Tuesday, May 31, 2016

Overtanned, Pastel-Wearing Southern Imposter

So I am recently returned from a long, fabulous trip.  I never write about travel because I hate reading travel posts because I don't particularly care about travel.  I could only ever see two places for the rest of my life and be content.  You might think that makes me dumb and small minded and one of the perks of being dumb and small minded is that I don't give a fuck.  Perhaps I don't have the bandwidth.  I pity the fool who needs to go to Africa to expand their mind.  Please don't read this as me being judgmental of those who live to travel.  It's not.  It's me being judgmental of those who act as if travel is the only way to learn.  You know the type.  You can learn lessons of the world by watching people in the grocery store if you have a philosophical imagination.   I respect those who would rather spend $700 on a plane ticked than on a Le Creuset bathtub.  But give me the LC and you can have my air miles too. It's just not my thing. 
I traveled a lot as a kid and don't remember much except traffic and threatening to pee my pants because the hotel check in was taking so long.  Isn't it ridiculous how long checking in used to take?  I don't like hotels--the way they smell, specifically.  And there's such a tension in hotels.  Whenever I am in close proximity to strife or acrimony, I can't help but charge in and mediate.   I can't fix the Johnsons' marital problems over a continental breakfast.  But I will spend the rest of the day wondering how their fight shook out and if she murdered him.  I hope she did.  The world doesn't need a man who wears all that aftershave and wrinkled pleated shorts. 
Oh? and airplanes.  Fuck me with a rusty shovel, no thanks.  Like everything else, I attribute this at least partially to being a Taurus.  We are not a fast moving people and  I think it all just happens too fast and with too much bad lighting.  And the air.  Just thinking about breathing recycled airplane air gives me a panic attack.  And I hate airports and how ugly luggage is now and why is there always some jackass eating a fried fish sandwich screaming into his phone trying to convince us he's the most important man in Tallahassee, Florida?  We don't give a fuck, Gary.   
So I deviate from my generation in that I find myself and connect with my ~true self~ at Jaguar dealerships and outlet malls instead of volunteering at a sanctuary in Micronesia that treats butterflies with low self esteem.
I miss the blinding sunlight terribly

Vacation laundry is so attractive 

Dear Santa...

So, yes, my true self is an over-tanned, white convertible driving, pastel wearing Southern imposter.  Therefore, Hilton Head Island is my sanctuary.  I have been going there forever and I still cannot get enough.  The only thing that is painful for me is that my grandparents toured Sea Pines in the 1950s and had the opportunity to buy a huge parcel of land for nothing and they didn't.  They truly, honestly couldn't afford it but I am still mad.  If they had both been a little less selfish and sold a kidney and some liver I think they could have done it.  As it turns out, I prefer its rival Palmetto Dunes much more anyway. 
My sister loved having me at her beck and call as her
Instagram photographer.  I got her this kimono for her

My sister loves a daytime jumpsuit.  She had five for the trip
We were howling laughing taking this one. We may have
had a few g&ts

Because Hilton Head is built on entertaining tourists from the Midwest, New England, and Ontario, it's not the real South.  Many of the elements are there--the heat, the palms, the live oaks, the Spanish moss, the occasional well-behaved alligator--but it's rare to see a South Carolina license plate on Hilton Head Island.  Most are from Ohio, Pennsylvania, Maryland, New Jersey, New York, and Connecticut.  In fact, I think I hear the ubiquitous OH-IO chant/greeting more down there than I do up here.  Mainly because it's a thing to have an Ohio State tent/cabana at the beach and wear Ohio State clothing out to dinner.  I want to be annoyed by this but I find it charming.  I don't wear Ohio State shit, but I smile a little when I see it. 

Barbie sleeps very well on vacation

But the OSU tourists are not my people either.  My people are the assimilated locals who play Southern.  They act like they can't recall how long they've lived there when it's only been like 19 months, they invite you for sweet tea on their porch that's just iced tea because sweet tea to a Northerner is disgusting, and they never quite get out of the slightly sunburned phase of their tan.  They drive champagne or white convertibles with license plates like NO MOR NJ, BYBY NY, GON 2 HHI, OHBYEOH, DC U L8R, and my favorite WAS HIS.  They convene at the beach at 6 and are back home by 7, everyone has a black Labrador or Golden Retriever rescue, and they only meet up off-beach once a week for a revolving happy hour.  Occasionally there are dinners if someone wants to cook or got some good shrimp for less than $10/lb.  That seems to be a sticking point.  They pay $300 to have the pollen washed off their car and detailed seemingly once a week but over their dead bodies will they pay more than $10/lb for fresh, perfect, beautiful, amazing, local shrimp.  No one ever talks about politics and no one ever gets pale.  I didn't even know Donald Trump had enough delegates until Friday when I caught the front page of Chuck and Mary's paper. 
Our weather was perfect the entire time, had we left one day
 later travel would have been much more difficult

Though I am opposed to shore fishing, this man was very nice and released his
catches very quickly. 

