when life gives you lemons

When I was a kid, my parents had a French friend name Aurora (which is SO French, right?!). I swear I’ve mentioned her name here before, but once you write a blog for 3 years, it becomes hard to keep track. So forgive me if I’m on repeat.

Either way, being around Aurora, in those few years that I knew her, was a definite treat.

My parents, Aurora, and Clyde (her boyfriend) used to play cards together on what seemed like every Saturday. They’d take the extra leaf out of our dining room table, load up with beverages, using bar stools as coasters, and deal out hands of Spades and Hearts for hours. It was through these card games that I learned about the awesomeness of getting drunk with your friends. Man, the songs they’d sing, the shit they’d say; I probably don’t remember half of it, but I remember thinking they were so cool. And also, a little bit weird.

I wish I had access to some of our family photo albums, and I’d show you the awesomeness of the styles back then. Clyde and my dad used to rock these awesome hats, like the ones the golfers wore before they all had Nike and Titleist logos. And the pants, oh boy, the pants. Sorta tight, plaid, and kinda big at the bottom – not quite like a bell-bottom, but close. Flare leg, I reckon. And the ladies wore these polyester button-up shirts with these weird ribbon ties at the top. Aurora had a sexy red number with a hole right near her boobs, what today I’d probably call a cleavage shirt. Is it weird that I remember these details? Who cares…

I also remember showering one night when they were over. I’d just learned to shave my legs, and I suppose my fancy Bic razor was on the dull side, because the second I aligned the razor with my thigh, the water hit the razor and slipped, taking a ginormous slice of my thigh with it. I wasn’t sure what to do about gushing blood, so I proceeded to toss on a towel and run out to the adults. Drunk adults aren’t very helpful in those situations, as it turns out. But eventually, the bleeding stopped and I was probably way too dramatic about it anyway. That was probably too much information, but you’ll deal.

Last but certainly not least, I remember Aurora for her skinny long cigarettes (so French and sophisticated) and her love of citrus fruits. We’d sometimes eat lemon rinds together, just to gross everyone else out. If it wouldn’t tear the enamel from my teeth, I’d probably eat a lemon daily just like an apple or a bowl of cherries. Dang, they’re tasty.

So when I found out about my coworker’s lemon tree burgeoning with fruit, I easily volunteered to take some off of her hands. What she gave me were the biggest lemons I’ve ever seen, and after a little thought, I made yet another batch of lemon curd. It’s sour enough to remind me of all those lemons I used to eat, but tempered by the eggs and the butter so other people will like it, too. Its biggest claim to fame? the stuff goes on everything. I like a regular ol’ piece of toasted bread, truth be told, but next week I’ll give you an extra-tasty option. Of course, you can always see what you find in the bread or breakfast section of the recipe index, but if all else fails, a spoonful is just as good all by its lonesome, or with a plate of berries.

Lemon Curd
from Gourmet via Epicurious; makes 1 1/3 cups

time commitment: 1 hour, 15 minutes (15 minutes active)

printable version

1/2 cup fresh lemon juice
2 teaspoons finely grated fresh lemon zest
1/2 cup sugar
3 large eggs
3/4 stick (6 tablespoons) unsalted butter, cut into bits

Whisk together juice, zest, sugar, and eggs in a 2-quart heavy saucepan. Stir in butter and cook over moderately low heat, whisking frequently, until curd is thick enough to hold marks of whisk and first bubble appears on surface, about 6 minutes.

Using a fine mesh strainer, strain curd into a bowl and chill, its surface covered with plastic wrap, until cold, at least 1 hour.

Shrimpin’ Ain’t Easy

fresh shrimp

I guess I should clarify. What I mean to say, is that getting fresh shrimpin’ ain’t easy. At least if you live in the Midwest it isn’t.

Let me remind you, or inform you if you are newly reading, that I’m a Southern girl. I’ve been living in the Midwest for almost 5 years now (yikes! that’s longer than I thought until I typed it!), and unfortunately most of my Southern twang has dissipated. It hurts me to say that, but it’s quite true. Now, catch me for the first week back from a trip to NC, and you’ll hear it, nice & thick, but only briefly. That’s my family and best friend rubbing off on me. I love it! You should hear my BF say something as simple as window. It goes “WIN-DoooW” or something like that. And insurance is “IN-sur’nce”. And my favorite word from my mom is wedding – “WEddin'”. Where’d that “g” go? I suppose it’s just too hard to say. ha ha. I do miss the accent, and I can’t for the life of me figure out where it went.

On the other hand, I apparently don’t sound as if I’m from these parts either. I’m constantly asked where I’m from by patients. The most recent was pretty funny – an older Jewish guy asked me this exact question. I decided to make him guess – just for the hell of it. His first guess – Canada. What??!! Did I say, “eh” a lot? I didn’t think I did…. Then the wife got interested and wanted to play along. Her guess – Connecticut. What is that?? What do they sound like? I don’t even know not nary a soul from Connecticut. They never guessed it. I, for my self-esteem, will attribute it to them not having been to the South. I refuse to believe that the twang is completely gone.

