Posts Tagged ‘South Florida’

Comforted By An Italian [Classic]

Just as I got used to the weird, off-balance silence of having one kid in college, she came back.  And Husband.  And teenage son (from school, that is.)  They all stayed at home one day. And then the next and then the next.  Days passed huddling around the television watching the news, hearing panicked-yet-professional reports from newscasters and meteorologist about this catastrophic growing (and staying strong!) storm called Irma:

We were doomed.  Florida was going underwater, after everything got blown away to bits, Big Bad Wolf style.

One of my sisters took her dog, got in the car, and headed north.  Way north.  D.C. I-ain’t-taking-no-chances north.  So did 1.3 million other Floridians- the biggest evacuation in the state’s history.

I can’t say I blame them.  After all, mandatory evacuations had been issued to 8 counties.  Anchormen had taken off their jackets and rolled up their sleeves, quite literally.  Our pretty, statuesque meteorologist, Lissette, suddenly looked pail, her lower lip slightly quivered.  She mentioned having slept over at the station. She mentioned missing her pretty daughters, the ones she always posted on Instagram wearing matching sundresses.  She mentioned her husband putting hurricane shutters OVER their hurricane-proof windows.

Wait, what?

I have hurricane-proof windows.

When we remodeled the house sixteen years ago, it was the single most expensive investment.  Burly men carried bunker-sturdy panels of double glass while chatting to each other in Italian in between puffs of unfiltered Camels.  I remember being impressed by their coordination: the lifting, the walking, the talking, and the smoking.  The fact that it was in a Romance language certainly elevated the experience.  And the sharp jaws, all lined with stubble before stubble became chic. That seemed part of their uniform.

You no worry, miss.  You and de baby will be so safe with dees now,”  Vitto promised.  De baby was my soon-to-be-born son, who’d turned my belly into a sphere freak show.

I knew Vitto by name because he was the one always fucking things up.

“Fai attenzione, Vitto!”

“Vitto! Non lasciare cadere il bicchiere, per amore di Dio!”

“Lentamente…lentamente….No più lento, Vitto! No!!!”

Ya, you had to feel a bit sorry for Vitto, really.

But even though he wasn’t as skilled in the hurricane-glass installation business as his brothers (I assumed they were brothers, they all had the same gorgeous eyes) they seemed not minding having him around.  He knew the best jokes, or, at least, fool-proof ways to make the others break into unbridled laughter.  His English was apparently the most advanced, so aside from encouraging phrases directed at my belly (“is gonna be a stronga boy, eh?  Molto forte!”) he also explained the lock mechanisms, the screen system, and other critical information one would need to know in the event of a hurricane.

Like the one barreling towards South Florida now.

It had been a while but I decided to trust Vitto and his brothers.  Irmageddon was approaching.  I had water.  I had batteries.  And I had faith in Italian craftsmanship.

It turned out I also had a lot of free time waiting for the storm to make landfall.  So I baked.  And I cooked.

Peanut butter cookies, brownies, cumin-marinated chicken and orange-infused pork tenderloin.  There was also plenty, and I mean plenty, of pasta.  That bump Vitto pointed at is now a constantly ravishing fifteen-year old boy.  Pasta is a favorite of his and he is quite flexible with what goes in it.  Pesto, seafood, bolognese, and vongole are top picks, but for all the Irma craziness, which thankfully only took a few beloved trees, I found comfort in a classic basic spaghetti al pomodoro.   Sometimes the sweetest and simplest things are the ones that help make us feel safe, happy and molto forte.

