Tag Archives: cooking

Pasion de la Cocina

7 Mar


Tonight I crave the rice you made,
the grains popping in the singing oil,
musica latina tangled in your hair,
dancing barefoot in the kitchen
amid sizzling clouds of comino y cebolla
and curling swells of culantro
as green and hot as your coyote eyes.
Your caramel lips,
cafe con leche cushions
parted for kissing,
whispered delicious songs
into the fragrant rind of my ear.
Reaching melodious chords
around my waist,
and down my thigh,
sang of stirring the sweetness and heat
of my own beautifulness,
like palming the round of a glass
to warm the spirit,
like rubbing the rim with one wet finger
to hear it sing.


At the Home Bar

7 May

May arrives and suddenly, the weekends strangely dissolve too quickly for the lack of activities. Places to explore and events to attend are making way for graduations, holidays and garden work. My wandering seems to be making a seasonal change, too. Saturday morning I awoke, shuffled down to the kitchen to fix coffee and really saw my house again along the way. A slight pet hair stuffiness and thin layer of dust signaled a long stillness. I live here, to be sure, but I haven’t “lived” in this space in a while. And while much needed coffee brewed in my little pot, the prodigal daughter returned to the refrigerator only to discover a few assorted jars of mismatched condiments, olives, a half empty carton of soy milk and a few stray shriveled beets lying about, long past loneliness and well into languished repose. Sigh…. Yep, it’s time to start balancing home time with the road.

First order of business? Go grocery shopping, which I haven’t done in a major way in many months. Preparing food and creativity in the kitchen is something that makes me enormously happy, but whipping up the type of bells and whistles meals that are at the heart of that joy isn’t something I have mastered for one person at all. It seems useless to concoct a gourmet meal just for me. From scratch  cooking means quantity and merriment, which is what I love about food just as much as the dining aspect of it. However, this  something I am in short supply of, along with the cupboard items. As events slowed a bit this weekend, it was the perfect time to go to Charlottesville to some grocers I used to frequent many years ago. Since the trips of those days, my town has acquired an organic butcher, a fishmonger, organic bakeries, and believe it or not, Big Lots has foreign brands that may offer a gourmet score or three. The local Kroger has become more diverse and Anderson’s, the Amish bulk grocer features spices and grains of all variety for a most modest price. However, the day taught me truly how narrow my cupboard had become in the face of in-home solo dining and a starving lack of diverse culture ans acceptance in my area.

List in hand, up the road I went to my first stop, Foods of All Nations for a new love, Cafe du Monde. However, the primary emotion upon entering was the uselessness of the idea of picking up just one orange can and moving on to the next store. Four varieties were lined up on the shelf and the sheer availability of other gourmet items as well as organic and non-typical Lynchburg ingredients, lured me into idea after gustatory idea. My new “enlightened” grocery list began to stack up in my head while wandering each aisle. Oh, how I had forgotten “real” food.

Meyer lemons, fresh arugula in piles, cipolline onions. Black Italian kale, oyster mushrooms in heaped bins, blood oranges. San Marzano tomatoes, baby red lettuce and escarole. Kerrygold butter, clotted cream, crumpets, naan, lavosh, rusk. Swiss muesli, Scottish oats, rose macaroons, fresh baked fig bars, Sharwood’s curry sauce, Thai glass noodles, black sticky rice, fresh gnocci. Finnochiona, bresaola, pistachio romano. Cashel blue, Emmentaler, gravlax, fresh shad roe, wild salmon, duck breast, rabbit, cerignola and castlevetrano in vats. Sushi trays, Fentiman’s Orange Jigger, torrone, Cadbury flake, Belgian and Mexican chocolate, Ginger Chews, Ille Espresso. Vin Cotes du Provence…and on and on and onh… green tea ice cream. I am a foodie. I rest my shame.

The list began to become an overwhelming chaotic load of “anything you could ever want”. Every ingredient yielded an idea of something delectable, every aisle reminiscent of the complexities of the type of dishes I love creating. But so many choices, so many possibilities began to appear that I actually had to exit the store to gain a sense of direction and then go back in. Only daily items that could not be had at all in my hometown followed me out of this tiny specialty grocery. When a box of my favorite Irish cereal, Alpen, costs $9, I can really pair down my cultural food lust.

Driving through Charlottesville, I intended to stop in at Sam’s Club for the jumbo bag of raw almonds and baby spinach. But I noticed a new shopping complex and red lettered sign, marking a new grocery heaven: Trader Joe’s.

The first reaction to finding most everything I ever wanted at a decent price? Love at first sight, baby.

TJ, where have you been all my life!?

I wandered in awe, aisle after aisle, to the point where one worker finally asked,

“Ma’am, is there something I can help you find?”

Several ideas came to mind…

A new house closer to this store? A higher paying job so I can shop in this town without floating a loan? More foodies in my life who have time and inclination to eat and drink with me?

“Um…no thanks”, I said. “Just browsing.”

That sounded weird, I’m sure.

Fishing out my original shopping list curtailed my urge to plunder the aisles, while the fistful of Kroger coupons kept me from carting away basic items. Red peppers, proper Greek yogurt, cinnamon raisin crumpets, frozen potstickers and TJ’s Raisin Rosemary Crisps did make their way into the bag, though. While holding cans of turkey chili with white beans and mulligatawny soup, thoughts about why I enjoy preparing meals came to me. Yearning to cook is not necessarily because I love eating. The connection with others it provides is what I enjoy most. From the preparation to the sharing of it, I derive just as much if not more enjoyment in feeding others as I do myself. My grandmother’s nurturing influence shows in me quite a bit, I suppose. Those early years of life were spent around her table in communion with my most beloved ones and that feeling of connectedness surrounding food is what I most crave when I am home eating alone.


