Long Lasting Fresh Foods (or how to avoid the grocery store like the plague)

The first time I went shopping at the grocery store during Corona V, I felt like I was on Guy’s Grocery Games, rushing in, headed down the aisles and grabbing stuff off the shelf, zipping to the check out line and getting the heck out of the potential Petri dish and virus filled air. The next time I went, I made a list of foods that will last a while, making visits to the grocery store less frequent. I’m not talking peanut butter (my friend’s friend’s husband bought 24 jars!), canned soup or pasta or rice. I’m talking fresh food, that we crave, that we need, that will last more than a week.

#1 Cabbage

This stuff, and I mean the regular cabbage that was abundant for Saint Patrick’s Day, lasts a LONG time and it’s so versatile. Besides the obvious choice of sautéing it with oil, butter or bacon fat, cabbage can be sliced and used in salads, soups, on tacos or in sandwiches. Coleslaw is another way to use it and if you pickle it, it lasts even longer. Then, of course, there’s also stuffed cabbage, redolent of ground beef and rice, a satisfying and homey dish. Cabbage is low in calories, high in fiber and has the same nutritional benefits as her trendy sister Kale.

The humble Cabbage.

#2 Citrus Fruit

Sailors would take citrus fruit on their voyages to avoid scurvy. While we don’t have to worry about that, citrus fruits do last a long time. Pick ones that are heavy (test them if you are wearing gloves, otherwise just grab one) and fragrant. Wash in soapy water when you get home and store, uncovered, in the fridge. Nothing is more refreshing to me than a half a Ruby Red grapefruit to go with my breakfast. We constantly have lemons at my house to go in Iced Tea, but they are also good in water, squirted on seafood or vegetables. Limes go well with Asian food, in salsa, on fruit salad and in guacamole. The rind of citrus packs a lot of flavor and of course, citrus is full of Vitamin C, something we’re all trying to get more of these days.

Citrus Fruit.

#3 Apples

I almost always have apples on hand, since they are my favorite fruit to snack on. My favorite is HoneyCrisp, but I also like Gala, Fuji and Envy. My friend makes sure to get a variety since she eats several a day. Make sure you wash them and then store uncovered in the fridge, where they will stay good for 4 to 6 weeks, the same timeline we are currently on board for staying at home. Apples past their prime and be sliced and used as a side dish with pork, or turned into a baked apple dessert. Apples are high in Vitamin C (14%), polyphenols and fiber.

#4 Potatoes

When I made my second trip to the grocery store, I grabbed a bag of potatoes as well. Yukon Gold is my personal favorite, but plain old Idahos last a long time as well. Stored in a dark spot, potatoes can last up to 6 months! I just learned a trick to keep the eyes from sprouting. Put an apple (see above) in with your potatoes. Potatoes can be baked, roasted, mashed, fried; they can be cut into cubes, wedges, chips, grated or sliced. They also can be used in soups and stews and are a natural thickener. A baked potato can be topped with items (cheese, broccoli or BBQ chicken) to make a complete meal. I sometimes boil tiny red potatoes and eat them cold with salt and a dollop of sour cream or plain yogurt, as a snack.

#5 Root Vegetables- Carrots, Turnips, Parsnips, Yams, Beets

Any root vegetable tends to last a long time. In the old days, they had a root cellar specifically used for storing these hardy, nutrient-dense vegetables that grow in the dirt. When choosing, pick ones that are hard and free of gashes. For carrots, I like the colorful varieties. Don’t buy the “baby” carrots, as they are very perishable. I’ve been having fun experimenting with carrot recipes lately. Whoopee! I made some roasted carrots, with a tahini dressing and pomegranate seeds a couple weeks ago and made some the other night (NYTimes Food recipe) that were boiled, grilled and topped with tarragon oil and sprinkled with dukah. Dukah is an Egyptian condiment which is a mixture of toasted nuts (hazelnuts), seeds, spices and herbs. It added a beautiful crunch and flavor to the carrots.

#6 Iceberg Lettuce

It may not be as nutrious as Romaine, but it definitely lasts longer and who can beat the crunch and refreshing juiciness of Iceberg? I remember hearing author and actress Madhur Jaffrey talking about the first time she tasted iceberg on a cruise and what a revelation it was to her. “I thought it was the best thing I’d ever eaten,” she said of her salad on the Queen Mary. It’s so refreshing because it’s 96% water and as we know, it’s important to stay hydrated these days. My preferred way to eat it is the classic wedge, with blue cheese and bacon bits.

#7 Prociutto or Salami

I remember hearing Giada de Laurentis talk about how her Italian family always had prosciutto in the refrigerator because it lasted a long time. My mother always had sliced Genoa salami on hand as well, (from Publix) so we could make salami sandwiches. Since both are cured meats, they last longer than most lunch meats. In order to have it last as long as possible, you’re better off buying salami whole, instead of sliced. Prosciutto has many uses beyond the obvious sandwich-making capability. It can be put in pasta, eggs, or on a flatbread; wrapped around melon or scallops or fried and sprinkled on salad. My favorite sandwich at Cafe Pastis has prosciutto with pesto and brie on a French baguette.


