Monday, July 28, 2008

The Verdant Movement

This morning I was listening to Morning Edition on NPR (National Public Radio, aka the source of my daily cup of delight) and I heard an announcement of support from The MacArthur Foundation. Their tagline is “to help build a more just, verdant and peaceful world…etc.” Now, I don’t know about you, but I’m all about the “Green movement.” My top five food-related favorite things about it:

1. More farmers markets, which means more local produce and more local goat cheese (at least in ‘Bama). Hooray!

2. An excuse to buy and carry around really cute bags with silk-screened sayings like, “Live. Love. Green.” on them under the premise that they are environmentally-sustainable grocery bags that cut down on waste like CRAZY.

3. The ability to run my car on used frying-oil from local restaurants. I haven’t quite figured out how to modify my engine so I can do this, but believe me, I’m thinking.

4. I save a lot of money on bottled water because I don’t buy it anymore. 30,000 plastic water bottles are dumped into Miami landfills EVERYDAY. I’m having Wall-E nightmares already.

5. Smart cars!

Okay, so the last one isn’t food-related, but they’re so dang cute! I want one.

Anyway, back to The MacArthur Foundation. I just got a kick out of their use of the word “verdant” to replace the word “green.” I understand their extreme commitment to intellectual pursuits, but seriously, I don’t think “The Verdant Movement” is going to catch on. Or maybe their point was to shun the “trend” label, yet still be perceived as environmentally friendly.

This doesn’t really have anything to do with food, I’m realizing, so I’m going to tie the subject matter in immediately.

One of my favorite summer vegetables is squash. You name it, I love it. Zucchini, yellow squash, and especially pattypan squash. These little jewels are light green (verdant) and excellent when roasted, sautéed, or grilled. I made a nice salad last night for dinner that encapsulates the word “verdant,” and will make a nice addition to this blogpost. Eat more squash.

Grilled Pattypan Squash with Dill and Lemon

1 pound pattypan squash, blossoms removed
2 tbsp olive oil
Salt and Pepper
3-4 sprigs of fresh dill
juice of ½ lemon
zest of ½ lemon

Ignite your grill to the hottest setting and put a grill pan on the top rack if you have no grill, a 450-degree oven works just swimmingly).

Cut each pattypan squash into 1” pieces depending on the size of the squash. For the really tiny ones, just half them.

Toss in olive oil, salt and pepper. Pour squash onto hot grill pan and shut the grill top. During grilling, move squash around on the grill pan every few minutes to ensure even cooking on all surfaces. Make sure some browning occurs, so don’t stir too prematurely.

While the squash are grilling, chop fresh dill, zest and squeeze lemon and combine ingredients in a large bowl.

Remove squash from the grill and dump them into the mixing bowl with the dill, lemon zest, and juice. Toss to coat evenly.

Serve with grilled meats or even on its own. Great warm or cold.

Viva la verdant!

Saturday, July 26, 2008

La Casita de Carmencita

Here is one of the best falling-in-love stories I’ve ever heard: A woman and a man were at a party. Not together. They were both just there. Fate put them there.

The music blasting a rhythmic salsa, pisco sours being passed around, the part is rip-roaring. The woman, stunningly beautiful with almond-shaped eyes and jet black hair, ducks into the kitchen to escape the din of the chatter. In the quiet kitchen, she finds a man with skin the color of caramel, slicing raw fish. He seems at home among piles of lemons and limes, red onions, salt, hot peppers, and pale yellow cancha, Peruvian corn with kernels the size of nickels. He hums while he works, a lock of black hair falling over his furrowed brow, lined with tiny sweat beads.

He is making ceviche, which happens to be the woman’s favorite food. She is instantly smitten. They have been married for almost thirty years, now.

I love this story because the man and the woman are two people I have come to adore for the past seven months. They are my boyfriend’s parents, Hugo and Carmen, and food remains an important part of their marriage and family now, just as it was the catalyst that brought them together.