Pardon the crack, this is a blacktip shark.  

I enjoyed meeting Greg of Barnacle Bill's Seafood Market and got the best shrimp I've ever had.  I think they were $14/lb but I absolutely would have paid $20.  I had read about BB's a few years ago but did not actually visit until urged by our fabulous server here (which was 100x better than it was last year). It is an open-air seafood market where the inventory changes daily.  Greg recently took over and I was very impressed. If you're visiting, go see him! I intended to boil these shrimp but my first night in the rental house I had no cooktop because the pool guy accidentally turned off the gas.  With all the shrimp prepped, I opted to roast instead and they could not have been any better.  I made them four more times! A Le Creuset braiser is ideal here.  If you do not have one, improvise with something similar.  You want a lot of heat and steam.  I de-veined my shrimp using shrimp scissors and a bamboo skewer.  Cut in just about an inch to keep the shell on but still access the vein.  Greg says one need not de-vein but I haven't assimilated that far yet. 

Roasted Peel & Eat Shrimp
2 lbs shell-on head off shrimp
1 stick butter (yes)
1 bunch parsley, chopped and divided equally
Zest of 1 lemon
Juice of 1 orange
4 cloves garlic
3 Tablespoons Old Bay
1.5 Tablespoons kosher salt
1 teaspoon apple cider vinegar
Toss shrimp with lemon zest, garlic, orange juice, apple cider vinegar, old bay, salt and 1/2 of the parsley.  You may wish to toss delicately with silicone spatulas as the tails are sharp.  If you have Kevlar hands like me it doesn't matter.  They can be roasted right away but I think they are best when marinated for an hour.  In the refrigerator in a bowl nestled on top of ice in a casserole dish (my vacation fridge is a little on the warm side).  Have oven preheated to 400F on convection.  Spray a braiser with cooking oil and add shrimp.  Slice the stick of butter and nestle around the shrimp.  Cover and roast about 6-10 minutes.  Uncover, toss quickly as to distribute butter evenly and put back in just until the shrimp are an attractive color and not overcooked.  For me in my vacation oven this is about five more minutes.  Though I suspect at home in my more powerful oven, it would be about three.  Once finished, remove from oven, toss in additional parsley, tossing butter sauce again.  Serve immediately. Shells will be easier to peel as shrimp cool slightly. 
Le Creuset outlet stores have braisers in every color for about $130-50. They
ship free within the continental US so you need not pick up in person.

I also went on more dates in two weeks than I have in the last five years. I think the culture of the place contributed to this but I also think I might have turned off my barbed wire high voltage electrical fence I've been known to surround myself with.  What can I say, 700 times bitten (some of them good) and 701 times shy or something like that. 
No, Hilton Head Island is not a place to impress your Instagram followers or sleep in a yurt.  It is too boring for many, and not much changes.  Most of the restaurants are decent at best and there isn't much culture or economy outside of resortdom.  It is my favorite place in the world. 
This year, I opted to delay my birthday celebration with my family until we were all down in HHI.  My birthday is the 19th and we could all be present by the 21st.  So I moved my birthday to Tuesday the 24th.  Tuesday of the weeklong HHI trip is my favorite day.  We're all settled and have slipped into vacation routine but the thought of leaving is far away.  For my birthday the past few years, I've celebrated with a gin and tonic crabcake luncheon.  Men must wear navy or green (I can wear coral cause it's birthday) and ladies must wear pink or green, Lilly Pulitzer preferred.  No one follows this dress code except my sister and me but that's okay.  Part of my schedule on this day is to go take a long walk at the beach in the 10-1 time frame when most of the house is still waking up and getting ready.  Barbie stays home because it is too hot and long for her.  Plus she is exhausted from sunrise at the beach.  I think birthdays ought to include some solid reflection.  And what better place to do so than where you can walk aimlessly for hours and still be in your favorite place? 
Shortly before my departure, I couldn't resist making a birthday cake at home.
Yellow cake with chocolate-orange frosting and macerated berries

A giant strawberry shortcake. I will post this recipe.