#8 Parmesan Cheese

Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese and other hard cheeses like Pecorina, Romano or (my Aunt Josie’s favorite) Locatelli last a long time in the refrigerator. To store, loosely cover with wax or parchment paper, in your meat and cheese compartment. After a while, even these hard cheeses tend to get too hard, so it’s best to grate or shred the cheese for the longest lasting solution. I keep the rinds and put them in pasta sauce and soups to give them more flavor.

#9 Eggs

Eggs last up to a couple weeks in the fridge and are one of my favorite protiens. Obviously there are many ways to use them for breakfast and baking, but they are also a nice topper (soft boiled) on pasta and salads, as a natural, yolky dressing. I love a barely cooked egg in an Asian noodle soup as well. If your eggs are not super fresh, these are good to hard boil, as older eggs are easier to peel. They can then be used as a snack (I like to put a slice of hearts of palm in my deviled eggs as a crunchy surprise) or to make egg salad.

#10 Garlic, Onions & Shallots

These members of the allium family are essentials for any cook to have on hand and should be stored in a cool, dark spot. Look for garlic that feels heavy and isn’t shriveled. Lighter heads tend to be dried out. Look for onions and shallots with no soft spots or sprouting. The basic white, yellow and red onions tend to last longer than Vidalia or scallions. I just found a video showing how to store them in pantyhose, to keep them lasting even longer. Shallots, sweeter and subtler in flavor than onions, are good in salad dressings and sauces.

This helps keep onions fresh.

Bonus Round: I almost always have a bell pepper on hand, usually red. I use it fresh in salads, chopped with onions and garlic to put in black beans or roasted in salads or sandwiches. Many times, I use half and the other half languishes and becomes slimy in the vegetable drawer, but I just learned a halk to make them last longer. Cut off the bottom half and leave the top, with stem and seeds intact. This will give you a couple extra days of keeping the pepper fresh. This green pepper came from my garden.

Well I tried Instacart and it was a major fail.

I know it’s safer than shopping, but I didn’t realize it would be so time-consuming, since they list the items in different categories (I did Publix), then you need to pick your brand and say if you will take a substitute. Anyway it’s a process, and then you check out. The good part was, I was able to get toilet paper and paper towels (Publix’s recycled type) but they were out of some items I needed, like Clorox Wipes and alcohol.

It didn’t take too long to arrive, about 2 hours and I was updated on the progress of my shopper and notified when items were out of stock. They didn’t have the Flat Iron Steak or Cauliflower I ordered. Flat Iron Steak is a delicious cut of beef and I like Pureed Cauliflower as a substitute for mashed potatoes. But anyway… I got a text message when my shopper arrived at my house. I’d left instructions to leave the items on the bench by the front door. It was a husband and wife team and they delivered 2 paper bags of groceries- $200 worth, with no meat or seafood. The items were crammed in there tightly.

I brought the bags in, washed my hands and unpacked. All the produce was wrapped in the thin green plastic bags, which was good since it prevents it from touching the cart, but I was dismayed to find the hot dog buns and hamburger buns at the bottom of the bag. They were pretty smushed. Also, a can of lentils I’d ordered was dented and apparently I didn’t pay close enough attention to sizes, because I ended up with a HUGE can of black beans, not the 15 ounce I had meant to get.


So, while it was quick and healthier than shopping myself, it was more complicated than I realized and a disappointing experience. I’m guessing Instacart has had to hire a lot more people lately to deal with the pandemic, and perhaps they aren’t very experienced. Also, I don’t know if they were responsible for putting the buns at the bottom of the bag, or it was the bagger at Publix, but at any rate, it shouldn’t have happened.

Meanwhile, back at our house, we’re almost finished with the 1500 piece puzzle. We finished Tiger King and Screwball and I’ve been watching old VHS tapes my Mom gave me that my Dad shot. While I was on the VHS kick, I decided to dust off an old Jane Fonda step aerobic tape and give it a try, because frankly I’m sick of taking walks and it’s hot out there!

I’ve been learning about Zoom meetings, sheltering in place and Tik Tok. My stress ball has been getting a lot of use and I’ve been using my aromatherapy diffuser on the regular. Lemongrass and Begamot are recommended scents to fight away viruses. I’ve been cooking a lot and just realized now that we’ve been given another month to stay at home that I will need to become my own: dental hygienist, housekeeper, hair stylist, eyebrow dyer, manicurist, personal trainer, masseuse and therapist.

Stress Ball.

I’d been having my housekeeper come because I figured if I ever needed a clean house, it was now and I felt it was safe since she was only going from her house to mine. But when Trump said: “Stay home, no really stay home,” for another month, she texted me that she thought it best not to come anymore. I was sad, but of course I understand. I’m pretty self-sufficient, so this is all ok.

Zeke and I haven’t killed each other yet, which is good news and life goes on. At a slow pace, but on nonetheless. I wrote my friend Martha a birthday card today and told her maybe this has happened to remind us of the important things in life: faith, hope and love. And the greatest of these is love.

Upcoming articles: How to Grocery Shop Safely and Trending in the Pandemic.

License to Eat Junk

Sunny Hostin said on The View yesterday, “Well, I ate a whole bag of Funyuns.”

