Saturday, May 12, 2007

sweet tea, sweet seafood, sweet home Carolina

I flew from Denver last week to Wilmington, North Carolina--where I grew up--for Anne's wedding on the beach. Anne and I grew up together--poison ivy, hair metal bands, Halloween parties, books, beaches, boys. Lots of boys. And she just married the one she met in 11th grade!

I hadn't been back to the south for four years and feel like I'm a Coloradoan now. You'd have to drag me kicking and screaming from these mountains, this climate, my friends and family here. But as soon as my plane touched down in Atlanta, I felt like I was coming home. People I didn't even know called me "Precious." (No one calls anyone "Precious" in Colorado!) I ate fried chicken, yams, and corn bread at the food court. (Only Boston Market and restaurants specializing in Southern food--it's an exotic cuisine out here--serve yams in Colorado, and they call them "sweet potatoes" instead.) I ordered "iced tea" and felt a sugar rush as I remembered that the default in the south is sweet tea--you have to ask specifically for unsweetened (and then deal with the suspicious stare from the server--"What's wrong with that girl? Must be a Yankee"). My sense of nostalgia and joy was so strong that even when I happened to look down and see a big fat smushed cockroach, my first thought was "Oh! A cockroach! I haven't seen a cockroach in four years. Awww."

Okay, so I got over that warm, fuzzy feeling for nasty bugs quickly.

Over the course of the weekend, the food just got better and better, with the ubiquitous sweet tea at every meal. Saturday night we had a feast on the porch: pounds and pounds of shrimp that Anne's great-uncle caught locally in the Sound and that Anne's dad boiled up with beer and Old Bay. We--Anne and Mark, Anne's parents, and our friend Amy and her husband--sat on the porch as the sun set and the heat receded, smelling pine and magnolia, listening to the whipporwill, gnawing on corn on the cob (boiled with sugar), eating cole slaw, and peeling and popping the tender shrimp.

The day of the wedding saw sort of an open house for friends and family dropping by to drop off gifts, show off dresses, and share food. We ate cold cuts and banana nut muffins (well, I didn't--I detest bananas--but other people did!) and some really good cold salads, like Three Bean Wacky Mac:

  • 1 package Wacky Mac (or other tri-colored pasta)
  • 1 can (14.5 oz) green beans drained or 1 1/2 cup freshgreen bean, cut into pieces
  • 1 can (14.5 oz) wax beans, drained, or 1 1/2 cup freshbeans cut into pieces
  • 1 can (14.5 oz) kidney beans, drained
  • 1 cup chopped sweet onion
  • 3/4 cup cider vinegar
  • 1/2 cup salad oil (Anne uses canola light oil)
  • 2/3 cup sugar
  • 1 1/2 cups halved cherry tomatoes
  • Salt and pepper to taste

Prepare Wacky Mac according to package directions and rinse with cool water. Meanwhile, combine drained beans and chopped onion in large bowl. In small bowl combine cider vinegar and oil; slowly add in sugar to dissolve. Add drained Wacky Mac and vinegar mixture to beans. Add tomatoes, salt and pepper; gently toss to combine. Makes 6 servings (probably more).

At the wedding itself, we inadvertently ate sand--the wind was gusting up to 40 mph--and tasted the salt air. But Anne looked beautiful, and even though her grandmother had to wear a parka, it felt right to be outside. Anne couldn't have been married inside four walls and a ceiling. Here's the happy couple, with his daughter Jadzia:

The reception at the Bluewater, a sprawling restaurant just spitting distance from the intracoastal waterway, brought more good seafood: fresh mahi mahi. (And yes, sweet tea. I sat next to the groom's brother, who had steak, a glass of pinot noir, and a glass of sweet tea.) The following day, I also managed to fit in a crab melt made from local crab and accompanied by homemade potato chips (for $7--and you can barely get a turkey sandwich and bag of Lay's for $7 in Colorado) as well as a trip with Anne's mom to Boombalatti's homemade ice cream shop (no web page, just sweet creamy chocolate bliss).

I had more sweet tea and more fresh ocean seafood in three days than I've had in the past four years, I think! Hyper from the caffeine and sugar, sated by the good food and even better conversations with my oldest friends, I boarded the plane back to Colorado, where it's easy to find fancy restaurants with watermelon pico de gallo, grilled Caesar salads, and French cuisine, but impossible to walk on the beach and then eat shrimp caught just offshore, much less with dear friends who let me crimp their hair while singing "Rock Me, Amadeus" at junior high sleepovers.

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