Closed Captioned For The Thinking Impaired

Wednesday, April 8, 2015

Arroz Con Pollo, Gandules y Amor






There are dishes that warm our hearts as much as they fill our stomachs. They do more than merely sate hunger - they stir feeling, release memory. They are place settings in time. I always associate certain foods with certain people. Whilst hardly the first writer to acknowledge the strong ties to memory that aromas, flavors and textures have (Proust beat me by 112 years), I can say that when I contemplate making arroz con pollo y gandules, I think of my father, and of Nancy, my stepmother.

 The summer I was 10, I met my stepmother for the first time.  Her marriage to my father only lasted two years. I never saw her again after that August. When I told el esposo  I was going to write about my stepmother, at first, he looked bemused. He had a stepmonster. A truly despicable creature whom neither of us could bear when she inflicted herself upon us twice a year (and surprise, surprise she hated cooking - always a sign of a nasty selfish individual). After all, as far as he knew, I had no such creatures in my own past that could haunt the recesses of my cerebral cortex. I hadn't mentioned her once to him before. The truth is I have no real reason to remember my stepmother. Except maybe this one:

My father took time off for good behavior after his 10 year marriage to my mother. Of course, as far as my mother was concerned, he freed himself from the bonds (& a few of the less stringent vows) of marriage well before the divorce decree was ever final. They lived with each other for a total of four years.They'd been childhood sweethearts since grade school. I was two when they separated; 8 when they divorced.

Permit the little girl in me to gush about my father. The man was a born charmer with an Adonis-like body, a rapier-like wit and a dazzling smile, armed with just enough self-deprecating humor to make him seem humble without turning him into a Puerto-Rican version of Woody Allen. He had charisma. That 'thatness' that drew people to him.

In fact, he was recruited by a Hollywood talent scout in the 60's when he was doing a stint as a waiter in New York's Russian Tea Room.  They were looking for another John Garfield (whose movie, The Postman Always Rings Twice, with Lana Turner was hot stuff back in the day and reminds me of my parents' near fatal relationship).  My mom gave the idea of a Hollywood-bound husband the big 86 (restaurant speak for HELL NO!)

Theirs was a passionate affair. My mother's and my father's. She was the Lana Turner to his John Garfield and she wanted to keep it that way.  I learned the bewitchery of tumultuous relationships early on - from them. I conflated a certain degree of mischief and mayhem with love. Maybe I still do...

 I remember being 2 years old, my father was taking a shower. I entered the bathroom. The bathroom was good & steamy, so I knew the shower was hot. I had asked my mother for a glass of water. She poured from a bottle in the fridge (she liked everything ice cold). I still had the glass in my hand as I entered the bathroom. At that time we lived in one of those enormous old pre-War buildings in the Bronx on Gerald Avenue, just a subway stop away from Yankee Stadium. Our tub was an old clawfoot titan that had been converted into a shower and had a shower curtain that circled as an enclosure. I could see my father's legs through the curtain.

I said, "Hi, Daddy!" then pulled the curtain open and threw the cold water at him. He let out a HOWL! I went running out of the bathroom giggling like crazy. He came out with a towel wrapped around his waist, grabbed me and tickled me like crazy. It's the last memory I have of living with him.  I guess I'm always trying to re-live that moment. I'm sure every man I ever loved could attest to my porcupine nature- my need to alternately badger & cuddle.

Legend has it that during the course of one infamous blow-out with my mother, he once lifted the fully stocked kitchen refrigerator in their Gerard Avenue apartment and hurled it out the first floor window which despite its first floor location was actually some 20 feet above ground level.

The refrigerator and its contents splattered all over the large back alley of the building complex.  Fortunately, the only witnesses were a few startled stray cats who eventually got over their trauma enough to pick over the more delectable bits of the wreckage.

I have only the vaguest recollection of the incident. Most of that recollection is based on my mother's recounting of the story to me. Still, I told her she was lucky. Better the Frigidaire than her carcass. At least, he showed some level of self-control.  Knowing my mom, I'm sure it took a helluva lot of restraint on his part not to have defenestrated her, instead.  She makes Katherine from Shakespeare's Taming of the Shrew seem like Shirley Temple. Hell hath no fury like my mother. Period. Even on her best days. She never needed a reason to be hellacious. She was born feeling scorned.

Soon after that incident my father was sent to Lewisburg Federal Penitentiary on 'racketeering' charges - a polite way of saying he was a part of the NYC mob - and my mother, baby brother and I went to live in The East River Projects with my grandparents; back to the apartment my mother was raised in after our family's immigration from Puerto Rico.  I remember long rides from the Port Authority terminal on 42nd Street to Pennsylvania on Visiting Day - sardine-canned into stuffy buses with my mother, and the ham and cheese heroes on Italian sesame rolls from Tony's Deli on 104th and 2nd Ave. that she bought for the trip that somehow made seeing my father in that place palatable.



