Collards with Jalapeno Cheese Cornbread, oh, yes, ma’am!

Many, many years ago I went to college at a school in Macon, Georgia.  I did.  My father owned a pretty elegant women’s clothing store in Fort Lauderdale, aeons ago, and, honey, when his little girl went off to school he made sure she was nothing less than the fashion plate she deserved to be!  He went to New York on a special buying trip JUST FOR ME!! (It’s never been better!!) I had pea coats, car coats, over coats, rain coats, pants, skirts, dresses, tops, oh, and the shoes!!! Cashmere, camel-hair, Egyptian cotton, it was heaven! And I was a size 4.  Yup.  I was.  Meanwhile, up in Yankee country, the man whom I would one day marry, was a TA  in a class entitled “Introduction to Environmental Planning and Design” for undergraduates at Tufts.  Really??? At that time Jimmy had a super long beard, really long hair, glasses…from what I’ve heard he was angry ALL the time!!  And he protested.  On the level of get thrown in jail and be on the 6 o’clock news.  He was what we called “a hippie”.  “A radical long-haired hippie”.  With a big smile on my face, I would have, elegantly and with a lot of style, crossed the street to avoid him!  Suffice it to say, he would have looked way down his perfect Greek nose at me and stayed on HIS side of the street.  No love lost.  It was 1975 and we were worlds apart.  We just hadn’t met yet!  Anyway, same time but hundreds of miles away, Jimmy had a field trip planned for his students to look at distressed neighborhoods in Dorchester, pronounced Dah-ches-tuh by Bostonians, and had four undergrads in his ’72 Volvo, (how sensible!). They were leaving Jamaica Plain, on the Jamaica Way, adjacent to the Arnold Arboretum, when some of the students looked out the window and questioned what a couple of women bending over on the side of the road were doing.  Actually, they were in a field.  When they bended over, you could see their hose rolled up under their knees. “What’s out there?” questioned the students.  “What are they doing?”  Jimmy stopped chattering about urban development, turned, looked, and thought “f..k me.”  He thought, “Jesus, Ma!!”  It was his mother and Mrs. Scarlatos.  Mrs. Scarlatos’ son was Jimmy’s best friend since they were two years old!  (I think that is SO nice!)  They were on the side of the highway picking greens.  That’s what Greek moms do.   Good Greek moms! That’s why they live so long, if they’re not hit by a car first!!  Collards are a superfood in my kingdom.  I pretty much never buy bagged.  I buy the prettiest bunches I can find.  These greens pack a HUGE nutritional punch!  On all leaves except the small, pale green inner leaves, I cut out the middle rib, the stem.  I just can’t stand them floating around in my greens!  But that’s just me. I’ll typically buy two large bunches and eventually, take some to my parents.  Of course, my younger sister, Pamela, will be called and she’ll pack some up to take home and then, promptly suck down some here!  For some time now I’ve been using smoked turkey pieces in my greens instead of ham hocks.  The taste is still sublime but they’re much better for you.  That’s not to say I haven’t deviated.  I’ve used ham hocks, pancetta, prosciutto, just about any savory pork product I have in the house and they all work well.  The smoked turkey tastes just like a pork product but you do need to factor in more time. A couple of hours to tenderize the turkey and create a nice broth in which the greens cook.  In the South, collards are always served with cornbread.  I know it’s easy to pick up that light, blue box that costs next to nothing, but homemade is almost as easy, just a thousand times tastier!  Let’s talk a little about the vessel in which you’re going to make your cornbread.  Cast iron skillets.  A gift from God!  There’s a little someone up in Massachusetts that just got one so here are my thoughts.  Water never, EVER touches mine.  I don’t care if I fry fish, water ain’t touching it.  When cooled, I wipe the inside out well with paper towels and then pour a liberal amount of plain, old table salt into the pan.  With a clean paper towel, I rub that salt all over, getting up all bits of fried food and any excess oil.  I might do that two or three times until it’s wiped clean.  It’s SO worth it!  The satiny, beautiful sheen on that pan when you’re finished will make your heart sing!  At least it does mine!  If you want to season a new cast iron pan, pour a little vegetable oil in the pan, rub it around with a paper towel wiping off any excess.  Put it in a medium hot oven, maybe 350°, and leave it there about 15 minutes.  Take it out, let it cool, then put it away.  After that, the more you use it, the more beautiful it becomes.  Just no water, please!  And I’ve got a shout out to my girls at “the Dixie”!  Hey to April and Latoya who always have my culinary back!  Y’all are the best!

