Domestic Diva's tips for Winter: go Caribbean without traveling

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By: Jane Fountain
I hate winter. Maybe if it were a decent winter, with snow blanketing everything, and turning the most mundane, and ugly things into a winter wonderland, it would change my attitude. Here in Charlotte, however, we live in a location that’s not far enough north to have an enjoyable winter, and not far enough south to avoid winter all together. Don’t get me wrong – I DO appreciate the fact that unlike, oh, say Buffalo, which seems to be the poster child for bad winters, we don’t have to go outside in the mornings and figure out under which huge lump of snow did we park our car last night, an then have to dig it out in order to go somewhere, only to have to wake up and do it all over again the next morning. Having weather so cold that lakes and ponds freeze so solid, you can drive your vehicle out on the ice, is a concept so foreign to me, I have trouble believing it. I wonder if it were possible to drain Lake Erie, exactly how many cars or trucks would you find at the bottom? Nope, weather like that makes me appreciate (almost) what those folks would call our “mild” winters.

Winter here wouldn’t be so bad if it wasn’t so wet. It usually rains, making it miserable and damp, two factors that make it seem like you’re cold all the way to your bones. Somewhere along January or February, the weather turns almost balmy, lulling us and the plants into a false sense of security. Flowering bulbs, like hyacinths and daffodils are the first to pop up, then the flowering trees, such as peach, Bradford pears, and weeping cherries begin to show the tiniest bit of color.

Just when you’re ready to pull your summer clothes out of the attic, and grab the lawn chair from it’s storage place in the garage so you can get an early start on that tan in time for spring break, BAM! The temperature drops, the flowers freeze, and the lawn chair stays in the garage. Every year, without fail, this happens. It’s either global warming or Mother Nature’s way of telling us that SHE’LL be the one who decides when it’s time for us to put away our winter coats?

I digress – this isn’t a forum to complain about the weather – there’s absolutely nothing we can do about it, other than move to Florida and live with old people, or even better, move to the islands, with their tropical climate, laid back lifestyle, and some of the best food in the world.
The Diva is here to offer a compromise to the problem. If it’s not in your budget to pack up and move to the islands, then bring the islands to you. Put some Bob Marley or Peter Tosh tunes on the CD player – no trip to the islands are complete without the obligatory Reggae music, march yourself up to the attic to get those shorts and tank tops, crank the heat up, and have a sumptuous island meal. Pina Coladas and Bahama Mama’s optional.
You’re limited only as far as your creativity will take you. If you want to serve coconuts with little paper umbrellas, and straws, then by all means, go for it. Just remember, be careful where you sit it down when you’re finished – not being flat on the bottom, coconuts tend to tip over. Instead of potato chips for pre-dinner snacks, try dried fruit slices, such as banana chips, or candied pineapple or mango slices.

Here are a few recipes to get you started – an appetizer, and three main course selections – shrimp, chicken or pork. You’re on your own for vegetables, but. One suggestion I have is sautéed snow peas. For something else “green” and easy, serve a wedge of lettuce with Thousand Island dressing.

Shrimp Barbara

1 cup reduced-fat Thousand Island dressing
1/2 cup water
Cooking spray
3 garlic cloves, minced
1 pound medium shrimp, peeled and de-veined
7 cups packaged cabbage-and-carrot coleslaw
2 tablespoons chopped fresh cilantro

Combine the salad dressing and water in a small saucepan. Cook over medium heat for 3 minutes or until thoroughly heated; remove from heat.
Heat a medium nonstick skillet coated with cooking spray over medium heat. Add the minced garlic, and cook for 1 minute. Add the shrimp, and cook for 3 minutes or until done. Remove shrimp mixture from heat, and stir in the dressing mixture.
Arrange 1 3/4 cups coleslaw on each of 4 plates. Spoon 3/4 cup shrimp mixture over coleslaw, and sprinkle evenly with cilantro.

Pork with pineapple salsa

2 teaspoons olive oil, divided
4 (4-ounce) boneless loin pork chops
1 teaspoon salt-free Jamaican jerk seasoning (such as Spice Islands)
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/8 teaspoon ground red pepper
1 1/3 cups pineapple chunks
1/2 cup coarsely chopped onion
1 tablespoon fresh lime juice
1 small jalapeño pepper, seeded and chopped

Heat 1 teaspoon oil in a large nonstick skillet over medium-high heat. Sprinkle both sides of pork with jerk seasoning, salt, and red pepper. Add pork to pan; cook 4 minutes on each side or until done. Remove pork from pan; cover and keep warm.
Add remaining 1 teaspoon oil to skillet. Add pineapple, reserving 2 tablespoons juice. Add onion; cook 2 minutes or until lightly browned, stirring frequently. Stir in lime juice, jalapeño, and reserved pineapple juice. Serve warm salsa over pork.
Island Marinated Shrimp
2 tablespoons chopped fresh ginger
4 garlic cloves
1 tablespoon salt
3 pounds large shrimp, steamed and peeled
1 tablespoon hot sauce
1 (12-ounce) bottle rice wine vinegar
Garnish: habanero chiles

Grind first 3 ingredients to a paste with a mortar and pestle. Combine ginger mixture with shrimp, hot sauce, and vinegar in a large heavy-duty zip-top plastic bag. Seal and chill at least 8 hours. Garnish, if desired.

Jerk Chicken with Mango Salsa

1/2 teaspoon Jamaican jerk seasoning (such as Spice Islands)
1/2 teaspoon salt, divided
4 (6-ounce) skinless, boneless chicken breast halves
Cooking spray
1/4 cup minced fresh cilantro
1/4 cup finely chopped red onion
1 tablespoon chopped fresh mint
1 teaspoon brown sugar
2 teaspoons fresh lime juice
1/4 teaspoon black pepper
1/4 teaspoon crushed red pepper
1 (16-ounce) jar sliced peeled mango, drained and chopped (such as Del Monte SunFresh)

Heat a large nonstick skillet over medium-high heat. Sprinkle seasoning and 1/4 teaspoon of salt evenly over chicken. Coat chicken with cooking spray. Add chicken to pan; cook 4 minutes on each side or until done.
While chicken cooks, combine 1/4 teaspoon salt, cilantro, and remaining ingredients. Serve salsa with chicken.

Writing about all this tropical food has not only made me hungry, it made me forget what I was complaining about in the first place; winter. Don’t forget your pets during the cold months. If your dog lives outside, make sure he has a place to go to escape the elements. If he has a dog house, make sure there are blankets, or hay inside to keep him warm. The doghouse should be big enough for him to be comfortable, but small enough that his body heat will be trapped to help him stay warmer. A toy poodle would freeze in a house big enough for a St. Barnard. Check daily to make sure that there’s water in their drinking bowl, not a solid sheet of ice.
Stay warm during the winter months.
Hey, mon, go cook something, clean something, make your mama proud.