Month of April: “Fat, Salt, Acid, Heat” Recipe: Buttermilk Chicken

“My dear Silvaney…for all of sudden when I saw those lights, I said to myself, Ivy, this is your life, this is your real life, and you are living it. Your life is not going to start later. This is it, it is now. It’s funny how a person can be so busy living that they forget this is it. This is my life.” Lee Smith from “Fair and Tender Ladies”

Fair and Tender Ladies is a fictional novel that Abby and I loved. It’s a story about a woman named Ivy Rowe, a Virginia mountain girl later woman then mother who is drawn to the beauty of her natural world. The places she lives have names like Sugar Fork, Blue Star Mountain and Majestic. She also has a calling and a talent to write but little opportunity mixed with a strong pull of family obligation keeps her from discovering true independence and a larger world. The book is written in the form of letters to the various characters in her life…the one most close to her is sister Silvaney, who we as a reader gather is developmentally disabled but Ivy’s heart and soul and closest confidante. The story takes us through Ivy’s life and all she learns along the way.

It’s a beautiful read and now a small but precious memory of our connection. I recently revisited this book and cried many times for Ivy and her identifiable struggles. There was so much of me, so much of Abby in those pages.

And now…here we are. This is our life. We have normalized concepts such as sheltering in place, flattening the curve and social distancing. We have put a pause on our life uncertain what comes next. We are full of anxiety and caution. Today I read the leading corona virus doctor is saying we may never want to shake hands in public again. Wait, what?!! It’s such a crazy time on so many levels for all of us. Right now my emotional body is very heavy and I feel the need to move this energy out. Today I really miss my friend. It is hanging over my heart and chest like a storm cloud making it hard to breathe. I need a good cry….a good hard rain…to let the tears come and wash away the helplessness and the fear and the loss.

This is my life. This is it.

Above is a wonderful recipe for learning the salt lesson of seasoning from within. A salty buttermilk marinade breaks down the proteins of the chicken to produce a tender moist delicious roasted chicken. Take 4 teaspoons of sea salt mixed with 2 cups of buttermilk and add a gallon plastic bag with the chicken pieces of your heart’s desire. Marinate for 24 hours. The following day remove the chicken, scrape off the marinade and roast at 425F for 20 minutes, reduce heat to 400F and continue for another 20-30 minutes more depending on your size. Chicken should be brown with clear juices.

Month of March: “Ottolenghi” Recipe: Chickpeas and spinach with honeyed sweet potato

“There have been as many plagues as wars in history, yet always wars and plagues take people equally by surprise.” Albert Camus

March 1, 2020. COVID 19 arrives in New York state, my home state. March 11, 2020 the first positive case appears in my county. Since then many people have fallen ill and many have died. The grief and loss and fear is palpable each time we read the news or sign onto social media sites. Our world as we know it will never be the same. Never. Each night, in the safety of my home, I say my collective prayers but they feel so small and irrelevant.

In early February, my husband came home with canned milk, pounds of dried beans, dried grains, rice and bleach. I was upset that he brought home so many extra items we really didn’t need. But he knew. He sensed that this was different. He said, “You don’t shut down cities the size of London (referring to Wuhan) for nothing.” I brushed his high alert aside. “I’m not worried, it’s just like the flu,” like so many of my medical colleagues felt as well. We had lived through H1N1, SARS, and Ebola without too much panic. Why was this any different? But over the month of February I started getting concerned and began stocking up in just in case we needed to be at home for a few weeks. The more I read and researched, the more concerned I became.

Yet, as Albert Camus writes, it still takes us by surprise.

I thought about Abby and knew that if she were still here, she would be ALL OVER THIS! We would have been talking and texting and sharing articles from sun up to sun down. She loved science and could critically examine complex issues from all angles. She would have been watching over her brood like a hawk as well as looking out for those in need she didn’t know. I can imagine her volunteering for deployment. She was a front line kind of person. She was a hero. She was my hero.

