Guerillas in the Midst of Shrimp Tacos

I’m a little bit of a homophone-ophobe. This is a real condition. Seriously. It describes a person who fears words that sound similar but have two entirely different meanings. Like it was so sweet of the hotel to give us this suite. And I loved the kind maid who made the bed. Just typing it makes me shutter.

In the ’70’s there were constant news reports about the Sandinista Guerillas in Nicaragua. In our house, once my father was home, we watched the news. Well, at least the news was on. I can’t say I really was watching it. It was more like background noise I had to endure until prime time programming (Dallas, Taxi, Different Strokes etc) was available. We had one TVone. So, everyone watched the same thing and the bigger people generally got to dictate what that one thing would be.

Anyway, the fighting in Nicaragua had been going on for years, but really heated up in 1979 after the formal unification of the Sandinista guerillas.

This was also around the time that you could find Planet of the Apes television series starring Roddy McDowall reruns on TV.

And, I was pretty young.

So, when the din of the news reported on the guerillas in Nicaragua, I was certain that they meant gorillas.

Yes, to answer the obvious question, the news rolled footage of the guerillas – but it was 1979 and the footage was grainy, not all high def like now. Even when I would watch the reports, I thought the soldiers could totally be gorillas – like the ones on Planet of the Apes.

It wasn’t until years later that I learned about guerillas and then even more time passed before I was able to admit to my mistake. I’ve had homophone-ophobia ever since.

Recently, I was taking my first stab at using tomatillos – which I was a little afraid of. See ‘Tomatillo’ sounds a lot like ‘Tomato’ (though not an exact homophone). But, just as guerillas are completely different than gorillas, – tomatillos not like tomatoes at all. If you’ve never used them and want to google ‘tomatillos’, you’ll be told that tomatillos are more like gooseberries. This information didn’t help to ease my fear as I’ve never used those either.

This is the recipe from FoodNetwork Kitchens that I used for reference and then tweaked. It’s for two pretty decent sized servings.

Shrimp Tacos with an Avocado/Tomatillo Salsa

Marinate 1/2 lb of large, cleaned and deveined raw shrimp in a mix of lemon and lime juice, olive oil, salt and pepper for about an hour. I do use frozen ones and it’s fine. Just fine.

Put 1/2 of a small chopped onion, 1/2 a chopped and seeded jalapeno and 1/2 clove of garlic mashed in a food processor. I often sub shallot for garlic – but since the garlic is going to be processed, it won’t dominate the sauce. Finely chop.

Add in 2 peeled and rinsed chopped tomatillos, 1/2 an avocado chopped, 1/2 tsp of salt, the juice of 1/2 a lime and pulse the mixture until chopped but still chunky.

You can stir in a little bit of sour cream at this point. The sour cream is a nice juxtaposition to the spiciness of the jalapeno and garlic.

Transfer to a bowl and top with some fresh chopped cilantro. Set aside.

Pre-heat a grill pan to med/high. Spray with cooking spray.

Take the marinated shrimp and, if you want some spice,  toss with 1/2 tsp of chili powder and immediately place on the grill pan. The shrimp will cook quickly – about 2 minutes per side. I like a little char on my shrimp. Why? Because as per Anne Burrell: ‘brown food is good food’.

In a second pan, warm up 4 flour tortillas. Put a pan on medium and drop the tortillas in there for a minute or so per side. You just want them warmed, not toasted. You can use wheat or corn, but I really prefer flour.

Topped each warmed tortilla with a heathy schmear of the avocado/tomatillo salsa and 2-3, depending on size, shrimp. Garnish with some more cilantro (remembering that cilantro seems to be polarizing – you either love it or hate it) and a lime wedge.

The salsa makes this meal. And, helped me to overcome my fear of those tomato-sounding tomatillos.

You don’t hear a lot about the guerillas in Nicaragua anymore…or much about the original Planet of the Apes for that matter. Still, when I think back on my homophonic mistake, I know I can’t be the sole soul who made such an error. I mean, didn’t anyone think that Jane Goodall as played by Sigourney Weaver was In the Midst of Guerillas?

