This is not what I thought my first post of the year was going to be. I discovered three recipes in the Dominican Republic that I wanted to share with you, one of which I never will. It was going to be a recipe for coconut crusted grouper. I’ll never be able to eat grouper again, and after you read this, I think that you should consider not eating it as well to protect yourself, family and friends from ciguatera poisoning.
Grouper is a tropical reef fish. It swims at the top of the food chain in the warm waters of the Caribbean and many other warm water areas of the world. Top of the food chain means that it eats smaller fish, which eat even smaller fish, and some of those smaller fish at the bottom of the chain eat an algae called Gambierdiscus toxicus. This algae is toxic to humans. It stays in the flesh of the large predator fish and does not affect them, BUT, if you eat the meat of a fish that has eaten one of the smaller fish that have eaten the algae…you’re in trouble. I’m in trouble. I ate some grouper for lunch that contained the toxin. Within 20 minutes I was affected, and within 6 hours I was sick as the proverbial dog. Unlucky for me, I was on a plane back to Chicago when the first onset of the symptoms really hit.
Everyone wants to be really ill on a plane, right? By the time we got off the plane, I was feeling faint. Dana raced to get me a cold bottle of water. I started drinking it and realized something was horribly wrong. The water felt like it was burning my mouth! Touching the cold bottle of water was burning my hands…”Oh my God”, what was happening to me?
The burning, itchy rash did not appear till the next morning…by that time the upset stomach part was subsiding, but these other problems…what was going on? I called my internist and he recommended Imodium and Pedialyte. As to the other bizarre symptoms, he said that he had no idea and that I should concentrate on stopping the diarrhea. This was discouraging to say the least, so I did what you might do…I Googled the symptoms and dug deeper and deeper and found something that fit those symptoms exactly…AND I had eaten grouper right before I fell so ill.
The reason that my doc had no idea is because this is a fairly unknown disease in the U.S. except for South Florida, BUT, it’s getting more prevalent in our country as more fish species are being imported and waters around the world are becoming warmer. It’s not only grouper that has the potential to give you ciguatera. Other culprits besides black, yellowfin and dusty grouper are: barracuda, amberjack, king mackerel, cubera snapper, dog snapper and hog fish. There is no way to tell if a fish has been affected. It looks the same, smells the same, and tastes the same and the poison is not affected by cooking.
I’m miserable. I itch and burn (cold feels hot and hot feels cold) and am listless, but I have it a lot better than some folks. Some of the more severe symptoms are: difficulty walking, insomnia, severe pain in your legs and feeling that your teeth are falling out…yikes!
The worst part of the whole thing is there is NO cure. There is no way to determine just how long you will be affected, some people rebound within weeks, others months or years and sadly, some people never recover…no cure and you never recover! There is one treatment that lessens symptoms and that is taking Mannitol within the first 48 hours intravenously. My doc had no idea to do that…he had no idea what my bizarre symptoms meant…he’s in Chicago, for God’s sake, not the Caribbean.
So, while I wait for my nerve fibers to (hopefully) regenerate, I have eliminated all of the triggers from my diet that might bring back severe symptoms: fish, alcohol, nuts, chicken, pork (seems that chicken and pork eat products made from fish, who knew?) I’ve actually decided to use this as a springboard to better health. I’m concentrating on eating a very healthy diet and I’m getting lots of info from my uber healthy daughter, Dana (who’s working on a degree in nutrition.) No sugar, white flour, processed foods, caffeine, red meat…if I didn’t feel so darn miserable, I might be feeling very good…as it is, I just feel listless.
I’m making up new recipes as I’m going along on this journey that I’ll be sharing with you soon…maybe you can kick start a better diet without going through this discomfort to get there.
Please share this information with those you love. Many of us travel to warm water destinations, I want you all to come home with good memories, not ciguatera!
If you would like to read more information about ciguatera written in a more scientific way, you can read this from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and also this warning from the World Health Organization. Still want more? Here is a very comprehensive essay by Professor J. Pearn, Graduate School of Medicine, University of Queensland, Australia on the neurology of ciguatera.
