U.S. Virgin Islands ~ White Sand, Blue Sea, Fish, World Cuisine … and RUM!

Today, in 1917, the islands of St. Thomas, St. Croix, and St. John became an organized unincorporated territory of the United States known as the United States Virgin Islands.

A little history of the islands:  They were first “discovered”  by Christopher Columbus on his 1943 voyage.  Columbus was searching for a direct western route to India from Europe.  When he happened upon the islands, he thought he was arriving in India. 

Thus, the term for native peoples as “indians.”

Over time, many European powers claimed these and other islands in the region.  France, England, Denmark, Spain … the list goes on.

The Danish West India Company settled St. Thomas in 1672, settled St. John in 1694, and bought St. Croix from France in 1733.

Fast forward to World War I.  The United States became concerned that Germany might try to install a submarine base in the deep waters surrounding the islands.  Denmark became concerned that the United States might commandeer the islands if Germany invaded Denmark and/or looked like they would install a submarine base.  The two countries struck a deal.  The United States purchased the islands from Denmark on January 17,1917 for $25,000,000.  The official transfer took place March 31, 1917.  Good deal, if you ask me.

Take a look at these maps to see the strategic importance of the islands at the time.  And now.

Have you ever wondered the political & governmental difference between one of the 50 United States, an unincorporated territory like the U.S. Virgin Islands, or Puerto Rico,  or American Samoa, or Guantamano Bay?  Me, too.  Here is a place to start figuring that out.

I would love to be on a pristine white beach, snorkeling, being in awe of the beauty, waiting for my son to return from a scuba adventure, dreaming of local fish & fried plantains or curry chicken, or something wonderful that the islands’ cuisine has evolved into.  Here I am, at home, and I am certainly not making ; the national dishes but I’ll cook some fish and  make a cocktail of Cruzan Rum, one of the islands’ biggest exports.  Check out that Cruzan rum website.  It’s pretty fun.

Go here, too.

Eat & drink your history.


Alaska Purchase Day ~ Salmon With Roasted Asparagus and Lemon-Caper Sauce

Today in 1867, U.S. Secretary of State Seward signed the document wherein the United States purchased Alaska from Russia for 2 cents an acre. Visit this wonderful Library of Congress site. You can see Seward, read the document, and learn more about politics of the day. 

Many politicians and newspapers of the day called the Alaska Purchase “Seward’s Folly” because they could not see any benefit at all in the United States owning that “barren” piece of real estate.  Sheesh.  I found a terrific website called Everything Alaska that is fascinating.  Go check it out.

The official fish of Alaska is the King Salmon.  I like salmon just about any way I can get it … poached, steamed, grilled, broiled.  I’ll even eat salmon right out of a can.  But this recipe is one of my favorite ways to prepare salmon.  I got the recipe out of a magazine several years ago (Bon Apetite, maybe), and have served it more times than I can count. Hope you like it, too.

2 Tbs. fresh lemon juice
2 Tbs. minced red onion
1 Tbs. olive oil
1 Tbs. drained capers, chopped
1 Tsp. fresh thyme, chopped
1/2 Tsp. lemon zest
1-1/2 Lb. skinless salmon fillet (1-1/4 to 1-1/2 inches thick)
1 Lb. asparagus, trimmed
1 Tbs. olive oil

Whisk first 6 ingredients in small bowl to blend. Season sauce with salt and pepper.

Preheat oven to 450.  Cut three 1/2″ deep slits crosswise in top of salmon (as if dividing into 4 equal pieces but do not cut through).  Arrange asparagus in even layer on rimmed baking sheet.  Drizzle with olive oil and turn to coat. Sprinkle with salt and pepper. Place salmon atop asparagus;  sprinkle with salt and pepper.  Roast until salmon is just opaque in the center, about 20 minutes.

Transfer asparagus and salmon to a platter.  Spoon sauce over the salmon.  Cut into 4 pieces along the slits and serve.

It is WAY good.
Now … go eat your history!

Ft. Jackson Graduation ~ A New Soldier

I returned to Los Angeles from Columbia, South Carolina, Saturday night.  Words can NOT say how glad I am that I was able to attend Family Day and Graduation Day to see my nephew become a Soldier.  My nephew graduated from Basic Combat Training (also known as Boot Camp) at Ft. Jackson on Friday.

Family came from Los Angeles and Oklahoma City.  We all “converged” in Columbia at the same motel and attended the two days of ceremonies together.  I could go on forever about the challenges we faced to get there and back home. None of that matters.

What matters is that my nephew arrived at Ft. Jackson a great kid.  He left Ft. Jackson a fine MAN.  He left Ft. Jackson a Soldier in the United States Army.

Without further yammering on my part, I want to tell you about the ceremonies.

FAMILY DAY CEREMONY: Family members were in the stands.  A field was before us, and deep pine woods beyond that field.  Suddenly, an explosion blew up in the woods.  That got our attention!  Red, white & blue smoke started billowing up from the woods and drifting onto the field.  Out of the woods, out of the smoke, came a Batallion of young people, in perfect formation, marching towards us.  We went WILD.  It was a total surprise.  It was perfectly executed.