Spaghetti Pomodoro (Pasta in Tomato Sauce


  • 3 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1/2 cup onion, minced
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 16-ounce can of whole tomatoes (Marzano, if you can find)
  • 1 tablespoon tomato paste
  • 1/4 cup water
  • 4-6 whole basil leaves (you can also use some more for garnish)
  • 3 tablespoons heavy whipping cream
  • salt, to taste
  • 1 lbs. of spaghetti
  • 4 quarts water
  • 1 tablespoon salt


  1. Heat oil in a 2-quart saucepan over medium heat. Add onion and garlic and stir until clear, five minutes.
  2. Add whole tomatoes and tomato paste, raise heat to high and bring to a boil, stirring.
  3. Reduce heat to medium/low and add water and basil leaves.
  4. Partially cover and leave on a slow simmer for 30 minutes.
  5. Add salt, to taste.
  6. Remove basil leaves and place in a blender.
  7. Blend (be sure to hold top of blender!)
  8. Adjust seasoning and add cream.
  9. Meanwhile, prepare pasta- boil 4 quarts salted water and cook spaghetti until it is al dente (read package for time.)
  10. Place pasta in a large bowl and add sauce, mixing thoroughly.
  11. Serve immediately (you can add additional basil leaves for decoration)
  12. Serves 4-6 (or one teenage boy)

Whatever It Takes, Please!


I’m not reinventing the wheel, I’m just trying to get my kid to eat more fish.

Whatever it takes.

(It takes loads of mayonnaise.)

(And a personable, friendly chef.)

My fifteen year-old daughter and I watch a show called Check, Please! hosted by the talented, darling of Miami, Michelle Bernstein. Every week three amateur foodies sit around a table with Chef Michy discussing and rating the meals enjoyed at their favorite local restaurants. My daughter loves watching Chef Michelle’s cheerful and approachable style and is eager to point out the guests’ practiced waves and accidental blunders on television.

She also always suggests that I recommend our favorite culinary spots but then quickly changes her mind, telling me I’d make a terrible guest: I’d be too impatient with my fellow reviewers, the ones that struggle pronouncing mojito or have never tried quail. She giggles as she tells me this.

I think it’s a compliment.

Michelle always shares a recipe that runs with the theme of the show and last week’s was all about seafood so she offered up her tartar sauce.

About five years ago, my daughter declared she doesn’t eat fish, which is tricky, because the rest of the family could probably eat fish every single day. Still, she hears the word “mayonnaise” and is ready to reconsider. She loves anything slathered in the stuff, and when she learns this sauce has chopped pickles and capers (two of her favorite ingredients) and is mandatory for fish (according to her newest idol, Chef Michy) she listens and nods.

For added effect, she sends me an accusatory look, the one that screams I’ve been depriving her of nourishment by not providing her with this tartar sauce. Soon I’ll hear that this is the reason she hasn’t eaten fish. And, of course, it’s all my fault.


I’m impressed by Chef Michelle’s influence and wonder if she has a teenage daughter of her own. I also want to invite Michi over to my house, not necessarily to bond over one of her stellar recipes (although I’m sure that would be cool) but because I’m hoping she can work some magic on Daniela’s tepid sentiments towards neatness.

Or helping with the trash.

Or any request, really, that comes out of my mouth. Everything is up for grabs for an argument these days.

But this recipe has her quiet and attentive.

I think I even heard the word please, as in:
“Mom, you need to make that sauce. If you do, I’ll eat fish.    Please.”

Yup. You gotta listen close, but, it’s there.

I pull out my vat of mayonnaise (restaurant size tub courtesy of Costco.)

I mix the ingredients.

I bake fish.

And pray.

Dear God, I pray.

The salmon is done and the sauce is ready. It’s tangy, tart, and creamy. A thousand calories per bite, but who cares, my daughter, my daughter, is eating fish tonight.

Chef Michy's Tartar Sauce

(adapted from “Check Please, South Florida!”) Ok, I like my tartar sauce loaded up and spicy, which is why I use way less mayo than the original recipe while keeping the other ingredients pretty much the same. Obviously, if you want it more mayonnaisey, add more of the stuff, less spicy, take it down a notch with the Sriracha.


  • 2 tablespoons capers, minced
  • 4 tablespoons dill pickles, minced
  • 2 tablespoons flat parsley, minced
  • 1 teaspoon dried dill
  • 2 teaspoons Sriracha sauce
  • ¼ teaspoon black pepper
  • 1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice
  • ½ cup mayonnaise
  • salt, to taste
  • Plop in a bowl. Mix. Scoop onto fish, fish sandwiches, salad, whatever!

Stormy weather, steamy soup



Sometimes there are wet, grey days in South Florida.

