Despite the fact that I’ve been at this since early spring, I haven’t quite got the knack of blogging yet. I still wait for the right topic and, even more paralyzing, the best photo, and try to organize and polish the posts as if they were newspaper columns, instead of just letting them fly and moving on. Consequently, I don’t post all that frequently – I keep saving up great meals and happy food memories, waiting for that magic moment when I have something profound to say, which needless to say is a rare occurrence. Where’s the fun in that?
I am determined to do better in the future, but first I have some major catch-up to do: we’ve had Happy New Year, now I need to go back to Merry Christmas.
Here were the culinary high points:
Finished the semester by the skin of our teeth, got our grades turned in, met as many of my Bloom deadlines as I could (which wasn’t all of them), and drove down to Apalachicola -- about 11 hours from our house in Bloomington. We weren’t able to spend much time in our cottage there in the last year because we were reluctant to leave Zoë while she was so sick, so this was the first visit down since March.
We left late in the afternoon, stayed over just south of Nashville, and got here around noon the next day. Most of our driving was in the dark, watching the lights of cities and cars flash by, listening to holiday carols on public radio stations that faded in and out, chatting about everything (and nothing), and eating the crunchy, mouth-searing habanero flavored kettle chips that are my secret craving. A great start to a much needed break.
Good old friends who live in Palm Harbor, (5 hours south of us) drove up on their Harley on Christmas Eve and that night we had dinner at the Gibson Inn. The Gibson is a great old Victorian place, practically the first thing you see when you come over the bridge into town. They recently managed to snag a peach of a chef, David Carrier, who used to be sous to Grant Achatz at Trio (after they worked together at the French Laundry.) David is running the kitchen with his pastry chef wife, Ryanne -- and this in a town with a population somewhere under 3000!!! We have had some unbelievably wonderful meals there – these guys are amazing.
So Christmas Eve I had chestnut soup with browned butter and sage (just fantastic, as are this guy’s Jerusalem artichoke soup, and oyster stew – he is a master of the soup cauldron!), a butter lettuce salad with a perfect vinaigrette, a mushroom ragout on grits, and a terrific orange tart. Everyone else had various delicious things, including duck and flounder. David uses lots of local ingredients (most notably the incredible fish from the gulf and the bay.) Can’t believe we are lucky enough to have them here.
Christmas was a sparkler of a day. The four of us took a long walk on the beach, then headed home to clean up a couple of pounds of huge gulf shrimp, which taste nothing like the hormone and antibiotic-laden Asian imports that are all that most of us can get in the US. These shrimp are sweet and briny and crisp –- another creature altogether. I seared them in a pan and made a spicy sauce from tomatoes, onions, garlic, hot pepper flakes, and some prosciutto, served up on garlicky polenta. Shrimp and grits. Big salad. Perfect day.
Grandkids! Our friends left on the 26th and my oldest step-daughter arrived with her family that evening from West Palm Beach. They came bearing their two adorable offspring (3 year old Elena Grace and almost 1 year old Asher, taking his first steps!) and a couple of gigantic coolers full of fresh vegetables and citrus fruit. My son-in-law is the vegetable extension agent for Palm Beach County – a source of unending information, entertainment, and good eats for his foodie m-i-l.
Before Christmas he was given carte blanche to raid one friend’s garden and, with the help of Elena Grace, harvested sacks of ripe heirloom tomatoes, eggplants, and red bell peppers for us. In December! Incredible bliss!
He had also stopped by the tropical orchard and garden of one of his colleagues, Gene Joyner, who grows every variety of citrus and tropical fruit I’ve ever heard of, and then some. The kids brought sacks of huge pomelos, grapefruit, oranges, tangerines, and some fruit I’ve never seen before – like a medium sized green fruit that had sweet orangey yellow flesh flecked with red. Fabulous stuff – what a Christmas present!
Between the bounty that the kids brought, and the fresh seafood we buy at Seafood-2-Go (a short block away!), and a few essentials picked up at the local Piggly Wiggly, we have truly feasted. I sectioned up the citrus and made a grilled shrimp and citrus salad, and one night made shrimp scampi –- fat jumbo gulf shrimp, seared with garlic and pepper and doused with white wine and a bit of cream, chopped parsley scattered over the whole thing, and served on pasta. We’ve had thick sandwiches layered with red, red tomatoes, mayonnaise, salt and pepper. I’ve made ratatouille (several times), caponata, salsa, black-eyed peas, and a plain fresh tomato sauce. With nearly every meal we have had gorgeous middle-of-the-summer salads full of tomatoes and peppers and cucumbers.
I love the food of the Midwest, even in winter, and passionately believe that we should eat what’s produced in our own backyard whenever we can. But one of the joys of having this cottage in Apalach is having two backyards, and in the last couple of weeks exploring the southern one has been a blast! There is no place like home – both of them!