We are three sisters united in our search for the divine - in food, libation, literature, art, and nature. This blog will capture the true, sometimes decadent, at times humorous, and every so often transcendent adventures of the Salvation Sisters.

Friday, September 25, 2015

Life Lessons Learned From Dad and Jumbo Shrimp Tossed with Herbed Dressing

My Traveling Tales by Michelle

The butterflies and bees adore the amazing biodynamic gardens of Quivira Vineyards and Winery.

   While growing up, my father stressed to my sisters and I how important it is to know how to do things. Work. Be productive. Get stuff done (the right way). Our dad was not a sit around, watch TV, have a few beers, go to sleep, wake up and do it all over again type of guy. Dad has been, and I imagine always will be, project focused. We lovingly tease him that whatever can be over-engineered, will be over-engineered.
   With good-natured ribbing aside, the fact of the matter is that Dad builds things to last and is meticulous in his craft, whether it's preparing a garden, planting an orchard, repairing a 100 year-old apple peeling machines, crafting a dining room table from parquet wood salvaged from a railway car, pouring concrete for retaining walls, patios and walls, writing code for microprocessors, or turning hunks of hardwood on a metal lathe to patiently shape the pieces into candle holders, pedestals to hold semi-precious stone spheres, vases, keepsake boxes and even perfume bottles.

A photo that I captured of my Dad dates to the mid 80's.
A photo from the early 90's. From Left to Right: Michelle, Juliette, Mom, Dad and Linda.
At the time, Juliette was pregnant with her eldest daughter, Avalon.

My sister Juliette posted the following tribute on our Dad's Facebook wall for Father's Day last year:

"Happy Father's Day, Dad! I was thinking about some of the invaluable lessons I learned from you this morning:

1. How to shoot a gun. It was presented as a tool, and something to respect.
2. Don't fight fair—fight to win. Never take any shit from anyone, and be prepared to back that up with your fists if need be.
3. Follow the instructions!!! Read the instructions through completely, and then do.
4. The importance of language. 
5. Logic. (This had to be learned, as I did not come by it naturally).
6. If something is worth doing, it is worth doing well. Don't half-ass anything.
7. How to garden. Plant seeds, compost, weed, and harvest.
8. That gender was not an issue. Girls could do everything boys could do.
9. How to work. Hard. Good things don't always come easy.
10. Strategy in the form of many games of chess. 

Thanks Dad! I was stubborn as a mule, not the most intellectually inclined of your brood, and many of these lessons took me decades to learn. Some of them I'm still working on...."

Dad's response: "That's a great list, and I wish I could take credit for all of that wisdom but I'm sure you got #2 from your Mom—just kidding."

He's probably right about thatMom has never been big at fighting fair, you fight to win. We sisters were always assured growing up that if we ever had to use our fists to settle a disagreement, our parents had our back. There were plenty of playground tussles growing up and not one sister ever got grounded for standing up for herself when the situation called for it.

In 2011, Linda posted this sentiment on our dad's Facebook wall for Father's Day:

  "There are so many good things that you taught me... a love of tools and the importance of having the right tool for the job, of doing the job right the first time, the value of being self-sufficient, not to be afraid to be intelligent and not accept consensus reality. My love of plants and gardening started with you, and you taught me that a hard day's work can feel good, and to get by in this world with integrity you need to have a spine of steel. Thanks, Dad, and I wish you a very happy Father's Day."

Juliette added to the post:
   "I remember many, many trips to junk yards and the hardware store (the one with the big cat that was always asleep on the counter). Stopping for an ice cream cone on the way home. Thanks for letting me have access to your well-appointed workshop at such an early age—I still have all my fingers! Your focus on vocabulary and logic have also been things that have proved to be priceless. Love you, Dad, have a great day!"

