Quick Turkey Meat Sauce for pasta

We recently learned that Elizabeth is coming to visit.  Sweet, brilliant, older cousin of James, Catherine, Christopher, Meg and Annie.  They adore her and she them.  As a new-born Elizabeth began her summer journeys down to South Florida.  After James was born she was the perfect summer playmate, being four years older and a girl.    Cynthia and she would fly down and stay for a month.  Or two.  It was most splendid.  They always, always stayed at Mom and Dad’s.  But come 4:00 p.m. those two girls would be at MY house.  It was hot out, damned hot, and respite could be found out back in the cement  pond.  Well, at least for “the cur-dren”, white-trash talk for “children”.  We would get them all greased up with 75 SPF sunscreen while they protested, tried to wiggle away and when we just couldn’t bear it any more allowed them into the pool.  Then came our preparations.  The Mama’s preparations.  In spite of the killer, oppressive heat we had to cover every inch of our flesh with sticky, bad-smelling mosquito repellant.  Foreheads, backs of hands, toes, ears…every inch of exposed flesh had to be covered.  The mosquitos were huge.  There were times you thought you had  reached down to pet the dog but turns out it was a really big mosquito.  Then we had to select tunes.  Everyday we would deliberate between the same two cd’s, K.D. Lang’s “Absolute Torch and Twang” or Sarah Vaughan’s “Brazilian Romance”.  If it had been a good day, meaning the children had been getting along,  then K.D. Lang was scorching the outside speakers.  But.  If it had been a bad day, and they had been quarreling, more likely than not, Say-ruh Vaughan was crooning in the back ground.  It was 5:00 in the afternoon by then and hotter than blue blazes outside.  We’d pour ourselves liquid anesthesia, take it outside, gather our chairs and settle in.  While K.D. Lang belted out “She was a big-boned gal from southern Alberta, you just couldn’t call her small…” we would be getting in that “don’t move, barely breathe and it’s almost cool.  Or at least tolerable” mindset.  But James and Elizabeth were in their element.  Happy and shrieking, water splashing everywhere, the children were loving their pool time.  Cousins have such a bond.


Cynthia and I would sip on our G & T’s, occasionally moving our chairs to miss the tidal wave coming straight for us from the pool.  After an hour of happy shrieks and splashing water; of races and cannonballs we could see the kids had slowed down and were getting a little frayed around the edges, if ya catch my drift.  The children were tuckered out and needed to be fed.  It was time for some frozen sugar recreation to avoid total meltdown.  Unfortunately, that’s when the tears, bitterness and recriminations would set in.  I’d go inside, get the bottomless box of popsicles out of the freezer and bring it out to the pool.  “Who wants a popsicle?”, I cheerfully called.  And, predictably, it was always the same tired response, “I do! I do! I CALL THE BLUE ONE!”  Well, guess what?  In that big ol’ box there were probably four orange, (yuck), four green, (that’s even worse), one red, (okay),  and one prized, coveted tropical blue popsicle.  And just who’s gonna get it?  Well, the arms were waving in the pool, the children were jumping like little fools with excitement.  Cynthia would tell me to give it to James and pull Elizabeth aside.  Then we had melt down. Big, fat alligator tears would fall out of poor Elizabeth’s eyes and stream down her red, sunburned cheeks.  Cynthia would drape her towel over her and hold her tightly and say in her calm, soothing way, “Elizabeth, darling.  You’re older than James.  Let him have the blue popsicle.  You’re older, darling, have the red one.”  Poor Elizabeth by that time was sobbing; face all splotchy and swollen from crying.  She always responded the same way, “But, Mama.  He ALWAYS gets the blue one and you always say he can have it because I’m older and I never, EVER, MAMA, get the blue one!”  Sob, sob, hiccup, hiccup.  Meanwhile K.D. was just a wailing in the background, “Coyote, coyote, can you tell me why?  Every time that moon big moon shines you sit right down and cryyyyy…”  Well, who’s cryin’ now?  And pitiful  Elizabeth would reply, “Fine, Mama!”,  with all the anger in her tiny, bony body.  She, predictably, turned to James and under her breath say, “How’d you like it if I left and went back to New Jersey ?  Tomorrow?  I’m leaving!”  Of course, James would burst into tears and wail, “Mama! Elizabeth is leaving us! She’s leaving!  Tomorrow!  To New Jersey!”  Ugh. Every single day we replayed this scenario. Clearly, play time was over…WAY OVER.  Cynthia and I would bundle the sobbing, heaving little ones in their beach towels, put the chairs back, grab the remains of our worn out, tepid gin and tonics and head into the house.  Into the bathtub she’d put them while I rustled up spaghetti with meat sauce, apple slices and organic skim milk to tame the savage beasts.  She’d dress and deposit those tired, hungry babies onto the sofa and pop one of their favorite Disney movies in the DVR, Robinhood or Lady ON The Tramp, as Elizabeth called it.  We’d quote lines from the movie as we served them their dinners.  “Oh, Marion! What a bonny, wee bunny!”, we’d sing as they munched on their apple slices served on melamine plates.  Well, they ain’t fighting over the blue popsicle anymore, nor are they watching Robinhood.  But they still laugh at each other and verbally shove each other during a rousing game of Scrabble.  They go to concerts and work out together.  They support each other in times of disappointment and revel in each other’s accomplishments and achievements.  They call each other the “Co-Bro” and “Co-Sis”.  And they’ve gotten to that special place where they’ll gladly share the blue popsicle….I think.

The following recipe is a little more sophisticated than what we gave the children but it is still a magnificent way to squeeze in more vegetables.  I grate zucchini and add it to so many of my dishes, this being one.  Grated zucchini and chopped spinach both seem to disappear in this so with a large amount of savory vegetables it packs quite the nutritious punch.  If you’re really pressed for time, by all means use frozen chopped onion and bell pepper.  I also use a great deal of turkey products.  In this dish I use ground turkey and spicy turkey sausage which really isn’t spicy but just well seasoned.  Jennie-O brand is great in this dish.  When it comes to pasta I’m crazy about the whole grain lines out on the market.  Whole wheat pasta is not the block of sticky lead it used to be.  Use which ever brand strikes your fancy but do try it.  You’ll be pleasantly surprised.