You Will Never Be Gymnast Meringues

The morning of the tryouts for the swim pre-team was a rare, cold, rainy June morning. I was 6 and would need to just swim one lap of a 25 yard (not meter, yard) pool in order to earn my spot on the team. I stood at the side of the pool shivering as my goosebumps grew goosebumps from both the cold and my own nerves. By the time it was my turn, I could barely breathe. I jumped in and began to swim as my peers and my mother looked on. As cold as the air was, the water was colder and my red and white speedo swim suit did nothing to insulate me. My teeth were chattering and as I turned my head to take a breath I took in a mouthful of water and started to cough.  Gasping for air, I grabbed for the ladder about 3/4 of the way down the length of the pool and ended my swimming career.

I wasn’t ever meant to be a swimmer and decided later to have a go at diving. Not surprisingly, this also turned out to be a challenge for my lanky 10-year old body. The most common thing I heard following any one of my very low degree of difficulty dives at a meet was ‘Fail Dive’. When I finally quit the diving team two-years later, my coach smiled and thanked me.

These failures at water sports were painful – but, I really wasn’t all that disappointed. Gymnastics – that was my passion, my everything. Every four years when the summer Olympics start I am reminded of my experience with competitive gymnastics. I was 11 and had convinced my parents to send me to Murial Grossfeld’s Academy for Gymnastics summer camp in upstate NY. Before Bela Karolyi there was Murial Grossfeld. Murial was known as ‘The Tyrant of Girl’s Gymnastics’ and once told a 12-year old: ‘Don’t be a lady on that beam! Be an animal!’. She was a big deal in the sport for Americans. After a week of intensive 8-hour days training on all the apparatus, each student was granted a ‘hearing’ with Murial. My meeting with Murial was the most important moment of my life. I entered the room and was completely in awe of her. Even though I had been at Murial’s camp all week, I had yet to be in her presence. I walked in slowly and sat down as she directed. Ms Grossfeld looked at my skills evaluation report that lay on the desk in front of her and then looked up at me. Sigh. Pause. And then….’You will never be gymnast. Find something else.’ And that was it. My gymnastics dreams shattered in two terse sentences.

In spite of my shattered dreams of Olympic gold, my passion for the sport did not diminish. I love gymnastics and will spend the next 14 days glued to the television watching the US Women and Men perform.

Tonight is the Olympics opening ceremony. I am gathering with friends to watch and have been charged with bringing dessert. In an effort to make something patriotic, I am preparing Red, White and Blue Chocolate Chip Meringue cookies. The recipe below is a tweak on Claire Robinson’s from the Food Network. These are so easy – just a little time consuming.

Preheat the oven to 225 degrees F.

In a large bowl, using a hand beater, or, better yet, a KitchenAid Mixer with the whipping attachement, beat 4 egg whites, 1/4 tsp cream of tarter, a pinch of salt and 1/4 tsp vanilla until soft peaks form. Divide the egg white mixture into thirds. In the first third, gradually add 1/4 cup of sugar and beat until the sugar dissolves and stiff peaks form – about 3 minutes.

Remove the white meringue mixture from the bowl.

In the second third, gradually add 5-7 drops of red food coloring and 1/4 cup of sugar. Beat until the sugar dissolves and stiff peaks form, about 3 minutes.

Repeat this process with the final third using 5-7 drops of blue food coloring and 1/4 cup of sugar.

Into each color,  gently fold 1/3 cup of chocolate chips.

Drop the batter onto silicone mats or parchment lined baking sheets (will need 2) with a teaspoon, spacing at least 2 inches apart.

If you’re not putting in chocolate chips, you can use a pastry bag to make prettier meringue cookies. Bake until the meringues are dried through, about 2 to 2 1/2 hours. The cookies will remove easily from the parchment or silicone mat when ready. And their red, white and blue color will be the perfect dessert for any Olympics themed event.

I have long since accepted that I will “never be gymnast” and I did eventually ‘find something else’. The kitchen is my stadium and the stove top, my torch. And instead of being adorned in gold medals, I’m surrounded by copper pots.

Go Team USA!