Jan

30

Watching my dinner swim







In my quest to eat healthfully and locally, I’ve zeroed in on fish as the most obvious way to go. Living in Florida means that dinner can often be found swimming just hours before it’s on the table. Not really knowing too much about fishing, I looked to a colleague for information, advice, and, well, the actual catching of the fish to be honest. I’m afraid I did little more than ask questions and take a lot of pictures. But to anyone who would listen, I went fishing.

On a gorgeous January evening after work, I met said colleague at a friend’s dock. He pointed out a few different kinds of fish – mullet and sheepshead are the two I can remember – and pointed out the dorsal fin of a nearby dolphin. Quite a few pelicans hung out with what turned out to be two feeding dolphins. They were probably hoping to catch a few fish themselves. Duck, egrets and a few seagulls rounded out the resident wildlife in a scene that can only be described as breathtaking.

Enter the net. This was a big heavy thing that I’m not sure I could drag around let alone hurl out into the water. So I watched. And took pictures. And asked questions. Then it snagged a fish. A big (by my standards) mullet. The poor thing flopped around and looked quite helpless. I felt a bit sorry for it, but had visions of the perfect flour dredging and a pan of hot oil. I did blurt out an apology, though. I’ve been far too removed from my food source for far too long. A hunter I’m not. Not much of a fisherman either. My friend wasn’t doing too badly, though. Another mullet made its way into the net. This one a bit smaller.

Filleting was another occasion for me to stand around taking pictures. I don’t really care to cut up grocery store-bought chicken, so I’m certainly not ready to butcher something with eyes and a slightly shocked expression.

It wasn’t too much longer before I was in the kitchen watching Husband fry up some lovely pieces of tender perfectly-cooked mullet. He’s quite the chef is my husband and we all sat down for a very fresh, very local, very healthful dinner.

Filled Under: food, local Fish

Jan

26

Oat Cakes (or what to do with leftover oatmeal)

 

If you’ve got leftover oatmeal, pack it up and put it in the fridge for the next day. When breakfast time rolls around, add an egg or two to your now cold oatmeal. Mix it together with clean hands as if you’re making meatloaf or hamburgers. Shape it into little cakes and pan fry them until fox colored. Serve with chutney or achar. More on achar later.

 

I love the idea of frying until “fox colored.” This sweet little phrase came from a recipe husband came across while living in Japan. He was making the small meat-filled dumplings called gyoza. The directions, when translated into English said to “fry until fox colored.” Makes you think of the perfect shade of reddish gold. Just like your pretty little oat cakes.

 

Whereas oatmeal is usually a sweet breakfast dish, oat cakes are decidedly savory. I usually put a pinch of salt into the “batter” and a grinding of fresh pepper on top once fried. But it’s the toppings you serve them with that really make this a great breakfast dish. At our house, we love to serve oat cakes with achar. For those intimately familiar with Indian cuisine this is an addictive condiment served with everything from omelettes to freshly made parathas. 

 

Indians and Pakistanis believe that achar can cause sore throats or dry coughs. It’s definitely a bit spicy, but I’m not sure how it might contribute to a cough. Nonetheless, while traveling in Pakistan, having both and an addiction to garlic achar and a lingering dry cough, I ran into a bit of trouble. The family I was staying with insisted that I stay away from the achar to avoid prolonging my affliction. Not one to be put off so easily, I could be found most mornings in the kitchen begging the cook (who spoke as much English as I spoke Urdu) for achar using hand gestures and mime. Achar is good enough to risk both your respiratory health and family politics to get to eat it with your morning eggs or oat cakes. Try some!

Filled Under: food

Jan

22

The ultimate local food in Florida

Grapefruit is the ultimate local food in Florida. These beautiful, sweet, red fruits came from a friend’s backyard tree. This time of year, when citrus is plentiful around here, I have one every morning with my breakfast. All of those claims about grapefruit helping keep your weight down really do seem to be true. I’m not sure how it works, but every time I commit to losing a few pounds and have a grapefruit before breakfast (and sometimes dinner) it’s so much easier.

Filled Under: breakfast, food

Jan

14

Tomatoes to die for!

Fresh locally-grown tomatoes are a thing of wonder. Red, round, juicy and delicious these farm-grown beauties are far superior to their hearty, travel-weary supermarket cousins.

 

Husband and I hit another local farmers’ market on Sunday and found both red and yellow tomatoes. Tonight I cut up the red ones and dressed them with olive oil, balsamic vinegar, sea salt, freshly ground pepper and basil. We served them with some broiled salmon and cous cous. I haven’t had tomatoes liked these in ages!

 

I can hardly wait to enjoy the yellow one that sits invitingly on my kitchen counter.

Filled Under: food

Jan

12

Zen and the Art of Cheesemaking

cheesemaking

Making your own cheese is a great way to eat locally. Some local milk and some very local labor and you’ll be enjoying homemade cheese in under an hour.

My first memory of homemade cheese is from my teen years when my dad started making cheese. I remember cheesecloth balls draining at the sink. And yummy soft cheeses served just as is without even crackers. This was good stuff.

Looking back, I can see that my dad was an interesting mix of hi-tech gadget geek and a man longing for the old ways. When we lived in California we had an olive tree. So of course my dad set out to cure his own olives. Now that’s cool! My dad also made his own pasta, his own bread and, later in life, his own wine. His geek side meant that we had the first microwave, first VCR and first computer of anyone I knew.

