Easy Shrimp Dish….

There are times in this household when a single ingredient drives a meal and that was the situation last week. The grocery store had tomatillos on sale. Now to begin with, they don’t always have tomatillos in stock. When they are there, the quality is not always what I want. In this case, they were nice and I grabbed extra, not entirely certain of what I was going to do with them. Ah ha, it came to me. This was a few days after my wonderful foray to Olive Morada (http://olivemorada.com) and one of the oils I bought was cilantro and roasted garlic. We always keep tail-on, frozen unshelled shrimp on hand and of course there are onions, garlic, and limes. I did the quick thaw on the shrimp, peeled them, rinsed them, patted them dry, and put them in a plastic container. Poured in 1 TBS of the flavored olive oil, 1 TBS tequila, and 3 or 4 grinds of black pepper. Put a lid on and shook the container to coat the shrimp, then left them in the fridge for a few hours.

Later, I turned the oven to 400 and lined a cookie sheet with foil. Quartered the 6 tomatillos, sliced half a medium red onion, sliced 1 jalapeno, and put everything on the cookie sheet. I drizzled with the flavored oil, sprinkled with smoked sea salt (about 1 tsp) and 2 or 3 grinds of fresh pepper. I stirred everything around to mix and coat with olive oil, ending up with a flat layer on the cookie sheet. I peeled two cloves of garlic, drizzled the garlic with a little of the flavored oil, wrapped them in a small piece of foil and placed that in the corner of the cookie sheet. (Garlic will burn faster than the other items roast and enclosing it completely in foil prevents the problem) I roasted everything for 20-25 minutes, removed the cookie sheet, took the garlic out of the little packet and dumped it in with the tomatillos and onions.  Then I simply folded the foil up into a packet to let the steam work on the mixture. You can do this step ahead of time like I did if you want. The roasted mixture can sit in the foil for hours.

I like to take shrimp out of the fridge 30 minutes before I cook it. I heated a skillet on medium-high heat, added one more TBS of the flavored oil, and sautéed the shrimp for about 4 minutes, turning them once. I removed them from the skillet onto a plate, turned the heat to medium-low and dumped the contents of the foil packet into the skillet. I added 2 TBS of tequila, 1 TBS lime juice, 1/3 cup of chicken stock (you can use veggie or seafood stock, too) and used the stick blender to create a sauce. (If you don’t have a stick blender, you can use a regular blender or dice the veggies before you roast them. They’ll break down more while roasting). As soon as the sauce was blended, I put the shrimp back in, stirred thoroughly and cooked the shrimp for one more minute. You can cook for up to three more minutes, but not much beyond that or you risk the shrimp being rubbery.

There are several steps, but they’re all pretty quick and the dish has a great flavor. You can add more jalapenos or use dashes of your favorite hot sauce if you want to spice it up.



A Great Find for Local Crafts……

Cindy Johnson with Homemade Gourmet Jellies

Cindy Johnson with Homemade Gourmet Jellies

(A quick note. I thought I posted this two weeks ago and finally realized it was still in my draft folder)

Whenever possible, I arrange my trip to Louisiana to include seeing old friends in Natchitoches. For those who follow the blog, you know that’s where I lived from fourth grade through college and it is one of four towns I used to create the fictional town of Wallington, Georgia for Small Town Lies and the series. For others who might be new to the post, notwithstanding the significance as the oldest town in the Louisiana Purchase (1714, two years before N.O.), it is also the hometown of Robert Hartling who wrote Steel Magnolias and is where the movie was filmed. The Christmas festival shown in the movie is very much for real and several other festivals have been added to the annual calendar. When tourists come, they like to wander among kiosks or shops.

A brand new, wonderful little shop, the Lagniappe Craft Market, at 124 St Denis St, is now open although I’m not sure they have a website yet. (318 521-8101). The store is devoted to local crafts, and my dear friends, Cindy and Burley Johnson, are each enjoying their “craft” side. Cindy has developed a line of homemade jellies – Carrot Cake and Blueberry Pineapple Pepper being two of them. Burley has this amazing collection of hand-crafted fishing ties. Jelly, I can taste, and it’s terrific. Not being an angler, I can only say the ties look as good as any that I have seen on television. Burley also has them mounted on little plaques for the perfect touch for décor that is fishing or outdoor themed. The shop of course has jewelry and other items that again, are all locally made. It is a delight to browse in and if you’re shopping for a gift (or for yourself), the odds are you’ll find something you like.