Picture of me and Daddy in Lewisburg Penitentiary on Visiting Day.
My mother cropped him out - her way.




My father never smoked, rarely drank as a young man; although alcoholism did eventually claim his liver, just as complications from AIDS later claimed his life far too soon. His name was Hector Afortunato Gomez - years of enduring that name may eventually have taken its toll on him. To hector means to bully. He had a dark side -- one that sent him into my arms one day, he drunk, maudlin and full of regret apologizing for the many unsaid deeds done; me young startled, trying to accept the weight of him and realizing that maybe every terrible thing my mother ever said about him might be true -- but bullying wasn't one of his vices. He joked about his name often enough to make me realize how much he hated it - calling himself HAG (an acronym with his initials). My full name is Lori Ann Gomez. I called myself LAG for that whole summer I spent with him...

He was a poet, an artist, a voracious reader, part-time waiter and a professional cook - in fact, all of his side of the family were in the restaurant business. I suppose the proclivity for finer dining could be a genetic pre-disposition, not unlike a form of insanity that undoubtedly afflicted us all.

He had a strict code of honor. He never swore and was extremely insistent to those within earshot of the beloved females in his life that they toe the line of respectability... or else!

A gifted martial artist, as well,  he would not hesitate to impose his idea of civility on those whose behavior fell short of the ideal. Like John Wayne (actually more like Steven Segal), after a fair warning, he would knock the offenders lights out.  Really thrilling and I'm sure very sexy for those lucky ladies he was courting.  You always felt safe even in the deepest darkest corners of the concrete jungle  of El Barrio with my Daddy.

I called him Daddy.  I was after all his little girl.  Sometimes I called him my gypsy. Daddy was a gypsy, too. He never stayed at one address for longer than a few months. He traveled sans caravan, however: "He travels fastest who travels alone" - and he was always alone until that summer.

Daddy was light speed with hummingbird wings. Alone he stood proud on the edge of Life's prow along the river Tao with open hand and open mind feeling the whim of the wind, but his will sailing firm on its own chartered cut-across. He told me, "You must learn to kill and then not to kill." and showed me his empty hands. Palms uplifted, like a supplicant. I clasped them, feeling their supple strength. Studying them like a treasure map. Fascinated by his lifeline. I remember him as a wink and a smile. He smelled like sunshine and sky blue serenity, like some men smell of toothpaste and Aqua Velvet. Yet he died young. Crying into empty bottles at the end.  His tears only salting the wound in the broken skin of his wrongs. I never saw him dead. I barely saw him alive. But so fiercely I feel his pulse - through mine. I feel his pulse - in mine. In a way that I have never felt my mother's.

After scores of women, he finally took the plunge again. He only dated women who resembled my mother both physically and temperamentally, but when he remarried, he married someone who was her polar opposite.

My mother was... how shall I put it? I'll try to be fair, but I doubt I'll succeed...

The bad seed.

The rotten apple in a barrel full of crisp, shiny Jongolds.  When she thought of us at all, she resented our smooth, glossy skins & tart/sweet juices and made us miserable for being something she was not. She was to be more pitied than censured, she was ultimately wormy, mealy and so unhappy about the fact that nobody really wanted to take another bite after the first taste.  Why would they? She did nothing to improve her flavor & everything to poison us. Still, she couldn't help it. Everyone knew this and forgave her it. Even my daddy.

Daddy married Nancy.  Tall, slender, dark-skinned mulatta with fine features and beautiful hands.  Her fingers fascinated me, long, cool to the touch, and very capable.  She was a Seventh-Day Adventist or Jehovah's Witness, I forget which.  Both seemed so foreign, so exotic like she was.

Daddy was a Catholic (well like most Puerto Ricans, he was dutifully baptized, communed & confirmed in that "universal" Church of Rome, if not exactly devout) but converted to Nancy's form of Protestantism which she took very seriously when they united in their holy wedlock. And holy it was. Daddy, a lifelong reader, began eschewing other reading material to focus on his Bible studies, such was Nancy's sphere of influence on the man.

Jehovah's Witnesses believe death is a state of non-existence with no consciousness. There is no Hell of fiery torment; Hades and Sheol are understood to refer to the condition of death, termed the common grave. Jehovah's Witnesses consider the soul to be a life or a living body that can die. I bet that appealed to Daddy, far better no consciousness than an eternity in the hell he figured was bound for under the Catholic Church.

He knew he loved Nancy, he said, when they were traversing La Ruta PanorĂ¡mica in Cordillera, Puerto Rico. He was driving & showing her the sights. The Panoramic Route is a single lane, two way snake-like road. Really a combination of over 40 of Puerto Rico's secondary highways along the spine of the island's mountain range and through the Cordillera Central.

