Lucky and Crippled Crow

Today’s guest blogger is the Ex-Ex.  I will let him tell the tale of our sixth day at the beach.

star2

So, when you walk on the beach with Sabbatical Chef you’re supposed to keep your head down – looking for the perfect shell.  I try.  But I often get distracted by the waves, the sand castles, the red, white and blue swim suits……of all shapes and sizes.  I really try to keep my eyes on the sand because I do want to find that perfect shell or sand dollar for her. But it’s hard. Sunset Beach is beautiful, but not full of shells…it’s hard to pay attention to the sand.  Mostly all you see are “bits and pieces.” It’s hard for me to stay focused.

Well, today as we’re walking, I spot a “crippled crow”.  An ordinary black crow that is generally a nuisance at the beach. But he’s hard to not like….he’s lame, mostly hopping on one foot along the sand. Then I see what he sees and why he’s hopping near the surf. He’s found a four-armed starfish.  A starfish on the beach is a rare sight and a major find for beachcombers like Sabbatical Chef and me….when I’m paying attention.  My interest  and concern immediately leave Crippled Crow.  I’m sure he’ll be OK.  He seems fine hopping and, after all, he can still fly.  Now I’m worried about the starfish that Crippled Crow was about to eat and, if he’s not alive, then he’s the perfect beach find.  Either way I’m going to save him from Crippled Crow.  Sabbatical Chef will love it if I can deliver a starfish to her collection….even if it only has four arms!  “Lucky” the four-armed starfish is already a goner….so he’s better off in Sabbatical Chef’s beach week shell collection than being picked over by Crippled Crow.  Lucky, I’m sure, had a good life at sea.  Even if somehow he lost an arm, I bet he had some stories to tell.  So, being rescued by me and becoming the crown jewel in Sabbatical Chef’s 2017 “bits and pieces” collection is a fitting and deserving way for him to spend his summer of 2017….and help us remember ours……

Bon appétit to all beachcombers.  Thanks for reading the Ex-Ex’s story.  Actually, I think that Lucky will become a part of the little collection of bits and pieces that I will put in a jar and save for Adorable Granddaughter to one day remind her of her first trip to Sunset Beach.

Bits and pieces

shells

I used to roam the beach looking for whole, perfect shells and sand dollars. I spent more time looking down than looking up. Now I just pick up whatever I happen to see that strikes my fancy.  Bits and pieces. Odds and ends.  Kind of like last night’s dinner here at the house we are renting for the week.  Cheese and crackers, blackened sausage, hummus, carrots, peppers, cucumbers and broccoli with ranch dip and leftover Frogmore Stew. Really good at the end of a long day spent sitting in the sun and trying to hit 10,000 steps on the Fitbit by walking to the end of the island.

Cooper, the Wonder Dog, was relaxing and hoping for a bit or piece of something tasty to come his way. Cooper belongs to Son #2’s girlfriend.

cooper

There has been some great first-thing-in-the-morning play time with the Cutest Baby in the World for both Granddad and Gramma.

kennedy steve

kennedy

Some fireworks in the distance, at Ocean Isle, on July 3.  All the beauty, none of the noise.

fireworks

Fireworks are illegal on Sunset Beach due to fire hazard, but that didn’t stop some of our neighbors. The police cruised by multiple times trying to find the culprits. The Ex-Ex and Brother-in-law were questioned when they decided to go out and check out what was happening, but they didn’t come home in handcuffs in the back of a squad car so I guess they were believable.

The Ex-Ex captured a lovely shot during a moonlit walk towards the pier.  Sort of Starry Night Over The Rhône-ish with the reflections on the water, I think.

pier

Son #1 and his two beautiful girls had to go back home because he has a follow up job interview this morning.  Fingers crossed. They will return in a few hours.

At this very moment, the Ex-Ex is still sleeping, as are Son #2, Cooper and his owner. Best Sister-in-law-in-the-World is checking out what’s happening on her iPad. Brother-in-law has gone out for a long bike ride.  When he comes back, he will turn on the TV to check out Stage 4 of the Tour de France. Vittel to La Planche des Belles Filles.

route17

I have to admit that I don’t care who wins.  I watch for the scenery.

I am an early riser, even when on vacation. I have been washing clothes, turning on the dishwasher, pitting cherries and making muffins, and reading my beach week book, See Me by Nicholas Sparks. I am getting attached to Colin, one of the main characters, and I am afraid that something bad is going to happen to him. I will hope for the best.  It is set in Wilmington, a city in North Carolina only about 50 miles from where I sit right now.

Life comes in bits and pieces.  Not perfect, but sometimes perfect for me. My week at the beach is just that. Surrounded by the people I love, my family once again under one roof, no plans, nothing that has to be done, the smell of warm muffins filling the house. And a view of the Atlantic Ocean from where I sit writing this.  Life is good. Every bit and piece of it right now.

muffins batter

Cherry Vanilla Muffins

makes 12

1-3/4 c. all-purpose flour

1/3 c. sugar

2 tsp. baking powder

1/4 tsp. salt

1 large egg, beaten

1/4 c. oil or melted butter

3/4 c. milk (this time I used a mixture of vanilla Greek yogurt and milk)

1-1/2 c. pitted, chopped cherries

Turbinado sugar for sprinkling on top, if desired, for a nice crunch

Prepare the muffin tin by lining with paper cups or spraying with non-stick spray. Preheat the oven to 400˚F.

Whisk together the flour, sugar, baking powder and salt. Make a well in the middle.

Add the beaten egg, milk (and yogurt, if using), oil (or melted butter). Stir just until combined. Fold in cherries. Sprinkle sugar on top, if using.

Spoon the batter evenly into the 12 muffin cups. Bake for about 15 minutes or until muffins test done.

muffin

Sister-in-law said spreading butter on top of a warm muffin was pretty tasty.

Bon appétit and have a lovely day.  If you can’t be with your favorite people, let them know you are thinking about them. The beach is calling and I must answer.

 

 

 

 

Shrimp

 

market fish w shrimp

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–

gambas

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.

 

risotto in italy

Seafood risotto eaten in Italy with the BFF and Mo in 2008.  Big sigh…

shrimp and truffles

Shrimp and truffles, served by Madame, René’s wife, prior to my truffle-hunting adventure in 2008.

shrimp and oysters

shrimp with Fanny

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.

shrimp seafood tian

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…)

steve shrimp

peeled shrimp

Son #2 was in charge of the grits and frying the bacon.

Et voilà.  The 2016 version of Sunset Shrimp and Grits.

2016 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.