Thursday, June 18, 2015

So today my website got a major makeover by my clever eldest daughter, Kate!  I love it & think it’s much friendlier for me to use and update.  I'm going to be using the new platform instead of blogspot, my new blog can be found here Carolina Foodie

Wednesday, September 17, 2014


Salmon with Fresh Carrot Puree served in the Okanagan Valley
             Peaches from the Sandhills.  Sweet, odiferous cantaloupes from Ridgeway.  Watermelon and sweet corn from the red clay of the Piedmont. Blue crabs from the Pamlico.  And luscious, juicy tomatoes from anyone’s garden in N.C.

            These are the things I missed and craved while on a two-month long road trip through the Canadian Rockies and the Pacific Northwest this summer.

Mrs. Yvonne Swan and her Bumbleberry Pie
            What I ate instead were cherries at their peak, picked by French Canadian college students summering in the Okanagan Valley, and apricots ripened just in time to keep those migrant workers busy.  I actually swooned at the intensity of a just picked nectarine from an orchard with a long-range view of Oregon’s Mount Hood on the Fruit Loop Trail.  

           Peaches from that roadside market were as sweet and juicy as those from home, soothing my homesick thirst.  Juicy pears from Fruitland, Oregon, and the new crop of apples from another roadside stand in Fruitland, Idaho were tasty treats, as well.  

           Bags of sweet onions from Walla Walla were just too big to fit into our crammed car, so a couple had to do.  

          But we had no trouble devouring a great big Bumbleberry Pie we bought from Mrs. Yvonne Swan at the Powell River farmers market.

A SEAFOOD DIET . . . . .

A Pea Crab in a clam???
Hama Hama grilled oysters
Steve opening oysters he grilled on San Juan Is.

       Then there were the oysters smoked over alder wood on a homemade grill,  fashioned like many from the South from an old oil drum.  We screeched to a halt when we saw the smoke and sign on the side of the road at Wallapa Bay, just south of the Olympic National Park in Washington.  

     Or those grilled outside the seafood market further down the coast at Hama Hama. 

     Or those we grilled ourselves that we bought while visiting Westcott Bay oyster and clam farm on San Juan Island. Even though it was high summer, the oysters in the cold waters of that region don’t get milky as they spawn as those in our southeast waters do.  No worries about the “r” months. They roll and knock them about to produce oysters with deep “cups,” which adds to their flavor.

Razor clam, Oregon-style
            Oregonians brag about their razor clams, which they beat until flattened, then bread and fry.  The best from our north to south coastal search were served at the Drift Inn, a nondescript, old saloon-like place with a colorful history, a view of Yachats River, and umbrellas hanging from the ceiling.  With the sunny summer days we experienced, I didn’t get the umbrellas.   “Come back later,” we were told with a roll of the eyes.


And Oregon has crabs.  Big Dungeness crabs, pre-cooked to be cracked and picked, or patted into crabcakes.  We saw two young Mormon men from Salt Lake City, Utah spending their two years on bicycles in Newport, one of the state’s largest ports.  They were catching crabs from the dock using mink as bait. “Like what they make fur coats out of?” one said, trying to dispel my disbelief.  That’s a far cry from the chicken necks we use on our coast.
     As tasty as Dungeness crabs are, you just can't beat a Carolina Blue Crab.  I missed them.

Crab added to Cioppino
Just half of one big Dungeness crab has enough meat for one.
Crabcakes a la Dungeness
            And Oregon has crabs.  Big Dungeness crabs, pre-cooked to be cracked and picked, or patted into crabcakes.  We saw two young Mormon men from Salt Lake City, Utah 

            But what I really came back from this grand road trip with, was a belly full of salmon.  On the occasional nights we treated ourselves to a restaurant meal, we found sockeye and Chinook on the menu.  Can’t refuse local catches of salmon.

Small grilled pieces of a large salmon, hand-caught!
            And then Steve caught his own.  Four beauties, the daily limit, within ONE hour, from a wharf up at the northern end of Vancouver Island.  

       We were staying near Campbell River, the self-proclaimed “Salmon Capital of the World,” and were on a day trip to the picturesque Telegraph Cove.  A detour on a scenic road called out to us, and we came upon the wharf on Kelsey Bay near Sayward.  About a dozen fishermen were in the midst of a salmon attack, with schools and schools of spring, or pink, salmon speeding toward the mouth of the - yes, believe it or not - Salmon River.  The jumping fish were being chased in by a pod of – yes, believe it or not – Orca whales.  I couldn’t decide on what to shoot with my camera.

