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Simple Pleasures

Image credit here.

Image credit here.

Fall, 2013

After checking my kitchen, I determined that I still needed cilantro, fresh ginger, and a jalapeno for my attempt to wrestle Maybonne into the aforementioned chicken pumpkin stew. To tell the truth, I was unable to locate the original recipe. But with help from Google, I came up with another one. It sounded perfect, and so off I went to my favorite Korean market.

The plan seemed straightforward enough:

1. Purchase the remaining ingredients.
2. Make the stew.
3. Enjoy the stew.

In my effort to accomplish these modest tasks, however, I learned that any or all of these may apply:

1. I am easily distracted.
2. I am a weirdo.
3. I do not have a life.

Perhaps I should have named this piece “Pleasures for the Simple Minded.”

There I was, piddling my way up and down the aisles, when I was transfixed by the most gorgeous mound of jalapenos. So deeply and uniformly green, smooth, firm, glossy, and well formed! I had a hard time moving on from the pepper display but I did so for fear I’d be arrested for fondling. Instead of buying one jalapeno, I bought two. One to cook, and one to admire in private. (It’s in my fridge, stashed in a baggie, so I can ogle it whenever I please. Do I need to join a 12-step group?)

Finding the ginger was easy as well. It was gorgeous in a knobbly, fresh-gingery kind of way but it did not move me. I then went in search of the cilantro.

After checking a few times to make sure I hadn’t missed it, I figured the green bunch labeled culantro had to be the herb I sought. The market has many Spanish-speaking customers and employees. Hmmm. Maybe this was just another word for the same thing. I picked it up and sniffed. It didn’t look the way I thought it would but it smelled, well, familiar. I placed it in a plastic bag, added it to my cart, and checked out.

Groceries in car, I headed off to my daughter’s music rehearsal.

I guess culantro is one of those odd foods, like kimchi, which mess with your mind. When I walk into my house and think: O.M.G.! Would someone please locate that dirty diaper and dispose of it, STAT?!, it eventually dawns on me that I have stumbled unprepared into another person’s kimchi experience. But when I anticipate kimchi, my tongue tingles in blissful expectation.

The reason I bother to explain this is because, when I arrived home that day and stuck my nose into the sun-warmed grocery bag, I was assaulted by the foul odor of a fresh stinkbug massacre. You know what I’m talking about if you have ever attempted to stem the Fall Invasion with your Dirt Devil hand vac. Except, in this case, it wasn’t stinkbugs. Nope. It was my tiny bag of culantro.

My stomach churned. I tied the bag tightly, tossed it into the fridge and went to do a little more Googling. Apparently culantro is cilantro’s cousin—it’s hairy, well-muscled, odiferous cousin. The one who trips little old ladies and picks fights in bars.

I pulled out my cutting board and got to work.

The dish was coming together. Onion, garlic, curry, jalapeno, chicken, pumpkin, coconut milk, red bell pepper, ginger. The scents were intoxicating. All that my work of art required was cilantro, and I was loath to add this vomitous imposter. Fortunately, my research had indicated that culantro will safely permit you to substitute if for cilantro in small quantities if you:

1. Wear a hazmat suit.
2. Give it your lunch money.
3. Promise to do its homework until Christmas break.

Well!

Alrighty, then!

I knew what I had to do.

I thought hard about cilantro–how delicious it would taste warmed in this aromatic blend on a cool autumn evening. Suddenly my mind made that strange shift. I hurried to chop the culantro and add it to the mix.

The stew was delicious!

If you want to give it a go at this recipe, the link is here.
If you are up for reading a strange poem about things whose smells can trick you, click here.

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Rule # 14: Aunt MiMi’s Famous Dip!

Aunt Cookie's Famous Dip

Aunt MiMi was a party in a pale blue pantsuit.

Aunt MiMi had been quite the social butterfly in her younger years, and age hadn’t made much of a dent in her sparkle. Oh, how she loved entertaining! I remember many a holiday dinner around her dining room table. In warm weather, she and Uncle Stanly strung lanterns above their flagstone patio. While the adults drank martinis under the shade of giant oaks and poplars, we children explored the tiny paths among her shrubs and ferns, looking for pixies and blue jay feathers. A large mirrored ball peeked mysteriously from a dense clump of azaleas in the middle of her back yard—a sure sign that magic was at hand.

Aunt MiMi, who lived happily to the age of 100, is remembered for many things. Here are just a few of them chosen random:
-her love of every type of shiny bling and bauble
-her “Kiss My Grits!” apron
-the way she did handstands and leg-wrestled nieces and nephews until she was in her 70’s
-her refusal to get rid of her original black bakelite rotary phone with the fabric cord up until she was forced to move into a nursing home in the late 90’s
-her habit of feeding peanuts (Planters or bust!) to the squirrels from her back steps
-the fact that she was able to convince my father to let me and Gwen pierce our ears after he had proclaimed it “bodily mutilation”

But today I’d like to draw your attention to an Aunt MiMi achievement and Family Rule she modestly referred to as “My Famous Dip.” She served it at every one of her gatherings.

When Aunt MiMi got to the point that hosting became too arduous, she upped her game. She came to every gather bearing—in her own words—“a tractor-trailer load” of this manna. At some point, my mother had developed a love-hate relationship with this dip. For us kids, the dip was the meal. The relationship was all love. Ruffles made great shovels, and shovel we did. By the time dinner was ready, we burped our way to the table in a queasy daze and declined all offerings until dessert.

I’m pretty sure the dip originated as someone else’s proprietary recipe but the trail has long since grown cold. I’m passing the recipe along to you, so please forgive me if the culinary equivalent of the mattress tag police come knocking at your door.

Aunt MiMi’s Famous Dip
(Best when made the day ahead. Can be frozen.)
One 8 oz. pkg. Philadelphia cream cheese
1/2 cup Hellmann’s mayonnaise
1 hard boiled egg, finely chopped
2 TB onion, finely minced
1 clove garlic, minced
1/4 cup minced parsley
dash of pepper
Mix well. Refrigerate.

Enjoy!

This post is part of Family Rules. For the prior post in the series, click here. For the next post, click here.

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