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Posts Tagged ‘tropical’

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I ate goat for lunch today.

Those from tropical cultures find this about as unusual as your basic American would find eating a burger from Five Guys. This particular goat came from a homey Filipino restaurant. Mixed with some of my roasted vegetables it was fatty, rich, meaty, and lip-smacking. The first goat I ever ate was a few years ago in a tiny Mexican restaurant.* It was just as delicious and I never forgot it.

Exotic food can be daunting, granted. The late food writer Laurie Colwin said she would never eat fish eyeballs, and I’m right with her. I’ll add to that the Filipino delicacy balut, a duck embryo eaten directly from the shell.** This is not a criticism of this traditional food, mind you; I just know what I can manage and what I can’t.

But I do want to push my luck as much as I can, not just because there is a world of magnificent food out there (and there is), and not just because sharing brings us all closer together (and like smiles, or music, food can do that), but because it’s important to pull the rug out from underneath ourselves sometimes.

(It’s also fascinating not just to see what people eat, but how they eat. I recently read about a native of Guam who happily munches right through baked chicken—bones and all. My Filipino friend Teresa loves picking at fish bones, slurping every tasty morsel from them, while her brother picks out the choicest pieces of cartilage to chew on. I’m a nibbler myself. Isn’t it reassuring to think that despite Louis Vuitton handbags and Tru-Green manicured lawns and eyebrow threading treatments that humans still, miraculously, maintain vestiges of our primitive selves? Could anyone plausibly argue that food doesn’t taste better when we get good and sticky-fingered with it? Sticky-faced?)

How much poorer I would be had I not found that little Mexican grocery store almost-restaurant, where the ladies sliced fresh limes behind the counter and grinned at this porcelain-white girl and her Japanese buddy licking our fingers over goat and tripa in homemade soft tacos. Or pulled over on the scrubby road just outside Gainesville, Florida to try spicy crocodile jerky. Or tasted Teresa’s mom’s wonderful monggo (traditional Filipino mung bean soup, complete with little shrimp heads). I love it; I love it all.

*’Restaurant’ might be pushing it, actually; it was in the back of a narrow little Mexican grocery store, and you had to go through the store to get there. The joint wasn’t much bigger than a box of Froot Loops, and I don’t even think it has a name. But they sure knew what they were doing.

**Man, if the goat didn’t drive my mom to the edge, that sure did.

 

 

 

 

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Papery garlic skin, like a lotus flower.

As a kid I remember being told, pretty often, that I needed to grow a thicker skin. And as evidenced by my photo file, this issue still hangs over me. Apparently I have a fascination, teetering on obsession, with fruit and vegetable skins, husks, eggshells, peels. The pictures here, seriously? They’re narrowed down from dozens more.

Let’s spread this out and discuss.

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I’ve noticed lately, and this is new, that people buying fresh corn at the store or farm stand want to strip the ears from the husks right then and there.

What I don’t think they know is once it’s off the stalk, an ear of corn goes through its own version of The Change: its ethereal sweetness begins to turn to bland starch.

What’s more, the silky corn husk has a job: to protect the kernels from the blazing heat of the summer sun and from insects…and to keep its sweetness inside and intact as long as possible. Stripping the ear too soon of its husk accelerates the change to starch. For corn at its tender, authentic best, you want to grab it freshly picked and resist husking until just before cooking.* Tip.

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Moving on to the lychee above. It’s also a hot-weather plant, a tropical fruit. It’s subject to erratic weather—harsh sunlight, drenching rains, and powerful winds, not to mention tropical bugs, which are pretty much legend when it comes to voracity.

Yet the lychee’s skin is beautiful—speckled, transparent, and surprisingly dense. When ripe, the fruit is juicy, almost syrupy, like a miniature rum punch without the risk of migraine.

That lovely complex skin protects the fruit, allowing it to stay wholly and happily itself until it’s ready to be enjoyed.

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Last example: the peach, yet another summer-grower. That’s its skin above. When a peach is picked hard enough to break the windshield on my Accord and shipped in from East Jesus Nowhere, it never gets truly ripe. Its skin needs to be sliced off with a sharp paring knife; the fruit knows it’s not ready, and it puts up a fight.

On the other hand, if a peach is picked at its peak, the skin will peel right off. You can even peel it with your fingers.**

People have proper tangible skins, of course. But we also like to talk about having a figurative skin, as I mention way above. It’s that intangible skin that we wrap ourselves in, as a protective barrier, until we’re ready to drop it.

It can take a lot to shed that skin. It safeguards our insecurities, our awkward histories, what have you. The fear of exposing vulnerabilities, for most humans, is just one skinny rung down from the fear of the guy with the hoodie and sickle. It takes trust, stones, patience, and a heap of good intuition.

Having a thick skin is a good idea. But it’s not something you can just ‘get’, like picking up soup bones at the butcher’s. It has to be real, earned, owned. We’ve all met—or been—people who have pretended to be thick-skinned. It shows. Feigning toughness, bravado—that’s a mask. Underneath we’re just as fragile as those delicate kernels and fruits above.

And (this is important) no matter how thick that skin is, even if it’s like the lychee’s, we need to make sure it’s yielding. A solid protective layer is a good thing; heck, I think it’s essential in this nutty world. But it’s not intended to keep us under lock and key.

A skin that works for us comes from the inside, despite what the Aveeno ads tell us. It should be constructed in such a way that it can be dropped when we want it dropped, because there will be times when we want to reveal our authentic selves. It should work for us.

With people who want to scald you, drench you, peck at you? Stay behind it, safe as the corn and lychee are from the elements and the bugs.

With trusted friends? Take it off with confidence, as easily as the ripe peach skin peels away from the fruit.

And here’s the cool thing, another version of the semi-colon, symbol of a pause before continuing: You can always reassess, regroup, and move again when you’re ready. So you took off your skin too soon, or for the wrong people, and it wasn’t the best idea. When you happen upon the right time with the right people, the ones who will relish the true, sweet, occasionally but somehow charmingly weird you, you can opt to take it off again. Until then, you can always put it back on and walk away cocky.

You get to choose.

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Ground cherry (Cape gooseberry) husks.

*In the U.S. you can do this now through September.

**To find out of a peach is ripe, press on it very gently with a fingertip. If it gives a bit, pick it. Again, now’s the time, but they’re almost gone. Quick. Hit the orchard. Play hooky.

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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.

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