One of the four pink or spring salmon, the catch limit of the day.

            Fishermen (and women) fighting with the pull of a five- to ten-pounder would yell to Megan, the young woman manning a round net the size of a bushel basket. She’d lower it just under the fighting fish, snag it, and yank it up.  It was up to each fisherman to grab the small club and smack the daylights of the fish to prevent it from flapping back into the water.

            While Steve cleaned his trophies, I chatted with an older couple that had just docked their small metal boat.  Their beautiful water spaniel supervised their activity.  “Oh he loves it when we pull our shrimp pots,” the just-retired teacher said.   They had dozens of plastic bags full of beheaded pink shrimp on ice, their crusts still crunchy, and well, pink.  “Here, have one,” she said, offering me a bag.  “See how they compare to your shrimp in N.C.  Just boil them up and then shell them.  Eat them with cocktail sauce or melted butter.”  I never turn down this kind of generosity.  Two pounds of shrimp?

Rocky coasts, so different from NC's 
            Another day, we drove the coast of San Juan. We sat on a rock outcropping to eat our lunch, while watching orcas snort and breach yards from the beach.  Steve also kept his eye on four commercial fishing vessels that seemed to have a rhythm of taking turns casting their purse nets, then bringing them back up to the boat with small dories.  Later that evening, as we sat outside our rental cottage enjoying a brew while watching the sunset, he noticed one of those boats docking, then unloading.  And someone approaching, then leaving with a sack.

Watching seals and sunset on San Juan Island
            “I’m going over to see if I can buy a fish from them,” he said, eager still for more fresh salmon.  He returned triumphant, with a huge sockeye to clean.  “We talked about what I had observed, and how they did menhaden off Atlantic Beach in North Carolina that way,” he recanted.  “And when I asked if I could buy a fish, they said they were not allowed, but could give us one.”  Steve promised to bring them a “donation” of beer the next day.

            Except they didn’t come into port the next day, and not until late on our final day on San Juan.  Steve took them the 12-pack, minus one for tasting, and some chips and dip.  When he came back into the kitchen where I was preparing clams with fresh tomato sauce, he said, “Close your eyes.”  I was chopping parsley and really didn’t want to.  

         Because he was so excited, I gave in.  When I did open my eyes, it was in true surprise.  He had a huge Dungeness crab in each hand. Two big boys! The fishing boat had gone up to Bellingham, WA to sell their fish, and returned with a chest full of crabs.  They, too, were surprised by Steve showing up as promised with beer, etc. and felt obliged to reward him with those beauties.  That almost chopped parsley tasted great in melted butter for the crabs.


            After leaving the coast, and then the Columbia River Gorge, we headed toward the mountains of Idaho and Wyoming.

            While listening to a local radio station, I sang along with Willie Nelson’s “Whiskey for my men and beer for my horses.”  Steve accused me of being a cowgirl at heart.

            I accused him of NEVER being a cowboy when he claimed the steer that stopped our car in the middle of an S-curve in Wyoming’s hills was giving him the Evil Eye.

Former coach Bobby Knight hit one of these guys on the same road just a few nights before our encounter.  It totaled his car.  The cow was called for a blocking foul.
            That was after he admonished me for standing in the middle of the road taking photos of bison standing in the middle of the road a few days earlier.  Those animals will run you over, he warned.  “Didn’t you see them giving me the Evil Eye?” 

Not so small, these buffalo roam!
            I was beginning to wonder if all four-legged animals gave this city-slicker husband of mine the Evil Eye.  Then I remembered when I first brought him home over forty years ago to the farm.  The cows had gotten out, so my dad and I herded them up and chased them up to the barn.  Steve had been stationed at the gate, and told to just direct the cows into the barnyard.  When he saw them “stampeding” toward him, he abandoned his duties.  He‘s never forgotten that, nor lived that tale down.

            Each time he ordered a thick, juicy, free-range beefsteak, I asked if he felt like he had triumphed over the dangers he’s faced with free-ranging steer.  Or when we had buffalo burgers, he’d snort about all the bison that stopped traffic in and around the Lamar Valley of Yellowstone.  He’d won and ate well.