Nothing like the weather making the news headlines today:  Colorado, covered in its first major snow of the season or the ice storm threatening Texas.

This weather is subtle; the type that would piss the rest of the country off, folk would curse, “those guys are softies” under their breath and keep shoveling a path to the driveway.  But for us South Floridians, spoiled with an excessive amount of sunshine and warmth, these are the days that make us sigh and complain, wondering, for a second, if we are living elsewhere, London or Seattle; somewhere a constant drizzle is expected.

Today is not one of those days. Today is glorious and crisp and sunny, a day I’d be best served not to complain about and rather embrace and feel thankful I live where I do.  But what about those gray days?   And what if such a day falls on a Saturday?  What is one supposed to do with a day filled with vague, light rain in South Florida?

Okay, yes, there’s that one thing.  Yes.

But what if your significant other is away, on business, again?


Mine is absent more and more these days, sucked to distant hemispheres by pressing business deals that must be closed or absent-minded manufacturing mistakes that must be corrected; all sacrifices one makes when running one’s own international, multi-global business, he’d tell me in His Professional Voice.


Which is all good and fine on sunny weekend days. On those days I’ll walk along the beach, take the kids out for some soft ice cream, or catch some rays by my pool in the backyard.

But gray and gloomy weekends are another matter all together.  Gray and gloomy Saturdays are for snuggling, catching-a-movie-on-Netflix, and spilling microwave popcorn on each other’s lap.  They are days of leisure studded with long naps and oblivion.


I struggle on these bleak weekends when my side of the bed is the only one slept in and there are no size 11 shoes strewn about for me to trip over.  The kids are snatched by their computer’s mesmerizing glare and silence reigns, thanks to those bright blue Beats headphones I thought would make such a perfect gift for them one noisy afternoon.  Now they wear those things nonstop and it’s as if they’ve disappeared entirely, save for the occasional chuckle that escapes them or a random demand for a cheese stick or yogurt.  I should rejoice and skip around the house like Maria did in West Side Story, feeling pretty, but instead, I turn grumpy and gloomy and sad, feeling isolated and alone, thinking of all the bonding I could be doing with my significant other, if only he were in the same time zone.


Luckily I have a well-stocked refrigerator.

This is the antidote to all forms of depression, if you’re wondering.

Restlessness or boredom or simple nostalgia are all tempered at the stovetop.


Mushroom soup is particularly restorative.  It’s smooth and rich and sophisticated yet simple.  You’ll feel like Cinderella the night of the Ball.


It all starts with onions.  You know me well by now, it always starts with sautéing onions in olive oil.  And then you are on your way.  Chop the mushrooms up fine, after having wiped them clean with a damp cloth.  No need to rinse, no need to douse them in unnecessary water.

Are you a garlic kind of a guy/gal?  Then mince up a clove or two and add it to the mix.  See how the day begins to brighten?


Really, if you are feeling unbearably down and out, you could just end the whole thing right here.

Maybe you’d squeeze a half a lime and grind some fresh pepper and coarse sea salt and lights out.  Scoop the stuff up with toast, but first sprinkle on some fresh parsley for color and bite.

This, and a fresh copy of the latest People magazine, could turn any afternoon around.

But we are persevering and sticking to our soup goal.  Oh, it will be worth it.  You will do the mushroom toast thing some other time.

And you are almost there, anyhow, with the soup.

Add stock.

A sloppy splash of Sherry and a steady drizzle of heavy whipping cream follows and then let it all simmer for a bit.   Salt and pepper it to your liking.

If you have one of those fancy blenders, the ones with the massive base that looks like it could launch a space shuttle, then go for it, put all that in there and whip away.

Man, that stuff comes out beautiful: velvety smooth.

But if you don’t have it, don’t fret.  Use your regular blender.  Or your immersion blender.  Or you know what?  Leave the pieces of everything in there.

It’s your call.  It’s raining after all.  The in-laws aren’t coming over.

Let’s hope.

Thick, crusty bread goes well with this soup and I happened to have baked some the other day, the kind that mocks diets and begs for a healthy slather of Irish or French butter.  Butter, I tell you, butter.  None of this laboratory hocus pocus that is dyed yellow and promises it is something it is not. No, butter.


