Waking Up to Granola

I’ve been on a granola spree lately. And it kind of took me by surprise.

Well, to be true, I do remember this moment: on a business trip a few months back, I was on deadline working in my hotel room through the breakfast hour. I usually find room service menus pretty uninspiring and fall back on what seems safe and easy. That day, as on many others like it, I chose yogurt, fruit, granola. Sometimes it’s “yogurt and fruit” with a side of granola. Or “granola and yogurt” with a side of seasonal fruit. But it’s rare that some incarnation of that trio isn’t on a hotel room service menu. Safe. And easy.

So there I sat, looking down at my now-predictable hotel room breakfast. And realizing how much I liked it. And wondering why it was that I only eat it while typing away on a borrowed desk out-of-town rather than on my own dining room table at home.

Every now and then I think about picking up some granola at home. But most pre-made granola available at the store can be pretty insipid and lackluster if not also overly sweet. And the stuff that looks really great and homemade? Seems to always be about $5 per cup.

Homemade, you say? Yeah, I’d done that before. Probably exactly twice. Recipe testing. The first, for my first book Northwest Best Places Cookbook, a “Nutty but Nice” recipe from the Marquee House in Salem, Oregon. (Looks like the recipe didn’t make the cut for the re-issue of that cookbook last year; the original came out in 1996.) Another granola recipe from Rock Springs Guest Ranch in Bend, Oregon for another Best Places cookbook in 2003. Those Oregonians, they do love their granola! A popular item on many a bed and breakfast morningtime table, no matter what state.

Since then, no oats had been tossed with melted butter and honey. No pan of healthful grains toasting in the oven to make a nutty and delicious breakfast food. Not until that recent enlightened morning when I realized how much I actually like the stuff.

So back in the kitchen to make some homemade granola. Both of those previously-tested recipes had been good, but neither really knocked my socks off. I perused a few other options and liked this one best of all. But, of course, I changed things around quite a bit. Here’s what I came up with to suit my fancy. Secret ingredient? Malt powder. Adds both a bit of interesting sweetness and that malty-nutty flavor that I just can’t resist. (Some of that same jar went into a batch of chocolate-malt ice cream this week.)

Granola is an ideal template for variation. If you’ve got wheat germ on hand but not flaxseed, swap them out. Neither? The granola’s just dandy without them. Nix the coconut, add raisins, use different nuts. Banana chips? Whatever floats your boat. It’s a fun and tasty recipe to play around with.

Malty Granola

5 cups rolled oats
3/4 cup chopped hazelnuts
1/2 cup sunflower seeds (unsalted)
1/2 cup shredded coconut
1/2 cup slivered almonds
1/2 cup malt powder
1/3 cup flaxseed
1/2 cup unsalted butter
1/2 cup honey
2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract

Preheat the oven to 325 F.

Stir together the oats, hazelnuts, sunflower seeds, coconut, almonds, malt powder and flaxseed in a large bowl. Combine the butter and honey in a small saucepan and warm over medium-low heat until the butter is fully melted, stirring occasionally. Stir in the vanilla, then pour the butter mixture over the oat mixture. Stir well to evenly blend, then pour the oaty combo out onto a large rimmed baking sheet or baking dish.

Bake the granola until lightly browned and toasty-nutty smelling, about 1 hour, stirring the granola gently every 15 minutes or so to assure even cooking. Set aside to cool thoroughly before transferring to an air-tight container for storage. The granola will keep for up to 2 weeks, in a cool, dark spot and well sealed to keep it crisp.

Makes about 7 cups.

Granola on Foodista

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It’s the Berries: Summer Pudding

Okay, enough with the stone fruits! I’ve clearly been on a bent about that category of delicious summertime fruits. For a moment I’ll move along from the peach and plum tones of those juicy treats and give some props to the jeweltone berries.

