In the words of Family Guy’s legendary character Quagmire, “Aren’t I just the worst?” (Giggity). Chalk that up to words I never thought I would utter, but what I mean here is far different than any of the funny man’s phrases. I say that I am the worst because I have been totally slacking on the posts lately and it is time to get back down to business for this girl. And what better way than with a rundown from my beach vacation and birthday celebration this past month with the family?
You see, my family has returned to the same beach in North Carolina on and off since I was about three years old. Some of the houses have changed and people have come and gone, but what I really love about this place is its ability to stay the same. It brings me such a sense of calm and comfort to know that there is that place in the world where I will get to go back to each year and see the same old shops that we went to as kids, point out all of the houses that we have stayed in over the years on various trips along the two lane, narrow island road.
This year was no different. Each year, we revisit a ritual that seems as natural as breathing. We pile up the car, and set out on the road to Topsail Island. Our starting point has been different over the years, but our destination is always the same. We drive in anticipation the whole way down until we hit that magical spot where you are close enough to the sea to roll all of the windows down and smell the salt air before you ever lay eyes on water.
Our first stop is always the grocery store to load up on goodies, with the hope that we won’t have to leave the house for a week. This never works out as planned, but we have our staples that are die hard tradition. These include bite-sized Mounds and Snickers bars as well as whole wheat bread, mustard, American cheese and Doritos to complete our aptly named Cheese, Mustard, and Dorito sandwiches. Clever, right? I don’t know where that tradition originated, but I highly recommend you try it some time. It will blow your mind.
Once the car has been sufficiently packed to the gills with groceries, on top of beach chairs, on top of luggage…off we roll. We practice this charade ahead of time, knowing full well that when we reach about a half a mile farther up that same road, we won’t ever want to turn back. It is there that you hit the Surf City swing bridge and the warm, fragrant air hits you like a speeding train, and you sip in what seems like liquid relaxation. In an instant, you sink a little lower in your seat, you feel your muscles let go and you relax, content in the realization that you have finally made it to vacation.
There is a quiet, resounding peace in these surroundings. It is like looking at a painting…a moment in time that has been frozen just as it has always resided in your memory. This is an anomaly in comparison to the fast paced world we are accustomed to in D.C. This place is a certainty. You know you will see the all familiar bay side homes, and the “redneck yacht club” that remains as a nod to the down-home surroundings, juxtaposing the million dollar homes across the inlet.
You cross the bridge and you know that with the next turn that you make, you will pass the only gas station on the island, catch a glimpse of the Surf City Pier lined with restaurants and Marines carousing on their day off, and then round the corner to take in the IGA Supermarket, a mainstay in Surf City.
This market has been perched on the same corner since before I was even a glint in my parents’ eyes. The signs remain the same worn-out versions that have been sitting atop the small, brick building for as long as I can remember, free from polished updates. All at once, I am reminded how much I love every inch of this place. Some things really are better when they remain the same. They maintain their history in your memory and your heart. I can remember walking to that store as a child with my parents. Seems hard to believe that I am now still here looking at the exact same scenery in my 30’s.
You enter the island headed South on Route 50 towards Topsail Island, veering onto the only road available…Anderson Drive. One way in, and one way out. The South end of the island is just as quaint. We have rented from the same real estate agent religiously, and I am always amused by the modest building that boasts the addition of a roller skating rink above the realtor.
The rink has been there for ages, and I can never bring myself to walk up the crooked stairs to peer inside the dilapidated structure to see if this rink still exists, for fear that my eyes will land upon a storage room of some sort, full of old furniture and boxes. I prefer to keep the image in my mind that I have had since childhood. One of happy families jaunting from the ragged putt-putt course across the street, over to the undersized rink for a skate serenaded by the music of old, scratchy records.
Once we have our keys in hand, and the car unpacked, you experience the long-awaited rush of walking out onto the back patio of the oceanfront house to feel the wind in your hair, the salt on your skin and the sand in your toes. That first splash of the ocean caresses your feet like a warm embrace, enveloping you in end of the summer, sun-warmed water. You take a deep breath and instantly release the weight of the world from your shoulders, if only for a little while.
