Don’t hate me, but I took a vacation.
With two Covid 19 shots and a bad case of wanderlust – I’d taken comfort in sitting on an I-95 overpass and looking at cars whizzing by in recent weeks – we decided to take our annual road trip south. We drove because neither the Curmudgeon nor I love to fly. And then there is the issue of packing: if we flew, we’d need to ship a cargo carrier down with all of our stuff.
At one point during the packing process, the Curmudgeon said, “If anyone was coming with us, we’d have to strap him to the roof.” I have no idea how we used to fit in two kids, and a dog.
The Curmudgeon is worse than I am, assembling boxes filled with pantry staples like balsamic vinegar, Good Seasons salad dressing (he forgot the cruet!), and store-brand Shake & Bake for our week-long stay. He packed Brillo and enough laundry detergent pods to last three months. I told him that I didn’t want to eat Shake & Bake chicken while I’m away – that I want to eat lowcountry fare: shrimp and grits and snow crabs plucked from the Piggly Wiggly’s shellfish display case, but he packed it anyway. It remained unopened for nearly 2,000 miles, just as I had predicted.
I enjoy eating local when I’m away, and there’s no better place for seafood than South Carolina. Walking the “squeaky” white sand beaches, you can see the shrimp trawlers dragging for their catch, and buckets of local shrimp are sold at roadside stands along with boiled peanuts, another local delicacy. I like to order “She-Crab” soup, sweet tea, peel and eat shrimp, hush puppies and Hoppin’ John, a mixture of black eye peas and rice. This year, my brother-in-law Ted surprised everyone by ordering alligator bites as an appetizer, which he generously shared with the table. The verdict: sweet and tender, a little like chicken. The next day, we snapped this photo and sent it to Ted with the caption Gator Revenge:
For me, food is as much a part of getting away as the sun and surf. So I’m always a little disappointed when I’m away, and someone suggests baked chicken or hotdogs and hamburgers for dinner. That’s a little like ordering a Maine lobster in Ohio, or fish at a Connecticut pancake house, as I did one evening with disastrous results. It can be done, but why?
Though “eating local” has become as grating a term as “self care,” I’ve always been a fan of regional cuisine, from New Haven pizza and New York soft pretzels and hotdogs to New England clam chowder and Maryland crab cakes. During my family’s annual summer vacation on Cape Cod every August, I loved feasting on whole belly fried clams dipped in copious amounts of tartar sauce with a side of french fries and coleslaw. Being a late August baby, that was my birthday dinner. I can’t go to the Cape without craving fried clams, though these days I usually skip the fries.
When I’m on Martha’s Vineyard, I want to eat fish all the time, even if it means contending with everyone else crowding around Larsen’s Fish Market in Menemsha to eat boiled lobsters off their lap for lunch or clams on the half shell at sunset. I want to eat harpooned swordfish, bay scallops as sweet as candy and piles of steamers with drawn butter. I want to cook grey sole the way my mother-in-law did – lightly seasoned with bread crumbs and paprika sprinkled on top and baked quickly at 500 degrees – and I want to eat stuffed littlenecks even if I must return from the beach two hours early to prepare them.
I want to eat local, from the overpriced greens and breads sold at the West Tisbury Farmers Market, the cheese from the local cows and the salsas, jams and hand pressed Limeade rustled up by Islanders. I want to buy overpriced salt harvested from local waters and smoked in flavors like oak and hear stories about different salts from the woman who makes them. I want to buy blueberry muffins from the pie lady, and spring for a sandwich at an overpriced shop. I rarely splurge for sandwiches at home, so why not? Isn’t that the point of being on vacation?
Years ago, my parents went away with some close friends, sharing a house on the beach close to where we stayed this year. My father’s friend pulled a half gallon of ice cream out of the freezer at 10 a.m., and began eating it as though it was routine. My father couldn’t get over it – ice cream in the morning! But his friend explained that he’d never do this except on vacation. My father didn’t get it: he was a disciplined guy and would never indulge like that. But I understand it, more now that I’m older. It’s fun to break the routine, particularly after the year we’ve all been through.
With only about an hour before checkout and coffee ice cream in the freezer, the Curmudgeon made himself a shake at 8:30 a.m. He’d never do that at home, but as he explained: “There was ice cream and milk.” He actually returned home three pounds lighter than when he left, so who am I to question him about shakes before lunch?
So the Shake & Bake didn’t happen, even after the Curmudgeon offered to make it and serve it for lunch. I warned him I didn’t want it, and I meant it. Maybe next time, he’ll listen.