A roast and a toast.

I’m sorry. How is it only January 21? With as much as I’ve had going on at work since January 2, it feels like it could be May already. Sheesh.

Luckily, I’ve still had a few moments of fun in those harried three weeks. In fact, the weekend after New Year’s my family, and friends who are family, reconvened for a celebration: my uncle Jim’s 70th birthday. The weather gods were with us, because it was a clear — if crisp — evening for a party.

In the fall and winter, during months with an R in them, it is tradition in the Lowcountry — the area of South Carolina stretching from Charleston through Beaufort and Hilton Head Island to Savannah — to have an oyster roast. It’s a backyard, wear your jeans and relaxed clothes kind of occasion. We always do a mini oyster roast on Christmas Eve, but oyster roasts in general are the soirees of choice for almost any fall and holiday get-together in that area.

The oysters are usually harvested locally, sometimes even directly from the river 10 feet away. They aren’t to be washed, since the briny marsh mud “seasons” them as they cook. (Let’s just not think about that part.) I’ve never done the roasting myself, but I understand that the oysters are shoveled onto and layered between water-soaked burlap sacks and left to steam over an open fire until they open. That’s one way to do it, at least. At our gathering, I think a proper steamer was involved.

You may be thinking at this point that oysters are disgusting. Slimy, salty, mucousy, revolting. I don’t disagree with you. Oysters are not my go-to seafood or shellfish of choice, but somehow I can handle them at an oyster roast. For one, they’re cooked, which greatly improves the texture. And the bit of work you have to do to break into one means the reward is that much sweeter.

oysters

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Cooking Spree: Lemon Feta Dip

There are two things you should know about me.

One, I love a good food publication, whether a blog, a cookbook or a food magazine.

Two, I cannot stand to waste food. It pains me to throw week-plus-old casserole or decaying vegetables or moldy cheese in the trash. Pains. Continue reading

Summertime Happy Hour: Fresh Tomato and Feta Bruschetta

Every time we go to the beach, I’m in charge of happy hour. It’s become such a tradition that my family doesn’t do it if I’m not there. It’s nice to have a purpose, I guess.

I enjoy a happy hour on a normal day, but it’s especially significant on the porch, at the beach, during vacation. You can sip a cool, refreshing cocktail, nibble on something savory and soak up the atmosphere — whether it’s watching the ant-farm family across the street or just enjoying a nice breeze blowing in from the ocean. Continue reading

Make new friends, but keep the old.

I invited some dear friends and former coworkers over this week. These ladies helped me through one of the darkest stages of my career, at a place where we each experienced all manner of hell and persecution. I know that everyone has had an unpleasant job of some sort before — but whatever you’re picturing, quadruple it. To survive the day-to-day, we leaned on each other and cooked, ate, laughed and commiserated together. We all shared a love of food and fellowship, which led to plenty of potluck lunches and flurries of emails and conversations about recipes. I found many of the food blogs I read today through their recommendations: Pioneer Woman, David Leibovitz, Brown Eyed Baker, Smitten Kitchen, Orangette. Even though we don’t see each other every day anymore, like soldiers who fight on the battlefield, I will be bonded to these women for life.

It’s been several months since we had quality time together, so everyone came to my home to catch up with wine, heavy hors d’oeuvres and stories about ridiculous work escapades. Their visit served as a good excuse to pull out a few dishes already in my repertoire but also to experiment with some new ones. For appetizers, it was bruschetta three ways: fig-mozzarella-prosciutto, classic tomato (my good, ole standby) and smashed pea with mint.

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Cooking Spree: Pimento Cheese

Growing up, I thought pimento cheese was disgusting. I guess it was because the only kind I ever ate was from a plastic tub in the grocery store that had been sitting there for who knows how long. It was pink and overly mayonnaise-y, had no distinctive taste (especially not of cheese) and was just grody all around.

One year, I went to a July 4th picnic and someone brought homemade pimento cheese — a revelation. You could see cheese in it, the pimiento wasn’t overpowering and it had a hint of garlic. That was the first time I realized there was another kind of pimento cheese.

I’m not sure why it’s a southern staple (or why we spell it wrong), but you’ll find pimento cheese on menus and in homes all over the South. The classic way to eat it is sandwiched between two slices of white bread, but you’ll also see it stuffed into celery sticks, in grilled cheese or melted atop a burger. Yum. I prefer to eat it with something crunchy for texture, so I serve mine with Triscuits. Something about the salty crunch with creamy cheese just works. Keep reading »