Quick Turkey Meat Sauce for pasta

Quick Meat Sauce (for pasta)

  • 3 tablespoons good olive oil
  • 1 package ground turkey
  • 1 package turkey sausage
  • 1 large onion, chopped
  • 1 green bell pepper, chopped
  • 1 head of garlic, cloves peeled and chopped
  • 1 large zucchini, grated on large holes of box grater or 1 bag frozen, chopped spinach defrosted with all water squeezed out
  • 1 or 2 tablespoons of good oregano
  • 1 or 2 six-ounce cans tomato paste, I use organic
  • 2 28 ounce cans San Marzano whole tomatoes
  • 1 bunch fresh basil
  • salt and pepper to taste
  • 1 pound pasta of your choice, cooked to al dente stage
  • freshly grated parmesan cheese, optional
  1. In a large pot bring olive oil to medium heat and brown ground turkey.
  2. Take sausage out of casings and brown in pot with ground turkey, breaking up sausage with a spoon.
  3. Add onion, bell pepper and garlic.  Stir well.
  4. Add oregano and tomato paste. Stir well making sure paste is combined.
  5. Add whole tomatoes and break apart with spoon.
  6. Let simmer for at least 30 minutes.
  7. Tear fresh basil leaves and add to pot.
  8. Taste for salt and pepper.
  9. Serve over pasta with freshly grated parmesan cheese.



Savory Greens Pie

Being in Beijing on a summer internship James has been considering different career paths, embracing some and trashing others.  It can be a difficult time especially if there are several enticing options.  I knew EXACTLY what I was going to be when I grew up.  I was about six or seven years old.  I was going to be an Indian.  An American Indian.  Specifically an Apache.  I was going to be a brave, a warrior, and I would be the only girl.  I completely immersed myself in American Indian lore, swallowing books one after another.  I would have a full quiver of arrows slung across my back and a razor-sharp hatchet hanging from my side.  I fully accepted that I would have to scalp a white person or another Indian in battle.  I only hoped I would be able to slice those scalps quickly and cleanly.  My clothing would be of the softest leather, my moccasins so light I could fly through the forests without making a sound or leaving a trail.  My name would be Red Wing.  And, of course, my hair would turn from honey brown to blue-black.  Mama was so very patient with me.  She was always 100% supportive of any and all of our endeavors.  Time and time again she would say to me, “Cielo, you can be anything you want.  You can be a doctor, a ballerina, a scientist.  But you cannot, YOU CANNOT be an Indian.”  I remember thinking, “You’ll see.”  Dad had been making preparations for his next trip to the Amazon, I remember he’d get so sick after rounds of shots.  The day of his departure I approached Daddy and told him I needed to talk to him about something really important.  He knelt down and I asked him if he was going to see any Indians where he was going.  He answered yes, that the area he would be working had several different tribes.  I asked if he would do me a favor.  I opened my dirty, little fist and in it was my most prized possession.  A small mother-of-pearl pocket knife with the name Birch State Park stamped on the side in cursive.  Cursive is very important when you’re in first and second grade.  I asked Daddy if he would make a trade for me with THE INDIAN CHIEF.  I ended my request by telling him, “It’s what we Indians do.  We trade.”  He slipped the knife in his pocket and off he went to the Amazon to work on the genetics of a certain kind of fish.  We never heard from him while he was gone.  I don’t know how my mother did it, knowing he was in remote areas but not really knowing where.  He went where the fish were.  Up and down the river, catching little prop planes about the size of mosquitos and then he’d poke around some more.

Wattley’s Turquoise Discus

When Dad finally returned he always came back just a mess.  He is naturally thin but after weeks on the banks of the Amazon he’d come back thin as a rail.  And usually with some God-awful intestinal malady and possibly a high fever.  It was never pretty.  After a few days he was more approachable and when I knew he was willing to talk I jumped in.  “Daddy.  Daddy!  DADDY!!  What did you bring back?  Did you see any Indians?  Did you make my trade?”  I couldn’t wait to see.  He smiled and brought out a large but thin wooden box.  He watched my reaction as I took off the wooden cover.  What I saw left me breathless.  It was the most magnificent insect collection imaginable.  There were butterflies with colors seen only in the rainbow four to five inches wide.  Jet black beetles that when moved glistened like black opals.  There were grasshoppers five and six inches long, the palest of iridescent green.  It was spectacular and most splendid!  Dad and I are the only bug lovin’ folk in the family.  They fascinate us and we recognize their beauty.  I don’t mean a common cockroach.  No, these were exquisite.  And he had gotten them from an Indian!  I treasured my collection for years but as I grew older my interests changed.  Mama sat me down one last time for a little “Cielo, you can be ANYTHING you want but not an Indian” talk.  It was okay.  I had moved on.  I was going to be a nun!

We loved shocking company with this photo!

In later years I asked Dad what he ate on these trips.  He said during the early years the Indians would prepare food.  Lots of eggs and some fish.  So here’s my recipe for a really good savory pie.  It calls for fewer eggs than quiche but more than spanakopita.  The greens and cheeses are interchangeable.  I adore the sharp bite of dandelion greens but spinach is just fine. Or chard.  I suppose you could use kale, everybody’s all crazy about kale right now but not me.  I hate kale!!  The only reason I added the Gruyère is because I had a couple of slices I wanted to get rid of and use so in they went.  Boy, did that make it sing!  Parmesan could be used in place of feta or a combination of both as well.  Feel free to make your own pastry but after working all day it ain’t happening.  I only make homemade during the holidays. And if you feel strongly about using only pork bacon, well, by all means.  But try Butterball sometime.  It does need to be prepared stove top but the flavor is superb, it’s crunchy and a thousand times less greasy.

Savory Greens Pie

yield: one deep dish pie

  • 1 store bought pie shell, usually found in the dairy section
  • 4-5 strips of bacon, cooked to crisp and crumbled
  • 1 shallot, finely minced
  • 3 tablespoons olive oil
  • 2 bunches organic greens, washed and chopped into 3/4 inch pieces, eyeball it
  • 1 1/2 cups feta cheese, crumbled
  • 1/4 cup Gruyère cheese, finely chopped or grated
  • 6 or 7 organic eggs, beaten
  • 1 cup organic milk, I use fat-free
  • salt and pepper to taste, not much salt because of the bacon and cheese, lots of freshly cracked black pepper
  1. Preheat oven to 375°.
  2. Place pie shell in ungreased deep dish pie pan and set aside.
  3. To a medium-sized pan add olive oil and shallot and cook over medium heat until clear.
  4. Add chopped greens and cook, stirring often, until soft.
  5. Remove from heat and set aside.
  6. To a large bowl add feta, bacon, eggs, milk and stir to combine.
  7. Add greens, stir well and taste for any salt or pepper needed.  I love black pepper!
  8. Pour into pie shell and scatter Gruyère evenly over the top.
  9. Bake for 45 minutes or until dark golden on top.
One of my most favorite photos of Dad. He looks as though he was whistling and he LOVED to whistle!!