A few occurrences conspired to put visions of summer pudding dancing in my head over the past few weeks. Random conversations. Memories. What-to-do-with-those-beautiful-berries ponderings. The last straw was when I came across this recipe in Relish magazine a couple of weeks ago. That did it. Summer pudding it would be. Friends coming over for dinner a couple nights later were to be the victims.

I first learned about summer pudding about 20 years ago. At the time I was living in France, working on various book projects with Anne Willan after having graduated from La Varenne. One interesting project had me going over to England with Chef Claude to do some video work, done at the English countryside home of one of the project’s producers. Beautiful setting, warm and gracious people, quiet environs. It was a wonderful few days. A highlight of which was a small dinner party our hosts threw while we were there. The time was late summer, I can still picture the cozy, colorful dining room and lively ambiance of conversations that evening.

Not every detail of the meal remains in my memory bank, but I was introduced to two things that night: sea beans and summer pudding. Sea beans (also known as samphire, among a number of nicknames) will have to wait for another day. But that summer pudding was a revelation: bright and bursting with flavor, despite being made with little more than berries, sugar and bread.

 

Off I went to the grocery store, my wonderful neighborhood West Seattle Thriftway that feeds me so well. This time of year they have a special rack in the produce area, featuring berries from Sakuma Brothers up in the Skagit Valley. Sure, expensive when you compare the price berry-for-berry against the standard offerings. But worth every cent given the mountains of flavor and aroma they offer by comparison. A quart of strawberries, a pint each of blackberries, raspberries, blueberries, boysenberries.

Though I always knew summer pudding to be made with everyday white bread–a type with dense crumb and not too soft–I wanted to make mine with brioche for a bit of extra panache, as did chef Ashton in that Relish recipe. There’s a good selection of Macrina breads at my Thriftway but that day the brioche loaf came only in raisined form. Not for summer pudding. So I made perhaps an odd choice and went with Macrina’s brioche hot dog buns. Same product, different shape. Just meant a bit more creative shape-cutting to fully line the bowl.

I didn’t follow the recipe exactly, as is my habit. I used less water, maybe 1/2 cup. I didn’t strain the berry juice from the berries to then dunk the bread pieces in the juice. Seemed an unnecessary step to me, dirtying more tools, when the bread is going to have ample time to soak up all that juice once the pudding is assembled.

So there I was, lining a ceramic bowl with my oddball shapes of brioche buns. I cut off most of the crust and cut the buns in long slices to best replicate normal sliced bread. Gently cooked the berries a bit, then ladled them and their vivid juices into the bowl. More brioche on top. Then the perfectly-sized plate to perch on top, with a heavy can or two to weigh everything down while it chills for a good 8 hours.

It’s pretty phenomenal how much that loose, juicy berry mixture sets up over time. Thankfully, the plastic wrap used to line the bowl gives you some leverage to help neatly dislodge the pudding onto a serving plate. A friend with Anglo heritage swears Devonshire cream is the only ideal accompaniment to a “summer pud” but all I could muster up was some freshly whipped and just lightly sweetened cream.

Perfection. A great way to cap off dinner with a longtime friend passing through town with his two bright, precocious children. And it wasn’t bad for breakfast the next day, either.

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Just Wild About Harry’s

I have got to make a point of getting to Vessel sometime in the next week or so. Just got an email reminder that they’re celebrating one of the most venerable drinking establishment in the world–Harry’s Bar–with signature items from their menu (beef carpaccio was created there, so the legend goes) and the quintessential Harry’s libation: the Bellini.

A trip my husband and I took to Italy in 2007 included two major pilgrimages for me. One to the Via Tribunali in Naples (the street after which this Via Tribunali was named) and the other to Harry’s Bar in Venice. The trip came PB (pre-blog) but I briefly recapped the excitement of cocktails and pizza on my then e-newsletter.