Dad Replied:
   "Juliette, you were a natural with tools from an early age. The memory that stands out in my mind the most was checking on what you were doing one day to discover you were pounding on something with a big hammer and using the cast iron top of my table saw an an anvil... LOL. You nearly caused me to have cardiac arrest with that maneuver. Funny you should remember the cat at the hardware store. Now that you mention it, I remember too."

Our Grandma Elsie loved to grow Hollyhocks in her yard.
Juliette is carrying on the tradition.
I added to the Facebook conversation with my own memories:

   "One of the things I really appreciated was logic building exercises through playing games like checkers and chess. At a very young age, Dad, you helped me to understand strategy, to plan the movement of game pieces, to recognize what the other player might be planning. Being able to anticipate actions and visualize what something will look like in my head before moving forward with a plan is something that has served me very well in both my personal and professional life and is something I'm trying to pass on to my own daughter. Thanks for all the one-on-one attention, Dad. P.S. I still get great pleasure from the antique buffet and armoir that we repaired and refinished together. Knowing how to do things and working with my hands is very satisfying."

Dad replied:
   "Thanks, Michelle! Chess is a wonderful game for developing the traits you mentioned and you picked it up quickly. Teaching chess to someone that doesn't know the game is a rewarding experience if they have some talent, which you certainly did, especially at such a young age."

   Our dad has fond memories of his mother's gardens as well as the fruit orchards that were near his childhood home in Yucaipa, California. As far back as I can remember, Dad has planted and tended gardens. He also prefers planting fruit trees over non-producing varieties. My favorite trees that Dad planted were Black Mission Figs, which practically overtook the backyard in Phoenix, much to my delight. My husband and I have continued the tradition and have populated our backyard with citrus trees, a peach tree and a pomegranate. I've tried to grow Black Mission Figs, which should do well in Tucson, but apparently not in our particular zone, much to my chagrin.
   Dad grew up during World War II when gardening was not a hobby. "Victory" gardens were a necessity to properly nourish families during a time of food scarcity and rationing. By 1943, items such as canned foods, meat, sugar and coffee became scarce. Neighbors grew a variety of vegetables and traded produce with each other. People knew how to preserve the bounties of the garden and orchard through curing, fermenting and canning. While my own gardening activities have been limited to growing herbs, my parents' gardening and farming pursuits taught me  thank goodness  that food comes from tending the land, and not from grocery stores, which is a popular notion shared by urban kids.
   As much as I love a garden, I have never been an avid gardener like my sister, Linda. Wherever Linda resides, each backyard becomes a magical oasis filled with potted plants, trees, flowers, vegetables and herbs—whatever strikes her fancy from season to season. Linda wrote a moving blog post, A Gift of Fava Beans and Garden Reverie, where she reminisced about a garden that she poured her heart and soul into, which I found particularly moving and inspiring. 
   I never tire of walking through a garden. Such an activity always brings me back to my youth and growing up, for a short time, on my family's small farm on the Central Coast of California. In Sonoma County, where Linda lives, many of the vineyards feature large garden areas that are accessible by the public. During my visits to Northern California, Linda and I always make time to visit a lovely winery that has an incredible garden. Two of our favorites are Lynmar Estate in Sebastopol and Quivira Vineyards and Winery in Healdsburg (where I captured all the garden photos for this post).

   I was recently at a dinner party where one of the guests lamented that kids aren't learning to work with their hands anymore. Many (if not most) high schools have eliminated classes such as woodworking, auto shop and home economics. I practically grew up without TV. To entertain myself, I read books. I baked and learned how to cook by reading cookbooks. Photography has always been a serious hobby. Back in the day, I even learned how to develop black and white film. Now just about anyone can take a great photo without knowing a thing about ISO, aperture and shutter speed.
   I take heart though for the younger set. There is so much knowledge to be gained from searching the internet. Even casual use of social media sites expose users to the benefits of urban gardening, artistic pursuits, engineering feats, business insights, architectural brilliance, and educational opportunities. My hope is that through all the noise we filter through daily, that we can all manage to stay curious about the world around us, and that we challenge ourselves to try new things, whether its rebuilding an engine, fermenting vegetables, refinishing a piece of furniture, planting herbs or learning to draw. Whatever artistic endeavor sparks your interest is worthy of your attention. Your life will be so much richer through the simple act of following your curiosity (and getting your hands dirty on a regular basis).

