Sunday, April 13, 2014

Bread is not evil

Tear. Smear. Crunch. That’s how you enjoy your baguette. Slicing is for dilettantes. Slicing is for folks who don’t know the joy of tearing through bread in the open air. While I strolled through Paris, I watched women bite the tops of loaves the way Bugs Bunny chomped on carrots. It was culture shock. It was breathtaking. There were no carb-cocked renegades peering through South Beach Diet boxes judging them as the baguette crumbs threaded their lips. Fast forward: I went to the South Beach version of a Farmers Market on Lincoln Road and stumbled upon a bread chorus line—sourdough, raisin walnut, baguettes, and more. I couldn’t resist. The only thing more exciting than eating a freshly made baguette is shopping for one. I heard of Zak the Baker while lamenting the loss of ACME Bakery to a colleague, but this was my first time seeing his work. It reminded me of the patisseries I saw in Paris. Tear. Smear. Crunch. Plugrá salted butter. Perfection. The baguette was a $3 stroll to a gastronomical season of my life that was so ecstatic, I felt guilty. But I got over it.

Sunday, March 23, 2014

Señor Paco, Persecuted for Smoked Salmon Sake

“I was arrested like 20 times,” said Señor Paco, a silver-slick, Cuban fish merchant. “This was in Kendall in the 80s. I was just trying to make a living.” Back in the days, vendors were often arrested for selling the streetside goodies you and I have come to love. But Señor Paco Fernando still stands. His Blue Runner Seafood truck is a deep sea treasure on land. From fresh corvina and stone crabs to ceviche and my favorite, the hickory smoked salmon, a sweet slice of omega fatty goodness, I’m an official groupie. And then there’s Señor Paco in his crisp white shirt and slacks. “My wife, Barbara, makes an amazing salmon spread,” he said endearingly. Señor Paco’s clients enjoy sopping up his one on oneness. It’s hard to imagine him in an icky jail. But sometimes good men get cells, and bad men get badges. “Finally, the judge was just tired of seeing me,” he said.  

Blue Runner Seafood, North Miami, 786-499-9334.

Friday, March 21, 2014

Cheese Heals All Wounds

My beloved Gourmet Squatters, it’s been a long time. Reality has crept into my bounty like a mouse seizing a baguette in the hollow of night, and for the past few months, a thoughtful meal has meant more than it ever has. I am caring for a loved one who is sick, a fellow Gourmet Squatter, a champion, a friend, a leader, and an amazing woman of God. Each day, she fights with loss of appetite, an anguishing symptom for someone who lived for the perfume of jerk pork and the bite of savory, aged Cheddars. It breaks my heart. But every once in a while, she has an urge for her favorites: smoked Salmon, Prosciutto di Parma, and stinky cheeses, and I am happy to oblige. I really love shopping for cheese and experimenting with simple recipes. I love the opposites attract experience of taking a soft, stinky cheese, marrying it with a complex, sweet preserve and smearing it on toast. It’s breakfast. It’s dessert. It’s divine. Here’s a simple, yummy dish that dimmed the noise of sickness, so we could be present in the sweet gift of breath.


Bufala Blackberry Toast

Tip: Make sure the cheese is at least room temperature, so it’s easy to smear

Slab of quadrello di bufala (or your favorite musty fromage)

Tablespoon of marion blackberry preserves

Chunk of your favorite baguette


Toast baguette

Smear cheese

Top with preserves














Thursday, January 17, 2013

Eating Dinosaurs with Old Friends

I belong to a prayer circle of women who I’ve known since Pink Panther popsicles and goomies. About five years ago, we formed the circle because we were grown-ass women who felt like overgrown teenagers.  Our gatherings are much like Blanche, Sofia, Dorothy, and Rose who shared their pangs, woes and pleasures over endless cheesecake pies. But our menus are slightly different; Tastee’s Jamaican patties, Syrian lamb skewers and spicy, red rice, vegan oatmeal chocolate chip cookies, and Publix Chocolate Trinity Ice Cream are among my favorites. I’m the wine girl, so I’m proud to say that I proselytized the gals out of White Zin. They’re into sparkling rosé, so I usually bring a bottle. But what’s most delicious are the endless bowls of laughter as we reminisce the past, gently or not-so-gently poking at each other’s strange phases (Back in the day, I dated a crazy DJ I named Mufasa). We laugh loud and hard and long, hoping our echoes will cling on until tomorrow. The last time we gathered, my friend, T, made a vegan lamb stew with sautéed dinosaur kale and steamed jasmine rice. None of us are vegan, but since she’s married to one, she’s mastered some delicious recipes. And this is definitely one of them. I adore Indian food and relished the cumin, coriander, fennel, and cinnamon aromas dancing from her pot. I used to think that dinosaur kale could only be enjoyed in a juice with bananas and apples because the leaf’s texture is tough, but when it’s cooked gently, it reminds me of a mix of calaloo and collard greens. It’s hearty and filling much like the time I spend with my sisters.    



