By Marcia Pilgeram
Ever since my youngest, Casey, has had babies, my Christmas routine has been flying to Chicago, spending a week and then leaving Christmas morning on the earliest flight. I’d arrive back to Spokane at about 10 a.m., and then hightail it to Moscow, in time to spend Christmas afternoon with my oldest, Ryanne, and her family.
Though there was nothing routine about this year, I was still determined to go — and not wild horses, nor javelinas, nor even well-intended friends could have held me back. I did not make nor take the decision lightly. I spent weeks conferring with medical professionals, reviewing protocols, and taking every precaution I could to be safe and keep others safe, as well.
I may have looked like I was preparing for a moonshot rather than a plane flight, and my kids had hilarious moments watching me model my protective gear. My first line of defense was a couple of cheap rain ponchos, one worn forward and the other worn backward, so I could cover my face when I boarded and deboarded each flight. Once off the flights, I discarded them and wore a fresh pair on every flight.
As soon as I arrived in Chicago, my super-sized Uber came, and again, clothed in my rain gear, I sat in the very back, with an empty row between the masked driver and me. I was well prepared to spend a week in quarantine making holiday favorites that included a traditional family favorite, a bûche de Noël (Yule log), as well as a Mexican feast for our Christmas Eve dinner.
My oversized and overweight suitcase was a proverbial “holiday on wheels.” It didn’t take long to fill the small Airbnb fridge with several pounds of still-frozen Idaho butter, two pounds of chocolate ganache and other favorite ingredients from home. My quarantine Airbnb was, as promised, spanking clean. So clean, so sparse, in fact, that I am reasonably sure the previous guest was most likely famous Japanese organizing consultant Marie Kondo.
The next morning, upon further inspection, I realized I faced many culinary challenges. The “well-stocked kitchen” was, I think, intended for grub-hubbing remote workers looking for a change of scenery that included only Netflix and takeout. There were no cake pans, no rolling pin, no bread pans, mixers or beaters, or other favorite chef accessories. So, I did the best I could with what I had. I downsized the Christmas menu, ordered my own Uber Eats and binged on takeout (and Netflix).
I prepped everything for chili rellenos, though I wish I had thought ahead and located the smoke detectors before roasting poblano peppers on top of the gas burners — at 6 a.m. (in a multi-unit apartment building). I scrapped plans for the bûche de Noël and instead made a mock version with Rice Krispie treats compressed into log shapes. Then I watched some more Netflix and placed another order for the lunch special at Two Asians.
After a week of socially distanced walks with Casey, my much-anticipated COVID-19 test day arrived. Casey picked me up for the 25-minute car ride, and as we had preplanned, I sat in the rear right side, cloaked in my omnipresent plastic poncho and an N95 mask, with all four windows down. Cruising at 55 miles an hour on Lakeshore Drive was an experience we will long remember.
Though my Irishness does bring out a wee tendency to embellish, I have medical proof when I say I was nearly frozen. Once we entered the drive-through testing, they took my temperature. Not once, but twice to make sure the reading was accurate: 96 degrees. I wouldn’t say it was the onset of hypothermia, but another couple of miles could have been my undoing.
We had my negative COVID-19 results within the hour and I finally was free to go to Casey’s home, where we celebrated with spicy Indian food and never-ending hugs.
I all but forgot my carefully planned meals. There was little time to spend in the kitchen. Instead, the 7-month-old baby, Runa, needed to be bounced and bathed and endlessly admired. Her 2-year-old brother, Sam, had similar requirements. And I was more than happy to oblige him, too.
Babies are the spice of life, but this tequila and jalapeno marinated shrimp appetizer can also add some nice kick to your life. They’re quick and easy to prepare, leaving you with lots of time for other fun endeavors.
If you like it extra spicy, leave the seeds in the jalapeno peppers. A great starter for a Mexican fiesta or served as a salad, spooned into half a ripe avocado. They also make a fun first course, served in a margarita glass (don’t forget to salt the rim).
• 1 lb large (16-20) shrimp, peeled and deveined, tails intact
• 1/2 lemon
• Juice of 1 lime
• 2 tbs good quality tequila
• 1 tbs olive oil
• 1/2 medium onion, chopped
• 1/2 red pepper chopped
• Handful of cilantro, washed and chopped fine
• 2 jalapeno peppers, one chopped fine, and one sliced into thinly sliced rings
• 1 clove garlic, crushed and minced
• Salt and black pepper to taste
Bring a large pan of salted water to a boil, add half a lemon and shrimp. Bring to a boil, stir and cook until shrimp are opaque (about 5 minutes). Drain and rinse in cold water.
Mix all other ingredients in a large bowl, with tight-fitting lid. Add shrimp and toss well. Refrigerate for several hours or overnight, tossing a couple more times.
Garnish with lime wedges and cilantro sprigs.
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