In the beautiful Okanagan Valley
            The original premise of this big Road Trip was to explore the Okanagan, Williamette and Walla Walla wine valleys.  And then the national parks, the Rockies and coastlines got in the way.

            We cleaned ourselves up after camping and hiking  in the Canadian Rockies, and hit the fertile Okanagan Valley, where pinot and merlot grapes grow as beautifully in the very warm summer as cherries and other fruits do.  We had tasted pinots from the Okanagan while on previous trips to Vancouver City and Island and thought they were good.  This time we were bowled over.  They were outstanding in flavor and balance, and the price was right.

            And have you ever met a pinot noir from the Williamette that was not drinkable?  After leaving the coast and heading into the Dundee Hills, the northeastern corner of the Williamette Valley, we wished we had had a stash of pinto gris and noir to enjoy with the crab and clams we downed on the coast. 

            We were heading over to Idaho from the Columbia River Gorge, when I noticed on the map that Walla Walla was about an hour away.  Off we went on another day’s detour, where we found three wineries open late in the afternoon for tastings, and a delightful Mediterranean bistro that featured local wines to pair with local food on their menu.  We could have spent days devouring the area.

Great tasting at this old school building!
The only complaint we had about the wines we tasted and downed in Oregon or in the Walla Walla, WA appellation was the price, compared to the outstanding wines we tasted in Okanagan. 

That didn’t stop us from returning with more than a case of goodies.

On our way to taste Oregon wines, we drove through Corvallis, and sought out Two Towns Ciderhouse, produced by a team of alumni from Oregon State University that has a dynamite food science department housed in Wiegand Hall.  Seems a Professor Ernest Wiegand, no relation, earned his name on the building for helping to develop the process used for mass production of marachino cherries, saving farmers from ruin after Prohibition stopped their cherry liqueur from flowing. Two Towns ciders use local apples, and range from crisp, everyday quaffs to sophisticated bubblies.  We loved the ones we tasted, which made their way into the ice chest. 

Woodford Reserve
            So, all that whiskey that’s downed in one snort in Westerns has to come from somewhere, right?  And why not try local whiskey from established and fledgling distilleries, as we do with local foods, we decided.

            Wyoming’s rye whiskey surprised us with its smooth, deep flavor.  So did Montana’s.  It was almost like sipping Scotch.  But not Bourbon, Steve declared.

            After our last night on the road, just east of Louisville, KY, Steve studied the map.  “We’re going to make a detour.”

            Just off Interstate 64, in the middle of the Kentucky Bluegrass country, there happens to be another trail he needed to follow.  The Bourbon Trail. Which led us to touring and sipping at Woodfood Reserve, where his favorite bourbon is born and raised. 

That sipping detour was a fitting way of spending the last of our 13,000 miles on the road this past summer, and a fitting tribute to our stamina and the adventure. 

We each raised our shot glass and toasted.

Crater Lake is phenomenal!  Blue, blue, blue water.
NOTE:  We made an effort not to eat at any fast food places or chains during our 63 days away from home.  Mission accomplished!  

We tent-camped, and rented  condos, cottages and cabins or motel rooms with kitchenettes so we could prepare our own meals.  When they were unavailable, we used microwaves at filling stations or went to picnic grounds with grills.  

Shopping at Sat. Farmers Markets was fun, as was tasting and buying from roadside stands.  We made an effort to buy local as much as possible, even free range beef and bison, along with locally roasted coffee and local brews.

And we found eating lunch out was a cheaper alternative to dinner.   On the Sunshine Coast of British Columbia, we thought we had driven to the end of the world where the road ends in Lund, finding The Laughing Oyster restaurant.  Lovely view, lovely weather, lovely food.  "I wish lunch would last forever . . ." goes a Jimmy Buffett song.  And at the table next door was a gal who grew up in ChapelHill! 

Dinner at Cannon Beach, Oregon

But nothing beats a picnic in a scenic setting!  We were, after all, celebrating our 40th anniversary.

Tuesday, June 3, 2014



            Most think of long stretches of beautiful white sand, pounding surf, and fun in the sun when planning a summer trip to the Outer Banks.
Sugary white sand beckons on Hatteras Island
            Not me.  I think of all the wonderful treats I want to eat while there, mostly fresh seafood delivered fresh from the boats to my table.  And how in the world will I get from Corolla or Duck all the way down to Hatteras and Ocracoke to get them all devoured and still fit into my swimsuit?
            Lordy, it’s a problem with us foodies.
            I’ve chosen a few favorites to share, but please be aware that just about any of the fine eateries on the Outer Banks will satisfy your gourmet cravings.  
          Trust me, I wrote THE book, Food Lovers’ Guide to North Carolina’s Outer Banks, Globe Pequot Press, 2013.