Collards with Jalapeno Cornbread

  • 7 cups water
  • 1 large onion, finely chopped
  • 1 large smoked turkey leg
  • 2 bunches collards, ribs cut out, washed and cut into thin ribbons
  • 2 tbls. white vinegar
  • 1 heaping tsp. red pepper flakes
  • 1 tsp. salt
  • 2 tbls. olive oil
  1. In a large pot or dutch oven, combine water, onion and turkey leg.  Bring water to a boil, drop to simmer, cover and let cook for 2 hours.  This will be the base of your pot liquor.
  2. During the last half hour of cooking time, cut the ribs out of the collard leaves, roll the leaves cutting them into thin ribbons, wash well in sink and drain of excess water.
  3. Take turkey leg out of pot and set aside.   To pot add greens, vinegar, red pepper flakes, salt and olive oil. Mix well.  I use tongs to toss and combine.  That way I’m not tearing up the greens.  Cover and continue to simmer.
  4. When cool to the touch, shred turkey leg, adding meat to the pot and discarding any bones, skin or funky pieces.  Toss well with greens, add water if dry, maybe 1/2 cup, cover and simmer another 45 minutes or so.  Serve with cornbread.

Jalapeno Cheese Cornbread

Yield: one skillet

  • 5 tbls. butter, divided into 3 tbls. and 2 tbls.
  • 1 cup cornmeal
  • 1 cup all-purpose flour
  • 1 1/2 tsp. baking powder
  • 1/2 tsp. baking soda
  • 1 tsp. salt
  • 1 3/4 cups shredded sharp cheddar cheese, bagged is just fine.
  • 1 1/2 cups buttermilk
  • 2 eggs
  • 3 tbls. jarred, chopped jalapenos
  • 2-3 washed, chopped scallions

  1. Preheat oven to 425°.
  2. Place 3 of the 5 tbls. of butter in skillet and place in hot oven to melt.
  3. In a large bowl, mix all dry ingredients including shredded cheese.
  4. In a small bowl mix buttermilk, eggs, jalapenos and scallions. Melt last two tbls. of  butter and mix into buttermilk mixture.
  5. Pour buttermilk mixture into cornmeal mixture and combine well.
  6. Using glove or dishtowel, carefully take skillet out of oven, (DON’T BURN YOURSELF!), pour cornbread mixture into skillet and return to oven.
  7. Bake 25-30 minutes or until, you guessed it, golden on top!
  8. Again, be careful not to burn yourself taking it out of the oven.  I let mine cool for a few minutes on a cutting board, before cutting.  Dig in.
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Greek Salad, or as we say, Horiatiki Salata