I will ladle this mushroom soup into a bowl and sit down at a table set for one, sipping and reading my newspaper; noshing on a slice of chewy sourdough and listening to the drops of rain falling outside, wondering what exotic street food my beloved will be sampling on the other side of the planet.

The term soulmate sounds sticky and trite until it actually kicks into gear, like now, in this melancholic moment when I will get a call and it will be him, eager to tell me the outcome of the negotiation or the transformed product design, but not before he shares in detail the tenderness of the octopus he savored in Shenzhen or the fish ball noodle soup he slurped noisily in a cramped alley of Hong Kong.

There are too many illustrious plates of grilled shrimp and steamed flounder and calves heads he must convey under the prickly fuzz of a poor connection.  These are meals he, too, appreciates in solitude, hastily devoured in between appointments with men who wear oversized suits and smoke too much and speak quickly in foreign tongues.


I, in turn, will tell him about that bread I baked, how even though it didn’t rise as I wished it would, it sort of spread outwards against the pan, it is still lovely when warmed and teased with butter or a drizzle of orange blossom honey.  How it goes perfectly with the soup on this wet Saturday.


We’ll chuckle during this conversation, I know.  He’ll ask me to save him some soup. We are separated by oceans and time zones and obligations that have him sitting alone at a table over there and me sitting alone at our table here.

I will save him a bowl, for later.  It freezes well, you see.


Mushroom Soup


  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1 onion, minced
  • 2 garlic cloves, minced (optional)
  • 8 oz. fresh mushrooms (use whatever kind you fancy), cleaned and sliced
  • 2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
  • 4 cups chicken stock
  • ¼ cup Sherry
  • ½ cup heavy whipping cream
  • salt and pepper to taste


  1. Heat up olive oil in a heavy pot over medium heat.
  2. Add onion and sauté until fragrant, 2 minutes.
  3. Add garlic and sauté 1 minute.
  4. Add mushrooms and sauté, stirring, for 5 minutes.
  5. Add flour and combine well, stirring regularly, for 3 minutes. This is going to help thicken your soup.
  6. Add stock and sherry, salt and pepper and bring to a boil (increase heat slightly.) Reduce heat to medium/low and simmer for 15 minutes, stirring occasionally.
  7. Adjust seasoning.
  8. Blend, with a standing and/or immersion blender, if you want.
  9. Add cream.
  10. Serves 2-4.

awesome green bean and chicken salad: finding your other limb

beths-green-bean-saladSummer is almost over, I can tell.  It’s not the weather by any means, no, Florida sticks solidly to its high 90’s with heat index pushing it to a proud, stifling 107.  Now that’s summer for you.  But still, the general laziness that floated through the air is drying up.  You see it in stores piled high with notebooks and polo shirts and neon rulers.  “Back to school” is retail’s current desperate buzzword.

My summer was a patchwork of ups and downs, including a phenomenal culinary adventure through France, Israel and Spain, some peace from parenting with a child off in sleep-away camp, and then, believe it or not, all the anxiety that actually accompanies the peace from parenting with a child off in camp.  I’m slightly embarrassed to admit I missed my girl in the most exaggerated sense of the word and didn’t heed the advice all those before me had given: ‘enjoy the time to yourself, enjoy being just with your easy-going son, enjoy this enjoy that, I’ll see life in a whole other way; oh enjoy enjoy enjoy.

When my melancholic state first absorbed me, friends assured me it was perfectly normal: I had to get used to her being gone.  But in truth and quite blatantly, I never, ever did.  I missed that annoying-but-loveable-high-maintenance-ten-going-on-forty daughter of mine like crazy and, like an amputee, I felt I’d lost something inherently mine and roamed through my day looking for my newly lost limb.

This longing, I realized soon enough, included my life in the kitchen.  Whereas my child will not touch a salad even if it were the only thing left on this planet, she most certainly will direct me on how to make one: the best produce to use, how to add a splash of color to it, give it the right textures, and then, how to photograph it.  She is a visual person at heart, like me, and inevitably is enticed and enamored with the world of food.  What choice did she have after all?  She has eagerly served as my little sweatshop of stirring, measuring, enhancing, and tasting since she was old enough to burp.

