Dancing in the Street

So one night last winter I’d been out too long shopping.  The Kid was coming for dinner, and I still needed to stop and get freshly made tortillas.

When I pulled up to the tortilleria at about 6PM, the parking lot was jumping like the Bouncing Bulldogs at a competition.  I was pretty sure I’d be facing what would be for me, a fate was than death—a long line which would translate to a long wait.

I walked in and found the end of the line; about twelve people back.  I knew I was looking at least half an hour before it was my turn.  I was starting to panic, but then the most adorable young woman got in line behind me.bat eyeShe was bubbly, friendly, and wearing perfect cat eyeliner; it was as clean and sharp as a Klingon bat’leth honed on the bones of the vanquished and shined with their blood.

We began chatting; she told me her boyfriend, a long distance trucker, would be arriving sometime tonight and she wanted fresh tortillas for him.

I enjoyed the chatting, but I hadn’t had a bite to eat all day.  I wasn’t sure if I would get faint-y or hangry first, but if I didn’t eat soon, it wouldn’t be pretty.

That sweet kid must have read my mind, because she declared that she was starving, and grabbed a bag of crunchy snack things I’d never seen before. She popped them open, and offered some to me. The point of this seemingly pointless story is not that despite my mother’s warnings, I happily talk to practically every stranger I meet.  Nope, the reason for this tale is actually the flavor of those Funyuns-looking snack things we shared.

They were chili lime.  It was the first time I’d had that particular combination.  I’d always passed before, because I’d thought they would be too spicy for my uber-wimpy palate.  But that night I was so hungry I would have bitten the head off a ghost pepper-stuffed live chicken.

I’m telling you; I was hungry.  Since that night, I’ve taken to carrying a couple granola bars in my bag.

Boy am I glad I did.  It wasn’t hot-spicy, but instead lively-spicy.  Mixed with the clean, tart lime, it was terrific.

In Mexican cooking, chili\lime is ubiquitous.  The most famous and popular dish using the combo is Mexican street corn.  It consists of roasted corn on the cob, drizzled with a creamy sauce, then sprinkled with chili powder, cilantro, and crumbly, salty cotija cheese.I have a twist on this popular dish.  It’s a pasta salad, which for this carb lover is pretty darn close to perfect.  The pasta I use is a small seashell.

And, the corn is still the star in this recipe too, so be persnickety.  Buy fresh, and I mean freshly picked, not the produce department of a supermarket.  Go to the farmers market, or a pick-your-own farm.  The sugar starts turning to starch as soon as corn’s picked.  You want ears that are still warm from the sun shining on their stalk.  Or as close as you can get; don’t get arrested for pilfering produce.  No pasta salad is worth that. But potato salad is totally different.  I could do thirty days in the hole for a good tater salad.

Thanks for your time.

Street Corn Pasta Salad

Stir together dressing:street corn dressing½ cup mayonnaise

½ cup light sour cream

1 clove of garlic, minced

Juice and zest of 1 lime

1 teaspoon chili powder, or to taste

¼ cup chopped cilantro leaves

½ cup crumbled cotija cheese

Corn juice

Salt & pepper 

Refrigerate covered, up to two days, until ready to make salad.

Salad:street pasta1-7 ounce bag small seashell pasta, cooked to al dente in heavily salted water and drained, but not rinsed

6 ears fresh corn

¼ cup chopped white onion

Salt & pepper

Prepare corn:  Clean ears and paint on thin coat of vegetable oil.  Sprinkle with salt and pepper.  Grill, turning corn until the ears are cooked and lightly charred.  Let cool.  Cut kernels off cob.  Scrape juice off cob and add to dressing.

Forty-five minutes before service, stir together pasta, corn, and onion.  Mix in dressing until it’s a little too wet (it will tighten upon standing).  Check for seasoning and readjust if necessary.  Serves 6.      

Cool as a frozen pea

A gorgeous opalescent bowl at 75% off.A never-worn pair of Louboutin pumps in size 10 at a consignment store.