Every time I go over to Mama y Papa Alejos’ house in south Florida, I leave full. Very full. We usually wake up to the smell of Italian sausage sizzling in the pan, and stumble to the dining room, where we can see Hugo making omelets in a prehistoric black pan, one he refuses to give up, so warped that its smooth surface has been replaced with grainy black bumps – one for each omelet that has come out of the pan. The coffee on the table, is Folgers, but for some reason, it tastes like a fine French Roast from all the love that has been brewed right in. I’m a croissant and espresso girl, usually content to eat enough to quiet my hunger until lunch time. But in their house, I fill a fluffy slice of Cuban bread with as much sausage, egg, and hot sauce as I can muster and chow down. Inevitably, Hugo will consider what we will have for lunch while we’re at the breakfast table.

Since I’ve been dating Cliff, I’ve been to a plethora (yes, a plethora) of Peruvian restaurants between Orlando and Miami, but the food that Hugo and Carmen put on their table is better than any dining establishment. Chunks of slow-cooked beef or chicken is simmered in thick, verdant cilantro sauce to make a seco. Shreds of chicken swim in spicy yellow aji pepper paste. And of course, there is ceviche. Half of the oval serving plate is for Carmen, a notorious hand-smacker if she sees one of us reaching for too much of her favorite dish, the other half of the dish is for the rest of us to fight amongst ourselves.

I always admire the way the family sits around the able for every meal. Not once in the dozen times I’ve been there has anyone eaten in front of the television, in their room, or on the porch. There are always jokes, stories, and laughter around the table. An atmosphere that I’m used to, and though my grasp of the Spanish language is pathetic at best, I can always laugh heartily with the rest of the family and exclaim, “Que rico!”

Tuesday, July 01, 2008

Quality Coffee Catches a Break

The first good thing to come out of our failing economy was announced today: Starbucks is planning to close 600 stores, a hike from its original announcement of 100 stores. It seems that the coffee giant has taken a hit from our monetary downturn, and people are turning to homebrewing rather than drinking the abomination that comes from the Starbucks spout. Here's the whole story, a blog from Fortune Magazine: Starbucks Has A Bitter Plan

If you know me at all, you know how opposed I am to coffee from Starbucks. After working at Seattle's Best Coffee (which at the time was about to be absorbed by Starbucks Corp), and watching person after person fork over $4 for a 16oz. cup of water filtered through second-rate beans, I got jaded. Really jaded. Without batting an eyelash, women carrying babies, the homeless person on the corner (Borders is a haven for the homeless...I guess it's better than the ABC Liquor), and 15-year-old high school kids ditching class from Lake Highland Prep would come to the counter and demand a latte (Note: How many of you know the difference between a latte and a cappuccino? 95% of my customers didn't.) because that's what they'd seen on TV, and instead of buying their children a gallon of milk, they gulped down a mouthful of chemicals and caffeine.

I'm sorry, do I sound worked up? I am.

Not to mention that the three-week training I recieved was more exhaustive that CIA Special Ops boot camp. I can tell you pretty much anything about coffee, the history of Seattle's best, and the original blends of Seattle's Best and Starbucks coffees.

You would think that spending $4 for something liquid would have to render it absolutely AMAZING once it hit your tongue. The Thai spice martini I had at Dan Marino's Tavern on the Lake was $10, and it really was insanely good, which makes me not so angry for having paid $10 because I still rave about it. Not so with the ubiquitous green overhang. Have you tasted the new Pike Place Blend?? My mouth puckered like someone had just squeezed a lemon on an inflamed taste bud. The new amalgamation of bottom-of-the-barrel wholesale, over-roasted beans is too tangy and smells burned. If that's all their brewing at your local Starbucks, if they're not soon to be closed, ask them to brew something else. Or go somewhere else. Like these places in Orlando, all of which I love.

Drunken Money Coffee Bar
- If you get a chance, be hungry when you go. Chef John'ssoups border on heavenly.

Infusion Tea, Edgewater Drive or Pine St. - No coffee here, but the assortment of teas will make you forget all about the boring Joe. A hippie/mod place with a clean vibe that place excellent 80s new-wave alternative.

Daily Grind Coffee House and Cafe - Right downtown so it's perfect if you're just in and out. Between 8 and 9am, it's packed, so try some in between time.

600 stores is only 8.9% of Starbucks' 7,100 total stores, so there's a lot of work to do. Brew at home (buy a Tassimo!!). Drink tea. Support local business ventures. Or just drink juice. Organic juice.