A Key Lime Pie in Winter

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There’s something so delightfully escapist about eating a slice of key lime pie in winter.

Winter is a season of slow crackling spices, like cinnamon and nutmeg, with a lingering warmth to take with you into the cold.

But the citrus bite of a key lime pie in winter is a defiant shard of sun in a bank of snow; it’s a flashing yelp of joy before a wave crashes into you and tumbles you into the sand.

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The airy merengue dissolves onto my tongue like nostalgia, and I’m transported to a humid memory of myself in Key West as a kid standing next to the 90 Miles to Cuba sign, the closest I’d ever been to the land that gave me my name and a place I had felt but never seen.

I disappear into a recollection of my fingers sinking into soft wet sand behind me as I lean back and watch the waves lap my feet, until a wall of graham cracker crust brings me slowly back to reality.

The plate empties, but the sensation of this escape echoes faintly, like distant laughter lost in the length of a beach.

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I bought this pie from First Slice Pie Cafe, in Lillstreet Art Center on Ravenswood Ave. It was delicious. I challenge everyone dealing with the cold temps to enjoy at least one slice of really good key lime before the winter is over; it’ll give you hope and perhaps a pleasant daydream. If you live in Chicago, check out First Slice for great food with a mission and amazing pies and Lillstreet for beautiful art and classes.

All the Small Things: Pupusas Stuffed w/ Vegan Chorizo & Platanos Maduros

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Sometimes in a small moment, I wonder if I am creating a lasting memory.  I did this upon my first visit to Chicago almost two years ago, standing with my little brother in his first apartment kitchen eating slices of deep dish pizza from around the corner.  I asked myself, will I remember this years from now?

Yesterday I sat at my brother’s table sharing a giant cinnamon bun we got from Whole Foods because the frigid day gave us a craving for one and Ann Sather’s was closed.  We listened to a Nina Simone record and he taught me about Wong Kar Wai’s films and sure enough I turned inward at one point not only to remember that time in the kitchen, but also to wonder if my brain would randomly call upon this current moment sometime in the far future.

Because of this strange self-awareness, I inevitably make memories out of many small moments.  These moments don’t really have much significance.  There’s really no reason for me to remember that the post office clerk yesterday answered my question of “How are you doing today?” with the cool, smooth enthusiasm of an old jazz radio DJ. “I’m supercalifragilistic!” And how he bid me a farewell as if signing off his show. “Have a great day, a great weekend, and a Happy New Year.  I’ll see you on the flip-side.”

There’s no reason for me to remember that on my personal brunch at 3rd Coast Cafe today, while enjoying my coffee and magazines, my thoughts were interrupted by the punching and ringing of an old-fashioned register I hadn’t noticed before.

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These are small moments with little significance, but pausing to ask myself if I will remember them, while makes me an observer of my own life for a second, forces me to appreciate the present.  And appreciation allows me to enjoy laid-back lovely weekends such as this one when I can just do whatever my whims call me to do without the pressure of what a fun weekend for a 20-something is supposed to be–whether that’s buying myself brunch and magazines, or making vegan chorizo and frying up the plantains that are finally ripe enough for maduros.

Because I’m trying to use up what’s in my fridge so I can start fresh for the new year, I had to get creative with dinner.  I fried ripe plantains in a little vegetable oil to make plátanos maduros and afterwards the vegan chorizo I made a couple days ago using Terry Romero‘s recipe from Viva Vegan.  Then I chopped it into smaller pieces and used them to stuff them into pupusas.

Pupusas, a traditional Salvadorean dish, are essentially fat corn tortillas stuffed with various fillings.  They’re simple to make since you just add water to Maseca (which is a maize flour you can usually find in the Latin foods section of the grocery store) until it forms a damp dough that you can shape into patties, stuff with whatever you want, and pan fry.  Shaping them is a little tricky, but this is a good step-by-step tutorial.

I haven’t made them in the traditional Salvadorean way quite yet; I have been opting to fill them with whatever I have on hand–in this case, chorizo and plantains!  Since I didn’t have the customary tomato salsa or slaw (curtido), I opted to blend a couple chipotle peppers in adobo sauce with a little vegan mayonnaise, slather it on top, and garnish them with some extra chorizo and plátanos maduros.

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It wasn’t the healthiest of meals, but it was pretty delicious for an iron-cheffed dinner.  I also made some hot chocolate with a bar of Olive & Sinclair (a Nashville-based artisan chocolate company) for dessert, just to make extra damn certain that I would spend the rest of the night in food coma.  Highly effective.

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