I remember my brother and I saying:  If I were an enemy of the United States and saw this coming towards me, I would run like hell in the other direction.  These are kids.  These are kids who have been trained very well.

There was a naturalization ceremony that day. Eleven people from other countries became citizens of the United States of America.  I saw young people from around the globe (including China) denounce their birth citizenship, embrace United States citizenship, and pledge loyalty to the United States.

THEN:  We got to be with our Soldier on Family Day.  Finding him on the field, seeing his face … it was wonderful.  He couldn’t leave base, but had free time with us for the day.  We had a great time together.  Our Soldier talked about his experiences in Basic Training.  We caught him up on family news.  We laughed a lot.  We hugged each other a lot.  The stories were flying, both from our Soldier and from us in the family.  We saw his barracks, drove around the base while he told us what was what.  We ate a lot of food.  I think his favorite thing (aside from seeing family and showing us around) was being able to shop at the main PX.

HE made sure that we got him back to his barracks on time.

THEN:  Graduation Day.  Goodness.  The grandstands were full.  More full than Family Day.  Judging from the license plates on the cars, family drove to Ft. Jackson from nearly all of the lower 48 states.  This ceremony was more formal. Awards for achievement were given.  Speeches were said.  The band marched.  The Batallion spoke the Soldiers’ Creed:

I am an American Soldier.
I am a Warrior and a member of a team.
I serve the people of the United States and live the Army Values.
I will always place the mission first.
I will never accept defeat.
I will never quit.
I will never leave a fallen comrade.
I am disciplined, physically and mentally tough, trained and proficient in my warrior tasks and drills.
I always maintain my arms, my equipment and myself.
I am an expert and I am a professional.
I stand ready to deploy, engage, and destroy the enemies of the
United States of America in close combat.
I am a guardian of freedom and the American way of life.
I am an American Soldier.

Then we got to sign him out and take him back to our motel room in downtown Columbia. I’ve never seen anyone so happy to put on a t-shirt, sweat pants, and comfortable shoes. I’ve also never seen anyone so happy to eat a good old American burger.

Speaking of burgers:  One of the many things he realized during basic combat training was how he used to take for granted the “little” things in life.  Seeing or talking with his twin sister any time he wants was high on the list of “little” things he used to take for granted.

The Family Day and Graduation Day ceremonies were both awesome. Don’t know when I’ve had a bigger lump in my throat or cried so much with sheer pride … for my nephew, my country, or the United States Army.

There is strong. Then there is Army strong.

PS:  One of the left-wing America haters in the family attended.  She left Ft. Jackson fundamentally changed.  Hooah!

Ft. Jackson, South Carolina

No history/food blogging for a few days. I’m getting ready to fly to Ft. Jackson, South Carolina. Read some Ft. Jackson history!

My nephew is graduating from Basic Trainning! I'm meeting family members from other parts of the country for the occasion. Thursday is Family Day and Friday is Graduation Day. Should be fun! We're staying in the Historic District of Columbia, which should also be fun.

I'm very proud of my nephew, not only for his decision to serve our country, but for facing challenges in his young life so magnificently. His parents were divorced when Zach and his twin sister, Katie, were babies. My sister (their mom) raised them by herself. My sister was sick most of the kids' lives, and they had to take on responsibilities at a very young age. Then, right before their 15th birthday, my sister passed away.

So Zach and Katie have had a lot thrown at them, but I'm pleased and proud to say they are both doing great.

See you in a few days!

Ides of March ~ Ancient Recipes ~ Modern Roman Chicken

Under the Roman Calendar, the ides were the 15th day of the months March, May, July, and October.  In ancient times, the Ides of March was a day of festivals honoring Mars, the Roman god of war.

The Ides of March is now widely known as the day Julius Caesar was murdered in the Roman Senate. The Greek philosopher Plutarch wrote that Caesar was warned by a “seer” to be aware of that day. Read some of  Plutarch’s essays here. William Shakespeare is probably responsible for making this day a part of the lexicon via his classic Julius Caesar play.

A very old collection of Roman recipes was recorded by Apicus, one of the earliest chefs who recorded recipes. You can have a go at old Roman recipes here.

For me … I’m making Roman-Style Chicken from Giada deLaurentis.


National Potato Chip Day ~ History of the Potato Chip & a Recipe

It’s National Potato Chip Day! What genius, you ask, came up with the potato chip?

His name was George Crum. George’s father was black and his mother was a native of the Huron Tribe of native American Indians (now known as the Wyandot). He spent his early career as a guide in the georgeous Adirondak Mountains, but soon developed a love of cooking. By1853, George was a chef at the Moon Lake Lodge in Saratoga Springs, New York.

Anyway, the story is that Chef Crum served an order of french fries, and the customer sent them back because they were cut too thick. George prepared a new, slimmer-cut batch. The customer sent them back again. Mr. Crum was a little peeved at this point, so he cut the potatoes paper thin, fried them in oil, and sent the potatoes out again (thinking the customer would be totally infuriated). Surprise! They were a hit. Thus was the Saratoga Chip born in 1853.