“Why are you eating Funyuns, Sunny?” Whoopi, speaking from the social distance of her own home, asked.

“I love Funyuns,” Sunny answered, shrugging.

Apparently Whoopi was dismayed because she hasn’t been able to find her favorite brand of potato chips (Wise). Megan McCain’s junk food addiction of choice (also quarantined at home since she’s pregnant) is Cheez Whiz, straight out of the can. Everyone agreed putting it on her finger to eat at this time was too risky.

I read an article about how people are ditching quinoa and kale for Doritos and Oreos, during this stressful time of the pandemic. Many people (including yours truly) are worried about gaining the COVID 19. 19 pounds, that is. Stuck at home, with nothing to do but eat.

My junk food addiction during these freaky as heck, uncertain times has been Trader Joe’s White Truffle Potato Chips. It sounds like a pretty ritzy addiction, but I was simply eating it because it was there. They are, by the way, delicious, especially with caviar dip (now that does sound ritzy!), although I won’t be visiting Trader Joe’s anytime in the near future. It’s crazy enough shopping there during normal circumstances and these are anything but.

The Evidence

My actual embarrassing junk food of choice is pork rinds, a favorite of George Bush Jr’s. (that makes it even more embarrassing). Sometimes, I just buy a small bag in the grocery store and eat the whole thing. Something about crunching those hard and salty snacks is a stress reliever, even though I feel sick after I eat them. There’s a conflict going on in my body and brain, of wanting to eat clean to stay healthy and that of just craving comfort food.

After Hurricane Andrew, my then sister-in-law brought bags full of groceries for our family. The item that made me happiest was a box of Cinnamon Pop Tarts, a blast from my past and link to my childhood. It was one of the few crappy foods my Mom let us eat. I’m sure she brought them for the kids, but I’m the one that ate them.

Likewise, I’ve been craving comforting food during this time, so have been eating a lot of soups and sandwiches for lunch. Tuna melt and Campbell’s Tomato Soup, was homey and warm (although I’d forgotten how awful the tomato soup was with corn syrup in it) and I had Trader Joe’s Poblano Corn soup yesterday, with a Pita Pizza with Monterey Jack Cheese and sliced peppers on top.

In order to establish a sense of normalcy during abnormal times, I created a meal plan for the upcoming week. Sundays, the day my family used to have pasta, is Italian night. Monday is Meatless Mondays (which I’ve been trying to do for a while) or take-out pizza. Tuesday is Taco Tuesday or Flannigan’s ribs (buy one, get one free day). Wednesday is Burgers and Beer night, reminiscent of Riviera’s, or Hot Dog and sausage night, simply because I need to rid the freezer of hot dogs. Thursday is Mystery Meal.

On this night, family members get to request a dish they would like and then they cook it, with assistance by Zeke or I. This way, we’re fed and they get a cooking class. Win-win. Friday is Fishy Friday, with some kind of seafood.

Last night I marinated peeled, deveined shrimp in leftover artichoke heart juice, then put them on skewers (some had bacon around them). Zeke grilled the shrimp; I served it with mashed potatoes, stir fried pea shoots (I need something green!) and grilled N’aan bread, which I was told suffered from freezer burn.

“Welcome to Seafood Night,” I said last night, toasting with my glass of wine.

“I hope you enjoy tonight’s meal and if you don’t…”

No need to finish that sentence, because where else are they going to go?

Saturday night is Grillin’ and Chillin’. We are lucky in South Florida to be able to grill and have such beautiful weather, while we’re stuck at home. I’m not too sure about the chilling part, at this stage of the game, but we have been watching a lot of Netflix– Tiger King, to be specific. The girls and Zeke have also been working on a 1500 piece puzzle in the Family Room. There have also been some games of Beer Pong, though played with Rose. I haven’t (as of yet) participated.

This schedule can be amended depending on ingredients I can procure and the mood of the chef. Luckily, take-out is still an option and I read that the coronavirus can’t be transferred via food, so that’s a relief.

I texted the girls and asked what meals they will be attending, in order to get a head count, because on any given day we could be just the two of us, or up to five people. I’m making my list, submitting in my Instacart order and hoping it won’t take a month to arrive. I’m putting toilet paper, Clorox wipes and rubbing alcohol on the list, although it’s probably wishful thinking. A girl can dream, can’t she? It’s about all we have now- wishful thinking about a day when this is all over. And our health and our family.

Come to think of it, that’s a lot.

Stay safe and support your local restaurants. See my previous post for recommendations.

Support Your Local Cheers: What to do, Where to Eat in South Miami

So, after braving crowds in three supermarkets last week that were uncomfortably crowded, this week we decided to hunker down, stay at home and eat off the land (or our pantry, fridge and freezer). We did order out twice (mostly because the head chef is sick of cooking). We picked up ourselves because UberEats, Postmates and DoorDash all eat into the restaurant’s bottom line; we are trying to help local restaurants as much as possible in this devastating time.

Sports Grill is Open for Take Out

This posed a dilemma for my husband, who was the picker-up. First we ordered sushi from Moon Thai and Sushi, a combo of tuna, California and JB rolls and a salad with ginger dressing. That wasn’t too crowded, so Zeke felt ok. Still, following Dr. Oz’s protocol, we removed food from the bag, transferred it to our containers, left the packaging outside and came in and washed our hands before eating. I even threw the chopsticks away, I’m getting so paranoid.

