Tangerine Sherbet

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“Actually, it is very simple, and the only tricks to it are in having one’s own tangerine trees—and the patience to squeeze the juice from at least a twelve-quart water bucket of the tangerines.” Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings, Cross Creek Cookery, 1942.

O.K., she may have overstated the number of tangerines, but Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings knew how to turn an abundance of seasonal fresh produce into delicacies .

Back before the Farm to Table movement had taken hold or I had ever heard of Michael Pollan or Wendell Berry, we bought our Old House with a small citrus grove in the yard. Moving from a thin row house in Washington, D.C. to central Florida, I was determined to use every last bit of my new-found bounty of grapefruit, oranges and tangerines.

So I filled the freezer with juice and learned to prepare a real tangerine sherbet that is nothing like the old tubs of orange-colored ice my mother used to keep on hand for summer treats.

No, as Rawlings noted, this is a dish that has “an extremely exotic flavor and is a gorgeous color.” It is also an easy make ahead treat that is perfect as a Christmas gift, spooned over vanilla ice cream or eaten by the gallon right out of the container.

Sadly, our tangerine tree succumbed last year to old age and disease. This has left us with a void of readily available sherbert.  Although our kids are grown now and no longer plow through pounds of it while leaving sticky spoons all over the house, they miss the tree as much as I do and keep asking  when we’ll get another sherbert tree. So this Florida winter, you will find me out at the farm stand buying bags of tangerines and getting that juicer fired up.

I hope Santa will bring me a new tree…

Cross Creek Tangerine Sherbet

I cup sugar
1 ½ cups of water
Juice of one large lemon
4 cups tangerine juice
Zest from 4 tangerines

Boil sugar and water for ten minutes. Then add the tangerine zest to the syrup while hot. Let cool slightly and add the lemon and tangerine juice. Taste for sweetness and acidity, as the tangerines vary. Chill thoroughly, strain and freeze.

I freeze some of the sherbet in single serving containers for easy desert options or treats for the neighbors.
ENJOY!

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Work Night Arroz Con Pollo

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I remember the smell of the sofrito coming from the stove as I played with my two great childhood friends in their house located just a few feet from mine. Because I was a child I never fully understood that just a few years before this family lived a very different life in their native Cuba…before they were forced to make a dangerous escape to the United States as a young couple with two small girls and leave everything behind except the clothes they were wearing.

This extended family became a loving window to a larger world for me. One grandmother was a painter who patiently sat with us at the small dining room table as we drew and colored pictures trying to impress her. A grandfather was convinced that he could teach me to speak Spanish but gave up after a few days declaring with a smile and a wink that it was an impossible task due to my Southern accent.

The food that came out of that small kitchen was unlike anything I had ever imagined. Golden fried plantains, heaping bowls of black beans over white rice and for New Year’s, a whole pig roasted in a pit dug in their back yard and served on a giant platter complete with an apple in its mouth.

Arroz Con Pollo, or chicken and yellow rice, was always my favorite and one of the thousands of versions of it is still served at every church dinner, local festival or fundraising event around Florida.

“If the mockingbird is the Florida state bird and the orange blossom the state flower, then chicken and yellow rice may well have become the state dish,” Jane Nickerson wrote in her 1973 Florida Cookbook.

And while I have tried many “reinventions” of the recipe, the old Spanish-based one from Tampa’s Columbia restaurant remains the best. Unfortunately, work nights call for some short cuts but this is a delicious standby using a store bought rotisserie chicken and some items already in your pantry (especially the packaged rice when you don’t happen to have saffron on hand.)

But even in this short-cut version, the smell of that sofrito still carries me right back to those days on Crystal Terrace…

Work Night Arroz Con Pollo

1 store bought rotisserie chicken (I use either a no flavor or a mojo flavored chicken if you can find it)
1 small white onion sliced
Two cloves garlic minced
1 small can chopped tomatoes drained
1 small green pepper chopped
A 16 ounce bag of yellow rice mix (I use Vigo)
Frozen small peas cooked to package instructions
1 jar of sliced pimentos

Preheat the oven to 350

Quarter the chicken and set aside. Prepare the rice to package instructions preferably in a large covered oven proof pot. Sauté sliced onions and garlic until tender, and then add tomatoes and green pepper to heat through. When the rice is done, add the onion mixture to the pot and give a big stir. Add the chicken to the top, cover and place in the oven until heated through, usually about 15-20 minutes. Add heated peas and sliced pimentos to taste.

Serve with a warm loaf of Cuban bread (or any crusty bread) and ENJOY!

