Stepping outside the house without your glasses fogging up is an impossibility. Might as well just grin and bear the bright, blinding sunshine during your brief walk to the car, whose crisp blast of conditioned air awaits your arrival. Your trendy spectacles might be designed to ban the rays, but they’re no match for Mother Nature’s sultry humidity. For on a late Summer’s day in the Low Country, the heat and humidity are formidable forces with which to be reckoned. It is not, as they say in the Southwest, a dry heat. Far from it. It’s best to just embrace it, and welcome it with open arms. Or, if you’re like me, you can try talking a little slower and imagining that you’re in a Pat Conroy novel. Really helps to bump up the charm of it all, even when you’re in the throes of a sweltering August afternoon. Or don’t. Suit yourself there. “I like your sunnies, Mom.” Elle said, as she grinned her shiny two-year-old grin up at me. We both smelled strongly of sunscreen and I worked to brush the remaining crumbs of her breakfast bagel from her sticky cheeks, cursing myself for not having done so prior to the application of said sunscreen.
“Beach problems!” I said to her in my best attempt at an Elmo voice. She laughed and promptly informed me that her Uncle Seth was still better at that than me, so I vowed to keep practicing.
Elle and I, along with the rest of our eager beach-going family, made our way down the stone path that led from our house straight down to the beach. THE BEACH. Two words that Elle had been rolling around in her mouth for months, in her excitement over our upcoming family vacation.
“Will you get all the seashells with me, when we get to the beach?”
“Can we build four sandcastles?”
“Does the mean queen from Snow White go to our beach?”
No, I don’t think so. She’s not really a beach person.
“Okay. Got it.”
Our beach. I liked how she chose her words there, giving “the beach” a special feeling before we even arrived. It was ours – ours for the playing. Ours for the splashing. Ours for the exploring. For a full seven days, it was ours.
The carefully laid stone path eventually gave way to a sandy wood-planked walkway that immediately transported me back to my childhood beach trips, and that feeling of incomparable anticipation that hits as you feel the weathered wood beneath your feet, being careful not to sustain any unwanted splinters as you make your way. I knew, just as the sun rises and falls, that Elle’s little bare feet would quicken their pace when she caught her first glimpse of the water.
Wait for it … here it comes … there she goes … and she’s off.
There is nothing quite like that first trip to the beach as a child, is there? The first time you take in the salty, briny sea breezes. The first time a wave knocks you down, filling your whole head with that salty, briny sea water. For some, it might even be the first time they realize just how very small they really are. Yes, the ocean has a real knack for making one acutely aware of their insignificance on this earth.
Incidentally, there is also nothing like a trip to the beach to work up an appetite. On the last night of our vacation, my husband and I managed to sneak away for dinner, just the two of us. I am pleased as punch to report that this dinner of ours took place in what I believe to be the kitschiest of all beach kitsch establishments on the Eastern seaboard, complete with broiled shrimp, steamed broccoli and a basket filled to its brim with hushpuppies. I ate as if it were to be my last meal and washed it all down with an over-sized, swirly, twirly pina colada that more closely resembled the lava lamp I had in my teenage bedroom than any other adult beverage I’ve ever had.
“Wait a sec,” I muttered, as I took in the buzzing restaurant all around me. “I’m about 99% positive that I’ve been here before … Mmmhmmm. This is definitely not my first dining experience here.” No wonder I was enjoying the slightly-better-than-average meal in front of me; nostalgia is often more delicious than actual flavor itself. It can make up for a lot, let’s just leave it at that. I fondly remembered the giant stuffed crab decoration in the center of the restaurant, the one that seemed to cheerily greet hungry patrons as they were being seated, and then bid them all adieu with his claw-filled wave upon their exodus. I loved that guy when I was younger, proof that things are just a little bit better at the beach. Food, even mediocre food, tastes better. Breezes, even the saltiest ones, smell sweeter. And memories, even silly ones like foggy sunglasses and tacky thirty year-old crab decor, somehow last just a little bit longer.
1 lb. fresh raw shrimp (shells off, peeled and deveined)
3 ears of fresh corn, shucked and cut into quarters
1 lb smoked andouille style sausage links (pre-cooked)
5 or 6 baby red potatoes, washed and halved (or quartered if they’re particularly large)
5 or 6 radishes, washed and sliced
1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil
1 tablespoon Old Bay seasoning
4 or 5 sprigs of fresh thyme
3 or 4 fresh bay leaves
Salt and pepper to taste
DIRECTIONS: Preheat your oven to 400 degrees F. Place the shrimp, sausages and radishes into a large roasting pan and set aside.
Next, par-boil the corn and potatoes. To do this, bring a large pot of lightly salted water to a boil and add the halved/quartered potatoes and the corn segments. Boil the corn for 5 minutes and then transfer it to a paper towel-lined tray to dry off a bit. Transfer the corn to the roasting pan. After another 5 minutes have elapsed, remove the potatoes to the paper towel-lined tray and then add them to the roasting pan as well.
Drizzle about a tablespoon of olive oil over the ingredients in the pan and season with the Old Bay and the salt and pepper (to taste). Toss to coat everything with the oil and seasoning. Make sure everything is arranged in an even layer in the pan and then top with the sprigs of thyme and just scatter the bay leaves over top. The flavors of the herbs will perfume the rest of the ingredients as they roast in the oven.
Place the pan in the oven and roast for 15 minutes. After 15 minutes, set the heat on “broil” and broil the food until lightly browned on top, about 3 – 4 minutes. Serve right away with slices of crusty bread schmeared with a good pimiento cheese (this is how I like to do it) and some of my Black Pepper Buttermilk Sauce on the side or drizzled down over top (recipe below)
for the Black Pepper Buttermilk Sauce:
1 cup mayonnaise (not light!)
1/3 cup buttermilk
2 tablespoons red wine vinegar
3 teaspoons freshly cracked black pepper