Cooking at the beach


Feeding our family for a week at the beach begins with a well-stocked picnic basket that always includes surprises.

This year, into my two bags of groceries and a picnic basket filled with homemade chocolate chip cookies, crab mallets, spices, and a tablecloth, I slipped in the very flat package of 10 Frieda s French Style Crepes.

I knew exactly what I would do with these: make dessert crepes. But I was banking on my Ohio daughter and son-in-law stopping at a North Carolina farmers market en route to our destination. In their cornucopia of produce, including corn, summer squash, bell peppers, tomatoes, and fresh fruit, I found what I needed: fresh strawberries and blueberries for the dessert crepes.

Despite an expedition into town for major food shopping, I didn t get the needed whipped cream (and I could not buy ice cream because it would melt in the heat on the trip back to the beach house). Not to worry, there s always an alternative.

For the dessert crepes, I sliced and sugared the quart of strawberries. Then on each crepe I spooned the strawberries topped with the blueberries and rolled them into a cylinder, tucking the loose end on the bottom. In place of the whipped cream, I had brought a jar of lemon curd. I put a dollop of lemon curd on each crepe for a very refreshing, fruity dessert.

The family approved. Our two grandsons loved it.

Our Texas contingent always can be counted on to organize the crab feast. They bought crabs at an unbelievable $10 a dozen (some years we have paid $28 for a dozen). We had two pots of steamed crabs (for four dozen) and another pot for a shrimp boil this time with fresh okra added. I have to watch the cooks or they put too much cayenne and Louisiana spices in the shrimp boil, which includes shrimp, potatoes, corn, garlic, onion, and plenty of fresh mushrooms.

Lucky for us we had enough crabs left to pick for crab cakes, and I managed to portion an appetizer size for each in our party.

If we got a bargain on steamed crabs, we paid dearly for a gallon of milk at a tiny little market close to the beach house: more than $6. But we needed milk and didn t have the time to drive into town.

When our Columbus duo decided they would make fish tacos for dinner one night, what a feast we had. They cooked two kinds of fish bought off the docks (local Atlantic pink snapper and grouper) for the filling and then made a tilapia ceviche. The toppings for hard tacos and soft flour tortillas included shredded lettuce, diced tomato, grated Monterey Jack cheese, and the most fabulous guacamole plus sour cream.

Before shopping they searched the Internet for the recipes for black bean salad and jicama slaw (see the story at right), made with yogurt dressing. What we discovered is that some of these Internet recipes have a lot of pepper and jalapenos, and the black bean salad (which they doubled) got progressively hotter each day.

I cooked a box of bow tie pasta for a salad, added half of the bean salad, and made a dressing of yogurt. The pasta and the yogurt really toned down the pepper. (Note to myself: Always pack a box of pasta.)

Restaurant dining also brought happy adventures. As the crew headed for home and the last one was dropped off at the airport, my husband and I found a little Wilmington restaurant, Riverboat Landing, on the waterfront that had second-story balconies with tables for two. Watching the world from this vantage, I had a perfect lunch for $8.50: A most excellent crab cake perched on a round of corn bread surrounded by succotash (corn, red peppers, and lima beans) drizzled with a mild remoulade sauce.