Monday, March 21, 2011

Oysters on the Half Shell

It's my last day in Florida. My mother and I go out to lunch at a local seafood place. We sit out on the deck overlooking the water. She really wants some oysters, so we order half a dozen as an appetizer.

Raw, on the half shell.

Even though I was raised on seafood, I've never tried raw oysters. My mother reminds me that when my sister and brother and I were just tiny, we'd stand around our dad with our little mouths hanging open as he shucked scallops, just waiting for him to toss one our way. We loved them.

And nowadays, I love sushi.

Raw oysters?

Why not?

I pick up a shell and pierce the slimy blob with my fork. Just as I am about to slide it into my mouth, my mother says, "It tastes just like you're swimming."

It does.

I close my eyes and let it roll around inside my mouth a bit before I chew just a little and swallow.

I could be in the ocean.

I squeeze a little lemon on another one and I'm ready for my next plunge.

Saturday, March 19, 2011

Plantains, Pineapple and Star Fruit

My mother is an excellent cook. Whenever I visit, I can count on gaining a few pounds. In spite of my morning runs, this trip has been no exception. I've been averaging half a pound a day. Good thing I'm not staying long.

My mother is all about food. Good food. We talk about food all the time. We plan ahead, but we never fit it all in by the end of the visit.

"Oh, we didn't get to have the fish tacos," she'll lament the night before I'm leaving.

"Next time," I'll reply. "And the crab claws."

We have had time for the fabulous fruit side dish she makes with plantains and star fruit. She gets the star fruit from her next door neighbor, Nellie.

Nellie has a star fruit tree, but she doesn't care for star fruit. She gives my parents all they want. Star fruit really doesn't have much taste (kind of a mild melon flavor), but it's so pretty to look at when it's sliced.

And apparently it's loaded with Vitamin C and antioxidants.

Plantains, Pineapple and Star Fruit

very ripe plantains
ripe star fruit (golden in color)
pineapple juice or orange juice
brown sugar

Peel and slice plantains about 1/4 inch thick. Trim or peel star fruit and slice crossways. Saute plantains and star fruit in about two tablespoons of butter.

Add a tablespoon or two of brown sugar and saute a little longer. Add a can of pineapple chunks with the juice and heat through. If using fresh pineapple, saute it with the other fruit and then add orange juice (or I guess you could buy pineapple juice) and heat through.

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Jurassic Park Night

I'm lying in bed in my parents' guest room. It's dark. The curtains are blowing gently into the room. A sliding door is open to the lanai at the back of the house. Vertical blinds are pulled across, and the slats are softly rattling.

I hear strange sounds outside in the night. I reach over to the bedside table and feel for my cell phone. I compose a text to my son, Kurt.

I hear noises outside in the yard that sound like something out of Jurassic Park. I'm just saying...

I picture in my mind the palm trees, the giant agave plants and other exotic flora that make up the Florida landscape. It even looks like Jurassic Park.

(Insert text alert sound here.)

What dinosaur? The raptor? Is it a hissing with clicks followed by harsh squawks? Or is it more of a deep throated bellow? Like an elephant. That's a t-rex. If it's a very harsh rasp with rattling then it's probably a dilophosaurus, and you'll need to be careful cause they spit blinding venom.

I knew I'd texted the right guy.

I listen intently to the sounds outside the house.

More like the hissing with clicks.

(Text alert.)

Yeah, raptors are swift and lethal. They can open doors and attack in packs. I'd close the door, lock it, and turn off the light. Still, they'll get in if they really want to.

I consider this.

K. Thanks. Will do.

I think of the lanai. It's just a big screened-in room opening off the back of the house. In other words, the back half of the house has mere screens for walls. And roof.

I listen to the sounds of the Florida night and eventually drop off to sleep. I wake up to sunlight and what sound like regular old birds chirping.

I'm just glad I'm still here.

Monday, March 14, 2011

Florida Morning Run

I lace up my running shoes and head out the front door of my parents’ Florida home. It’s a seventy degree morning in March. I glance up. A fairly strong breeze is pushing some high white clouds along the blue sky at a good clip. Tall straight palm trees are swaying far above me.

The air is damp and I can smell the salt of the nearby ocean. I love how it feels. My middle-aged skin, which has never acclimatized to desert living, is thirsty and greedily sucks up moisture. I imagine I can feel fine lines plumping out and hope to look five years younger by dinnertime.

The grass crunches under my shoes as I cross the lawn. The blades are broad and stiff. I recall a young woman I know who grew up in Florida telling me, “You don’t want to sit around on the grass in Florida, and you don’t want to walk on it barefoot. And you have to watch out for fire ants.”

I reach down to stretch out my ham strings and compulsively scratch my ankles.

“It’s a mile around our block if you take in Roanoke as well,” my mother has informed me. I hit the pavement with a slow jog.

Beautiful things are in bloom in every yard I pass: hibiscus covered in bright pinks, reds and yellows; gorgeous bougainvilleas loaded with magenta blossoms; stands of amaryllis in peach and red. Different things than grow at home. And to think they are blooming in March. I inhale the thick sweet scent of gardenia as I pass a bush that’s loaded with white blossoms.

I see the sign for Roanoke and take a left. I run down one side to where it ends in a cul-de-sac and then back up the other side to the main block. People have all kinds of interesting mailboxes, I notice. I see one in the form of a giant manatee.

Another species that seems to sprout prolifically in the neighborhood is realtor signs. Although I see evidence of a few children in the form of bikes and scooters abandoned in driveways, the area is mostly home to the elderly and “They die, you know,” my mother has told me.

As I run I glance up. Three large brown birds of prey glide in a circle, seeming at times to hang in place on an air current. Have they, too, noticed the For Sale signs?

I round the corner at the far end of the block and behold a lawn absolutely covered in pretty white birds. They’re the size of skinny chickens. They have fairly long legs that hinge backwards and long, pointy, dark orange beaks. I will find out later from my mother what they are. Think “four letter word for wading bird.” That’s right – Ibis. I’ve only ever seen one in a crossword puzzle. They’re pecking away at something in the lawn. Do ibises mean grubs in Florida? I wonder.

On my second time around I meet an older gentleman out for a ride in his golf cart. We wave as we pass in opposite directions.

Three times around.

I notice even more beautiful things growing and blooming – crown of thorns, Mexican petunias, even poinsettias. An elderly couple comes along on bicycles. They’re pedaling so slowly I wonder how they’re staying up.

Four times around.

I glance at my watch. If that was four miles, I’ve set a personal record. I don’t think so. Must have been Senior Citizen miles. They get a discount, you know.

Should I go around again?

Nah, I think, stepping onto my parents’ driveway and startling a gecko into some bushes. I'm on vacation. And besides, it’s about time for breakfast by the pool.

This is the Florida life.