Tuesday, June 17, 2014

East Coast vs. West Coast: food fights

It’s that time again in Miami. Out with the pastel nail polish, in with the dark. Light nail polish is fine in the summer all over the country, but not in Miami, when you have to peel and slice mangoes—mangoes turn nail polish bright orange. Wear gloves, you say. Not gonna happen—I like to lick my fingers.

This year we have a bumper crop. The little ones that shall remain nameless because we have no idea what to call them are sweet, string free, and best eaten right off the tree. Thanks to the trusty Vita-Mix, we can make ice cream/freezes out of them, but how much can you drink? We still have some in the freezer in the garage from last year. Those we just threw in without even bothering to cut them.

The big ones called springfels, now that’s another story. They are as big as papayas. I pity the person who walks under the tree when one drops off—some of them weigh as much as three pounds. Rather than don a helmet for protection I pick them green and try to wait until they ripen to cut them …but…I cut one too soon, so I ended up with a very green and sort of sour mango, all sliced up and stored in the refrigerator. 

Since the springfels is rather rare, I couldn’t bring myself to toss the offensive slices so I concluded that they might make a decent slaw. I grated the slices and, rather than sugar, I added a few overripe small mangoes that I had picked yesterday. Along with some salt, a splash of key lime juice and a heaping spoonful of fresh salsa, I ended up with a bowl of slaw that I can’t stop eating.

Then my California daughter happened to call to describe yesterday’s meal. She just doesn’t understand that California tomatoes are so superior to the tasteless stuff that they try to pass off as vine-ripened here in Florida, that I can’t even listen to her when she tells me about her dinners. 

No, I couldn’t shut her up. Her moussaka was made with fresh tomatoes, eggplant, mushrooms, all from her local produce stand. If they grow anything worth eating in Florida, they ship it out of state. We get our oranges and strawberries from Costco—only the ones from California. 

Tomatoes are another story. The little tiny ones that are local sometimes taste OK, but the big, juicy, very red ones, nope. Why can’t they grow good tomatoes in Florida? We even try to pick our own. Even right off the plants, the very red ones have no taste. We can get some green vegetables locally: green beans, cilantro, lettuce, broccoli, zucchini, but nothing that should taste sweet. 

So, once a year, when mango season comes around, it’s my turn to gloat—and wear dark nail polish.

Friday, May 16, 2014

Maybe I'd rather have a new car

My son and I have so much in common: curly hair, love of cars, love of his father (who happens to be my husband of almost 51 years) love of loud music, and love of computers, the smaller the better. No , we don’t love our tablets. I use mine to watch TV on the weekends when we’re away from electricity and he uses his because he can’t appear to come from another century.

So, when he outgrew his latest greatest, a really beautiful sleek, pick it up with two fingers laptop, I was the proud recipient. He had done all the work: Windows 8.1 was dutifully updated, all the programs I wanted were left in place, and he hadn’t done any unnecessary surfing. The virus checker was in place, and I had nothing to worry about….wrong.

I started my journey by installing a few of my beloved programs: Corel Draw and Photo Paint, Adobe Acrobat Pro, drivers for my printers and scanners, Picassa, even MSGTAG. Everything was up and running and I was so proud of myself. My programs were old, but Microsoft said they would work, so I believed them…first mistake.

Next, time to play with 8.1. The games began. I clicked on the weather tile to try to relocate myself and instantly found myself on my desktop. Try as I might, I couldn’t get any of the tiles, the ones that were supposed to have connections to internet sites, to work. They were all dead. Even the store tile, the one that has to be used to get upgrades, was dead.

If anyone out there has tried to fix a Microsoft issue, you can understand my frustration. The first thing I did was run their venerable “Scannow.” As I expected, there were errors, but they couldn’t fix them. Hours and hours of surfing, trying fixes from sites the world over, finding no fixes, and, knowing that registry errors would bite me in the long run, I bit the bullet and reinstalled. 

Sounds simple, doesn’t it. Not so fast. When you reinstall, you get Windows 8 back. Sure, the tiles work, including the store one, but when you want to reinstall 8.1, you have to upgrade 8—100 plus upgrades. Hours and hours, even overnight. 

