Dark and Stormy Weather

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**I am sitting out on my back porch as I write, Magen’s Bay as my backdrop, watching the pelicans dive for their meal and listening to the water gently lapping at the shore below me. Yet I know this peaceful setting will disappear come morning…

In the oven: Pork Shoulder, braised in white wine with a medley of vegetables; Tex-Mex Black Beans; Rice; Carrots Glazed with Mustard and Brown Sugar

In my glass: A Dark and Stormy (see below)

The past several days have been crazier than normal for me. Between traveling, a funeral, and preparing for Once-Hurricane-Then-Tropical-Storm-Now-Tropical-Depression Danny I have stayed plenty busy! Danny is supposed to come through late this evening, and while we certainly do not need the flooding and winds that come with a hurricane, here in the islands we have been experiencing a drought and could really use a good soaking rain and filled cisterns. This is the driest I’ve seen it in the two years we have been living here.

Every indication is that the storm will barely cause any damage and bring maybe 2-4 inches of much-needed rain. The Sahara Dust that hovers in the air keeps most of the approaching storms at bay; however, Danny may bring enough moisture to clear away much of that dust, and the storm lingering just beyond Danny could be trouble. So really we are worried more about the storm brewing behind this one. As any good Girl/Boy Scout knows, it is good to be prepared…

And so we are now properly stocked up on water, canned goods, batteries, and Rum…you know, island essentials. Our landlord has installed the Hurricane Shutters on the house we rent and made sure the generators are fueled. Most of the boats we normally see moored around the island have been moved to safer waters. It seems odd to drive around the island and see so much open water harboring so few boats. The cruise ships are even keeping their distance, meaning fewer tourists, as well. On a positive note: this makes for much less congested trips to run these all important pre-storm errands.

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‘Dark and Stormy’ 2 parts ginger beer, 1 part blackstrap rum. Serve over ice w/ lime wedge

Despite the impending storm, today has been rather sunny. The skies are only just beginning to cloud over now. But I know once that first storm of the season passes, it will take with it the refreshing breezes we have now, and the air will grow still and mosquito-filled. This will last until some time in November or December when the Christmas winds return. Until that time (which may be sooner than later) I will enjoy every second I get of this. 

Tonight I am preparing a hearty meal in anticipation of the weather to come (see above menu) and hope I get enough for two meals so I don’t have to cook tomorrow. Somehow it seems appropriate to have a robust meal when a storm is coming, even in this heat. Below is the recipe for my Braised Pork Shoulder. Enjoy!!

Braised Pork Shoulder

  • 1 3 lb pork shoulder (season both sides with salt, pepper, rosemary and thyme)
  • 2 large carrots, peeled and sliced
  • 2 celery stalked, sliced
  • 1 medium onion, sliced
  • 2 T whole grain mustard
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 1/2 c. White wine
  • Preheat oven to 350 degrees

Brown the pork shoulder on both sided in a heavy duty dutch oven. Remove from pan and let rest.

Add vegetables to the pan and sauté until softened. Stir in the mustard and garlic.

Add the wine and bring to a boil. Place the pork shoulder back in the pan and remove from heat.

Cover, place in oven for 30 minutes. Turn after 30 minutes and cook for another 30 minutes or until done.

When done, take pork out of pan, let rest for 10-15 minutes, then slice and serve. Don’t forget the vegetables!!

HAPPY NATIONAL RUM DAY!!!

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It’s a HOT summer day here in TX, and a nice rum drink – preferably with one of those cute little umbrellas attached – is a happy way to make the heat feel a tad less oppressive…

 

I have spent a LOT of time in the Caribbean in the past couple of years, and rum drinks abound there. Cruzan Rum is original to St. Croix, and Captain Morgan moved its operations there in [I believe] 2010 from Puerto Rico. Both are wonderful rums!