Liquid Liberty and Dessert

With the Fourth of July right around the corner I enjoy letting my mind wander to Fourths of the past.  Children crying because they’re scared of sparklers or the noise of fireworks.  Or the sound those same children make when they hurl themselves into the pool screaming, “canonbaaaaaal!!!”  The Fourth of July is a fabulous excuse for drinking waaay too much especially with our heat here in South Florida.  Grilled corn on the cob with butter and cayenne pepper, low and slow smoked ribs with a fiery dipping sauce, an ice-cold watermelon with the neck of a bottle of superior vodka thrust into it slowly being soaked up to make a grown up indulgence, cool but spicy Mississippi Caviar redolent with chopped pickled jalapenos and Vidalia onions, creamy, smooth baked Cheese Grits that makes the perfect bite when it runs into the Mississippi Caviar juices.  I could just go on and on. (Clearly, Alicia!)  We say to ourselves,  “It’s once a year!  A treat!  I never do this!”, and about two or three weeks later we’re all doing it again!!  Hell, it’s summertime!!  It’s what we do.  Many years ago, when Jimmy and I were dating, we had a most superb Fourth.  Jimmy had an apartment on Hendricks Isle.  99 Hendricks Isle.  Dad was thrilled when he found out. “Heeey, Jim!! Yeah!!  You know whose number’s 99, don’t you?  Yeah! Wayne Gretsky!’  From then on we referred to Jimmy’s apartment as “the Wayne Gretsky apartment”.  “Where ya goin’?”  “The Wayne Gretsky apartment.”  “Okay.  Don’t be late.”  I don’t remember the year but we were dating so it had to be at least 24 or 25 years ago.  Jimmy’s apartment was old Florida fabulous.  Just about all his friends he had met on Hendricks.  They all lived on boats, had that “devil-may-care” outlook and seemed terribly exotic to a serious Bostonian.  They didn’t wear shoes.  His neighbors were past quirky.  They were completely harmless but outlandish and unbelievably odd.  One neighbor worked as a short-order cook at a historic Las Olas greasy-spoon by day and played drag queen by night. Still wearing bits of makeup from the night before, this particular neighbor sold very small amounts of a certain “herb”, hand wrote the sale up on a receipt book and finished by ringing the sale up on an old-fashioned cash register.  While blasting “Don’t Cry For Me Argentina” on his RECORD PLAYER.  Anyway, that particular Fourth of July Jimmy had invited my family over to his apartment for a cookout and some Liquid Liberty.  We made pitchers and pitchers of Long Island Iced Tea and put them on to chill.  His apartment was on the water, a canal and his back patio was nothing less than wonderful.  The patio was terrazzo and featured a Pawley’s Island hammock hung right in the path of the salt breezes.  What made me fall in love with that man, or ONE of the reasons, was the most magnificent, sprawling mango trees you have ever laid your eyes on.  It was always heavy with fruit, giving off that sweet, decadent perfume bordering on wicked and wrong.  It was probably a mango that Eve bit into in the Garden of Eden.  Not some room temperature, mealy, Red Delicious sorry-excuse-for-an-apple.  No.  It had to be a beautiful silken, sensuous mango.  That’s not why I married him but I DID love that tree.  We made some hors d’oeuvre, I remember he flambeed some Kaseri cheese which we served with warm pita.  But, primarily, we all got tanked.  Remember, Long Island Iced Tea was flowing.  There was plenty of laughter and teasing, we had the television on with Arthur Fiedler conducting the Boston Pops.  The more Jimmy drank the more sentimental he became.  And he missed Boston.  A great deal.  Yankees have feelings, too.  So, like any homesick boy, he called home.  By then my parents had made their goodbyes, Mama probably singing “Yellowbird”, the song she always sang when she got a little tipsy.  Tommy, Pamela and I were having a grand time marching around the apartment, drinks in hand, WHISTLING to Stars and Stripes Forever.  Jimmy called his sister’s house, the nucleus of the family, and reached his mother.  Many were the stories he had told me of his mother’s sacrifices and hardships after his father had died.  A widow who spoke no English and raised four children.  All four completed their undergraduate work.  All four got their master’s.  And one his PhD.  Bravo, Yiayia!  She answered the phone, her tiny voice matching her tiny body.  With the 1812 Overture rising in the background Jimmy asked his mother of her journey to America, was it terribly hard?  How could you leave your family to go so far, far away?  How was it that you made it unscathed?  I stopped marching and whistling when I heard the emotion in his voice and saw his eyes filling with tears. With his voice cracking, I heard him ask, “Ma!  How did you feel when you finally made it in to New York Harbor and saw the Statue of Liberty?  What was it like to see that symbol, that symbol of liberty after the long, hard crossing?”  “O gios mou”, “my son”, she said, “I never saw the statue.  We were below at the Captain’s champagne reception!!”  Hahaaa!!  The whistling and marching started up again with Stars and Stripes cranked!!  I guess Yiayia had her taste of Liquid Liberty, too!!  So, as always, I’ll be thinking of all those special, courageous people who left their motherland behind to forge a new place for their soon-to-be sons and daughters.  We thank you.  And may we light you a sparkler and raise you a glass??

This is such a terrific summer dessert! It’s great to serve at your own house or take to a party.  It can be assembled days in advance and kept in frozen limbo until you need it.  The ice cream flavors are completely up to you as well as any cookie crumbles you wish to use.  If you like nuts, use them.  If not, lose them!  Also, the whipped topping can be left as is or the flavor of your choice may be folded in.  The only strict rule is that it does need to set up in the freezer overnight.  Four hours just doesn’t cut it, as is evidenced by the Key Lime I put together.  But that’s the only direction which should be observed.  I don’t really have a name for this.  I guess we could call it “Frozen Stuff” although Pamela would call it “Frozen S**t”.  She’s bad that way.  This dessert can be assembled in a 9X13 dish, a loaf pan, or any bowl that has a shape you like.  If you do choose a loaf pan or bowl, line it loosely with plastic wrap to make it easier to pop out.  This recipe calls for a 9X13 dish so if you’re using a smaller dish, eyeball your amounts and cut back accordingly.