As he was talking to her, gesticulating wildly while navigating a hair pin turn, she suddenly very calmly and casually said to him, "Bear right, dear."

Which, thankfully, he did as a reflexive response to her interruption of his flow of prattle. If he had hesitated at all, they would have gone careening off the edge of a 1500 ft cliff and been smashed into smithereens.

He took her lovely calm demeanor in the face of such imminent catastrophe (not to mention their subsequent avoidance of death) and his reflexive reaction to heed her lightest word as a sign that they were meant to be together and proposed to her on the spot!

Nancy was a good woman. Quiet, calm, kind.  She had a natural elegance and poise that belied her simple dress and lack of cosmetic enhancement.  Music and dance were not allowed in her religion but she never seemed severe and she never preached. She would tend to house, go to her services. I spent a good deal of time with her that summer, but all I can recall about her was her beatific Madonna-like smile and a sort of zen-like sensibility she had. The way she was fully present, seemingly engaged yet silently observant. Like the moon. Cool, brightly beaming, benevolent. Content to shine in the night sky and revolve around the larger planets in her orbit.

I don't remember her ever laughing which is funny because Daddy was always joking.  Some things were corny, some things were brilliant.  While she may never have rocked with laughter at our antics, she never scowled or sulked or seemed resentful of my presence.

She bore a son, my half-brother, not long after the marriage.  He looked almost exactly like me.  She & my daddy separated after two years of marriage. I strongly suspect it was his fault. He was a restless soul. My gypsy. I never saw her or my baby brother again.  I don't blame her. The universe is a big place filled with billions and billions of stars. We all have our own planets to revolve around, I guess.

Unlike my mother who never saw a frozen t.v. dinner or take-out menu she didn't like, Nancy cooked. Cooking is a true sharing. Every dish is another opportunity to show the love. My mother's mother, mi abuelita, exemplified this. She was not an affectionate woman, but she moved tectonic plates making sure that I had everything made EXACTLY the way I liked it... it was so important to her that even a slice of toast be done the perfect shade of golden brown. She CARED! Nancy cared, too.

I do remember Nancy's arroz con pollo y gandules. I suppose I do because it felt like so magical a time for me. For the first time ever, I was part of a conventional nuclear family - short-lived though that moment was. Mother, father, kiddies... we could have been featured characters of some Walt Disney film. Daddy in the starring role. As I lay on the living room floor devouring my daddy's Stephen King novels and sucking on quenepas ( a Puerto Rican fruit, so tart on the tongue with a slick fleshy pulp that can adhere to your tastebuds, they should be served with a warning), Nancy was in the tiny galley kitchen cooking up a storm.

Arroz con pollo y gandules is such a quintessentially Puerto Rican one-pot meal.  It is the island's national dish. A true family-style food. The warm rice kernels mingling with savory spices and chicken was soul food, the real deal - la cocina criolla - a panacea for what ailed you, if anything did; and doled out as preventative medicine even if anything didn't. Most Americans will associate Creole cooking with Louisiana’s Cajun cuisine, but that’s not the case here. In the Spanish Caribbean, “criollo” refers to Spanish Americans of European descent. Hence, “cocina criolla” is the cuisine created by the European (predominately Spanish) colonists using their traditional recipes while intimately canoodling with the native Caribbean foods of the Tainos. Those gandules themselves having traversed as long and far as Columbus and the African slaves that once populated the island. Consequently, you will find both native and Spanish influences, cooking techniques, and ingredients in Puerto Rican cuisine. La comida criolla is THE melting pot.

My mother would never have stood over a hot stove on a sweltering summer night for her own children, no less her stepchildren, but Nancy chopped, fried, and stewed like a pro. Daddy, who was the superior cook, peering over her shoulder the whole time,  suggesting a bit more sofrito, a pinch of adobo, a splash more tomato sauce, sprinkling a few more capers over the rice, but Nancy didn't mind. She added the most essential ingredient of all - love.





Traditionally, pigeon peas (gandules) & sweet (not spicy) scotch bonnet peppers are used in the dish; however, they are not always readily available especially here in San Francisco where seemingly every other latino country's staples are available except amazingly those from the only U.S. latino nation, Puerto Rico. So, small bell peppers or even banana peppers make adequate substitutes for the sweet scotch bonnets, and garbanzos or small English peas can be substituted for the gandules. Gandule is another name for pigeon peas (Cajanus Cajan). Pigeon peas are a small bean that are native to Africa and/or India but most likely originated in India and were brought to Africa millennia ago...