It feels strange and inconsequential in a way to continue with a food blog. Who knew that my year long project of honoring my friendship and processing my grief would include a global pandemic? It’s surreal and absurd to say the least.

But I will finish what I started. Two months left to go. The finale remains to be seen.

Above is this month’s cookbook’s one and only carefully chosen recipe of comfort, something we all need more of at this very frightening time.

Month of February: “Truly Mexican” Recipe: Xico-style Mole

“I hope the end is joyful and I hope never to return.” Frida Kahlo

Moles are complicated sauces. They have many ingredients and each one needs individual attention. Kind of like our emotions. And especially like our relationships. Yet, once you understand them, I’ve recently discovered, magically they become quite simple.

Losing Abby pushed me to dig into the complexity of my life in a way I have never experienced before. I have been working especially hard over the last two years to re-live my significant memories and label the emotions but much more importantly to allow the feelings in! When I let in how I felt, in all the complex experiences that made me who I am, I shift. I change.

We get so little time in this life to solve the dilemma of being human. Our survival instincts deceive us into believing that we have all the time in the world. I know this exploration of where I came from, where I am now and where I am going is paying off and I hope the end is joyful. Like I hoped Abby’s last moments were as she prepared her beloved morning coffee, not alone, on an early spring morning in May. I imagine the surrounding warmth, the spectrum of greens, the light shimmering on the Mississippi River and the renewal of life as a beautiful backdrop in which a very special being, my soul sister, was released into the unknown.

Knowing her in life and losing her in death has been a remarkable journey. She was a gift that I have learned to receive. I changed her and she changed me. I am so very very lucky.

Ingredients: 9 mulato chiles and 3 pasilla chiles wiped clean, stemmed, slit open, seeded and deveined, 1/2 cup of raw hazelnuts, 1 medium tomato, 1/2 cup vegetable oil, 3/4 coarsely chopped onion, 4 garlic cloves, 1.5 teaspoons salt, 1/4 cup raw almonds, 1/4 cup raw pecans, 1/2 cup raw pine nuts, 1 small or 1/2 large ripe plantain peeled and cut into 1/2 inch thick pieces, 1/2 cup raisins, 1 slice baguette, 3 tablespoons of unhulled sesame seeds, 1 inch Mexican cinnamon or 1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon, 5 whole black peppercorns, 2 whole cloves, 1 corn tortilla, 1/2 cup light brown sugar, 1.5 ounces Mexican chocolate. 1 recipe of poached chicken

1. Poach 1 chicken cut up or use whatever chicken parts you like, in 6 cups of water along with a carrot and 1 celery stalk cut up in large pieces, 1 bay leaf and 1 teaspoon of salt. Cook for 30 minutes. Use chicken stock for mole. Preheat oven to 350 F. Soak the chiles in water to cover for 30 minutes. Drain and discard the soaking water. Toast the hazelnuts in the oven for 10-12 minutes. Wrap them in a towel and let them steam which will help remove the skins. Then gather up the edges of the towel and rub off skins as best as you can. Or buy skinless ones and make this easier.

2. Increase the oven to 500F and core the tomato and cut a small X through the skin on the opposite end. Roast the tomato for 20-30 minutes with cored side up. Slip the skin from the tomato and transfer to a bowl.

3.Heat 2 tablespoons of oil in a small heavy skillet over medium heat and cook the onion and garlic about 3-5 minutes. Transfer this to a blender along with with drained chiles, salt and 1 cup of chicken stock. Blend for 3 minutes until very smooth. Transfer puree to a bowl.

4.Heat 1/4 cup of oil in a skillet over medium heat until it shimmers and fry the following ingredients one by one (hazelnuts for 3 minutes until they are deep golden, almonds about 2 minutes, pecans about 2 minutes, pine nuts about 2 minutes, plantain slices about 3 minutes, raisins 1 minute, prunes 1 minute and bread about 2 minutes until golden.) As they fry, use a slotted spoon to transfer to a large bowl.