Frozen Stuff

yield: 12 to 15 servings

  • 1 (1/2) gallon ice cream
  • 1 (8 oz.) container frozen whipped topping, thawed
  • 3 cups cookie crumbs, about 30 sandwich cookies
  • 1/4 cup melted butter
  • 1/2 cup toasted nuts, if using
  1. Combine cookie crumbs and butter.  Mix well then cover the bottom of 9X13 pan evenly with them.
  2. Cut ice cream into slices 1/2″ thick and completely cover cookie crumbs.
  3. Spread whipped topping over ice cream and finish with nuts scattered all over the top.
  4. Cover with plastic wrap and chill over night in freezer.

Here are two of my favorite combinations.

  • chocolate cream filled sandwich cookies
  • coffee ice cream
  • 1 small can Dulce de Leche folded into whipped topping
  • 1/2 cup sliced, toasted almonds
  • white chocolate macadamia nut cookies
  • Key Lime ice cream
  • guava sauce folded into whipped topping


Greek Style Roasted Potatoes


Glenn Frey’s Miami Vice hit “Smuggler’s Blues” was on the radio this morning on the ride into work.  What a hoot.  Made me think of all the smugglers in our family, Mom and Dad being our sources of inspiration.  I think Mom started before Dad, smuggling plants and herbs out of Puerto Rico.  Culantro, the stronger cousin of cilantro, was completely unheard of in Florida when we were growing up.  It is absolutely essential in Puerto Rican cuisine.  It goes in everything, soups, stews, chicken, beef, beans, EVERYTHING.  Mama never prepared any of those dishes but she wanted her culantro.  It has a very strong perfume and I know its heady scent propelled her back home if only for a few fleeting seconds.  Most trips to Puerto Rico ended the same way.  On the day of our departure one of her sisters or her mother would lovingly uproot five or six small culantro plants making certain the thin, spidery roots were covered by wet paper napkins.  The slim, green leaves were then carefully encased in a protective envelope of tin foil.  Mama would then tuck away her stash in the bottom of her suitcase in a shoe.  Or a place the Agriculture Department would never think to look…one of those satin side compartments.  I remember one trip in particular.  We were all at the airport saying our goodbyes.  Those were the days when our entire family would turn out.  My grandmother and all my aunts had on hats and gloves.  I turned around looking for Mama, she had disappeared but then just as quickly reappeared.  It was such a hectic scene I didn’t think anything of it.  There was always somebody crying and our uncle, Panino, would again be holding his movie camera while barking orders for us to smile or wave or stand over there.  It all happened so fast, the hugs and kisses and goodbyes. Suddenly we were back home.  I walked into my parent’s bedroom and Mama was just staring off and not in a happy way.  When I asked her what was wrong she answered that she didn’t have her culantro.  She had thrown it into a garbage bin at the San Juan airport.  I remember her saying “I was going to get caught.  I knew I would get caught.”  Even if she had, all Agriculture would have done is throw the stuff out.  Mama was so literal in her life.  Wrong is wrong is wrong.  She barely spoke for a week after that.  Her homesickness was so close to the surface but she would never, ever let her girls see her fall apart.  How hard it must have been to say goodby to her precious, precious family.  Dad, on the other hand,  never got caught but didn’t care if he had.  He just wanted his stuff.  He did, however, get searched with Mom in San Francisco on the way back from Japan.  Dad had bought Mom a watch and didn’t declare it.  In fact, he left the watch box in the barf bag on the airplane.  That was a red flag for Customs.  Kids, when I say Mom and Dad were searched, it was a complete pat down.  For an undeclared watch.  Meanwhile, Dad had decided he wanted to raise silk worms and some exotic rare beetles.  That’s what he was smuggling back.  Silk worm cocoons and beetles.  Did he get caught?  Au contraire, mon frere.  In the San Francisco hotel where they were overnighting the beetles got loose and were flying about the suite like big, black Russian air buses.  Mama burst into tears exclaiming,  “Oh, Jackson!  I cannot take this anymore!  It’s been a bad day!”  Dad said he would catch the beetles and put them away.  He only caught three of the four illegal creatures but didn’t have the heart to tell Mama.  “Don’t worry, Cookie, I got ’em all.”  What did I smuggle?  I brought all kinds of things back from Puerto Rico.  Culantro for Mom, gigantic yagrumo leaves from the rain forest, El Yunque.  They’re white on one side and chocolate-brown on the other.  And were most stunning in my apartment.  I brought back seeds and seedlings.  One time I brought back two huge stalks of sugar cane.  My Tio Enrique cut them down for me on his ranch and patiently explained how to care for them.  Was I caught?  Nope.  Well, flash to years later when we were close to leaving Greece and  I found myself in a market staring at a wooden wine cask filled with fresh, LOCAL oregano.  In Greece fresh oregano is a thing of beauty.  The ubiquitous herb is scattered on salads, vegetables, meats, everything. Pale and golden in color, rich in perfume I filled up a bag the size of a pillow case.  Jimmy said, “You can’t take that back.”  I replied, “Just watch!  I can bring anything back.  I never get caught.”  I hid it in my suitcase, checked the bag through and started worrying.  On the flight back we got our cards of declaration and no mention was made of my contraband.  We snaked our way through the long lines at Kennedy claiming our bags to then get in the queue for Customs.  James was texting like a mad man finally having internet access on his cell phone while Jimmy was flip-flopping between murmuring in my ear, “What are you going to do if you get caught?” and flat-out stating “You’re going to get caught.  YOU’RE GOING TO GET CAUGHT!”  With my heart pounding in my throat all I could think to do was try to act like a typical American family.  I was loudly all over James saying things like, “Son! Please! I don’t want to have to tell you again. Pay attention.  We’re in a hurry.”  And hissing at him in a most unloving way, “We have a plane to catch and we still have to get through Customs.  Please. Move up in the line and help us out!”  That’s when Jimmy would quietly murmur in my ear, “You’re gonna get caught.”  Back and forth it went.  And every time a Customs agent would walk by with a walkie-talkie I would exclaim, “James! I am asking for your attention and help.  Please! Put that fool phone away and grab these bags!  WE.HAVE.A.PLANE.TO.CATCH.”  My heart was beating like a rabbit on crack.  “Dammit, James! I mean it!  You need to help out, son.” We were next in line when a walkie-talkie wielding Customs agent approached us.  He slowly looked us up and down.  Sizing us up he said, “You people go through here, please.”  They skipped right over us.  No Customs inspection.  None.  He put us in the boring, tame as little baby deer, non-smuggling, family line.  My ruse had worked.  They thought we were just another typical American family on vacation.  Little did they know this Mama was a mule.  A spice mule.  I was thrilled.  Thrilled!  Here at home I used my oregano miserly as if it were flakes of dried gold.  And I was quite proud of my law breaking feat.  Until the day I told my story to another Greek who said to me, “You know, you can bring it back.  Oh, yeah.  It’s totally legal.  Bring back as much as you want.”  I couldn’t believe it.  After all that.  The moral of the story?  Next time bring back two pillow cases full!

