Getaway Includes Local Flavors


For years I promised my best friend in Chicago I would come visit. But parenting, work, etc. always seemed to get in the way. Summer and a career change, cleared the runway for a trip to the Windy City for the weekend to visit Claudette.

The 6 a.m. direct flight from Erie to Chicago makes the trip a breeze – especially since we land before traffic becomes a nightmare. A shared ride on Uber (my first) dropped me at my friend’s door about an hour after landing. I packed lightly, except for a bag of frozen pepperoni balls (no longer frozen). Pepperoni balls, apparently, are a very local food, specific to our shores of Lake Erie. Claudette wanted to share the secret to this treat with her friends in Chicago who had opened a pizza place downtown, Robert’s Pizza Company. It gets rave reviews from both Claudette and the local reviewers – be sure to stop in if you are in town.

My trip was timed, in part, to coincide with the Lincoln Park Farmers Market being open. It’s worth a stroll through even if you are staying at a hotel. You can pick up breakfast, flowers, fruit and ideas (lots of vendors ship). We both wanted to try fava beans, which are in season, but a pain to peel. With two friends and time, neither of us minded the process of first shelling the beans, then boiling in salted water for about 1 minute so you can then remove the outer white layer of the bean to reveal a nutty and buttery bright green bean. It’s a lot of work for not a lot of produce. So we weren’t going to waste these beauties by smashing them up into a puree. Instead, we paired them with fresh arugula, some sweet cherry tomatoes tossed with the juice of half a lemon, a drizzle of fresh local honey and some delicious extra-virgin olive oil. Add salt and pepper to taste.


The market did feature spring peas, already shelled, for $6, which seemed a bargain considering we were going to be shelling the favas. So that went on our dinner menu for that night. We were about a month too early for the spring lamb from one of the local vendors, so we wrapped up our shopping trip with fresh summer butter, zucchini flowers, a breakfast sandwich, ramps, and a brown butter something that was so delicious that I am going to have to find a recipe this week. In the meantime … we headed to Whole Foods to round out the meal.

claudette with crabsSince we were likely to be starving soon – breakfast was less than an hour old – we picked up some soft shell crab for a recipe that Claudette had from the New York Times, which you can find here. It involves broiling the crabs (which thankfully have already been cleaned) until crunchy and then placing on a toasted baguette that has been spread with butter seasoned with jalapeno, parsley, garlic and lemon.

Because it was Father’s Day weekend, there were lots of specials. I grabbed two racks of lamb for dinner that night. The farmer’s market didn’t have any because it will be another month, the vendor explained.

The lamb marinated in the juice of 1/2 a lemon, about 1/4 cup olive oil, salt, pepper and some Lake Shore Drive seasoning. I love to buy spices from my various visits, so I bought some from The Spice House . It is a mixture of  salt, shallots, garlic, onion, chives, ground green peppercorns, and scallions. When I was ready to grill, I cut them into individual chops. They only take a couple of minutes to cook.

The zucchini flowers are easy and should be cooked at the last minute. You can make a simple batter, good for fish too and zucchini sticks too, with 1 bottle of beer, 1 1/4 cup flour and a pinch of salt. Mix together and dip flowers in. Have about 2 inches of vegetable oil in a heavy pan at 350 degrees and fry flowers for 2 to 3 minutes. The basic recipe is from For a lighter batter, try a 50/50 ratio of cake and rice flour and 1 beaten egg white. I wasn’t feeling particularly ambitious since we had a lot of food.


If I had been smart, I would have snipped a few mint leaves and sprinkled on the plate. This would have completed the dish because it would have been pretty (we eat with our eyes) and it complements the lamb and the peas.

But it had been a long day exploring the zoo, Restoration Hardware, the lily ponds, cooking and catching up. But it will be a meal I will remember sharing with my friend.





Grill Some Shrimp this Holiday

boboThe dog, Bobo, and I like to take walks in the morning and evening. It helps clear my head, providing a time to sort through the day, and ideally clear the way for some meditation.

Often we walk along the banks of Walnut Creek, where I’ve watched it change through the seasons of rushing fall waters, frozen winter fury, to spring brown turmoil  to an summer clarity. Indeed, the water is so clear I can see the fish gathering in the pools under the small waterfall. I watched as fishermen literally cast into dozens of fish, which, unfortunately for the fishermen, were not biting.

This is when the details of everyday life slip away and my mind is clear enough to allow some creativity to take hold.

I imagined the case at Urbaniak Brothers, a butcher on Erie’s east side, that had been filled with shrimp. And I recalled a delicious risotto I had at Peppino’s Chop House. And I wanted red curry. They all needed to come together into a single dish.
And that is how we came to have grilled shrimp over red curry risotto. The other twist is that my daughter doesn’t like rice and I don’t like to spend the time standing over the stove cooking risotto. I’d saved several recipes that used orzo in “risotto”  into my New York Times Cooking app, so those became the framework for the dish, which takes about 15 minutes.

whole wheat orzo

I used whole wheat orzo that I found at Giant Eagle. Typically I don’t like the texture of whole wheat pasta, but this holds up to the cooking and the strong flavors. Most importantly, it tastes great.

shrimp over red curry orzo


Grilled Shrimp with Red Curry Coconut Risotto

1 pound peeled shrimp (I prefer wild-caught Gulf or Florida shrimp)
2 cups coconut milk
1 tablespoons red curry paste
1 teaspoon fish sauce
2 teaspoons brown sugar
2 tablespoons olive oil
1/2 sweet white onion, minced
1 clove garlic, minced
1 red pepper, cored, seeded and chopped
1 cup whole wheat orzo
1/2 cup vegetable or chicken broth
1 teaspoon (or more to taste) soy sauce
3 tablespoons chopped cilantro
1 lime, halved

In a zip-top baggie, combine 1/2 cup coconut milk, 2 teaspoons red curry past, fish sauce and brown sugar. Marinate while you light the fire or prepare the gas grill.

While the fire is getting ready, add olive oil to a medium-sized saute pan over medium heat. Add onion, garlic and red pepper and saute until soft and fragrant, about 4 minutes. Add orzo and cook until slightly toasted. Add 1/2 cup of the coconut milk and stir until the orzo has soaked it up, about 1 to 2 minutes. Add another 1/2 cup and stir until nearly absorbed, another 1 to 2 minutes. Add remaining 1/2 cup of coconut milk, 1 teaspoon of the red curry paste and the chicken broth. Simmer over low heat until all the liquid is absorbed, about 10 minutes. Squeeze half lime over top and add soy sauce. Stir in 2 tablespoons of cilantro. Set aside.

Skewer shrimp and grill until cooked through, depending on the heat of your grill this will take 2 to 4 minutes. You want them just pink and opaque – they will continue cooking with residual heat once you take them off the grill.

Plate the orzo and top with grilled shrimp. Sprinkle with remaining cilantro. Squeeze the other half of the lime over the dishes.

Serves 4.