            Here are ten of my DO-NOT-MISS absolute favorites, with several sources listed depending on whether you are in the northern realm of Corolla and Duck, or mid-section of Kill Devil Hills, Kitty Hawk or Nags Head, or down on Hatteras or Ocracoke Islands, because there’s no way you can make your way up and down the over-100 mile stretch of these sandy shores to eat within a typical summer stay at the Outer Banks.
            That said, you’ve got your work cut out for you.  Happy eating!

TOP TEN. . . . . . . .

      1.  CRAB CAKES.  My all-time, most soul-satisfying favorite food.  Try Miss Os' traditional crab cakes made with very little breading at Owens' in Nags Head, or the Crab Grenades over Asian
      slaw at North Banks in Corolla, or Fat Daddy’s 
      Crab Cakes, rolled in crushed potato chips, at The Fish House in Buxton.


      2 .     SOFT SHELL CRABS.  Nuttin’ like these delicacies, either fried, sautéed or grilled.  Dajio’s on Ocracoke serves them tempura style, while Basnight’s Lone Cedar, on the causeway to Nags Head, lightly fries soft shells from the “shedders” they tend out back.  At the Blue Point soft shells may be sautéed and served over grits with brown butter.

  3.     SHRIMP BURGERS.  I bike for miles to get a soft, white bun stuffed with hot, fried shrimp, cooled with a fresh coleslaw and either tartar or cocktail sauce.  One of the best ever is at Kill Devil Grill.  In Nags Head, Blue Moon Beach Grill serves up a mean “Shrimp Not-a-Burger.”  At Harbor Deli in Hatteras, the shrimp are chopped, then pressed into a patty, grilled and served with a spicy remoulade.

Tacos from Bad Bean Taqueria in Corolla
      4.     FISH TACOS.   Yummy fresh fish, grilled or fried, stuffed into a taco with shredded lettuce, cheese, topped off with a spicy sauce, and what’s not to like?  At the Food Dudes Kitchen in Kill Devil Hills, the fresh catch of the day is marinated, then grilled or fried, then wrapped into a soft taco with tasty coleslaw. Up in Corolla, try the awesome tacos at Bad Bean Taqueria, and especially on Ocracoke, check out Eduardo’s Taco Truck for authentic flavors and the freshest of fish, plus Eduardo is fun to talk with.

5.     TRADITIONAL OUTER BANKS CLAM CHOWDER.  Potatoes, onions, pork fat, clams and water.  That’s it.  No milk or cream goes into the traditional clam chowder served on these barrier islands.  Pure clam flavor shines through.  You’ll find a five-generation recipe at Basnight’s Lone Cedar, and an authentic award-winner at Sam & Omie’s, both in Nags Head.

    6.     BREAKFAST GOODIES.  Can’t imagine rising early enough to wait in line to snag an Apple Ugly at Orange Blossom Café in Buxton?  Poor you, for you’ll miss out on this huge, big-as-your-face fried pastry stuffed with real apple filling.  Or if you are up in the northern realms of the OBX, design your own doughnut – really - at one of several Duck Donuts.

    7.     FROZEN TREATS.  Cool off from the beach heat.  At Zen Pops in Kill Devil Hills, try a Mexican-style popsicle made  with seasonal fruits and fresh herbs, like watermelon agave or my fav, a creamy key lime pie dairy-free paletas de crema.   Enlightened Palate, their all-organic ice-cream, is sold in pints. Down on Hatteras Island, Uncle Eddy’s Frozen Custard in Buxton remains a favorite of the under-aged and older crowd.

    8.     BREAKFASTS.  I love eating a big breakfast out, esp. on vacation.  Pony up to the tables at Pony Island on Ocracoke for a huge plate of eggs, etc. with a side of Pony Potatoes, hash browns with melted cheese, salsa, and sour cream.  Or give the traditional OBX Fish Cakes a try.  They’re made with whatever’s the local catch mixed with boiled potatoes, then hand-fashioned and fried.  Darrell’s in Manteo does a booming business with very traditional choices. Sonny’s in Hatteras Village has been filling up fishermen and charter boat captains for years.  To help chase the hair of the dog after a long night of beach partying, try one of the best Bloody Marys at Sam & Omie’s in Nags Head.