Arroz con Pollo y Gandules







Ingredients

Adobo for the chicken:
  • 2 cloves of garlic
  • 2 black peppercorns
  • 1 teaspoon dried oregano
  • 1-1/2 teaspoons of salt
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 1 teaspoon sherry vinegar
  • 1 teaspoon lime juice
  • 2-1/2 lbs. of chicken pieces (with skin & bone for additional moisture & flavor)

For the rice:
  • 1 ounce pancetta or salt pork, cut into small dice
  • 2 ounces prosciutto or other lean cured ham, cut into small dice
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 1 onion, finely chopped
  • 1 green pepper, seeded & finely chopped
  • 3 sweet (not spicy) chili peppers or one red pepper, seeded & finely chopped
  • 1 tomato, seeded & chopped
  • half a handful of cilantro leaves, finely minced
  • 1/2 teaspoon sea salt
  • 10 spanish olives, stuffed with pimientos, cut in half
  • 1 tablespoon capers, drained
  • 1/4 cup of tomato puree or tomato sauce
  • 2 tablespoons of achiote (annato) oil or 2 tablespoons canola oil mixed with 1 teaspoon of paprika
  • 3 cups of long grain rice
  • 3-1/2 cups of water or low-sodium chicken stock, heated & reserved
  • 1 can of gandules ( pigeon peas), drained or 1 cup of frozen green peas, thawed
  • 1 jar roasted red peppers, drained for garnish

Directions:



Place first 7 ingredients in a mortar or food processor & mix into a paste. Cut chicken into equal sized pieces & rub all over with the garlic paste (known as adobo) marinating the chicken in the refrigerator for several hours or overnight.

In a dutch oven or large braising pan heated over med-high heat, add olive oil & rapidly brown the pork fat & ham. Reduce heat to medium, add the chicken and cook for about 5 minutes, searing all sides of the chicken.

Reduce heat to low, & add the onion, green pepper, sweet or red pepper, tomato & cilantro (known collectively as the sofrito). Saute for 10 minutes, stirring occasionally.

Increase heat to medium, then add the salt, olives, capers, tomato sauce, achiote or paprika oil and rice. Mix well & cook for two or three minutes, stirring rice mixture occasionally.

Add the reserved heated water or stock to the mixture, mixing well then cook uncovered over medium heat until liquid evaporates and rice is dry.

When rice is dry, turn it over once from top to bottom using a fork.

Lower heat to lowest setting, cover rice with tightly fitting lid or use aluminum foil to create a seal & cook for 20 minutes, turn rice over again with a fork & cook for an additional 20 minutes. (40 minutes in total)

Add peas, folding them into the rice carefully with a fork, and cook for 15 minutes. Then remove pot from heat, allowing rice to stand with lid firmly in place for 5 minutes more.

Meanwhile, heat large platter or plates for 1 minute in microwave or 5 minutes in oven. Serve rice on warm platter and garnish with roasted red peppers & sprigs of cilantro. A simple little salad of sliced avocado, tomato, cooked green beans & lettuce with a drizzle of extra virgin olive oil & fresh lemon juice makes a nice accompaniment to the dish. Serves 6-8 nostalgic Puerto Ricans. Buen Provecho!






Thursday, March 5, 2015

Fling Into Spring: Grilled Pomegranate-glazed Prawn, Sea Scallops,Fiesta Salad w/ Feta, & Campania Artichoke







It's March.

An auspicious calendar of events can be tallied up on its pages. St. Patrick's Day. Basketball's March Madness. Co-eds' Spring Break. Spring-training for Major League Baseball.  It's the month Caesar would have done well to beware the Ides of, back in 44 B.C..  It's also the breeding time for hares (known as March Hares) - when feminist bunnies bash potential playmates with their forelegs to separate the men from the boys. I can't understand why the English referred to them as 'mad', seems like a reasonable way to select a mate to me. Vincent Van Gogh, Dr. Seuss, Harriet Tubman, Harry Houdini, and Robert Frost were all born in March. In 1775,
on the 23rd of this March, American patriot, Patrick Henry, famously cried out "Give me liberty, or give me death." at the Virginia Convention, purportedly persuading his fellow delegates (the likes of Thomas Jefferson and George Washington) that revolution was the noblest course of action to take against the Imperialists. The first spacewalk took place in March in 1965. In March of 1886, Coca-Cola was invented. The swallows return to the Mission of San Juan Capistrano in San Juan, California on the 19th, St. Joseph's Day. They return to the old ruined church each spring knowing their nests will be protected within the mission's walls. Daylight Savings magically springs us forward into time in early March, and lets the blessed sun shine an hour longer through our venetian blinds (if you're like me, that is, with an expansive western exposure and a desk propped up right against a bay window). 


On March 20th, we welcome spring.  Far from being an arbitrary indicator of the changing seasons, March 20 (March 21 in some years) is significant for astronomical reasons. On March 20, 2015, at precisely 6:45 P.M. EDT, the Sun will cross directly over the Earth's equator. This moment is known as the vernal equinox in the Northern Hemisphere, and the autumnal equinox in the Southern Hemisphere.

