 6: Put a pint Tupperware container of the syrup into your bag and take it with you to your family’s party, where you meet up with your brother-in-law and try it with bourbon, lemon, and rum. Get opinions, and determine it’s pretty good in all cases.

Step 7: Ask your sister-in-law how she’d want it served, and taste her one part vodka to one part syrup over ice. Go a little delirious, because it’s that good. THAT good, which means a lot considering you’re really not much of a drinker, and become relieved that you’ve supplemented all of this experimenting with a wrap and a half of breaded chicken and romaine from Surf Taco.

Step 8: Your sister-in-law will name this last drink ‘The Vacation.’ You will deem it a most worthy name.

IMG_5356

*You know its history, right? http://www.snopes.com/cokelore/cocaine.asp

**I remember noticing a difference between the two flowers even as a kid. Funny the stuff we notice.

Advertisements

Read Full Post »

Seaweed on coral, Tortola

The recent warm days are making me think of barbecue season and the best barbecue I ever ate. Is it treason against the U.S. if I said it was on Tortola, in the British Virgin Islands?

Right, we’ll come back to that. First let’s establish setting.

Tortola and Peter Island are two of the delicious Caribbean islands which we visited in early 2008. I was coming out of the throes of a years-long illness which led, at different points, to assorted travel whims. At this point in my recovery, I needed a change of scenery, just for a long weekend. And if it included pale turquoise water sliced with royal blue and had a view of hazy green islands, the kind Peter Pan and Wendy flew across, all the better.

scan0004

Tortola isn’t really remote, but it feels as if it is. The customs office is the size of a two-car garage. Chickens run around like squirrels everywhere you go; one of our taxi drivers waited to let a mommy and her seven tawny-colored chicks cross the road.* And a rooster was our 5am wake-up call.**

Our hotel, Long Bay Beach, is the kind of place where the cooking staff picks guava off the tree growing outside your window, every suite has its own hammock, and dawn comes up pink over the water. One whole wall of our room, the one that faced the water, was a sliding screen door, some ten feet long. We left it open whenever we were in the room, loving the balmy wind so much that we even put shells and rocks on anything likely to blow away. One morning on our way to breakfast, a blue macaw flew right over our heads.

Dawn, Long Bay Beach, Tortola

Sand crab, Tortola

A very, very shy sand crab taken with a very, very good zoom.

Pelican, Tortola

A pelican we watched from our balcony as he dove up and down in the water, looking for fish.

Breakfast at the hotel was just my bag: fresh pineapple, banana, guava juice, cereal, yogurt and perfect homemade lemon poppy seed muffins.

First we took a day trip to Peter Island, population 1, because we planned to kayak from there to Dead Chest. This was the place where folklore says Blackbeard marooned 15 men–that’s a one-way island vacation in the middle of bloody nowhere—with just a bottle of rum between them. Everyone we spoke with on Peter Island told us it was nothing more than a giant rock, and dissuaded us from going.

Dead Chest Island, from Peter Island

There it is, across Deadman’s Bay–the appropriately dark island at left.

So we didn’t. Next time. But no worries; instead we hiked the island, which was all at once a glorious tropical Eden…

Peter Island, B.V.I.

Peter Island

and the American southwest, featuring spiky vegetation…

scan0005

…and spikier animals.

Sunning iguana, Peter Island

He didn’t budge in the 20 minutes we spent admiring him and his comrades on the rocks. Showboat.

The hills along the three-mile path we hiked were also home to mountain goats, skittish things that would tiptoe near you to get a better look, then would scamper away through the trees.

One more detail about the day trip to Peter Island is worth noting, and that’s the ferry ride. No sitting in the lower cabin and looking through the fogged-over windows for me. I only like ferries if they move at a really good clip and if I can stand right on the bow, letting the sea spray wash over my face and hair and dew-dropping the outermost layer of my clothes.*** This one did. And the view of the islands we passed was hypnotic.