   9.     SWEET POTATO BISCUITS.  North Carolina is the number one producer of sweet potatoes, and on the Outer Banks, they’ve been making biscuits from them for forever.  Folks flock to Kelly’s on the soundside of Nags Head for the sweet potato biscuits served warm from the oven.  Put a thin slice of country ham between them, and man, you’re in heaven.  The Flying Melon on Ocracoke also serves these delicate treats as a warm-up for your meal.   

Tiny Layer Cake - 16 layers!
     10.  DESSERT.  I am such a sucker for sweets.  Twist my arm and make me eat or all!  Key Lime Pie, ubiquitous at any warm beach scene, is to die for at Basnight's Lone Cedar in Nags Head.  The seasonal bread pudding had me swooning at The Flying Melon on Ocracoke.  And you just cannot be on Ocracoke without having a slice - or two - of the traditional Fig Cake, made from fig preserves made from one of the 11 varieties of figs that are grown on this tiny island.  The Back Porch and Dajio's serve up an authentic slice. And then there's the Tiny Layer Cake, usually 15 or 16 layers thick, you'll find at Darrell's in Manteo and at Basnight's Lone Cedar.  

Ocracoke Fig Cake

Need more inspiration on eating in the Outer Banks?   Find some of the recipes from OBX chefs shared in my cookbook, as well as traditional recipes.  

Want a signed copy?  Email me, or check the independent bookstores up and down the OBX.

Monday, April 21, 2014


   On calm, sunny days, when the swells at Beaufort Inlet are smooth enough to negotiate in our little motor boat, we ride the waves  up the coast of Shackleford Banks, part of the National Seashore, toward Cape Lookout about eight miles away.

   Sometimes we see the wild ponies grazing on the top of the dune line, or frolicking in the shallow water near the hook of the cape.

Right or Left-handed Whelks, or Carolina Conch

   And if it's really calm, we can anchor the boat close enough to shore to wade or swim in to the beach.  It's such a thrill to walk this powdery, white strip and see hardly another living soul, filling my bucket with gorgeous specimens of olive shells, whelks, or if I'm really lucky, a Scotch bonnet, NC's state shell.  But the whelk shells we've gathered over the years are the prizes that line my bookshelves, the porch and garden back home.

   On the sound side of Shackleford, we've seen a few live whelks, or what locals call conch.  There are more in Bogue Sound, south of Morehead down to Swansboro, where shrimpers dredge them up while waiting for the shrimp to come in each spring.  We've never taken one home, knowing that it's a real pain to extract the meat from the shell and then a mess to clean. Then you've got to beat the meat to tenderize it.

   And so last week, around Tax Day in April, we were at Willis's Seafood market in Salter Path, down Bogue Banks, hunting for our dinner.  Wade Willis was washing up some thick, large strips I didn't recognize.   "What's that?" my husband, Steve,  asked.

   "Conchhhhh," he replied.  Steve didn't understand, so we both listened more closely when we asked again. 
   "Connnn."  He looked over his shoulder at us like we were deaf and dumb.  "Connnch, you know, from out there," he nodded toward the water.
   Hum.  Conch...."conk?"  Yep, he nodded.
A pound of cleaned conch from Willis Seafood, Salter Path
   Seems the locals down this way don't pronounce the "ch" as a "k" sound, but rather garble the "ch" as in "church."
  And they are scientifically of the Busycon genus, truly whelks - channeled, lightning or knobbed whelks - that are either right or left-handed, depending on what side their opening is.  But don't start talking whelks to anybody along Bogue Sound, because they are simply "conchhhh."

Now, we've helped beat a piece of conch to tenderize it for frying while in the Abacos, in the Bahamas.  We love the spicy, cool salad of conch served ceviche style on Grand Cayman, and in fritters in the Florida Keys and the Virgin Islands.