In the British Virgin Islands there is a drink called a Painkiller which hails from The Soggy Dollar Bar…it is rum-based and fruity and delicious! Pussers is usually considered to be the original rum used; however, that is heavily debated by many. In any case, it is my favorite rum to have in that drink. A Painkiller consists of Pineapple Juice, Orange Juice, Cream of Coconut, [Pussers] Rum, and a dash of nutmeg on top. [drool]

Hmmm, pineapple juice, rum and cream of coconut…that sounds familiar… This brings us to the Piña Colada, which is original to Puerto Rico. Barrachina Restaurant is considered by many to have made the original, though this is disputed by The Caribe Hilton (who claim to have invented it about 10 years prior to Barrachina). I’ve been to Barrachina, and I’m not sure if what they serve is the original recipe, but it was a frozen pre-made concoction. I cannot vouch for the taste of the Caribe Hilton as we did not make it there. My husband and I found our favorite piña colada at a place called Moreno Spot. Theirs was made to order and served in a hollowed out pineapple (the juice of which was actually in the drink!). It was $12 and well worth it!

So…What is YOUR favorite recipe using Rum? And do you have a preferred rum?

My recipe for a Painkiller:

  • 3 oz Pusser’s Rum (you can vary this to taste)
  • 4 oz Pineapple Juice
  • 1 oz Cream of Coconut
  • 1 oz Orange Juice
  • Freshly grated nutmeg

Add ice to a cocktail shaker and pour the first 4 ingredients in…shake to mix. Pour into the glass (I include the ice) and grate nutmeg over the top. Garnish with an umbrella, preferably speared with a chunk of pineapple and a cherry.

Sit back, admire your concoction…then sip. Repeat until glass is empty.

Evolution

Evolution happens all around us. It is in everything; it is everywhere.

I have had my own transformations over the decades of my life, especially in the past two years. Cleansed Palate is no exception to the evolution process. For the past few years I have been struggling with this blog. My writing has stalled, and I’ve had trouble figuring out how to make it come together on the site as well as it does in my mind. I have brainstormed and written and made all sorts of lists in this process called Evolution. Yet I have been unsuccessful.

So what has been the issue? What was “wrong” with Cleansed Palate as it already was?

Nothing, really. I could have just kept it going, aimlessly, continuing with it as just an average food blog. However, that was not resonating with me. Food is my life’s passion. I am a food geek. Anyone who knows me gets that in about five seconds.

But I also love to travel, to meet new souls in my journeys, to renew relationships with old souls. I love history and spirituality. I don’t even mind the [occasional] round of political discussions. And I want to write about it all.

So how could I tie all of this together? And could I do that under the Cleansed Palate name, making it into one cohesive blog?

I love the name, and there has been something just under the surface telling me that it really does all tie together. Ah, but “HOW?” I kept asking myself…How, indeed…

So now let me digress a tad. I have recently been participating in a memoir-writing workshop. It is four classes and made up of some absolutely amazing souls on a similar writing path as my own. Despite the fact that it is a memoir class, I originally had no intention of writing about my life. Oddly enough, I was ‘tasked’ with writing my life story recently. I had postponed beginning. And then one day there appeared in my inbox an email for this Memoir Workshop.

The Universe had spoken.

So I signed up, and I have attended the first two classes so far…two more to go. And it has really jump-started my writing. I have written more in the past few weeks than I have in the past 3 years. I think I have only missed one day of writing since I began. I am amazed at this sudden transformation.

Let’s now fast forward to this past Friday when I had a session with my writing coach (First of all: WooHoo!! I have a writing coach!!!). We spent much of the session discussing Cleansed Palate and how I could make it work for me. At the end of the session I had committed to writing this post, by today. And so here I sit, writing this post.

On Saturday I woke early, lying in bed pondering why in the world I could not sleep (seriously, why can others seemingly lounge in bed on a weekend morning so readily??) when, suddenly, an amazing thought popped into my head, “Cleansed Palate IS my memoir”!!!

