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Bonding Over Pomegranates

Pomegranate Twins

This story is dedicated to my forever pomegranate best friend, Jenny.

The one fruit I have always been smitten with is the pomegranate. Not because of its highly sought after nutritional benefits or how it has become a “cool” fruit, but for other deeper reasons.

Flashback. We had one of the few backyards in my Riverside neighborhood with an actively producing pomegranate tree. As fall approached, we young ones anxiously awaited the season of the pomegranate. Fall signaled the dreaded shorter days, but hope was on the horizon. Everyday, I’d inspect the fruit, watching it turn deeper and darker red. When the fruit signaled its ripeness, I would call my friends to come over to share in the harvest. “It’s pomegranate time!” Back then, pomegranates were rarely used as a garnish or addition to a meal. They were purely for the pleasure of eating straight off the tree. It was an annual tradition – an event!

The pomegranate flower looks like a squash blossom Indian necklace.

Extracting the fruit was an arduous task that my friends and I found challenging, but more so, entertaining. First, we peeled off the dark, outer leathery skin, then pulled the thin, bitter white membrane away to expose the red seeds. We’d giggle at each other, the red juice squirting all over our faces, hands, and the old clothes our moms made us wear.

The fruit finally torn apart, we stuffed handfuls of the pomegranate into our tiny mouths, crunching through the inner white seeds to extract the tart juice and gorge until we couldn’t eat anymore. It was as if eating the seeds with such abandon and recklessness was our own private ceremony, a time to share secrets. We weren’t trying to figure out which balsamic vinegar to pair with them or how to bake them into a chicken recipe. It was just enjoying the moment in its simplicity, bare and naked.

These halved pomegranates look like pretty flowers!

In my teenage years, I began making pomegranate jelly. (This recipe is from Williams Sonoma and includes apples!) It was a real gourmet treat which I gifted to friends at Christmas. I’ve graduated from jelly to pomegranate martinis, paired with gin or vodka, always a favorite for a Halloween or Christmas cocktail.

Five years ago, I finally planted my very own pomegranate tree and it is definitely the happiest tree in my yard! It grew quickly, now topping 25 feet, its branches dominating a large part of my garden. I let her have her space. Her vibrant, soft, billowy leaves catch the sunlight and remind me of a time of carefree indulgence, stained hands and friendship bonding – over pomegranates.

“Fun fact #1 about pomegranates: Pomegranates are awesome.
Fun fact #2: Pomegranates are like little explosions of awesome in your mouth.
Fun fact #3: A lot of people think you’re not supposed to eat the seeds of a pomegranate – but that’s not true, people who tell you that are liars, and they don’t know anything about life, and they should never be trusted.”
Tahereh Mafi

Ciao for now,




Roberto Encore!

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Music Maestro Roberto

I love my friend Roberto, my Italian brother. We get together several times a year to share our two common interests – music and food. A Graham Nash song causes us to  stop everything we’re doing and break out in a sing-along. How does a born and bred Italian, actually, Sicilian, know so much about America’s 70’s rock icons? Well, he is also something of a musical icon himself with regards to Italian and World music. Following American music as a teenager inspired him to travel the world, learn to play guitar and deeply respect music’s evolution. As an expert in ethnomusicology, he teaches his art as well as makes his own instruments. I think his musical brain has also gifted him with exceptional culinary talents.

 

My music-infused kitchen, along with a bottle of Prosecco, provided inspiration for a few tasty new creations. A flank steak was bathing in mustard, tarragon, olive oil, shallots and white wine and we wanted the side dishes to be extraordinary. My culinary genius has been sleeping lately so this afternoon of fun and friendship was just what I needed to wake up the creative juices.

Roberto is a fine spontaneous chef. I love how he smells everything and carefully considers how one ingredient will influence the next. We took our time smelling and tasting several varieties of balsamic vinegar and olive oil before deciding which combination, for a vinaigrette, would add sweetness to the tangy pomegranate seeds in the salad of lettuce, fennel, and green onion. A Sicilian lemon balsamic vinegar, mandarin olive oil, and lots of chopped mint proved a winner. The colorful salad was nothing short of spectacular, with every ingredient in perfect harmony.

Salad ingredients

Patate e Broccoletti (Potato and Broccolini) turned out to be the perfect accompaniment to the grilled steak. Instead of just a side dish of boiled potatoes, and cooked broccolini, we combined the two. This is Italian! We cut red, purple and yellow boiled potatoes into two-inch chunks and boiled the chopped broccolini. Roberto sautéed garlic in olive oil, added balsamic vinegar, a dash of red pepper flakes, salt and pepper, then tossed in the cooked broccolini and potatoes. Fantastico! Again, terrific flavors and ingredients combined in a unique way to make its own song.

potatoes

After enjoying the fruits of our labor at dinner, Roberto took out his guitar and we sang “Helplessly Hoping,” by Crosby, Stills and Nash, me in my totally off-key voice, but loving every minute. A mini concert of Spanish infused guitar capped off the evening. It was the perfect day and night.

Roberto, you continue to teach me how to achieve depth of flavor, something I always strive to do. Thank you for sharing your songs and your happy energy. When can we repeat???

Insalata di Amicizia – Friendship Salad
 
Author:

Ingredients
  • 6 cups mixed romaine lettuce and herbed greens (or your choice of lettuces)
  • ½ cup chopped young fennel including the fronds
  • 2 skinny finely chopped green onions
  • ¼ cup pomegranate seeds
  • Dressing
  • 1 Tablespoon Lemon balsamic vinegar
  • 2 Tablespoons Mandarin or Orange olive oil
  • salt and pepper to taste
  • 2 teaspoons chopped mint

Instructions
  1. Combine all salad ingredients. Prepare the dressing. Do not toss until just ready to eat.

Enjoy!

“For each new morning with its light,
For rest and shelter of the night,
For health and food, for love and friends,
For everything Thy goodness sends.”
― Ralph Waldo Emerson

Ciao for now,
Mary