I use my oregano from Mytilene for these Greek Style Roasted Potatoes.  Since the first time I made this recipe I have never wanted any other kind of roasted potato.  These are truly sublime.  I have made tray after tray and there are never enough.  Your people will eat them and eat them until there are none left.  They’re super simple, an easy side or uncomplicated meal.  Very monastic.  Tonight we’re having them as dinner.  With some homemade tzatziki to dip and a few slices of ripe summer tomatoes.  James and all the kids love these so I urge you to try them.  You’ll never buy frozen again.    Lemony, crisp on the outside and flaky, dense on the inside.  A true gift from the gods…Greek gods.  Thanks, Dimitra!  (Goddess of the Harvest)



Greek Style Roasted Potatoes

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

  • 4 large baking potatoes, cut into 1/2 inch spears
  • 1/2 cup olive oil
  • 1/2 cup water
  • 1 heaping tablespoon dried oregano, Greek if you can get it
  • 1 tablespoon sea salt
  • 1 tablespoon freshly cracked black pepper
  • 3 lemons
  1. Preheat oven to 450°.
  2. In a large bowl combine all ingredients EXCEPT potatoes and lemons.  Stir well making sure salt has completely dissolved.
  3. Add potatoes to bowl and using hands toss well covering potatoes completely with water olive oil mixture.
  4. Line a large baking sheet with tin foil.  That makes for easy clean up.  Spray lightly with nonstick spray.
  5. Place potatoes cut side down in one layer on baking sheet.  Pour water olive oil mixture over all the potatoes and carefully place in oven.
  6. Bake for 20 minutes, remove from oven and turn all potatoes so the other cut side is facing down.
  7. Cut lemons in half and juice all of them over all the potato slices.  Return them to the oven.
  8. Bake another 10-15 minutes or until crisp and golden.
  9. Serve immediately.  They’re divine with homemade tzatziki.


Classic Rum Punch

It’s been oppressively hot lately and it’s only going to get worse. That’s how we know…it’s hurricane season.   As a child we loved hurricanes. It meant a hotel stay and much less adult supervision. It never, ever occurred to us that we could lose our homes and our safe, sheltered lives. No. It was party time.  When I look back now on those days I have to laugh. My parents would have us doing things like rolling up the Persian rugs and stacking them on the dining room table. Like that’s going to save anything? We lived on the water and the southern wall running the length of the house was all windows.  I don’t know if any of my compatriots had shutters but I know we didn’t.  Mama would hide the silver…she all but buried it in the back yard.  Mind you, she’s from Puerto Rico.  Did she really think Hurricane Sherman would be coming through?  We scurried about busily packing our necessities.  As little girls we packed the essentials…scizzors, paper dolls, coloring books, our favorite baby dolls and a couple of books. As teens we packed a little differently. Latest fashions from Dad’s store, “The Tack Room” and all the make up we owned.  Sometime in the still afternoon dad’s father, Grampa, would call.  The afternoon before a hurricane hits is always creepy-still. Maybe because you know how the violent the winds and waters are going to get.  Grampa lived a few islands away and would predictably call having a complete hissy fit. “Goddamnit, Jack. I need some help over here. I still have to go out for supplies. Where’s Tom?”  Dad’s fine, long fingers would sweep over his already balding head and in a weary voice answer, “Listen, give him a few more minutes here and I’ll send him over.” Grampa always answered the same way, “Right-o”. I was lucky. Grampa, for some unknown reason, liked me. Otherwise he could be mean. Really mean. But he liked me. Eventually Tommy would drive his jeep over to Grampa’s and in his teasing, playful way say, “Grampa! Hey! What’s going on?” Grampa would just glower. “Dammit, let’s go. There’s no time to waste.” And Tommy would always reply, “Sure, Grampa. Where do ya wanna go? Grocery store? Hardware store?” “Crown, goddamnit!! We need to get to Crown’s!” Uh. That’s Crown Liquor.  Crown Liquor Store. And off they’d go to get necessities.  Rum. Good rum. That’s all Grampa needed. No mixers, no ice, no nothing. Rum from the British Virgin Islands. Greater and Lesser Antilles – rum. Leeward and Windward Islands, more rum. Four or five cases later Tommy carried all the liquor in and stacked it outside of Grampa’s bar closet. He would have stored it inside except the bar was packed with rum from all his travels.  Pamela and I often wistfully long for the contents of that ever so magical bar.  Row after row of bottles lined up neatly on self after shelf.  The labels on those bottles were just magnificent!  Some were rustic but beautiful in their simplicity.  Others were opulent with lavish swirls and curlicues.  But they’re gone now.  Pamela and I agree that Dad, who never imbibed much, probably threw them out. I shudder to think.  Anyway, Tommy would head back home after finishing his most important chore where we would be waiting. The house was closed and ready for the big storm. We were leaving for the safety of our hurricane shelter.  Everyone we knew would be there.  The Riverside Hotel.  We laugh now because the Riverside is not only just a mile and half down the road from our houses but it sits directly across the street from the water! Well, we felt safe. After unloading the car I’d sneak whatever alcohol I thought wouldn’t be missed and head out to see who was already there. I’d run into everybody’s parents and try as quickly as possible to wiggle away after the obligatory chit-chat. “Hi, Mrs. Doddridge.  Hi, Mr. Doddridge. Just fine, thank you. And you? Yes, ma’am, they’re here. I think Daddy’s getting their drinks and then they’ll be right down. Good to see y’all, too!”, “they” being my parents. It was a huge hurricane party.  Cynthia would take off to find her friends.  I’d locate bff,  Andrea, we’d pool our purloined booze and settle in with our friends. It was wonderful fun.  Kids ran all over the place and grownups smiled and waved, catching up with each other during this unexpected respite.  The following day everyone packed up, collected their children and made the mile and half journey back home.  And a fun time was had by all!