My very first trip to Venice had been back in 1985. It was an amazing, inspiring, eye-opening couple of months traveling eastward as far as Istanbul after a semester of study-abroad in Dijon, France. My girlfriend and I had a budget in the roughly $10-a-day range, stayed in cheap-o pensiones and spending as little as possible on food and other indulgences. “Quanto costa una camera per sta sera?” I’d ask into the payphone at each subsequent train station, checking affordability of a room from a listing found in the Let’s Go Europe book. We got berated by a waiter in some restaurant in Venice, having ordered a pizza that we wanted to share; he made it clear pizza’s were NOT to share, instead we had to each order our own.

But budget or no, it didn’t keep our Venice visit from being magical. Rich is every single traveler who gets to cross the myriad bridges arched over the canals. Getting lost in the small twisty lanes that dead-end to yet another canal. Squinting your eyes in Piazza San Marco and pretending it’s 100 years ago. We watched the sleek, romantic gondolas slip past with a sigh.

That few days did, however, leave me with one lingering desire. One that my husband had heard me repeat a few times over the years when the subject of travel to Venice came up in conversation. My wish was to return some day to the glorious city with two things: a man and a credit card. About 22 years after that first visit, I got my wish. Funny thing is, after all that, we never did invest in the iconic gondola ride. Better ways–it ends up–to spend one’s money in Venice!

On that first trip, Harry’s Bar wasn’t even on my radar. Didn’t register as something to dream longingly about for a future visit. But over the years, I did hear and read about the place, its history, the colorful and iconic characters that passed through that glass-paneled doorway. Though I swear that wasn’t the ONLY reason we chose to book a cruise that began and ended in Venice, it sure was a lovely side benefit of the decision. And it meant I got to Harry’s twice, once on each end of the trip.

Hear about a place like Harry’s Bar for long enough and the image becomes grand, your imagination painting an ever more vivid picture. Lavish decor, sweeping spaces, elegant entryway, shiny and perfect. Alas, winding through Venice, finally coming to the Calle Vallaresso and walking toward its end at the Grand Canal, a small simple door with “Harry’s” etched in the glass panel is all that greets you. But it’s enough. Trust me, it’s enough! (I had very much the same impression when I first visited the original Paris location of Le Cordon Bleu cooking school back in 1984. It sounded like such a majestic, important place, I imagined the school to be in a sort of palace with a sweeping drive, grand columns, high doorway into a marbled, polished interior. Instead I was met with a simple blue awning over a nondescript doorway on a somewhat anonymous street. But still my joy at being there, attending an afternoon cooking demonstration and breathing the same air that Julia Child did some decades before: it was priceless.)

So there we were, slipping into one of the dozen or so tables in the bar, actually at Harry’s. Just as Ernest Hemingway, Truman Capote, Orson Welles, Peggy Guggenheim and many others had been. I didn’t care how simple the decor, underwhelming the physical nature of the place. It was a moment to enjoy, feeling generations of characters sitting alongside me.

But I wasn’t about to order a Bellini. For one thing, I never much enjoy a fruity drink. And for another, I hate ordering what everyone else is ordering. I tried to squint while sitting in Harry’s and imagine I was there 60 years earlier with locals and arty expats and nary a tourist in site. But it didn’t quite work. Took so much squinting that my eyes were effectively closed. Truth is, by my count a good 75% or more folks come in, order one very expensive Bellini and head off for one of those even more expensive gondola rides. I opted instead for a Negroni. Gin, Campari, sweet vermouth. Italian, though not from Venice. Far more my speed. Had a couple for good measure. And to justify more people-watching and daydreaming and just reveling in being in such a historic watering-hole.

One item marked “done” off the great life list of culinary to-does. Two when you count that pizza in Naples!

Here’s to a lifelong pursuit of a delicious lift list fulfillment.

Cheers.

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Sum- Sum- Summertime: Juicy Fruits

If I had to hang my hat on one theme about which I’ve written the most in my (ahem) nearly 2 decades of food writing, it’s Northwest ingredients. Celebration of foods that are grown in my backyard, that have been part of my life since I was a little kid, it’s a thrill when your backyard is one so bounteous as this one. Some items are pretty famously linked to the region, things like salmon, apples, oysters, foods that get a lot of attention when the national spotlight is shown on the Northwest by way of cookbooks and articles. Others are less so. Which is why in my Northwest Homegrown Cookbook series I kicked off with Crab, followed by Stone Fruit. Instead of Salmon (which came later in the series) followed by Berries (which hasn’t happened, yet).