Translated literally, equinox means "equal night." Because the Sun is positioned above the equator, day and night are about equal in length all over the world during the equinoxes. These brief but monumental moments owe their significance to the 23.4 degree tilt of the Earth's axis. Because of the tilt, we receive the Sun's rays most directly in the summer. In the winter, when we are tilted away from the Sun, the rays pass through the atmosphere at a greater slant, bringing lower temperatures. If the Earth rotated on an axis perpendicular to the plane of the Earth's orbit around the Sun, there would be no variation in day lengths or temperatures throughout the year, and we would not have seasons.
Historically, for thousands of years, cultures worldwide have recognized the vernal equinox. There is no shortage of rituals and traditions surrounding the coming of spring.  La Primavera! Renewal... Reawakening... Rebirth! Food... glorious crops of food are ripe for the picking, and the eating, and many festivities are held in celebration of Mother Nature's bounty.  In Christianity, the vernal equinox is significant because Easter always falls on the first Sunday after the first full moon that follows the vernal equinox. It is also probably no coincidence that early Egyptians built the Great Sphinx so that it points directly toward the rising Sun on the day of the vernal equinox. The day also marks the beginning of Nowruz, the Persian New Year. The celebration lasts 13 days and is rooted in the 3,000-year-old tradition of Zorastrianism.

March is the schizophrenic's month; the month that proverbially goes in like a lion and out like a lamb. In most places in the U.S., it's truly a tale of two seasons: winter and spring - they straddle it, and battle it out. People spend the first half of the March shoveling snow out of their driveways, and the second half, planting their bulbs, and picking their asparagus. Unless, of course, you happen to live by the San Francisco Bay.  
Living in San Francisco all these years has deadened my sense of the advent of Spring. The frost doesn't thaw here... because it never forms. Yet surely there are natural signs of Spring's nose-powdering in preparation for the ball; other than the relative position of the sunrise and sunset to (respectively) the Transamerica Pyramid and the Golden Gate Bridge. It's not that we are sans seasons, it's just that the changes are far subtler. The wind blows harder here in the Spring, but in the city proper, the landscape doesn't change much. We haven't many deciduous trees. Magnolias bloom in February here... Camellias open their buds. Quince and cherry trees are few and far between, but they start to get all sexy now... Other than that? Especially in drought years like this year? Nada! Winter is our rainy season, but it's been sunny, warm and dry throughout most of it, so everything is already abloom here. Still, all the wantonness associated with Spring does have its effects here.

"In the Spring a fuller crimson comes upon the robin's breast;

In the Spring the wanton lapwing gets himself another crest;
In the Spring a livelier iris changes on the burnish'd dove;
In the Spring a young man's fancy lightly turns to thoughts of love."

At least in the world according to Lord Alfred Tennyson. And a life without love is like a tree without blossoms or fruit. Ah... love. Yes, love. My associations with March are not necessarily to do with Lord Tennyson, nor the blossoming shrubs that enliven the pollen and add to the woes of allergy sufferers like me everywhere; nor the many pagan or religious rituals. No, mine are far more immediate and domestic. My long-suffering husband and I were married on March 8th, sixteen (or is seventeen??) years ago. Our wedding was not the usual thing. Far from it... Firstly, we told no one of our plans - well, almost no one. Only one girlfriend knew (and she blabbed it - this I assumed because the next day champagne and flowers showered on us from a gazillion people in our suite at the Lodge in Pebble Beach).

What can I say about married life, or more specifically, my husband, Garrett? El esposo
 is a tremendous sport. He takes me in stride (mostly). I must confess that I have a propensity for doing random ridiculous things to him as they occur to me during the course of the day. Invading his personal space. Disrupting his peace. All without warning or reason. Things that others might find inexplicable, if not downright disturbing and/or annoying. 


The odd bite of neck, shoulder or other reachable body part; the occasional tickle of exposed flesh; the casual tousle of his well-groomed locks if they appear too orderly to me at that moment; the hard sniffing into his ear to which he just says without looking up from his computer, "It's NOT me!" whilst I cackle like a cracked out hyena and ask him, "What's not you? What are you on about, man?". I also always take exactly one bite from whatever he's eating, or a sip from whatever he's drinking, preferably before he has, so that when he looks down, he sees that I've been there. Then I deny doing it, of course. Or the rare times I do choose to admit the undeniable,  I tell him he should be grateful to have a personal taster as the kings of yore once did. That, one day, I will likely save his life. Garrett remains relatively implacable during these little pantomimes of mine. He just sighs, resignedly, and continues to eat. 