   So what do they do with "conch" Down East in North Carolina?   Fritters and fried, yes, but mostly they make a stew that's very similar to the traditional Outer Banks clam chowder, with some kind of pork, usually fat back, with onions and potatoes.  Along this middle section of NC's oceanfront, also called the Crystal Coast, they'll add cornmeal for thickening, or add cornmeal dumplings at the end of cooking.  It's a special treat served in a few, old-fashioned restaurants each spring, such as the Crab Shack in Salter Path.
The cleaned, conch "muscle."

   Conchs are basically sea snails, wound up inside their shells.  Old cookbooks tell readers to place the conch in the freezer, which makes it easier to pull the muscle from the shell.  Otherwise, you have to drill or beat a hole in the top of the shell to get their foot suction loose.  They need to be cleaned, all the black surface that contains toxins to humans, totally removed.

One recipe in an older cookbook from Carteret County suggested if you had a large number of conch to clean, to put them in your washing machine.  You can clean the washer later with bleach, the lady advised.

  If you are frying up large sections, then you'll need to tenderize the meat.  It's a good way to get out any aggressions or tensions you may have built up, beating the conch with a hammer or board, till the meat is pressed thin. 

Minced cooked conch
Since I wanted to make a stew to ward off the cool, wet spring weather, I sliced each muscle into small chunks, as some of the old recipes suggested, then simmered them in water for a couple of hours until tender.   I worried a bit, as the smell while the conch simmered was not very appetizing, but tastes of the meat proved it was fine, a little like clam, a little bit more fishy.
   Then I minced the tender, cooked meat.  I softened chopped bacon and onions together over low heat, then to the pot added canned tomatoes, the minced conch, chopped red potatoes, and enough water to cover, then left it on a slow simmer until the potatoes were tender.  Then I spiced it up with a bit of Old Bay, and red pepper flakes.
                Oh my.  Yep.  Tasty, soul-warming.  Made me dream of beaching it at Shackleford on a warm summer day, filling my bucket with lots of shells. 


about 1 pound cleaned conch 
several slices of thick bacon, chopped
1 medium onion, chopped
1 14-ounce can chopped tomatoes
about 1 1/2 cup chopped potatoes
6 to 8 cups of water
salt and freshly ground pepper, to taste
1tablespoon Old Bay, or to taste
about 1/2 teaspoon red pepper flakes, more or less to taste

Cut conch into small chunks, and place in a medium saucepan.  Cover with water.  Simmer over low heat for about two hours, or until meat is tender.  Discard cooking water.  Chop conch meat into tiny pieces. 

In the pot, add the bacon, and cook and stir until some grease is released.  And onion, and cook and stir over low heat until onion begins to soften, about three minutes.  Add the tomatoes, with the juice, the chopped clams, and the potatoes.  Add enough water to cover the mixture.   Bring to a soft boil, then reduce heat and simmer until potatoes are tender.  Add Old Bay and red pepper flakes, and salt and pepper to taste.

Serve piping hot, with bread for dipping.  
(c) Please be nice and give credit when sharing.

Monday, March 24, 2014

TORO, or TUNA BELLY in my Belly!

The raw toro we brought home from Locals Seafood
TORO.....Just what is it?

We were curious, too.  It's cut from the tuna's belly, and in many instances, it's what's left over after the loins have been quickly sliced from the sides of the fish.  A tad expensive, at $24 a pound, what was this chunk of tuna meat cupped in leathery skin?

If it's a bluefin tuna, or even a bigeye, toro is considered a real delicacy, the "king" of sushi ingredients.  Very oily, it's high in fat.

And toro almost tastes like butter.. . . . delicate and soft, yet exploding with flavor.  "It's like foie gras of the sea," said my husband, tasting what he had "singed" on the grill.


Tuna Udon with Veggies and a Garlic, Ginger Soy Sauce
We were at LOCALS SEAFOOD in the upper building at the State Farmers Market in Raleigh to pick up my order of seafood for a cooking demo I was doing at Whisk Carolina.

The dry-packed scallops were just gorgeous, just the right size at 10 to 12 per pound.  The yellowfin tuna was firm, brilliant red, and smelled so fresh.  Winners, both, and great to show off recipes from THE OUTER BANKS COOKBOOK.
Fresh yellowfin tuna steaks from the Outer Banks

As he packed up my order, Steve, their front man, talked about this dynamite toro he had blackened on the grill.   I knew of toro, but had never had the pleasure of tasting it.  "Look at this," he said, picking up a package of the firm, red fish with its stiff skin from the bed of ice.  He explained how he and a buddy had a beer while waiting for his piece of toro to cook on a very hot grill, and how although the skin had blackened, the flesh was tender and so succulent.  We were swayed, and brought a piece home.