What an incredibly perfect name for the memoir of a food writer. I can incorporate all of my passions in one place: food, spirituality, recipes, travel…etc, etc.

And I fully intend to do just that…thank you, Universe. You have spoken, and I have listened.

Stay tuned for more tales from the memoir of this foodie…

Vegan Thanksgiving Ideas

I have aIMG_0891lready been planning my upcoming Thanksgiving menu. In fact, I have been working on it for a few weeks now, since early September as a matter of fact…

Am I crazy??

It’s not as crazy as it may first sound given the amount of travel I do each month, and given the fact that this Thanksgiving will be a bit more hectic than normal. Yes, there will be a multitude of pies. That is a must in our family! However, this year I am adding a few more guests to the mix – both for dinner (No, not in a Hannibal Lecter sort of way!) and as house guests. I am also throwing a big bash to celebrate my husband’s 50th birthday the Saturday after Thanksgiving. And of course Pie Night is the day after Thanksgiving (which is the day before the big party). Then there is decorating the house for Christmas…my goal is to have it completed the day after Turkey Day so my eldest can see and enjoy it before he leaves. He will not be back for the holidays this year. To further add to the complexities, this is the first Thanksgiving since my youngest son adopted a vegan lifestyle, so I have been diligently poring through new recipes to add to many of our traditional ones.

My challenge is to combine traditional Thanksgiving choices with vegan options, but options which are every bit as festive as the holiday itself.  I will still make my turkeys (two ways: roasted and smoked…sometimes I add in fried for some extra fun and gluttony!), and I will still have traditional sides such as stuffing/dressing, potatoes, breads, etc. However, I firmly believe that the point of Thanksgiving is about family and friends first, food (gulp) second. Yes, you heard me correctly: food is second. And so I will be adding in vegan choices.

I have not always treated Thanksgiving as a ‘food second’ sort of holiday. In fact, I imagine my family will agree that they often felt the roles were reversed.

This year will be different!

I may even let my family help cook the meal this year! This is a dramatic departure from the norm, and will require a great deal of letting go on my part. My son has already offered to help, and I plan to let him. Vegan options for the main meal are not so much of an issue for me; however, dessert proves the bigger challenge. I firmly believe in butter and lard as not only ingredients to make the best pie pastry, but also that they are healthy for our bodies. All in moderation of course!

Some ideas I have had on the pie front: Using vegan cookies as an option for crusts on the vegan pies. While the vegan butter my son has bought does taste good, it uses oils and ingredients I don’t want to incorporate into my eating lifestyle. I have also found a crust recipe that uses dates as the ‘fat’ in the crust from a vegan Coconut Banana ‘Cream’ Pie recipe I stumbled upon which sounds very tasty.

I will keep you all updated as the menu progresses. Perhaps I will even provide a recipe or two.

Buon Appetito!!

9.11.01 – A Soul Cleansing Tribute to the day we will never forget…

Remembering this day 13 years ago…Seems as if it was so much more recent than that. So much changed for our country. Some for the good, some not so good. People came together in ways they had not for decades. And then the fear set in, and we became more estranged than ever.

So when people post on FB ‘Never Forget’…well, how can I? How can we? I feel it was an awakening for all of us. We have, both as a country and as individuals, reacted in many different ways. Some have become overprotective, like helicopter parents hovering, fearful that everything they have worked so hard for will be taken away. Some have retreated in their fear, ‘protecting’ themselves from the unknown. Some have chosen Love.

I chose Love, and I continue to choose Love. I choose not to retreat, but rather to engage. I choose opening myself to all cultures, all beliefs. It is in the listening that we develop understanding and acceptance. Your beliefs may not be mine, but closing myself off to them is like cutting off my own hand. For if we as a country – as a Universe – continue to judge and profess which way is the ONE way it should all be done, that leaves out an entire population of souls who don’t share in that particular ONE way.

How sad.

