I’m not quite sure in my perambulations on the Internet how I found Jain of Once in a Blue Moon, but her beautiful photos of luscious food, still life, elegant table decorations and lovely landscapes kept me glued to her blog. When I saw her Food for Thought logo, I was hooked. Cooking, photographing what I prepare and reading books are my passions, but reading books that chronicle food or have food related vignettes really thrill me.
Going through my stack of books that I haven’t had time to read, plus some that my sister loaned me, I found Emilie Richard’s book “Happiness Key”. The cover grabbed my attention; surely with a setting in Florida, there would be food vignettes! I wasn’t disappointed, but on with the review.
With her land developer husband in jail, newly divorced socialite Tracy Deloche finds herself left with only five ramshackle cottages on twenty five acres of the Florida Gulf Coast and no experience as a landlord. On a mission to collect rent, she finds that the only male resident of her newly acquired “resort property” has died in bed with a key clutched in his hand. As she goes about trying to find his relatives, she and the three very diverse women tenants reluctantly come together and begin to bond. Tracy meets Wanda Gray who marriage to a depressed policeman has dulled, but in the process of trying to save her marriage, could in fact destroy it. There’s Janya, a beautiful Indian girl disgraced in her homeland and forced into an arranged marriage. And Alice who is mourning her daughter’s death, but not quite sure if her son-in-law, Lee, has her best intentions in mind.
There are many food vignettes, but Wanda’s skill in making pies was legend, especially the quintessential Key lime pie. “She’d grown up in the ‘real’ Keys, and she knew what a real pie tasted like. None of those grocery store crusts in tin foil pans. She made her own, like her mama had, crushing the best graham crackers she could buy, mixing the crumbs with melted butter, real butter, not some diet substitute. Then squeezing her own limes-Key limes, of course.” Sorry Wanda, I bought the crumbs, but did use the Key limes.
Key Lime Pie
4 teaspoons grated Key lime zest, plus 1/2 cup strained Key lime juice (12-15 Key limes)
4 large egg yolks
1-14 ounce can sweetened condensed milk
11 whole graham crackers, crushed fine (1-1/2 cups)
3 tablespoons granulated sugar
5 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted
Whipped Cream Topping
3/4 cup heavy cream
1/4 cup confectioners’ sugar
2 Key limes, thinly sliced and dipped in granulated sugar
Whisk zest and yolks in a medium bowl until well-blended, about 2 minutes. Beat in condensed milk, then juice. Set aside at room temperature until thickened.
Preheat oven to 325°F. Mix crumbs and sugar in a medium bowl. Add melted butter, stirring with a fork to blend. Scrape mixture into a 9-inch pie pan; press crumbs over bottom and sides evenly. Bake until lightly browned, about 15 minutes. Transfer to wire rack to cool to room temperature, about 20 minutes.
Pour filling into crust. Bake until center is set, but still wiggly, 15-17 minutes. Return to wire rack; cool until room temperature. Refrigerate until well-chilled, at least 3 hours.
Just before serving, whip cream in medium bowl to soft peaks. Add confectioners’ sugar a tablespoon at a time, continue whipping until just stiff peaks form. Either serve with a dollop of whipped cream and a slice of sugared lime or if entire pie will be consumed, spread the whipped cream over the entire pie, spreading with a spatula. Decorate with sugared Key lime slices. Serves 8.
And no novel on the Florida Gulf Coast would be complete without some mention of seafood. Tracy’s impromptu meal with Lee, Alice’s son features steamed shrimp. “She kissed him on the cheek and took the bag. Inside she saw steamed shrimp and a jar of cocktail sauce.—In a few minutes they were sitting at the funky old metal table that had come with the house. Tracy had covered it with a forest-green cloth, and filled the center with an assortment of flowers and candles from the grocery store.”
Easy Steamed Shrimp
2 tablespoons Old Bay Seasoning
1/2 cup vinegar
1/2 cup water
1 pound fresh shrimp, in shells
In saucepan, combine first three ingredients. Bring to a boil. Add shrimp, stir gently. Cover; steam until tender, about 3-5 minutes. Drain, remove shells. Serve with seafood cocktail sauce. Serves 2.
“Happiness Key” is a quick read and a great book to tuck into your beach bag. The sequel, “Fortunate Harbor” will be available July, 2010.