The Coldest Days, and Missing Florida Cuisine

More snow last night; this time no more than an inch, but enough to turn everything white again. The current forecast has it going only up to 22 degrees today, down to 2 tonight, and up to 15 tomorrow. Hopefully that will be the worst of the winter. At any rate, we don’t expect to go out today, except for a run to Wal-Mart to wire some money to Leive’s nieces and nephews in the Philippines.

Leive is starting to talk about gardening, though I told her she probably can’t plant anything until March at the earliest. She’s mainly interested in growing those vegetables that are hard to find in the stores around here, especially Oriental ones. Yesterday in the Korean store on New Circle Rd, she found lemon grass, what she calls tanglad, and she thinks she can get half of the bunch she bought to sprout roots. In Florida we had a bunch of lemon grass growing in the front yard, but here she’ll have to keep it in a pot and bring it inside for at least half the year. Still, if she can pull this off, more power to her.

For future reference, I found, the website of a California company that specializes in Oriental vegetable seeds. In looking at the pictures, I found several interesting veggies, like the hyacinth bean, which looks like a purple orchid.

Overall, I think what we miss the most from Florida are some special food items so exotic that even most Floridians aren’t familiar with them. In Leive’s case, it’s whatever she could get from the Vietnamese and Filipino stores in Orlando, that she can’t get in Lexington. For me, one is muscadine grapes, also called scuppernongs. They’re about the only kind of grapes you can grow in Florida, and they’re different enough from regular grapes that they’re my favorite kind; usually I will buy a few pounds of them during the muscadine season (late August, September and sometimes October). Last September I tried finding some in Lexington, and nobody had them; most of the people I asked in the stores didn’t even know what I was talking about. When I did a Google search, entering the words “muscadine” and “Lexington,” all I got were some references to Civil War diaries that mentioned muscadines growing wild in Kentucky in those days. That tells me mid-19th-century Kentucky must have had a somewhat warmer climate than what I’m experiencing now. You hear that, global warming advocates?

bowl of muscadines

The funniest part of my search for Muscadines happened when I looked in Meijer. Meijer constantly advertises that they have the lowest prices, but in most cases they don’t; I go there because of the high quality of what they have, and their stores, which are larger than even a Wal-Mart Supercenter, carry several items I can’t get elsewhere. Anyway, I grabbed a package of what appeared to be muscadines. They were the right size and color, and at $4, the price was what I expected to pay. Instead, they turned out to be very dark cherries! They tasted all right, so I had no reason to complain, but I should have known a Michigan-based company would be more likely to carry cherries than Florida grapes.

Another foodstuff I miss is the kind of hot sauces we had in Florida, especially the ones made from St. Augustine’s datil peppers. Both of us have been stocking up on spicy items to help keep warm (on the inside, anyway), and while Leive claims that Louisiana hot sauce is good enough for her, she had to use a whole bottle when she made Buffalo wings here. Myself, I have considered Louisiana hot sauce wimpy since I discovered datil-based condiments like “Hellish Relish.” Last December I saw a datil sampler pack for sale in Wal-Mart, and I’m kicking myself for not buying one before they sold out. It looks like if I want to have the datil stuff again, I’ll have to order them online, from sources like this. For some reason nobody outside the St. Augustine area grows datil peppers commercially; you’d think they’d at least do well in the rest of Florida.

p.s., We finally found some fresh-baked sesame bagels yesterday, in the new Wal-Mart Supercenter near us (see the January 26 entry). $2 for a bag that only contains four bagels, but Leive’s happy with it, and that’s what counts.

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