On the way back from Peter Island to Tortola we shared the ferry with several locals returning home for the night. And we witnessed something so charming that it has stayed with me. Up on deck one of the gentlemen broke out some Dominoes and set them on a table. I deducted that this game was played on the ferry every night because other men fell in very smoothly, in a loose and easy choreography. Empty five-gallon buckets were upended for seats, and players joined and left from time to time, including a uniformed kid in charge of the ferry and a grizzled older sailor, an American ex-pat who now lived on Tortola. ‘I haven’t played in 25 years, but what the hell,’ he said, and stayed in for the rest of the ride back. What struck me most was how relaxed and comfortable everyone was with each other, and it was a reminder of how much joy is accessible in the simple. I could see why one would want to slide out of an old life, as if out of a jacket worn too thin at the elbows, and sink happily into a life like this.

Time to eat.

We asked our cabbie about the Bomba Shack, which Frommer’s listed as the ticket for barbecue in this part of the Caribbean. And apparently on Wednesdays and Sundays they offered all you can eat for $10/plate. Hello.

He stopped next to a set of shacks that looked as if they’d been decorated by a group of pre-teen surfers after a ten-box Mallomar binge.

Bomba Shack, Tortola

scan0007

How to explain this place? Here’s one way: The owners apparently have created a god of sorts called Bomba whose nature isn’t clear, and Google was no help. But you’re encouraged to offer sacrifices to it (note underwear, above).

Here’s another way: The Bomba Shack serves shroom-spiked tea when the moon is full.****And they give it to you for free because they aren’t allowed to sell it. The menu is scrawled onto plywood out front. Music—emanating from speakers taller than me—is cranked up to levels that could orbit Jupiter, and grill smoke and customers alike float between the shacks. We paid the cabbie right in the middle of the street and went looking for dinner.

The party is on one side of the street. There, to a very friendly American woman behind a counter, we shrieked that we wanted two plates’ worth; she grinned, took our money and gave us tickets. The cook (a single woman) and picnic tables are on the other side of the street.

You have a choice of barbecued chicken or ribs. Both come with corn on the cob and red beans with rice, and I’ll stop here to bring up a concern that I’m sure is swimming through your logic-loving minds: Exactly what kind of lunatics eat at an open-air shack on a dirt road, one whose owners hand out drugs and worship a deity with a preference for women’s panties?

I’m not saying you don’t have a point. But we did it. One bite of that meal and all sense floated out to sea with the grill smoke. The barbecue sauce had a no-BS kick, and the meat from the chicken and the ribs slid off the bone with no embarrassment whatsoever. It was delectable—one of the great meals of our lives. We shared a table with some amiable Australians, licked our fingers and grinned at each other. Lunacy loves company.

Then we crossed the street to watch the surfers cut through waves shimmering from the apricot-colored sunset, soaking even further into a place where the night wind smells like earth and salt water.

scan0008

*For the obvious reason.

**Click the rooster link. Long Bay Beach is yellow–but a muted yellow. Not a biggie.

***My first name comes from the Latin word for ‘sea’ (mars). The genitive is ‘maris’ (of the sea). Put an ‘a’ on the end and you make it feminine: Girl of the sea. Yes, I’m a mermaid. My parents didn’t do this intentionally, but there it is.

****No, we didn’t. The moon wasn’t full, anyway.

Read Full Post »

January’s been typecast as cold, gloomy and bleak as a dungeon. Well, it earns every adjective. Time for an imagination vacation.

In 2008, after several years of being almost totally debilitated from stress, images of Bora Bora kept popping into my head. To put an even finer point on it, I was dreaming of the color I imagined the water to be—turquoise blue, impossibly beautiful. This color became a nearly all-encompassing obsession; I didn’t just need to see it, I needed to rub it into my skin like lotion, I needed to let its essence sink into and saturate my very bones. Lucky for me, at the time I was married to Michael, a guy who was game for anything. We figured we were exhausted already—me from being sick and him from taking care of me—and in need a change of scenery, so why not travel halfway across the world?

We packed two small rolling suitcases, a backpack full of food for the trip out, and a camera. Then we walked to the train station a couple of blocks away in our little beach town and ended up in an archipelago in the South Seas. Six and change hours from Newark Airport to LAX, then nearly 8.5 hours to Papeete, in Tahiti. From there, we would puddle jump to Mo’orea, then to Raiatea and Taha’a, then end on Bora Bora. We decided to see the other islands when we learned they offered black pearl farms, vanilla plantations, jungles and astonishing beauty. If we were going to take the trip, we wanted to see it all. Two weeks, five islands, and nearly 48 hours of that time crossing a continent and the huge bucket of water called the Pacific.