The other place we ordered from was Miami’s Best, since they were having a “buy one, get one free” on large pizzas on Tuesday. We ordered a California Dreaming (really yummy with goat cheese and artichoke hearts) and a plain cheese and Zeke and Lauren went to pick it up. The promotion must have worked, because the place was PACKED. Good for business, not good for social distancing. Even though they didn’t give us the free pie, we took the pizza and ran out of there and dealt with the refund the next day.

Since all Miami-Dade restaurants have closed for dining in, and so many people have lost their jobs, I feel the need to do my part and support the local restaurants that are still open. I called my friend, take-out queen Tami, and asked her where she’d been getting take-out for her and her son, home from college. She’s been ordering from Deli Lane, Sushi Maki and Lan Pan Asian. She recommended the Tortellini Alfredo, Chicken Francais, California Dreaming quesadilla, Salad with Salmon and Chicken Chili at Deli Lane. I got an email from Lan Pan (in Dadeland Station) for free delivery of orders $35 and more with the promo code DELIVERY.

Tami also noted that it seemed Taco Craft, Town and Casa Cuba are open for business. HoneyBee donuts, Whisk and Sports Grill are also open. HoneyBee is doing curbside service with credit cards only and Sports Grill (love their wings!) is doing call-in and online orders with pick-up outside the restaurant. Zeke and I passed a newly opened restaurant, Wood Label Bistro on Sunset, in the old Healthy Fresh location handing out menus for lunch and dinner. I felt so bad for the owner, opening a new restaurant under these dire circumstances.

Shula’s 347, Root & Bone and Mi’talia, all part of the Grove Bay Hospitality Group, are offering free delivery within a 4 more radius of their restaurants. Old Lisbon, the Portuguese restaurant on Sunset Drive, is doing delivery through UberEats. Three Fold Cafe in Coral Gables (home of the famous avocado toast) is selling groceries, like almond milk and coffee, as well as hot and cold dishes and ready-to-cook meals (like lasagna). Check their website for details and to order.

Fiola’s restaurant, the fancy Italian restaurant in South Miami with an outpost in Washington D.C., is also offering deals. Premium wines are 50% off and they are offering cocktail and menu items for curbside pick-up. I figured it would be way too expensive, but when I looked at the menu, it really wasn’t too bad. Eggplant Parmesan is $22, Fiola’s Meatballs $24, Whole Wheat Rigatoni with Bolognese and Mushrooms is $34. There’s also Grilled Octopus ($24), Roast Chicken ($34) and Branzino ($36), as well as sides, desserts and bread. If you wish white glove delivery by one of the managers, there is a 10% charge, but it is donated to the Relief Fund for their furloughed employees. Call 305 912-2639 for more information.

Cecile’s Bakery and Cafe, a new restaurant on Sunset Drive, is offering online ordering, curbside pickup and delivery. They make it very easy to order off the website and pay, so no touching of a germy credit card machine. I just ordered a smoked salmon and ricotta sandwich on multigrain bread for $14. Zeke dropped me off, I hopped in, picked up the paper bag and left. Easy peasy, non-diseasy. Cecile’s also has salads, soups, smoothies, delicious baked goods, their famous macarons and homemade gelato and sorbet. They’re open 8- 3 p.m. Call 305 397-8206, or visit their website.

When I walked down Sunset Drive (a ghost town), I noticed Spris pizza on the corner is also offering pick up and deliveries, with 15% off deliveries. Yumbrella, the food hall in Sunset Place with different eateries is also open for take-out during COVID-19. My incognito reporter Tami is just back from South Miami with an update. Middle Eastern restaurants Marhaba and Khoury’s are open for ordering food, as well as The Boiling Crab, Pura Pizza and Italian joint Macalusa. Newly-opened BBQ restaurant The Flying Pig (near CVS) is also open 1-9 pm with free delivery, take-out and curbside pickup. And if anyone feels like eating healthy, Earth serves healthy food like smoothies, juices and bowls with no delivery fees.

While I’ve been trying to avoid grocery stores, Whole Foods seemed very clean and well organized when we visited; they have senior hours for 60 and over. A friend who went to Costco during Senior Hours (early) said it was crazy busy, with a line around the store, so I would avoid Cotsco at all costs. This is what Instacart was made for. Wayside Market on Red Road is open (the girls have been biking there) if you need produce and Bee Heaven Farms in the Redlands is having a Pop-Up Farmer’s Market from 2 to 6 p.m. on Fridays.

Bee Heaven is selling loose items such as cherry tomatoes, beans, salads and radishes, eggs and honey. They ask shoppers to wash their hands, use social distancing, point to items they want and employees will place them in the basket. They also ask that you bring your own bags. While I always try to use my own reusable bags at the grocery store (and everywhere I shop) the recommendations these days is to use plastic bags and throw them away.

Salad, Bee Heaven

So, how else can we help our local restaurants besides ordering take-out and picking it up ourselves?