Mention the name “Wilson” to my son, James and my niece, Elizabeth, and I guarantee a couple of slow smiles will spread across their faces.  We took both of them to Greece for the first time in 2002.  Having Elizabeth with us meant James had company when he was dragged from museum to museum, (ya seen one 600 B.C. amphora, you’ve seen ’em all!).  And for us, the adults, it meant we were forced to work on our vocabulary.  Traveling with a genius will do that.  I bought them a soccer ball here, stateside, for them to bat around by the pool, in the sea or on the beach.  And we named it “Wilson”.  It was a big hit!  There was always a lively, bordering on violent, game of catch going on, usually in the water.  Until the day James HURLED the ball, not to, but AT Elizabeth and, tiny thing that she was, instead of catching the ball, she DODGED.  Over the side of the pool it went, down, down, down the service drive, down, down, now we’re scrambling, rolling, rolling, down the hillside hotel property.  Gone.  Somewhere in the field next to us.  The private property field. The completely fenced in field.  We trudged through the resort, dripping wet, to rescue Wilson.  We had to!  It was Wilson!!  At the front gate of the field, all three of us stood sizing up the situation.  The wild grasses were WAY taller than they had looked, so far above at poolside.  Then that all-american practically kicked in and I said, “How hard can it be? It’s a ball, for crying out loud.  C’mon!”  The driveway wasn’t even paved and we had to lie down right on the dusty ground and shimmy under the bottom of the gate.  THE BOTTOM OF THE RUSTY, CORRODED, TETANUS COVERED, GONNA SLICE YOU TO RIBBONS gate.  Oh, Lord!!  We all shimmied under without any bloodshed and started ever so gingerly walking.  Carefully planting each foot, one in front of the other, it just got creepier and creepier! There were all kinds of weeds and grasses I had never seen. The children became more and more quiet as we progressed further into the field and further away from civilization. Well, it felt like that, anyway!!  And then, my personal tragedy hit. I heard a “POP!” as I stepped down HARD on something.  Something pod-like.  Something big.  Big and full.  Something big and full EXPLODED, spewing wet, gooey stuff ALL over the tippy top of my inner thigh.  Yeah.  My inner thigh.  Right by my cootchie.  Sweet Jesus, I wanted to scream!  It was gooey!!  And I had children with me!!  How we did it I don’t know but that just spurred us into “find the DAMNED ball, ’cause we’ve got to get out of here”!!  What a relief when Elizabeth’s voice rang out,  “I found it!  Here he is!! He’s over here!”  She grabbed that ball and we just hauled out of there!!  And you have NEVER seen two children and one adult shimmy under a gate so fast!!!  No bloodshed and back to the pool!!  Oh, happy day! In Greece, the following is the salad we eat at just about every lunch and dinner…day in, day out.  It is the quintessential Greek salad.  And never, EVER with lettuce.

On my mother’s honor, THIS IS THE GATE!! We must have been crazy!!

Greek Salad – Horiatiki Salata

Yield: 4 servings

  • 5 ripe tomatoes, quartered
  • 1/2 bell pepper, seeded, ribs cut out, cut in 1″ pieces
  • 1/2 red or yellow onion, thinly sliced
  • 1 cucumber, peeled and sliced
  • 12 Kalamata or greek olives, or 3-4 per person
  • good olive oil
  • 5-7 oz. slice or wedge of Greek feta
  • 1 tbls. dried Greek oregano, (if you can’t get Greek domestic or Mexican will do. But Greek is sweeter.)
  1. In a good-sized bowl, combine tomatoes, bell pepper, onion, cucumber and olives.
  2. Drizzle a few tablespoons of olive oil over salad and toss.
  3. Sprinkle all but a little oregano over salad, toss and top with feta.
  4. Drizzle a bit more olive oil over feta, sprinkle with remaining tsp. oregano and enjoy with warm bread!