Denying another’s view is like denying their very existence. Not only does it not offer any sort of validation, it labels them wrong as humans. Who wants to be a mistake? Is it so difficult to see why entire groups who have been ostracized for their beliefs would develop such hatred?

Peace can only be found through Love. Through listening and understanding. Through non-judgement. It IS attainable. And it begins within each of us. We begin by loving ourselves. We cease to judge ourselves and begin to accept who we are – all of it. This then translates to loving others, again, choosing acceptance over judgement. And so on…and so on…

I choose Love. This is how I honor this day and all days. Namaste…

Go [pastured] Pig or Go Home!! A small rant…

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This cutie lives on Ridge to Reef Farm in St. Croix!!

So this morning I have already found myself on my soapbox regarding bacon, eggs, grass-fed beef, et al. I get so frustrated when I see all those diets floating around…and there are so many supplements out there it truly boggles my mind. I know it is generally more expensive to eat organic produce, pastured eggs and chicken and pork, and grass-fed beef. Or at least in the short run. It is MUCH more expensive in the long run to eat all that processed food…expensive in the form of higher health care bills and the possible [probable] cost of a shorter life span and lower quality of life.

What if we all began demanding GMO-free foods? What if we all demanded grass-fed beef? And pastured chicken, pork and eggs?? What if, what if, what if…?? And more important than ‘what if’ is why don’t we already? How did we let something so important as food get out of our hands? This is what goes into our bodies. It is what our bodies use to grow and be nurtured and sustained. You know the expression: You are what you eat. I certainly don’t want to be some sort of chemically processed, sugar-laden, GMO filled being!!

Somehow it was decided that raw milk is no longer good for us, and in most states is it illegal to even buy it. How did we let that decision get taken away? If I want/choose to buy raw milk, I should be able to buy it. I can read about and determine the risk factors for myself. How did it come to be that someone else’s opinion about what is best for me overrides my own?

And how about fats? Yes, I said it: FATS. “Fats” is a BEAUTIFUL four-letter word that has been vilified over the years – especially saturated fats. Saturated fats are necessary in our diets (did you hear that:necessary!!), especially when they come from sources such as pastured pork and grass-fed beef. They are rich in many nutrients our bodies need. NEED…Did you know that the nutrients in vegetables are better absorbed when you add a little fat – such as butter – to them? Lard rendered from pastured pork is high in vitamin D. Just a couple of examples to blow your mind a little.

These subjects and others are topics to delve into further at another time. For now  I will finish by stating that I stand by my credo of eating in moderation. Anything can be bad for you if you go overboard…I don’t do ‘diets’…at least not in the typical sense. My ‘diet’: I eat as local as possible, I consume grass-fed/pastured  meats/eggs/poultry, and I move my body…generally via walking or Nia. I work to keep balance in my life spiritually, mentally and physically. Life is just too short to eat fake food…

April in Plano…Pineapple Margarita anyone??

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Pineapple-Jalapeño Margaritas…served in my favorite glasses. If I had a sombrero and a couple of these, I’d be sleeping, too!

April in Plano…not quite as nostalgic as April in Paris.

Or is it? The trees are budding, the birds are singing – flying about happily chirping to one another – and the weather is in that rare zone of not-too-cold yet not-too-hot. Sitting on the patio with a cup of coffee in the morning is actually enjoyable. And equally enjoyable is sitting outside at the end of the day as the sun slips lower into the sky, perhaps with a chilled glass of wine (me, not the sun)…or maybe even a delicious Pineapple Margarita…

Yesterday, I came upon the most beautiful pineapples – fresh, organic, and wonderfully sweet! It was the aroma that first alerted me to their presence. Following my nose I soon found the sizable display around the corner. Pineapple after pineapple, piled one upon the other…a treasure trove just waiting for me to find ‘The Chosen One’. I will opt for the golden flesh of a perfectly ripe, juicy, sweet pineapple over 24K gold any day. Yes, I am that much of a food geek!