Why would anyone do this, especially in the shape I was in at the time? I can’t explain it better than this: I was desperately hungry for that blue. I still don’t really know why. I knew the whole idea sounded crazy. (Our arrival at the airport in Papeete did a lot to confirm this: We were greeted at 5a by two mildly hysterical guys playing tiny guitars.) But we did it anyway.

Very happy to report that I did find my blue; and as is so often the case, I found a lot more on the way. You know me well enough to know where I’m going with this, right? (Vague hint: Boy howdy, did I eat well.)

First…Mo’orea.

View of Moorea from plane

View from the window of the six-seat plane, a ten-minute flight from Tahiti.

The thing about culture shock is sometimes it’s a good thing. Both Tahitian men and women go about their daily lives with a little flower like the one below tucked behind one ear. No one thinks of it as a female thing. No one questions the men’s sexual orientation. It occurred to me on the first day in French Polynesia that any meaning people assign to flowers, or colors, or clothes, or anything else is subjective and arbitrary. And it also occurred to me that when offered the chance to cast off the assignations we happen to have been taught, it’s quite liberating.

Tahitian gardenia, Raiatea

Tahitian gardenia–delicate, fragrant, and tasty, too. Stay tuned.

The natives there move slowly, laugh heartily, and don’t seem to worry about anything. They also have a charming way of speaking. They don’t just say ‘Iaorana’ (ya-RAH-na, with a little roll on that r) as a hello or ‘Mauruuru’ (ma-RU-ru, same little r roll) as a thank-you. They singsong it: ‘Iao-RA-naaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaa…mau-RU-ruuuuuuuuuuuuuu.’  It takes a long time for them to finish talking but it’s a lot of fun to listen to. And it forces you to slow down.

We stayed at Club Bali Ha’i, near Cook’s Bay. Our bungalow had the coolest 2×2 foot window in the floor so you could see fish swimming underneath. It even had a light so you could watch at night! But the camera didn’t get the full effect. Bummer.

No TV, or clock, or phone in the rooms. If you needed something from the desk, you walked there. But you had to do it before something like 10 at night because Georgina at the front desk went home.

This was the view from our deck, late one afternoon.

Late afternoon, Moorea

The little hotel restaurant, the Blue Pineapple, served fruit platters made with local bananas, pineapple, papaya and watermelon along with wonderful grilled tuna (what they call ‘lagoon fish’). But one evening we took a half mile walk along the road that encircles the island and found a little roadside place that served pizza so good that we went back every day. Yeah, I know, the idea of any pizza, let alone good pizza, in French Polynesia is a nutty idea. And let me further impress upon you that it was a shack, just a counter—no bigger than the french fry deals on the NJ boardwalk. But what a shack.

The place was called Allo Pizza, the French-speaking kid who worked there was maybe 19, they had no real refrigeration and by all rights we should have died from ingesting some evil microscopic, Pacific Island, singsonging, flower-wearing organism, but their pizza was so incredible that it nearly made me weep. I should have taken a picture—forgive me—but I’ll tell you my favorite was Le Marseillaise, topped with fresh tuna, chopped capers, tomato sauce, garlic, herbes de Provence, Parmesan and anchovy.

Incidentally, when I say fresh tuna, I don’t just mean it was local. I mean the Allo Pizza shack was across the narrow street from the beach, where fishermen would hang their catch from a makeshift rack and wait. Over the course of the day, people would drive by, choose one of their enormous fish, pay and drive off. The Allo kid did this too. The distance was about the same as you going out your front door and down the driveway. Fresh tuna. Fresh fresh.

Copy of scan0002

Waiting for a buyer.

One night we tried Allo’s homemade chocolate mousse. Who would eat chocolate mousse served on a dusty road from a pizza shack on a sandy dot in the middle of the Pacific? Us. They don’t call it French Polynesia for nothing. It was perfect.

Cats have a rep for sleeping most of the day no matter where they live. But on these islands they go for the gold. The kitty below, who hung around our deck, is not dead. He is doing what he was born to do: beg for leftover bits of anchovy from my pizza, and summarily pass out for the rest of the day.