Tuesday, January 8, 2013

Dining in the Natural Mystic

The best meal ever!
My Dear Gourmet Squatters, I missed you. I recently lost my granny and have been pretty sad. If you’ve been reading Gourmet Squatter for a while now, you know how much I love my granny. God blessed her with 104 chapters of life, but still my family and I weep and rejoice for the departure of our beloved matriarch. So I recently returned from granny’s send-off celebration, and Folks, you’re not ready. On the day before the funeral, the mountains burst with the smell of roasting goats’ heads for manish water and smoky boar’s flesh for jerk pork (I really hope none of you are vegans). My mother says the pork skin has the best flavor, and it does.  A large tent was set as the village cooks hung, cut, and seasoned. The meats were roasted on tree barks and aged pits as the men bickered and puffed themselves into lives they wished they had. Music seemed to grow from the ground—everything from Bob’s “Natural Mystic” to songs I had never heard before like, “One Woman Cannot Satisfy Me.” But I was satisfied as I watched children leap from steep hills and run around the curvaceous earth. My favorite meal was a plate of steamed white rice, steamed callaloo seasoned with gorgeously green, long scallion stalks, onion, salt, pepper, and the juice from the escovitch fish my mom purchased from Old Harbour Bay. The meal was an ode to Jamaican culture--spicy, sweet and fresh. When darkness finally draped the land, a live band arrived and white rum flowed from the clouds as we danced, cried and drank to granny.

Saturday, November 3, 2012

The Price of P-Funk

If you’ve been reading Gourmet Squatter, you know I love my wines, funky. By funky, I mean I like my dry reds Virginia Woolf-deep, wines that provoke the androgynous mind, compelling you to take a second glance at the color, wines that make you stick your nose in the glass over and over again like a child at the beach, digging through the wet sand in search of treasure. You know you have arrived when you smell the earth at her most vulnerable. Some folks use words like wet cellar or wet leaves. But in my experience, these wines can smell like everything from stinky cheese and wet soil to armpit, sweaty socks and lovemaking. These wines possess Sly Stone-swag, your descriptors getting more and more creative as they unravel in the glass. When I think of the essence of grape funk, I think, Pinot Noir, and like all the things worth having, this grape is called the heartbreak grape as it is difficult to grow. It’s also difficult to find a really well-made bottle for under $25. Last year, when my budget took a boost, I bought several bottles between $20 and $35 mainly from Oregon and was really bored. The aromas were flat, vacant and uninspiring. Today I got off work ready for that good P-funk, so I told the wine dondadda at one of my favorite wine stores, that my budget was $30. He recommended the 2009 Soléna Grand Cuvée Oregon Pinot Noir as a supremely aromatic wine, but the bottle I had was aromatically dead. I tried and tried to smell something, but there was nothing there. A couple weeks ago I bought a bottle of 2009 Sonoma Cuvée Russian River Valley Pinot Noir for just over $20. P-funk jumped out of my glass along with aromas of braised short ribs and marionberries. On the palate, there were dark plum, stewed fig, clove and anise flavors that glided through the lush, cashmere body. I bought the ’08 vintage this evening which wasn’t as interesting, but sometimes, you have to hunt the P-funk.


Saturday, October 6, 2012

Sipping the Winemaker

So I have a confession. I love wine. You know that. But more than I love sipping wine, I love sipping the winemakers. I love reading about the adventures of those who dare trade their nine-to-five gigs for the long shot, the jagged dream of making money as grape juice hustlers. These aren’t descendants of centuries-old wine families. They are everyday people who stumbled into a bottle that inspired them in the same way that music inspired Aretha and poetry inspired Plath. Helen Turley is the winemaker behind labels like Marcassin, Bryant, Colgin and Peter Michael. Wine Spectator Senior Editor—James Laube wrote in a 2010 article that Turley is a native of Augusta, Ga., where she grew up Southern Baptist raised on a diet of fried chicken and meatloaf. Not exactly a foie gras-Sauternes background, is it? In 1968, Turley and her man drove a VW bus cross-country, hippie-style, ending in California. It was a 1980 Sea Ridge Pinot Noir that changed her life. Mac McDonald came from a family of Texas moonshine makers. Laube wrote in a 2004 Wine Spectator article that MacDonald’s mother, Elbessie, along with her brother and sister, made sweet wine from apples and cherries. But that didn't pique Mac's interest. It was a 1952 red Burgundy that changed his life. When he was a teen, a group of doctors hired his father to take them hunting, and one guest left Mac with that '52 Burgundy. About eight years ago I met the Michael Duncan look-alike in downtown Brooklyn where he rose from the Lafayette Avenue subway stop wearing overalls and a straw hat. I got goosebumps when he explained that he aged his Pinot in Hungarian oak. Are your dreams aging? I know sometimes it feels like mine are. Afraid to take that long shot? Maybe it’s not that long. But are we willing to do the work, pick the grapes and see what ends up in the bottle?