St. George Island never disappoints. Even on a cloudy day, and those have been few, it’s my favorite place to be.
Life is here simple: hours and hours of reading books on the beach under a huge umbrella. We listen to Oyster Radio (100.5 WOYS) and don’t turn on the television. I’ve had oyster dates with my kids and husband at Lynn’s Quality Oysters on the bay side. We’ve spent hours in a sea kayak looking for turtles and dolphins (and finding them).
We timed our visit to coincide with the Perseid meteor showers and thrilled to a couple of long, slow, colorful earthgrazers most nights. On Sunday (the peak night), we sipped Buffalo Trace bourbon and watched into the wee hours seeing dozens of shooting stars, some with spectacular tails. Orange. Green. Blue. A few evenings we’ve woken to incredible thunderstorms just outside our window, lightning striking the water turning night into day. Another kind of light show.
We’ve eaten lots of tomatoes, just old-fashioned slicing ones from Chandler Mountain in Steele, Alabama, shipped all the way down here to the Piggly Wiggly in Apalachicola, Florida (imagine!). We’ve made salads by adding fresh peaches or watermelon to them–whatever my hand grabs first. Brother caught a redfish on his fly rod the other day, and we ate it a few hours later baked on the half shell with just salt and pepper and a little olive oil.
Best. Fish. Ever.
We spend our days in swimsuits here, very rarely dressing more than that. Even then it’s shorts and t-shirts. A sundress, maybe. In fact, we’ve not gotten much fancier than dinner for two at The Owl Cafe in Apalachicola one night. If you’re here, you should go. The food is delicious and the service so quietly friendly.
I can’t show you the turtles we’ve seen. Green turtles? Loggerheads? We only get a glimpse of a yellow-spotted head and they are gone. Likewise, a red fox crossing the road on our way home from dinner that one night was as fleeting as a thought. I saw this kingfisher cozying up to a guy fishing from the shore one day. I think he knew the guy had a bite before the guy knew.
Rick rode his bike on the island and off. And then off some more. While cycling on the logging roads in Tate’s Hell State Forest, he saw bear tracks but, thankfully, no bear. He also saw a deer and a sizable black snake. I told him if he wasn’t back by noon, I would come looking, so when he was done, he texted me: “I’m out of Hell. Headed back … all good.”
All that is Gulf-coast specific, but what we enjoyed on our dining table is not necessarily so. Most of these things don’t require a beach to enjoy, but of course, they might taste better down there.
Shrimp a Different Way
Before we left for vacation, I made a batch of harissa with shrimp in mind. I had come across a recipe for Quick Broiled Shrimp with Harissa and Beer and felt it was absolutely necessary. Turns out it was.
- 2 pound 16/20 shrimp, shell-on, deveined
- 1 1/2 teaspoons kosher salt
- 1 bottle (12 ounces) beer, whatever kind you’re drinking
- 4 cloves garlic, thinly sliced
- 1 cup (8 ounces) butter, room temperature, cut into 1-inch pieces
- 1/2 cup homemade harissa paste (see recipe below)
- crusty bread and more beer to serve
Place a sheet tray lined with foil or a large cast iron skillet under the broiler to preheat. Toss the cleaned shrimp with salt. Set aside.
Add the beer and garlic to a small, 2-quart saucepan over medium-high heat. Reduce until it is sticky and only about 3 tablespoons in volume, about 10 minutes. The beer will foam up while boiling. Set the pot askew on the burner to prevent it from boiling over.
Add the butter to the beer one tablespoon at a time while constantly swirling until incorporated and thick, about 2 minutes. Remove from heat and stir in the harissas.
Pour the butter sauce over the shrimp and toss to combine. Pour the shrimp and all the sauce on the preheated sheet tray or skillet. It will hiss and sputter. Make sure the shrimp is in one even layer and place the tray or the skillet under the broiler (but not too close; make sure they don’t burn) until shrimp are opaque and cooked through, about 4 minutes. Serve immediately.
Harissa is a key ingredient in North African cuisine. This batch will last up to a month in the fridge, and you can put it on everything from scrambled eggs to rice. It makes a lovely rub for grilled meats, too.
