Mango Jalapeño Margarita for Chelsea

I've been getting into cocktails lately.Way long ago, when I was in my thirties, I found my comfort zone was a glass of wine because it was predictable.  Cocktails always tasted too sweet or too weak and opening a bottle of wine was so much easier than getting ingredients for a cocktail. But in my recent empty-nest stage of life, with only two people to feed at night and no homework to be done, I have found time to experiment with cocktails! This one took a village to perfect, but perfect we did so you will be pleased that we went to all this effort for you. You are welcome.

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It started at a bar.  I went out for a cocktail with One And Only Son (who turned 21 last year) and I must have been feeling adventurous because I ordered the special margarita.  It was good.  It was not great.  But I liked the concept.  Mangos for sweetness, jalapeño for a hint of spice, and tequila because, well, I like tequila.

It seemed the perfect drink to celebrate our "adopted" daughter Chelsea's graduation from Pepperdine University.  Chelsea, her parents and her boyfriend were joining us at our SandyShack (the location of Chelsea's 21st birthday just a year prior) for a summer celebration before Chelsea started her REAL job in the REAL world!  The fact that she had a REAL job to go to was worthy of a BIG celebration. Jobs don't come easy these days, even for college graduates.

Chelsea's mom Pamela is one of my two favorite "mixologists" so I planned to enlist her help creating the perfect cocktail to celebrate Chelsea. (To see more of her tantalizing cocktails, visit Pam's blog.)  I knew we would have a houseful of tasters at the ready so I was ready to bring on the cocktails! Preparations began before their arrival when I infused my favorite tequila with fresh mangos and jalapeños.  Then I assembled all the ingredients that I thought we needed for our creation so Pamela and I could go to work creating a delectable cocktail to toast our graduate. The results were gorgeous and it was a delicious kickoff to our celebratory weekend.

But Pamela and I had some ideas along the way to help our cocktail to perfection...more mango flavor, stirred not shaken, lots of ice, etc.  I recruited my other favorite mixologist MaryAnne to assist with round two. And my tasters Debby and Hubby were standing by to "assist".  With our laboratory set up, we mixed and tasted, and just to be sure, we tasted again.  Debby wasn't quite sure so she tasted one more time!

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We are sure.  This one is worth the effort. Cheers to Chelsea.  Cheers to my mixologists.  Cheers to my tasters. Working has never been so fun.

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"There is a good reason they call these ceremonies 'commencement exercises'. Graduation is not the end, it's the beginning." -Orrin Hatch

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Mango Jalapeño Margarita for Chelsea

To prepare the infused tequila: 1 750 ml bottle of Patron Silver Tequila or your favorite tequila (3 generous cups) 2 or 3 fresh mangos, peeled and sliced off the pit 2 fresh jalapeños, sliced (discard stem)

Three to four days prior to serving, stir together the tequila, mango and jalapeños in a large container.  Refrigerate. When ready to serve, strain into clean container. Mix the fruit around with a spoon in the strainer and allow time to drain fully. (Someone, not me but someone, might just want to save those infused pieces of fruit to eat at some point during the night. Just sayin'.)

To serve: 1 cup fresh squeezed lime juice, plus 1 T for glasses 1/2 cup fresh squeezed lemon juice 1/2 cup agave nectar 1 T sugar 1 T salt 6-8oz sparkling water fresh mint sliced jalapeño 

Mix the cup of lime juice, 1/2 cup lemon juice and 1/2 cup agave into a clean container. Put tablespoon of lime juice on small plate and mix salt and sugar onto a second small plate.  One at a time, dip rim of serving glasses into lime juice and then into salt/sugar mixture, rolling to coat rim with salt and sugar.

Mix into a measuring cup 1 cup of the infused tequila, 1/2 cup of the lemon/lime mixture and 1/4 cup sparkling water. (This makes 2-3 drinks depending on the size of glass so the entire recipe makes 6-9 drinks.) Fill glasses with lots of ice (I like the big square cubes) and pour in drink mixture. Garnish with a slice of jalapeño and large sprig of mint. Cheers!

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Pomegranate Flan for Allan

Flan seems like an appropriate recipe for One and Only Son's birthday, which is tomorrow, which begins the celebration of Mexican Independence Day, which is where I gave birth to said Son.

While living in Mexico, birthplace of One and Only Son, I discovered flan...an easy, delicious and quite impressive dessert.  Over the years, I have collected quite a few versions of the basic flan recipe.  They are equally yummy, with slight flavor variations that all seem to work perfectly, and guests always seem to love the rich, caramel flavor of a flan dessert.  But no one has ever loved my flan more than Allan, who is not my son, although he looks so youthful he could be.