Dad and Grampa. Hard to believe, but that land behind them is Sunrise Key.

This is a great recipe for Rum Punch. I use it through the year and always Christmas morning. It guarantees that all will get along. Feel free to change the juices to your liking. The original recipe calls for just pineapple juice but I like pineapple-mango mix. An empty plastic water jug is perfect so if you think you’re going to be making this try to remember to keep the top. Make it a day ahead of when it will be served so it has plenty of time to chill. Respect it…it WILL knock you on your tail!

Classic Rum Punch

  • Servings: 1 gallon
  • Difficulty: easy
  • Print

  • 1 clean, empty, plastic jug with top
  • 1 liter dark rum, more if you like
  • 1-2 cups good bourbon, I like Wild Turkey or Maker’s Mark
  • 1 46 ounce can pineapple mango juice
  • 1 15 ounce bottle Whiskey Sour mix
  • 2 ounces grenadine
  • orange juice topper, one of those single serving bottles is perfect
  1. Combine all ingredients in jug.
  2. Making sure lid is on tightly, shake well to combine.
  3. Chill overnight in refrigerator.
  4. Right before serving shake jug well.


Buttermilk Fried Chicken

I know I’m getting old and grumpy when someone minimizes a crisis in my life by dismissing it as inconsequential.  One of the worst ever was back when I was living and working in Puerto Rico.  I was barely able to meet the expectations of my grandparents while living at their house so when I was offered the cottage behind my uncle’s house I snapped it up faster than you can say “andale”!  It was perfect.  Plenty of privacy and air conditioning.  I quickly settled in and began the day-to-day routine of work at Delta.  Weekends were spent going out at night and during the day we enjoyed some down time at any number of beautiful beaches.  Like stateside there would always be the random weekend when there were chores to be done, laundry, a little cleaning, the grocery store so I would hang close to the house and when finished with my tasks would reward myself by sunning outside in my itty-bitty bikini.  My towel had been spread out in the direct path of the sun’s blazing rays.  Radio was on.  I had some sort of cold drink close by.  Oh, but did it feel good.  I closed my eyes and put my face up, up, up right into the sun.  By all accounts it should have been perfect but I wasn’t comfortable even after shifting positions.  I felt ooky.  Something just wasn’t right.  I opened my eyes and just inches away, maybe two inches, were two black beady eyes coldly staring at me.  It was a full-grown, red and black fighting cock.  Huge.  Totally caught me off guard.  I was startled but I didn’t want it to recognize the FEAR in me so I shooed it away.  That bird gave me a look that said, in no uncertain terms, “Do you know whom you’re dealing with?”  With that, and with lightning speed, he pecked my shin so hard that blood spurted out.  Did I freak?  You know I did.  I screamed and grabbed all my tanning supplies, towel, radio, everything and ran into the cottage slamming the door behind me.  Jesus.  Life is hard enough.  I called my uncle, furious.  “”Oye, Panino, si, si es Manima.  No!  NO! Todo NO esta bien!”  And I proceeded to inform him of the danger he had living in HIS backyard.  How that brute of an animal attacked me and drew blood and, at any given moment, could wound or worse mutilate his two precious baby boys.  He chuckled and gently said as if speaking to a child, “No, no.  That’s not a fighting cock.  It’s just a silly little chicken.”  I was incensed, LIVID, and just a little bit scared.  That thing was big.  “Listen, you leave him alone and he’ll leave you alone” he calmly replied and that was the end of that.  I stayed in my conditioned air cottage and fretted because I knew I couldn’t stay locked in forever.  I had things to do.  I hand washed a few things and looked through the window for that damned bird.  Coast was clear.  I almost dismissed the nasty incident while hanging the fine washables on my little wooden drying rack.  Without warning I heard the war shriek of the fighting cock.  I spun around to see him spread his enormous wings, talons unfurled ready for more blood, as I hauled ass for my house and safety.   He let out another war cry while descending and that’s when his talons ripped into the backs of my legs.  I was his prey. I shrieked and howled with pain.  I was scared to death of that thing.  It was clear who was in control.  And it hurt.  Did I mention it hurt like hell?  I made it inside my little bungalow where I cleaned my wounds and felt sorry for myself.  I was safe for the time being but I had to go to work the following morning and didn’t look forward to the long death walk down the driveway to the street.  Whenever I left the cottage I walked backwards and started taking a broom with me.  It was the perfect weapon.   When I came home in the evening I would find my broom hidden between bushes and a wall.  It was fine until the day I came out of the cottage and someone had taken the broom.  It must have been midday, hot and quiet.  I looked around and seeing nothing scurried down the drive.  Killer cock made his move.  As I heard his battle scream I felt his claws sink in…again.  Sweet baby Jesus, that’s it.  I burst into bottled up tears. Island life can be difficult.  I missed my family, I missed the States, I missed hamburgers, I missed my friends, I missed my car, I missed salads and dammit, I was tired of being treated like a Yankee.  I don’t remember where I was going but I made a beeline down the street to my grandparents house.  My grandfather was a man’s man.  His persona was as big if not bigger than Ernest Hemingway’s.  NO ONE messed with Papa Pepe.  Ever.  He had horses and guns and knew quite well how to use them.  He would save me.  I found him upstairs on the balcony in his rocking chair.  With his cane.  “Dios mio, nena, pero que te pasa?”  “My God, child, what’s wrong?”  Nose running and with tears all over my face I sobbed the story of what had just happened and what had been happening.  “Nena, tu eres una molestia.  Deja de llorar, caramba!”  “Child, you’re a pain.  Stop crying, darn it.”  “Please, Papa.  Help me!  Panino won’t listen.  He says it’s just a chicken but it’s not” I cried.  Without saying a word he got up and went to his bedroom.  He came out with his sunglasses on, (always with dark green lenses), and his hat.  Can’t go out without your hat.  Lord, but that man was handsome.  Still not speaking he left the house and walked down the street to my uncle’s with me stumbling and sniffling behind him.  He flung open the gate and he made the death walk loudly asking “Where is it, dammit?” “Y donde esta, conyo?” “Maybe over there?” I answered and waved my hand towards some shrubs.  He marched over to the bushes and angrily parted them finding my friend Cujo Bird ready to attack.  Gripping his cane tightly he pulled his arm back and with a seething, “Mira, bruto! @#&**@”^&%$##@!!” gave that bird a mighty, mighty beating.  It was fabulous.  I was so happy.  I was almost dancing!  He just whaled on that bird until it stopped screaming and just lay on the ground playing possum.  My grandfather didn’t even break a sweat.  Hat didn’t move…there was no blood on his linen clothing or dress shoes.  There may have been a few splatters on his walking stick.  And with that, and not saying a word, he turned and walked back to his house.  No one, but no one, made mention of that incident until a few weeks later I was making the walk of death and realized I hadn’t seen my foe, the rooster, in a while.   I found my uncle and casually asked, “Y el pollo?  No lo he visto.”  “And the chicken?  I haven’t seen it lately.”  And do you know how he answered?  This is rich.  “Oh nooooo!  That was no chicken.  That was a fighting cock.  It attacked one of the boys so I put it in a bag, drove it out to the country and let it loose!”  Really?  REALLY?  In celebration of the wonderful memory I offer you, gentle reader, Fried Chicken.