And so, regardless of where the accent went, or how much left, or how I get it back, the important point here is that, no matter where I live or how I sound – my love of Southern food will never ever cease to exist. It’s actually one of my favorite things about our new Chef instructor in school – she is also a Southerner. It’s one of the first times (since grad school when I had a fellow Southern classmate) that I’ve been reminded HERE of THERE. It’s somewhat comforting, in a weird way. She loves to remind the class (all Midwesterners as far as I know) about the better biscuit quality in the South versus anywhere else on the planet. Just this week, she was talking about shrimp. I just smiled to myself as she discussed how she can tell at first taste whether shrimp is fresh or frozen. She’s right. Up here, it’s all frozen. I mean, duh, how else do you get shrimp in Illinois? But back home… back home that’s different. You get fresh shrimp anywhere. And. It. Is. So. Damn. Good.

fried shrimp and fried catfish

One of my favorite childhood memories are the many many weekends spent at the beach. We lived about an hour from the coast, and bought a little trailer down at the beach where we spent practically every weekend of every summer. My bro and I HATED it. I’m not kidding. We really did. Until mom came home one day with TWO, yes TWO, Nintendos. One for the regular house, and one for the beach. Now we’re in business people. Her next task, since we’d then decided that going to the beach was ok, was how to get us away from Super Mario Bros and Duck Hunt. I don’t know that she ever accomplished that. And now, now I’d kill for a place at the beach. A weekend with the family, the way it once was. Or a real beach, for that matter.

shrimp scampi

The greatest part about the beach weekends, aside from Nintendo, was the food. Seafood for Friday & Saturday nights. We had it all – crab, shrimp, flounder, clams, whatever. Mmmmmm…. wow… I’m truly salivating. My dad had a huge crab boiler, and we’d cook the fresh crabs from our very own crab pots in the sound. I remember him, Budweiser in hand, wading out each morning and night to “check the pots”. We were eventually old enough to go with, and it was quite enjoyable. Nothing like checking your own crab pots and finding a tasty feast inside! We also had a shrimp net, but we never did catch a lot of shrimp, so we always drove down the road and bought them. Cheap too. I was always given the fun job of using the red plastic shrimp peeler. I have peeled many a shrimp. Probably more shrimp by age 10 than I’ve peeled the 19 years since! My favorite was of course, fried shrimp and tartar sauce. Those were the days. How I miss the beach – as well as the company it kept.

baked shrimp with feta

Chris & I started a trend a while back (before school started and hence when we were cooking a lot). We made a pact to have at least one meal of seafood every week. Sometimes two. When you get tired of tilapia, the next most affordable seafood is shrimp from Costco. A 2-3 lb bag for 18 bucks. Makes 2 meals for 4. That’s pretty good! And so, while the shrimp dishes we’ve eaten here are not nearly as good as the shrimp from the beach, it gets the job done. And clogs the arteries less :). I thought I’d share a couple of recent shrimp recipes that we’ve put in our “keep pile”. I have plenty more, but these were some we’ve made in the past couple of months that were delightful. Anybody have any other shrimp recipes to share? Send ’em over!!

shrimp, tomatoes, and feta

Lemon Pepper Shrimp Scampi
adapted from Cooking Light Magazine, serves 4

1 cup uncooked orzo
2 tablespoons chopped fresh parsley
1/2 teaspoon salt, divided
7 teaspoons unsalted butter, divided
1 1/2 pounds peeled and deveined jumbo shrimp
2 teaspoons bottled minced garlic
2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
1/4 teaspoon black pepper


Cook orzo according to package directions, omitting salt and fat. Drain. Place orzo in a medium bowl. Stir in parsley and 1/4 teaspoon salt; cover and keep warm.

While orzo cooks, melt 1 tablespoon butter in a large nonstick skillet over medium-high heat. Sprinkle shrimp with remaining 1/4 teaspoon salt. Add half of shrimp to pan; sauté 2 minutes or until almost done. Transfer shrimp to a plate. Melt 1 teaspoon butter in pan. Add remaining shrimp to pan; sauté 2 minutes or until almost done. Transfer to plate.

Melt remaining 1 tablespoon butter in pan. Add garlic to pan; cook 30 seconds, stirring constantly. Stir in shrimp, juice, and pepper; cook 1 minute or until shrimp are done.

Baked Shrimp w/ Feta Cheese
adapted from Cooking Light Magazine, serves 4

1 teaspoon olive oil
3/4 teaspoon dried oregano
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon crushed red pepper
1 pound medium shrimp, peeled and deveined
3 garlic cloves, minced
Cooking spray
1/2 cup dry white wine
3 cups diced plum tomato (about 3/4 pound)
3/4 cup (3 ounces) finely crumbled feta cheese
4 cups hot cooked linguine (about 8 ounces uncooked pasta; I used orzo again…)
1/4 cup minced fresh parsley

Preheat oven to 350°.

Heat oil in a large nonstick skillet over medium-high heat. Add the oregano and the next 4 ingredients (oregano through garlic); sauté for 3 minutes. Spoon the shrimp mixture into an 11 x 7-inch baking dish coated with cooking spray.

Add wine to skillet; cook over low heat until reduced to 1/4 cup (about 3 minutes). Stir in tomato, and pour over the shrimp mixture. Sprinkle with cheese, and bake at 350° for 10 minutes. Serve mixture over pasta, and sprinkle with parsley.