Thursday, May 5, 2011

Life’s A Beach ... Sometimes


(My food column for Heartland Women
a free, monthly newspaper published for 
women in Southern Illinois)

April 2011

My Favorite Husband and I have recently returned from the first vacation we’ve taken together in a few years. His first choice for the perfect vacation is almost always – the beach. My idea of a good beach vacation is a big stack of books and lots and lots of air-conditioning. This time it was my idea to go to Seaside, FL. We made it work!

Beach vacation at Seaside, FL

There is one requirement we do share for a good vacation – no flying – he, for obvious reasons, and me, just because a vacation should not begin and end with a tedious, time-consuming, contest of rules seemingly designed to cause frustration and cramped discomfort. Not if I have to pay dearly for it! Thanks, but no thanks! But I digress.

View of the beach just over the dune

I can’t believe it took six years of Midwestern winter blahs before I caught on to the brilliant idea of the mid-winter Florida escape. This year though, I finally embraced the sun and warm weather get-away as an absolute winter necessity, much like a warm coat in the Midwest. And, you guessed it; Florida is full of beaches and warmer weather, so that’s where we’ve been.

Honeybee Cottage

Seaside, our Florida destination, is a planned community built along the Gulf Coast of Florida’s Panhandle. Designed and built along both sides of Hwy. 30-A, it is reminiscent of the time, just a generation or two ago, when people lived in homes with front porches, knew their neighbors, watched kids ride bicycles up and down quiet streets and walked to the town square to shop and socialize.

Our porch and hammock at Honeybee Cottage in Seaside

Seaside’s developers constructed a new town with an old town feel and created an ideal community for year-round residents and beach vacationers. What may look like a place that time forgot is really chock full of fun things to do for everyone in the family – art galleries, bike riding, Camp Seaside for kids, croquet, tennis, pools, fitness center, spa services, charming shops, a bookstore, casual dining, movie night under the stars, a concierge service to arrange things like deep-sea fishing excursions or golf outings, and … the beautiful beach and clear blue waters of the Gulf, of course! A week might not be enough time to spend in Seaside – whether you want to do it all, or just watch the waves roll in from a hammock on your porch.

The living/dining room of Honeybee Cottage on the beach in Seaside

We had a lovely time in Seaside. Our cottage was charming and offered everything we needed, in a compact and efficient design. Our rental package included an insulated Seaside beach tote bag stuffed with travel mugs, a bag of coffee, soda can holders, plus a bottle of wine. Also included in our rental were two bicycles to use for the week, passes for the pools, tennis courts and fitness center and free DVD rentals. We didn’t have nearly enough time to try it all, but I did discover that I haven’t forgotten how to ride a bike and I really enjoyed being able to ride around town!

Bike riding is the best way to get around Seaside

So what about the bookstore, restaurants and shopping? Well, the bookstore was very nice and had a nice selection of children’s books, magazines, books by Southern authors, as well as classic and contemporary fiction. Upstairs was a music store with a generous selection of vintage LP’s – which are kind of like big -- kinda like big, black CD’s for those of you born after 1975.

Sundog Books downstairs and Central Square records upstairs

The other shopping was eclectic and beach-y, without being tourist-y or souvenir-ish. Art galleries, clothing shops for the whole family, beachwear, jewelry, furniture and home interiors were all located on the square or along the beach just across the street.

The beach at Seaside

And the food? Well, I don’t think I’ve ever been anywhere that had more of something for everyone, within easy walking distance. Everything from coffee and tea, frozen yogurt, fudge, hamburgers, hotdogs, pizza, tacos and seafood is served at the inside and outside tables, all just a few steps from the beach. Most places offer beer and wine, but Bud & Alley’s Rooftop Bar was the best place for a drink and sunset views over the Gulf of Mexico.

Sunset with clouds over the Gulf of Mexico

The most interesting and unique eateries were a row of vintage Airstream trailers outfitted for food vendors, sitting along the sidewalk at the base of the town square and Hwy. 30-A. Frostbites served Hawaiian shave ice, frozen custard and homemade lemonade. The unmistakable aroma of smoky barbecue drew us to Barefoot Barbecue Airstream for lunch one day. They served pulled pork with great smoke. The pork is also hormone/steroid/antibiotic free - and they even offered a decent version of my favorite eastern Carolina vinegar and pepper sauce to splash on the pork.

Airstream Row was the place of great outdoor dining

ooey, gooey classic and creative grilled cheese sandwiches – I loved my Brie and Bacon on Cranberry Walnut Bread.

Brie and Bacon on Cranberry Walnut Bread at Meltdown

My favorite breakfast was from another Airstream food vendor. Raw and Juicy was the place for fresh, organic fruit and vegetable juices and smoothies. The woman in front of us in line ordered a Green Goddess Smoothie. All that green vegetable froth was more could take first thing in the morning, so I went with the more traditional Steel Cut Oatmeal with Apples, Bananas and Almond Milk. Yum! A wonderful way to warm up to the idea of a cool spring morning.

Modica Market

We also enjoyed looking around at all the gourmet grocery items at Modica Market. Dinner the first night was panini sandwiches from Modica deli, plus a huge piece of the tallest chocolate cake I've ever seen. It took both of us two days to eat the whole piece. Now that's a cake!

Lunch at Great Southern Cafe

My favorite meal in Seaside was also my favorite of the whole trip. Lunch at Great Southern Cafe was a perfect combination of fresh vegetables, good seafood, a little comfort food and a light dessert – all with a modern twist on some classic Southern favorites. My entrée was Red Snapper with a Pecan Crust, the cheese in the Grits was Smoked Gouda, the Hush Puppies were sweet and spicy and the Collards – insert smiley face here! – were the most amazing blend of tender, sweet, salty, spicy, hot and tart vinegar deliciousness I’ve ever tasted.