I know it’s hard to make out but to the left of the photograph one can see Papa Pepe’s pistola, his pistol, dangling from his holster.



Buttermilk Fried Chicken

  • Servings: 2 pieces per person
  • Difficulty: easy
  • Print

  • low-fat or non-fat buttermilk, about 4 cups
  • skin on pieces of chicken with excess fat cut off
  • Tony Chachere, Sazon or the spice mix of your preference
  • freshly cracked black pepper
  • all-purpose flour, for dredging
  • peanut oil or shortening


I’m just going to talk you through this.  I’m sorry but Fried Chicken is like a running conversation to me.  I can’t do bullets.  Clean your chicken pieces and, leaving the skin on, trim any bits of excess fat.  Mix buttermilk with 2 or three tablespoons of Tony Chachere or spice mix of your choosing.  If you like heat add some now, cayenne is great. Place the chicken pieces in a shallow dish and pour mixture over making sure the pieces are well coated.  Place in refrigerator and let marinate for as long as possible, overnight is great.  When ready to start frying set up an assembly line.  Place a colander in a deep bowl and drain the chicken in the colander.  Season chicken liberally with spice mix, still allowing it to drain.  I put that to my left.  In a large bowl or glass dish mix 3 or 4 cups of flour with a couple of tablespoons of spice mix.  That I position in front of me.   To my right I have a large jelly roll pan or sheet pan covered with cooling racks, the same racks you use to cool your cookies.  Tin foil is okay in lieu of the racks.  In a cast iron skillet or heavy pan add oil or shortening until it comes up about 1/3 of an inch high on the side of the pan.  Heat to 325° but no higher.  I use a candy thermometer.  It’s a little hotter than medium.  While the pan and oil are heating up the I dredge the chicken.  My left hand is my wet hand and my right is my dry hand.  With my left hand I place one piece of chicken in the flour mixture and using my right I cover the piece with flour, turning and patting to make sure each piece is completely floured.  Shake the excess flour off then put it on the rack or tin foil.  You get a better scald on the chicken if it drys a bit.  When the oil has reached 325° I place the thighs in the middle of the pan skin side down.  They take longer to cook and the middle is the hottest.  Legs, wings, breasts go on the sides.  If I have a lot of chicken to fry I often use two frying pans.  But don’t crowd the pan.  No more than 4 or 5 pieces at a time depending on the size of your pan.  Fry chicken 10-12 minutes per side.  Keep your eye on the heat adjusting so the four doesn’t burn but making sure the chicken is cooked all the way through.  When the chicken is done let it drain on cooling racks over a sheet pan.  DO NOT drain on paper towels.  You’ll get soggy chicken and after all that work…well, that would just be a shame!


