It took me a few years–quite a few years, actually–before I came around to the idea of pairing sweet and savory foods together. Somehow, I always associated the mashup of sweet and savory with yucky Chinese dishes like sweet and sour pork, which I detest. Maybe I just ate at too many mediocre Asian restaurants as a kid, I don’t know.

I shouldn’t have been too averse, because growing up, I’d watch my father sprinkle salt onto his watermelon and eat it with relish.

“You should try it,” he’d say, winking across the table.

I’d wrinkle my nose. “Salt? On watermelon?”

“Trust me,” my father would say. “The salt somehow actually makes the melon taste sweeter. I don’t know how or why, but it does.”

For years, I didn’t believe him and plus, this was the guy who both salted and peppered his morning slice of cantaloupe, so I figured the man was just a little off to start with.

Until one day I tried it. I sprinkled a little salt onto a fat wedge of watermelon and…lo and behold. Daddy-o was onto something there. That smidgen of salt actually did make the watermelon taste better.

That successful experiment opened me up to a whole realm of new possibilities. That strawberry, spinach and red onion salad I’d been rejecting all those years? Tried it. Liked it. Ditto the Chinese chicken salad with mandarin oranges in it. No way would I touch that thing as a kid, but once I started to grow and push those boundaries a little, I discovered that some sweet/savory combinations really worked.

In high school, when we took a trip to the Bahamas, I tried my first taste of jerk chicken, topped with a cooling mango salsa. The icy sweetness of the salsa doused the tingling of the jerk spices in the nicest sort of way.

In college, a trip to Hawaii resulted in a plate of ahi poke nachos, eaten poolside at a fancy Maui hotel. They were accentuated by a smoky chile and pineapple relish, and the contrast of textures and colors was a revelation.

One blazing summer afternoon, some young girls visiting from Mexico introduced me to their favorite warm-weather snack: slices of chilled, sweet mango, drizzled with salt, lime and chile powder. How had I never heard of this before?

During the blustery winter months, I never think of using fruit in my savory dishes, even though there are plenty of recipes out there using apples, pears, etc.  Those recipes just don’t appeal to me. But once the weather turns and luscious summer fruit like plums, peaches, pineapple and watermelon begin appearing in market stalls, I’m in.

More often than not, my first thought is to fire up the barbecue, because there’s something about topping grilled meat or fish with a zingy fruit salsa that screams, “Summer, dudes! Pull up a chair! Crack open a beer! Stay awhile.”

This recipe for snapper with watermelon salsa will have you in Summer Mode in no time. You can serve the fish simply, topped with the salsa and served with your choice of side dishes, or you can slide chunks of fish and salsa into a soft tortilla and top with avocado and lime, which is what I usually do. It’s easy enough for a weeknight but pretty enough for guests. It also makes a great addition to any potluck, since it doesn’t have to be screaming hot to taste good.

Feels like summer already.

 

 

Snapper with Watermelon and Tomato Salsa

serves 4

slightly adapted from Cooking Light magazine

1 1/2 cups halved cherry tomatoes

1 1/2 cups diced seedless watermelon

1/4 cup finely diced red onion

1 jalapeno or Fresno chile, seeded and finely chopped

1 tablespoon silver tequila

2 tablespoons fresh chopped cilantro

1 tablespoon finely chopped mint

2 tablespoons freshly squeezed lime juice

3 tablespoons canola or grapeseed oil, divided

1/2 teaspoon kosher salt, divided

1/2 teaspoon Tajin seasoning (you can find this in the spice aisle or the Mexican food aisle in most grocery stores nowadays. If not, substitute grill or Cajun seasoning)

1/2 teaspoon black pepper

4 (6-ounce) red snapper fillets, each about 1/2-inch thick

special equipment: metal grill basket*

 

Stir together the tomatoes, watermelon, red onion, chile, tequila, cilantro, mint, lime juice, 1 tablespoon canola oil and 1/4 teaspoon salt in a bowl. Set aside.

Brush your grill grates really well. Grill needs to be very clean! Heat grill on high.