Cat, Club Bali Ha'i, Moorea

One of the selling points of Mo’orea was their swimming-with-sharks expeditions. (This is a part of the crazy that I didn’t tell you earlier. We read that you go out for the day on a small boat and jump out–as into the water—to see reef sharks and other fish. The sharks have no history of attacking anyone. Of course no one ever asked a shark to sign an affadavit swearing he had never attacked anyone, but we took the people offering the trip at their word and signed up. The organizers have such confidence that no one will die at the viselike jaws of a shark that they don’t even call it a swimming-with-sharks expedition. They call it a ‘motu picnic’, a motu being an uninhabited island, and one on which we’d eat when we were through.)

The itinerary read, ‘it includes visit of our 2 bays, fish, shark & ray feeding, snorkelling, barbecue on one of our nicest islet of Moorea…rice & pasta salad, fish, chicken, fruits, bread, rhum maitai, beer, juice, water and a coconut show with a lot of time for snorkelling and relaxing!’ So apparently no one dies. Look at all the food you get when you’re done hyperventilating!

Actually, for some reason I was not worried at all. I was stoked, beyond excited. Saw the first dorsal fin and yelled ‘shark!’, cueing Bruno, grinning host, to open his cooler full of lagoon fish and start hacking off pieces to throw to the hungries. He threw it at a distance, while we were to jump, snorkels and cameras at the ready, maybe 10 feet away.

They suggest jumping in as soon as possible ‘before you lose your nerve,’ they said (or if you didn’t leave logic back at the hotel). Michael ducked underwater, came back up and I asked him what it was like. He said, ‘Absolutely f***ing amazing!’

It was.

Reef sharks, Moorea

Zillions of kinds of colored fish, maybe a dozen sharks—it was like being inside an aquarium. I was never afraid. Don’t know why. Sometimes a shark would swim my way, face first, and come within maybe five feet of me. Then it was a little unnerving, but that’s all. They always turned around to eat the cut-up fish.

By the way, that set of legs and fins in the photo belongs to a kid who actually swam among the frenzy, shooting the video which you could buy later. Mhm.

Next we sailed to a shallower area and jumped out to wait for the rays. Before we left we were assured that the type we’d meet were not the type that killed naturalist Steve Irwin, that these did not have stingers. (Similarly, it’s not as if they had a list of rays that had registered to stop by, but we believed them. And they were right.)

scan0003

He looks menacing, but they were very friendly—too friendly sometimes, like a yellow lab that’s just rolled in something gross and can’t wait to tell you all about it. You fed them bits of fish from your fist, but you had to be sure to tuck your thumb inside your fist or they’d try to slurp up your thumb. Enormous, some of them, several feet across.

Here I am in ray water, only about four feet deep, and clear as glass. In the travel journal I wrote, ‘It was a huge feeling of blueness.’

I found it.

scan0002

This is the view right over my head of the sky and a Pacific tern enjoying his day….

Pacific tern, Moorea

…and the view from the beautiful motu where we had our picnic.

Motu, Moorea

Here are the guys who were asked to try to crack open a coconut Polynesian style. Not too successful, but they had a good time. (Eventually Bruno got the coconuts open, shredded some of it, tossed it in the air and yelled, ‘Tahitian snow!’)

scan0003

Bali Ha’i, shot from the boat on the way back…the real deal.

Bali Ha'i, Moorea

One day we drove the circumference of the island, marvelling at the spectacular mountain peaks, turquoise and cobalt striped water, and palm trees grouped as densely as forests…

Coconut palms, Moorea

…and eating. Les Antipodes (Restaurant Creperie) served savory and sweet crepes. ‘La Chicken’ was outstanding, chicken in a white wine/bechamel sauce, as was a crepe with hot pineapple and caramel. Polynesian + French influences coming together, and it was inspired.

Carameline’s, a little bakery you’d miss if you sneezed, served banana and pineapple pastries with a buttery, buttery, tender crumb.

We passed a lot of the enlongated mailbox-looking units below and asked a passerby what they were. Can you imagine?….They’re baguette boxes. Baguette eating is such a way of life on these islands now, a ritual picked up from the French newcomers, that many have it delivered daily the way we have mail, and the way we used to have milk, delivered.