So, although I knew she was having a blast at camp, was growing as a person, was making new connections, and all that crap, I was happy as a clam when the day to pick her up arrived.  After she had finished spewing all her updates on the past month, she insisted on knowing mine: how was the site doing, what was the latest thing I had cooked, and then proudly informed me she had told ‘some famous person who came to speak at the camp’ to check out my site.  I couldn’t really get more information about who this person was, so, for all I know, it could have been the local handyman checking out the plumbing situation, but, just the thought of my ten-year old plugging my site to some stranger in North Carolina made me tear up with happiness and pride.

On our drive back to South Florida we stopped at my best friend’s house near Orlando for a couple of nights.  Her kids and my kids consider themselves cousins and immediately set off to play as Beth and I caught up and soon found the conversation turning towards lunch.  “I’ve got the perfect summer salad”, she offered, perking my attention instantly.  She pulled from the chaos of her fridge a colorful green bean salad that we proceeded to devour ravenously.  Crispy sweet green beans nestled with plump plum tomatoes, crunchy almonds and grilled chunks of chicken marinated in a tangy balsamic dressing shouted simplicity and summer in one glorious symphony of taste.  My daughter soon heard all the accolades I was throwing at Beth and gravitated towards the kitchen to see what was going on.

“Mom, that is a beautiful salad! You should photograph it!” she urged, her almond-shaped eyes twinkling in the sun.

I don’t know if it was the way her amber hair curled from being in the pool, how tall and even more lovely she had gotten in only one month, or the smooth and sweet taste of summer that still rested happily on my tongue, but the eloquent confidence with which my girl had made her suggestion made me realize this was the perfect ending to my summer.  As I held a forkful of Beth’s Green Bean and Chicken Salad and watched Dani rearrange the tomatoes so they’d “pop” in the photograph, I knew instantly and so very gladly that I’d found my other limb.

Ensalada de Judías Verdes Con Pollo:  Extrañando Mi Asistente
El verano esta casi por terminar.  No es por el clima por ningún medio, Florida sigue firmemente y sofocantemente caliente. Pero de todos modos, la pereza general que flotaba por el aire se ha marchado. Se ve esto en tiendas llenas con cuadernos y camisas de polo y articulos escolares.  “De regreso a la escuela” es el cliché desesperado corriente de la venta al por menor.
Mi verano era un remiendo de altibajos, incluso una aventura culinaria fenomenal por Francia, Israel y España, un poco de paz de mi rol de mama con mi hija lejos en el campamento de verano, y luego, la ansiedad que crea, aparentemente la paz de mi rol de mama con mi hija lejos en el campamento de verano. Estoy hasta avergonzada para confesar que eché de menos a mi muchacha en el sentido más exagerado de la palabra y no presté atención al consejo todos me habían dado: ‘disfruta del tiempo, disfrute estar solo con tu hijo, quien es tan tranquilo, disfruta esto disfruta lo otro, veré la vida de otro modo completamente; ah disfruta disfruta disfruta.’

