Lori Gomez is a slightly cynical, perpetually hungry New York Latina now wandering the hilly &
silly streets of San Francisco and spends most...read more of her days and nights creating recipes for life.
FOOD: Fling Into Spring – Grilled Pomegranate-Glazed Prawns
It is March.
An auspicious calendar of events can be tallied up on its pages. St. Patrick's Day. Basketball's March Madness. Co-eds' Spring Break. Spring-training for Major League Baseball. It's the month Caesar would have done well to beware the Ides of, back in 44 B.C.. It's also the breeding time for hares (known as March Hares) – when feminist bunnies bash potential playmates with their forelegs to separate the men from the boys. I can't understand why the English referred to them as 'mad', seems like a reasonable way to select a mate to me. Vincent Van Gogh, Dr. Seuss, Harriet Tubman, Harry Houdini, and Robert Frost were all born in March. In 1775, on the 23rd of this March, American patriot, Patrick Henry, famously cried out "Give me liberty, or give me death." at the Virginia Convention, purportedly persuading his fellow delegates (the likes of Thomas Jefferson and George Washington) that revolution was the noblest course of action to take against the Imperialists. The first spacewalk took place in March in 1965. In March of 1886, Coca-Cola was invented. The swallows return to the Mission of San Juan Capistrano in San Juan, California on the 19th, St. Joseph's Day. They return to the old ruined church each spring knowing their nests will be protected within the mission's walls. Daylight Savings magically springs us forward into time in early March, and lets the blessed sun shine an hour longer through our venetian blinds (if you're like me, that is, with an expansive western exposure and a desk propped up right against a bay window).
On March 20th, we welcome spring. Far from being an arbitrary indicator of the changing seasons, March 20 (March 21 in some years) is significant for astronomical reasons. On March 20, 2015, at precisely 6:45 P.M. EDT, the Sun will cross directly over the Earth's equator. This moment is known as the vernal equinox in the Northern Hemisphere, and the autumnal equinox in the Southern Hemisphere.
Translated literally, equinox means "equal night." Because the Sun is positioned above the equator, day and night are about equal in length all over the world during the equinoxes. These brief but monumental moments owe their significance to the 23.4 degree tilt of the Earth's axis. Because of the tilt, we receive the Sun's rays most directly in the summer. In the winter, when we are tilted away from the Sun, the rays pass through the atmosphere at a greater slant, bringing lower temperatures. If the Earth rotated on an axis perpendicular to the plane of the Earth's orbit around the Sun, there would be no variation in day lengths or temperatures throughout the year, and we would not have seasons
Historically, for thousands of years, cultures worldwide have recognized the vernal equinox. There is no shortage of rituals and traditions surrounding the coming of spring. La Primavera! Renewal... Reawakening... Rebirth! Food... glorious crops of food are ripe for the picking, and the eating, and many festivities are held in celebration of Mother Nature's bounty. In Christianity, the vernal equinox is significant because Easter always falls on the first Sunday after the first full moon that follows the vernal equinox. It is also probably no coincidence that early Egyptians built the Great Sphinx so that it points directly toward the rising Sun on the day of the vernal equinox. The day also marks the beginning of Nowruz, the Persian New Year. The celebration lasts 13 days and is rooted in the 3,000-year-old tradition of Zorastrianism.
March is the schizophrenic's month; the month that proverbially goes in like a lion and out like a lamb. In most places in the U.S., it's truly a tale of two seasons: winter and spring - they straddle it, and battle it out. People spend the first half of the March shoveling snow out of their driveways, and the second half, planting their bulbs, and picking their asparagus. Unless, of course, you happen to live by the San Francisco Bay.
Living in San Francisco all these years has deadened my sense of the advent of Spring. The frost doesn't thaw here ... because it never forms. Yet surely there are natural signs of Spring's nose-powdering in preparation for the ball; other than the relative position of the sunrise and sunset to (respectively) the Transamerica Pyramid and the Golden Gate Bridge. It's not that we are sans seasons, it's just that the changes are far subtler. The wind blows harder here in the Spring, but in the city proper, the landscape doesn't change much. We haven't many deciduous trees. Magnolias bloom in February here... Camellias open their buds. Quince and cherry trees are few and far between, but they start to get all sexy now... Other than that? Especially in drought years like this year? Nada! Winter is our rainy season, but it's been sunny, warm and dry throughout most of it, so everything is already abloom here. Still, all the wantonness associated with Spring does have its effects here.
