February was hard for Shana, but March has kicked my butt. I thought I had beaten the winter, really. It’s been a long, snowy couple of months, but in January I coasted on a wave of New Year energy and pleasure in the dark, rich tastes of braises and stews, and in February I traveled, and went out to dinner and made chili and looked forward to heading south. The last week in February saw my nuclear plus one (Mom) unit in South Beach, where we did not go to the South Beach Wine and Food Festival, although we ogled the crowd and looked for famous chefs, crashed the Enrique Iglesias concert on the beach and enjoyed random scenes like two grizzled hippies on scooters zipping by us while they chatted about Rachel Ray.
The young ones in the family got red, then brown, frolicked in the waves (well, the youngest one dabbled in the waves, but by the last day he was happy playing “motorboat” and being towed around in the ocean), and dragged about seventy pounds of sand back to the apartment every afternoon. The older ones did approximately nothing for six days except spend an inordinate amount of time thinking about where our next meal was coming from.
Those meals came from several good places (including the tiny studio kitchen). There were stone crab claws, fried green tomatoes and key lime pie from an old style crab house. There was classic Cuban cuisine from David’s Cafe — food like black beans and rice and plantain chips that made the whole family happy, as did the cheerful servers who took especially good care of those under twelve. A La Folie, steps from our door, kept us well-caffeinated and on a night where John and I got to go out to play fed us a fine Nicoise salad with tuna that was still jumping around on the plate, along with a nice bottle of Cote Du Rhone. On our other night out, at Talula, we sat in a breezy garden under palm trees and warm stars and ate dishes like wahoo ceviche and black grouper with preserved lemon and thyme that blew open our palates with their fresh brightness. Some of the simplest food moments stick with me the most though. At La Sandwicherie, a tiny open-until-5 AM- counter facing out onto a parking lot, cute French guys turned out baguette sandwiches, loaded with olives, salad vegetables and cornichons. At the little supermarket around the corner from our apartment, it was possible to buy fresh barbecued chickens and homemade tamales. The opportunity to stumble into a simple but still interesting and tasty meal made Miami feel very gastronomically different than Ann Arbor
I liked Miami Beach. I liked its sunshine and heat, and I liked its mix of monied glamor and honky tonk seediness, and I liked watching the turquoise waters and my kids running around the beach. I liked looking out to sea at 10 pm and seeing both a full moon rising and a lightning storm. So I was already a bit of a Midwest malcontent the moment the plane touched down at DTW and a week of stomach flu (technically a gastrointestinal virus) ravaging my family and several more inches of snow has done nothing to get me to rejoin the Ann Arbor team. Did I mention March has kicked my butt? I’m gloomy and crabby and my shopping cart overflows with conventionally grown Chilean blueberries and hunks of cheddar cheese from god-knows-what-kind-of-cows. I seem to be at the point of giving up. Local, schmocal. Organic? That’s for dippy hippies, right? Who has time to cook? Throw some Stoeffer’s frozen lasagna in the oven.
But the light lingered longer tonight. Daylight savings time has come along and perhaps it will save me too. Spring just might be possible. Time to get out of bed, get outside, get back on the wagon, clean out the cupboards, tie on the running shoes, peak around for emerging bulbs, believe in possibility again. We cooked with some care tonight, a simple pizza intended to soothe both our souls and our stomachs. It reminded me that if you give a little bit of attention to what you put on your plate and in your mouth you’re feeding your spirit as much as your belly. I’ve been down, but I’m not out. March better start cooperating, or it’s going to get a lickin’.
Simple Potato Pizza for a night when spring hasn’t arrive yet
This is really more of a concept than a recipe. Make a crust (get some help here). Brush it with olive oil. Spread a thin layer of very thinly sliced potatoes (here, Yukon Gold) over the entire pizza. Sprinkle with fresh chopped rosemary (you might want to embed some in the crust itself). Layer with fontina cheese, a generous handful of Parmesan, a good grinding of pepper and some coarse salt. Cook at high heat.
A few variations, none necessary, all pleasant: Pre-roast the potatoes for a few minutes on a cookie sheet brushed with olive oil; add some crushed red pepper; go lighter on the olive oil and supplement with some black olive paste; mix in some blue cheese with the fontina (maybe not on a night when three of the four people at the table are recovering from a stomach virus) . For a much fancier version, caramelize some onions and layer olive paste, potato, onions and stilton.