egg and spinach

Worth a post? Probably not. But damn, it was good. Pretty, too.

Note: I’ve avoided frozen spinach for years because of experiences with rectangular blocks that, when thawed, was coarse, tough, and unappealing. I keep trying to think of ways to get more leafy greens into our diet without having a refrigerator full of stuff in various stages of turning into a science project. So I decided to try a bag of Publix’s Greenwise brand chopped spinach. Well, now, this is a whole different animal than my rejects of decades ago. It’s tender, sweet, chopped into tiny bits, and delicious. Perfect as a base to bake an egg.

gathering strength

I’m getting all the food pictures out of the way so when I write in this space tomorrow morning while it’s still dark, drinking a great coffee so black and strong it barely needs a cup, I’ll be ready to talk some truth.

But for tonight, one more food photo. It’s emblematic of me gathering strength: fresh collard greens made with onions, garlic and a small smoked turkey thigh; boiled plain turnip roots; a buttered cornbread muffin.

Oh, and hey — we’ve got a storm coming — a late tropical storm with an intriguing name: Potential Tropical Cyclone 16. Sounds like an edgy perfume. A cold front and a tropical storm. Should be interesting.

shrimp, blue crab & grouper

Lucky to live here on the Gulf Coast of Florida, where any day of the week Buck and I can drive the shady lane from house to gate in the Longleaf woods and drive roughly 17 miles to Joe Patti’s Seafood down on Pensacola Bay. We come away with treats like the ones you see above. Two pounds of Gulf shrimp go a long way with us: first night peel and eat with Buck’s spicy cocktail sauce, second time around a version of scampi redolent with garlic and laced with capers, then a third go chopped for a lunchtime salad. Similar story with the blue crab claw meat: tossed with a smidge of lemon butter as a delicacy with the boiled shrimp, then another night as a luscious topping for garlic-Parmesan baked grouper.

generous friends

Immokolee tomatoes from Roy and Bette.

The two weeks before Roy and Bette came to visit Buck and me was one of the more miserable chapters in our lives together, something unexpected and generally unimportant that made a hell of an impact: we both got the flu. No, we don’t take flu shots. Haven’t for more than 35 years. Haven’t had the flu, either, until this year.

So will we change course and start taking flu shots? You betcha. That all-nighter in our local emergency room (on my account) was the convincer. Yikes.

Roy and Bette were already scheduled to drive up from beautiful Naples on the southwest Florida coast and stay with us for a visit and to attend Roy and Buck’s 65th Pensacola High School reunion. Buck and I were growing concerned over whether we would be ready for prime time with visitors, even such good friends.

We needn’t have worried. We were much improved by the time they arrived, plus at our age, afternoon naps aren’t considered strange at all, so we had a couple of hours each afternoon to rest.

As always, they brought bottles of lovely wine and a case of fabulous sun-ripened tomatoes from Immokolee, near Naples. Roy shared his recipe for roasted tomato soup and the photo above shows them just out of the oven. The next step is to chunk them in a food processor, then freeze flat in a zip bag until the urge for roasted tomato soup hits.

Sliced Tomatoes and Shrimp Scampi

We’ve enjoyed those tomatoes every which way. I’m even making a batch of taboulleh this afternoon and then baking another pan full for a future pot of creamy soup.

We send Roy and Bette a few pounds of stunningly delicious pecan halves from local grower Renfroe Pecans. The price has grown stunning over the years, too, but when Roy hands you a small pizza box that feels strangely heavy and you discover one of his luscious chocolate caramel pecan pies inside (made with pecans we sent at Christmas), you know that someday Renfroe will get those pecans up to the price they’re worth, but that day has not yet arrived.

Sweet, generous friends. Lou Lou Belle loves them, too.

chicken in a pot

Between working on a manuscript, following the Kavanaugh hearings, and fretting about whether Hurricane Michael was going to hit Pensacola (have you seen the video from poor, devastated Mexico Beach and Panama City?), I realized yesterday that I’ve gotten myself into a state of sleep deprivation. Never good. So last night I brought out the big guns: a beautiful whole chicken, carrots, onion, celery, broth and a generous splash of dry vermouth. Settled down with Buck for our usual evening cocktail — a Manhattan for him and scotch and water for me while the ingredients simmered into heavenly medicine. It worked its magic and I got the first really great night’s sleep I’ve had in days, if not weeks. Woke up feeling like a tigress and ready for a dash to the gate with Lula Belle. We dashed because a cool front had rolled in, at last, and the temp at seven was 54 degrees, a tiny bit cool for gym shorts and tank top.

a simple september supper

Years ago, I never met a kitchen gadget I didn’t like, but these days I like to fill the freezer with simple favorites, tried and true. I like to make a huge vat of Great Northern bean soup seasoned with a smoked turkey leg. It has a silky texture that causes me to murmur endearments to my bowl.