Baked Zucchini with Feta

Saturday mornings will usually find me at the Swap Shop with my father, affectionately known as “Jungle Jack” or “JJ” instead of Granddad or Granddaddy.  We started going on our adventures about two years ago, Dad really needed to get out of the house and I wanted to spend more time with him.  He’s 89…and fabulous!  And we love the Swap Shop!  At this place you can get just about anything for your home or toolbox.  Dad was looking for batteries and I was checking out the wicked looking hunting knives piled up there in front of him.   Even in their sheaths they scared me!!  Machetes, meat cleavers, playing cards, sewing kits, rat traps, calculators, nails, outside paella pans… you can get it ALL here!  We have a little routine, the same every Saturday, beginning where we park.  Always the same area and as we walk in, I always pull the old lady cart, we play “Pick a Car”.  Pretty self-explanatory.  After dodging the cars pulling in, I’ll ask, “Hey, Dad.  You want to see your Syrian friend?”  “Yeah,  yeah!  Good morning, my friend!”  And after a quick fist bump, too much bacteria shaking hands, they launch into a discussion on the unrest in Syria.  This Saturday Dad bought two packages of socks from his Syrian friend, who cut him a deal and shaved $2.00 off each pair.  When Dad protested, the Syrian said, “No, no!  Don’t worry!!  I’ll get it back from the next guy!!!”  Our next stop is always “the Bird Man”.  His wife passed away a few months ago and for the first time I noticed a middle-aged bird groupie camped out on a folding chair in his booth.  Who’d a thunk?  We looked at the chicks, fighting cocks, (yes, they’re illegal), parrots, finches, love birds, it just goes on and on! He even has freshly laid eggs from his farm in one of those mini fridges!!  Dozens and dozens!  JJ picked up some supplies, “the bird seed looked GOOD today!”, and off we went to see “the Haitian Lady”.  Dad gets finger bananas from her and I get fresh mint, flat leaf parsley and scallions.  She’s beautiful and always smiling!  Known for wearing a red bandana and showing off the gap between her two front teeth, without fail she gives Dad a crushing embrace!!  This past weekend he said, “Jesus! She even got her hair in my mouth!”  I know he secretly likes all this attention.  At this point we’ve crossed from the far west side of the Swap Shop to the far east and now we’re going to double back, cutting through the kiddie rides.  The rides aren’t set up yet; teenagers in their bright yellow uniform shirts are lining up bumper cars, hosing down the walkways, taking inventory of tickets and generally straightening up.  I like this long walk back…we shout instead of talk, the salsa’s just BLARING out of the overhead speakers.  It’s kind of sad and tired looking but it’s part of our expedition so I appreciate it.  Somewhere along that walk Dad will say, “Listen.  I’m going to go see my Mexican friend.  I need some papaya and I want two kiwis.  Are you going to see your Tall friend?”  “I am.”  “Okay.  I’ll meet you by the orchids.  I want to talk to my Portuguese friend about his potting medium. ”  And off we go!  This week, from my Tall friend, I got 5 or 6 pounds of tomatoes, 7 zucchini, 3 eggplants, one large bunch of radishes with the tops still on, a large bunch of cilantro and 6 huge yellow-skinned onions.  I spent $15.00.  Walking out, we passed more vegetable and fruit stands, sugar cane and cane juice stands.  Dad and I looked at each other and when our eyes met, we smiled.  It was a happy morning for both of us!

Baked Zucchini with Feta

yield: 8 side servings or 4-6 as an entrée

  • 7-8 washed zucchini, grated using large holes of box grater
  • 1 large onion or 2 bunches of scallions, finely chopped
  • 3 cups fresh mint leaves, finely chopped
  • 2 cups flat leaf parsley, finely chopped
  • 2 cups low-fat, low moisture grated mozzarella (optional, but I like it!)
  • 2 cups feta, crumbled by YOUR OWN little hands!
  • 1 1/2 cups egg whites or 5 eggs or any combination
  • freshly cracked black pepper

  1. Pre-heat oven to 375°.
  2. Spray 9 X 13 pan with non-stick spray.
  3. In a clean, linen dish towel, place 1/2 grated zucchini.  Gather sides of dish towel and wring moisture out of zucchini.  Do the same with the other half.
  4. Combine all ingredients EXCEPT 1/2 cup mozzarella, if you choose to use that cheese.
  5. Mix ingredients well and pour into prepared baking dish.
  6. Scatter remaining mozzarella over dish, if using.
  7. Bake for 45-60 minutes or until bubbly on top.






Hot Baked Chicken Wings

Today, being Sunday, most homes here in the States, especially in the South, will have at least one game on and our home will be no exception.  The Patriots of New England will be meeting the Ravens of Baltimore on the gridiron of Foxboro, note native spelling…no -ugh in Foxboro.  Anyway, most of y’all know that my husband, Jimmy, was born and raised in Boston.   We watch all the games and this one certainly will not be missed.  So, yeah, football, you need food.  And wings are perfect.  Perfect and easy.  Buy however many you want and, if you can’t find the drummettes at the store and they DO sell out really fast on Game Day, just grab regular wings  and have the meat man cut them.  Tell him you don’t want the tips.  They’re not good for stock because they’re too fatty.  At least I think they are.  And these are baked not fried so you lose a little fat there as well.  Just don’t think you’re doing your body a favor by having these…wings are wings.  Taste so good but hurt so bad.  Or as my father always said when he caught us eating something fattening or even looking in the refrigerator (as if there was ever anything in there), “a moment of pleasure, a lifetime of sorrow”.  Thanks, Dad.  And Go Patriots!