After I had been walking south for quite a while, I noticed a familiar silhouette of a condo building where my family had once stayed.  This was back in the day when my dad planned the trip and before I cooked any of the meals.  It was even before I figured out HHI's proximity to a million gay marines who couldn't be too picky because of DADT (I'm glad it was repealed but it's made my vacations a little less fun).  We stayed in these condos when I was just a kid who loved getting on the beach before the sunrise to look for shells and pet dogs.  I would be out there all day with my various field guides for shells, invertebrates, birds, and optimistically turtles.  I would often meet up with my grandparents on my third or fourth walk as they headed out on their first. 
Back to 2016, as I took note of this condo complex and remembered my time there I was struck by a vividly familiar memory.  A memory so clear and strong but so previously unaccessed, I first thought it was deja vu.  A good looking older couple walking at a steady clip.  Midway between the surf and the dunes as to maximize the view to include both ocean and real estate.  The woman was wearing a red sweatshirt even though it was hot and the man was wearing denim shorts with high white socks and a navy polo.  For a moment it was them.  Looking to be what I thought was old then so young now.  Walking without concern, laughing, independent.  My grandmother always wore her Ohio State University Medical Center sweatshirt at the beach because she was damn proud to be associated.  There they were, coming more into focus.  Just as I remembered them all those years ago.  I began to reach into my slightly ill-fitting heavily discounted mint green Ralph Lauren shorts and take a photo of this time bending lucid memory.  As  I grabbed my phone, I stopped and turned around.  I feared the camera would reveal an inaccuracy I did not want to see.  I opted not to walk past them, rather to let all three of us keep the moment forever. 

Not bad after 1.5 bottles of rose

At least I have other talents.

Munching on a baby shark

Do you know what this is? It was the talk of the beach...

A trail belonging to HHI's most important visitor This one decided
to come back later.

I suppose most of life is forging new paths.  Sometimes you're lucky enough to stumble onto one of the good, old ones. 

Sunday, May 8, 2016

Venery Venery Extra-ordinary

I'm sure based on my account, you would think everything in my family is fabulous and has been for generations.  Not entirely.  The truth is my mother grew up in a very different world from me.  Very beautiful and loving, but unstable.  She was determined to change her circumstances and break a long cycle in her family of having children too young and building lives on cliffs.  She grew into the ultimate champion of personal responsibility. 

My grandmother is on the left

L to R: my faaaabulous maternal GG sunning herself on her grand lawn,
my mother, my uncle, my gorgeous maternal grandmother
My mother is an Aries, and a relentless one.  Astrology might not mean anything to you--it means nothing to her--but Aries rules the head, the mind.  They obsess on solutions.  Aries rarely see problems as insurmountable.  They charge forward and love the world of the new.  Interestingly enough, this path toward the new took my mother to the old. 
Friday afternoon. My mom made that pillow.

Saturday morning.  The bandage is off.

Saturday evening and we are back to hunting for sticks. 
My parents have been together since eighth grade.  My mom dumped my dad three times in the process, presumably all to do with politics.  They first connected in health class when they had to do a project on sexually transmitted diseases.  The teacher assigned groups with two boys and two girls, probably with the idea of implanting a sense of disgust surrounding sex and the opposite sex.  Not a terrible idea.  Anyway, my mom was horribly embarrassed to use all of the vocabulary surrounding their assignment: the wonderful world of venereal disease.  My dad told her he didn't mind and would read her parts of the presentation.  So in a way, VD brought my parents together.  Good old fashioned romance. 
My dad's family was big and strong.  My grandma, Virginia,  was a force of nature and was infamous for being able to bring any one of her towering four boys to the ground with a look and a menacing trail of smoke from her perpetual cigarette.  Should that fail, a pinch in a strategic spot of the arm that immobilized them.  She was not supremely glamorous like my maternal side, but supremely badass.  She ran the teachers union, made dinner every night, taught school, and painted all her furniture once a month.  Because it was used hard and she liked to keep busy.  Sometimes painting over cigarette ash saying I'll catch that next time
More than anything, my paternal grandmother believed in family.  If someone is moving, everyone shows up ready to pack and clean, and don't be too delicate with the stemware because we just don't have the damn time.  If someone is getting married, you show up like gypsy landscapers and dig a koi pond.  Two hours later you plop the fish in and have some potato salad. Her house was a hub of creative projects and activity.  The boys had worthless cars and boats everywhere which she allowed, with one caveat don't you get any oil on my driveway or I'll run your ass over with the lawnmower and make you clean it up. She and my paternal aunts taught my mom how to do family.  My mother was an eager student. 
My dad is top left in the multicolor plaid tie.
The mighty Virginia (Ginny) is front and center.

Before the move to Columbus, Four of the six. My dad is on the left

Through this, my mom's family climbed with her.  By the time my parents had children, my mom's family had assimilated.  We never knew that my mom's family was kind of a mess before we were born and my mom didn't hold it against them.  She had guided them into being a real family.  My mom went from knowing her grandpa was one of three men (though she chose the one who was there and didn't care otherwise) to old Ohio farms that predate Ohio's statehood, big gatherings, and a cemetery with 250 years of Joneses if you had any questions. She carried her many mothers and their knowledge with her upon embarking into motherhood herself.  She taught us to love and foster beautiful things but mainly to love and foster each other.  The best of both worlds. 