Cuando mi estado melancólico primero me absorbió, los amigos me aseguraron que era absolutamente normal: tuve que acostumbrarme a que no estuviera mi hija. Pero en verdad nunca me acostumbre. Me hacia falta aquella chica adorable pero dificil, una de diez pero de veras una de cuarenta; esa hija mía me hacia falta como loca y, como una persona amputada, sentí que yo había perdido algo intrínsecamente mío y vagada durante mi día buscando mi miembro recién perdido.
Me hacia falta tambien en mi vida en la cocina. Mientras que mi hija no tocará una ensalada aun si esto fuera la única cosa dejada en este planeta, ella más seguramente me dirigirá en como preparar la major ensalada: los mejores productos para usar, como añadirle un chapoteo de color, darle textura y luego, como fotografiarlo. Ella es una persona visual, como yo, e inevitablemente es atraída y enamorada por el mundo de la comida. ¿Qué opción tenía ella después de todo? Ha servido con impaciencia como mi pequeña esclava, o, major dicho, asistente desde que era bebecita.
De este modo, aunque yo supeira que ella la pasó de maravilla en el campamento, que crecío como persona, hizo nuevas amistades, y todo lo de mas, el día mas contento mío era el día que la fuimos a recoger del campamento. Después de que ella había terminado de contar todas sus aventuras durante el mes pasado, ella insistió en saber las mías: como va el website, que era la última cosa que había cocinado, y luego orgullosamente me informó que había contado ‘alguna persona famosa que vino hablar en el campamento’ sobre mi website. Yo realmente no podía conseguir más información sobre quién esta persona era, así que, podría haber sido el plomero local que vino a ver algo de una poseta tapada, pero, sólo el pensar que mi hija le hablara a alguien sobre mi website en las montañas de Carolina del Norte me lleno con felicidad y orgullo.
En nuestro regreso a Florida del Sur paramos en la casa de mi mejor amiga,  cerca de Orlando para un par de noches. Sus niños y mis niños se consideran primos e inmediatamente salen para jugar.  Beth y yo hablamos hasta que la conversación llegó a lo del almuerzo. “Tengo la ensalada de verano perfecta”, ofreció ella, animando mi atención al instante. Sacó del caos de su nevera una ensalada de judías verdes que nos pusimos a devorar vorazmente. Las judías verdes dulces y crujientes se acomodaron con tomates, almendras crujientes y pedacitos de pollo a la parrilla adobado en una vinagreta sencilla de vinagre balsámico que anunciaba con orgullo los sabores del verano en una
sinfonía gloriosa del gusto. Mi hija pronto oyó todos nuestra bulla y se acercó la cocina para ver lo que ocurría.
¡“Mamá, que ensalada tan hermosa! ¡Deberías fotografiarla!” ella insistió, sus ojos color miel centellaban en el sol.
No sé si era la riza de su pelo al salir de la piscina, o que tal alta y hasta más encantadora se había puesto en sólo un mes, o el sabor delicioso de verano que todavía descansaba felizmente sobre mi lengua, pero la confianza elocuente con la cual mi hija había hecho su sugerencia me hizo realizar que este era el final perfecto a mi verano. Miré Dani reajustar los tomates dentro de la ensalada pra que se viera mas bonita la foto y en ese instante sabía que había encontrado al encontrado esa ausencia que tanta falta me habia hecho.
La Ensalada de Judía Verde Con Pollo de Elizabeth Anderson
Para el adobo:
Taza de 2/3 vinagre balsámico
Taza de 1/3 aceite de oliva
3 cucharones mostaza  Dijon
1 cucharón jugo de limón fresco
1 cucharilla de condimento italiano seco
sale pimienta, al gusto
4 pechugas de pollo deshuesadas
Para la ensalada:
1 libra de judías verdes
1 pinta de tomates de ciruelo, partidos por la mitad
1 taza almendras en rebanadas (tostarlas es opcional)
Pollo cocinado en pedazos de 1 pulgada*
*ver abajo
Prepáre el adereso:
Añada el vinagre balsámico, la mostaza, el jugo de limón, y el condimento a un tazón de cristal y batidor hasta bien combinado. Lentamente chorrear el aceite de oliva, batiendo constantemente, hasta combinar. Añada la sal y la pimienta.
Reserve la mitad del adobo para usar como vinagreta despues.
*Añada el pollo al adobo restante y cubrir generosamente. Cubrir con plastico y refrigerarlo.
El pollo tiene mas gusto si se remoja durante toda la noche, pero tambien se puede remojar un minimo de dos horas. De le vuelta al pollo varias veces durante el proceso de adobo.
Prepare la ensalada:
*Quite al pollo del adobo.
Calienta una cazuela de parrilla o parrilla al aire libre a calor alto medio y cocine el pollo, aproximadamente 7-10 minutos en cada lado.
Quite de la parrilla y permita que las pechugas de pollo descansen unos 5 minutos.
Mientras tanto, cocine al vapor las judías verdes 4-5 minutos. Quite del vapor y remoje con agua fría.
Pique el pollo en cubos de una pulgada, coloque en un tazón grande y añada la vinagreta restante, mezclando bien hasta que el pollo este bien remojado. Añada judías verdes, tomates y almendras al pollo y mezclar bien.
Ajuste el condimento.
Sirve 6