Brush fish with remaining 2 tablespoons oil and season with 1/4 teaspoons salt, Tajin seasoning and pepper. Place in a grill basket.

Grill fish over direct high heat, turning once, with the lid closed, about 4-5 minutes total. Remove fish from grill, let rest for a few minutes, remove from grill basket.

Serve salsa over fish.

 

*If you don’t have a metal grill basket, you can cook fish in foil packets on the grill for about 5-7 minutes.

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A Few Days: Ireland

June 22, 2017

Long-time readers will definitely think I’ve lost my marbles when I tell you the person who suggested we spend our first afternoon in Ireland handling ferocious looking birds was…me. Yes, me. The bird-hating, bird-fearing, enemy of all things feathered, me. I don’t know what I was thinking. Part of me was remembering my Daddy-o talking about falconry, because he’d done it on a vacation in Vermont many years back, and he said it was an amazing experience. I blame the Internet. Months ago, I was noodling around on travel websites and when I typed in “things to do in Killarney, Ireland,” up popped Killarney Falconry, to rave reviews.

Whether swayed by all of the positive reports or a bout of temporary insanity, I asked my husband if he wanted to do it, and he had that sucker booked in about 5 seconds. I didn’t even have time to second guess myself, and I really didn’t, until we arrived at the edge of a wooded glen in Ireland and I was faced with a huge-ass, predatory bird. It had been absolutely pouring rain during the entire drive from Cork airport to Killarney, so I wasn’t even sure if things were going to be a go, but I guess little things like rain don’t bother ravenous, carniverous birds, because our falcon (hilariously named “Texas”) was raring to go.

 

  ^^Don’t fuck with me, 666 bird. Pretending not to be terrified of you.

We actually lucked out and the rain subsided during our hour-plus time with Sir Feathers. I’m pretty sure the damn thing could sense fear though, because almost immediately he decided to swoop down from a tree and rest his enormous self on my FRIGGIN’ SHOULDER, causing me to pee myself a bit.

“Oh, he likes you,” our guide Geoff chucked.

Likes me?!?  My fat fanny. That bird was playing with me, plain and simple.

Another less than calming thing about Texas the falcon was that he eats other birds. Little feet of baby male chickens, to be truthful. I’m not sure what exactly I thought falcons would eat, but the first time Geoff placed a disembodied little chicken claw in my hand, so Texas could swoop down and chomp on it, I felt a little sick to my stomach.

“It’s okay, Lassie” Geoff assured me. “They only kill the male baby chicks for falcon food, because the males don’t grow to lay eggs or be succulent, big-breasted hens. The males are a right waste, so might as well use ’em for something.”

Uh, okay.

Actually, once I got used to Texas, it wasn’t that bad, and Geoff the guide was charming in that twinkle-eyed, Irish way. Before long, he had us laughing so hard that I kind of forgot about Texas’ fearsome hooked beak and terrifyingly sharp claws and his penchant for cannibalism. We walked through the woods and listened to Geoff’s stories and Texas swooped and landed and gobbled until he got full enough that he wasn’t as keen to obey commands. At the end, we were introduced to fluffy, sweet, docile owls, which we got to hold and admire. Well, my own was sweet, anyways.

Awesome Stepkid R.’s owl shit on him and my husband’s owl–Gandalf–was spooky and terrifying-looking.

After that, I definitely wanted a long, thorough shower and many beers at the pub, which I got. I got whiskey, too, because brave girls who handle birds deserve whiskey.

We spent a couple of days in Killarney, eating and drinking and hiking in Killarney National Park and walking up to the Torc waterfall. The weather was absolutely psycho–it poured rain, it drizzled, it blazed sun, it got steamy, it got chilly and blustery. I had two layers of rainwear that I kept having to take off and put back on again at a moment’s notice, but it was all worth it because it looked like this:

 

Plus, they make hella good lager and whiskey, which was our reward for all of that outdoor activity.

Then it was off to Dingle, which is a little fishing town that’s even smaller than Killarney and is full of colorful little shops/restaurants and surrounded by water, majestic green hills and cliffs.