I figured that if you asked even a Seattleite to list the key foods for which Washington state is a top grower nationally, I figured it might be a while before they got to “peaches” or “cherries.” But I didn’t want to write a book just about either peaches or cherries. They and their other pitted brethren–apricots, nectarines, plums–share common heritage, sweetness, form and other characteristics that make them a delightful and delicious group to consider as a whole.

Then came naming the book. Stone Fruits is by no means a title so enchanting the books nearly jump into the hands of customers. It doesn’t elicit the kind of visceral response that, say, words like “chocolate,” “cupcakes” or “bacon” might. Stone, of course, refers to the fact that the fruits all have a similar pit–called a “stone” in Anglo parlance. I could have called the cookbook “Drupes,” another term that references the fruits’ slightly larger family, which includes almonds. But that certainly wasn’t a consumer-ready improvement. “Soft fruits” is another term used in the industry, to readily contrast these fruits with firmer apples and pears. We joked about titles the likes of “Juicy Fruits” and “Sexy Fruits,” to no avail.

I didn’t want to call it “Peaches (and those other fruits).” Nor just offer the laundry list of the five types.

So Stone Fruits it is. And perhaps it’s little surprise that of the four books in that series, Stone Fruits is the slower seller of them all. It’s kind of like the blonde, cute, generous girl that everyone likes having the name Gladys. A most unfortunately example of judging a book by its title. A stone fruit cobbler mixing up plums, peaches and apricots is a mighty delicious proposition. But it probably would be easily oversold by a classic cherry cobbler.

Give that charming girl named Gladys a chance. When you see “stone fruits” on a menu, don’t think “stone soup.” These are the fruits that will burst in your mouth and drip down your chin. Fruits that make pies and other treats so good they make you cry. Not only because they’re so delicious. But because they’re also so fleeting. Tree-ripened, honestly seasonal fruits in this chummy group don’t stick around for long. Indulge while you can.

I had the good fortune of coming home from a talk a couple of weeks ago with a couple pounds of wonderful Northwest cherries. Tim Mar was there, had brought them for us to snack on and there was a good bit left over. Tim’s co-owner of ChefShop.com, known for its amazing world pantry of spices/chocolates/nuts, etc. But also venturing into the realm of fresh seasonal foods on special occasions. Occasions as special as the local cherry season, during which they ship off boxes of the fruit to all corners of the globe. It was quite a treat to have this bounty. After nibbling more than a few handfuls, I set to showcasing them in a simple dessert. Cherry cobbler won the coin toss.

I don’t necessarily have a favorite go-to recipe for cobbler. To be perfectly honest, we just don’t eat dessert around here very often. So I headed over to www.epicurious.com and found a recipe that lead me to this incarnation. Tasty. And to fully embrace the joys of all stone fruits, I’d happily recreate this recipe using a mix of them all, pitted and chopped to relatively equal sized pieces meeting that 6-cup quantity.

Stone Fruit Cobbler

Filling
6 cups pitted and halved cherries and/or pitted and chopped peaches, nectarines, apricots and plums
1/2 cup sugar, or to taste (if the fruits are on the tart side add more)
2 tablespoons tapioca
2 tablespoons Frangelico, Amaretto or Grand Marnier

Biscuit Topping
1 cup all-purpose flour
5 tablespoons cold unsalted butter, cut into pieces
2 tablespoons fine cornmeal
2 tablespoons sugar
1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup milk
1/2 teaspoon pure vanilla extract

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees F.

Stir together the stone fruits in a large bowl. Sprinkle the sugar, tapioca, and liqueur over and stir well to mix. Set the bowl aside for 30 minutes, stirring occasionally. Transfer the fruit mixture (with its juices) to a 2-quart baking dish.