Burley Johnson with Decorative and Useful Handcrafted Fishing Flies

Burley Johnson with Decorative and Useful Handcrafted Fishing Flies

A Must Do Little Shop….

Wonderful olive oils to choose from at Olive Morada (MM82.2 Oceanside)

Wonderful olive oils to choose from at Olive Morada (MM82.2 Oceanside)

Do not get me wrong – we do enjoy a trek “up the road” to go to Fresh Market, Whole Foods, and Trader Joes, but that’s when we want to get a number of items. Despite having seen it a couple of months ago and now finding out they’ve been open for well over a year, I finally popped into Olive Morada at MM 82.2 Oceanside (http://olivemorada.com). It’s amazing and you simply have to go there. Plan at least 20 minutes for your first trip and maybe a little longer. They aren’t a large shop and you can easily zip past them, so slow down and look carefully as you get close.

Their olives oils and balsamic vinegars are incredible and that’s the proper word. Some bottles are pre-packaged, but because they have large containers they can dispense from, you can buy different sizes. I restrained myself after choosing a medium Tuscan Herb, a small Persian Lime, a small  Cilantro and Roasted Garlic on the olive oil side and a small coconut white balsamic vinegar. Those are only a few selections of what they have. At some point we might cook with the Persian Lime, but right now, I’m using it for salad. They have other packaged items as well and a few cheeses, so if you are looking to make a gift basket (or just grab a quick hostess gift), you can’t go wrong here. They also do baskets if I remember correctly.

It is a delightful place and I am trying to spread the word. Go see for yourself and I’m willing to bet you’ll have the same reaction.

Other packaged items at Olive Morada

Other packaged items at Olive Morada

Kind of Like Making Lemonade From Lemons…..

Although I don’t remember exactly why,  the other day I thought about an incident from my childhood. Being raised in the deep South in small towns, church “dinner on the grounds” was a given. (By the way, that was when “dinner” meant lunch, and “supper” was the evening mean.) As she often did, Mother made a pound cake – she preferred the tube pan over the loaf type – and aside from the fact my brother and I knew better, it really was a tempting sight. Hey, a little pinch from the top wouldn’t really be noticeable or so it seemed. Needless to say, a pinch became more than one and the end result was quite noticeable. After the initial yelling and predictable spanking, there was the question of what to do about the cake. Rewarding us by letting us enjoy it and baking another one was either not practical or not considered. I don’t remember that part. Again, being a good Southern household, we had a store of pecans on hand. Maple syrup was not a stable, but cane syrup (dark and light) was and thus, a toasted pecan and syrup topping was whipped up, drizzled over the unsightly cake, all signs of damaged concealed. And yes, compliments on the cake were also received the next day.

That was one of life’s little lessons, in a) not always being nearly as clever as you think, and b) creativity can rectify a distressing situation at times.

Don’t be Afraid Little Frog…..

There are certain realities about living in South Florida that have to do with local wildlife. Having a swimming pool means you will attract or have interaction with some of those animals in a different way. We do have a fence and therefore have not to date had alligators, caimans, or crocodiles pay us a visit. The day we had a snake wasn’t fun and we still haven’t figured out how we got the crab in the pool one time. I mean it had to have come from a distance.

Anyway, various birds are constantly dipping in only to be disappointed in tasting chlorine, and the most frequent problem is the tiny frogs that are not much larger than my fingernail. We manage to rescue quite a few, although not all by any means. Yesterday, I really was doing my best, but as usually happens, the thought of being scooped up gets translated in their little frog brains as, “I’m going to be eaten”, and they engage in escape maneuvers. I do understand, and the one yesterday was either more determined than others or I was slower than I thought. At any rate, he did finally get deposited outside the pool and hopefully will go one to live a nice frog life among the vegetation of which we have plenty. It so happens that we also had quite a few dead “big head ants” (I don’t know the proper name) floating in the pool and I noticed one very live one minding his own business on the hard deck. He was well away from the house, so I saw no reason to bother him. The gecko that dashed over and gobbled him up was another matter entirely. Ah well, such is the animal kingdom.