"In the Spring a fuller crimson comes upon the robin's breast;
In the Spring the wanton lapwing gets himself another crest;
In the Spring a livelier iris changes on the burnish'd dove;
In the Spring a young man's fancy lightly turns to thoughts of love."
At least in the world according to Lord Alfred Tennyson. And a life without love is like a tree without blossoms or fruit. Ah... love. Yes, love. My associations with March are not necessarily to do with Lord Tennyson, nor the blossoming shrubs that enliven the pollen and add to the woes of allergy sufferers like me everywhere; nor the many pagan or religious rituals. No, mine are far more immediate and domestic. My long-suffering husband and I were married on March 8th, sixteen (or is seventeen??) years ago. Our wedding was not the usual thing. Far from it... Firstly, we told no one of our plans - well, almost no one. Only one girlfriend knew (and she blabbed it - this I assumed because the next day champagne and flowers showered on us from a gazillion people in our suite at the Lodge in Pebble Beach).
What can I say about married life, or more specifically, my husband, Garrett? El esposo is a tremendous sport. He takes me in stride (mostly). I must confess that I have a propensity for doing random ridiculous things to him as they occur to me during the course of the day. Invading his personal space. Disrupting his peace. All without warning or reason. Things that others might find inexplicable, if not downright disturbing and/or annoying.
The odd bite of neck, shoulder or other reachable body part; the occasional tickle of exposed flesh; the casual tousle of his well-groomed locks if they appear too orderly to me at that moment; the hard sniffing into his ear to which he just says without looking up from his computer, "It's NOT me!" whilst I cackle like a cracked-out hyena and ask him, "What's not you? What are you on about, man?". I also always take exactly one bite from whatever he's eating, or a sip from whatever he's drinking, preferably before he has, so that when he looks down, he sees that I've been there. Then I deny doing it, of course. Or the rare times I do choose to admit the undeniable, I tell him he should be grateful to have a personal taster as the kings of yore once did. That, one day, I will likely save his life. Garrett remains relatively implacable during these little pantomimes of mine. He just sighs, resignedly, and continues to eat.
Yes, all in all, I am fortunate not to find cyanide in my coffee, or arsenic-laced strawberries. I like being a pest. It's my nature. He knows and accepts this. The backbone to every good marriage is the ability to endure each other's barrage of nonsense with saintly forbearance. Nothing sustains a marriage like having each partner feel like a martyr to a worthy cause. In fact, sometimes I believe he enjoys my antics. Poor man. When asked by friends and family how at his age he has such a full head of hair, but virtually no gray ones, he always says, "Because I married well." So, either he likes it, or he's a beautiful liar.
Looking back at why, when and how we got married amuses me. It wasn't a shotgun wedding.
It was more like the groom was at knifepoint. My well-honed tongue at his throat. I'd spent the night explaining who I was to his work associates at a boondoggle conference in Scottsdale. A place, interestingly enough, called The Princess. "This is Lori Gomez." is how he always introduced me to people - skipping off to the next hand to shake. Leaving me to fill in the blanks. After 9 years of cohabitation, I suppose he thought calling me his 'girlfriend' was insufficient. Using the phrase 'significant other' seemed trite and awkward, so he didn't. He'd just move on after identifying me by name, sans status.
"So what do you do for the company?" asked a middle-aged, overweight, balding male. Directing his query to my tits. Already having anticipated his question, this time I opted for truth over tact. "The boss.", says I.