Combine the flour, butter, cornmeal, sugar, baking powder and salt in a food processor and pulse until the butter is finely chopped and the mixture has a coarse sandy texture. Transfer the mixture to a bowl and add the milk and vanilla, stirring just until the dough is cohesive. Top the fruit with randomly placed spoonfuls of the dough, leaving some open spots where the fruit is exposed.

Set the baking dish on a rimmed baking sheet just in case there are any drips that need catching. Bake until the biscuit topping is nicely browned and the fruit juices are bubbling up around the edge of the dish, 45 minutes to 1 hour. Set aside to cool to, or near, room temperature before serving.

Makes about 8 servings.

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A Seattle Gem Turns 25: Le Gourmand

One thing that never ceases to amaze me is the passage of time. You’d think I’d get used to it at some point, but I never do. I often joke in an overdue email reply to someone that “I blinked twice and a week went by!” Honestly, it does feel that way sometimes.

Last week my husband and I were talking about something that happened in 2000 and I was stunned by the realization that the turn of the millenium was over ten years ago already! Remember when Y2K seemed to be the thing that was going to bring the world to its knees? It seems like such a simplistic, naive concern now.

So I shouldn’t be surprised by the fact that I was surprised to hear that Le Gourmand is celebrating its 25th year. Chef and owner Bruce Naftaly called recently to share the news with me. Twenty five years in that charming, nondescript brick building that everyone rushes by making their way down the hill from Fremont into Ballard. It’s like a century in restaurant-years. And it’s a milestone made only more notable because of the oddly low profile Le Gourmand has held in town. Bruce is happiest in the kitchen. Though he surely enjoys making the rounds in the dining room to chat with guests but even then he seems a tad out of his element. He rarely makes appearances at the usual chef-o-rama grazing events. I was thrilled when he agreed to be one of the chefs that joined the celebration of the 2001 release of the Best Places Seattle Cookbook I did with Kathy Casey. He contributed a few recipes to the book, including my introduction to cooking with shiso leaves by way of his Savory Nectarine and Shiso Soup.

Bruce only launched the restaurant’s web site in this past year or so, and sheepishly admitted that he’d recently gotten himself a cell phone. He certainly doesn’t blog or tweet or otherwise go out of his way to trumpet his restaurant. Every year or so I get a phone call from him with some bit of news he’d like to share. It’s his very understated way of keeping me–and surely some other writers in town–in the loop and keep Le Gourmand on their minds.

All that to say that you kind of have to seek out Le Gourmand. It employs the “whisper” method of making itself known. I imagine many people know it as “that restaurant alongside Sambar,” the wonderful cocktail destination that Bruce and his wife Sara added about six years ago. Which is maybe not a bad thing! Hopefully some of them will slip through that doorway and treat themselves to the riches of dinner at Le Gourmand one day.

Maybe  just the motivation they–and anyone who hasn’t been to Le Gourmand, or hasn’t been recently–need is the 25th anniversary menu that’s available now. And based on what Bruce told me, should be available at least through the summer. For the first-timers, the menu is a great introduction to the restaurant, offering as it does dishes from the LG hall of fame, some of which were on the menu in the first year. Dishes that have been foundations of the restaurant over the years. Rabbit liver pâté (which he used to serve with housemade poppy seed crackers, the seeds collected from garden poppies). Blintzes filled with Sally Jackson sheep’s milk cheese. Boeuf à la ficelle with cabernet-pressings sauce. And of course, ending with the salade in true French style, mixed lettuces with a colorful scattering of edible flowers in a pitch-perfect vinaigrette.