Flexitarian Whiskypalian

When Buck and I modified our approach to what we eat several months ago, I ran into a word that seems to describe it well: flexitarian.

The word was coined sometime in the early nineties, and was named “most useful word of 2003” by the American Dialect Society. And in 2012, “flexitarian” was listed for the first time in the Merriam-Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary.

But we only discovered it after searching for a way to describe our mostly plant meals. It’s sounds like one of those weasly bureaucratic made up words. Something to describe a wanna-be vegetarian with no spine.

Makes me think of Protestants who disdain Episcopalians by calling them “Whiskypalians” and say they’re former Baptists who like to drink. Well, yeah, I resemble that remark.

And so, I guess I can live with being a Flexitarian Whiskypalian.

So what’s happening with us on this new regime? Any cravings for the old “meat and three” way we grew up? Dreams of butter and cheese? Do we drool over ads for Ruth’s Chris Steakhouse?

In a word: No.

I can’t explain it, and I’m surprised. First and foremost, we’re enjoying meals more than we have in years. They’ve become un-boring. Buck continues to have zero IBS symptoms, which means more energy and a more relaxed and comfortable man. I’m sleeping sound as a young child, a welcome change. Whether this is related to our diet change, I can’t say. I can say the allergy-related puffiness under my eyes (which I hate) has improved significantly, and weight creep has reversed. Yeah, I know. I’ve got New Convert Syndrome. Ask me again in six months.

Meanwhile, a few photos . . .

House-Smoked Turkey Breast

Here’s an example of the “flex” in flexitarian. The meat on the plate is house-smoked turkey breast. We don’t grill outdoors anymore. I lost my taste for using charcoal, and have always been scared to death of using propane tanks on a gas grill. Silly, but true. But my little secret for the best smoked foods I’ve ever tasted is an inexpensive indoor stovetop smoker made by Cameron. For this turkey breast, I used pecan wood chips. The wood chips come in pecan, cherry, oak, alder, hickory, mesquite, and maple, among others. The veggies here are a mix of roasted Brussels sprouts, yellow squash, slow-roasted tomatoes, and garlic-and-herb-marinated olives, a perfect foil for the Texmati brown rice.

Red Beans and Rice February 2014

Our new favorite is red beans and (brown) rice. We split an Aidell’s Organic Cajun-Style Andouille (made from chicken) link, which adds huge spicy flavor. The roasted miniature zucchini and wedge of cornbread completed this luscious meal.

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More flex, here, with sea scallops and capers with whole wheat couscous and roasted asparagus. No butter in the fridge anymore, but I’m experimenting with a soy-based substitute made by Earth Balance.

Roasted Brussell's Sprouts

First time I’ve ever eaten Brussel’s sprouts and liked them. These were tossed with a bit of olive oil and roasted with shallots.

More later. Time to go to work. Buck had one final (seriously, I promise) rewrite of the first two chapters of his manuscript and one more polish to add sheen to the total book, so we are set up on the conference table, reading aloud, with me challenging, then making changing to the computer file, and laughing (a lot). Buck’s manuscript has gotten commercial-grade good. And we’re having a blast. We sent a few query letters out late last year, then took a good hard look and realized it wasn’t quite ready for prime time. Different story now. This baby is ready to fling out into the world.

Open Mind, Insert Vegetable

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Baby Bella and Shitake Mushroom Bourguignon on Grilled Sun-Dried Tomato and Garlic Polenta

So okay, it’s been about a week since I posted a picture of my new cast iron tortilla maker and wrote about menu tweaks here at the Longleaf Bar and Grill.

“How’s it going?” you ask.

“Oh, it’s okay,” I lie.

Look at the photo.

Yeah. That good. . . and very nice with a  pequeño glass of Noval Black port.