Tuna are like torpedoes in the ocean.  They're also like the body builders you see showing off on the beach or lifeguard stands.  Exceptionally fast swimmers, they're efficient, and develop quite the muscles, which are the loins that are harvested from the whole fish.  It's fascinating to watch them first skinned, then cut into by the quick work of the pros at fish cleaning stations.  
Tuna being cleaned at Oden's Dock on Hatteras Island

I love yellowfin tuna, caught out in the Gulf Stream just off Cape Hatteras, barely seared on both sides, dressed with a ginger soy sauce and sesame seeds.  For my cooking demo, I was preparing seared tuna with udon noodles and brightly colored veggies, with a garlic and ginger soy sauce.


My Steve also got the grill going at a fairly high heat, then placed the tuna skin side down, as the other Steve had suggested, and seasoned the flesh with salt and pepper and just a touch of freshly squeezed lemon.  He took it up to about 140 degrees on an instant read thermometer, when the flesh became flaky and the skin a golden color, not blackened. We decided to take it off and dive in.

Our toro after cooking
Steve took his filet knife and sorta scraped it off the skin, avoiding the strong tendon-like bloodline running down the middle, where the two sides must have joined.

We took tentative bites, then more, then sorta drew lines on the plate separating our shares, because oh my, it is truly is like butter, with such a delicate flavor and texture.  We ate it by the forkfuls, although  I could see placing a flake on a delicate wafer cracker, or perhaps naan bread, with champagne or bubbly prosecco.

And sushi?  Yes, indeed, especially when you can get toro so fresh, as Locals Seafood does.

Friday, February 7, 2014



     A pea crab, a bit bigger than a green pea and coral in color, sat right on top of the steamed oyster on its half shell.  It was a  little lagniappe, and I was thrilled.  The chef at Old Salt Oyster Bar in Columbia, NC. knew what he was doing when he returned this tasty morsel to its cooked
     Pea crabs are considered a real coastal delicacy,  bringing good luck and fortunes when eaten raw.  Only the females infiltrate oysters, as its host oyster filtrates up to 50 gallons of water a day, and they eat what the oysters eat.  After their babies hatch and become too numerous, the oyster will sorta spit them out.
     I've only eaten pea crabs when their oyster has been steamed, but my friend Della Basnight, a native Outer Banker, loves them raw, when they are still wiggling, tickling your mouth as much as the raw oyster soothes.
The Swans & Geese at Mattamuskeet
     On a dreary, cold, and sunless day, we made our annual pilgrimage to Lake Mattamuskeet to see the beautiful snowy white tundra swans that migrate in the hundreds of thousands to feed in the shallow waters of this bay lake.
    Our spirits were a bit down, for we had only seen a dozen or so in and around the lake.  "Head up to Engelhard, where they were picking the fields clean this morning," the ranger advised.
     Which is where we found them in the hundreds, far from the road, not up close and personal.
     And on top of that, Martelle's Feed House in Engelhard was not open until 5:30.  On past trips, we've bellied up to their bar for fresh steamed oysters straight out of the Pamlico Sound, a hoot and a holler from the road.

     So we plotted out a side trip on country roads, north to Williamston, where another favorite, Sunnyside Oyster Bar, should open just as we rolled into town.
     Side trips lead to side trips. . . . so when we hit Columbia on our way, we decided to get off the main drag, US HWY 64, and explore the cute little downtown area.  Which led us to discover the Old Salt Oyster Bar, a re-furbished old five & dime that serves local oysters from just down the road from whence we came, at Swan Quarter (where a ferry runs to Ocracoke Island).
    We devoured a plate of Oysters Rockerfeller and two other prepped oysters for our first go-round.  Then we shared a half peck of steamed bivalves, a few with pea crabs.  Then ordered another half peck, counting out shells to even our scores.  Our spirits were remarkably improved!

 This is the season, during the colder "R" months, to enjoy eating this bivalve.  Make sure you scroll down to find several NC Oyster Festivals where you can fill your belly, dance and drink beer.