5.Toast the sesame seeds, peppercorns and cloves in a dry skillet about 4 minutes. Using tongs hold the tortilla over a burner and toast until dark and golden brown. Crumble into fried ingredients.

6.Working in 2 batches, put the fried and toasted ingredients in the blender jar along with the roasted tomato and 1.25 cups of stock per batch for a total of 2.5 cups. Blend until mixture is smooth about 3 minutes.

7.Heat 2 tablespoons of oil in a heavy pot over medium heat and carefully pour in the chile puree and nut puree, stirring and bring to a simmer. Add the brown sugar and chocolate and stir until chocolate melts. Simmer for 10 minutes until it thickens. It should be a velvety consistency, add more stock if needed. Simmer very gently for 30 minutes longer and season with additional salt.

8. Add poached chicken or turkey, can use shredded or whole. Heat for an additional 15 minutes gently. Serve with corn tortillas, rice and beans. The mole improves after a day in the refrigerator and will keep up to five days without meat, 3 with. It can be frozen up to a month.

Abby’s mom Janet releasing some of her daughter’s ashes into the Caribbean Sea, Isla Mujeres, Mexico 2019

Month of February: “Truly Mexican” Recipe: Shrimp in Simple Pumpkin Seed Sauce (Pipian Verde)

“Before you conquer the mountain, you must overcome the fear.” Isabel Allende

For as long as I can remember I have been afraid. Slowly, step by step, I am peeling back the layers, like a white onion, to courageously uncover what made me me. I am grinding my inherited family seeds into a digestible sauce that will satisfy my hunger. I am adding a life giving spice to create something uniquely my own. I came, I saw, I conquered. And all along the way, in my perceived aloneness, I found some love…precious, precious love.

ingredients: 1 cup raw green pumpkin seeds, 1/3 cup chopped white onion, 3 fresh jalapeno or serrano chiles, 1 small peeled garlic clove, 1/2 teaspoon dried Mexican oregano, 1/4 teaspoon ground cumin, 1/2 teaspoon of salt, 4-5 cups chicken stock, divided, 2 tablespoons vegetable oil, 1/2 cup chopped cilantro.

1.Heat a skillet over medium heat and roast the pumpkin seeds for about 5 minutes until they start to brown slightly and puffed, stir and toss constantly. Put the pumpkin seeds in a blender with the onion, chiles, garlic and spices with 2 cups of chicken broth and blend until smooth, at least 3 minutes.

2.Heat oil in a 4-5 quart pan and add the sauce and cook on low for about 20 minutes, stirring and adding the additional stock to keep the sauce velvety smooth. Return the sauce to the blender after cooking and add the cilantro and blend.

3. Return the sauce to the pan and simmer for about 5 minutes. Add the shrimp and cook for an additional 10 minutes. Serve with rice or corn tortillas. Serve with lime wedges.

Month of February: “Truly Mexican” Recipe: Spicy Pineapple Salsa with Adobo Fish Tacos

“I am obsessed with becoming a woman comfortable in her skin.” Sandra Cisneros

These days feel very uncertain to me. The arctic ice melting, melting, melting, coronavirus, continents ablaze, unfathomably short sighted greedy tyrants maintaining power, facts no longer holding court, wildlife populations dwindling…. it is difficult to let in and many days I don’t. I don’t because I can’t. Like for many of us, it is just too overwhelming and painful.

I can’t change the world at large but I can change myself. Instead, I focus on my inner life. I focus on the little things. I focus on transcending. I focus on my loved ones present and past. I focus on connection. I focus on learning. I focus on the natural world. I focus on the meaning. I focus on creating. I focus on the stillness. I focus on the gratitude. I focus on the moments…..obsessed with finally becoming comfortable in my own skin until the time comes to shed it.