Baguette box, Haapiti, Moorea

One afternoon we hiked in the jungle at the center of Mo’orea and saw moss-covered rocks, marae (places of ancient worship), sinewy tree trunks…and chickens. I’ve noticed wild chickens love the tropics. We trekked deeper and deeper into the heart of the jungle before turning around. Here I got nervous. This wasn’t a Monmouth County, NJ park near a major highway; it was about as remote a place as you can possibly get. And the deeper you went, the darker it got. Before we left I took this shot of a leaf in a shaft of sunlight.

Leaf in sunlight, Marae site, Moorea

On our way back, we stopped at the Lycée Agricole (Farming School) where the students there make the most delicious things from what they grow, using nothing artificial. Went delirious over their homemade pineapple/soursop (cherimoya) juice and very kicky citron sorbet. Another day we went back and had (below) three scoops of the most exquisite ice cream I have ever tasted: vanilla, gardenia (yes) and banana…all from local fruits and flowers.

I’ll talk more about vanilla when I post about Raiatea and Taha’a, but in my journal I called the banana (there it is on top) ‘an avalanche of banana!’ And the gardenia is hard to describe—lovely, floral (of course), and very strange, but in a good way. What can I say. Gardenia ice cream.

Ice cream, Lycee Agricole, Moorea

Back at Club Bali Ha’i they kept us entertained. At 5:30 almost every night one of the owners, Jay, a thin, wiry, extremely friendly guy, came out for the very casual Happy Hour. Originally from from Long Island, he and his partner Muk Mc Cullum—‘The Bali Ha’i Boys’—came here in the 1950s with plans to become vanilla plantation owners. They became hoteliers instead, inventing the over-the-water bungalows and having a really, really good time. He drank two little bottles of tequila and told us about the early days, when he and Muk spent much of their time here ‘H & H’ (hammered and happy). At 77, I asked if he had any regrets. He said, ‘Regrets? Yeah, I have a few. I regret that I didn’t come out here a decade sooner.’

On Monday nights, if no one shows up to the crab races in the lobby by 6, one of the employees walks around the grounds with an empty crab bucket and bangs on it and yells, ‘Crab race-eeeees! Crab race-eeeees!’

Crab races, Club Bali Ha'i, Moorea

It’s raucous and silly but really fun, even though we lost every race—300 francs, about $4. The crab bucket guy goes and finds crabs for the races, which is easy because on Mo’orea they are everywhere, the way squirrels are for us—on the beach, yes, but on the grass, along the sides of the roads, everywhere. He writes numbers on their backs in chalk and people place their bets. If we spent too much time hemming and hawing, he’d call out ‘hava-TEEEEEE! hava-TEEEEEE!’ (‘hurry up!’).

I learned the way to pick up a crab and not get pinched: You put your fingers on their backs between their pincers and their back claws. They can’t turn their pincers around, so you’re set. (Full disclosure: the guy asked me to pick one up but I refused. What a chicken. I’ll swim with sharks but I won’t bloody pick up a crab? That’s it. I’m going back to do it. 🙂 )

I saw these hibiscus on a windy evening, and had to chase them to shoot them. They were really beautiful.

Fallen hibiscus, Moorea

Puddle jumper to Raiatea and Taha’a next week.

Read Full Post »

Last weekend I had dessert with friends and family and neighbors. Among them were my brother-in-law Frank and a Puerto Rican gentleman, a neighbor. Both are rum lovers; both have strong opinions on which is the best. With neither variety on hand, both could have agreed to try the other’s favorite on their own, whenever they happened to do it.

But come on. Clearly it would be more interesting to raise the stakes…to invite a bunch of people…and offer not just the two favorites but three other rums in the race for the title.

Oh, and it would be MUCH more interesting to make sure the tasting was blind.

A rum-off, in other words.

The contenders:

  • Ron Zacapa (regular)
  • Ron Zacapa Plus
  • Tommy Bahama
  • Diplomatico
  • Flor de Cana

Frank is a great lover of Zacapa. The neighbor with whom he spoke, and who unfortunately couldn’t make the tasting, thinks Diplomatico rules the world of rum.

Provided by our gracious hosts, Kim & Doug:

  • Glasses, filled with the assortment of rums and labeled one through five
  • Cups of water
  • Lists, expertly written by resident six-year-old, Charlie

Tasters were obliged to rate the rums on a scale of one to five, one being the best. They were also invited to try to discern which was which.