Bruce’s call was inspiration enough to get me and my husband back there for dinner last week. Though we couldn’t limit ourselves to the 3 courses of that anniversary selection, instead opting for the seasonal 7-course tasting menu. Which means returning another time for the Whidbey Island mussels with lovage and steelhead with gooseberry and dill sauce. Instead, we sipped at a fascinating and delicious radish and rose soup. Tucked into seared foie gras with aprium and yuzu leaf sauce. Relished a ragout of morels and asparagus. Devoured steelhead wrapped in fig leaf (from their garden) in a vin de noix sauce. And, heaven help us (a generous menu!), beef tenderloin with housemade jowl bacon, cèpes, and crispy spaetzle. The latter course served, in quintessential Le Gourmand style, with a pretty side dish of buttery baby red potatoes, kale, and cabbage. Salad was all the dessert we needed after that feast. Delicious.

I suppose it’s pretty obvious by now. I love Le Gourmand. Enough so that I deemed it to be worthy of nod as the “millenial Seattle restaurant” that I covered in the December 1999 issue of Seattle Magazine, an honor I got to bestow not long after starting my stretch there as food editor. A couple small changes since then. Where once a garden plot rested at the south edge of the restaurant, that’s now where contented cocktailers sip their Vespers and Sangue Amaros on the garden patio of Sambar. And the once French-garden colorscape of pinks and greens of Le Gourmand’s interior has given way to bold white walls and whimsical marionettes.

Otherwise Le Gourmand is the same gem is has always been. Ridden the waves of booms and busts and restaurant trends that come and go. “Naftaly has every reason to be proud of what he creates at Le Gourmand,” I wrote back in 1999, “and the significant role he has played in defining what it means to eat locally and eat well in Seattle.” With another ten years under his belt, to me that still very much holds true. As does Bruce hold true to what matters to him most. His kitchen, his garden, seasonal foods, local producers. His family, his customers. His cooking.

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Taste of Summer: Rosé Sangria

I recorded a radio interview earlier this week, chatting about great foods and beverages to enjoy during the summer. When it comes to “summer” and “drinks” I get fixated on one thing: rosé sangria. I’ll admit to not usually being a sangria fan. Random fruit and sweetened red wine, just not my cup of tea. Which I’m sure is doing a disservice to great traditional sangria, but that’s been my general impression most times I’ve ordered it. Maybe I’ll have to run off to Spain and give some authentic sangria a try one of these days.

But when you swap out that red wine for a brisk, beautiful pink wine of summer and choose some great seasonal fruit — now you’re talking! That’s a sangria I can get enthusiastic about. Pretty, bright, and delicious. An ideal partner for whatever you may be cooking up this summer.

You know about the glories of rosé wine, right? Just because it’s pink doesn’t mean it’s sweet and adorable and girly. And if your only image of “pink” wine is white zinfandel, snap out of it!! Rosé is an incredibly engaging style of wine that serves up quite a lot of personality. Colors can go from just a subtle blush of pink to nearly raspberry, some verging on salmon-orange tones. Flavors range from light, crisp and quite dry to lush and somewhat fruity (my preference leans toward the former rather than the latter). While it’s possible some folks out there are in fact tinging white wine with red to get to pink, quality rosés are made with red wine grapes that are crushed, the juice left in contact with those red skins just long enough to influence the juice with a bit of their color.

So after I’d talked about some great grilling ideas and entertaining suggestions, the subject turned to beverages. And I piped up about my love of rosé sangria, about to rattle off description of the Watermelon-Rosé Sangria that’s in my new book, Gourmet Game Night, when I remembered that I’d also developed a rosé sangria recipe for my Stone Fruit cookbook that came out a few years ago. Kind of obsessed with the subject, you can see. My pal Braiden Rex-Johnson just did a wonderful write-up of Gourmet Game Night, which includes the watermelon version recipe here.

But here below is the original recipe I came up with. It was inspired in large part by the bottles of rosé from Washington’s own Chinook that populate our wine rack each summer. Winemaker Kay Simon makes her rosé with Cabernet Franc grapes, giving the wine some of that cherry-plum-berry character the varietal exhibits. If you’re unable to get your hands on the lighter-fleshed Rainier cherries, you can use dark cherries instead, knowing that their juices will deepen the color of the sangria from the natural hue of the wine.