You can buy a Gift Card for future use, either for yourself or as a gift. The James Beard Foundation has set up a charity to help restaurants and their employees- the James Beard Foundation Food and Beverage Industry Relief Fund. The Coral Gables Community Foundation, which I’m on the Board of, is partnering with Three Fold Cafe to provide meals to local workers and their families who have lost their jobs due to the COVID-19 Pandemic. You can donate online or by writing a check. Visit info@Gablesfoundation.org for more information.

And Chef Jose Andres is doing it again, with his World Central Kitchen providing meals to coronavirus patients, as well as launching feeding efforts around the world, including Miami. With his new America Eats Now campaign, he is partnering with restaurants to feed the elderly, schoolchildren and marginalized communities around the world.

Hot shot chef Brad Kilgore has changed his Uber-cool Wynwood Alter restaurant into AlterQ, offering take-out and delivery of Bar-B-Q and more casual eats. He’s also offering other pantry staples, like white bread, rice and even gloves, as a way to stay afloat and help out the community. From the original 100 employees he had for his different restaurants, he’s down to 15. He’s also started the Miami Restaurant Employee Relief Fund to assist laid off Miami Hospitality workers.

So, while we don’t know how long this Global Pandemic will last, let’s try to help out our local restaurants as much as possible. We enjoy them so much under normal circumstances- they feed us when we’re hungry, boost our spirits with their food, drinks, atmosphere and staff. I certainly hope they weather this storm and will be around for us when everything is calmed down.

Newsflash: Sushi Maki in South Miami giving out toilet paper (a valuable commodity these days) with take-out orders.

Up next week: Choosing Fresh Food that lasts a while (reducing trips to grocery store) and Foods to eat to Fight Viruses.

“How bizarre, how bizarre!”

What a difference a week makes!

Last week, I played in a tennis match, picked my grandson up from school, went to the Public library to pick up some books, shopped at Publix with no agenda, got my hair blow dried at my salon and met friends for dinner. We were one of a handful of people, sitting at the bar Saturday night. We had an enjoyable meal, with lychee martinis (me), sushi and wine.

Right after my tennis match, the season was cancelled for my South Florida Women’s doubles league, quickly followed by suspending play on my USTA league. School was cancelled for all Miami-Date Public schools, as well as my Grandson’s preschool. Publix is somewhere you now want to avoid at all costs and good luck finding toilet paper, hand sanitizer, wipes, alcohol (the rubbing kind), bleach, or any kind of cleaning product. Salons are closed, as are all non-essential retail stores and all the Miami-Dade Public Libraries. And, as of Tuesday, all restaurants are closed for business, except for order out and take away.

Even while I enjoyed the simple pleasures of life we take for granted last week, there were clues of the eventual avalanche. At tennis, we elbow bumped, instead of shaking hands and my partner didn’t even want to do that so we air high-fived. At my grandson’s school, everyone appeared on high-alert, with hand sanitizer positioned at every opening. As I went to sign him out for the day, the Dad in front of me said “I believe that pen’s been sanitized.”

Even weirder was the library, where the lady at the checkout desk poured straight alcohol onto her hands as I got Wyatt some books. My Blo Dry salon was crowded, but there was a nervous energy to the place, the way it feels before a hurricane, where everyone’s terrified of what might happen, but hoping for the best. And, as we were leaving Sea Siam after dinner Saturday night, we peeked in the dining room and it was totally empty- an eery sight. It had the same effect on me as when my dog Bandit came inside the house before Hurricane Andrew and threw up on the kitchen floor. Although I hadn’t been worried before, this was an ominous sign that something was not right.

Today is Lauren’s birthday. While she originally thought about going out to Hillstones for dinner, we decided against it due to the need to socially distance. This was even before there was no option of eating out. Now we are going to get take-out from Moon and eat at home. I am making the girls favorite cake- a yellow cake with delicious chocolate frosting (from Joy of Cooking), topped with Reese’s pieces. I’m giving Lauren some TP, a mask, gloves and wipes as gifts, as a joke- kind of. I’d already given her one of my last two hand sanitizers, which is like liquid gold these days. We will celebrate her birthday, our small little family (Wyatt and AJ are gone) and try to make the best out of a very strange and unprecedented situation.

I am remaining calm and trying not to eat 24/7. Obviously, I ‘ve been cooking a lot. Also, working in my garden, taking walks around the block (six feet apart from others), meditating and doing yoga from You Tube videos. My husband Zeke’s decided to close his office, since no one is working anymore, so I will be getting a peek at what life will be like when he retires. (Insert terrified face emoji here. )And giving thanks for the fact that my family (as of now) is healthy, including my 83-year-old mother and her boyfriend Bob.

I’m giving thanks for the small things, like finding a cucumber at Publix yesterday. I was craving smashed cucumber salad, but unsure if I could find a cucumber. There is so much we take for granted. And remembering just a week ago, when life seemed much more normal and knowing that eventually, life will return to normal again. Hopefully, with a deeper appreciation of all the services, food, supplies and freedoms we normally are blessed with. Just not now.

It made me think of Hillstone where Lauren wanted to eat for her birthday. It’s not a place I eat a lot, but I do remember their Spinach Artichoke Dip being good. I found a recipe for a Knock-off of it on a website called cdKitchen. If you have canned artichokes and frozen Spinach, plus a few other essentials, you can make this. It’s creamy, cheesy and satisfying- comfort food to the max. Also fattening, but according to my stepdaughter Emma “calories don’t count in a pandemic.”

