Wednesday, January 13, 2010

The Citrus Among Us

No matter what form they sprout into as satsuma or pomelo, citrus satisfies during the gray days of January. I'd like to claim that I only eat seasonally but due to the fact that I now live in Montana, I have more than just an earnest interest in eating only beets. Although I have a fondness for these sanguine and hearty veggies, I do have a dwindling root cellar that I have been currently avoiding. Even my strong Irish taste for potatoes seems subdued. Currently, I am boycotting anything boiled and mashed. All I want are blood oranges as an afternoon snack, grapefruit juiced with carrot and ginger and backpacks that hold southern reminders of warm days to come. While out skiing in the cold, the perfect fruit--snug in it's down jacket of rind and pith--manages to keep shape, perfectly sweet in the winter sun. I love to watch the peels curl on the snow. Sometimes I imagine that even birds find the thrown rinds as a treat to store as incense for their nests. Here's proof of the heights I will climb to eat an orange in the cold sun.

There's something about the smell of citrus in winter that makes me feel like I am holding some token of warmth, some reminder that somewhere someone might be sweating not under just layers of wool. This past week we received a package of such a reminder thanks to my aunt Jan, who sends boxes of Honey Bells to her northern family members. We've been devouring them to say the least and finding ways to integrate them into meals in salads, but mostly they've simply become a coveted dessert.

My favorite use of the Honey Bells--besides eating them out skate skiing--was with a salad I adapted from this month's Bon Appetit. I turned it into a rice dish and added a vinaigrette. Also, thanks to my brother in law's salmon we brought back from Alaska, this meal felt like something we truly should bow our heads in thankfulness. Enjoy.

Salmon, Fennel, Mint with a Hint of Sun

1 cup rice, rinsed, cooked & slightly cooled
1/4 cup sugar
1/4 cup rice vinegar
2 whole star anise
4 cups of water
1 one pound salmon fillet with skin
2 Honey Bells or navel oranges
4 cups fennel, thinly sliced
1 cup fresh mint, chiffonade

1. Place sugar, vinegar, star anise and four cups of cold water in a large deep skillet. Season with salt and pepper.
2. Bring to boil over high heat and stir until sugar dissolves.
3. Add salmon fillet, skin side up, cover and turn off heat.
4. Let stand for ten minutes, then turn salmon over. Cover and let stand for five to six minutes or until salmon is opaque in center.
5. Remove salmon from liquid and cool.
6. Meanwhile make vinaigrette:

2 tablespoons olive oil
1 tablespoon rice vinegar
1/4 teaspoon fish sauce
1 teaspoon honey
1 teaspoon brown sugar
1 tablespoon juice from orange

7. This vinaigrette is really just a template, play around with sweet and sour and yes, fish sauce is a key ingredient here even though there is a small amount.
8. Segment your oranges. First cut the bottom 1/4 inch off each orange. Stand orange up on flat end and using a sharp pairing knife, cut off peel and white pith. Hold peeled orange in one hand over a large bowl and cut between membranes, releasing segments into the bowl.
9. Add fennel, mint and flank salmon into bowl and toss with vinaigrette.
10. Season with salt and pepper and first place cooled rice on a plate and place salmon salad on top.

I seriously thought about taking a photo of this because it was so lovely, but by the time I went for my camera, both my husband and myself had devoured this dish.

Tuesday, January 5, 2010

To The Waterfall

I've met few people who've vacationed to Mammoth Cave in March. Most Midwesterners head to Florida or the Texas shore for spring break, but one year our family headed to the hills, the Kentucky hills with a stop off at the state's National Park. I might have been seven or eight, I don't remember, but what I do recall was being hesitant of the smell of wet earth and the quiet of all that darkness so far below the ground. Sure, I recall the folklore and some stories of the caves discoveries, but mostly I remember a hike we took to a waterfall outside of the park.

It was gray and slightly raining. We cloaked ourselves in parkas and started heading towards the trail map. I was fumbling with my jacket and fell behind, I recall passing another family debating to hike or not. Their voices were calm, but concerned and the debate was about their young daughter and if she could handle walking over all the wet rock and slippery earth. She looked my age, my height and she too had heavy glasses. I recall listening and wanting to interrupt and tell them that they could come with us, but I didn't. I just stared. The little girl stood between her parents saying nothing. The parents decided against the hike. The girl didn't argue, she followed suit and watched as her mother helped her take her jacket off and climb back into the car.

I caught up with my family and really, I cannot tell you more details of the waterfall other than the cold wet rock layered in moss was dotted with spring flowers. While I stood with wet tennis shoes and damp socks all I thought about was that little girl, somewhere in her warm car looking out the window. I thought that if I knew her, I would send her a picture, a letter or some detail about the waterfall. I didn't want her to feel like she was missing out.

This past week, my book was rejected yet again and this time I was given comments in regards to my poems. I am beginning to think I would rather have a sterile letter simply stating the rejection in polite business English. No, not this letter for this editor found it an opportunity to be more personal and to tell me that my poetry is arbitrary. I responded in polite business English myself, but found her word choice a bit harsh.

And what does this story of the girl at the waterfall parking lot and being rejected have in common? Frankly, I write poems for that girl. I think and hope I will always write poems for her. In my mind, she's my audience or the person who maybe didn't go along with me and I want to do my best to show, explain, share and hopefully give her an opportunity to experience too.

I'd like to think that this desire doesn't come from my ego as much as it is from a belief that if you want to write than you need to have a story worth sharing, a poem with a point. Something to give to this world as an offering and not as some absolute. So here it goes, a new poem for a new year. Enjoy.

Sirens at 31o

Clara hangs blank CD’s from cherry trees,

to blind hawking magpies, while her daughters

wait for wind to turn the silver in sun

to catch seconds of rainbows without rain.

The three trees weight heavy in late summer

like Clara’s girls grown, still living under her

eye and locked screened door. A window opens

at dusk lifting hints of radio to fill the orchard

with pitched notes in the off key of dance halls,

tight jeans and slow smiles from boys under hats.

The girls sing louder than a meadow starred

with flowers. Louder than drown out owls.

As if their song were a car filled with gas

each chord a knitted feather to lift the past.