A pot of hydrangeas that are a little past their prime; and half price.

A rotisserie chicken from Costco.All items bought in the heat of the moment because they’re pretty and inexpensive.  Then when you get each one home, you think, “What now?”.

Last week I had the ‘what now?’ moment with a rotisserie chicken.  But, there wasn’t any real stress in the question, because it was, in fact, a roasted chicken.  And having a couple zip-top bags of cooked chicken is never a bad thing.

I could make soup.Avgolemono is a Greek chicken soup with a hit of lemon.  Heat up three or four cups of chicken stock, with a quarter cup of orzo in it.  Combine 3 eggs and 3 tablespoons of lemon juice.  Whisk in a little hot soup to the eggs to raise the temp, then pour it all back into the stock.  Cook on medium-low until the orzo’s cooked.  To serve; put some shredded chicken in the bottom of the bowl, then add a cup of the soup.    Sprinkle a little fresh parsley on top, and you’ve got soup for four.

But, it’s been too hot for soup lately.

I could make open-faced chicken sandwiches.

Get some chewy sourdough and lay down some chicken meat and put crispy bacon on top.  Cover with hoop cheese.  Then melt the cheese under the broiler.

But I wasn’t in the mood for sandwiches, no matter how tasty they may be.

I could make tacos.Heat up Chubby’s guacatillo and stir in some chicken.  Pick up some fresh tortillas at your local tortilleria (tortilla bakery), and heat them in a dry skillet.  Layer the saucy chicken on tortillas and top with cilantro and white onion.

But it was Tuesday, and my local tortilleria is closed on Tuesday.

I could make chicken Alfredo.

It’s actually very simple.  Just sauté four or five minced cloves of garlic in a tablespoon of butter.  When the whole house is redolent of garlic, add two cups of heavy cream and 1/8 teaspoon of freshly grated nutmeg.  Bring it to a boil and let it go until it’s cooked down, thick, and creamy.  While the cream reduces, cook some ridged pasta a couple minutes less than it says on the box.  When the sauce is done, stir in a quarter cup of grated Parmesan.  Place the par-cooked pasta in the sauce and let it finish cooking.  Add a couple cups of bite-size chicken and serve with a green salad.But, it’s bathing suit season.

I could make a cool pasta salad.

Which is what I did.Oh, and that bowl, the flowers, and those shoes?Put some water in the bowl and float some hydrangea flowers in it.  They’ll be a beautiful decoration at your cocktail party where you’ll show off your fabulicious shoes.

Thanks for your time.

Pantry chicken & pasta salad

Dressing:pasta dressing1 ½ cups mayonnaise

1 teaspoon horseradish

1 tablespoon red wine vinegar

2 teaspoons oil from sun dried tomatoes

1 teaspoon olive oil

½ teaspoon honey

Very hot water

Salt & pepper

2 or 3 tablespoons snipped Chinese or regular chives, or scallions,

very thinly sliced on the bias.

At least 2 hours or up to 24 hours before service:

Whisk together first 6 ingredients.  Whisk in hot water until dressing’s about the consistency of pancake batter.

Season, taste, and season again until it’s right.

Stir in chives.


chicken pasta salad

8 ounces ridged pasta

1 ½ cup frozen baby peas, thawed

¼ cup sundried tomatoes, packed in oil, drained, rinsed, and chopped

2 or 3 big handfuls of baby spinach

2-3 cups rotisserie chicken, cut into bite-size chunks.

6 slices of bacon, cooked until very crispy

Put cut-up sun dried tomatoes into bottom of colander.  Cook pasta according to directions in very heavily salted water.  When finished, pour into colander over tomatoes.  Let cool.

Into large bowl, place pasta, peas, sundried tomatoes, spinach, and chicken.  Toss with enough dressing to give everything a thin coat.

Plate salad, then top with one slice of crumbled bacon.  Serves 6.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Alright, I give, it’s spring

They say when you’re drowning there comes a point when you give up fighting, a sense of peace envelops you, and then it’s all over.

