My fingernails are irrevocably stained yellow with the remnants of orange peels. Moving to Los Angeles from Seattle has felt like getting a gift every day. Admittedly most of these gifts have been oranges especially the Cara Caras this year which are among the best citrus I have ever tasted. I’m Cara Cara Crazy.
Winter is orange season which only really feels right if it is 70 degrees in January and the orange came from down the block. Welcome to Southern California.
My home town of Redlands California was at one time the largest producers of oranges in the country. It’s an old claim to fame that inspires orange shaped bike racks and nostalgic signage. But kill nostalgia. The oranges I had today were better than any extra sweet memory of the fruit from my childhood.
Christine brings a pomelo over for us to share. My dog jumps up to see if it’s meat. It’s not. It’s a yellow fruit. I never buy them at the store because I’m ignorant and always think they look unripe. I’ve been missing out. This light sad yellow betrays the flesh inside. I cut the pomelo in half and hand a side to Christine. This is the simplest that food ever gets and the key to my heart. One cut followed by one gesture. Sharing.
She asks if I’ve had the fruit before. I say yes but only once or twice. She says my mom used to peel them methodically for me removing all of the inner skin and pith. I say because of bitterness, yeah? She says I don’t know, I guess so. There are not many things we accept blindly as adults. We learn to question and reason and explain. We can speculate the reason why Christine’s mom would remove all of the inner skin of the pomelo for her daughter but we cannot ever really know now that her mother has passed. More importantly Christine shows no interest in the why just in the actual gesture itself as if by repeating it here she can access it in a sensory moment of time travel.
Earlier in the week I hand my husband a piece of blood orange I have cut. I say tell me what this tastes like. He eats it and says blueberries. I correct like an asshole and say blackberries. He smiles at me dubious. I kiss his smile off his face and go back into the kitchen to finish chopping.
I’ve eaten more than fifty oranges this season for certain and their rinds dry and rot and become so fragrant. In the spring my hometown of Redlands blooms with orange blossoms that used to cause my allergies to act up. I would get in trouble for sneezing so loudly as a child. Is there any way you can do that more quietly, Leon? I’ve outgrown this allergy as an adult and walking around Redlands I am able to be bewitched like the others. I am able to associate place and sweet flesh. The smell of rotting oranges even drives me wild.
While we clean the pink and anemone shaped flesh of the pomelo Christine tells me about how her mother trained her not to cry at the age of 6. I swear to god she says I didn’t cry from then until I was twelve. And indeed at my wedding she was the only one in pictures with dry eyes. Look at me smiling like a maniac. We put the pomelo rind and inners in a brown ceramic bowl. The structure of the pink little juice sacks in citrus flesh have always reminded me of aliens or a future with more mercy than now. I don’t how shape and color can spell hope for me but I match Christine’s behavior and ignore the why.
Mezcal Old Fashioned
I used to make this when I was a bartender. Good mezcal has so much flavor to begin with that not much is necessary. The simple addition of sugar and orange flower water makes the spirit sing a few additional notes.
- 2oz Mezcal (Vida works great)
- ¼oz Simple Syrup (Demerera if you’re fancy)
- 7 drops orange flower water
Stir and serve in tumbler with ice
Garnish with an orange peel.
Cumin Black Beans & Rice with Blood Oranges on the Side
On special occasions my beautiful friend Luciana will make feijoada a Brazilian stick to your ribs black bean soup with all parts of the pig. On the side she serves collard greens and orange slices. I sometimes make this simple homage to her.
- 1lb black beans
- 1 large yellow onion
- 4-7 peeled cloves of garlic
- 1 heaping tbsp cumin
- 3 tsp cayenne pepper
- 2-3 poblano peppers
- 1 half of navel orange
- salt to taste
- 1 cup white rice
- 2 cups water
- 1 tbsp. olive oil
- pinch of salt
- 5-7 blood oranges
Don’t soak your beans overnight. It saps the flavor. I do rinse the beans quickly to remove any excess dirt or small rocks. Dice your onion and mince your garlic. Heat 2 tbsp of butter and 2 tbsp of oil in a large pot over medium heat. When melted add cumin, salt, cayenne, onion, orange, garlic and peppers. Incorporate all ingredients together and then add dry beans. Mix everything well and then add water till it is about 2 inches above the beans. Bring to a boil and then take down to a simmer. Let simmer for at least five hours adding water when needed. When finished remove orange and serve over rice.
Bring the 2 cups of water for the rice to a boil. Add rice salt and olive oil. Give a quick stir and then cover the pot and take the heat down to a simmer. Cook for twenty minutes never removing the lid until the end.
Cut the tops and bottoms off of the blood oranges. Gently peel the rind off keeping the fruit intact. Cut circular disks off each a little more than a quarter inch thick. Remove seeds and serve in a bowl undressed.
Eat the oranges throughout your dish of beans and rice. Enjoy