Jumbo Shrimp Tossed with Herbed Dressing

   For a recent family dinner held on a late Sunday afternoon, I decided to prepare surf and turf. I also wanted to incorporate into the menu many of the herbs that are currently growing like crazy in my backyard container garden. I would be the only one prepping the dinner that day, so I wanted to make it as easy on myself as possible. It's funny how recipes will leap back into my head after not preparing them for years. Linda and I made this shrimp for a special dinner many years ago.
   This particular dish needs to sit and marinate for a number of hours to maximize the flavors, so it is a perfect make ahead dish. The recommended minimum sitting time is three hours, but don't hesitate to prepare the shrimp first thing in the morning, toss the cooled shrimp the dressing, and let them sit all day (if needed) until you are ready to serve as an appetizer, or as a component to a main meal.

2 pounds Jumbo shrimp, shelled and deveined, tails left on or removed

4 quarts water 
1/2 cup kosher salt, preferably Diamond®
1/2 cup granulated sugar

Ice Bath:

About 2 quarts water
Ice cubs to chill

Poaching Water:
2 bay leaves
1 lemon
1 tea ball filled with of pickling spices, optional
1 tsp mustard seeds
1/2 tsp red pepper flakes

3 Tbsps chopped fresh basil
3 Tbsps chopped fresh dill
1 Tbsp chopped fresh rosemary
1 Tbsp chopped fresh tarragon
1 Tbsp chopped fresh thyme
3 cloves garlic, minced
1-1/2 Tbsps herb mustard, or good quality Dijon
5 Tbsps fresh lemon juice
1 cup extra-virgin olive oil
about 1/2 tsp sea salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste

1 small sweet red pepper, cored, seeded, and diced
1 small sweet yellow pepper, cored, seeded, and diced

Special Equipment:

The mix of herbs are rosemary, tarragon, dill, thyme and chives.
1. To make the brine: In a medium sized bowl, whisk together the water, sugar and salt until dissolved.
2. To soak the shrimp: Place the peeled and deveined shrimp in the brine solution, and allow to sit for 30 to 60 minutes at room temperature. Alternatively, place frozen (peeled and deveined) shrimp directly to the brine. When the shrimp are resting on the bottom of the bowl, they are ready to cook, about 1 hour.

3. In a large soup pot, fill to 2/3 full with water. Cut a lemon in half and juice. Add the juice and peels to the water, along with the bay leaves, chili flakes, mustard seeds, and pickling spices. Bring to a boil.
4. Make an ice bath in a large bowl by combining water and ice cubes until the water is very cold.
5.  Drain the shrimp in a colander. When the cooking water is boiling, add half the shrimp and cook over high heat until the shrimp are opaque in the center, 3 to 4 minutes. With a skimmer, remove the shrimp and add to the ice bath to stop the cooking process. Repeat with remaining shrimp.
6. Drain the shrimp and shake well in a clean colander to remove as much water as possible. Transfer the shrimp to a bowl. Refrigerate the shrimp.

Pour the dressing over the shrimp and give them a good toss.
Refrigerate for a minimum of three hours before serving.
7. To prepare the dressing, combine the basil, dill, rosemary, tarragon, thyme, garlic, herb or Dijon mustard, and lemon juice in a medium bowl. Slowly whisk in the oil to emulsify the dressing. Season with sea salt and pepper. Add red pepper flakes, if desired.
8. Add the dressing to the shrimp and toss well. Stir in the red and yellow peppers, if desired. Let the shrimp marinate in the oil at least 3 hours. Serve just above or at room temperature.

The shrimp are wonderful served as an accompaniment to a cheese and salumi plate.

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