February 13, 2019

Dear friends,
I am starting to lose track of time. A month nights, a year of days. October drifting into May. Tony was surprised recently when I mentioned it was Sunday. I’m not that bad, although I do have to look at a calendar to figure out the date. Mid-February already? The breezy, sunny days flow together like summer vacation as a kid.

We are waiting out the snow and ice in ranch country, 30 miles from the beach. Steers outnumber people here in south-central Florida. A bit further south is sugar-cane country, where harvested fields are set afire to prepare them for the next crop. In a state without hills, let alone mountains, the plumes of black smoke are visible for miles.

We are trying to eat local, but it’s difficult. I inhale as many honeybells and grapefruit as I can, but a watermelon I bought at a farm stand turned out to be from Guatemala, and local seafood and beef are elusive. A butcher explained why I can’t find local beef. Florida has plenty of pastures but few if any feed lots where cattle are fattened up before slaughter. Florida herds are shipped north on the hoof rather than butchered here.

The dearth of local seafood is inexplicable. I have had a hard time finding a seafood store even on the coast. Ideally, I’d like to buy some fish directly from a boat. We’re still looking. Meanwhile, we drove a couple of hours Sunday to a seafood festival in Port Everglades for a few nuggets of fried alligator and some chewy fried clams. I bet they were frozen. The festival had more to offer, but the crowd was dense.

On our way out of town we stopped at the Marathon gas station to load up on stone crab claws, the specialty of the region. We scored a 3-pound bag, frozen, for $30. Yes, at a gas station. I’ll cook the crab claws this week.

The only cooking I did last week was a chicken salad and some sausages. Yeah, not exactly Florida food. The salad was delicious, though.

I couldn’t stop thinking about the combination of rice, chicken, dates, almonds and pineapple after Kris F. described it in an email I shared last week. What if I used basmati rice, I mused? And added some warm spices such as cinnamon and nutmeg? The resulting salad was so addictive I finished off the leftovers for breakfast. Thanks, Kris.


2 cups cooked chicken in 1/2-inch cubes
1 cup cooked basmati rice
1 cup pineapple tidbits
1/2 cup slivered almonds, toasted
1/2 cup chopped dates
1/2 tsp. salt
1/8 tsp. cinnamon
2 pinches nutmeg
1/2 cup mayonnaise
2 tbsp. pineapple juice
1 tsp. lemon juice

Combine, chicken, rice, pineapple, almonds and dates and mix well. Sprinkle with salt, cinnamon and nutmeg and mix again to distribute spices. In a small bowl, beat together mayonnaise and juices. Pour over chicken mixture and stir well. Makes 4 servings.

I found a substitute for Miracle Whip. Look no further than the Japanese section of your nearest Asian grocery store where you will find Kewpie mayonnaise. It is a virtual clone of Miracle Whip, which was basically ruined when the fat content was reduced a few years ago, resulting in dressing that turns watery on salads overnight.

What I cooked last week:
Not much. A chicken-rice salad with dates and pineapple; pan-grilled Italian sausage.

What I ate in/from restaurants last week:
Ground beef patty, cottage cheese and fruit at Pogey’s in Okeechobee; cream cheese wonton, Mongolian beef (sort of) and hot tea at Chen’s in Okeechobee; a Cuban sandwich, plantain chips, yuca fries, beef and chicken empanadas and a coconut pastry from Mervis’ in Ft. Pierce (spread over three meals); two biscuits and jam from Pogey’s; chicken and beef empanadas from Mervis’ in Ft. Pierce; fried alligator, fried clams and hush puppies at the Everglades City Seafood Festival.

From Geoff H.:
In reply to Sherrie W. asking about beans, perhaps she can benefit by going to this website: https://www.ranchogordo.com/.

It’s called “Rancho Gordo” and they sell a large variety of heritage beans. I’ve tried several and they have all been exceptional. The website describes each variety they sell and what dishes they could best be used in. They also have many recipes using beans and I’m sure she could find a variety that would please her here. It’s the only place I buy beans now.

Dear Geoff:
When Sherrie mentioned she used to buy beans online, this is the site I figured she used because it is considered the best. If not, I urge her to try Rancho Gordo. At the very least, she should find a good substitute for the beans that no longer seem crisp. Geoff, your email gave me the idea of buying dried fava beans online. With their dopamine content, my mood swings soon may be a thing of the past. Tony thanks you.

From Carol B.:
I am so tired of dealing with garlic cloves. They’re sticky and it’s hard to get rid of the skins. What do you think of the substitutes for fresh garlic, like marinated minced garlic and dehydrated minced garlic? Both of these come in jars and are so much easier to use.

Dear Carol:
I hear you, but unfortunately nothing packs the punch of fresh garlic. I think packaged, minced garlic pales in comparison. Tony found peeled whole cloves once that were great, but they came in such a gargantuan package that I couldn’t use them all before they shriveled.

I have tried various short-cut methods of peeling garlic with no success. The skin is supposed to fall off if you shake the whole cloves in a lidded jar, but it didn’t work for me. Maybe if I had continued shaking for 15 minutes, but otherwise, no. One tip: If you wet your hands and knife before mincing, the garlic won’t be as sticky.

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