Hot Baked Chicken Wings

  • Servings: 6-8
  • Difficulty: easy
  • Print

  • 4 pounds chicken wings, tip cut off
  • 2 tablespoons butter, melted
  • 1 tablespoon paprika
  • 1 tsp. powdered garlic, (it doesn’t burn like fresh)
  • 1/2 cup hot sauce, I love Crystal Hot Sauce
  • 3 tablespoons butter, melted
  • additional hot sauce to taste
  1. Put wings in gallon size zipper bag.
  2. In small bowl mix 2 tablespoons melted butter, paprika, garlic and hot sauce. Mix well and pour into bag with wings.
  3. Squeeze bag making sure sauce covers all of wings and set aside to marinate for at least an hour, overnight is best.
  4. Pre-heat oven to 425° and spray tin foil lined jelly roll pan or large baking sheet with a lip with non-stick spray.
  5. Spread wings evenly in one layer over pan and bake in oven for 30 minutes.
  6. At first half hour, turn all wings over to crisp on other side.
  7. Bake another 15-30 minutes depending on the size of your wings but you want them to be crispy.
  8.  Mix the third tablespoon of melted butter with additional hot sauce.  Pour over wings or serve hot sauce on the side.

http://www.theirreverentkitchen.com

Game Day Salsa

Isn’t it just so great when you go to a tailgate party or to someone’s house to watch “the game” and they have a cold, savory salsa for dip with chips?  We never go out.  I’m such a stay at home person, I don’t go to parties, I rarely go to movies, I LIKE it at home.  Poor Jimmy. He would love to go out… drinks and a lingering dinner somewhere.  Not me.  I grew up having to be the socially perfect child/adolescent/teen/young adult.  I had to serve punch at the Museum. I had to help serve drinks at my parents cocktail parties.  When I came home from college, I guess it would have been Christmas breaks, my mother had always signed me up at the Museum fund-raiser, Promenade.  They always put me in that booth where you throw a baseball at a hole and the beautiful girl sitting on the diving board plunged into the murky depths of some barrel if you hit the target.  Did I mention who the beautiful girl was?  Did I mention I was told to wear my tee-tiniest bikini?  Did I mention it was always cold as all get out?

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It never ended.  No matter what my age, join this, chair that, STAND UP STRAIGHT, put some lipstick on, smile, please and WILL YOU DO SOMETHING WITH THAT HAIR?  You thought they made that up for Skeeter in “The Help”?  Well, guess what.  We all had that cross to bear.  My best friends growing up were the daughters of the mayor, doctors, lawyers, architects and judges.  We were always on show.  But… I have to say, when we got in trouble, we could usually just slide ever so prettily out of it. I remember one time we were in somebody’s car, top down, the usual suspects, probably Andrea, Jodie, Dana and Martha and a policeman pulled us over, that bad-ass blue light just a whirlin’ around and there we were just drunk as pigs.  He came over to the car and shone his flashlight in our eyes, waving it all over, we were on Federal Highway right in front of Egg & You, and said, in no uncertain terms,  “if I EVER catch y’all drinkin’ an’ drivin’ I an going to personally call your parents and let them know exactly what y’all are doing!  Do you understand?”  Jesus.  We were just a mess.  And talk about a different time.  So I am done.   But when I DO go to a tailgate, cookout or to someone’s house I want something that isn’t going to throw my thighs into the next episode of “The Biggest Loser”.  And this is pretty great.  Use any bean you like, just take into consideration color.  You want a bit of contrast.  White corn stays crisp, yellow gets mushy.  And flavor is always a good thing!

Game Day Salsa

  • Servings: feeds a crowd
  • Difficulty: easy
  • Print
  • 1 15 oz. can organic black beans, rinsed and drained
  • 1 15 oz. can organic red kidney beans, rinsed and drained
  • 1 15 oz. can organic white shoe peg corn, rinsed and drained
  • 1/2 cup red onion, that’s about 1/3 of the onion, finely chopped
  • 1 or 2 jarred jalapenos, finely chopped, (optional, but we love it spicy)
  • 2-3 Key limes or 1 large lime, juiced
  • 1 tablespoon apple cider vinegar
  • 1 bunch cilantro, washed, dried and chopped
  • 1/4 cup olive oil
  • salt and pepper to taste
  1. Combine all of the above.  Cover and set aside for at least an hour for flavors to meld.
  2. Serve with Tostitos Hint O’ Jalapenos.

Now, wouldn’t you just love to throw a baseball at her?

