My friend Carol spends her winters in Florida hiding from all that cold weather in her true and natural habitat up north. And while I feel this is obviously a copout, I am more than willing to take advantage of her gracious hospitality, lovely home and warm weather. So I am here lolling around being waited on hand and foot, and chauffeured hither and tither, hiding from the extraordinarily cold weather up north.

Yesterday we took a tour of mangrove islands. It was an interesting boat ride through the Everglades (spiders and crabs!) but lunch in Everglade City beforehand was worth the price of admission. I knew as I saw the rusted out Volkswagen something transcendent was about to occur.

Lunch was excellent, from the fried green tomatoes to the grouper salad. But the place was perfect. When I have my restaurant it will be just like that. Oh wait. It already was.

Empanadas for New Year’s Eve

I had a lot of left over food from entertaining over the holidays. Sausage and meatballs, shrimp, pork tenderloin and chutney and when I realized needed to bring something to Carol’s New Year’s Eve party (Well, to be honest, I didn’t need to. She had enough food for 900 people. Nine hundred really hungry people. But I felt I needed to bring something not realizing she’d have a freaking smoked turkey, a smoked fish the size of a blue whale, enough shrimp to feed one and chopped liver for the bat mitzvah of a girl with a LOT of friends, as well as many other assorted and lovely things to eat.)I decided to make empanadas with leftovers. This solution seemed brilliant to me, exclusive of the hideous amount of work it might entail. Dough had to be made and rolled out and while I had the basic ingredients they had to be made into filling that wasn’t too wet or too dry. Then there was assembly and finally there was dealing with my hyper-sensitive smoke detector. Jesus H Christ. You’d think I was smoking a ham the way that thing behaved. 

I chopped the meatballs and sausages smallish dice, added a good deal of parmesan for the Italian empanada filling. Chopped the shrimp and made shrimp creole, and with the pork tenderloin I made curried pork and mango filling, just like they make in India.

I made the dough in a food processor and it was easier than say, running 5 miles, it is not something I’ll do on a daily basis. While strangely, running is. I added curry to the flour mixture for the creole and curry empanadas, respectively, so they were slightly yellow. And I used a Cook’s Illustrated trick of adding vodka to the cold water for the dough which makes the crust really lovely. The smell of vodka is quite distinct when it’s baking but miraculously gone when you remove it from the oven. 

This whole process wasn’t exactly as easy as I’d envisaged, I love all the fussy crap you have to go through. Chopping, sautéing rolling out, folding, making fork marks, egg wash. All up my alley.

 Unfortunately, as I am not the tidiest person I know, as I may have mentioned, my kitchen looked remarkably like a Texas Chain Saw massacre. But the results were gorgeous and delicious. It may be a new favorite thing to make. I imagine I could make them and freeze them.

When I open my restaurant, I will be sure to have these on the menu. Oh, wait…

Flashback to 8th grade

In 8th grade I had a paper route. It was hell. Unlike city paper boys who went from door to door, house to house, each 20 feet apart and delivered 80 papers in the space of 20 minutes, living in a farming community I had to deliver papers to houses miles apart. Houses with blocks-long driveways and vicious, hostile farm dogs (I still hate large dogs because of that). It took hours every single day of the week and I had only 36 papers on Sunday and 27 during the week. Hell.

But I did it because I am the kind of person who gets the job done. It was my job and I did my duty. But I was not motivated by money. Because the thing I didn’t like was collecting the money. I was always short of money. The system required that I pay the Journal every week for the papers I delivered and I was supposed to collect on Fridays. But I hated collecting. Which was stupid of me since my customers knew I was supposed to collect and usually they gave me tips but asking Mrs Buehlen for the $1.50 or what ever it was seemed rude and grasping.

Anyway, because I always delivered the paper, everyone was very impressed and complimentary about my performance (apparently previous paper boys were not as dutiful which at the time was a mystery to me) and at Christmas I got a lot of gifts and tip money. The tip money was mostly scattered on the floor of my bedroom but some of the gifts, specifically a box of selected chocolates from Europe from Mrs Olsen was hidden from, specifically, my sisters. 

Snickers and Hershey’s kisses were about all there was for me chocolate-wise (not that I’m complaining about them) in that day and age. And getting them was a rare occurrence and sharing was alway an issue in a household with 5 children. I had never contemplated anything like this in my life. A box of exotic chocolate meant only for me. The foreign languages, the glamorous packaging, white chocolate fer chrissake. I had no idea anything like white chocolate existed. [A few years later in the seminary I ate 87 pounds of white chocolate-covered pretzels and have never felt the same about the stuff again]. 

In the package was a Belgian chocolate bar the taste of which came slamming home to me this week when in a fit of need I opened a bar of Belgian chocolate my friend Carol brought me (from Belgium) earlier this year. It has been nearly 50 years since I tasted it but I recalled the flavor vividly. The flavor, and the satisfaction of not having to share.

Later that same day

We went to Brugges. I went because my friend Carol, who visited Belgium recently, and Ashish had lunch together at some particular restaurant there. Apparently the escargots are really good since they both, independent of one another, raved about the snails in the way one raves about anything drowned in butter and garlic, but still, Carol being a world traveler and Ashish being the international gourmet he now is, I had to go.

We took the late afternoon train to Brugges, walked the town for a while, had a beer, well, Ashish had some fruity raspberry beer, I had the more manly not-particularly-aggressively-beery-tasting beer and then we hopped off to eat at some restaurant with a Flemish name I did not understand.

I ordered the exquisite snails and Ashish, at my urging ordered the very fishy and pasty, shrimp croquettes. Don’t get those if you have the chance.

For dinner I ordered the carbonnade and he got scampi and what appears to be a large marshmallow. The carbonnade which was essentially an entire pot roast and was amazing, came with french fries and mayonnaise. The scampi was… I’m not sure. I was too busy with my dinner to notice.