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Maybe Cowboy Bush could use a Ponderosa
BY JILL STRAUSS
This is a yellowish orange day. I am not merely referring to the Bush administrationís announcement a few hours ago that the national terror alert is being raised from yellow to orange, the second-highest level in the color-coded system. I am also thinking of two packages delivered to my door moments ago from Delray Beach, Florida. One is filled with tangerines and oranges; the other is filled with grapefruits. Itís amazing how cheering citrus fruit can be on a yellowish orange day. Just slice open a ripe honey tangerine, for example, and the clean, refreshing smell and glistening flesh will revive you. Then squeeze the orange fruit into a glass and take a sip. Itís wonderful to swallow something vibrant when your surroundings are cold and gray and surreal.
Iím fairly calm today, but you should have seen me a few weeks ago. I was terrified that along with the sagging economy and threats of war, I might have to go without citrus. Newscasters declared that Florida was preparing for one of its worst freezes in years and its $9 billion-a-year citrus crop was in jeopardy. This information was more than I could bear so I hopped a plane to the Sunshine State to face the crisis head on.
Fortunately, temperatures began to climb the moment I landed in West Palm Beach. People began to shed their jackets and slip on their shorts. " The big chill is over! " local weathermen reported. Highs in the 70s were expected all week. I put on my Maui Jim sunglasses and headed over to Delray Beach ó to Bloodís Hammock Groves, a family-owned and -operated company that grows and ships citrus fruit.
Rosalie Blood, vice president of the Company, agreed to allay my fears and allow me to inspect some of her crop. She was so impressed I had come all the way from Maine that she took me over to several trees growing on the grounds of Bloodís retail shop. We passed healthy mango, avocado, banana, pummelo, carambola, and grapefruit trees. Eventually, we stopped at a honey-tangerine tree. Rosalie plucked a ripe one off a bough. It wasnít as shiny or pristine as some I had seen at the grocery store. " Itís wind scarred, " Rosalie said, watching me examine a brown vein on the fruit. " But, the blemish has nothing to do with the taste. " Then she led me to what I thought was a grapefruit tree and picked a fruit off of it.
" This is a Ponderosa! " She placed a heavy yellow lemon, almost the size of a soccer ball, in my hand. " Some people are intimidated by the size, but some people like these showpieces, so we sell a few in our retail store . . . See how delicate the skin is? " she asked as she rubbed her fingernail down one side of the fruit. I touched it. It was slightly tacky. " Now smell it, " she commanded. I did and the scent of lemon exploded in my head.
" How does it taste? " I asked.
" Very potent, " she said. " Very lemony. "
I made a knockout of a cocktail that night with my Ponderosa. I squeezed the juice, added lots of sugar, mixed it with some Grey Goose Le Citron Vodka, and shook it over cracked ice. Then I finished the sweet martini with a twist of Ponderosa lemon peel. (I got the inspiration for this concoction after tasting a " Lemon Drop Martini " at the Cheesecake Factory in Fort Lauderdale. My homemade version was more intoxicating.) Finally, after picking apart some fresh Florida stone crabs, I composed a citrus salad with the rest of the bounty I had brought home from Bloodís.
Although I have not found a Ponderosa in Portland (and unfortunately, Bloodís doesnít ship their small collection of exotic produce), I think Iíll prepare a good stiff " Lemon Drop " for my weary friends who are trying to stay alert, yet go on with their daily lives. Fresh Florida stone crabs are now out of season, so instead Iíll serve pungent Maine Shrimp Scampi and then, with the beauties I just unpacked, Iíll lift our spirits with the following cleansing finale:
(Serves 4 to 6)
Ingredients for salad:
3 oranges (preferably Navels or Mineolas since they are virtually seedless)
2 quarts of clean arugula
Half-cup Nicoise olives
3 tablespoons flat-leaf parsley, chopped
Ingredients for Dressing (about two thirds cup):
Half-tablespoon sherry vinegar
Remaining juice of lemon and oranges
1 garlic clove, finely minced
Salt and pepper to taste
Half cup extra-virgin olive oil
On a cutting board, remove rind and white pith of citrus fruit (save any juice left on the cutting board in a small bowl) and slice citrus fruit into one-quarter-inch circles. Halve the avocado and remove the pit and skin. Slice avocado into half-inch semicircles. Set aside.
In a small bowl, whisk together sherry vinegar, reserved citrus juice, minced garlic, salt and pepper to taste, and olive oil. Place arugula on a platter, layer citrus fruit and avocado on the leaves, and sprinkle with Nicoise olives. Drizzle dressing over the salad, using only as much as is necessary to coat leaves lightly. Garnish with chopped Italian flat-leaf parsley.
Jill Strauss can be reached at email@example.com
Issue Date: February 13 - 20, 2003
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