I instantly knew what I would create with my treasure.

My mind flashed back to last year at this time when I first bought my Vitamix. Pineapples were abundant then as well. Experimenting with the myriad ways I could use it, I discovered how well it purees even the toughest of fruits and vegetables.

I cut up my golden beauty and placed her glorious chunks into my Vitamix, added lime juice, tequila, Grand Marnier and ice…and with but a few pulses – voila! – my Pineapple Margarita was born!! A waiting margarita glass – with salted rim, of course – was soon filled, leaving just enough room for a fresh pineapple garnish. Mmmm….

Yesterday’s margarita was similar, only upon rummaging in my liquor cabinet I discovered a lack of the ‘cheap’ tequila I reserve for margaritas (how did I let that happen?)…so I pulled out the ‘good stuff’ – which happens to be a bottle of Manik Anejo 100% Agave. I proceeded to chop my pineapple and squeeze the limes and carefully [ahem] measure my tequila and Grand Marnier. My favorite margarita glass – you know, the one with the man sleeping under his sombrero at the base of the glass – was prepared and waiting for this special ‘nectar of the gods’ I was creating. A few passes in the Vitamix was all it took and my glass was soon full.

I’d like to leave you with this image: it’s a warm spring day in Texas, a soft breeze gently kisses your skin and the sun’s rays warm you to your very soul…you are soaking up every bit of it, all the while luxuriously sipping on a fresh Pineapple Margarita. Yes, Virginia, there is a Heaven…

The ‘starter’ of a new era…

I am attempting a sourdough bread starter yet again. Each time I learn something new…perhaps this time I will learn how to keep my starter alive and kicking! She still needs a name, but she is doing well after 4 days. I would have made it earlier, but organic grapes were not in season. Although my recipe states regular grapes can be used if washed well, I decided I wanted to go with organic. For the next 5 days she will sit undisturbed, hopefully developing into an aromatic, yeasty sourdough which I will soon use to bake all sorts of goodies: breads, waffles, pretzels…mmm, can’t wait!

So as I sit on the sidelines for the next several days as she matures, I will be contemplating her name and dreaming of the delectable feasts soon to come!

Saturday, July 2, 2011: Visiting our family in Ferentino

We arranged for the bus we used yesterday to take us to Ferentino. What a magical day!!! Our family greeted us with open arms, meeting us at the exit into town so the driver could follow them to their home near the top of the city. It was tight maneuvering in several spots, but our driver was adept at squeezing that bus through traffic and narrow openings. I am in awe!

We went first to one of the homes of our family, where we were met by several family members. We were able to communicate with one another…My husband and I speak very little Italian, but my nephews both have been taking lessons (one for 5 years), so they were a tremendous help!

We went to a restaurant owned by one of their friends. The restaurant is normally closed on Saturday at lunch, but they opened just for us. They had a large table set up for all of us, and greeted us with glasses of prosecco for a family toast. Then the feasting began!!! Local cheeses and meats started things off, followed by 2 pasta courses (the first: a dish made from my husband’s great-grandmother’s recipe), a meat course, dessert, and drinks. Amazing! Perhaps our best meal yet in Italy…actually, perhaps our best meal for our entire trip!!

We were taken on a tour of the town next. We visited the cemetery where many in the family are buried. Then we were taken on a tour of the town (a walled-in town older than Roma), visiting a few of the ancient gates leading into the walled town as well as one of the local churches. The views were stunning from atop the hill…I cannot begin to imagine how wonderful it is to wake up in a town as awe-inspiring as this every day…truly spectacular!

We headed back to the house after the tour to say our goodbyes for this visit. I cannot believe how quickly the time passed, but it was such a wonderful gift that they opened up their homes and hearts to all of us. I am so grateful for this time and hope they are able to come to visit us so we can extend a warm welcome to them in the USA…it was a happy yet sad trip back in the bus to Rome – if that makes any sense…