I’m a bit of a gadget geek myself, but it was my dad’s hankering for homemade novelties that I remember most fondly. A few years before he died, my dad would wow relatives with his cheesemaking abilities, making a  beautiful, glossy, delicious round of mozzarella cheese in under an hour.

I like to think I take after my dad. For years, I have made my own bread, baked most things from scratch and helped with the family winemaking. (My geeky side means I have an iMac, and MacBook Pro and an iPhone.) So making cheese seemed like the obvious thing to do! In the last year or two, I’ve made mozzarella cheese a few times. With mixed success.

When it became clear that my dad was really dying, I set out to garner whatever cheesemaking ability he could pass on. So while my dad lay in his hospice bed in the living room (holding court as usual with lots of family members around), I set up in my mom’s kitchen with pots and bowls, thermometers and milk. At one point I snapped a quick picture of the developing curd with my iPhone so that Dad could take a critical look. That photo is here in this post. Yes, the curd was ready. Dad pronounced it! My perfect batch of mozzarella was soon ready to be tasted. I feel certain my dad was proud that day of that glossy ball of cheese. I’ll consider his wisdom passed on. So now it’s me that makes the cheese in the family (with plenty of help from husband). Some day I’ll pass the skill on to daughter.

I look back now and realize that the photo here was taken October 18, 2008. My dear dad passed away on October 22 (just days later). The cheese wisdom was passed on just in time!

For great information on cheesemaking and a recipe for mozzarella (and many more types of cheese) follow this LINK.

Filled Under: food

Jan

12

Eating Out Locally OR Fried Green Tomatoes

Eating locally-grown foods at home is one thing. Eating locally out is another.

 

Husband and I try to patronize locally-owned businesses as much as possible, but it’s not always easy.

 

Using our funky restaurant-finding app on the iPhone, Urbanspoon, we decided on the Whistle Stop Cafe. Their menu says they buy locally as much as possible and serve some local brews. To start, we ordered the fried green tomatoes. More of a novelty than anything, they were a pleasant way to start the meal. Service was good and friendly but very slow. But no matter, the band was great! And sitting outside on a warm but slightly breezy January evening in Florida is no hardship.

 
My main course featured fish tacos. Excellent! Served with rice and beans, it was a filling and delicious meal (if a bit monochromatic).

Filled Under: eating Out, food

Jan

9

Brown Rice for Breakfast


It’s becoming obvious that breakfast is a popular topic around here. A healthful breakfast really does set you up for the day. For most people, breakfast should be a combination of complex carbs and protein with a bit of fat thrown in for staying power. Common American breakfast foods such as cereal, donuts and other sweets are out.

 

So around our house, unconventional breakfast foods work out the best. A favorite is brown rice with healthful toppings of one sort of another. My husband prefers a fried egg, my daughter just a bit of sea salt and I prefer a bit of shredded cheddar cheese with a dash of sea salt.

 

Making brown rice can be a bit daunting… unless you have the right tools. Enter the super-duper Japanese rice cooker. Some rinsed brown rice, water up to here, set the timer for bright and early the next morning and you’re all set. The delightful aroma of freshly cooked nutty brown rice and a healthful breakfast await.

Filled Under: breakfast

Jan

8

Oatmeal

Oatmeal is amazing breakfast food if you do it right. Quick and instant oats are mere convenience foods. Meant only to save time, these oat incarnations are close to tasteless and textureless. But whole oats are quite another thing. They are low on the glycemic index which means they won’t raise your blood sugar quickly. They have staying power. On the days we have oats for breakfast, I can go quite a while before needing a snack.

 

Buy some Irish-style oats and start the night before. Add oats and equal parts warm water to a pan. Add a tablespoon or so of whole milk. Cover and leave out overnight. In the morning add the same amount of water again and a pinch of salt. Bring it up to bubbling on the stovetop and bubble, stirring, for three minutes.

 

We add heavy cream, nuts and dried fruit. Delicious!

 

Husband has informed me that my photo of our breakfast is not very appetizing! Sorry about that!

Filled Under: breakfast

Jan

6

Homemade bread

Today’s lunch was a tasty sandwich on my husband’s yummy homemade bread. Sun-dried tomatoes paired with fresh rosemary from the garden gave it its nubbly orange appearance accented with tiny bits of green. It tasted even better than it looks.

 

In our house we love homemade bread. Our last (and pictured) sun-dried tomato bread was an inspiration had by me and husband Steve. Our 11-year old daughter Amina is planning some oat bread later this week. Her inspiration came from her own tastes and a picture in a children’s cookbook.

 

There was a time when I would lovingly knead, shape and bake my own bread. There’s little more satisfying than creating a beautiful loaf of bread from just flour, water, salt and yeast. But times have changed and I no longer have the time in the kitchen that I used to, so not only does Husband make the bread these days, but, owing to his busy schedule as well, the bread machine comes into play. Although it doesn’t do quite the same job as hand kneading (I’ve done a bake off between me and machine), it does a fine job for our everyday bread. 

 

We love to throw in all sorts of goodies to liven up our bread. Past favorites have been parmesean cheese (use LOTS), black pepper (freshly ground) and an assortment of nuts and seeds.

Filled Under: food