And, here in Durham, it’s the beginning of April, so I just need to get over myself and my grudge against Mother Nature, and accept that spring came very early this year, and all the hoping in the world won’t slow it down, so that the dogwoods bloom on my birthday, in the middle of the month—Like.They.Are.Supposed.To.

It ain’t gonna happen.

So, taking the immortal advice of Queen Victoria, I’m going to lie back and think of England—which coincidentally has a much later spring.  I’m giving up the fight and accepting that winter is over, early or not.


When it’s sunny and 80 degrees in mid-March, a hearty, slow-cooked meal just doesn’t feel right.  But, despite feeling like late spring, produce hasn’t received the memo and caught up.

So, what’s a diner seeking seasonal fare to do?

A lighter springtime meal this time of year necessitates using a combination of imported fresh, frozen, and if possible, locally grown.

The first thing to do is figure out the flavors that epitomize the season.  You may have different ones in mind, but these are the tastes and colors speak to me.

Vernal chicken en papillottepaper chicken4 boneless, skinless chicken breasts

1 lemon, sliced

8 cloves of garlic, cut into thick slices

2 leeks, cleaned and sliced, white part only

1 tablespoon fresh mint, cut into chiffonade (long thin strips)

4 tablespoons butter

Salt & pepper

4 12X12-inch pieces parchment paper

Preheat oven to 375 degrees.  Crease the paper halfway across.  Lay the chicken in the center of one side of the paper.  Cover each breast with lemon slices.  Sprinkle each with ¼ of the leeks, garlic, and mint.  Place 1 tablespoon butter on the top; then season with salt and pepper.

Fold over the other half of the paper.  Then starting at one end, fold/crimp the paper all around the outside of the package. 

Bake at 375 for 25 minutes.  Place a package on each diner’s plate, allowing them to open the packets at the table.  Serves 4.

Light and sunny pasta saladspring orzoSalad:

6 ounces orzo

6-8 ounces goat cheese (keep in fridge until salad assembly)

1 cup frozen baby peas, thawed

Small bunch of asparagus, the thickest stalks you can find, cut into 1-inch pieces on the bias

1 cup grape tomatoes

2 tablespoon snipped Chinese chives or green onions, thinly sliced on the bias

Baby arugula or pea shoots

Salt & pepper

Dressing:spring dressing2 tablespoons lemon juice

1 teaspoon honey

1/2 teaspoon Dijon mustard

3 to 4 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil

Salt & pepper

Whisk together all dressing ingredients until emulsified.  Season, taste, then season again if necessary. 

Assembly: Into a large bowl, place in pasta, peas, asparagus, tomatoes, and chives.    Stir in dressing, leaving out about a tablespoon.  Break off pieces of goat cheese about the size of a thumbnail and gently fold into salad.

To plate: Lightly dress arugula or pea shoots with remaining dressing, being very careful not to over-dress.

Place a small mound of orzo salad onto plate, and top with dressed greens.  Serves 4-6.

Serve the chicken and salad with a piece of fresh baguette, and a cold crisp glass of a Vouvray or a dry Alsatian.  For dessert, I’ve got a fun and easy idea.Take your favorite store-bought biscuits (I’d use Bojangles’ biscuits; but you can use any you like, up to and including canned biscuits) and paint the tops with melted butter.  Sprinkle each with a spoonful of sugar and put under the broiler until it browns and bubbles.

Put 2 cups of frozen and fresh strawberries into a saucepan with a spritz of lemon juice and a couple tablespoons of sugar.  Cook on medium until the berries begin to break down and form a sauce.  Slice each biscuit in half. Fill with strawberries, and top with a dollop of whipped cream—homemade or store-bought.

So, even though the weather and nature’s bounty aren’t quite in sync, we can still eat like it is.  But I still won’t have the dogwood blossoms on my birthday.

Darn it.

You know…that kind of works for me.

Thanks for your time.