I fell under the spell of Cumberland Island the moment I caught a glimpse of the wild horses grazing on the beach. We approached by boat and as we grew closer to the dock more of them came into view. Later, I came to find out that there are more horses than permanent residents on this isolated Georgia barrier island.
We were greeted by Gabriel and led to the inn as he told us a brief history of this captivating place. Greyfield Inn was built by Lucy Carnegie, widow of industrialist, Thomas Carnegie (brother and business partner of Andrew Carnegie) as a wedding present for their daughter, Margaret. It is the smallest of the mansions on the island built by the Carnegie family, the largest being Dungeness, the famed gilded age retreat constructed from Scottish stone.
Greyfield Inn welcomed us with its wide door wreathed in glossy, Southern Magnolia leaves and porch with an array of inviting rocking chairs. Entering, we found that not much has changed in the last century. Antiques collected on the family’s world tours were brought back to the island to grace the parlor and library. Portraits and photographs of the family charmed us from walls and tabletops. You feel as if you have stepped back in time and are now the house guest of a gracious Victorian family…and you are! Descendants of the Carnegie family still own and run the inn.
At one time, the Carnegie family owned 90% of Cumberland Island before deeding most of it to the National Park Service in the early 1970’s. It’s now designated as “Cumberland Island National Seashore.” A small portion of the island, including Greyfield Inn, is still owned and maintained by the family. Lucy Ferguson (Lucy Carnegie’s granddaughter) was instrumental in the transfer so that the beauty and wilderness of the island would be protected.
Lucy Ferguson was a very colorful character. Her love of the island and the island’s wildlife that call it home is legendary. She always wore a bandana and carried a Bowie knife (even to dinner parties!). She surrounded her family with the creatures of the island including deer, wild boar and birds and instilled in her family a sense of responsibility to love and protect the environment.
After the tour of the inn, we were eager to start exploring. We first set off by foot to find the sandy path to the sea, meandering under the canopy of live oaks doted with resurrection ferns and their mantle of Spanish moss and lush, tropical underbrush of exotic palmetto palms.
Arriving at the dune meadow we were greeted by a band of wild horses. Heeding the warning not to get too close, we still managed to experience being in their presence on the dunes.
We enjoyed walking the beach with no other humans in sight. We weren’t alone though, sea creatures were burrowing in the sand and we spied the first of many of the birds on the island: great blue herons, bald eagles and egrets.
We would have liked to stay on the beach for hours, but it was time to head back to the inn to get ready for a special oyster roast and an elegant, candlelit dinner.
This was not your average oyster roast. Fresh from the salt marshes, pails and pails of briny, fresh oysters were being shoveled onto a blazing, open pit cedar fire, soon to be joined by fat, juicy clams that had just been delivered straight from the shore. A variety of condiments were available, but we didn’t want anything to mask the woodsy, salty flavor. Later, large, silver trays of luscious, peeky toe crab were brought out to our ravenous group. We knew that we were having dinner soon, so it was all we could do not to fill up on these glorious gifts from the sea.
Candles were lit, and the dinner bell was rung, twice…uh-oh, better get to the table. The food at Greyfield is everything that you would want to serve to your guests. Fresh and local (much of it comes from their large, well maintained garden), accented with produce and dairy from local farms and the highest quality ingredients. Even though I didn’t have much room left, I managed to savor the clean, unpretentious tastes and preparation of the kabocha squash soup with cinnamon roasted apples and beef tenderloin that had been grilled over the cedar fire and still have room for the homemade donut with Valrhona chocolate and marshmallow ice cream that we enjoyed with coffee in the library.
The next morning the island was shrouded in dense, grey fog which made our surroundings even more mystical.
We had gotten up early…very early…for the first of the daily tours offered by the inn’s naturalist guide was at daybreak. We visited the ghost of what was Dungeness, which sadly burned to the ground in 1959, and the surrounding dunes and salt marshes. The birders with us were ecstatic to see the wood ducks and a red-cockaded woodpecker. The rest of us enjoyed being part of this unique and beautiful landscape. The island is teeming with wildlife, some of which I was glad that we didn’t come across (like the alligators), but I would have loved to have seen the elusive white deer.