Then I had a pristine version of 8.1 with working tiles so I tried to set a restore point to prevent another trip up the river of quicksand. A half day of installing programs, testing each one, setting restore points, without knowing that they wouldn’t even work, and finding that one program broke the system, then another, then another. Three times I went through this exercise in futility. Scannow kept finding errors and I kept swimming upstream. Imaging the disk, the simple solution that my son came up with, didn’t work either.

My conclusion: leave out Adobe Acrobat, the drivers for my multifunction printer, Picassa, MSGTAG, and I would surely be home free. 

So I went back to the sandbox and decided to play. The store worked fine. Why do I have a death wish? I clicked on the food tile and it took me back to the desktop. Everything stopped working…again. The store was closed for business. 

Through my tears of frustration, I ran Scannow and found no errors. I reinstalled all my programs and drivers that I blamed for Microsoft’s errors and ran it again. No errors. So far so good.

My conclusion: I’m left with a broken system, will have to work with it, will pray every day that it doesn’t have any fatal errors that will freeze my system and force me to use the power button.

Is Microsoft really guilty of supplying a system with fatal flaws. (They wouldn’t be the first. I once got Apple to take back a Mac because they had released a system before it was ready for prime time.)

When they finally release their newest update, how will they make it available to those of us, and I’m not the only one, who have stores that are closed for business? 

Do we have to wait for the economy to come bouncing back for the store to reopen? But I digress. 

The new car is sounding better and better at this point.

Tuesday, November 12, 2013

The stars lined up (under a piece of meatloaf)

As long as I can remember, I’ve been fascinated with all things American Indian. From the first piece of jewelry my mother brought home from one of her trips to my obsessive collecting of parrot jewelry, the American Indians have always been on my mind.

As soon as the weather in South Florida drops into the 80’s, some of our weekends take us to the Miccosukee Indian reservation, where we happily camp in the parking lot of their casino resort, watch the sunsets across the Florida Everglades, and feast on the offerings in their four restaurants. 

It doesn’t hurt that my husband loves his toys in the casino. So far he’s ahead and he never risks very much so the angel on his shoulder hasn’t turned into the devil. Ever at the ready, my Kindle keeps me company because I hate to gamble. When forced, I always win. Every time my husband hands me money and tells me to place a bet, I win, because I walk out with my original money.

The best part of camping at the casino is that I don’t have to pack the refrigerator with food. When we spend the weekends on the beach in the Keys, the ingredients for our dinners come with us because I can’t bear to leave the seashore. And who can pay Keys prices for inferior food when the alternative is a seafood dinner at the Miccosukee resort, complete with unlimited oysters and scallops on the half shell, mountains of smoked salmon (lox) and crab claws and shrimp, paella (I like theirs and no one else's)…I could go on and on, but I’ll wait until later….for $12.95.

Sunday morning we were ready to go inside for breakfast, but, as is our malady on the weekends, the clocks in our heads were broken, and by the time we looked up, breakfast was over. One alternative was their incredible Sunday brunch. The problem with the brunch is that I have to start with dessert because there’s nothing more frustrating than looking at their desserts and not having any room.

On our what used to be frequent cruises on Carnival, the waiters got used to my silly eating habits: I had to eat the what I called “chocolate mushy thing” first or I never had room for it. Their melting chocolate cake, is so unbelievable, that when they gave me the recipe, it wasn’t hard to figure out why: Heavy cream, butter, chocolate, sugar, eggs.

We’ve had to give up the melting chocolate cake in favor of the food at the Miccosukee resort because we adopted Wesley. Wesley, our first what we think is a Tibetan Spaniel, is an escape artist, and we can’t leave home without him. So, whereas we used to leave our menagerie in the hands of our friend, I couldn’t trust Wesley. He’s the reason we spend every weekend in a motor home, but we love it, so I’m not complaining.

Nor should I complain about the remarkable food and desserts at the Sunday brunch at the Miccosukee resort. It just makes me crazy when I can’t eat enough at a buffet to make it worthwhile. Who can eat all the seafood in the ocean, along with lamb, rib roast, pasta as you watch it prepared, and on and on. Whatever you can think of that belongs on the best brunch you can remember is there. 

So we skipped the Sunday brunch and ate at the lunch buffet set out for the plebeians, all of us who are just hungry and want food. We’d eaten there many times, were never able to try it all, and were never disappointed. The salad offerings included everything that is too costly for most salad bars. The egg salad, pasta salads, and the like are all worthy of the gourmet shop on the Upper East Side that shall remain nameless. But, as always is my problem, I can’t have it all.