Pineapple Salsa

ingredients: 1 cup diced fresh pineapple, 1/3 cup finely chopped fresh jalapenos ( I used less) 1/4 cup chopped cilantro, 1/4 cup finely chopped red onion, 3 tablespoons freshly squeezed lime juice and 2 tablespoons orange. 1.5 teaspoons of sugar and 1/4 teaspoon of salt.

Mix all ingredients in a bowl and season to taste with additional lime, sugar or salt.

Fish Adobo

Marinate fish fillets of red snapper, bass or cod with the adobo marinade from previous post. The ancho adobo goes PERFECTLY with fish. Marinate in fridge for an hour or two. Heat a cast iron skillet with about 1-2 tablespoon of vegetable oil on medium high heat. Cook for 2-3 minutes on each side.

Serve with fresh corn tortillas

Month of February: “Truly Mexican” Recipe: Salsa De Papaya and Marinated Adobo Steak

“It may be that true happiness lies in the conviction that one has irremediably lost happiness. Then we can begin to move through life without hope or fear, capable of finally enjoying all the small pleasures, which are the most lasting.” Maria Luisa Bombal

Putting these words into a daily practice is exactly where I want to be for the remainder of my life. It’s the little things…always the little things. Abby’s unexpected death has made this crystal clear to me.

Papaya Salsa

Ingredients: 1 pound of firm ripe papaya seeded and finely diced about 2 cups, 1/4 cup each of red onion and red bell pepper (I used yellow), 1 thinly slice scallion, 1 tablespoon each of fresh lime and lemon juice, 1 teaspoon of chile of your choice (our author suggests habanero, I used jalapeno) and 1/4 teaspoon of salt.

Mix all the ingredients together in a bowl. Season to taste with more salt, lime and chile.

Marinated Adobo Steak

Ingredients: Adobo sauce (from previous post), 1 lb skirt or flank steak, 1 tablespoon oil and salt for seasoning.

Marinate the steak for about 1-2 hours with the adobo sauce. I pounded the steak thin to tenderize it prior to marinating. Take out of fridge and season. Pan fry in a hot cast iron skillet about 2-3 minutes on each side on medium to high heat for medium rare depending on the thickness. Serve with the salsa. Happiness!

If Abby could be a fruit, I think she might be a papaya.

Month of February: “Truly Mexican” Recipe: Basic Ancho Adobo

“At the end of the day, we can endure much more than we think we can.” Frida Kahlo

Adobos are intensely flavored chili purees used as marinades for seafood, fish and meats. Mexican cooks have been rubbing chiles on meats for centuries but the Spanish influence added the spices and garlic to the mix. In other words, this stuff has history. I found the whole process not only easy but also satisfying. It was fun to roast the dried fruit and bring them back to life with water. I felt connected to this culinary past in a way I never have before. Even though the ancho is considered one of the mildest peppers reminiscent of raisin and tamarind, it still has a kick. So be careful to wash your hands really good and avoid touching the eyes and nose during preparation.

Ingredients: 2.5 ounces dried ancho chiles, wiped clean, stemmed, slit open, seeded and deveined, 1/2 cup water, 1/4 cup Seville orange juice or distilled white vinegar (I used 3 equal parts orange, lemon and vinegar) 2 garlic cloves peeled, 1/2 teaspoon salt, 1/2 teaspoon sugar, 1/8 teaspoon of ground cumin and Mexican oregano.

Heat a cast iron pan and toast the chiles for about 1-2 minutes until they blister using tongs to turn and press them. Then soak the chiles in enough cold water to cover until they are soft about 30 minutes. Drain and discard the water. Put 1/2 water of fresh water into the blender with the chiles and remain ingredients. Blend until smooth in a blender, not a food processor, until a smooth silky texture is achieved. Brush onto meats and seafood as a marinade and grill or pan fry.

Abby was spicy! Here she is in Villadolid, Mexico, with its 16th century colonial buildings, excited about these statues that were scattered around town. She told her daughter in law this one was her new girlfriend and asked to have a photo taken with “her.”