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Pearls of wisdom come from many sources

June 1, 2009 at 1:01 a.m.

Shrimp with Pearls and Vegetables


3 Tbsp. red-wine vinegar

3 Tbsp. chopped fresh oregano

2 Tbsp. chopped fresh thyme

1 large garlic clove, finely chopped

13/4 tsp. salt

3/4 tsp. black pepper

1/3cup plus 1/4 cup olive oil

21/4 cups pearl couscous (sometimes called Israeli couscous; 3/4 pound)

23/4 cups reduced-sodium chicken broth (14 fluid ounces)

1/4 teaspoon crumbled saffron threads

2 pounds large shrimp, peeled and deveined if necessary

2 medium red onions

2 pounds large zucchini cut diagonally into 1/2-inch-thick slices

1 cup feta, crumbled

12 (8-inch) wooden skewers and 20 wooden picks (round, not flat), soaked in water 30 minutes

Whisk together vinegar, oregano, thyme, garlic,1/2 tsp. salt, and 1/4 tsp. pepper in a small bowl until salt is dissolved. Add 1/3 cup oil in a slow stream, whisking until vinaigrette is combined.

Heat 1 Tbsp. oil in a heavy saucepan over moderate heat until hot then toast couscous, stirring occasionally, until pale golden color, 3 to 5 minutes. While couscous toasts, stir together broth and saffron in a large glass measure. Add to couscous with 1/2 tsp. salt and bring to a simmer, uncovered. Simmer, covered, until liquid is absorbed and couscous is al dente, 10 to 12 minutes. Check couscous, it should be tender and not hard in the middle. Remove from heat and let stand, covered, 10 minutes. Stir vinaigrette to combine, then stir 2 Tbsp. into couscous and let stand, uncovered, at room temperature.

Prepare grill for cooking over medium-hot charcoal or moderate heat if using a gas grill.

Toss shrimp with 1 Tbsp. oil, 1/4 tsp. salt, and 1/4 tsp. pepper in a bowl and thread four or five shrimp onto each skewer. Don't press shrimp too tight.

Peel onions and trim root ends slightly, leaving ends intact, then halve lengthwise and cut halves lengthwise into 1/2-inch-wide wedges. Insert one wooden pick through each wedge to hold layers together while grilling, then put onions in a large bowl with zucchini. Toss vegetables with remaining 2 Tbsp. oil, 1/2 tsp. salt, and1/4 tsp. pepper.

Grill shrimp skewers on lightly oiled grill rack, covered only if using a gas grill, turning over once with tongs, until just cooked through, about 4 minutes total. Transfer shrimp, discarding skewers, to a clean bowl and toss with 2 Tbsp. vinaigrette. Shrimp will be pink but not shriveled.

Grill vegetables on lightly oiled grill rack, covered only if using a gas grill, turning over once, until just tender, about 5 minutes, transferring to bowl as grilled. Remove and discard picks from onions. Drizzle vegetables with remaining vinaigrette and toss to combine.

Spoon couscous onto a large platter or shallow serving bowl. Arrange shrimp and vegetables on top of couscous and sprinkle with feta. Serve warm or at room temperature.

*if no grill is available then you can sauté in a skillet over high heat, turning once. Vinaigrette can be made ahead and chilled.

Tapioca with Fresh Fruit

Add your favorite fresh fruits, sliced strawberries, blueberries, blackberries, kiwi.the combinations are endless.

3 cups whole milk, divided

1/3 cup small pearl tapioca*

2 extra-large egg yolks, lightly beaten

1/4 tsp. fine-grain sea salt

1/3 cup sugar

1 tsp. vanilla

Pour 3/4 cup of the milk into a medium-sized, thick-bottomed pot. Add the tapioca and soak for 60 minutes. Whisk in the egg yolks, salt, sugar, and the remaining milk.

