Friday, September 24, 2010

The Gunk-holing Gourmet

You know those trips you take when you find yourself smiling a bunch? When conversations flow, laughter erupts, and the weather gods are looking out for you?
We just spent a couple of nights on the Chesapeake with our buddy, Rob, and it was the twelfth year we've taken his 32-foot Fidelio out of the South River near Annapolis and sailed to the Eastern Shore.
And don't tell his wife, Christy, but he claimed the last night's meal "the best meal of his life."
At first light we heard the chug-chug of a crabber's boat as he set his lines; later we'd sail by as he netted the famed Maryland crabs into his buckets. Crab cakes made with freshly picked crabmeat, barely breaded and dusted with Old Bay, found their way onto my lunch plate when we later pulled into the dock at Oxford. We sat outside under the shade of an umbrella as we ate and chatted and listened to the sea gulls and lapping of the waves, the smell of marsh and Chesapeake mud overtaken by lime and beer and the spicy whiff of Old Bay seasoning.
That's terroir. That's eating where you are, being in the moment. Is there anything sweeter?

Rob is not just a family doc extraordinaire who relates with his patients with his heart wide open, but he's also a published poet.
After a day of wind in our sails, we find a quiet gunk-hole up a creek and toss the anchor. We tidy up the mess we made while under sail, while he usually fixes us all a RumDumbDumber. Then Rob pulls out, or more recently, pulls "up" a file of poems from his iPhone to read to us as we lounge around the cockpit. They're free-form impressions and observations that make you chuckle or lament or nod your head in recognition of the minutae and the bigger issues that make our world go round, and I feel richer for his outpourings.
We throw the pits of seasoned olives overboard, or at each other if deserved. We miss Rob's wife, Christy, a busy attorney who sent us off with a lovely salsa made with their own cherry tomatoes, some fresh corn and black beans. As the coals build on Fidelio's small charcoal grill attached to the stern, we again talk politics, movies, books, kids, you know, life. No easy answers to any problems, we decide.

I place the beets from the farmers market in Raleigh that I had slow-roasted at home and covered in foil, on top of the hot coals to heat them up. On top of them, I place roasted tiny potatoes acquired from Charles Church, at Watauga River Farms at Valle Crucis.
I believe behind every good bite of food is a good story, so I tell Rob about Charles, one of my favorite farmers I met while researching THE NEW BLUE RIDGE COOKBOOK, and how he switched from growing burley tobacco like his father and grandfather, to going organic. How the fields touch the banks of the river, how he's pulled so many arrowheads, shards of pottery and other remnants of the Native Americans who toiled his soil before him. How when I asked if he had any beets for sale, his helper asked how many I wanted and went to pull some from the field.
We pull our beets and potatoes off and smother them with jackets and a pillow to keep them warm.
Meanwhile I readied a rack of lamb to assume the space on the grill. I had chopped rosemary and oregano from my garden and placed them in a jar with olive oil and minced garlic. We smeared the herbal mixture all over the lamb, then covered the bare, naked bone tips with foil to keep them from burning. As flames flared from the droppings of melted fat, we all gravitated to that end of the cockpit, taking deep breaths and long sips of the tempranillo Rob opened.
One section of the rack was just perfect before the rest were ready, so we sliced up three chops and ate them from the bone, like starving food worshippers. "That is the best meat I have ever, ever put into my mouth," Rob exclaimed.
Oh my God, he said as he took a bite of beets. "And the potatoes, you can almost taste the river soil," he said. We all grinned, and toasted to our good fortune.
The final touch? An apple tart made with the lovely, green Pippin apples I found in Woolwine, VA last week. We groaned and stretched under the moonlit night, looking for constellations.

The deal with these sailing trips is that Rob supplies the boat and the booze, and I do the food. I have become such a locavore and seasonal cook, and it travels with me.
I loved the enthusiastic response to my meal planning and food prep from Rob and the hubby. Yet dinner required teamwork and coordination, so we all "owned" it.
What makes a memorable meal? Is it just the food? The primal taste of garlic and lamb?
The earthy taste of terroir from root vegetables like beets and potatoes?
Or the wine that brought out the best in the food?
Or is it the company and the conversation that make a meal memorable? Or the locale?
How about all of the above?
After dusk, as the sky dimmed and moonlight laid on the water, we were all mellowed.
Our hunger for meaningful moments was as filled as our bellies. An that, folks, makes a

1 comment:

leona said...

i had this apple pie. it's the best ever.