Hillstone like Spinach artichoke Dip

“Like” Hillstone’s Spinach Artichoke Dip from cdKitchen

  • 1 jar (6.25 oz) marinated artichokes, drained
  • 1 package frozen chopped spinach, thawed and drained
  • 1 clove garlic, minced
  • 1/3 cup Romano cheese, grated
  • 1/4 cup Parmesan cheese, grated
  • 1 cup mozzarella cheese
  • 1/3 cup 1/2 and 1/2
  • 1/2 cup sour cream

In food processor, blend artichokes, Romano, garlic and Parmesan cheese for 1 1/2 minutes. In a mixing bowl, add drained spinach, half and half, sour cream and mozzarella. Stir well. Spoon into artichoke mixture and blend all ingredients.

Butter an oven-proof shallow serving dish. Pour mixture into dish and baked 20-25 minutes at 350 until mixture is bubbly and cheese is melted. Remove from oven and serve with tortilla, sour cream and salsa.

Serves 16 (or 6 in a pandemic)

How bizarre indeed.

Spring Clean Your Kitchen

Sometimes we choose when to clean, sometimes it chooses us. Spring doesn’t officially begin until this Friday, but when stuck at home with a Coronavirus Pandemic, it’s the perfect time to Spring Clean Your kitchen. My journey all began with a little spider that happened to live in my pantry with my cake mixes and cereals. With apologies to Charlotte, of Charlotte’s Web, I made some natural spider killer, sprayed the spiders, cleaned the webs and threw everything out of that small pantry. This started me on my Spring Cleaning kitchen adventure.

Like, If you Give a Mouse a Cookie, I was not content with cleaning one pantry and set about tackling the rest of the kitchen. I broke this task up into a couple days, as to do it all at once seemed too overwhelming. When I got my new kitchen four years ago, it was wonderful- but over the years taco chip bits, flour, stray chocolate chips and the like have settled down onto the surfaces. To remedy this, I removed all the items, wiped up the stray bits and sprayed it down with spider killer. Since it smelled so good, I used the rest of it in a spray bottle to clean.

I read a book years ago written by the founders of a Housecleaning service and they advised to always start cleaning top to bottom, so everything falls down to the floor. It was true, when I finished there was a pile of debris of dubious origin on my kitchen floor waiting to be swept up. Thanks Zeke.

As I removed items- flour, pasta, crackers etc… I checked the expiration dates. Usually this is done for me by my rather anal daughter, who pitches stuff in my kitchen on a regular basis, but I did find a container of Arborino rice that had escaped her inspection that was two years expired. Also, any item there was barely any left of, or something we didn’t like, I threw away. The candy corn from Halloween escaped my cleaning frenzy. You never know when you may need candy corn.

In the canned goods section, I didn’t check the dates since, unless they’re damaged or contain an acetic ingredient, they last a while, but if a can is damaged or dented, throw it out. I noted what I had, made a list of what I needed and organized them into rows of like items. Beans, soup, fruits, vegetables, tomato sauce, canned tuna and clams are all standing to attention like metal soldiers in my pantry now.

This is a perfect time to donate to a charity like FeedingAmerica.org.; a lot of people are feeling the pinch of unemployment and living paycheck to paycheck. I usually go through my canned goods every year when the Postal Workers ask for donations during their Stamp Out Hunger food drive. It is May 9th this year, God willing. At this time, I get rid of duplicates of canned food I have, or canned food I probably won’t eat (like Jackfruit for my garden club’s taco night). They also take non-perishable items, like stuffing or rice.

I took all the soy sauce packets I’ve collected from take-out restaurants, opened them with my trusty kitchen scissors and poured them into a single soy sauce container. I pitched the duck sauce, as well as the mustard, mayo and Arby’s sauce. Who eats Arby’s anyway? I checked dates on packages (like onion dip) and threw out those that were open (like Taco seasoning), since it’s hard as a rock by now.

I cleaned out under the sink- yuk!- and cleaned out the various drawers, again by removing everything and evaluating what need to be pitched. Old plastic take-out containers with no tops- adios! Crunched up aluminum foil meant to clean the grill- gone. Old spices from my trip to the Grand Bazaar in Istanbul five years ago- farewell.

Of course, the holy grail of cleaning is the refrigerator and freezer. Being cooped up at home is the perfect opportunity to go through your frozen foods and evaluate what you have. This saves a trip to the grocery store, which everyone is trying to avoid these days, and gives you a chance to eat those items that are cramming your freezer. If there’s a food that you can’t identify or is expired or compromised, pitch it. If there’s something you probably won’t eat (veggie burgers), offer it to a friend or family member.

Make a list of what you have in the freezer, so when you’re trying to decide on that night (or the next night’s) dinner, you will know what you have available. You can put the list in a plastic sleeve and keep it in the freezer or nearby to refer to. I also removed the ice drawer, where ice cubes had frozen solid and washed it out with hot water and soap, before putting it back in the freezer.