Kim doctored each of her rums with a squeeze of lime and an ice cube. I’m not much of a drinker, so tasting them neat, they all struck me as thoroughly putrid. So I doctored them all up as well, and I’ll agree it made them much more palatable. Not that I’ll be swigging down rum anytime soon like a pirate born with an extra liver.*

Oh, the discussion that went on around the table! Oh, the cockiness, thinking we knew which was which! The scowls, the scribbling…and ultimately, the surprises…

Once through tasting, we all went down our lists one by one, describing which we liked, and didn’t, and why. My sister and Charlie were in charge of the big reveal, and they brought each rum out one by one. We matched numbers to rums.

Each of us had chosen the same favorite, even me: the Diplomatico.

And pretty much everyone thought Tommy Bahama was mouthwash.

Afterward, Doug dished up his incredible homemade vanilla custard to all of us. Frank poured Diplomatico over his. If for any reason the night’s success had been questionable before that, it wasn’t afterward.

*During the tasting I also learned some more common boozy terminology, like ‘smooth’. I’ve never known what people meant when they said that. It means it goes down without any burn on the back of your throat. Oh. I’m used to ginger ale, so what do I know.

Read Full Post »

I’m a sucker for buying anything kids are selling on card tables in front of their houses. I don’t care if the lemonade is watery or if the cookies are stale; I’ll buy them.

When I was a kid, my sister and our two friends used to try to sell stuff to neighbors all the time. Shrewd businesswomen that we were, we set up our table at the end of our friends’ driveway, which faced the town ball field and tennis courts. Less-than-shrewd businesswomen that we were, once we added blue food coloring to 7-Up. (We actually thought we could market this stuff in cans!) Two worn out tennis players approached us and when they saw the color of the drinks, one said to the other, “You go first.”

Oh, the foolhardy days of my youth.

Recently I drove past a building in my neighborhood, one I lived in some fifteen years ago. Behind a table on the sidewalk were three beautiful Latina girls about ten years old. On the table was not a pitcher but a curious red-and-white machine. Holy innovative beverages, Batman! Was this what I thought it was?

I parked and called out to them, ‘What are you selling?’ and in unison they answered, ‘Snow cones!’ Well, sold, obviously.

‘What flavors do you have?’

‘Just cherry.’ (Not blue, in other words. English was their second language and they still knew more than my sister and me.)

They grinned and got to work. The machine gave them a hard time; it took a lot of elbow grease to hold the machine with one hand and pulverize the ice cubes with the lid with the other, so they called their mother out to help.  And I took French, not Spanish, but I still understood the conversation between the two because it was the same as it would have been between any antsy daughter and her aggrieved mother:

‘Mom…it’s taking too long!’

‘Don’t start. You were the one who wanted a snow cone machine for your birthday.’

‘I didn’t know it was going to be such a pain!’

‘Well, aren’t you glad I didn’t have to work today and could help? Thank your lucky stars.’

Ten minutes later (it really was, but who cared?) I was offered a plastic cup of crushed ice with streaky squirts of cherry and a bendy straw. One of the girls said, ‘Do you want this, too?’ She held up a little open can of sweetened condensed milk, which I use when I make caramel and which is a staple of Latin cuisine, especially in that voluptuous knockout, Tres Leches cake.

‘Of course!’ I said, and she poured some of the stuff on top of the mixture, less like a snow cone now than like a slushie with a Spanish accent (but again, who cared?) and paid them. They were so excited.

Told a few friends about this, and one commented that a drink like that lacked rum and nothing else to be a perfect summer drink. While I’m inclined to agree, it really was perfect the way it was: A buck for a trip to the tropics.

Read Full Post »

So yesterday I was in kind of a bummery mood, down in the dumps. Rented a dorky rom com to watch, took a walk to the beach. It helped a bit. Then I remembered the plans I had made a couple of days ago to bake. This is the time of year to enjoy tropical fruits, and long ago I cobbled together a way to enjoy one of my favorites among them—pineapple–with biscuits, to make shortcake.

First find yourself a recipe for biscuits. I like one of Martha Stewart’s, the one that has yogurt in the recipe, but any will do. They come together, in one bowl, in less than the time it takes to heat up the oven. They’re only in the oven for maybe 15 minutes. You don’t even have to soften the butter to make biscuits. Try it…it’s easy and there’s nothing store bought to compare with the flavor.