     NC has the second largest estuary system in the US, with a mix of salt water that flows through the inlets from the ocean and fresh water from our rivers, a perfect environment for the oyster.
     Unlike other shellfish, oysters never move.  And they have a very unexciting sex life.  During the spring, when the water temp reaches 68 degrees, male oysters release sperm, and the females their eggs, and by chance, those two meet up while floating in the water.  Once the little ones, the spats, get large enough after floating around in the water, they sink to the bottom, and attach themselves to something, preferably another oyster shell.
     Oysters filter a huge amount of water, extracting the nutrients they need, and leaving the water in a  much better state - cleaner, more pure.  And when oysters clump together like that, they also provide a "sill" that stabilizes the banks of our waterways.   Those oyster reefs also provide habitat for our fish.  So, you want a lot of oyster reefs in the sounds.  Never again will I complain about having to avoid their razor sharp edges!
     Wild caught Eastern oysters have made a bit of a comeback in NC these last few years.  Used to be, way back in the early 1900s, that tons of oysters were dredged from NC's sounds.  But they were pulled at a rate that was not sustainable to the oyster population, even if the Dermo parasite had not also hit at the same time.  The oyster business was devastated.  In 1900, about 800,000 bushels were harvested; in 1994, only 34,000.  Gradually, with run-off pollution more in check, and with oyster reef restoration efforts, especially, oysters became a bit more plentiful in our coastal waters.   About half of the original bounty, 440,00, were brought in during 2012. So, chuck those shells back into the water, or get them to a recycling center.
     Finding fresh, local NC oysters in eateries or markets has become easier, thanks to aquaculture.  Several oyster farmers can be found scattered along our coast, from Wanchese to Bayboro to Stump Sound.


     The acclaimed Chef & the Farmer in Kinston has opened The Boiler Room, an oyster bar that's gaining as many fans as Chef Vivian Howard herself.
     Knightdale Seafood, a favorite spot for my sister, unfortunately just announced they were closing.
     My friend Carroll  Leggett likes King's Crab Shack King's Crab Shack in Winston-Salem.
     And on the Outer Banks, folks flock to Awful Arthur's, home of the "happy oyster."
     Other foodie friends, like Sharon Peele Kennedy or Morgan Jethro,  prefer slurping oysters at their own kitchen table, or at a fold-up table ladened with oysters steamed out in their garage.
     Me, I love it when my friend Tommy Manning either steams or grills oysters at the OYC, the old, quaint Oriental Yacht Club right there on the Neuse.  Or when friends down in Cedar Point near Swansboro grill us a few they've picked off the reef they've created at the end of their dock.
     Where are your favorite places to eat fresh, local oysters?


     Go and eat.  Talk to the locals, the oystermen, those who live and make their living from the sea.  You'll be entertained and leave happy and full.

     On March 1st, there's a statewide SHELLEBRATION, sponsored by the NC Coastal Federation.  You'll find food, craft, storytelling and music at Swansboro, Hatteras, Wilmington, and Raleigh.
     - Wrightsville Beach, from 4 to 7 at the Tidal Creek Cooperative Food Market, with steamed oysters, chili, cornbread and dessert for $35 for members, $45 others.  Live bluegrass music, beer and door prizes.
     - Swansboro, 11am to5 pm, enjoy "progressive seafood tastings" at several restaurants  $40 for members, $50 for non, includes a 45-minute marsh cruise on Lady Swan.
     - Hatteras, at Oden's Dock from 2 to 5 pm, $15 per person gets you all you can eat fresh, local oysters at an old-fashioned roast.  Local band Dragonfly will be playing. (I understand there's significant roadwork being done on HWY 12 which may cause vehicles to be parked and shuttles provided, but these Hatteras folks are determined to SHELLEBRATE!)
     - Raleigh, at Natty Greene's Pub & Brewing Co, all you can eat oysters clam chowder, and fried fish, all sourced from local waters, with bluegrass by Big Fat Gap, for $40 members, $45 non.

     Saturday March 22nd, Junior League of Wilmington's ROAST ON THE COAST from 7 to 11 pm.  Live music, raffles and prizes.

      Sat April 19th, FROM 11AM TO 5PM, SMOKY MOUNTAINS OYSTER & SEAFOOD FESTIVAL.  At this "Pearl of the Smokies," you'll find oysters steamed, raw and fried as well as  peel 'n eat shrimp. All oyster shells will be recycled, and oysters come from Mobjack Bay in Virginia.  The Caribbean Cowboys will play reggae while The Mile High Band will do high energy country.