Spring cleaning my kitchen gave me something to do during this anxiety-prone time; it made me feel better about my health and well-being and that of my family. It was, in short, something I could control when this world seems so out of control. Now, when I open a drawer or the pantry, I don’t recoil in horror, but smile at the small task I’ve accomplished. You get a lot of bang for your buck with Spring Cleaning your kitchen.

This Spider Repellent Spray isn’t technically a cleaner (so you may want to use something stronger if you can get your hands on it) but it does contain vinegar and smells delicious.

Spider Repellent Recipe

  • 1 TBL dish soap (I use Dawn)
  • 1/3 cup white vinegar
  • 1 1/2 cups water
  • 10 drops peppermint essential oil
  • 5 drops lavender essential oil

Mix together and put in a spray bottle.

I gotta have faith,” George Michael

Spaghetti Sundays

In these trying times- social distancing, monitoring, testing, panic, self imposed isolation- what we need more than anything else is comfort. And when I need comfort, the recipe I turn to, that most reminds me of my childhood and feeling loved, is my grandmother’s pasta sauce.

Hopefully everyone has one meal that reminds them of being taken care of. It might be grilled cheese sandwiches with tomato soup (my mother would make that when we were sick) or tapioca pudding (a childhood favorite) or warm chocolate chip cookies with milk (always a good idea). I had a friend whose Mom would make her scrambled eggs with chopped tomatoes and serve it on toast when she was sick, so she made that for me. I appreciated the sentiment, even though it wasn’t my comfort food.

Most Sundays, growing up, we would pile into our ugly brown station wagon and make the treck to my grandmother’s tiny house in Little Havana. We would swim in the pool until our eyes stung and then, sometimes outside, sometimes inside, we would eat this pasta sauce with whatever kind of pasta was chosen. Springs, penne, rigatoni- everyone had their favorite. It was rarely, ironically, spaghetti and my grandmother hated angel hair pasta.

A typical Spaghetti Sunday. I’m on the right, mugging for the camera. My grandmother’s far right, sitting by my Pop Pop.

“It tastes like nothing,” she would say.

There was always a green salad with vinaigrette my Aunt Emma made and a loaf of bread served with this meal. Iced tea and water were the drinks, along with cheap Chianti wine. Other dishes- peas sautéed with onions, eggplant parmesan, sausage with peppers and potatoes- might also make an appearance, but this sauce the true constant, the North Star of the meal. After my grandfather (Pop Pop) died, we went over less frequently and eventually my grandmother moved out of that house (my father’s childhood home) to a nicer one in the Gables. By then, my mother had taken over the tradition of making the sauce and, when we got older, we would bring our children to my Mom and Dad’s house to swim and eat.

As I pull out the recipe, stained from tomato splatters, and start the process of making the sauce, I remember sitting down with my grandmother and getting the recipe from her years ago. It was for my sister Kelley’s wedding shower, where I compiled a recipe book of family favorites. My grandmother was not very specific about amounts. The recipe started with “You take a hunk of salt pork and chop it up”.

“How much is a hunk?” I asked.

She had to think about that a minute.

“About a fourth of the package,” she said.

There was a dash of this and a sprinkle of that. She almost forgot to tell me about the basil that went into it. And there were also bay leaves, tomato paste and water to go with the canned tomatoes that had been put in the blender a few seconds. My grandmother and aunts preferred the Cento or Tutto Russo brand of San Marzano tomatoes, whole, peeled.

“Most people make their sauces too sweet,” my grandmother told me. “We only add a pinch of sugar.”

And a very important rule that she emphasized is that the sauce needed some type of pork. There is the salt pork that begins the sauce, but also sausage (spicy or sweet Italian) and sometimes my grandmother would throw in a pork chop as well. This was the sauce her mother from Siena, would make for them growing up and one of the few things my grandmother cooked.

My Great Grandparents on my father’s side, Francesco and Carmelinda Carnevale

Another comfort is that I can hear my grandmother’s voice as I go through the steps of making the sauce. The meatballs are made with ground beef, bread crumbs, garlic salt and parmesan cheese (“How much?” I asked. “Just grate it over the top to cover”, she said). They are supposed to be sautéed in the salt pork mixture, but they always fell apart when I tried to do that, so I gave up and now bake them in the oven. They go back in the sauce eventually, so I don’t really think it makes a difference in flavor. I also deglaze the pot with red wine, something my grandmother never did (and probably wouldn’t approve of), but it gets up the bits of onion and salt pork that stick to the bottom of the pan.

My Nanny’s pasta sauce with peas, sausage, a pork chop and bread to sop up the sauce.

I made the sauce yesterday just because I needed to smell the aroma and taste it again. After it had cooked about an hour, I ripped off a hunk of bread and stuck it in the red, bubbling sauce and ate it. I don’t think the sauce has ever tasted as good to me, because I truly needed it- my soul needed it. The Frugal Gourmet said it on his show long ago: “Sometimes you just need to cook those dishes of your ancestors.” And this is truly one of those times.

My Grandmother, Julia Rice

I’m not going to post the recipe here because:

#1 My kids, particularly Christopher, would kill me.

#2 It’s my comfort food, not yours. You should make whatever makes you feel like home.

