Friday, June 22, 2007

Pierogies, Gumbo and Sour Cherry Pie

Doesn't this look like a festive scene?

Our friend Lavinia (middle) is in town from Salvador, where she's working with a disaster relief agency and it was her birthday. In addition, or friend Tom Janota, the guy with the big smile, is here from Mexico City.

Can you say, Fiesta!

Even better, Lavinia brought her mom along with several bags of fresh pierogies from the West Side Market in Cleveland, where they'd been visiting friends. (Pierogies, for the unintiated, are Polish dumplings filled with almost anything, but in this case potato, sauerkraut, and potato-bacon.)

Isn't it great when someone calls and says, "We're in Cleveland. Can we bring anything for dinner?"

Of course we requested the pierogies.

For the occasion, I put together a batch of gumbo with shrimp (U.S. wild-caught), chicken (thighs only) and Kielbasa sausage. I know, I was already on a gumbo jag in Anguilla. But how often does it happen, you re-discover a food you really love and you can't stop making it? I may even make some more gumbo for a client dinner on Monday. Can't get enough of a good thing.

Meanwhile, while I was in Anguilla, my wife and daughter visited one of the local orchards with our friends Keith and Janice and picked 50 pounds of sour cherries.

You heard correctly: 50 (that's fifty) pounds. They split the load, so my wife has spent part of the last several days pitting bucket after bucket of cherries. (Not to worry: There was plenty of work for me to catch up on in the garden. More about that later...)

So in addition to this being a pierogi-gumbo-birthday night, it was also an evening to celebrate sour cherries. That's my wife's twist on a a sour cherry smash you see in the martini glass. And for dessert, she baked a sour cherry pie.

We sat around the kitchen island eating pierogies and home-made sauerkraut and drinking sour cherry smash (or beer, or wine), then retired to the deck for a salad of fresh greens from the garden, followed by the gumbo served over rice my sister had brought back from a trip to South Carolina. Then a smashing good sour cherry pie with vanilla ice cream.

Lavinia's mother, originally from Romania, regaled us with stories of picking her own fruits and turning them into "tutti frutti," which in Romanian apparently translates into plopping a bunch of cherries and other things into a canning jar and covering it with grain alcohol. (She worked in a lab, she explained, where the alcohol was uncommonly pure.)

One piece of sour cherry pie came out of the kitchen with a candle in it and we broke into a rousing "Happy Birthday!" for Lavinia.

"This is the best pie I've ever eaten!" gushed brother-in-law Tom.

I think he was right....

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