Trying Not to Feel Guilty…..

My lack of posts are a direct result of being in a critical phase of working on the new non-fiction book combined with juggling other tasks I’ve postponed – like posting to the blog. Maybe it wasn’t a total coincidence that a post came in yesterday from another site I sometimes follow admonishing us to sometimes step back and not worry about being productive all the time. Yeah, sure, I’ll work on that. In the meantime in the real world, I’ll have another couple of 4:00 a.m. mornings to stay on track.

Setting all that aside, however, my trip to Louisiana was jam-packed and I was able to see a number of friends and relatives. Not everyone, of course, but quite a few. The only culinary goal I missed was catfish. Had I know the one place wasn’t open on Sundays, I would have done catfish for lunch Saturday, but so it goes. I did have an excellent tilapia dish as well as two wonderful fried green tomato appetizers. The regional take is to top them with crawfish tails in some type of sauce and it makes for a great appetizer to share or you can pair something else with it and have all appetizers for a meal. I do that fairly often, although I didn’t during this trip.

The simple truth is the small town where Daddy lives doesn’t have many sit-down restaurants and I’m not certain if they have any yet that serve alcohol. (The tiny town that adjoins them voted alcohol in quite a few years ago and the two restaurants out there are very popular.) We did, however, discover a new Mexican place that took over from the former Bonanza, I think it was. I’m a little surprised the steak place didn’t make it and don’t know what the story was. At any rate, El Jimador, was quite enjoyable. Daddy is not big on cooked pepper and onions and they were completely accommodating about cooking his dish without them. Their tortilla chips and salsa seemed to both be homemade and were delicious in either case.

It Might Not Seem Funny, But…..

Okay, in general I do not like to play to stereotypes and clichés, however, snow is white and there are certain realities from a regional perspective. When I walked to the rental car parking lot to get my car, I couldn’t believe my eyes. Sure as the world though, there are New York plates on it. New York? New York – as I am preparing to be driving in rural Louisiana? Really? Sigh. At least the car has a digital speedometer so I can be certain to not go more than 1-4 miles over the speed limit and right on it or under if I am within the town limits. Here are the comments to date.

I arrive at my aunt’s house. One of my cousins comes in shortly thereafter. “New York plates? You do know the phone will be ringing asking who on earth from New York would be visiting?” Another of the family arrives. “New York plates? Did you get a ticket yet?”

I leave my aunt’s house yesterday morning to drive up to Minden where Daddy and my stepmother live. I stop for a Diet Coke at a convenience store in one of several small towns I pass through. As I step to the door to leave, an elderly man holds it open coming in and says, “Are you the one that drove all the way from New York?” “No sir, I assured him. “A rental car with New York plates. Who could imagine?” He shook his head in puzzlement as I went on my way. Yes, it is kind of funny, but believe me, there will be no speeding on this trip.

It’s That Time of Year Again…..

That phrase can apply to all sorts of things. In this case it’s me traveling to Louisiana for Daddy’s birthday. He will be 91 and his Alzheimer’s seems to have stabilized and the medication is working as well as can be expected. I don’t know if them moving into assisted living and therefore reducing significant stress has been a factor, although it probably was to at least some degree. Anyway, I’m not sure what kind of celebration we will have – probably a number of us going out to lunch somewhere then maybe cake in the activities room. I’ll find out when I get there.