 

Another thing that surrounded us? A buttload of cows and sheep. I kept looking out at the lazy cows and the little lambs and thinking, “Oh, look how happy and delicious those little animals are.” Mainly, I ate fish in Dingle, because that’s what you do (since fish comes in hourly from Dingle bay into the harbor) but I did partake of a wee little lamb or two and yes, they were delicious.

The most famous place in Dingle to eat seafood is at a little shack of a fish-n-chip joint, located conveniently across the street from the police station. Forget donuts–Dingle cops are fueled by fish-n-chips. Reel Dingle Fish and Chips is a total dive but every Irishman we met told us to eat there, so we stopped for a snack one afternoon. I could only eat *sob* a bite or two because girl has no gallbladder any more, but the boys deemed it delicious, especially the fried monkfish.

I had better luck with the seafood chowder at a teeny little spot called the Chowder Cafe.

This place had me at their chalkboard sign inside which read: “Please be noted of the following–all bread served here contains gluten/wheat. Brown bread contains wheat and egg. All chowder contains dairy and wheat. All toast contains wheat. All quiche contains dairy, eggs and wheat.”  In other words, we are too little and too local to give a flying fart about your food sensitivities, so buck up and deal. And boy, I have to tell you, they served up the best damn bowl of chowder I have ever eaten. It made me vow to recreate it at home, but then I remembered that I don’t live on Dingle bay and have access to fish off the boat and double-thick cream from the cows in the pasture two doors down. Shoot. Memory will have to suffice.

The rest of our time in Dingle was spent driving through the countryside and up cliffs with winding, narrow roads that had ZERO guardrails and made me almost lose my chowder a couple of times. It was breathtakingly gorgeous and some areas were so remote that signs were only in Gaelic. Some signs went the extra mile and were in Gaelic for Tourists, which I appreciated.

 

Probably our most memorable meal in Ireland was at a tiny storefront place in Dingle called Ashe’s. I got all loosey-goosey because they sat us in a booth that had an old picture of Gregory Peck (in his hopelessly handsome Atticus Finch days) sitting above us, and Gregory Peck was sitting in the exact same booth, in the exact spot I was sitting in, and I get all gorked out and stupid about stuff like that.

Sitting in Gregory Peck’s spot made me so happy that I decided I deserved lobster. Which they then brought out (alive!) on a plate for me to inspect before they boiled his brains out. This seemed hilarious.

“Well, hello there, Mister Lobster,” I cooed at the trapped and snapping crustacean. “Don’t you look absolutely delicious!” The people dining around us (tables are quite close together–small joint, you know) started to snicker but a couple of ladies looked a little horrified.

I looked at the teenaged boy holding out the lobster for inspection. “I’ll take him,” I said. “I can tell he’s delectable. So delectable that I think I’ll name him.” The kid turned pink around the ears. “Murphy,” I announced. “His name is Murphy. And please go cook him up now. I’m starving.”

“Missus,” the teenager said, laughing, “I gotta say, that’s a first,” and scurried off to the kitchen.

My husband grabbed the wine bottle and topped off his glass.

I leaned back in Gregory Peck’s booth. “I love this place,” I said, and dug into my salad.

“My God,” I heard one of the horrified ladies mutter. “I don’t think I could eat the poor thing after I gave it a name…”

Whatever.

In case you’re wondering, Murphy was spectacular.

 

  ^^whoops, maybe I shouldn’t have named it Murphy, since every Irish town seems to have a shop/pub named after one.

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One of my Mama’s least favorite things about going on vacation was cleaning out the refrigerator beforehand.

“Seven days is deadly, and ten is even worse,” she’d say, scanning the shelves and pushing items around. “Anything with a suspicion of stinking, you have to get it out of there. Who wants to come home to Murder in the Produce Drawer?”

She had a point. The thought of opening the refrigerator and finding liquefied lettuce makes my skin crawl, so I’m ruthless about perishable goods before we go on a trip. Unlike Mama, though, I kind of relish the process, because the few days before leaving for said trip? I take those days as a dare, of sorts. How can I possibly use the odds and ends in the icebox before that last-ditch cleanout? What kind of meals can I cobble together with the remaining items in the refrigerator, without having to purchase anything extra?