I met Allan and his partner Tab when we first moved back to Santa Barbara in 2000.  They were close friends of our neighbors and we hit it off from day one.   Allan and Tab live an amazingly interesting life, starting in the early days of Hollywood when Tab Hunter was not only a successful actor but also had a record single that beat Elvis on the charts!  During the course of our friendship, Tab has written a best-selling book, Allan sold his Lucille Ball memorabilia collection to a museum and they have worked together on movies.  They travel the world doing speaking engagements and appearances and tours.  So we never run out of things to talk about.  I have enjoyed many elegant, casual dinner parties in the garden of their perfectly gorgeous spanish house.  And since Allan has the talent to cook the meals himself, I always offer to bring a dessert.  At one of our first gatherings I brought flan with pomegranate seeds.

Flan, while delicious and decadent, is not the most beautiful dish all on it’s own.  I always feel the need to add a little color to the finished dish before presentation.  Usually, raspberries are good because the rich taste of the flan goes well with the tart raspberries.  But when I was bringing the flan to Allan for the first time, it was nearly winter.  I had finished the flan and went out to the garden to find a suitable garnish when I saw the pomegranate tree.  Perfect!  I brought one in, cracked it open and spilled some seeds and juice on the flan.  That was almost a decade ago and Allan still asks me to bring the flan almost every time we visit.  I use raspberries in the summer, but Allan’s favorite is pomegranate.

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My pomegranates are ripening on the tree right now, a bit early this year.  It must be time for a dinner with Allan and Tab.

"Enjoy your youth. You'll never be younger than you are at this very moment." -Chad Sugg

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Pomegranate Flan for Allan

1 cup sugar 1 can (14oz) sweetened condensed milk 1 can (14oz) coconut milk 14 oz milk (1 3/4 cup) 6 eggs 1 fresh pomegranate OR 1 cup pomegranate juice fresh mint to garnish 

 Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Melt sugar in pan over medium heat until it melts to liquid.   Swirl the pan over the heat until the liquid turns golden brown.  Don’t overcook!  As soon as it turns golden brown remove from heat or it will burn. Pour the liquid from the pan into an 8-cup baking dish, tilting to cover the whole bottom before it turns hard.   I like to use something large and flat like a deep dish pie pan or a 8” square cake pan. Blend the rest of the ingredients in a blender and pour into the baking dish set into a larger pan. Put both pans in oven and pour hot water in the larger pan until it comes about 1/2 way up the side of the flan pan. Be very careful when closing the oven not to spill the liquids. Bake 1 hour.  Carefully remove flan pan from oven, leaving the larger pan so the water doesn’t spill into the flan.   Cool and refrigerate. loosely covered, overnight. Run a knife around the edges of the pan to loosen.  Put a serving plate on top of the pan and quickly invert so flan turns onto plate with caramel sauce on top.  There will be liquid syrup so use a large plate and hold it tight to the pan when turning. Any extra caramel can be spooned on top of flan.  Refrigerate again until serving. Break open pomegranate over a bowl and pull off seeds, letting juice drip into bowl with seeds.  Pick out white parts so that you are left with just the seeds and juice in a bowl.  Remove flan from refrigerator and sprinkle a few tablespoons of pomegranates over the top and sides.  Spoon some juice on the top.  Garnish with a piece of fresh mint. 

Note:  If you can’t find a fresh pomegranate, pour 1 cup of pomegranate juice in a small saucepan and boil until reduced by half.  Drizzle over flan.

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Mom's Memory Pie (aka Blueberry Lemon Tart)

Today is my father-in-law's birthday.And two days ago was Firstborn Daughter's birthday. You may wonder why I am posting about my Mom today instead of them. Well, here's the thing. I started testing recipes earlier this summer to commemorate their special days. But I didn't finish.  I am not stressing about it, I just haven't done it yet. I learned long ago that I can't let life get in the way of living.  I would rather celebrate with them than write about celebrating them. So I went to New York last week to be with Firstborn Daughter and now I'm in San Francisco for Father-In-Law's birthday. I'm doing a lot of living.

Last night Father-In-Law started reminiscing with his brother about childhood and family life and stories from growing up.  They are the stories that I love. Stories that let us peek into his world and envision a life that we didn't live with him. Mom gave me that peek into her world recently too and as I listened to Father-In-Law's stories I remembered I hadn't posted Mom's story yet. That is how my brain works.  The stories pile up in there and then pop out when triggered by something. So today I'm posting about Mom.

Mom seems to really like my blog. She doesn't have email or Facebook so she can't subscribe but she does have a computer and access to the internet so she goes to my site to see what I have posted.  She comes from an era where writers got paid if their stories were published so she's not so sure I should write for free, but she likes reading my stories.  And I like having her read them so she can keep me honest and correct me when something from my memory isn't quite accurate.