The days following are filled with only a handful of activities, which include early morning walks on the beach, shell collecting, eating, reading and swimming on the beach, more eating, more reading, more eating, laughter and bed. That is all there is to it and I savor every second of these blissful days.
Our only deviation from the beach is for our annual trip to the Seafood Market, located right on the dock and chocked full of just about any sort of fresh fish you can imagine. It is pretty much my idea of heaven on earth.
Next it’s on to Bert’s Surf Shop to pick up at least one trinket of some sort as we have done since I can remember. This year, my brother and I took a ride together to take it all in and reminisce about this place that means so much to me and take some pictures of the old town, which are those that have been featured throughout this post.
Now, as I mentioned, one of the focal points of this trip is, of course, eating. In my family, we love to cook and prepare delicious, fresh food equally, so here are some highlights of what I imagine would be the title of my back to school essay: “What I Ate on Summer Vacation” by Kristen Poillon. So here it goes! Here are a few yummy recipes that you can whip up and eat as meals, or left-overs and beach-time break afternoon snacks throughout the week.
Super-delicious Egg Salad
This is one of the easiest, tastiest little concoctions to make at the start of your beach trip so you always have some protein packed dishes to snack on. This is great on a little toast, but also equally as good pressed into celery stalks or on Wasa Bread if you want to keep things even more nutritious.
This is a really simple recipe to whip up and it generally doesn’t take any measuring, just a few key ingredients. You will need as many eggs as you need based on how many you are feeding. I usually use a dozen large eggs for a couple of people and that works fine. But, if you have a larger crowd, or lots of boys to feed, go for more! The ingredients are delicious and super cheap. All-in-all, your grocery list should include:
- A dozen eggs (at least)
- A bunch of celery (10 or so stalks, but more if you are using them instead of bread)
- Salt & Pepper
- 1 large Red Onion
- 1 container of Hellman’s Mayonnaise (yes, Hellman’s matters)
- 1 Container of Gulden’s Mustard (yes, Gulden’s matters)
- 1 container of Grey Poupon Dijon Mustard ( you guessed it…Poupon please!)
First boil the eggs. Start by placing the uncooked eggs in a large pot and fill the pot with water until it fully covers the top of the eggs. Make sure the pot isn’t too large, as the eggs will jostle around while boiling and often crack leaving you with a man down. Bring the pot to a full boil. Once the water reaches its boil, let the eggs cook for ten minutes, then remove them from the heat. Place the pot into the sink and do not dump out the boiling water. Next run very cold water into the pot to bring the temperature of the eggs down. This rapid change in temperature pulls the shells away from the eggs making them easier to peel of. I usually add some ice to the pot and let them cool for a bit, but peel the shells while they are still luke warm because it is easier to lift them off without a struggle.
Once peeled, half the eggs and remove the yolks, dropping them into a separate, large mixing bowl. If you want to watch the cholesterol, you can discard some of the yolks to lighten things up a bit. Next add in a mixture of mustard and mayo to taste to your liking. I usually start off with just a little bit and keep adding until it reaches the creamy consistency that I desire. I am not a huge fan of mayo, so I tend to add more of the Grey Poupon, because it has a little kick to it and a smooth consistency much like mayo.
Once you have gotten the yolk mixture as you like it, finely chop up a few stalks of celery and as much onion as you would like to add. You can opt out of the raw onion if they are too strong for you and use a dried onion powder to capture the same flavor, then add some salt and pepper to taste. Careful not to over-salt, as this results in a watery mix when left in the refrigerator.
Lastly, chop up your egg whites to the desired size, drop them in the yolk and veggie mixture and stir. Voila, lunch for days!
Italian Pasta and Chicken Salad
This is great as a little side dish, but also as a full meal for something simple and light, with a bit of Italian zest.
- 1 box of rotini pasta (I prefer the tri color for both eye appeal and extra flavor)
- 3 small roma tomatoes
- 1 small red onion
- 3-4 chicken breasts
- 1 16 oz. bottle of the Italian Dressing of your choice (note, not balsamic, but plain old Italian)
- 1 small can of sliced black olives
- Salt, Pepper & Garlic or Onion Powder
First, boil the pasta, then drain and let cool. While that cools down, bring another large pot of water to a boil and drop your chicken breasts in. This not only removes excess fat from the chicken, but also makes for a tender version of the bird that is great for shredding with a fork. Boil the chicken slowly, reducing to a low boil, until no pink remains at the center of the breast. You can cook this in chicken stock as well to add a little extra flavor. Drain in a colander once done and allow the chicken to cool.