Any Grove: For This Is An Enchanted Land

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I believe that no writer has more accurately described Florida better than Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings. Writing from her little Cracker house near an orange grove over 70 years ago, Rawlings was able to perfectly capture this sometimes wacky but always special place:

“Any grove of any wood is a fine thing to see. But the magic here, strangely, is not apparent from the road. It is necessary to leave the impersonal highway, to step inside the rusty gate and close it behind. By this, an act of faith is committed, through which one accepts blindly the communion cup of beauty. One is now inside the grove, out of the world and in the mysterious heart of another. Enchantment lies in different things for each of us. For me, it is in this: to step out of the bright sunlight into the shade of orange tree; to walk under the arched canopy of their jade like leaves; to see the long aisle of lichened trunks stretch ahead in geometric rhythm; to feel the mystery of a seclusion that yet has shafts of light striking through it. This is the essence of an ancient and secret magic. It goes back, perhaps to the fairy tales of childhood, to Hansel and Gretel, to Babes in the Wood, to Alice in Wonderland, to all half-luminous places that pleased the imagination as a child. It may go back still farther, to racial Druid memories, to an atavistic sense of safety and delight in an open forest. And after long years of spiritual homelessness, of nostalgia, here is that mystic loveliness of childhood again. Here is home. An old thread, long tangled, comes straight again.

From Rawlings autobiographic work, Cross Creek, published in 1942 and a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize.

If you’ve never read Cross Creek, or haven’t thought of Rawlings since you read The Yearling in middle school… check it out. The recipes in Cross Creek and subsequent book, Cross Creek Cookery are as outstanding as her prose.

The Old Man: Marrying Stuff

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When the Old Man was much younger, he took a beautiful bride who had many old things. Some of these things were antiques she and her parents had collected and some were heirlooms of previous ancestors.

In most cases these things were odd (five wooden wall clocks from 1900, commemorating the Spanish American War) or cumbersome (an ornately carved pump organ). Other family members had already furnished their homes in particular styles, so these things became our things.

I think many young people are reluctant to accumulate antiques and heirlooms because they fear their ability to choose things for their own idiom might be compromised. Or perhaps they wisely anticipate the burden of a 250 pound pump organ.

We, however, had little to place in our first homes and we were possessed of a romantic – or perhaps simply unrealistic – nature. So the organ first joined us in Winchester, Virginia, and we then took it with us to suburban Chicago, back to Florida, then to Washington, D.C. and finally back to Florida again. Never once, have I been able to play an entire song on it. But great grandchildren of the man – my late father-in-law – who replaced the fabric on the wood treadles half a century ago merrily coaxed low moans from it just the other day.

Some of the other pieces that have been with us our entire lives together include:

•A Victrola that stands four feet tall in a conspicuous place in our living room, and still spins nonagenarian records at 78 RPM whenever the spirit moves us and we want to know what 1924 sounded like.

•Clocks and more clocks, in addition to the aforementioned timepieces from the Spanish American war. These include a small, ornate German clock that used to chime the hours and tick the moments in between for us in our cold and cramped first apartment, an English basement on Capitol Hill.

•A cherry china cabinet with glass shelves and a bowed glass door that my wife helped her father refinish, using Q-tips to reach into the narrow, carved grooves. As young parents we feared a toddler would crash into the glass, and for years positioned furniture defensively around it.

•A maple gate-leg table from the Depression that could tuck into a small space against the wall when we didn’t need it, or be made to expand by means of an ingenious folding leaf into a surface large enough for six and a Thanksgiving turkey.

Call them antiques, heirlooms or hand-me-downs, I think we always felt that these things were a trust, over which we would enjoy stewardship for a time, and then it will be someone else’s turn to live with them. We have added considerably to the collection over the years with many odd and cumbersome pieces of our own. What makes them special is the knowledge that they meant so much to someone long before us, and they have continued to play prominent roles in the accumulated memories of our family for the past three decades.

I hope our kids have big houses.

The Old Man can be found teaching vocabulary to his gun dog in the back yard of the Old House and occasionally typing his ridiculous and profane thoughts on an old Underwood typewriter.

Old Houses

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I grew up in a town full of wonderful old houses. A quick bike ride across the railroad tracks and Calhoun Street would turn into a brick-paved old Florida wonderland.

The Prosser house was always my favorite with its majestic white columns. Pam favored the Victorian homes on Evers Street where she spent summers babysitting. And the homes on Mahoney Street were living tributes to the people who built Plant City either through commerce, agriculture or government service.

Years later when we decided to leave Washington, D.C. and move back to Florida, it was the inventory of great old houses that drew us to Bartow. We spent hours on the internet comparing listings of homes with the square footage and huge lawns we had missed from our 1903 Capitol Hill townhouse—which while historic was just 11 feet wide in places.

Like Plant City, this is a town full of houses with stories. Legendary Florida Governor and U.S. Senator Spessard Holland lived here, not in the big estate on Broadway but just across the street from it in the old bungalow. Down a few blocks in the great wooden house lived a composer who wrote for Frank Sinatra and around the corner from it sits the brick home where the street curves around an oak tree. Here in the “City of Oaks and Azaleas” we do love our trees. Local lore maintains that the lady who lived there sat in a lawn chair with her shotgun ready as the city crews paved the street. Guess who won?

Currently, there are several grand historic houses for sale in town and just like those childhood bike trips, I find myself weaving through back streets to check on any change in sale statuses. Realtors here should really have a disclaimer that no matter how grand your name is, locally these houses will always be known by their old family name.