Here’s to a wonderful summer ahead, with lots of delicious rosé sangria to enjoy! I think I’ll make it a new summertime tradition to come up with a new rosé sangria combo each year. A tasty challenge indeed.

Rosé Sangria with Rainier Cherries and Nectarines
from Stone Fruit

1/4 cup water
3 tablespoons sugar
2 bottles (750 ml each) dry rosé wine
1/2 pound Rainier cherries
1 nectarine or peach
1/2 lime, thinly sliced
1/4 cup brandy or kirsch
1 cup club soda

In a small saucepan, combine the water and sugar and warm over medium heat, stirring occasionally to help the sugar dissolve, 3 to 5 minutes. Increase the heat to high and bring just to a boil, then set the sugar syrup aside to cool.

Pour the rosé into a large pitcher, preferably glass. Pit and halve the cherries (Rainiers will discolor if pitted too far in advance) and add them to the wine. Pit and thinly slice the nectarine and add it to the pitcher with the lime slices. Stir in the brandy and sugar syrup, then chill the sangria until ready to serve, ideally at least a few hours to allow the flavors of the fruit to meld with the wine

Just before serving, stir in the club soda. Pour the chilled sangria into large wine glasses, spooning some of the fruit into each serving.

Makes 10 to 12 servings

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A Feast of Shrimp, South Carolina Style

I think a new tactic I’ll employ whenever travelling to a new place for the first time will be getting a pedicure on the first day there. That’s how we found out about the secret location for getting our shrimp fix while in South Carolina last month. Warm weather, beaches, sandals, sunshine meant a prime time for getting our toes all primped up. So Sunday morning we were hanging out at the local mani/pedi destination, in one of the fancy outdoor mall areas of Mt Pleasant just outside Charleston. Piggly Wiggly in the same complex became a frequent stop, this mall quickly became part of our routine during our brief stint as locals.

So there we were soaking our toes and four women were just finishing up, sounded like prelude to wedding celebrations later in the week. We exchanged a couple quick hellos. I guess it was pretty clear we weren’t from around there (lily white skin a dead give-away I suppose), they asked where we were visiting from. Our new friend heard “Seattle” and immediately asked if we’d come to town for Bambi’s party. Or maybe it was Buffy, or Trixie? Whatever it was, it wasn’t a name I hear often attached to any Seattleites I know. We nodded ‘nope’ but secretly wondered about crashing a fellow native’s shin-dig down there in South Carolina….. But then down to business. “Where can we get some local shrimp in the area?” we asked. Shem Creek, she told us. She explained that’s the area where all the shrimp boats pull in and dock when they’re not out shrimping. “Get your shrimp at Wendy’s,” she said. “It’s right behind the Rack.” Shem. Wendy’s. Rack. Got it.

Kathy and I headed back to the house to dazzle our husbands with our twinkly fingers and toes, then we all head off for our first of two lunches at Poe’s Tavern. We’d be regulars in a heartbeat if we lived anywhere near here. And we will be every time we make a return visit. Then off in search of shrimp. Took a while, but we had nothing but time (ahhhhhhh, vacation!). Google maps messed us up a bit, sending us to a hospital complex just off the highway. Only off by about four miles…… We finally found Shem Creek Inn, which lead us to some shrimp boats, a quick chat with a cook at a tourist restaurant who was catching a smoke out back, and before long we were standing in front of a funky local restaurant called The Wreck (not the Rack), with Wando Shrimp (not Wendy’s) alongside.

Both The Wreck and Wando were closed, but still we’d struck pay dirt. Because to the other side of The Wreck was Magwood & Sons. Purveyors of shrimp. Though they were out that afternoon. We chatted with head honcho Jay, who promised to call when next the boat came in. Which he did on Tuesday, very early in the morning. A few hours later, we were standing in the shop and he was scooping up 5 pounds of just-landed shrimp from the bin. While we were standing there chatting with Jay, I realized we’d come in the back door and were standing in the business part of the business, while most customers come in the other door and order at the counter. I sheepishly apologized, he said “that’s okay, I know you guys,” like we were longtime friends. Gotta love that about the South! As he was filling the old-school scale hanging from the ceiling, I scanned the shop noticing not much else going one. Shining stainless steel tables for cleaning. Refrigeration. The big tub full of shrimp. “Do you sell anything besides shrimp?” I asked him. “You bet!” he said. “Ice.”