Over medium heat slowly bring the mixture just barely to a boil, stirring constantly to make sure the mixture does not scorch. If you scorch this mixture then you must start again. All this stirring should take about 15 minutes. Reduce the heat and let the mixture fall to a simmer - you keep it here until the tapioca is fully cooked, another 15 minutes or so. Keep in mind this time can be significantly longer (or shorter). The tapioca will tell you when it is ready if you watch carefully. The tapioca beads will swell up and become almost entirely translucent. The custardy part of pudding will thicken dramatically as well - keep tasting and assessing at this stage. It is even more critical to keep stirring at this point avoid dreaded scorching. Remove from heat and let cool a bit. Add 1 teaspoon of vanilla and stir. Tapioca tastes great warm or cold.

*If using other type of tapioca (not small pearl) then follow directions on package.

During this graduation season I have had the opportunity to sit through more than a speech or two. I don't mind it so much. It's a good chance to get free advice.

It would be difficult to know what to tell someone who is graduating now. The world is changing so rapidly that it could be hard to be certain about what path to take.

In reality we all just drive down that road of life, never really sure what is around the next turn. Sometimes the road seems so familiar that it becomes almost tedious and we become restless for change. At other times we know we took a wrong turn somewhere back there and hope only to find our way back to the main road. And yet even then we don't necessarily want anyone else telling us how to drive.

When Spencer went through his official St. Joseph graduation ceremony, the speaker was Tom Butler, president of The Victoria College. One of the main things I remember about his lighthearted speech was that each person's life was greatly affected by how they dealt with SGM's.

He said everyone has SGM's. They can't be avoided. He enjoys seeing college students learning how to work through them.

He went on to tell us that SGM's are Self Generated Messes. One of the things that determines success in life is the ability to recognize one's messes or mistakes or wrong turns, evaluate the issue correctly and then move forward in a positive way.

Nobody is perfect. We all screw up more than once and often times make the same mistake repeatedly. The important thing is that we own up to our errors, make amends and then get on down the road.

As I was sitting through the ceremony I realized that although I wasn't up on the stage in my cap and gown, I too was graduating. The event was not just for my son but for me as well. He would be moving on to new places and challenges and so would I.

I had graduated from my role as a day-to-day advisor and caregiver. I would at least partly turn my focus elsewhere.

I would still be his mom but he would be away from me for weeks at a time. I wouldn't really know what he was doing all the time since he was away at college and so I would not be compelled to wisely counsel or discipline him.

I will always be happy to give him advice but I won't be running his everyday life.

Actually, since we won't have any kids at home I won't even feel the need to be a good example to anyone. I might just stay up and watch TV, sleep late some mornings, listen to strange music way too loud, wear weird clothes and go on road trips. Who knows how we might act if we didn't have our kids around?

I was out in my back yard the other day and was looking up in the sky and I swear that one of those puffy clouds looked just like a poodle. And I looked around and other clouds looked like bearded old men with bulbous noses and others like fire breathing dragons with long spiked tails. And then again they swirled about and just looked like clouds.

There are several types of people. Some are analytical, look at the clouds and only try to guess at the weather. They wonder what they should plan or how should they act with the weather doing this or that. But who can predict the weather?

Other folks look up and feel the warmth of the sun and don't think much other than how nice the sun feels at that particular moment on one's face. Then a cloud covers the sun and they are on to another experience.

Some people never even look up to the sky because there is simply too much work and too much to deal with and no time to waste.

And then there are artists, explorers and dreamers who look up and see the most amazing and fantastic things. They want to see what is beyond the conventional boundaries, search for new worlds, seek fresh meaning and discover what is possible.

Our world is made up of all sorts under the sun. Some see poodles, others see rain and a few strain to see distant stars.

I am not much at dispensing pearls of wisdom but in terms of food I think of tapioca pearls and Israeli couscous. The couscous is a pasta formed in small pearls. Couscous comes in different shapes and sizes and all are interchangeable in the recipe. The tapioca is comfort food, easy and makes a perfect end to any meal.

Myra Starkey lives in Victoria. Write her in care of the Advocate, P.O. Box 1518, Victoria, TX 77901, or e-mail



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