Walking on the beach gives one a lot of time to think, contemplate, reminisce, philosophize, etc. We had Son #2 with us for a couple of days here at Sunset Beach. He has an internship at a Charlotte real estate law firm this summer, but he was able to take a couple of days off due to the July 4th holiday. Son #1 couldn’t make it at all due to his job. So, the family vacation is a bit different this year. But it gets the Ex-Ex out of the office and relaxed and I am very happy listening to the sound of the waves, getting a little sunburned around the edges, and taking long walks on the beach. Oh, and eating shrimp. On any given day if you ask me what I would like to have for my final meal on this Earth, I would give you a different answer. Today? Shrimp. And a crisp, dry, chilled white wine. Picpoul de Pinet perhaps? Something from the south of France, my preferred wine region.
While strolling along the beach with Son #2, we started talking about me. He wanted to know how I worked up the courage to go to France for the very first time. Looking back, I am not really sure, truth be told. I had just turned 20, had saved every penny I made from my summer job at Eseeola Lodge in Linville, NC, had been admitted to the University of Dijon, France, got a passport, bought a cheap seat on a charter flight, taking me from Johnson City, Tennessee to New York, where I met up with my college roommate and traveling companion, and caught a flight to Paris-Orly. Did I mention this was the first time I had set foot on an airplane? Oui, it was. I had never been far from the mountains of North Carolina. We spent a week in Paris roaming around. I was prepared for the size of the Eiffel Tower but not for the grandeur of the Arc de Triomphe. We got lost and wandered past this huge box of a building that looked unfinished with multi-colored pipes. Oh, the new Centre Pompidou. Mme Buchanan didn’t tell me about this one. But she hadn’t seen it. It had just opened. We went to Sète for some beach time, up to Dijon only to find out that there were no more families who needed American au pairs, no chance for room and board in exchange for living quarters, so we ended up near Cannes, my friend with one family, me with another. (I got the best end of that deal.) We took classes at an international school, became the best of friends, swapping life stories (I learned to never judge a book by its cover after hearing hers), and had a few adventures over the course of the next several months.
Anyway, revenons à nos moutons, let’s get back to our sheep, as the French say. I said something about how lucky I have been in my life and Son #2 said he isn’t sure that luck has much to do with it. We make our own luck, he says. He’s a quiet young man and a darned smart one, in my humble opinion as his mother. I still can feel overwhelming guilt about the divorce from the Ex-Ex and what might appear as abandoning my boys. However, when I pull back from the guilt, I realize that those four years made me into who I am today. A stronger, wiser, more grateful woman with many friends and experiences that shaped me in ways that cannot be put into words. Did luck have anything to do with that? Or was I selfish and only looking out for me? Son #2 doesn’t think so. I will go with that for today.
Back to shrimp. I am not sure when I ate my first one. Growing up in Spruce Pine, I remember eating frozen, breaded ones. I do remember fresh ones eaten in a restaurant somewhere along the way on my family’s only vacation, a trip to Punta Gorda, Florida, to spend two weeks in my Papa Bell’s house there. Sister #1 ate the tails and we laughed at her. I am not sure she has eaten shrimp since then. My best shrimp memories are from my months in Arles, France and here at Sunset Beach. I photograph them at the markets in France, as you can see from the first photo. I feel like that fish, mouth open, ready to gobble up the little unsuspecting crustaceans. A few more photos from my past shrimp experiences–
Ok, so technically is a gamba a shrimp? It’s a large prawn. According to Cook’s Illustrated, my favorite cooking magazine, there is a difference in gill structure, in case you care. I don’t. We grilled those babies in Arles, heads and all. Chef Érick loved to fry up shrimp heads as an appetizer. Yum. I also found this saying on a website while googling, makes no sense to me, but make of it what you will… (If one of my Frenchies can explain this to me, I will be very grateful.)
You’re a jumbo shrimp and one day some corn goes floating by.
Tu es une gamba et un jour, tu vois flotter du maïs.
Seafood risotto eaten in Italy with the BFF and Mo in 2008. Big sigh…
Shrimp and truffles, served by Madame, René’s wife, prior to my truffle-hunting adventure in 2008.
Shrimp, oysters and Picpoul de Pinet shared with Fanny, Betty and Chef Érick at Les Halles in Avignon. If you go to this food mecca, there is a little corner seafood seller- you can buy to take home or eat sur place, if you wish. This was our little pre-lunch snack. Hors-d’oeuvres, I suppose.
A pan of deliciousness whipped up in Arles for me on my birthday. Mussels, shrimps, risotto.
But even with all of that, I must say that my favorite is preparing Shrimp and Grits at Sunset with my boys all around. Sometimes I put them to work, sometimes they just sip their cold beer and watch, most times it’s a combination of the two. I usually change the recipe around to suit myself, simplifying it each year. This year, the Ex-Ex was put to work peeling the shrimp (he asked what he could do to help…)
Son #2 was in charge of the grits and frying the bacon.
Et voilà. The 2016 version of Sunset Shrimp and Grits.
This is our favorite Sunset Beach dish. We get our shrimp at Bill’s Seafood.
All of this cooks up fairly quickly, so be sure to measure out and have everything ready before you start. Serves 4.
For the grits:
1 c. grits (use whatever kind you want- instant or stone ground- I found Palmetto Farms Stone Ground ones and they are really good)
4 Tbsp. butter
1 c. shredded cheddar cheese (or you can mix in Gouda if you like the taste)
1-1/2 tsp. Paprika
1 tsp. cayenne pepper
½ tsp. white pepper
Salt, to taste
(Adjust the seasonings to suit your taste, start small, though and then add, if you wish)
A dash or two of hot sauce- Texas Pete or whatever brand you like, optional
All the spices are optional, however; salt and freshly ground pepper are good alone
Cook the grits according to the package directions. Pay attention not to burn them. I had to add more water to mine about 15 minutes into the cooking time. When they are 5 minutes from being ready, whisk in the butter and seasonings. Stir in the cheese until melted. Taste and adjust the seasonings, if desired. Cover the pot and keep warm.
For the shrimp:
2 lbs shrimp, peeled and deveined (I count on ½ lb. per person- I like medium-sized ones but it doesn’t matter)
8 slices of bacon, fried crisp, drained on paper towels (more if the people around you insist upon eating the bacon before you are ready to serve the dish!)
2 shallots, chopped
2 cloves of garlic, minced
Butter, olive oil, some of the bacon grease—the equivalent of about 4 Tbsp. of one or a combination of all- I use the same pan that I cook the bacon in, draining out most of the grease but leaving the pan drippings
Salt and pepper, to taste
Place butter/oil in pan and bring to medium high heat. Sauté the shallots until translucent. Add the shrimp and stir, cook, continuing to stir and turning the shrimp over individually until all the shrimp turn pink. Do not overcook, though, this will make the shrimp tough. Just before you think the shrimp are done, add the minced garlic and stir. You do not want the garlic to burn.
Some people add chopped Roma tomatoes to the shrimp at this point. My guys are not fans of that so I leave them out. Sometimes I add andouille sausage, cut into bite-sized pieces, to the mix, after sautéeing them or asking someone to grill them for me. You can use Parmesan cheese, if you wish. This is not a fancy dish or one that is difficult to prepare. Make it your own according to what your eaters like!
Bon appétit et bonnes vacances wherever you are! I am grateful for all who have helped make me who I am today. Luck? I still consider myself a very lucky girl.