My mom was quite the rebel painting her oak woodwork back then.  She was
inspired after a trip to Charleston. 

Meanwhile across the room, a  highly musical lush in training.
This series still sums us up.
Not pictured: my yet to be born brother
I set the table more in my mother's uncluttered style than my
cram that-shit-in signature.  The wineglasses are from Goodwill and the water
goblets are vintage Libbey.  Also, my mom prefers stainless flatware to silver.
I swear I wasn't adopted.  

Happy Mother's Day, to mothers past and present. You may never even realize the full scope of your work.  

Friday, May 6, 2016

Big Fat Liar

Ellie graciously included me in her guest series and I'm over there today.  To sum it up, my feelings on people who insist on telling the truth even when it's unhelpful, rude, and only serves to make them feel better:  
Now I need to go panic Thanksgiving shopping to distract me from the fact that my poor baby Barbie is at the vet having a nail removed.  She tried to climb a tree last night around 11 and is fine but broke a nail in the process.  She was wagging her tail excited to catch up with my vet.  I am, predictably, in shambles.
No piece of flow blue or brass bowl is safe in central Ohio is safe this morning.

Monday, May 2, 2016

Gay Unicorn's Breakfast

Obviously as the consummate mama's boy, I take Mother's Day pretty seriously.  I've mentioned before that long ago I missed the opportunity to have a Mother's Day brunch where my great grandmother, grandmother, and mother could all be there together.  I didn't do it because I am stupid and the atmosphere was not absolutely perfect.  Maybe I didn't have the right china or enough matching chairs for my table or the weather was going to be bad.  Whatever it was, it was a bad reason.  I can't go back, but since realizing many years ago that holidays and people will come and go--and we might as well embrace them for whatever they can be--I take them all seriously.  I've yet to regret celebrating a holiday. 

As my mom navigates her first year of her mother being gone, I try to include my grandmother's memory in some way.  We are all thinking about her, so there's no sense in not addressing her.  Luckily as the family photo archivist, I have boxes and boxes of photos to comb for photos of her looking happy and well on these various holidays.  I think that helps.  I could write a whole post on why everyone should stop bitching about boxes of photos, but it would be kind of rude and confrontational given the strong feelings people have about them.  I'll just say that I do not see a few boxes of personal history in photo as a bad thing.  Also, stop keeping them in janky cardboard boxes that are hard to move and gross.  At various times, gigantic boxes of photos are shipped to me, usually from my Great Aunt.  I throw a lot of them away, it's easy when a family has as many weddings and divorces as mine does (GGG: 5, GG: 7-8?, G: 3).  And they were all married to at least one Bill, the funniest being my Great Aunt who married two or three Bills in a row.  In our family photos, keeping track of the husbands is not easy.  There are current husbands, dead husbands, husbands of note, and husbands of no historical significance.  So albums of forgettable husbands and husbands we'd like to forget are easy to toss.  Anyway, my belief is that you should always invite dead people in.  Show their faces and tell their stories.  They're usually good guests. This is easy and enjoyable to do with photos.
Clearly this post is actually about fruit and the arrangement thereof, or at least it was supposed to be.  I think a gigantic platter of fruit is necessary for any brunch.  They are dazzling to behold and not something most people do for themselves, so they really appreciate it when someone else does.  Don't have a plan for what fruit will go on your platter.  Get whatever is fresh and beautiful and ripe.  Clash color, don't forget the importance of green, and do your own thing.  Ina Garten always says that fruit arranged in a mixed form looks like a dog's breakfast.  Personally, I love the intersections of color and texture and chaos of it all.  So I guess my fruit platters look like a gay unicorn's breakfast.  I can live with that. 
What inspires my platters most are weather radars and maps.  I have an absolute obsession and fascination with weather and I think a lot of it is that I'm visually attracted to the maps.  I love the long strokes of intense color that blot and bleed and the outlying sharp speckles. 

Map of snow accumulation 

A temperature map

I had a little brunch yesterday and took photos of my fruit platter in process to offer some inspiration if you enjoy reckless abandon as I do; or as a cautionary tale if you like your produce in military rows like Ina.  
I like the bowl for yogurt to be slightly off center with more fruit at the bottom
facing the front edge of the buffet.

With scissors, I cut bunches of grapes into small portions so they are easy to
pick up, 7-10 grapes per bunch or where there are Ys in the stem

Cara caras are almost done for the year.  They weren't as good as last year's

I love to intersect complementary colors when possible

Ina needs a Xanax

What is your Mother's Day agenda?