My shopping excursion ended at the golden Mecca of all grocery stores: Whole Foods. Traveling down the beautifully decorated and colorful aisles, the idea occurred that if all markets had such food diversity and opportunity, the cultural environment of a community would explode. But then again, a market reflects the patrons who frequent it, a recursive dynamic that is the “Catch 22” of culture. The needs of the community drive the marketplace, but more diverse needs and desires can’t engender without knowledge or funds to pay for them. Whole Foods is expensive. I won’t deny it. Premium prices are paid to support the carefully constructed displays, barrels of specialty coffee beans, stacked bins of foreign as well as local dry goods, olive oils as fine as wine, cheeses that span the globe from every milk producing domestic animal, grass fed meats, ultra fresh seafood, savory to sweet bakery and ultimately a commitment to organics and environmentally friendly products. And the employees are happy, it seems. I found loads of food knowledgeable helpful grocers there, not the typical high school graduate or retiree clerk who knows basically where the items are rather than what comprises them or how they can be prepared and enjoyed.

A paradigm shift will need to occur in this country as a whole before the joining of modern grocery needs and quality food products will happen, but I think it’s coming. Just last week I noticed that my town is building a Fresh Market, right around the corner. That’s promising. As I inconspicuously tried to shoot photos of the seafood department at Whole Foods, the lads there became curious, even when using the cell phone instead of the big girl camera. One asked, “Do you want to know about any of the items?” After a short chat about the salmon burgers they make there, he told me the feta, spinach one was best, and I trusted him. My dinner tonight will feature it alongside brown rice with an arugula, blood orange, pistachio, romano and oyster mushroom side salad with homemade balsamic vinaigrette. At my pop up counter in the kitchen, on a single place setting of 1920’s Japanese china I bought at an estate store, I’ll try to create a special place just for me. Dining at the home bar? I’m working on it.

Begging a Pearl

18 Dec

Seawater begs the pearl to break its shell — Rumi

After I arrived in Ocracoke, one of the things I began a quest for was oysters. It’s December and near Christmas and I just had a craving that would not go away. However, the Ocracoke Fish and Seafood Company was closed, and the grocery store was curiously devoid of any seafood, except for frozen fish sticks. I understood there wouldn’t be much available. With the town being as deserted as it is, I was lucky to find anything available in the one open store. Monday, when I was checking out with a few items, I asked the cashier, Debbie, about oysters and she gave me Ikey’s number. After a call, days of rain and finally a break and a catch,  he rolled into my drive yesterday afternoon with an enormous bag of fresh oysters. I smiled and paid him and then promptly panicked.

Oh…..my…god. That’s a butt load of oysters. Well, let’s do this, I thought. I attempted to dive into shucking the whole half bushel.

I had never attempted this sort of task and had nothing but Internet instructions and a newly purchased shucking knife. After cutting and prying seven or so, I was so done.

I had literally 50 to 60 to go.

The process was not as simple as ehow.com led me to believe, but I did learn quite a few lessons in the attempt. And it might just help me understand something personally important, about boundaries. I have been an open book most of my life and it has caused me quite a bit of pain. In being consistently open and overly trusting, others have banged and bruised my interior needlessly to the point that in part, this time away was a bit about me needing to form some new understanding of how to emotionally connect with others and still be able to keep myself whole. The battle with these oysters taught me about the preciousness of my own emotional well being.

The shells were covered in algae and mud, barnacled and sharp. Hinge…where’s the hinge? “Hold it with the towel and insert the knife into the hinge and cut around the edge”. Mostly that just yielded a muddy mess with broken top shell, cut thumbs, and severed oyster. Sandy, muddy mess. So the only thing to do was to scrub the oyster, clean it as well as I could and then put it in a pot and steam it.

After two whole pots worth, I still had a half cooler full and I gave up and took the rest to one of the neighbors. But I learned something really useful: the tighter the shell, the better the oyster. The little ones gave up so easily, opening to heat and pressure. But they shriveled into tiny stiff nuggets of rubber that Clarence wouldn’t even eat. However, the big ones, the ones that barely opened in the high heat of a pot, gave just enough of an edge for me to put in the tips of my sore scratched fingers and with gentle pressure they would pop open and inside would be a barely cooked beauty. Still trembling, curled slightly on the edges, these taught me the tighter the shell, the more precious the interior.

But it also taught me that in a way, sometimes shells can be too tight. The ones that never opened at all, they were dead inside and had to be discarded. This lesson has me thinking on how to balance the shell surrounding my emotional self, how to still open and connect, but yet, not so easily as to sacrifice my inner preciousness. I am a bit nervous about going home. I need to keep a balanced shell. But I have to remind myself of the lessons I have learned this week.

#1 Love is simple

#2 Connection is the gift of the Universe

My most authentic self is that precious oyster inside and if I choose to yield, it must be cautiously and carefully, but worth the fingers to which I am yielding. I need to listen to my inner voice. It tells me where I need to go. Today, I am busied with trying to figure out finances and lightly packing. I go to Trivia Night with Kenny tonight and maybe in connecting with my new friend I will find more of what I have been looking inside this shell.

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