The next tour we took was to the Northern part of the island including the Plum Orchard mansion, Stafford Plantation and the First African Baptist Church. Many of you might remember that John Kennedy, Jr. and Carolyn Bessette were married in this tiny, sparse church in 1996. That day the church was decorated with just one candle glowing from this container. John, Jr. was good friends with a member of the Carnegie/Ferguson family, the charismatic GoGo Ferguson, who suggested that Cumberland Island and the Greyfield Inn would be the perfect place to get married privately…and she was right.
The vivacious GoGo is a world renowned jewelry designer and artist. Her work was just exhibited at the High Museum in Atlanta and is admired by collectors, as well as the rich and famous. We made it a point to visit her studio, a portion of which is crafted out of material salvaged from Dungeness. Nothing is wasted on the island, everything is recycled, reused and repurposed…just like GoGo’s jewelry. GoGo is fascinating. She was inspired by her grandmother, Lucy Ferguson, to love the island fiercely, to investigate and treasure every part…and she has. She has walked this captivating island always looking down, looking for treasures. For GoGo, treasure is not diamonds and sapphires, but sun bleached bones of rattlesnakes, armadillos and all manner of sea creatures. Her cottage next to Greyfield looks more like an anthropologist’s lair than an artist’s studio, but this is where GoGo gets the inspiration for her designs. Necklaces, earrings, bracelets, rings and house ware items all reflecting her love of nature and of Cumberland Island. If you’d like to peak at some of her work, here’s a link.
Our last activity was everyone’s favorite. Our family chased the waves while riding bikes on the pristine beach at sunset. As the shells crunched beneath the wide tires and the salt air blew through our hair we were all smiles and laughter. We felt like kids again, especially when we had to race back so we weren’t late for dinner.
Our stay was too short. We vowed to come back…there is so much more we need to see and do. There is a large, leather guest book in the parlor and you are invited to share your reason for coming to the island. On almost every page, someone had written “bucket list.” You might just want to put this magical place on your list as well.
While touring Plum Orchard’s vast kitchen, I found this recipe displayed for Icebox Cookies. I’ve adapted it for you so that you can share a bit of the island with your family and friends for the holiday season. I love icebox cookies because you can pull them out of the “icebox” and pop them in the oven when guests arrive and serve them a warm cookie, fresh from the oven.
I want to wish you and your family and friends a wonderful holiday!
Holiday Icebox Cookie Recipe
Yield: 6 - 9 dozen
Prep Time: 20 minutes
Cook Time: 10 minutes
Total Time: 30 minutes
If you want fresh from the oven cookies any time, then this is the recipe for you. Rich, buttery and easy to make, perfect for when guests drop by during the holidays.
1 cup unsalted butter, softened
1 cup granulated sugar
2 large eggs, well beaten
1 1/2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
3 cups all purpose flour
1/2 cup confectioner's sugar
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
Since this is a holiday cookie, I decided to use granulated and confectioner's sugar to replace the dark brown sugar called for in the original recipe, circa 1910. I also added pure vanilla, lowered the amount of baking powder and added holiday sprinkles. For one batch, I added nuts as suggested by the original recipe.
You can be very creative with this recipe. You might add candied fruit to the batter, or possibly lemon or orange zest. Instead of vanilla, you could use almond, or hazelnut extract...the possibilities are only limited by your imagination.
If you are not going to make this by hand, I'd suggest using a standing mixer because this is a very stiff dough.
In a large bowl, cream the butter, granulated sugar, beaten eggs and vanilla.
In a medium bowl, sift the flour, confectioner's sugar, baking powder and salt, making sure they are well blended.
Beat the dry ingredients into the butter mixture one cup at a time.
Divide the dough onto 3 separate pieces of wax paper. Form the dough into long squares, approximately 2 1/2 by 2 1/2.
Press sprinkles into the dough on all sides and seal the wax paper.
Chill dough for at least 1 to 3 hours, preferably overnight.
Preheat oven to 375 degrees.
Cover cookie sheet with parchment paper, or lightly grease cookie sheet.