BUTTERMILK BISCUITS

One of my favorite boys in the world is my nephew, Christopher.  Dark, dark hair, deep, hazel eyes and a slow smile that will make your heart skip a beat, this boy is going places.  Why, he made varsity baseball just this week.  I nicknamed him “Biscuit” when I couldn’t remember his name.  We were in the Keys for Thanksgiving, the entire family would go every year, until my mother’s health prohibited it.  Anyway, all the kids were running around, Jimmy, cigar in mouth, was holding a shuffleboard tournament, we were all barefooted and young and we had cocktails and out came the names of two or three of his siblings and possibly a family dog or two, then came the word “Biscuit” and he was christened.  Those days were just heaven on earth.  During the day Uncle Chris would take the children fishing, bay or ocean side…made no difference, he’d let them drive the boat, take them to his secret fishing spots.  Then at night they all played games in the pitch black, inky darkness, running and screaming from the thrill of it all.   Every child had a flashlight and every grownup had a drink.  The resort where we stayed was on the ocean side but, sometimes, we would cross the highway to the bay side for more drinks and appetizers at the big mermaid bar.  It was a little rough and tumble but it’s so laid back down there nothing ever happened.  The stars would be out like no other place in the world, hundreds and hundreds scattered across the sky.  We’d stumble back back across the highway, with our little swarm of kids, and start grilling dinner.  Dolphin, pink Keys shrimp, whatever we had, always tasted so fresh and fabulous.  Someone typically had picked up a Key Lime pie during the day and, hopefully, some smoked fish dip and saltines.  We’d boil up big pots of pasta, grill burgers and dogs or cool down with a big bowl of homemade ceviche; it ALL tasted better down in the keys.  And THIS is the best tastin’ recipe for biscuit I’ve ever had except for my college boyfriend’s mother’s.  I wish to this day I had written down that recipe.  She made biscuit so much she didn’t even have to measure her ingredients.  That just blows me away.  This recipe is more of a drop biscuit. You don’t roll it out. The dough is rather runny, but it works.  It’s Nathalie Dupree’s recipe that she got from Shirley Corriher.  I think it’s just brilliant and so does my boy, Biscuit!

Buttermilk Biscuits

  • Servings: 9-12 biscuit
  • Difficulty: easy
  • Print

  • 2 1/2 cups self-rising flour
  • 1/8 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1 tablespoon sugar
  • 3 tablespoon shortening or real butter
  • 1 cup buttermilk, preferably full fat
  • 2 tablespoons butter, melted

  1. Preheat oven to 450°.
  2. Spray 8-inch round cake pan with non-stick spray.
  3. In a medium bowl, combine 1 1/2 cups flour,  the soda, salt and sugar.
  4. With pastry cutter or fork, work the shortening into the flour mixture until there are no lumps larger than a small pea.
  5. Stir in the buttermilk and let sit 2-3 minutes.  The dough will be very wet.
  6. Pour the remaining cup of flour onto a dinner plate or pie pan.  Flour your hands well.
  7. Using a spoon or small ice cream scooper, scoop a biscuit sized lump of dough onto the mound of flour and sprinkle it with flour.
  8. Using your hands, gently shake or toss the dough a bit to shape into a ball and shake off excess flour.
  9. As you shape each biscuit, place into cake pan, pushing each biscuit right up next to the last one so they rise up rather than spread out.  Continue until you’ve used all the dough.
  10. Brush the biscuit with melted butter and place in middle of preheated oven.  Raise temperature to 475°.
  11. Bake 15-18 minutes until golden on top.
  12. Cool 1-2 minute in pan.  Excellent split and served with butter and honey.