I walked away without bothering to watch his jaw hit the laces of his topsiders. Fast forward to our resort suite later that evening, wherein I inform my man I would no longer be his InstaDate. Nor stand by his side as 'Lori Gomez' to charm the smarm out of over-aged prom attendants. I suggested it was time to consider a merger. Adding that if he could not sign the contract, there would be no hard feelings, I'd move back to New York and he could keep his surname pristine and virginal, however my days as 'always the bridesmaid’ whilst essentially being a wife in everything but name were over.
This was not the first time we discussed ye olde holy state of matrimony, but with his "Name the time and place, and I'll be there." in response to my offer, I think we both understood it would be the last.
The nuptials soon followed. The best line of the long weekend of our 'honeymoon' came from Sally Scilabba: "You are so lucky to have us on your honeymoon. When we got married all the company we had was each other." I thought I heard a deathknell ring whilst she said it... Romance had died and was being buried.
Sally and her husband Dave were our surprise wedding guests. By surprise guests, I mean they were surprised. They had ZERO idea they were going to attend a ceremony. We Shanghaied them and had them drive us to the spot. They had just flown in from New York. Oyster Bay was where they called home. Dave and Garrett were participating in the Second Annual Pebble Beach Two Man Golf World Championship (some made up boondoggle for middle-aged males who played the game to get away from work & wives). We four had planned this trip for eons. Neither Garrett, nor I saw any reason to inform them we were getting married the night before the tournament.
There I was in my little ivory St. John's suit that Trish Garrabrandt (the loudmouth) helped me pick out, and Garrett was in a lovely dark blue Kiton suit. Dave and Sally were in their jeans and khakis having just disembarked from their six-hour United flight. We met them outside before they entered their room. We were all staying in the same little bungalow. Their room was just above ours.
"WOW! You guys look great. Where are you going?"
"We're going to a wedding."
"Yep. You can come along with us."
"Won't the couple mind? We can't go dressed like this."
"Sure you can. You need to drive us there. You're dressed perfectly. They won't mind."
"How can you be sure, Lor?"
Sally starts crying and runs upstair to get tissues and her camera.
All Dave says is "I need a drink." as he tugs at his popped collar.
Once we were all re-assembled, we piled into their rental Jeep. They drove us to Monastery Beach in Carmel. A female minister whom I had hired from a service called By-The-Sea weddings (the first listing under 'Weddings' that I saw on the Carmel Chamber of Commerce website) met us at the parking lot there, and we all hiked about a mile (me in the borrowed ivory pumps Trish provided - as she insisted I needed something borrowed. I wore sapphire earrings for the something blue).
We got to a promontory – a giant boulder and ledge that looked like it was created for our wedding stood against the backdrop of a sparkling blue ocean ... The sun was setting. Harbor seals were stretched out on the rocks below, settling in for the night ... sea otters were floating on their backs in the Pacific Ocean, cracking little oyster shells and having an early evening snack. Garrett and I laughed and smiled though our 'I Dos' (I chose the 'short' ceremony from the options list), and as Dave was driving us back to the lodge so we could all get ready for dinner after the ceremony, he said "THAT was the best wedding I've ever been to!"
I must say, I agreed with him at the time. I still do. That night we dined on pristine seafood and the season's loveliest offerings from the garden. I thought I'd recreate one of the dishes in honor of my wedding anniversary.
The following recipe (if you call what is basically an assemblage of ingredients a recipe) is the blast off into a Spring-inspired regimen utilizing the best of what the Bay Area has to offer in this eternal season of renewal. We will use a store-bought Pomegranate Sauce from Stonewall Kitchen, a really superior product that saves me time & tastes remarkably similar to a sauce I would make from Pom juice, aromatics & herbs. We marinade the seafood in the sauce with a bit of Extra Virgin olive oil and fresh ground pepper up to an hour ahead or as little as 15 minutes; grill the shrimps and scallops; and then reduce a 1/3 of cup of the Pomegranate sauce in a small pan with a touch of soy sauce and a splash of whatever wine you happen to be drinking at the time; until it's thick & glaze like. While the seafood marinates, prepare the sriracha aioli, the artichokes, the salad veggies and the dressing - keeping them separate until ready to serve - then toss the ingredients together. Simple!