Mom called me recently and said she had an idea for my blog.  She didn't have a recipe to go with it but she thought it was an interesting topic and it did relate to my cooking.  She told me about it then wrote it all down for me and mailed it to me so I would remember the details.  Mom is awesome.

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Her story goes back to her childhood and as you will read, Mom has an amazing memory.  I couldn't remember what she told me on the phone a week later so it is a good thing she mailed me the details.  Clearly, she knows me well.  With her note, she sent a photo of her parent's house at 1201 Yankee Road in Middletown, Ohio, and included the information that they bought in 1930 for $3500.

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Mom remembers a tiny door built into the side of the house where the milkman could leave his 5:00am delivery and they could retrieve it in the kitchen when they awoke.  They would get fresh milk, cream, butter and cheese.  Bread was also delivered every day but tea and coffee was just on Friday.  The tiny grocery was a block away from the house but it wasn't necessary to go there.  Mom's mom would call in her order every morning and by 3:00pm it was delivered to a room at the back of the house.  The ironing lady picked up on Tuesday and delivered on Thursday.  Even the Avon lady delivered toothpaste and soap once a month.  All to the room at the back of the house where the door was always unlocked and the things were left on the table if no one was home.  Everything was on an account so no money changed hands from day to day.

Mom said people would come to the back door sometimes asking for food.  Her mother would provide them a plate of food, which they ate while perched on the back steps before returning the plate with words of thanks for the meal.  It was just how things were at the time.  If someone was hungry, they asked for food and you fed them.  What a lovely concept.

The bus stopped on the road in front of the house so Mom remembers a childhood filled with freedom.  They could walk into town or they could go even farther on the bus.  Her and her siblings cried when they moved to a grand house in the country but it seems they got over it once they started going to the brand new supermarket.  The supermarket was about 20 minutes from their home and they went once a week.  Mom remembers how much her mother hated the store.  But Mom and her siblings loved the access to all the new treats they could find.  They didn't have an ice cream parlor nearby like at their old house, but now they could have ice cream in their own home! At the time, they thought this was progress..

The point of Mom telling me all this, so she said, was that my life when I lived in Australia reminded her of those early days on Yankee Road and she thought I should write about it.  My years living in Australia reminded her of a time gone by in America, a time when food was local and fresh.  Mom has such clear memories of her years on Yankee Road.  And I have clear memories that some of the happiest days of my life were when I lived in Australia with three young children, a husband that worked and traveled nonstop, and not a moment to myself.

I think often about why that time was so happy.  I realized long ago, shortly after I moved back to the States, that it was about the food.  Fulfilling the daily needs of my family was not a chore. It was a pleasurable outing.  I walked a block away pushing a double stroller where I chose my fresh food from variety of shops including a butcher, fish market, baker, produce stand and general store.  I knew all the owners and on the days I bought more than a few things, the owner of the general store would take it from me and deliver it all to my house.  He delivered to me a lot. I cooked nearly every day feeding five or six people or more.  The funny thing is, it didn't feel hard.  It was deliciously simple.

Those days in Australia gave me great perspective on how to enjoy the way I shop, eat, cook and entertain.  Luckily, we moved from Australia to California so my focus on fresh goodness is available at my fingertips every day.

Like Mom said, she didn't have a recipe to go with the memories of her youth.  So this dessert isn't Mom's recipe, it is my recipe, reminiscent of that time Mom recalled when life was simple and food was based on fresh goodness.  I created it for Mom, her memory and her inspiration.  It combines the delicious flavor of blueberries fresh off the bush, with homemade lemon curd all tart and creamy, and a nutty crust laden with butter.  It was the dessert that would have been made in Mom's day when everything was fresh and good.  I'm calling it Mom's Memory Pie.

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"I can't let life get in the way of living." - Cynthia Spivey

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Mom's Memory Pie (aka Blueberry Lemon Tart)

1 gluten-free tart crust (from Chris' Raspberry Tart sans gluten) 1/2 cup marscapone, room temperature 2-3 T. powdered sugar 1-2 T heavy cream (only if needed) 1/2 cup lemon curd (homemade is best) 2-4 cups fresh blueberries fresh mint and powdered sugar for garnish

Bake tart shell and let cool completely. Mix marscapone and powdered sugar until thoroughly combined.  If mixture is too thick to easily spread, add 1-2 T heavy cream. Spread marscapone mixture evenly on tart crust.  Refrigerate for one hour. Spread lemon curd evenly on top of marscapone. Top with blueberries. (2 cups if you want a single layer, 3 or 4 cups if you want it piled high.) Refrigerate.  Set out 15 minutes before serving. Sprinkle with powdered sugar and garnish with mint leaves. Serve with stories of favorite memories.

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