Chili And A Baby

Man, the clouds roll in and it’s time for chili.  Now, you say turkey chili and my mind rolls back twenty years ago to a hot, steamy August Sunday when I was 8 months pregnant.  Lord, I was fat.  All I wanted to eat during my pregnancy was eggs scrambled soft in butter for breakfast then for all my other meals I had to have any of the following: orange juice with ice, sautéed spinach in garlic and olive oil, sharp cheddar cheese sandwich on whole wheat with mayo or petite filet mignon.  That’s all I wanted.  It’s no surprise I gained 52 pounds!  52 pounds!   Anyway, I had been cooking and baking up a storm and then freezing individual portions so we would have homemade food at the ready when the baby came.  Jimmy had been traveling like a mad man and was often gone so I had a little time to prepare.  The baby was due the first or second week of September and by cramming in all his trips beforehand he would be home for the birth and then for a few weeks after that.  Next on my list of foods to prepare was Turkey Chili.  I had been cooking all day when Jim and Dana came over to share a few laughs and a bowl of the red stuff.  Having known Dana just about all my life I did not feel it was necessary to clean myself up or even bathe.  Cooking with onions and garlic you can only imagine how I smelled.  Like a cheap diner.  They were in the study laughing and eating and calling for me to join them.  On my way out of the kitchen I ducked into the bathroom for a quick winkytink.  When I finished I stood up and while buttoning up I tinkled.  Again.  All over myself and my clothing.  Ohmygosh!!  I felt faint.  What if it WASN’T tinkle?  What if my water had broken?? It hit me like a thunderbolt what I had read in every pregnant girl’s bible, “What To Expect When You’re Expecting”.  It was really quite lovely the way it was put.  The book said that the water, when your water breaks, smells like “freshly cut hay”.  Crazy, huh?  I smelled my panties.  Ohmygosh!! Could that be freshly cut hay?  I screamed for Dana through the locked door, “MIIIIIISSSSSSSY!!! MIIIIISSSSSY!”.  She came running. “What? What?”, she asked as I DRAGGED her into the bathroom, half naked.  “Missy”, I said.  “I don’t think I’ve ever really asked anything from you but I am now.  Look.  I KNOW this sounds ridiculous but I think my water just broke and I need you to smell this and tell me if it smells like freshly cut hay. MISSY!!!! PLEASE!!”.  I thrust the panties in her face.  She looked at me long.  And she looked at me hard.  And then she said, “OK.”  As she took a whiff her eyes got big and with an ecstatic smile on her face made her pronouncement, “Oh my gosh, Missy!  It smells like freshly cut hay!”.  That’s my girl!  I was weak with fear.  “JIIMMYYY!  It’s time!  It’s time!”,  I called.  “What do you mean?”, he asked since the baby wasn’t due for another three to four weeks.  I quickly explained and started making preparations to leave the house while my words slowly sank in.  It was about one or two o’clock in the afternoon.  With a towel shoved up between my legs off I waddled to the car.  I remember what I wore.  A pink sleeveless Laura Ashley sundress with tiny flowers on it and hot pink flats.  The ride to hospital was absolutely surreal.  Like the ride to the church the day you marry.  It is life altering.  At Holy Cross the nurses went through what I guessed to be the usual child-birth preparations.  There was weigh in… OOOLAWD!!!  An IV was started and then came a thousand questions.  Here are my favorites.  “Have you eaten today?”  “Yes.”  “When?”  “About and hour ago.”  “Okay.  And what did you have?”  ” Uh, a big bowl of chili.”  All of the nurses, assistants and techs stopped mid-task.  In unison they ALL yelled “Eeeeeww!! Chili!!  She had chili!  It’ll be everywhere!! Oh, Christ!”  Apparently many women have bad reactions to some of the anesthetics etc. given to them and barf uncontrollably.  But I didn’t!  I never did.  My doctor arrived and after a quick exam made the determination that not only was the baby breach but a dangling breach. (One leg pointing north and one pointing south.)  I would have to have an emergency C-section.  The baby would not live without one.  I didn’t care long as long as I got my baby.  They wheeled me into the operating room where all manner of machines and lights, cords and beeping things were already assembled for the performance of my life.  A tall blue cloth screen was set up on my chest to block my view of the surgery.  Jimmy was right there with me.  All along he said he wasn’t going in, that that just wasn’t for him, that he had NO desire to cut the umbilical cord or anything else for that matter.  Jimmy don’t do blood and guts.  He doesn’t even do splinters. He’s a candy-ass.  I felt nothing but knew my team was “down there” cutting and snipping away.  All of a sudden my doctor said “I’ve got ‘im.  Jim, would you like to cut the cord?”  The umbilical cord is really nasty looking.  Blue and red and thick and white.  Nasty.  I knew my man would be white as a sheet at the sight of that and ready to faint.  But that man ponied right up and cut that thing right through!  Just as calm and cool as if it was the fourth child.  They whisked the baby off to some sort of holding table and I could see by straining my head to one side that they were working frantically.  Something seemed to be going wrong.  And there was no sound.  I remember looking at Jimmy giving him the look that said, “Please!  Please!  Tell me it’s okay!! What’s wrong?  What is it?” And then I heard it.  That newborn “Wah! Wah!”!! I was thrilled!  A boy!!  A beautiful baby boy!  They placed him way on my chest wearing a little Carolina blue (how did they know?!) knit hat.  My first words to my precious angel were something to the effect of, “Hey, Buddy!  Well, don’t you just look like you held up the 7-11?  Hmm?”.  It was the hat.  He looked like a little robber.  He was so perfect.  He blinked at me.  He recognized my voice!  And he was mine.  I was the luckiest girl in the world!!

This chili is super good.  I have a special ingredient that just makes it rock!  Chipotle peppers in adobo.  They’re sold in all supermarkets in the Hispanic, (AKA “taco”) section.  And like all dishes with tomato involved, it’s better the next day and freezes well.  And can be pretty low in fat.  I wouldn’t say the chipotles are screaming hot but they’re considerably spicy and that’s from someone who likes really spicy, hot food.  So hold back a little bit and taste as you go along.  You can always add more but if you add too much…well, good luck getting it out!

Turkey Chili (or Beef)

yield: one big pot

  • 2 20 ounce packages ground turkey or the equivalent for beef.  I use Jennie-O ground turkey.
  • 1 large onion chopped
  • 3 cubanelle peppers or two green bell peppers, chopped
  • 7-8 finely chopped fresh garlic cloves
  • 2-3 tablespoons chili powder
  • 1 7 ounce can chipotle peppers in adobo
  • 1 6 ounce can tomato paste
  • 2 28 ounce cans whole tomatoes, I use San Marzano
  • 3 15 ounce cans red kidney beans, rinsed and drained
  • salt and pepper to taste
  1. In a large pot spray insides with nonstick spray.
  2. Heat pot to medium high and add ground turkey.  DO NOT break up the pieces!  You want the turkey to brown and stay chunky so don’t mix the turkey yet.  If using ground beef if can be broken up as it keeps its shape better.
  3. After 4-5 minutes gently turn the meat over to brown the other side.
  4. When the turkey or beef has cooked through add the onion, chopped peppers and garlic. Lower heat to medium and stir as needed.
  5. Empty chipotle peppers and sauce into a deep vessel or deep bowl.  Using the empty chipotle can, pour 2 cans of water into the bowl and puree very, VERY carefully.  I use an immersion blender but a regular blender or food processor is just fine.  Be very careful not to get the mixture on your fingers and please don’t touch your eyes!  This stuff is hot and you’ll cry for days.  Well, maybe not days but for a while anyway.
  6. To the pot add 1/4 of the chipotle mixture.  You can eyeball it.
  7. Add the whole tomatoes with juices and break up the tomatoes with your mixing spoon.
  8. Add kidney beans and tomato paste.  Break up the tomato paste, mixing well.
  9. Taste for any salt or pepper needed and add any chipotle mixture needed, again tasting as you go.
  10. Add water if you want it thinner.  Add 1-2 tablespoons of cornmeal if you’d like it thicker.
  11. Simmer on low for 30-45 minutes or until flavors have melded.
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