Note: Le Roy Ladurie, in his book Les Paysans de Languedoc, has documented the spread of artichoke cultivation in Italy and southern France in the late 15th and early 16th centuries, when the artichoke appears as a new arrival with a new name, which may be taken to indicate an arrival of an improved cultivated variety:
“The blossom of the thistle, improved by the Arabs, passed from Naples to Florence in 1466, carried by Filippo Strozzi. Towards 1480 it is noticed in Venice, as a curiosity. But very soon veers towards the northwest...Artichoke beds are mentioned in Avignon by the notaries from 1532 onward; from the principle towns they spread into the hinterlands ... appearing as carchofas at Cavaillon in 1541, at Chateauneuf du Pape in 1553, at Orange in 1554. The local name remains carchofas, from the Italian carciofo ... They are very small, the size of a hen's egg ... and are still considered a luxury, a vaguely aphrodisiac tidbit that one preserved in sugar syrup.”
The Dutch introduced artichokes to England, where they grew in Henry VIII's garden at Newhall in 1530. They were brought to the United States in the 19th century, to Louisiana by French immigrants and to California by Spanish immigrants.
The Campania, I used here, is a large red artichoke. Redder than the Anzio, but not quite as red as the Fiesole. It is the world's largest red artichoke as some have been harvested that weigh over 2 pounds. Like the Lyon, it also comes from extensive breeding program in Southern France and its usage is similar to the Lyon. The Campania artichokes really have a beautiful almost fuschia-colored tinge to the leaves & are much more tender than the usual Globe choke; so they require less cooking time and preparation. If you can't find them at your market, simply replace with the Globe variety, cook longer and trim more, carefully removing the tough outer leaves and spines.
The gomasio for the court bouillon is a Japanese condiment that provides a more savory alternative to plain sea salt. It is comprised of sesame seeds, sea salt, & sea vegetables: organic dulse, nori and kombu. It really works well with the chokes imparting a nutty but still greenish flavor (is green a flavor? yes it is!) to them. You can just substitute toasted sesame seed, sea salt & maybe nori, if you have some around. I like the Eden Organics brand.
1 fresh jicama, peeled, cut into batons
1 handful of fresh cilantro, coarsely chopped
10 cups of organic field greens (about 5 oz.), rinsed & dried
1/2 pint of grape or cherry tomatoes, halved lengthwise (from stem end to stem end)
1 Hass avocado, cut into 1 inch chunks
1 shallot, minced finely
2 ounces of feta (mine came from San Rafael), crumbled but not too finely
1/2 Meyer lemon
1 Tablespoon of Stonewall Kitchen's Pomegranate Grille Sauce
1 Tablespoon of cold-pressed extra virgin olive oil
sea salt & freshly ground pepper to taste
For the Artichokes:
2 Campania artichokes, stems lightly trimmed, tops sheared
1 bay leaf, whole for the court bouillon
2 tablespoons of seaweed gomasio (optional)
2 cloves of garlic lightly smashed (substitute garlic powder for it, if you must)
freshly ground pepper
8 quarts of boiling water that has been acidulated with lemon or rice wine vinegar
Campania Artichokes... so pretty...
For the sriracha aioli:
2 Tablespoons of lowfat mayo
1 clove of garlic finely minced & mashed with 1/4 teaspoon of coarse fleur de sel
1 Tablespoon of extra virgin olive oil
the juice of a 1/4 Meyer lemon
...read more (10/13)
1 and 1/2 teaspoons of Sriracha hot sauce (or add to taste, you can find it in any Safeway supermarket, check the archives for a link to the product or google sriracha sauce)
1/4 teaspoon of Thai or Vietnamese fish sauce (or a 1/4 teaspoon of high quality anchovy paste)
freshly ground black pepper
Sriracha-chili aioli dipping sauce for the Campania Chokes
For the scallops and prawns:
1/2 lb of fresh sea scallops, adductor muscles removed (see photo)
1/2 lb. of #10-#12 prawns, removed from shells and deveined
1/3 cup of Stonewall Kitchen Pomegranate Grille Sauce (see note)
1 Tablespoon of Meyer lemon infused extra virgin olive oil (or the juice of 1/2 a lemon & 1 Tablespoon of EVOO) 1 teaspoon of soy sauce
1 teaspoon of agave nectar (or honey)
freshly ground black pepper
sea salt to taste (optional, I personally think both the pomegranate and the soy sauce have ample amounts of sodium so I wouldn't add it; but that's just my preference)
East Coast sea scallops and #10 prawns, sorry locavores!