To be fair, the freezer and the pantry are my friends during times like these. I’m a freezer and pantry pack-rat, so I can almost always dig up something. Frozen portobello ravioli? Check. Tupperware of chicken green chile from April? Check. Rice paper wrappers? Check. Along with the ubiquitous last meal of eggs, bacon and toast, I can usually manage to stretch my larder for a few spare days.

One thing is definitely a given: I always have frozen Chinese potstickers and soba noodles loitering about. So many weekday lunches, when I can’t find anything else that beckons, end up consisting of dumplings and some kind of bastardized dipping sauce. In dire and starving straits, I am the Duchess of Dumplings. They’re genius when you’re in a pinch, and we’re so lucky that most grocery stores carry some good–some even great–types of frozen potstickers now.

Confession: I do not like the most popular brand of frozen potstickers on shelves (Ling-Ling brand). I find them strangely sweet and off-putting. The Safeway store brand dumplings are quite good, and Sprouts Market has yummy ones, and if you are truly spoiled, like I am, and live near a Whole Foods, the Sister’s Dumplings are absolute heaven. I buy them six bags at a crack, in various flavors. So yeah, I eat a shitload of potstickers.

Before we left for our London/Ireland/Madrid trip, which I am very excited to tell you about soon, I was left in the position of cleaning out yet another dwindling stock of refrigerator items. I had (no surprise) dumplings in the freezer, and some onions and bell peppers that I could stir-fry, but–sad oversight–no soba or rice noodles to pull the whole thing together. Even sadder business? Only 1/4 cup of basmati rice in the pantry, so none of that, either. Who is the lazy whore who does the grocery shopping around here? Clearly, she’s a slacker. Bollocks!

A quick rummage through the freezer yielded a sorry 1/3 of a bag of cooked shrimp. Is anyone going to be able to feed people with 1/3 of a bag of shrimp? No. But with potstickers and some vegetables, I could maybe stretch those suckers into something that could round this half-baked meal out quite nicely.

This Asian egg pancake fit the bill. It utilized three more things I had necessity to use up: eggs, Canadian bacon and scallions. If you don’t have Canadian bacon, don’t worry. You can use regular cooked and crumbled bacon in its place or leave it out altogether. No scallion? Use diced red or sweet onion instead. No shrimp? That’s okay. Use whatever leftover protein you have on hand. Rotisserie chicken would work quite well. See where I’m going, here? This recipe is a dream if you have any leftover bits hanging around. Just throw ’em in there. It will still taste delicious and you’ll feel so smug, using up all of those potentially wasted foodstuffs.

Make this, eat up, and then finish packing your bags with a clear conscience.

 

 

 

Shrimp, Canadian Bacon and Egg Pancake

serves 4

adapted from Fine Cooking

 

 

6 large eggs

1/4 cup flour

1/2 teaspoon pepper

1/4 teaspoon kosher salt

3 tablespoons reduced-sodium soy sauce

1 clove garlic, finely chopped

1/2 teaspoon grated ginger

1/4 teaspoon chile flakes

2 slices Canadian bacon, diced

1 cup loosely packed finely shredded cabbage

1/4 cup sliced scallion

12 cooked, peeled small shrimp

 

Position a rack in the center of the oven and set the broiler to high.

Whisk together the eggs, flour, pepper and salt. Set aside.

Whisk together soy sauce, garlic, ginger and chile flakes and set aside.

In a 12-inch cast-iron or oven safe skillet, heat 2 tablespoons peanut or filtered coconut oil over medium high heat. Add the Canadian bacon and cook until starting to crisp up.

Add the cabbage, scallion and shrimp to the egg mixture and stir well.

Pour the mixture into the skillet and spread evenly with a spatula.

Pop the skillet under the broiler and cook until the egg is set and golden, about 3 minutes, watching carefully so mixture doesn’t overcook.

Cut into wedges and serve with the dipping sauce.

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