Yes, all in all, I am fortunate not to find cyanide in my coffee, or arsenic-laced strawberries. I like being a pest. It's my nature. He knows and accepts this. The backbone to every good marriage is the ability to endure each other's barrage of nonsense with saintly forbearance. Nothing sustains a marriage like having each partner feel like a martyr to a worthy cause.  In fact, sometimes I believe he enjoys my antics. Poor man. When asked by friends and family how at his age he has such a full head of hair, but virtually no gray ones, he always says, "Because I married well." So, either he likes it, or he's a beautiful liar. 


Looking back at why, when and how we got married amuses me.

It wasn't a shotgun wedding. 

It was more like the groom was at knifepoint. My well-honed tongue at his throat. I'd spent the night explaining who I was to his work associates at a boondoggle conference in Scottsdale. A place, interestingly enough, called The Princess. "This is Lori Gomez." is how he always introduced me to people - skipping off to the next hand to shake. Leaving me to fill in the blanks. After 9 years of cohabitation, I suppose he thought calling me his 'girlfriend' was insufficient. Using the phrase 'significant other' seemed trite and awkward, so he didn't. He'd just move on after identifying me by name, sans status.


"So what do you do for the company?" asked a middle-aged, overweight, balding male. Directing his query to my tits. Already having anticipated his question, this time I opted for truth over tact. "The boss.", says I. 


I walked away without bothering to watch his jaw hit the laces of his topsiders. Fast forward to our resort suite later that evening, wherein I inform my man I would no longer be his InstaDate. Nor stand by his side as 'Lori Gomez' to charm the smarm out of over-aged prom attendants. I suggested it was time to consider a merger. Adding that if he could not sign the contract, there would be no hard feelings, I'd move back to New York and he could keep his surname pristine and virginal, however my days as 'always the bridesmaid’ whilst essentially being a wife in everything but name were over.


This was not the first time we discussed ye olde holy state of matrimony, but with his "Name the time and place, and I'll be there." in response to my offer, I think we both understood it would be the last.

The nuptials soon followed.  
The best line of the long weekend of our 'honeymoon' came from Sally Scilabba: "You are so lucky to have us on your honeymoon. When we got married all the company we had was each other." I thought I heard a deathknell ring whilst she said it... Romance had died and was being buried. 


Sally and her husband Dave were our surprise wedding guests. By surprise guests, I mean they were surprised. They had ZERO idea they were going to attend a ceremony. We Shanghaied them and had them drive us to the spot. They had just flown in from New York. Oyster Bay was where they called home. Dave and Garrett were participating in the Second Annual Pebble Beach Two Man Golf World Championship (some made up boondoggle for middle-aged males who played the game to get away from work & wives). We four had planned this trip for eons. Neither Garrett, nor I saw any reason to inform them we were getting married the night before the tournament. 


There I was in my little ivory St. John's suit that Trish Garrabrandt (the loudmouth) helped me pick out, and Garrett was in a lovely dark blue Kiton suit. Dave and Sally were in their jeans and khakis having just disembarked from their six-hour United flight. We met them outside before they entered their room. We were all staying in the same little bungalow. Their room was just above ours.


"WOW! You guys look great. Where are you going?"

"We're going to a wedding."
"A wedding?"
"Yep. You can come along with us."
"Won't the couple mind? We can't go dressed like this."
"Sure you can. You need to drive us there. You're dressed perfectly. They won't mind."
"How can you be sure, Lor?" 
"Because we're the couple."

Silence.


Sally starts crying and runs upstair to get tissues and her camera.

All Dave says is  "I need a drink." as he tugs at his popped collar.

Once we were all re-assembled, we piled into their rental Jeep. They drove us to Monastery Beach in Carmel. A female minister whom I had hired from a service called By-The-Sea weddings (the first listing under 'Weddings' that I saw on the Carmel Chamber of Commerce website) met us at the parking lot there, and we all hiked about a mile (me in the borrowed ivory pumps Trish provided - as she insisted I needed something borrowed. I wore sapphire earrings for the something blue). 


We got to a promontory- a giant boulder and ledge that looked like it was created for our wedding stood against the backdrop of a sparkling blue ocean... The sun was setting. Harbor seals were stretched out on the rocks below, settling in for the night... sea otters were floating on their backs in the Pacific Ocean, cracking little oyster shells and having an early evening snack. Garrett and I laughed and smiled though our 'I Dos' (I chose the 'short' ceremony from the options list), and as Dave was driving us back to the lodge so we could all get ready for dinner after the ceremony, he said "THAT was the best wedding I've ever been to!"


I must say, I agreed with him at the time. I still do. That night we dined on pristine seafood and the season's loveliest offerings from the garden. I thought I'd recreate one of the dishes in honor of my wedding anniversary.




