Thursday, August 30, 2007

It's a dogs life.

Another day, another hot dog--that pretty much sums up my culinary life this past week of vacation. I'm sure to those who know me well, this daily ritual may seem a tad odd, especially when there are low-country delicacies like just-caught tilapia, local wahoo, fresh oysters, cheesy shrimp and grits, and lump crabcakes waiting to be dug into at every turn. So, what is about these salty, South Carolina hot dogs and me? Why does the rest of the world look forward to dining on fine china when on vacation, and I look forward to paper plates? I've been wondering that myself, and have thus spent the past five days swishing theories around my head: Am I the reincarnated soul of Nathan Handwerker? Might I be suffering from some sort of strange, nitrate deficiency? Do I need to retain water? What I've concluded is that it's not any of those things driving me to the beach bar at noon each day for my RDA of mustard-topped franks. Instead, what I have settled upon, is that hot dogs are as low-key a break from my normal diet--short of living on water and Saltines--that I could find. Sort of like a vacation for my foodie tendencies; a sabbatical, so to speak, from sauces and seasonings.

Of course I am aware that this is probably not what my doctor would recommend to get my cholesterol under control, and yes, I realize that the majority of the food pyramid groups are sorely missing from this diet, and yes, yes, yes, I do remember that I spent seven years as a strict vegetarian, frowning on such behavior. But what I've also concluded (some may label this a rationization, of course) is that that is what vacations are for: to allow yourself--for a few days, or a week, or whatever amount of time you are lucky enough to carve out--to take a break from the routine, to indulge your id, to be a little naughty. For some that may mean throwing Atkins out the window and digging into a big bowl of homemade fettuccini, followed by a thick slice of cheesecake (one fork, of course) for dessert, while for others it may mean living it up with a cold glass of Veuve Cliquot, a few dozen bluepoint oysters, some sweet, lump crabcakes. For me, here on a lazy, low country vacation, it can only mean one thing: giving in to a salty, grilled hot dog each day at noon, and savoring each id-indulging bite.

For those who prefer china and crystal over paper and plastic, one of my favorite recipes. From my book, SUMMER: A User's Guide.
1 egg
½ cup mayonnaise
2 tablespoons chopped parsley
2 tablespoons chopped chives
1 teaspoon Dijon mustard
1 teaspoon Worcestershire sauce
1.5 pounds lump crabmeat
¼ cup plain bread crumbs
Salt and Pepper to taste
Lemon slices (optional).
Remoulade sauce or tartar sauce (optional)

In a large bowl, gently whisk together the egg, mayonnaise, parsley, mustard, and Worcestershire sauce. Season with salt and pepper. Gently mix in crab and bread crumbs. Cover the mixture and refrigerate for approximately 1 hour.

Preheat over to 350 degrees Remove the crab mixture from the refrigerator and using your hands, shape into twelve cakes. Place crab cakes on cookie sheet and bake in oven for eight minutes, then set oven to broil and place crab cakes under broiler for 2-3 minutes, or until golden-brown. When done, remove from the broiler and serve with a squeeze of lemon and a dollop of remoulade or tartar sauce, if you prefer. Makes 6 servings.

Beach Joy

Yesterday I witnessed a man, standing waist-deep in the Atlantic, yodeling his heart out. A full-throttle, Ricola-style yodel for all to hear. I have no explanation for this somewhat odd behavior, and it didn't seem appropriate at the time to wade out into the ocean to find one out; I chose instead to believe that this man was simply filled with such beach joy, that he couldn't contain the yodeler within.

Beach joy is one of those things that is hard to describe, but if you've ever seen a child running full-speed towards the ocean, then you sort of get an idea of what I mean. I think the best way to explain it is a feeling of complete freedom. When you have beach joy, your day-to-day baggage and worries and insecurities fall away, replaced with a desire to run, arms open, embracing all that is good in the world.

So, it comes as a surprise to me when I see people on the beach, who rather than experiencing beach joy, opt instead to do things like check email on their Blackberries, call in for their messages, chatter away on their cell phones. Now far be it from me to tell anyone how to spend their free time, but it seems to me that free time was designed to be spent, well, being free. We forget that sometimes. As a society, we tend to think that it's irresponsible to carve time out for ourselves, to get off the grid, to stop physically and mentally working. We're afraid of not being there, day after day like Atlas, holding our world aloft.

I've spent the past five days slowly putting down my globe, forgetting about bills, and deadlines and chores, and allowing beach joy to calm my busy brain, and not surprisingly, the Earth has not stopped spinning on its axis. Of course, it goes without saying that I will return home next week to lift that globe back up, but the next time I start getting stressed about a traffic jam, or a slow teller at the check-out line, the sweet memory of an elderly man yodeling in the warm, Atlantic surf, will hopefully put everything back into perspective.

Wednesday, August 29, 2007

The Case of the Missing Blogger

No, I was not dragged under water in a spiraling death roll, torn to pieces by a starved alligator. But I do know now that maintaining a web log is not as simple as I originally anticipated. Honestly, writing a book was easier than writing a journal (money being the age-old motivator that it is). I have spent the last month tethered to my computer, working on a variety of hair-pulling, sleep-depriving, wrinkle-inducing projects that make me question why in the world I've stayed in the design field for almost a quarter century, followed by several recuperative days spent laying prostrate on the sofa, with an ice pack on my head, watching Judge Judy, and eating starchy, pale-colored comfort foods. I ask you: who can think about clever antecdotes to write about under such circumstances?!?

I am now--thankfully--taking a much needed vacation in South Carolina where I have spent the past three days learning to feel human again. I've done nothing more ambitious than watch the alligators do laps around the lagoon out back, feed Wheat Thins to the chicken turtles in the aforementioned lagoon, eat a hotdog at the tiki bar, find 6 sharks teeth (3 of which I somehow lost), stand motionless in the pool (too exhausted to swim), stare for a good, solid hour at an anhinga drying it's wings in the sun after a morning of catching fish (to be clear here, it was the anhinga catching the fish, not me), and watch with faith in mankind amazement as two young men carried a horseshoe crab, paramedic-style, back to the ocean on top of a surfboard.

Today we are planning to ride our bikes along the beach, the highlight being--of course--another hot dog, washed down with a frozen margarita. It's amazing how in this crazy, 24-7, work, work, work, "you must succeed, or else!" world that we live in, that sometimes all it takes is a hotdog with mustard to make one feel happy, content and alive.