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Sun-Dried Tomato and Garlic Polenta Chip

We grilled the polenta in thick slices on a Lodge cast iron griddle. After dinner, I discovered small, crisp disks left behind in the pan. They came up easily. I decided to taste one. Huge yum wow. I did leave one for Buck to try.

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Leaf lettuce with roasted cauliflower, walnuts, chick peas and dried cranberries

Seriously, I went into this week all out with the idea of creating a new, mostly vegan, vegetarian, or at the very least flexitarian kitchen. Buck and I thought it would be good for our health. Little did we know it would be a culinary adventure, full of exciting blasts of taste and super satisfying.

The night I tried Lynn’s Meatloaf, I cop to having a backup plan in case it turned out to be disgusting and inedible. After all, when you smush together a block of firm tofu, cooked lentils, oatmeal, celery, onion, catsup, Dijon mustard, soy sauce, and a sprinkle of sage, rosemary and thyme, who the heck can visualize the end result after 50 minutes in a 350 degree oven packed into a loaf pan? All I can say is, it’s better (a lot better) than meatloaf, and makes great sandwiches the next day.

One of our new favorites is black beans, brown rice, and a smorgasbord of toppings: sautéed peppers and onions, corn, and salsa.

We suspect there are tangible health benefits: lower cholesterol, lower blood sugar, squeaky clean arteries. But a big bonus we didn’t contemplate is that Buck is no longer experiencing the bloating and pain of IBS he has suffered for the past five decades. Will it last? We don’t know. We thought high protein low carb was just the ticket. Not anymore.

We ate a green lentil soup made with chicken broth (from the freezer), and a Nicoise salad with fabulous Tonnino Ventresca (tuna belly in olive oil — comes in a jar), so clearly we’re in the flexitarian camp, but the center of gravity has shifted away from meat-based entrees.

Bottom line so far: why did it take us so long?

“If it had a mother or a face”

Brain Food on a Gray January Day

If you follow my Goodreads lists, you might have noticed I’ve just finished a flurry of books with a similar theme: “If it had a mother or a face, don’t eat it.” And if you browse through the Longleaf Bar and Grill category archives, you’ll see many examples of slow-cooked Italian pot roast with red wine and garlic, roast chickens, grilled pork tenderloin, baked stuffed red snapper, and on and on.

I’m not declaring (at least not yet) a transition to full-throated veganism, however our ages, my family cardiac history, and plain old good sense (not to mention an undeniable, increasing unease about where our foods really come from, how they’re raised, and what’s added to them), have led Buck and me to move strongly toward a substantially plant-based diet. I’m sure we’ll continue to eat a little fish, at least I think I’m sure, and probably the occasional home-smoked (on a small indoor smoker) turkey breast. It’s a work in progress, and I’m not sure where we’ll eventually come down.

It feels like a natural evolution, though, probably since we haven’t eaten any kind of fast food or fried food for more than 25 years, rarely eat in restaurants, and already eat a diet high in fruits, veggies and whole grains. We’re both trim, and exercise — mainly walking, stretching, and weights — is a regular part of our daily routine. Neither of us takes any medication. So what’s the (excuse the expression) beef? My dad died of a heart attack at 51, several of my siblings (you guys know who you are) have had surgeries and stents, and my cholesterol numbers are not awful, but not good. I want to continue to avoid taking drugs to lower the LDL, and Buck wants to generally tweak his cardiovascular health to stay agile and mobile, so we’re making some changes. We’ll go to Mayo Clinic in Jacksonville in July for a wellness physical, as we have for the past 17 years. The labs will tell us if this shift in our diet shows up there. I’ll let you know how it goes.

How about you? I’d love to know how you feel about what you eat, whether you think it matters, and any other thoughts you have on the subject, whether its physiology, philosophy or politics!

Tortilla press

Meanwhile, I’m having fun with it. I ordered a cast iron tortilla press and some stone-ground masa harina and made my very first corn tortillas today. They’re not perfectly round or pretty, and I had to throw several away at the beginning because I had trouble getting the hang of peeling them from the plastic wrap, but dang, I was proud. And they’re good!

Lunch today was a soul-warming bowl of pinto beans augmented by a few vinegary jalapeno slices and a couple of freshly made corn tortillas.

My First Homemade Corn Tortillas