January 19, 2017

Dear friends,

I’m in a summer state of mind. Don’t hate me, but I can’t get excited about stews and roasts with the temperature hovering in the low 80s here in Florida.

I’ve been eating Honeybell tangerines, ripe tomatoes, fresh shrimp and just-picked strawberries. I’m living the dream.

Our piece of paradise is a small camper on a patch of grass and sand in St. Petersburg, Fla. The beach is a mile away. A salty inlet is steps from our door, as is a bike path and swimming pool. We have been here for two weeks and will remain for another two weeks before facing the tail-end of Ohio’s winter.

Tony, who honed his people skills beind the sushi bar, is absolutely delighted with campground life. On our first day here he returned from a walk with an invitation for cocktails and the first names of everyone from Ohio. He wants to have a sign made with our names and city and a catch phrase like “On the road again.” No. Just no.

I awoke from a nap that first day and stepped outside to an array of our possessions scattered around the camp site. Tarps were on the ground, tools were here and there, our kayak was off the truck and over by the fire ring, fishing poles leaned against the bumper, and a collapsible red wagon, our bicycles and a 6-foot ladder littered the path between the camper and the road.

“We look like hillbillies,” I said. “We have to clean this up.” I figured he had been digging around for something and had just flung junk willy-nilly. I realized I was wrong when I asked why the ladder was out.

”For display,” he said.

The man was showing off our posessions like the proprietor of a flea market. Oh, my lord.

Anyway, I’m not doing a lot of cooking on my midget 3-burner stove. I have an oven, but it doesn’t get as much use as the microwave. Yesterday Tony cooked steaks outdoors over a wood fire and for lunch I warmed up a couple of store-bought arepas.

Breakfast was sliced strawberries over creamy ricotta cheese.

I have good intentions, though. I located a good seafood store, and I plan to steam spiny lobsters in a Thai coconut-lime broth. Maybe I’ll even bake a shortcake to showcase those ripe Florida srawberries.

Although you probably can’t lay your hands on spiny lobster, you can enjoy a tropical strawberry shortcake. Here’s a recipe for a strawberry-coconut shortcake I created a few years ago to feed my ongoing passion for all things coconut. The shortcake dough contains both coconut extract and shredded coconut, and toasted coconut is sprinkled over the finished dessert.

Tony suggests you display the tropical strawberry shortcakes on a sideboard to admire while you have dinner. And if you have a nice ladder, you could set that up, too.

STRAWBERRY-COCONUT SHORTCAKE

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1 pint strawberries
3 tbsp. sugar, or to taste
For the shortcakes:
2 cups self-rising flour
2 tbsp. sugar
3/4 cup sweetened coconut
8 tbsp. cold butter
2 tsp. coconut extract
1/2 to 2/3 cup milk
1 cup toasted coconut

Wash berries, remove hulls and cut in half or slice. Toss in a bowl with sugar to taste. The amount will vary depending on the sweetness of the berries.

In a food processor, combine flour, sugar and coconut. Cut butter into small pieces and add one at a time through the feed tube while the motor is running. Scrape mixture into a bowl. Toss with a fork while sprinkling with extract and enough milk to form a soft dough.

Gather dough into a ball. Scoop up one-third cup of the dough and gently shape into a disk about 1 inch thick and 3 inches across. Place on a parchment-lined baking sheet. Continue with remaining dough.

Bake at 425 degrees for about 15 minutes, or until edges just begin to turn golden. Serve warm or at room temperature. To serve, split biscuits in half horizontally and fill and top with strawberries.

Sprinkle with toasted coconut. Makes 7 shortcakes.

Note: To toast coconut, spread on a baking sheet and bake at 425 degrees for 3 to 5 minutes or until light brown, stirring once.
TIDBITS
Tony and I stumbled on yet another version of hot chicken on our way to Florida. During our trip to Nashville last year we became hot chicken fans, so we practically shrieked when we spotted a “hot chicken” sign while filling the tank in Crescent Springs, Ky.

But Kentucky hot chicken is not Tennessee hot chicken, we learned. It is a totally different, weird and wonderful dish of its own. In fact, it does not exist beyoned Crescent Springs, a waitress at Joella’s Hot Chicken told us. Just the original Joella’s and one nearby restaurant serve it.

The chicken appears to be pressed, with a killer crunchy breading that is beyond crispy. It is topped with a complex, oil-based hot sauce and served on a paper plate with a pickle chip skewered to the chicken’s surface with a toothpick.

The dark-brown sauce comes in six levels of hotlness. I had a mid-hot Ella’s Fav, which was sweetened with too much honey but addictive nonetlheless. Tony had the Hot, and said he can’t imagine anyone ordering the Fire in the Hole, the ultimate flavor. Tony has a tolerance for spicy food (at home he uses Tabasco like ketchup), but had trouble finishing his chicken. He did anyway, of course.

Tony had his chicken over waffles. I had mine with slaw and green beans. I plan to stop again on my way back to Akron and maybe try the hot chicken sandwich with pimiento cheese. Fellow wanderers can find Joella’s at 2440 High St. in Crescent Springs.
The website is http://www.hotchickencom.
THE MAILBAG
Was it something I said? No one has sent me an email since the beginning of January. Please write to me with your questions and ruminations, as well as notes about restaurants and food stores you’ve visited and new dishes you’ve tried. Thanks.

 

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