Fast forward to the 1920’s. The Saratoga Chip had become widely popular in northern states, but were relatively unheard of elsewhere. Enter Herman Lay. Mr. Lay started selling potato chips out of the back of his truck in other areas of the country. Yep, that’s Herman Lay of Lay’s Potato Chips.

Tell you the truth: I don’t eat a lot of potato chips. I like them, but eat them on rare occasions. Here’s a recipe from Giada de Laurentis that I love and feel slightly better about eating:

2 sweet potatoes
2 beets
1 garlic clove, minced
1 teaspoon very finely minced fresh rosemary leaves
2 tablespoons salt
10 cups vegetable oil

(It’s good to have a mandoline to slice the potatoes & beets; otherwise, have a really sharp knife to get them to about 1/8″ thick.)

Wash the potatoes & beets and dry very well. Set aside.

In a small bowl combine the garlic, rosemary and salt. Set aside.

Warm the oil in a large pot over high heat to 350 degrees F.

Meanwhile, trim 1-inch off the end of each sweet potato. Slice the sweet potatoes into very thin slices, about 1/8-inch thick. Trim 1-inch off the root end of the beets. Slice the beets into very thin slices, about 1/8-inch thick.

When the oil is hot add about a quarter of the sweet potato slices. Let fry until golden and the bubbling has almost completely subsided, about 2 to 3 minutes. Using a mesh sieve or slotted spoon remove the chips to a paper-towel-lined baking sheet. Sprinkle with some of the garlic, rosemary, and salt mixture. Continue with the remaining sweet potatoes.

Transfer to a serving plate.

Next, fry 1/4 of the beets. Let fry until curled at the edges and most of the bubbling has subsided, about 3 to 4 minutes. Transfer the beets to another paper-towel-lined baking sheet and sprinkle with salt mixture. Continue with the remaining beets.

When everything has been fried, lightly salted, and cooled, put them together on a serving plate or bowl.

~These are great with your favorite sandwich, or with fish, or as a snack~


Happy Birthday Mike ~ Apricot Cheesecake

My son, my one and only child, was born today … 20 years ago.  How did 20 years go by so fast?

I won’t bore you too much about his birth. Bottom line is that his heart stopped beating when I went into labor. The hospital staff rushed us into OR for a crash C-Section. The last thing I remember before they knocked me out is that my baby might have brain damage or be stillborn.

Thankfully, Mike was born healthy. I have a healthy, smart, funny young man on my hands. He’s in college, 3.86 GPA, with a major in Philosophy (pre-law).

My husband passed away in September 2007. I had to sell our house and move into an apartment. He didn’t miss a beat. Kept up his college classes, helped me during the process of selling our house, helped me move. He was still a kid, had just lost his father, had to move from the only home he had ever known. I am very proud of him.

Let’s talk about food, OK?

Some of my son’s favorite foods are: sushi, any kind of fish, asparagus, avocado sandwiches, pumpkin pie, chicken & dumplings. He is not a big fan of cake, and always wanted pumpkin pie for his birthday when he was little. Now that he’s all grown up :=) he prefers cheesecake. So, for Mike’s 20th birthday, I’m making Apricot Cheesecake.

I got this recipe from Better Homes & Gardens magazine years ago. A woman named Lori W. Thomas of Martinsville, Indiana, won $400 for her recipe in a contest sponsored by the magazine. It is fabulous!

2 cups finely crushed butter cookies (about 30 cookies)
1/3 cup butter, melted
1 15-oz. can unpeeled apricot halves
3 8-oz. packages cream cheese, softened
1 cup sugar
1-1/2 tsp. vanilla
3 eggs
1 10-oz. jar low-calorie apricot spread
1/4 cup apricot nectar

Preheat oven to 325. For crust, in a medium bowl combine crushed butter cookies and melted butter. Press mixture evenly onto bottom and 2 inches up the sides of a 9-inch springform pan. Bake for 8 to 10 minutes or until golden brown. Set aside.

For filling, drain apricot halves, reserving 3 Tbs. syrup. Coarsely chop apricots; set aside. In a large mixing bowl beat cream cheese, sugar, the reserved syrup, and vanilla with an electric mixer until combined. Add eggs all at once, beating on low speed just until combined. Stir in chopped apricots. Pour filling into crust-lined pan. Place on a shallow baking pan in oven. Bake about 50 minutes or until center appears nearly set when cheesecake is gently shaken. Cool in pan on a wire rack for 15 minutes. Loosen crust from sides of pan and cool cheesecake 30 minutes more. Remove the sides of the pan; cool cheesecake completely.

For glaze, in a small saucepan melt apricot spread over low heat. Remove from heat; stir in the apricot nectar. Spread over cheesecake. Cover and chill in the refrigerator at least 4 hours before serving.

~Being the chocoholic that I am, sometimes I drizzle a little melted chocolate over my slice of cheesecake (if I have chocolate on hand).~