The following recipe (if you call what is basically an assemblage of ingredients a recipe) is the blast off into a Spring-inspired regimen utilizing the best of what the Bay Area has to offer in this eternal season of renewal. We will use a store-bought Pomegranate Sauce from Stonewall Kitchen, a really superior product that saves me time & tastes remarkably similar to a sauce I would make from Pom juice, aromatics & herbs. We marinade the seafood in the sauce with a bit of Extra Virgin olive oil and fresh ground pepper up to an hour ahead or as little as 15 minutes; grill the shrimps and scallops; and then reduce a 1/3 of cup of the Pomegranate sauce in a small pan with a touch of soy sauce and a splash of whatever wine you happen to be drinking at the time; until it's thick & glaze like. While the seafood marinates, prepare the sriracha aioli, the artichokes, the salad veggies and the dressing - keeping them separate until ready to serve - then toss the ingredients together. Simple!

Note: 
Le Roy Ladurie, in his book Les Paysans de Languedoc, has documented the spread of artichoke cultivation in Italy and southern France in the late 15th and early 16th centuries, when the artichoke appears as a new arrival with a new name, which may be taken to indicate an arrival of an improved cultivated variety:


“The blossom of the thistle, improved by the Arabs, passed from Naples to Florence in 1466, carried by Filippo Strozzi. Towards 1480 it is noticed in Venice, as a curiosity. But very soon veers towards the northwest...Artichoke beds are mentioned in Avignon by the notaries from 1532 onward; from the principle towns they spread into the hinterlands ... appearing as carchofas at Cavaillon in 1541, at Chateauneuf du Pape in 1553, at Orange in 1554. The local name remains carchofas, from the Italian carciofo ... They are very small, the size of a hen's egg ... and are still considered a luxury, a vaguely aphrodisiac tidbit that one preserved in sugar syrup.”


The Dutch introduced artichokes to England, where they grew in Henry VIII's garden at Newhall in 1530. They were brought to the United States in the 19th century, to Louisiana by French immigrants and to California by Spanish immigrants.

The Campania, I used here, is a large red artichoke. Redder than the Anzio, but not quite as red as the Fiesole. It is the world's largest red artichoke as some have been harvested that weigh over 2 pounds. Like the Lyon, it also comes from extensive breeding program in Southern France and its usage is similar to the Lyon. The Campania artichokes really have a beautiful almost fuschia-colored tinge to the leaves & are much more tender than the usual Globe choke; so they require less cooking time and preparation. If you can't find them at your market, simply replace with the Globe variety, cook longer and trim more, carefully removing the tough outer leaves and spines.

The gomasio for the court bouillon is a Japanese condiment that provides a more savory alternative to plain sea salt. It is comprised of sesame seeds, sea salt, & sea vegetables: organic dulse, nori and kombu. It really works well with the chokes imparting a nutty but still greenish flavor 
(is green a flavor? yes it is!) to them. You can just substitute toasted sesame seed, sea salt & maybe nori, if you have some around. I like the Eden Organics brand. 






Grilled Pomegranates-Glazed Prawns, Sea Scallops, Fiesta Salad,  Campania Artichokes with Sriracha Aioli




Ingredients:

For the salad:
1 fresh jicama, peeled, cut into batons
1 handful of fresh cilantro, coarsely chopped
10 cups of organic field greens (about 5 oz.), rinsed & dried
1/2 pint of grape or cherry tomatoes, halved lengthwise (from stem end to stem end)
1 Hass avocado, cut into 1 inch chunks
1 shallot, minced finely
2 ounces of feta (mine came from San Rafael), crumbled but not too finely
1/2 Meyer lemon
1 Tablespoon of Stonewall Kitchen's Pomegranate Grille Sauce
1 Tablespoon of cold-pressed extra virgin olive oil
sea salt & freshly ground pepper to taste
1 Ziploc gallon-sized plastic bag



The ingredients all assembled - ready for action




Jicama cut into batons


The mise en place for the salad





For the Artichokes:
2 Campania artichokes, stems lightly trimmed, tops sheared
1 bay leaf, whole for the court bouillon
2 tablespoons of seaweed gomasio (optional)
2 cloves of garlic lightly smashed (substitute garlic powder for it, if you must)
freshly ground pepper
8 quarts of boiling water that has been acidulated with lemon or rice wine vinegar

Campania Artichokes... so pretty...


