My Other Backyard

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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.

Shrimp_009

 

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.

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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!

Citrus_029_copy_1

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!

Citrus_021_1

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!

9 Comments Add yours

  1. Mallika says:

    I too struggle with writing every day and hope to do better in 2007. Sometimes it’s just hard writing a post without passion, I suppose.
    Have a great year and look forward to more frequent posts.

    Like

  2. Kevin says:

    What a terrifically appetizing holiday you had! Happy 2007 to you and your family and I look forward to reading about all of your adventures in the new year.

    Like

  3. Sara W. says:

    Sounds like a delicious holiday! I got a fabulous vegetarian cookbook for Christmas and Katie got the CIA’s textbook cookbook so she and I have spent break cooking (and eating) up a storm! Too bad we didn’t have all that Florida sunshine for extra seasoning! Hope to see you around this semester!

    Like

  4. Just keep doing what you are doing… and for the love of God, send me some food.

    Like

  5. You’re worth the wait!
    And there is nothing quite like Gulf shrimp…I’d forgotten how superior they are to the flavorless ones we get in NY…so sweet and briny indeed. One of those things you take for granted growing up on the Gulf Coast.

    Like

  6. jared says:

    Wow, love looking at the fresh spring and summery food. We’re a loooong way from that here. We hit the East Coast for the holidays and, aside from all the down-home meals, the thing we enjoyed most was the deliciously unseasonable weather they’re having this year.

    Like

  7. Dear Fellow Foodie!
    I am a MN food photographer and I found your site by Googling Blue Plate Special. I also have a BPS–mine is a Turkey on the grill recipe w/ popcoran and brandy stuffing.
    Easy on the Brandy!!!
    Tks,
    AB

    Like

  8. As a newcomer to food blogging, I can relate. Getting excited about so many story and recipe ideas can take on a life of its own! As long as you’re having fun and you have people who enjoy your site–which you clearly do– then it’s a good thing. Best wishes for 2007 to be all you want it to be.

    Like

  9. Lydia says:

    One of my pet peeves is bloggers who, feeling compelled to post every day, throw up posts that basically say, “I have nothing to write about today.” My advice? Write when you have something to say, however frequently or infrequently that is. And keep those luscious food photos coming!

    Like

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