If you want to taste my grandmother’s pasta sauce, you’ll just have to come to my house and taste it yourself. After this whole thing is over, of course. Stay safe and keep on cooking!

Glee (aka Foodie in Miami)

The Demise of La Dolce Vita

Life living in the shadow of the pandemic coronavirus is weird and keeps getting weirder every day. I never knew I would miss handshakes, hugs, kisses on the cheek and large gatherings. I’m an introvert, but also enjoy socializing, so these normal way-of-life customs (especially in Miami) that are now forbidden, makes me sad. But I have to say nothing has made me sadder than Italy being closed down.

The other night I approached an elderly lady who travels to Italy each year in the month of May (the same month as my Italian aunts would visit). I went to whisper in her ear. She pulled away violently from me: “Don’t kiss me!” she shuddered. I leaned in and whispered to her, “Isn’t it sad that Italy is closed?” and she nodded yes. I walked away.

It’s not that I had a trip planned to Italy, or anything like that, but the realization that I CAN’T visit Italy now is incredibly sad to me and also, kind of unbelievable. The fact that the cafe’s, trattorias, bars, piazzas, coffee houses, museums, galleries, shops and parks are closed to the public, that spots once filled with people- St. Marks Square, the Spanish steps in Rome, Saint Peter’s Square- now look like ghost towns, is just sad, sad, sad.

My favorite part of an Italian trip years ago with my sister and our daughters, was how all the inhabitants of the little Tuscan town (San Casciano de Bagni) where we were staying would gather in the piazza in the late afternoon. Old women holding hands, older and younger couples walking arm in arm, young children with their parents, would all come out before dinner, to stroll, talk and spend time together. And now, just like that, gone. Finito.

After playing a tennis match Tuesday, I found out the rest of our season has been cancelled, so that match (unbeknownst to me) was my last. That seems like nothing when compared to everything else that’s going on. The Miami Open’s tennis tournament is cancelled, Ultra (a blessing to some) silenced, Miami-Dade schools are closed and Disney World, where I was supposed to take my grandson Wyatt this month, is closing, along with countless other events/places. Today it was announced Golf’s Grand Dame, the Masters is being postponed, as is the Boston Marathon, the first time in it’s history.

It seems as if the world is coming to an end.

I took my son Christopher to Italy around five years ago. We visited Rome, Florence, Siena and Sorrento. His favorite meal was a huge antipasto plate we ate in Florence, before going to see the David at the Academia. We took the train from Florence to Naples and then to Sorrento, where we were staying. After a crazy train trip and shuttle to our hotel, we finally checked in, got settled and took our glasses of wine onto the balcony. We watched the sun set over Mt. Vesuvius. It was stunning.

The next day we went to Capri and spent the day walking around admiring the amazing views, eating pizza with zucchini blossoms and fresh mozzarella and being followed around by a little dog Christopher named Luigi. We had a wonderful day. As we waited for the ferry to take us back to Sorrento, I had an Aperol Spritz.

Drinking an Aperol Spritz in Capri

Aperol is a liqueur invented in 1919, based on an infusion of selected herbs and roots. It’s also called a Spritz Veneziano and is typically served in a wine glass and garnished with an orange slice.

It’s an easy drink to make yourself. I suggest you make one and enjoy it in the seclusion (and safety) of your backyard, with a nice antipasto plate. It’s orange color, reminiscent of the brilliant sunset in Sorrento, is a harbinger of things to come. La Dolce Vita, the sweet life of Italy, with kisses and hugs and pinches, will one day return and so will our own normal lives; when it does, we will appreciate it all the more.

“Italy is a dream that keeps returning for the rest of your life.” Anna Akhmatova

Aperol Spritz

3 ounces Proscecco

2 ounces Aperol

Splash of Soda Water (preferably Italian)

Put ice in wine glass. Add Aperol, Prosecco, sparkling water and garnish with an orange slice.

Foodie in Miami emerges from the crumbs.

I’m Foodie in Miami, formerly on Wix, now on Word Press.

I would say I’m a phoenix rising from the ashes, but that’s cliche and crumbs works better for a food writer/blogger. True to form, I have some pretzel crumbs toasting in the oven for a New York Times cookie recipe claiming to be “almost too good to share”; I am planning on bringing it to my Pinecrest Garden Club field trip tomorrow to share with other members. Mostly because I want to try the recipe, but don’t trust myself with a pan full of delicious pretzel shortbread cookies.

I love food in all forms and am the former Miami Dining Examiner. I held that post for three years, writing restaurant reviews and reporting on food related news. Foodie in Miami continues that theme, but expands it with personal essays and recipes from my life. I’m also going to profile local chefs, food figures and groups.

I’m the mother to three adult children, stepmother to three daughters and Gigi to one beloved grandson, Wyatt. I love spending time in the Keys and researching best Happy Hours in the Keys (research has been going on for three years.) I am still in search of the perfect Margarita in the Keys.

I will be bringing you reviews about Miami food institutions, hole-in-the-wall foodie finds and the latest hot spots, as well as restaurant news. My garden is full of tropical fruits and vegetables and I will be sharing photos of that, as we go through the seasons, as well as ways to use up the bounty.

I’m very excited to be re-launching Foodie in Miami and hope you will join me in my journey!