http://www.theirreverentkitchen.com

Perfect Rice

In all fairness to my older sister, we really do have a great relationship.  There are only two years between us, so as little girls, we were best of friends for the longest time. All our relatives in Puerto Rico were extremely over protective, so in our grandparents house we only had each other. There were no play dates.  No little girls were coming over. We weren’t often allowed to play outside.  We could get kidnapped or, maybe worse, we could get sun.  We didn’t care.  We had each other.  When we were about six and eight the day fianlly came when we were allowed to walk unescorted the one block to one of our favorite haunts…”la farmacia”,  the pharmacy.  Hand in hand we slowly walked on the sidewalk away from our house knowing there were six to seven sets of eyes fixed on us from the second floor front balcony.  It’s pretty safe to say there were probably lots of prayers flying about and maybe a novena or two.  Our grandparents lived on a beautiful street named “Avenida Flamboyanes”,  Royal Poinciana Avenue.  The street was lined on both sides with lovely, graceful royal poinciana trees, their tiny leaves constantly fluttering in a downward spiral.  The tree has a gorgeous, fiery red flower, but, even better, was when it produced its dark brown, foot-long seed pods.  We’d gather them up, they were all over the ground, and then carefully split open each pod to find a great big seed, larger than a big watermelon seed.  All the seeds went into our pockets and then the two little girls played a rousing game of “War”.   How we hurled those seeds at each other, shrieking and laughing, they’d sting when they made contact but that just made it better.  And for all that racket we made, day after day, summer after summer, year after year no one came out of their homes to scold us,  tell us to quiet down or take it somewhere else.  It was great.  Our favorite “flamboyan” tree was at the front of a house where the family living there had an exotic green parrot by the name of Paco.  Paco lived in a black, wrought iron cage hanging in a demi-lune tiled balcony.  Nice.  Really nice.  Over 50 years later it remains our favorite house.  Right around the corner from it is “la farmacia”.  It was as though we had entered another world.  Oh, the treasures to be had inside the drugstore.  Perhaps today would be the day the new Archie comic books would arrive.  If we weren’t allowed comic books at home, how the heck could it be allowable here, we wondered.  And the candy.   Oh, the candy!  Easter egg colored, candy covered almonds sat along side pastel, melt-in-your-mouth sugar dots.  There were rock hard, pyramid-shaped all day suckers in the flavors of the island, guava, and mango as well as the soft sweet potato, sesame and coconut candies typical of the island.  And Barbie coloring books.  Another taboo figure in our stateside home.  Mama was NOT a big fan of Barbie.   At home, Cynthia and I each had one Barbie and a few outfits but that’s it.  No trunks of fashions nor Barbie Dreamhouse  were part of our childhood.  We held dance contests with our Barbies  dancing to Van Cliburn albums playing on the family stereo, known back then as the “hi-fi”.  Back at the farmacia, we slowly walked back home with our purchases in hand, or not, if we had already blown our bank on previous excursions.  It was a wonderful world for the two little girls.  Come what may we had our constants, unconditional love, unending heat, 4:oo p.m. cartoons and rice and beans…every single day.

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Perfect rice is truly easy.  First, let’s talk grains.  I use certain grains for certain dishes.  My favorite is a medium grain.  Soft, like a short grain, but holds its shape like a long grain.  I use medium grain rice for mostly all dishes except the following.  Dolmades, Greek stuffed grape leaves, require a short grain rice, arborio or valencia.  Rice pilaf is best with a long grain.  But other than that, I’m a medium grain girl.  I use the same measuring method for rice to water ratio for white rice or brown rice.  I use two large beverage glasses identical in size and shape.   Each glass holds exactly two cups.  My ratio for medium grain white is 1 1/2 glasses of water for every one glass of rice.  Brown rice, and I like short grain organic, is 1 2/3 glasses of water to one glass of rice. I buy large bags of rice and always have it on hand. I salt my water well because, like grits, if you salt them after they’re cooked they never have any flavor.  Grits and rice will stay tasting flat and disappointing.  After cooking, rice freezes really well.  For a good stir fry you want dry, day old rice, not freshly made, otherwise it will stick together and clump up.  So pay attention to measurements and your rice will turn out great.  You’ll be all over it like white on rice!

Perfect Rice

  • Servings: 6-8
  • Difficulty: easy
  • Print

  • 2 identical iced tea or water glasses, one filled to the rim with medium grain white rice
  • Fill the other glass with room temperature water and pour into a medium size heavy pot.  Add half a glass more water and pour into pot.
  • Add 2 tablespoons  olive oil to pot.
  • Add 1 teaspoon salt to pot and bring to a rolling boil.
  • Add rice, stir well, cover tightly and drop heat to low.
  • Simmer 30-45 minutes and taste for doneness.  If not quite done and dry, add 2 tablespoons water, cover and cook for another 5 minutes.
  • Serve warm.

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