tropical scallops: lost in a pineapple

pinaIn my last post I announced fruits and veggies would be on my mind, and so I have been thinking about pineapples. I feel they’ve been shamed in my sub-tropical turf of South Florida: they keep appearing packaged in odd, cylindrical shafts in the supermarket: peeled, cored and ruined of outer beauty, all for the unbeatable price of $5.99. The pineapple, known to scientists as ananas comosus, has a rich and long history, dating back to its origins in Southern Brazil and Paraguay before the Spanish explorers got wind of this delectable fruit when they reached the new land. After the Spaniards got in on things, they took it back to Europe where it made its way to the Phillipines and eventually Hawaii. The rest is history. And that’s history I don’t want to see pre-packaged in cylindrical plastic, I don’t care how rushed we all are.

I live a quiet, gastronomic revolution amongst my culinary-challenged bretheren, a sort of one-woman show that entails pathetic little habits I practice to spread my word of food. One of which involves the pineapple: I’m in the supermarket. I walk up to a real live normal pineapple, nestled amongst an untouched pile of real live normal pineapples, pick it up and raise it towards the sky just as King Mufasa lifted his baby cub Simba to the heavens in the 1994 film, The Lion King and announce to the sterile air piping Lionel Richie’s “Three Times A Lady”:

“Ahhhh. I think I will get THIS pineapple.”

Then I wait and look around. (I do, I really do. Because I believe I have some sort of undiagnosed egocentric culinary illness that compels me to do this.) And then it happens. It always happens. Someone looks at me in subtle shock while trying to squeeze a bag of pre-packaged, pre-rinsed, perfectly chiseled germ and flavor-free produce. There may even be a slight gasp. And then I am bestowed with a combined look of awe, admiration, and pity as folk wonder how I will ever achieve bliss or understanding holding that spiky odd contraption they’ve been told houses pineapple flesh but never, ever, ever have known how to reach. It’s a sick thrill, but, someone’s gotta seek it. I’ll have the occasional gutsy housewife come up to me and ask how on earth I get the pineapple from there and for God’s sake, why.

It’s a perfect opportunity for me to teach about food, something I can’t help myself with, carefully explaining the proper way to cut a pineapple depending on the dish: thin, round rings for a delicate pineapple upside down cake or small cubes to caramelize tenderly with red peppers, onions and cilantro for a Florribean specialty of Tropical Sea Scallops. By the time I am done even the manager who had been eyeing me nervously is just about ready to hand me a knife and a small card table in the corner for free demonstrations.

Housewife’s brow is beginning to burrow and her lips tighten in disapproval and I know what she is thinking: she is wondering why bypass the clean $5.99 plastic pineapple special for this one, with all the waste it will produce. And then there’s the need to actually touch it. Get sticky. Feel fruit. And before she fully loses herself in that bad, bad, world, I explain the difference of freshly cut fruit and fruit that’s been sitting around under cold neon lights, that even though pre-cut produce is a thriving industry, it is one that absolutely and utterly compromises the flavor. I tell her there is nothing lovelier than carving out one’s food, reaching for that gold fruit with sticky fingers and losing oneself in a moment of sunshine and bliss and as I tell her this her face relaxes and a smile spreads over her chapped lips and she licks them as if she can already taste the fruit’s gem.

Yes, I’ve peaked her interest I see. If I were a man this may even work other wonders… I tell her that using the whole pineapple is possible, even practiced in many places. Throw the peel, unwashed and all, into a pitcher of water and let it ferment for several days until it turns into a tasty, slightly alcoholic pineapple guarapo, a popular Venezuelan weekend drink. Take the crown and create a centerpiece with it if you’ve got the Martha Stewart in you, or root it and plop it into a pot of dirt and see how a new pineapple will eventually form. Get your hands dirty while you’re at it, lady. Always get your hands dirty, close your eyes, and savor the sweetness of life. I know. I have screaming children too and I need to do this. Regularly. Cutting and carving and dicing and eating this golden slice of paradise so beats the $200 bucks an hour shrink or a shiatsu massage, I promise her. So beats it.