Remove dough from the "icebox" and cut into thin, 1/4 inch slices.
Bake for approximately 10 minutes or till slightly golden brown.
Place on cooling rack. The cookies may be stored in air tight containers for several weeks and dough may be stored in the refrigerator for a week or frozen for up to 3 months. If using frozen dough, you may need to increase the baking time.
No matter how many times we travel to Maine, there is always something new to discover. This trip it was a beautiful cove in the historic community of Ducktrap. Thanks to detailed directions from our innkeepers, we found this lovely, secluded cove where locals go clamming and fishing.
It was a soft, grey day with the color of the season more subtle and yet more poignant than the day before. Pine trees clung to sheer rock as if to acknowledge that Maine is “where the mountains meet the sea.”
Continuing on our journey, we began to roam back hills and small towns that we had not yet visited. We stopped at the Petunia Pump which at one time, many years ago, must have supplied the village with water. Have you ever had the privilege of pumping your own water? I have! Years ago during a severe drought when our cistern had run dry, we had to travel miles with our jugs and were grateful that a pump like this was still working. Proof that this city girl was once a country kid.
We found a tree where apples were still clinging to branches. In Autumn I look to the apple harvest for a key ingredient in one of my quick and easy recipes for appetizers. I have to say that I do cheat when it comes to the preparation…I use prepackaged fillo shells which makes this a recipe my “go to” when I want something tasty, but I’m in a pinch for time. Also, these are perfect to make ahead. Just pop them in the oven minutes before your guests arrive.
Please don’t be intimidated about caramelizing apples. It’s actually very easy. A bit of butter, a sprinkle of sugar, fruit. Stir and watch it happen!
My trick is to bake the shells for 3 minutes before I stuff them with creamy cheese and caramelized fruit. They’ll look like this.
Pop a small piece of brie approximately 1/2 inch by 1/2 inch into the pre-baked shell.
Plop on a bit of fruit.
Pop back into the oven for 5 to 8 minutes.
Baked Brie Bites with Caramelized Apple Recipe
Yield: 15 pieces - 5 servings
Prep Time: 5 minutes
Cook Time: 20 minutes
Total Time: 25 minutes
A fast, easy and delicious appetizer, perfect for the holidays.
1 box mini fillo shells (15 per box)
1 - 3 inch wedge of high quality brie, approximately 1/3 lb., cut into 1/2 x 1/2 inch pieces
1 large apple (I use Honeycrisp)
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
1 tablespoon granulated sugar (can substitute brown sugar)
Pinch cinnamon and/or nutmeg
Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
Peel and cube apple into approximately 1/4 inch pieces.
Melt butter in a medium pan.
Add apple cubes and sprinkle with sugar and spices. Stir occasionally, for about 10 minutes till apples are a golden, caramel color. See photo.
I like the shells to be very crisp and golden, so I pre-bake the shells for just a few minutes before adding the filling.
Place shells on baking sheet. Bake for approximately 3 - 4 minutes. Remove from oven.
Pop brie into shells and top with caramelized apples. See photo.
Bake for 5 to 8 minutes until brie is hot and melting.
It had been a very long time since we went to Maine in Autumn, too long really. Most of the tourists had hung up their beach towels and packed away the camping gear weeks ago, leaving a few diehards left to say “so long” to the season. The warm breezes had fled, replaced by crisp leaves, painterly skies and crackling logs. Most of the roadside lobster shacks were shuttered and stores were on a different schedule. That lovely feeling that you should stock your pantry, split more wood and put on another sweater had descended.
We were in luck that Cedarholm Garden Bay Inn was open till the end of October. We were warmly welcomed by George, Kristin, Barry and Joyce. The Inn was still as beautiful and spotless as it was on our last visit. We settled back into our little cabin in the woods overlooking Penobscot Bay, lit a fire and raised a glass to being back. There was a change that we took to right away…Kristin was now making homemade granola, and it was delicious. We are not used to a big breakfast, but found room to stuff in not just the granola, but also the fresh fruit and the still warm homemade sweet breads and muffins Joyce prepared every morning. Another change was that instead of beds of blooming perennials, we were met by dahlias… tall, imposing stalks topped by flowers that burst forth with all of the colors of the rainbow and then some.