Prepare the marinade ingredients for the seafood. Using a mixing bowl whisk together all the wet ingredients with the pepper, whisking in the oil last to form an emulsion. Taste, adjust seasoning &/ or marinade ingredients & when prepared to taste. Set aside for a moment.
Clean and prepare the scallops & shrimp, being sure to remove the adductor muscles from the former, and the shells, intestinal tract, pleopods and pareopods (the front "arms" & back "legs") from the latter.
Add the seafood & the marinade to the ziploc bag, shaking the bag around a bit to be sure that the marinade is evenly distributed. Set aside & allow to marinate at least 15 minutes up to an hour.
Place the seasonings in 7-8 quarts of the boiling water for the artichokes, then add the chokes covering with lid & allow to boil for 10 minutes. When you smell them & can pierce the bottom of the chokes easily with the tip of a knife, you know they're done. Remove them from the water & set them on a towel, cut side down, to drain.
While the artichokes are cooking & the seafood is marinating, prepare the sriracha aioli. The best way is with a large mortar & pestle but you can mix it in a small bowl. First crush the garlic & salt together to form a paste, then add the lemon juice & some freshly ground black pepper to the paste, incorporate well. Add the lowfat mayo, stir in. Add the sriracha & fish sauce. Mix well. Whisk in the olive oil, which just provides flavor for this dip, not emulsion, the prepared mayo provides that. Then taste & adjust for seasoning, thickness & heat. If it's too spicy add more mayo. Too thick, add more lemon juice. etc. When done spoon into individual small bowls for dipping.
Next prepare the salad dressing, whisking the ingredients together & set aside until you are ready to serve the salad.
Add all the salad veggies, except the avocado, to a large bowl & toss together. Set aside. DO NOT add the dressing, yet.
Prepare your grill pan by brushing it with grapeseed oil or another vegetable oil with a high flash point. DO NOT use olive oil. It burns too easily. Place over medium/high heat.
Place a 1/3 cup of the Pomegranate Grille Sauce in a small sauce pan set over medium/high heat, add a dash of soy sauce, the agave nectar & a splash of olive oil. Whisk it in & allow it to reduce while you cook the seafood. Keep an eye on it by stirring occasionally to be sure it doesn't burn.
Remove the scallops & shrimp from the marinade. Drain excess marinade & pat dry with a paper towel. When the grill is hot, place the shrimp in pan making sure not to overcrowd the pan. Grill about 1-1/2 minutes per side or until they pinken & just start to curl. Remove from pan & set aside on a warm plate while you cook the scallops.
Next, wipe the grill down with a wet paper towel held with tongs. Then brush grill surface with grapeseed oil; let it heat for 30 seconds or so & place the scallops in, careful not to overcrowd them. You want them to grill not steam. Cook the scallops about two minutes each side, less if they are small; more if they are large. When done to your liking, remove them from the grill pan & set aside in a warm place with the shrimp.
Add the remaining marinade to the grill & heat until bubbly & thick. Remove from heat & place seafood in the sauce, gently tossing to coat the seafood. Turn off the sauce pan with the pomegranate sauce, giving it a quick stir.
Toss the salad with dressing, avocado & feta.
Plate the dish by placing a smear of pomegranate glaze on 1/3 of the dinner plate & topping with half the shrimp & scallops. Drizzle a little additional glaze on top, if desired.
Plate the salad next to the seafood. Place the artichoke & dipping bowl on the last 1/3 of the plate. Serve.
This recipe serves 2 hungry spouses looking for a little "Spring" fling. ;P
Le Creuset grill pan:
An apartment dwellers best choice for grilling