- 15 dried chiles de árbol
- 2 dried guajillo chiles
- 1 dried ancho chile
- 1 tablespoon cumin seeds
- 1½ teaspoons coriander seeds
- 3 garlic cloves, smashed
- 2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
- 1 tablespoon white wine vinegar
- 1 tablespoon tomato paste
- 1½ teaspoons hot smoked Spanish paprika
- 1 teaspoon kosher salt
- 3/4 cup olive oil, divided
Place árbol, guajillo, and ancho chiles in a large heatproof measuring glass. Pour boiling water over to submerge, cover with plastic wrap, and let sit until chiles are very pliable and cool enough to handle, 15–20 minutes. Drain; remove stems and seeds and discard (wear gloves for this part if you have them).
Toast cumin and coriander in a dry small skillet over medium-low heat, tossing constantly, until very fragrant, about 2-3 minutes. Transfer to a food processor, add garlic, and pulse until spices are broken up and garlic forms a paste.
Add chiles and pulse until chiles form a coarse paste. Add lemon juice, vinegar, tomato paste, paprika, and salt and process until mostly smooth but mixture still has a little texture. With the motor running, stream in ½ cup oil. Process until oil is incorporated.
Transfer harissa to a bowl. Pour remaining ¼ cup oil over top and keep in the refrigerator.
Here’s What To Do With All Those Tomatoes
- 2 pounds really ripe tomatoes, roughly chopped and sort of seeded
- 1 small container of tomato juice or V8
- 1 large cucumber, some skin removed, seeded and roughly chopped
- 1 red bell pepper, roughly chopped
- 1/4 cup (or more if you want) finely chopped red onion
- 1-2 jalapeno peppers, seeded and minced
- 1 large clove garlic, minced
- drizzle of extra-virgin olive oil
- 1 lime, juiced
- 2 teaspoons balsamic vinegar
- 2 teaspoons Worcestershire sauce
- 1/2 teaspoon freshly ground cumin
- dash of Old Bay (optional)
- 1 teaspoon kosher salt
- 1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
- fresh basil leaves to garnish
Because Pimento Cheese is Good (and It Opens Doors)
This is true: I have managed to get an invite (more than once!) to a fabulous beach house in return for bringing the world’s best pimento cheese.
I really have Frank Stitt and Miss Verba to thank for it. You’ll find the recipe in Frank Stitt’s Southern Table: Recipes and Gracious Traditions from Highlands Bar and Grill. And I never ever go to the beach without it.
It makes a big batch, and we enjoy it for days with saltines. We save the last few servings for grilled pimento cheese and bacon sandwiches on a day when I just cannot leave the beach before 7 p.m.
We serve these sandwiches with whatever salad we care to pull together, (I show it with a fresh, juicy mix of watermelon, tomato and fresh basil with a splash of balsamic vinegar and a drizzle of olive oil and a little salt and pepper.)
These sandwiches are great with the gazpacho mentioned above.
Here’s Miss Verba’s recipe. Prepare to be addicted.
- 1 pound sharp yellow cheddar
- 1/4 pound cream cheese, softened
- 1 teaspoon freshly ground white pepper
- 3 large red bell peppers, roasted, peeled, seeded, and chopped
- 1/2 cup homemade mayonnaise or best-quality commercial mayonnaise
- 1 teaspoon sugar
- Splash of hot sauce, such as Tabasco or Cholulu
- 1/8 teaspoon cayenne pepper (optional)
Grind the cheddar in a food processor fitted with the grating disk, or grate it on the small-holed side of a hand grater.
Transfer the grated cheese to a bowl, add the cream cheese, white pepper, bell peppers, mayonnaise, sugar, hot sauce, and cayenne, if using, and blend all together thoroughly. I also add a splash of Worchestershire.
Refrigerate and serve chilled. (The spread will keep for several days in the refrigerator, but it usually disappears long before then.)
Easiest Daquiri Ever!
Here’s a simple yet absolutely delicious Santiago-Style Daiquiri recipe from The New York Times Cooking website. It’s based on Eduardo Corona’s recipe at El Traguito in Santiago de Cuba. You can read the entire story here.
There’s no blender involved. It makes one really great drink.
- 2 teaspoons granulated sugar
- 1 1/2 teaspoons fresh lemon or lime juice
- 1 1/2 ounces white or three-year-old light rum
- 5 drops maraschino liqueur (optional)
- Lemon or lime slice for garnish
In a cocktail shaker filled with 1 cup crushed ice, combine the sugar, lemon or lime juice, rum, and maraschino, if using. Shake vigorously for 30 seconds.
Pour into a chilled martini glass.
Garnish with lemon or lime slice.