February 5, 2020

Dear friends,
Tony set the tone for our Florida trip the day the temperature dropped and it rained. As we huddled in our camper reading, he told me he was drinking Pomeranian tea. Maybe pomegranate? Whatever. Tony keeps coming up with these unwitting one liners, brightening even the rare cloudy day.

Most days have been sunny here in Hobe Sound, our new location after two winters at a campground in Okeechobee. We are near the beach. We are near seafood. We are near all kinds of Caribbean, Mexican, Guatemalan, Japanese and Thai cuisine.

Sorry, but I can’t tell you about the fancy waterfront restaurants with seafood appetizer towers. In retirement my haute cuisine veneer has peeled away, revealing what I’ve been all along — a lover of homespun dumps that serve food packed with flavor.

I’ve been getting my seafood at Crawfish House, a clapboard shack with house trailers out back. It has been around forever. Hush puppies come with the hand-breaded, fresh fried shrimp.

After a movie one night, we found get-down Jamaican cuisine at a kiosk in a mall. We made a u-turn on the way out of the mall after seeing plates of deliciousness on tables in the food court. I scanned the food purveyors and deduced the food was from 876 Jerk. It was, and our meal was terrific.

We get our Cuban fix at Wow Cuban Cafe, by a stroke of luck located not a mile from our campground. We are addicted to the cafe con leche. We buy a Cuban sandwich and split it for lunch at the beach. We get sides of fried plantains and black beans and rice. The slow-roasted marinated pork looks delicious.

We have found a great little Thai restaurant, Krua Thai, and noted a few sushi places we want to try. We’ll probably never get to, though, because Tony fell in love with a Japanese-Chinese place recommended last week by the woman who cut my hair. Mikata Buffet in Stuart is not bad at all for a buffet restaurant. The sushi is made to order and the rice is properly cooked and seasoned, a rarity. The stir frys and other hot table items taste better than the microwaved junk at most buffets. But jeez, do we have to dine there every time it’s Tony’s turn to pick? So far, yes.

If my husband is tired of my choices, he hasn’t complained. My go-to is either a Mexican grocery near us that has a few homemade items, or a tortilleria in Stuart that sells its own fresh-made corn tortillas and a mysterious selection of meals. Maybe none one day. The next day, a couple of Styrofoam containers filled with palomilla steak dinners will be stacked in the glass warming oven. A pan might hold deeply marinated, oven-roasted chicken quarters. Maybe the one clerk will sell some to Tony. Maybe not.

My obsession lately has been the tall plastic take-out glasses of shrimp ceviche from our next-door Mexican grocery, Green Apple Produce and Carniceria. Northern Mexican ceviche is not like the vinegary, oil-slicked variety most of us know. It is more gazpacho than ceviche, and in the version I like, the shrimp is cooked.

The little grocery stocks a tomato-y broth with tiny cubes of sweet onion, cucumber, avocado and jalapeno, adds a jolt of lime juice and packs the glass with six fat shrimp. Chopped cilantro adds a grassy note.

I recreated the recipe back at our camper in order to share it with you. It is a substantial, slimming lunch for calorie counters. It is usually served with homemade corn tortilla chips, the sturdy kind that can hold up to a dunking.

Tony likes it with Pomeranian tea.

SONORAN SHRIMP CEVICHE

24 large raw shrimp in shells (about 3/4 lb.)
1 cup peeled and seeded, finely diced (about 1/4 inch) cucumber
2 fat Italian plum tomatoes, trimmed and finely diced
3/4 cup finely diced sweet onion
1 jalapeno pepper, seeds removed, minced
1/2 cup finely chopped cilantro
2 tsp. hot sauce (preferably Mexican such as Chulula)
2 cans (11.5 oz. each) V-8 juice
2 tbsp. ketchup
Juice of 2 limes
Salt, pepper to taste
1 avocado, peeled, seeded and finely diced

Bring about 1 quart of water to a boil in a 2-quart saucepan. Dump in shrimp and cook for 1 minute. Drain and transfer to a bowl of ice water to halt the cooking, or drench under running cold water until the shrimp are cool. Remove shells and tails and drain shrimp on paper towels. Place in a medium bowl.

Add cucumber, tomatoes, onion, jalapeno and cilantro. In a small bowl, stir together one can of the V-8 juice, the hot sauce and the ketchup. Pour over shrimp and vegetables. Add second can of V-8 and lime juice and stir gently but thoroughly. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Cover and refrigerate at least 2 hours or overnight. Just before serving, stir in avocado. Serve with tortilla chips. Makes 4 servings.

GUT CHECK:
What I cooked last week:
Pearl couscous salad with tuna, cucumber, radish and tomatoes; Sonoran shrimp ceviche; pasta with caramelized shallots and anchovies.

What I ate in/from restaurants:
Shrimp ceviche (twice) from Green Apple Produce and Carniceria in Hobe Sound; palomilla steak with onions, black beans and yellow rice, fresh corn tortillas and slow-roasted chicken quarters from Gallo de Oro Tortilleria in Stuart; California roll, beef in puff pastry, stir-fried green beans, steamed cabbage, edamame, Buffalo wings and a sugar doughnut at Mikata Buffet in Stuart; tossed salad, blackened sea scallops and a Bud Light at Catfish House in Hobe Sound; pork and chicken tamales and carnitas from Green Apple; pulled pork, baked beans, potato salad and chocolate cake at a Super Bowl party in Hobe Sound.

THE MAILBAG
From Jen G.:
Hi Jane! Although your Southern migration paused your quest to empty the pantry, I have kept trying. So far, we’ve had a chili-lime lentil “curry,” pepperoni-and-Parmesan puff pastry pinwheels (gotta clear that freezer, too), and fried rice-style quinoa. It’s been a rewarding adventure to use up some of these staples and think about what flavors will be appealing, rather than making the same old four to five standby recipes for dinner. Thanks for the inspiration!

Dear Jen:
Now I’m inspired. When I return home, I will attack my pantry with vigor. Does anyone know what to do with cocoa nibs?

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