Tuesday, July 28, 2009


There's nothing like traveling over 70 miles of highway, mostly surrounded by high sand dunes, live oaks and red cedars, to feel like you're going to the end of the earth. As we left the bustle of Duck, Kill Devil Hills, and Nags Head, through the Pea Island reserve, past the Bodie Island lighthouse, my pulse was slowing and a smile was showing. After a few pleasant hours signing my book, THE OUTER BANKS COOKBOOK, and a live broadcast with Moose on the local radio station at Waves, off we went to a favorite respite in Hatteras, right on the marina dock. I like working vacations like this.
The charter boat business has been slower than usual, but some folks are still enjoying a fishing foray to the Gulf Stream, what captains call "The Yellow Brick Road" for the amber sargassum that floats en masse, providing a nice shelter for wahoo and dolphinfish, this weekend's Catch of the Day. Mahi Mahi, Hawaiian for "strong-strong," is the more commercial name for dolphinfish so that it won't be confused with Flipper.

Friday, I gave a cooking demonstration at the Duck town park, using mahi mahi in three recipes from my first publication, THE OUTER BANKS COOKBOOK. We grilled filets and served them with a pineapple salsa. We deep-fried some nuggets, according to a recipe shared with me by Capt Ernie Foster of the Albatross fleet in Hatteras. Then I sauteed some nice chunks in soy sauce, honey and fresh ginger and garlic. All three ways were quite tasty, my audience agreed.
Mahi mahi is a sweet fish. Before it's cleaned, it looks as though it has run into a wall, with a very snubbed nose. Gorgeous rainbow colors glisten along its spine, and those colors change from purple and green in the water to yellow and blue while on the dock.
We found Capt Ernie in his porch swing at his charter house on the dock, reading , as homework, the latest from author Jared Diamond. Ernie had gone to Vancouver to represent the local fishermen and to learn about Canada's ways to regulate the fishing industry. He wasn't too happy with where he sees US and state government regulations headed.
It's more imperative than ever for us, as consumers, to eat local, and buy local. Ask your fishmonger if the fish and shrimp were gathered in waters at least near our state's coast, NOT imported from Asia. Eat at restaurants who still care that the fish they serve is from local waters, caught by local fishermen on day boats, like Basnight's Lone Cedar on the Nags Head Causeway, or Cafe Atlantic or Pony Island on Ocracoke. You can taste the difference in freshness, and eating locally helps the local economy, not some foreign conglomerate.

Try the recipe below. If you buy the fillets already cleaned, it's FAST FOOD, served over orzo or rice.

SWEET GINGER AND SOY GLAZED DOLPHINFISH, from THE OUTER BANKS COOKBOOK: Recipes & Traditions from NC's Barrier Islands, 2008, ThreeForks, an imprint of Globe Pequot Press.

1/4 cup soy sauce
juice and zest from 2 limes (about 3 tablespoons)
2 tablespoons honey
1/4 teaspoon cayenne powder
1 tablespoon canola oil
1 tablespoon dark sesame oil
1-inch cube of fresh gingerroot, minced (about 2 tablepsoons)
1 tablespoon minced garlic
four 4 to 6 ounce dolphinfish filets, skinned (or grouper, wahoo, or tilapia)

1. In a small bowl, mix together the soy sauce, lime juice and zest, honey and cayenne.
2. In a large saute pan, heat both oils. When hot, add ginger and garlic, stirring constantly so garlic doesn't burn, for just one minute. Stir in soy sauce mixture and bring to a boil.
3. Carefully add fish filets, skinned-side down, and cover the pan. Cook for abut 4 minutes.
4. Turn the filets over, and cook for an additional 2 to 5 minutes, depending on the thickness of the fish.
5. To serve, place fish on plate over rice or orzo. Drizzle with the sauce, and serve immediately.
Serves four.

Sunday, July 12, 2009


Isn't that one of the most beautiful things you've ever seen? A quart of pure, unadulterated, snow white lard, an amazing gift from a gifted baker.
Blasphemous to my quest for healthy living?
I think not. An indulgence, for sure. Lard, however, contains much less cholesterol than butter. Doesn't exactly make it good for you, though, does it? What fat does? As Julia Child said, "moderation." I eat fried chicken maybe twice a year, so big deal.
The big deal with this lard, however,was from whence it came. Fat from a whole pig was rendered low and slow - over two hours - in a baker's huge, outdoor brick bread oven. The pig had spent many happy hours foraging in an open pasture setting, NOT stuffed and fed grain inside a vastly crowded barn. Pasture-raised pigs tend to sport more fat, due in part from their breed and partly from their diet. Thus, there was an abundance of fat for the baker to deal with after he had slow roasted a very succulent loin of pork.
This generous man had prepared jars of this beautifully rendered lard and sold a few at the market, only to be given "cease and desist" orders from the Food Police since he did not have the proper permits for dealing with animals, only baked goods.
So when I visited during the annual Appalachian Sustainable Agricultural Project's farm tour, he confessed to baking more than bread. After I waxed poetic about flaky pie crusts and lard, he went inside and retrieved the above jar of beautiful lard, and with a wink, gallantly offered it to me. What a gift and an honor.
"Try frying chicken," he said. "It'll be the best you ever had."
So out came my grandmother's cast iron skillet and two plump chickens which I, raised right as a Southern girl, actually remembered how to cut up into frying pieces. I melted the lard, shook the chicken pieces in seasoned flour, and fried away, just like my grandmother had done. A huge after effect was all the grease splatters. I'm still cleaning.
But my Fourth of July chicken was the best ever. Crisp and succulent. My father gave it his blessing.
Now I can't wait to make a pie crust.

Okay, so it's not the real name of this half and half veggie, but I can't remember.
But its taste was quite memorable.
Thinly sliced, then sauteed in olive oil until just tender, seasoned with salt and pepper and a sprinkling of fresh thyme and oregano, it was delicious.
Summer squash qualifies, in my book, as FAST FOOD. Quickly slice or chop, then slowly saute. Or, split in halves or quarters and heat over a grill until just tender, which takes less than five minutes. It's amenable to onions, garlic and strong herbs, or just fine with a sprinkling of salt and pepper.
Easy and fast. And, available at your local farmers market. These were purchased Saturday morning at the North Hills Farmers Market. Maybe it was the bluegrass band playing in the square that the squash responded to.