Back to the house with the shrimp. As good fortune would have it, Tuesday is also farmers market day in Mt. Pleasant, but not until later in the afternoon. First, we had an early afternoon date with Nathalie Dupree at her really charming historic home in downtown Charleston, talking about food and cooking and Charleston and her work telling the story of Southern cuisine for a number of years. Great fun. And it’s where we learned the wisdom of “you can’t catch a pig from a horse,” which came in the course of discussing barbecue. And why it’s pig barbecue in the Carolinas and beef barbecue in Texas. Cowboys like to be on horses, galloping around and whooping and roping things. Cows are much more amenable to that scenario than are pigs. Which I guess explains why they’re not called Pigboys. But I digress.

 

Back over the lovely Arthur Ravenel bridge spanning the Cooper River to Mount Pleasant (a quick 10-15 minute drive) and the farmers market. It’s run by the city of Mt. Pleasant in a lovely, new-looking permanent structure. Lively and dynamic, lots of lovely produce, great locally made products like pickles and cheese, peanuts fresh, boiled and deep-fried (you eat them shell and all!). It was a fun and delightful taste of the region, and a great way to stock up for dinner.

 

The kitchen was soon a-flurry with activity. Green beans being trimmed, garlic cloves peeled, tomatoes and sweet onions sliced, ears of corn being shucked, amazing little creamer potatoes being scrubbed. Cocktails being made. Pimiento cheese being snacked on. All we were missing was the soundtrack from Big Chill. It had already been a wonderful day, and we were in for a pretty spectacular evening.

As is true of most regional/seasonal food, it’s usually time to stand back and apply the “less is more” principle. So the shrimp just got steamed very simply with sliced garlic, the green tops from the onions, herbs from Nathalie’s garden, lemon halves. Our salad was simple sliced cucumber, tomatoes, sweet onions with blue cheese scattered over and a balsamic vinaigrette. Corn, green beans and potatoes simply steamed. OOOOHHHH. And how could I forget?!?! Garlic bread! Old-school. Lots of butter with lots of minced garlic, some chives and other herbs. Slathered on big slabs of “French bread” (you know the kind, softer big loaves than any classic baguette). We were in HEAVEN.

 

Everything was ready. We piled onto the deck, had a good hour or so of sunlight left, glasses filled with chilled beverages of choice. All was right with our world! And it was an amazing dinner. Lots of moans and groans, more than a few comments akin to “a meal to remember.” A blessed highlight of vacation!

The leftovers were pretty remarkable too. Yes, we’d bought TOO MUCH shrimp. So it got peeled after dinner and tucked away for tomorrow. All the shrimp shells went into a pot and simmered for the rest of the evening. And it was a long evening of playing games and sipping cocktails (Kathy invented the Charleston 75 in honor of the experience!!! Ooooh those were good). So those shrimp shells had ample opportunity to exude all their wonderful flavor into the water. Which after being strained, we reduced even further to a thick near-glaze.

For Wednesday’s lunch I chopped up the remaining shrimp, diced some of the sweet onion and whipped the living daylights out of an egg yolk and some olive oil to make mayonnaise. A drizzle of that shrimp stock reduction, pinches of salt and pepper. I have to say that was one of the most delicious shrimp salads I’d ever had. Made only more delicious by spooning it on top of a piece of cold garlic bread. Much as I might like to think I could recreate that shrimp salad another day, it was truly a product of that moment in time. That combination of Mt Pleasant ingredients, that group of friends, that series of events and experiences that lead up to the simple lunch that was satisfying down to my jauntily-painted toes.

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