I took some macaroni and cheese, my favorite comfort food, passed up the fresh carved roast, chicken Florentine, mahi, and barbecued ribs, fresh vegetables, potatoes, and tried the meatloaf. But I hate meatloaf. 

I think they called it “Home Style” or “Southern,” but it didn’t taste like any meatloaf I’d ever been coerced to eat. The first thing I could pick out was pine nuts, not toasted to within an inch of their lives, but still white. I’m guessing there were capers and caramelized onions and garlic and cumin or something else to make it taste like sausage, and for the rest, I give up.

When I looked around the room I realized that not many people understood that they were dining, not just eating. I even asked the manager of the buffet, someone whom we had spoken to many times, if he had tried the meatloaf, and he looked at me like I was from another planet. So now my challenge is to figure out how to share our discovery with the rest of the general world.

Thursday, August 8, 2013

My Early Morning Headache

     When I picked up my Miami Herald from the driveway at five in the morning, I put it aside while I waited for enough daylight to come through the skylights to illuminate my living room.  I sort of wish I hadn’t picked it up, but, alas, today is Thursday, and sometimes there are some interesting recipes in the living section.

     The food section, with its recipes and articles may be my primary reason for fearing the demise of the printed newspaper (sorry, trees). For as long as I could hold a pan, I clipped recipes from the New York Times  and still get excited when one of Craig Claiborne’s falls from one of my favorite cookbooks. Isn’t  it amazing how the Times could get a complete recipe in a few column inches and today, if I try to print something that I find on line, I have to waste an entire sheet of paper. Then I never can quite figure out what to do with the recipe. So I have these papers stashed alongside my dishes and I’m lucky to be able to find what I want.

     Today’s Food Section contained a reprint of Bill Daley’s Chicago Tribune article debunking everything I have come to believe about MSG and glutamates in general. Chances are that Mr. Daley has never suffered from a migraine headache, since more women than men are afflicted with the horrendous disease. If he had, perhaps he wouldn’t have dismissed the anecdotal evidence concerning glutamates and their link to migraine disease.

     He is quick to label granulated MSG a villain, perhaps because “real” chefs don’t admit to shortcuts, but lists “glutamate-laden vegetables like tomatoes and mushrooms, plus cheeses, fish, meat — even seaweed.”

“Don't overlook what's in your larder for glutamate-rich flavor boosting. Drape some anchovies on hard-cooked eggs or a salad. Shave some Parmesan cheese atop a fresh tomato sauce, itself an ingredient loaded with glutamate. Toss bacon — a veritable umami bomb — wherever you can, from salads to sauces to side dishes.”

     Just because ingredients add flavor, they don’t necessarily flirt with the problems that glutamates cause. What we who suffer from migraine disease can and cannot eat is purely personal. I for one can eat anchovies and Parmesan cheese. In fact, one of my favorite pasta dishes comes from an old Marcella Hazan Italian cookbook. It combines broccoli, anchovies, olive oil, Parmesan cheese, and, my own addition, dry white wine. Someone else who suffers from migraines could possibly get a killer headache just reading the recipe, but it doesn’t affect me.

     I’ve been trying to figure the whole thing out as perhaps being a matter of degree. Perhaps if I space the killer meals, they might not really kill me, but sometimes I’m not so brave. My husband loves fried chicken from the supermarket (Publix or Winn Dixie, because we live in Miami). I’ve known that it gives me headaches but sometimes I get weak and try “just a small piece.” The other day I had my proof: Listed among the ingredients is, in plain letters is monosodium glutamate. Sometimes they try to masquerade the stuff—it can have all kinds of other names—but this was blatant. I didn’t eat the chicken and didn’t get a headache.

     Then there was the biggest dilemma of all. I love to barbecue ribs. I hate the fall off the bone ones that they insist on serving in restaurants, but like mine with a spicy dry rub, barbecued from the raw state. And every time I make them I get a killer headache. But I can eat barbecue in a restaurant. Then it occurred to me, it’s not the ribs or the stuff I put on them but the length of time allotted for the ribs to develop their own glutamates--slow cooking does that.
     So, being the glutton for punishment that I am, this week I’ll pre-cook the ribs and just finish them off on the barbecue…….to be continued.