We have lived in this old bungalow for almost 14 years but it will forever be known as the John Pittas house. A Greek immigrant and successful restaurateur, John lived here for over 50 years until he died at the age of 106. An avid gardener and cigar smoker, we still find the plastic tips of his smokes everywhere; middle of the driveway, under the azaleas; the garage. We never knew him but sometimes when we feel his presence we ask him to telegraph to us EXACTLY where in the yard he buried that jar full of cash we have heard so many tales about.

My husband once asked a neighbor if maybe it was the water here that contributed to John’s longevity. “No,” he smiled. “John never drank water.”

So if you catch me in the back with a shovel and glass of wine, that can be our little old house secret.

Another One!!!

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When I wrote two blog posts a few weeks ago about an eagle family moving into our small town backyard, I thought we had one eagle and one baby/adolescent eagle. But Florida wildlife never fails to produce daily revelations that prove me amateurishly wrong.

As of today, our number of eagles has increased with the arrival of another young eagle. No more schedules or theorizing from me. Just blessed acceptance of the great fortune we have to be in their company.

From August 6:

Maybe I should name him Romeo, the way he sits outside my bedroom window.

Or maybe go cutesy and call him Don or Glenn or Joe after some members of the band.

But the name that keeps coming back to me is Larry Brown. Yes, I have a friend who is an eagle and I’m naming him Larry Brown.
You see, Larry is both nosy and persistent: two qualities that harken back to the original, late great writer Larry Brown.

Larry has been around our neighborhood for a while but only recently have I begun clawing myself awake and out of bed at 6 a.m. to find him looking right back at me.

The first time we saw him perched on the dead branch atop the oak tree in our backyard, my husband and I grabbed the camera and crept outside, hoping to not disturb him. And on that perch he stayed as we giggled about what a great and unusual sight this was until exactly 6:30 and he launched off toward the southwest.

Now we know that’s just Larry’s schedule. I’m not sure what time he arrives but when night starts to fade, he’s there on his branch until his internal alarm clock tells him breakfast is ready somewhere else.

I’ve begun talking to him as I let the dogs into the backyard for their morning routine (no worries, our boys are much too large to be carted off by Larry). I pepper him with questions he has yet to answer: Where is his nest? Does he still have a mate or is he looking for love? Does he call her Sheila Baby as his namesake would? Most importantly what has he learned about us from up there on his perch?

I don’t know where he goes; only that he comes back to us. Every morning at 6 a.m.

From August 21:

“And tracking the feathered friend that visited her backyard was not only a source of great delight for her, it was also a form of meditation—an exercise in noticing.” From the obituary of Florence Kirven Foy Strang, age 106.

Just a few weeks ago I was theorizing about the private life of the eagle I had become so attached to and named Larry Brown. Well, now we know. Our eagle has a baby.

I’m naming him Billy Ray (or Billie Ray if you prefer).
He is about the same size as Larry but is covered with white down feathers that must itch the way he pulls at them and shakes, leaving them tumbling out into the breeze. Apparently baby eagles grow into their adult size at a rapid pace, begin to fly at 12-13 weeks, and then go through four different plumage stages before growing into their beautiful adult feathers at about age five.

After Larry leaves his perch on the dead tree branch at exactly 6:30 every morning, Billy Ray flies in with a screech and sometimes a thud. Apparently, an eagle learning to fly is similar to a 15-year-old and a freshly laminated learner’s permit. Both involve a lot of screaming.

Why the sudden emergence of this eagle family? It may have something to do with the explosion of backyard chickens in the neighborhood. It seems that eagles love chickens.

It also may be that I have just noticed.

The Old Man: A mystery on film

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When I opened the old leatherette camera bag, two small aluminum canisters with bright orange lids spilled out, each about the size of a spool of thread. Their weight felt familiar in my hands; the knock of the 35 millimeter film inside was like an echo from the past. Each roll of Kodachrome had been exposed, waiting to be developed for many years.

In the old days, I knew how to mix the chemicals and make a print on paper from a negative in a darkroom. But those chemicals and enlargers are long gone. You can still get film developed. A drug store in our little town does a lively business at it, because as a clerk explained to me, “A lot of our older customers just don’t like digital cameras.”

Even though I use and love my digital cameras, I understand their feelings. Unlike today’s digital cameras, which divide the world into microscopic dots, each with a number assigned by a computer, film captures light through a chemical process. It has almost physical contact with a moment in time. But now these rolls of film have sat for years inside the old bag. I don’t know if it is possible to develop them or if I should even try.

The old man who owned and shot this film is long gone, and I never knew him. If he had family, I don’t know why they didn’t want his cameras or discover this undeveloped film. What bit of light left on the film is mystery: Perhaps there are moments in which someone he knew and perhaps loved paused and smiled into the lens; a sunset sparkling off the Gulf waters; people gathered for an event no longer in anyone’s living memory but for the curious mixture of light and not-light settling on the film’s surface for just a fraction of a second. Just enough time to create an indelible image, if only in the imagination.

The Old Man can be found teaching vocabulary to his gun dog in the back yard of the Old House and occasionally typing his ridiculous and profane thoughts on an old Underwood typewriter.