For the sriracha aioli:
2 Tablespoons of lowfat mayo
1 clove of garlic finely minced & mashed with 1/4 teaspoon of coarse fleur de sel
1 Tablespoon of extra virgin olive oil
the juice of a 1/4 Meyer lemon
1 and 1/2 teaspoons of Sriracha hot sauce (or add to taste, you can find it in any Safeway supermarket, check the archives for a link to the product or google sriracha sauce)
1/4 teaspoon of Thai or Vietnamese fish sauce (or a 1/4 teaspoon of high quality anchovy paste)
freshly ground black pepper



Sriracha-chili aioli dipping sauce for the Campania Chokes


For the scallops and prawns:
1/2 lb of fresh sea scallops, adductor muscles removed (see photo)
1/2 lb. of #10-#12 prawns, removed from shells and deveined
1/3 cup of Stonewall Kitchen Pomegranate Grille Sauce (see note)
1 Tablespoon of Meyer lemon infused extra virgin olive oil (or the juice of 1/2 a lemon & 1 Tablespoon of EVOO)
1 teaspoon of soy sauce
1 teaspoon of agave nectar (or honey)
freshly ground black pepper
sea salt to taste (optional, I personally think both the pomegranate and the soy sauce have ample amounts of sodium so I wouldn't add it; but that's just my preference)



East Coast sea scallops and #10 prawns, sorry locavores!


Removing the adductor muscle from the scallops



Directions:


  1. Prepare the marinade ingredients for the seafood. Using a mixing bowl whisk together all the wet ingredients with the pepper, whisking in the oil last to form an emulsion. Taste, adjust seasoning &/ or marinade ingredients & when prepared to taste. Set aside for a moment.
  2. Clean and prepare the scallops & shrimp, being sure to remove the adductor muscles from the former, and the shells, intestinal tract, pleopods and pareopods (the front "arms" & back "legs") from the latter.
  3. Add the seafood & the marinade to the ziploc bag, shaking the bag around a bit to be sure that the marinade is evenly distributed. Set aside & allow to marinate at least 15 minutes up to an hour.
  4. Place the seasonings in 7-8 quarts of the boiling water for the artichokes, then add the chokes covering with lid & allow to boil for 10 minutes. When you smell them & can pierce the bottom of the chokes easily with the tip of a knife, you know they're done. Remove them from the water & set them on a towel, cut side down, to drain.
  5. While the artichokes are cooking & the seafood is marinating, prepare the sriracha aioli. The best way is with a large mortar & pestle but you can mix it in a small bowl. First crush the garlic & salt together to form a paste, then add the lemon juice & some freshly ground black pepper to the paste, incorporate well. Add the lowfat mayo, stir in. Add the sriracha & fish sauce. Mix well. Whisk in the olive oil, which just provides flavor for this dip, not emulsion, the prepared mayo provides that. Then taste & adjust for seasoning, thickness & heat. If it's too spicy add more mayo. Too thick, add more lemon juice. etc. When done spoon into individual small bowls for dipping.
  6. Next prepare the salad dressing, whisking the ingredients together & set aside until you are ready to serve the salad.
  7. Add all the salad veggies, except the avocado, to a large bowl & toss together. Set aside. DO NOT add the dressing, yet.
  8. Prepare your grill pan by brushing it with grapeseed oil or another vegetable oil with a high flash point. DO NOT use olive oil. It burns too easily. Place over medium/high heat.
  9. Place a 1/3 cup of the Pomegranate Grille Sauce in a small sauce pan set over medium/high heat, add a dash of soy sauce, the agave nectar & a splash of olive oil. Whisk it in & allow it to reduce while you cook the seafood. Keep an eye on it by stirring occasionally to be sure it doesn't burn.
  10. Remove the scallops & shrimp from the marinade. Drain excess marinade & pat dry with a paper towel. When the grill is hot, place the shrimp in pan making sure not to overcrowd the pan. Grill about 1-1/2 minutes per side or until they pinken & just start to curl. Remove from pan & set aside on a warm plate while you cook the scallops.
  11. Next, wipe the grill down with a wet paper towel held with tongs. Then brush grill surface with grapeseed oil; let it heat for 30 seconds or so & place the scallops in, careful not to overcrowd them. You want them to grill not steam. Cook the scallops about two minutes each side, less if they are small; more if they are large. When done to your liking, remove them from the grill pan & set aside in a warm place with the shrimp.
  12. Add the remaining marinade to the grill & heat until bubbly & thick. Remove from heat & place seafood in the sauce, gently tossing to coat the seafood. Turn off the sauce pan with the pomegranate sauce, giving it a quick stir.
  13. Toss the salad with dressing, avocado & feta.
  14. Plate the dish by placing a smear of pomegranate glaze on 1/3 of the dinner plate & topping with half the shrimp & scallops. Drizzle a little additional glaze on top, if desired.
  15. Plate the salad next to the seafood. Place the artichoke & dipping bowl on the last 1/3 of the plate. Serve.
This recipe serves 2 hungry spouses looking for a little "Spring" fling. ;P

Le Creuset grill pan:
 An apartment dwellers best choice for grilling




Pomegranate-marinated scallops grilling



Voila...
Simple with a few short cuts but still yummy!





The Colors of Spring

(from a little floral arrangement I created
These are shy peonies & tulips, peeking at you)