Next, chop your onion into thin slices and cut tomatoes into bite-sized chunks. I usually remove the seeds because they get very watery when mixed in, but that is up to you! Toss these veggies into the bowl with your pasta and add about half of the bottle of Italian dressing. Drain the can of sliced olives and add those as well. Mix thoroughly and season with the salt, pepper and onion or garlic powder to taste. Place that mixture into the refrigerator to set. The pasta will soak up a lot of dressing while cooling, so be sure to reserve the remainder of the dressing to pour on and season later on.
Once the chicken is cool enough to touch, remove any excess fat trimmings and use a fork to shred the meat down. This technique works great to ensure that the chicken will soak up as much flavor from the other ingredients as possible, and makes for the perfect bite-sized, delicate pieces that won’t overtake the dish. Once shredded down, add the chicken to the pasta and veggie mix, give it a good stir and let refrigerate for a few hours to let the flavors meld together. When you remove to eat, add the remainder of the Italian dressing, stir thoroughly and you are all set to mangia!
Fresh Steamed White Wine, Lemon & Garlic Shrimp over Linguine
Mmmm. Just the name of this dish gets me. This is a delicious crowd-pleaser and the perfect dish for the beach, where you can pick up the freshest shrimp imaginable right off of the docks. Serve this in a large bowl for the table, or serve it up in tiny, appetizer-sized dishes, such as I did in the photo below. Make the dish yours!
What you’ll need for this recipe:
- 2 lbs of large sized shrimp, peeled and deveined (no tails)
- 1 head of garlic
- 3 lemons
- 1 box of linguine (1lb)
- Finely grated Parmesan cheese
- Salt & Pepper
- 1/2 stick of unsalted butter (Land O’ Lakes is great)
- Small bottle of extra virgin olive oil
- 1 large bottle of white wine (preferably Sauvignon Blanc)
First step is to clean the shrimp and make sure it is thoroughly peeled, cleaned and the tails are off. Once that is complete, you will need a large steamer pot. Remove the steamer basket from the pot and place the cleaned shrimp inside. Next, pour about half of the bottle of wine into the bottom of the pot and add the juice of 1-2 lemons to the wine, then add just a splash of olive oil along with a bit of salt and pepper for flavor.
Next up, peel the cloves of garlic. How much you use here is up to you, but I usually opt for the whole thing because I love garlic, and it won’t come into direct contact with the shrimp to overpower it. Once the cloves are separated and peeled, spread them out onto the cutting board, but don’t slice. Take the flat edge of a large chopping knife and press down firmly on each clove until it appears to “pop” or break open. This releases the flavor without making the cloves too potent. Place the broken cloves into the wine mixture at the bottom of the pot.
Place the steamer basket with the shrimp into the pot and turn the stove to a very low setting. You want to gently cook these low and slow so that they steam, but don’t get rubbery. Watch them very carefully and make sure the wine mixture at the bottom of the pot does not begin to boil. This should take about 10 minutes total, and you will know the shrimp are done when they expand and turn a light pink color. Remove the steamer basket and place to the side to cool so the shrimp do not continue to cook.
While those shrimp are reaching their peak pinkness, start another pot of water for the linguine. You should be able to cook this simultaneously with the shrimp so that the timing is perfect for each. Cook the pasta to your liking. I prefer al dente paired with the firmness of the shrimp, so this should just take about 7 minutes. Once cooked, drain and place in a bowl. Add the juice of a 1/2-1 lemon (seeds removed) to the pasta, along with a gentle dash of olive oil, as this keeps the pasta from sticking together as it cools a bit. You can add a bit more to flavor if that floats your boat.
Next, add butter to taste, or a substitute for a lighter version. If you really enjoy garlic, you can add a bit of crushed garlic to the pasta, which is amazing. If you add garlic to the pasta as it boils, that adds a nice flavor as well, without as much bite. Lastly, add the steamed shrimp to the mix, a little finely shredded Parmesan cheese, and it’s ready to serve!