I am actually spending an extra day this year because one of my cousins has to fly out to a conference and if I don’t go a day early I will miss her. That’s on my mother’s side of the family. All three of my high school girlfriends will be around even though we have to meet separately due to schedule commitments. As I explained when I emailed, with me coming around only once a year and there always being some question as to the exact date, I can’t expect everyone to hold their calendars open wondering when I will appear. My sister is also coming over for a couple of days from Houston, so that’s nice, too. Since I haven’t been losing weight at the rate I had hoped, I won’t be able to indulge in too many special treats and will restrict myself to one – that’s one Natchitoches Meat Pie. To the best of my knowledge, the only redeeming nutritional aspect to them is protein and the flaky pastry pretty much negates that benefit. They are, however, delicious. I’ll snap a photo before I devour the one I will allow myself. The same will hold true for catfish – okay, not one piece, but one meal.

I’ll post from the road on the days when I have connectivity.

“That’s Not Possible”…..

My apologies once more for a lack of posting, but it’s been another of those weeks. I’m taking a few minutes break from a task and have had the television tuned to the movie, “Apollo 13” with it’s incredible cast of stars. I’ve always enjoyed the movie for a lot of reasons and it’s especially great if you want to use a movie that demonstrates problem solving and leadership. The two most memorable phrases of course are, “Houston, we have a problem,” and “Failure is not an option.” (That phrase is often used inappropriately, but that’s a topic for another post.) One of my favorite lines though comes just after the explosion on the craft as no one knows quite what has happened. Everyone is looking at their instruments and Ed Harris, who plays Flight Director Gene Krantz is asking one of the men what’s going on. “It’s reading a quadruple failure. That’s not possible – I’ll get back to you, Flight.” Except it was very possible and in the six (or maybe seven) days that followed, a great many things that had been considered “not possible” occurred. A huge number of individuals were required to come up with solutions for things that had simply not been imagined as going wrong and in each case, the people thought through the problem and worked it out.

Another irony that I’ve always wondered about is that Astronaut Ken Mattingly was replaced on the mission by Jack Swigert at a very late date because NASA was concerned that Mattingly would break out with the measles during the mission. To disrupt a well-functioning team is never something to be done lightly and inserting a new member at that point did have some drawbacks. However, it was Mattingly who figured out how to re-sequence the re-entry of the crippled spacecraft. Quite simply, there may have been no other person who could have worked that out –  Mattingly not being in space was a significant reason why the astronauts were able to successfully return to earth.

Not too long ago, I watched a “making of” segment that was part of the real story of Apollo 13 and there was this one scene they discussed with Director Ron Howard where tempers had flared in the movie. The truth was that scene did not occur in real life and when asked about it, Howard readily acknowledged he had taken dramatic license in a few spots. Why? Because the reality was that people had remained remarkably calm, all working to the very best of their ability to solve the crisis. As Howard said, “I was making a movie and we had to have at least a little conflict.” (Not his exact words, but close.)

Sunrise Isn’t for Everyone…..

Sunrise From Our Back Yard

Sunrise From Our Back Yard

I’ve posted before about how I am a morning person and hubby is a night person, but we manage a compatible rhythm that works well for us. Part of what I love about early mornings are indeed sunrises and I’ve seen some great ones – especially when we’re on a dive cruise and you get to watch the sun seemingly rise from the water. I have to admit that even though it’s totally different in the mountains (and we don’t spend much time there), that can be spectacular, too. The very stillness of that hour of the morning is something I greatly appreciate, and if you’ve read Irises to Ashes I describe a couple of sunrises through the main character’s eyes.

When we visited the lovely fishing town of Sete, France quite a few years ago, I slipped out of the hotel right before daybreak during that time that it’s light enough to see, but the sky is still that pale gray. As a fishing village, you had boats getting ready to head out and the night boats that had come in. In a small town, they didn’t have many 24-hour places (probably none in fact), but they did have a few that opened very early. I strolled the streets, hearing the sounds of a handful of cafes getting ready and watching birds wheel overhead and come to perch on top of street lights that were just going off. Several cats were roaming about and the people who were preparing for the day waved when they saw me.

Although I mostly come up to the office and start work before sunrise, there are mornings when I pause and step out into the back yard to look at the sky and take a few sips of coffee. The other day, I snapped this photo as a reminder of why I enjoy it. And yes, I realize that sunrises look a great deal like sunsets.