I’ll also say a fresh pineapple is best to use because it’s not as goopy sweet as the kind you get in cans, and you’re going to be adding a little brown sugar to this. That and all of those 100% uniform canned pieces of pineapple kind of annoy me 🙂 Fresh pineapple has character—in its flavor, its texture, its everything.

Cut up the pineapple and put the chunks into a big, wide skillet over medium heat. Add something like 1/8 cup of brown sugar and a few splashes of rum, however much you like. I like Malibu, but you call the ball. A dark rum like Bacardi would be good, too. Stir up the mixture and once it’s hot, turn off the heat. I’ve noticed you lose the rumminess if you cook it too long.

Are the biscuits done? Awesome. Sit them on the pan on a rack for a minute while you get out a bowl for yourself. I use organic lowfat vanilla yogurt instead of whipped cream for this (though please don’t get me wrong—real whipped cream would be divine). Take out your yogurt along with a spoon and a fork.

Take the biggest biscuit off the pan and sit it in your bowl. Carefully work the fork in and out of it, turning the biscuit as you go, until you have divided it in half. (Yes, you could use a serrated knife, but that makes the halves too smooth and perfect. I like the uneven nubbiness the fork gives it.) Open up the two sides. Inhale the steam and smile. Now spoon some of the warm pineapple chunks onto the bottom half of the biscuit. Plop some yogurt on top of the fruit, put the biscuit lid on, and plop some more yogurt on top of that.

You’ll need the fork to spear up pieces of pineapple and to cut through the crispy biscuit; you’ll need the spoon to sop up yogurt and errant pineapple juice. This is not a dainty dish, but that’s one of its virtues, kids.

The hot hot fruit and hot hot biscuit with the cold cold yogurt is delirium inducing, and makes a lovely breakfast or dessert. Last night I really needed soothing, so I treated myself to it for dinner. No apologies.

Read Full Post »

*

This time of year we overwhelm ourselves. An oven that’s on from morning to night, especially in the hectic last few days before Christmas. Thinking you have to make tins of cookies AND a gingerbread house AND fancy schmancy cookie ornaments with guests’ names piped on them in royal icing. Then there’s hosting too many events, or cooking too many things for those events, or worst—knowing you’re not that comfortable a cook, but you still attempt roast pheasant wrapped in bacon and a three-layer chestnut dacquoise. We think—and I’d bet it’s a misguided thought—it has to be this way or your relationships will go up in a mushroom cloud.

Today I am going to argue for doing Christmas exactly the way you want. (If just reading that sentence gave you hives, then this is really for you.) Christmas is supposed to fun and nourishing to mind, body and soul. For kids. For guests. For you, too.

Think back on your favorite Christmas memories, and try to distill them down to the ones closest to your heart. If I can bet again, I’ll bet they’re about something simple. Warm gingerbread. A candy cane. Playing with your cousins. Watching the snow fall at night.

Sink into that nice calm feeling for a little bit.

Now think about what you can to pare down your holiday. If the train you drive at holiday time is already at maximum speed and can’t be flagged down at this point, you can save what I’m saying for next year. Like a rum cake, it’ll probably taste even sweeter by letting it marinate. But I’m positive there’s at least one thing you can scale back.

As for me, I grew up in the kind of family for whom food, great food, was tantamount. We ate always well, especially at holiday time. But it came with a price, at least for me: It was required that we dress up for every holiday, and with that came an air of pretension at the table. I’m not a formal girl (as you’ve probably guessed by now), so this was exhausting.

Many years later, I cooked Thanksgiving dinner for myself and my new husband. I wore sweats, spread a blanket on the rug, fixed myself a plate…and ate every bite with my fingers. Even the mashed potatoes.

Liberating doesn’t even come close to how that felt. It was fun, it was a boost to my integrity, and let me tell you…the food tasted that much better for it.

I know that’s an extreme response. But it’s a good jumping-off point for you.

How can you eat with your fingers this year? Pick just one thing—and do it.

*You’re looking at the photo and scratching your head. No, I have not become a botanist (that whoosh you just heard was the field of botany breathing a collective sigh of relief; I barely passed biology). I took that photo on a beautiful foggy day last winter, and it’s on my Christmas card this year.

Read Full Post »