George and Kristin are avid gardeners and their love for the dahlia proves it. You have to be committed to dahlias, they’re not a flower you can just plant and walk away. We we told that dahlias have to be scooped out of the earth after the first frost, then washed, treated, dried and divided before they’re off for their long winter’s nap in the cellar. In the Spring they are started in the greenhouse and when they are a certain size and the weather is favorable they are planted in their special beds. Are they worth all of this work? You decide.
Dana and I were intrigued by the dahlias, so Joyce gave us a brochure and directions to Endless Summer Flower Farm in Camden where we were in awe of row upon row of the tallest, most beautiful dahlias I had ever seen in one place at the same time…wow! Dana and I made notes of our favorites: Wyoming Wedding, Valley Rust Bucket, Valentine Lil and Cafe au Lait. We were told that we could order online and receive these little tubers in the Spring to begin our own dahlia adventure.
On our drive to the farm, we saw that the hills of wild blueberries were now a crimson carpet. All of the little blue beauties bursting with flavor were gone till next year. Most of them are now nestled in jars and freezers waiting to be used to make something wonderful like this gingerbread. A burst of spice, a pop of sweet served warm from the oven. A plop of whipped cream and a few more berries make this treat even more special. So far, I’ve received rave reviews for this recipe…one friend even said that he would prefer it over pumpkin pie for Thanksgiving! Whether you serve it then, or at your next Sunday Supper with your friends and family is up to you.
Gingerbread Cake with Blueberries
Yield: serves 8
Prep Time: 20 minutes
Cook Time: 40 minutes
Total Time: 1 hour
A burst of spice and a pop of sweet with a crunchy sugar topping.
1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, softened
1 cup granulated sugar, plus 2 tablespoons
2 cups flour
1/2 teaspoon ground ginger
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon ground cloves
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 cup buttermilk
2 teaspoons baking soda
2 tablespoons molasses
1 cup fresh or frozen blueberries
Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
In a large mixing bowl, cream the butter and sugar together. Add egg, mix till combined.
In a medium bowl, sift together the flour, ginger, cinnamon, cloves and salt making sure that they are well blended.
In a small bowl, whisk together the buttermilk, baking soda and molasses.
Alternate mixing in the flour and the buttermilk to the creamed mixture till it is all combined. Gently fold in blueberries.
In a 9 x 9 x 2 baking dish, or 9 inch round pan, pour batter and sprinkle with 2 tablespoons of granulated sugar.
Bake for approximately 40 minutes or till a toothpick comes out clean.
Serve warm with whipped cream and fresh blueberries.
Jeff and I both knew that it would happen one day. Dana would walk out the door and come back very excited with something sparkling on her left hand. We just didn’t know who, or when, or where, till John. I honestly knew by the excitement in her voice the first time she met him that he was someone special. Over the last few years we figured that he was going to be the “who.” It wasn’t until we received a special e-mail from him, after he had already asked Jeff for her hand, that we knew the “when” and “where.” We were really touched that he included us in all of the fun. Dana had no idea of the date and place, although she knew that he was the guy…and that she was going to say, “yes!”
So, on a perfect September night, he asked…she said the obvious and then came the big surprise. John had planned a surprise engagement party. Have I told you how much Dana loves surprises? Her friends came from as close as Lincoln Park and as far away as Charleston and Washington D.C. There were lots of squeals and laughter and maybe a few tears (mostly from me). We are so very happy to welcome John to the family!
Then the wedding gears started turning and because they want to get married next year, those gears had to turn incredibly fast. Because of Dana and John’s careers, there was only one person who could sit on the phone for hours and hours and hours…me! So that friends, is what has been happening the last few weeks…that, and a trip to Maine. So, please forgive me for my absence in the blogosphere. But by now, you know me…family first.
Now things have settled into a mild roar, and I’m happy to be back sharing more Sunday Supper stories and recipes…that is until we get closer to the date…I might have to to into hiatus again, and I hope that you understand.