Scene of the failed 90-degree turn

So that’s it! Our 2011 farewell-to-winter beach vacation. I’ve left out the part about MFH’s 24-hour bug that kept coming back every couple of days, his temporary crown that chipped one day and broke off entirely the next, the cottage mix-up on our first day that meant moving on the second day, or my fall down the 90-degree turn on the stairs that twisted one knee and skinned the other. All in all, we had a good time, but we did come home two days early just to keep it that way.

Sunset pier watch at Dewey Destin seafood restaurant

As long as I can look out at the ocean, see a beautiful sunset, read an interesting book and enjoy a good meal or two, the beach is a good place for a vacation. This time, I also brought home some good recipes to remember the best of my vacation food finds. That takes it up a notch to deliciously good.

Home again, home again, jiggity jig!

(my version of Bonefish Grill’s finest, 
which I enjoyed at our first stop in Hoover, AL - mmmmm!)
2 parts blueberry-infused vodka
1 part blueberry liqueur
squeeze of lemon juice
garnish with fresh blueberries
chilled martini glass
lemon juice

Place blueberry vodka, blueberry liqueur and lemon juice in a shaker filled with ice. Shake to blend for 20 seconds and pour into chilled martini glass dipped in lemon juice and rimmed with sugar. Garnish with fresh blueberries.

6 oz. country ham, diced
1 small onion, chopped
1 small red bell pepper, diced
4 cups water
2 cups chicken broth
2 bunch fresh collard greens, cleaned and chopped OR 4 lbs. frozen
2 tbsp. brown sugar
1 tbsp. apple cider vinegar
1 – 2 tsp. hot sauce (or to taste)
2 tsp. salt
1 tsp. black pepper

In a large, heavy pot, place country ham, onions and red bell pepper – add some cooking oil or bacon grease, if ham is very lean. Cook over medium heat until onion is translucent. Add the remaining ingredients and bring to a boil. If the collards won’t all fit in the pot, add them in batches and cook down before adding more. Cook over medium heat until collards are tender - about 1 to 1 ½ hours. Add more water or broth, if necessary, to keep them covered in liquid. Serve in small bowls with pepper vinegar and more hot sauce. Dipping cornbread or hush puppies to sop up the pot liquor at the bottom of the bowl is highly recommended.

(adapted from White Lily)
peanut oil
2 cups White Lily Self-Rising Cornmeal Mix
½ cup White Lily All Purpose Flour
1 tbsp. sugar
1 tsp. baking soda
1 large egg
1 cup buttermilk
2 – 3 drops hot sauce
1 small onion, finely chopped
3 tbsp. finely chopped red bell pepper

Heat oil in deep fryer or very deep, heavy pot to 365 degrees. Combine cornmeal mix, flour, sugar and baking soda in medium bowl. Whisk together egg, buttermilk, hot sauce, onion and bell pepper in small bowl. Add to dry ingredients, stirring just until moistened. Carefully drop batter by rounded tablespoonfuls into hot oil, allowing some space between the hush puppies. Fry 2 to 3 minutes, or until golden brown, turning once. Remove hush puppies with metal tongs or metal spoon; turn onto paper towels to drain. Allow oil to return to temperature before frying next batch.

all-purpose flour
panko Japanese bread crumbs
4 tbsp. finely chopped pecans
1 cup buttermilk
2-3 dashes hot sauce
peanut oil
salt & pepper
4 – 6 fish fillets (tilapia, flounder, snapper or similar flat white fish fillet)
lemon wedges

Heat oven to 200 degrees and turn off. Place flour in a shallow dish. Combine panko and chopped pecans in a shallow dish. Combine buttermilk and hot sauce in a flat bowl or pie pan. Heat peanut oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat. Wash fillets and pat dry; season on both sides with salt and pepper. Take one fish fillet at a time and dredge in flour, dip in buttermilk and then coat with panko-pecan mixture. Place 2 – 3 fillets at a time in the skillet. Cook about 3 minutes on each side, or until fish flakes easily when tested with a fork. Place cooked fish fillets on a baking sheet lined with a brown paper bag and place in warm oven while cooking remaining fish. Repeat procedure, adding more oil if necessary, until all fillets are cooked. Serve with lemon wedges.

9" graham cracker pie crust
14 oz. can of sweetened condensed milk
3 egg yolks (reserve whites for meringue)
1 tsp. grated lime zest
3 egg whites
¼ tsp. cream of tartar
¾ c. superfine sugar
*option – top with whipped cream, instead of meringue

Combine milk, egg yolks, lime juice and zest. Blend until smooth. Pour filling into piec rust and bake at 350º for 25 minutes. With mixer on high, beat egg whites and cream of tartar in a bowl until soft peaks form. Slowly add sugar, one tablespoon at a time, while continuing to beat egg whites until stiff peaks form. Pour meringue over pie and smooth to edges, leaving some peaks. Place pie back in the oven and bake for about 7-8 minutes, until top begins to brown. Remove and let pie cool before serving. *If the weather is humid or rainy, whipped cream may be a better choice than meringue for the topping.


Tim Odaniell said...

Funny how almost all of these dishes were on the menu for Easter. What a GREAT meal.

Brother Tim

Becky said...

Cora, I could be seriously envious. Florida beaches are my very favourites. We were down at Sanibel in November, but most often we go to the panhandle. So glad you had a good time!

I've reached the five year anniversary of my blog. Stop over and register for the giveaway if you get a chance!


Maris(In Good Taste) said...

Looks like you two had a fabulous vacation!