I’ve gotten lost in a pineapple again and in doing so I’ve closed my eyes. When I am done I open them to see she is hugging two whole pineapples, invigored and renewed; she thanks me, ready to take on the world with sweetness and earth, one sticky slice at a time.



Bienvenidos a Culinary Compulsion en Español!

Hoy estoy pensando en la piña, o ananás.

Me parece que esta fruta no ha recibido el tratamiento que merece aquí en la tierra subtropical del sur de Florida. En vez de celebrar la piña, la veo encarcelada en cilíndricos plásticos en el supermercado donde vive desnuda de su belleza externa.

La piña, conocida a científicos como ananás comosus, tiene una historia rica y larga, empezando con sus orígenes en Brasil y Paraguay, luego fue introducida a Europa por los conquistadores y de allí viajo a las islas Filipinas y finalmente Hawaii donde despego como una de las frutas mas comercializadas del mundo. El resto es historia. Así que no me da gusto ver la historia embalada en un plástico cilíndrico, no me importa que tal apresurado estemos.

He creado hábitos un poco patéticos que practico para vocalizar mi frustración sobre la falta de entendimiento culinario entre la comunidad Americana. Uno en particular es para informar la gente sobre la piña: entrando al supermercado, voy hacia la montaña de piñas abandonadas, agarro una de estas bellesas, y en mi voz mas alta le informo al mundo:

“Ahhhh… comprare ESTA piña.”

Entonces espero y miro alrededor. (Lo hago, realmente lo hago. Como creo que tengo alguna clase de enfermedad culinaria egocéntrica no diagnosticada esto es mi vicio.)

Y lo hago porque se que va pasar algo. Siempre pasa. Alguien me mira en asombro mientras tratan de apretar una bolsa de espinaca o lechuga o pimentón rojo picado- no importa que es, pero siempre es algo esteril y sin sabor. A vecez hasta oigo un grito reprimido de sorpresa, inevitablemente vienen miradas de temor, admiración, y compasión mientras me observan y tratan de imaginar como ese objeto que tengo entre mis manos me traerá la fruta dulce de la piña- algo que han visto en libros o revistas pero nunca, nunca han entendido como alcanzar.

Habrá una ama de casa curiosa que me preguntara que se hace con eso. Es mi oportunidad perfecta para educar sobre la comida y no me puedo contener.

Con cuidado le explico la manera apropiada de cortar una piña según el plato que se vaya prepara: anillos delgados y redondos para una torta de piña patas arriba o pequeños cubos para acaramelar tiernamente con pimientas rojas, cebollas y cilantro para una especialidad de comida Floribeana de Vieiras de Mar Tropicales. Cuando termino de explicarle hasta el gerente que había estado observándome nerviosamente está listo para darme un cuchillo y una pequeña mesa de juego para dar clases de cocina en la esquina.

La ama de casa me da una mirada de desaprobación y sé lo que piensa: ella se pregunta por qué evitar la piña plástica de $5.99 para ésta, con toda la basura que producirá y el desastre pegajoso de tocar la fruta. Antes de que ella se pierda en el rincón oscuro de ignorancia, le explico la diferencia de sabor entre una fruta frescamente picada y una que ha vivido en un envase plástico. Le explico que no hay nada mas sabroso que perderse en el sabor dulce y pegajoso de una piña recién picada, y que aunque en su mundo estéril donde nunca lo ha hecho, le pareciera extraño y sucio, es, al contrario, una experiencia llena de sabor y vida que la dejara mas contenta aun.

Ella me escucha atentamente, ya casi convencida. Le informo que la piña se puede usar completamente: la concha sirve para un sabroso guarapo y la corona puede usarse de decoración o hasta para crear otra piña, si tiene paciencia. Le urjo que lo intente, que compre su piña completa y abandone los envases plásticos y cuando termine de hablar ella me dio las gracias y vi que ya tienia en sus brazos dos piñas completas, que cargó con ternura y orgullo, lista para conquistar el mundo, un trozo de piña a la vez.