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.

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Stewed Cherries for a Gypsy Soul

Well, it’s over.  Summer vacation is gone, Labor Day weekend has come to a close.  The upside?  It’s 77 degrees right now.  I think we have finally bid the three-digit weather adios and can see autumn on the horizon.  I can’t. effing. wait.  Today, in honor of its approach and to clean out my produce drawer, I made stewed cherries with cinnamon and clove.

They don’t look all that great but they sure tasted it!

Since I’ve last written, I’ve had many food adventures I have failed to mention, such as:

  • Chicken and waffles at Hattie’s for brunch (great, but not as great as the bacon-wrapped fried oysters with hollandaise sauce that my roomie had–awesome on SO many levels)
  • Sonny Bryan’s BBQ for a pulled pork sandwich (disappointing, but that’s really what I get for insisting on pork when I’m in brisket country)
  • A quality piece of steak at Pappas Bros. Steakhouse (restaurant week deal!)
  • Another quality piece of steak at Ocean Prime plus a 10-layer carrot cake that’s been given accolades (also for restaurant week)
  • A Cuban sandwich at Jimmy’s Food Store (my only Cuban sandwich in Dallas and quite enjoyable)
I’m also three weeks into the school year already, and I feel less stressed and more competent than I did last year.  But, despite the fact that I love my students, I have been feeling a little unfulfilled…bored…and a little out of place.  My mom told me recently that I have a “gypsy soul.”  I always want to keep moving, go someplace else.  And it’s true.  I’m getting that restless feeling I had my last year in Nashville, the nagging itching to try somewhere new.  I get this feeling regularly but this past few days it’s been bursting like a shaken soda can.
The bubbling over of this feeling recently is probably due to a combo of factors (I’m all about the bullet points today):
  • My vacation is over and I’m back to my very demanding job.
  • I don’t feel intellectually stimulated or challenged.
  • At times I feel lonely, being back in the teacher bubble. I also feel one of my few friendships here in Dallas pulling away from me, which bums me out.
  • I haven’t been doing the things that DO make me happy like cooking, writing, trying out new things, or other creative endeavors.  And really that’s just stupid.
Basically, I just need to get over it and make more time for the things that make me happy, challenge myself, try to connect with people better.  I know very well I won’t stay here in Dallas.  But I do want to enjoy my life while I’m here.  Tonight I returned to two of them:  cooking and writing about it…
Cinnamon and clove are scents that just BELONG with fall weather, and though we haven’t quite gotten there yet, it made me very happy to make something that made me feel closer to it.  It was ridiculously easy.  I just pitted about a pound of cherries, put them in a saucepan with a cup of water and 5 cloves over medium heat, simmered them until really tender, and stirred in 1/4 tsp of cinnamon, a dash of nutmeg, a splash of pineapple juice (just because I had it) and sugar to taste (about 1 1/2 tbl for me.)
It made a comforting dessert to enjoy on the balcony while I watched the lights go off in the office buildings downtown and the stars come out of hiding.  While I sat there trying to put my gypsy soul at ease for a moment, I saw a falling star.  No lie.  I almost didn’t believe it–thought it was just my eyes tricking me, or the air pollution. But you can bet I made Jiminy Cricket proud when I wished upon that star.  I wished hard.

Dulce de leche cortada

I’m a little stubborn in some ways.  If at first I don’t succeed, I’ll try and try again until it is physically and mentally impossible.  There are recipes I try over and over again because I just can’t get them right.   I’ve tried making dulce de leche cortada four times and each time, for unknown reasons, I failed.  Dulce de leche cortada is like regular dulce de leche caramel but its texture is chunky, kind of like cottage cheese.  It is a Cuban dish but other countries in the Caribbean eat it as well.  (Plus Venezuela, which is close enough.)  You “cut” the milk into curds by adding lemon juice or vinegar before caramelizing it.  I had half a liter of milk I needed to get rid of so I decided to give it another good ole try.

I used a recipe from Three Guys from Miami but I changed a couple things and I cut the portions down to roughly half a liter of milk, but I got lazy with the real math and I made it too sweet.  Other than that, it turned out right, finally.  At least I think so.  I may have caramelized it too much…I ate it after it cooled for about 20 minutes (do NOT by any means touch this when it’s hot) and it was soft and warm and easy to eat, but after refrigerating it, which is what most recipes called for, it became much more like caramel candy, which is not bad, but I’m not sure if it’s supposed to be this way.  When my great aunt Tia Edesa made it for our family reunion last summer, I could easily spoon it to my mouth, so I’m not sure I got it completely right.  She doesn’t use the eggs, she just uses milk, lemon or vinegar, and sugar.  Hers also had a much lighter color than mine and the pictures I found online, so she didn’t caramelize it as much.  Makes sense.

Nevertheless, it’s the closest I’ve ever gotten to getting it right.  Although this dessert is by no stretch of the imagination healthy, I did make it with local and/or organic ingredients.   It’s a long process, so I wouldn’t quite recommend it, but if you’re curious, go for it.  I think I would rather have regular dulce de leche.  (You can even make it from canned condensed milk.) You don’t really see this stuff very often; I had never heard of this or seen it in ANY cookbooks or anywhere until my mom and dad told me about it.  I’ll have to make it for them sometime to get their opinions on how I can make it right, if I’m missing the mark.  Knowing my stubbornness, I won’t rest until it’s right.  Which reminds me that I need to try making habichuelas con dulce again.

Here’s a series of pics showing the transformation:

After it's been simmering for a little while...
After I added the frothy eggs...getting really "curdley" now...
The liquid is evaporating and it's getting darker...should I perhaps have stopped here?
The finished dulce, garnished with a cinnamon stick

 

Winter Wonderland

Well, Nashville had a big, beautiful, panic-inducing snow this weekend.  The campus was blanketed in fresh snow on Friday which has now turned to perilous sheet of ice and gray sludge in some parts.  However, when the snow was falling softly on Friday, I decided to make some apple crisp.  I had all the ingredients, and I needed to use all the granny smith apples I got on sale at Publix.  I’d never made it before, so I adapted a Betty Crocker recipe with some touches I found in other recipes.   It was really sweet, as apple crisp tends to be, but it was great with some vanilla ice cream and a warm, homey treat while the snow was falling.

Alumni Lawn when the snow started falling…there was a lot more to come.

4 cups of tart apples, cut in slices
3/4 cup packed brown sugar
1/2 cup flour
1/2 cup quick cooking oats
1/3 cup butter
1 tsp cinnamon
1 tbs lemon juice
2 tbs maple syrup
2 tbs spiced rum
Pinch of salt
Vanilla ice cream

Preheat oven to 375 degrees.   Toss the apples in lemon juice, maple syrup, and rum and place in a baking dish.  Cut the butter into the flour, oats, sugar, and salt until it forms small crumbles.  Pour over apples and place in the oven until topping is golden brown and apples are tender–about 30 minutes.  Let cool slightly.  Top with vanilla ice cream and serve.