In the last week and a half, I have only been home in NYC (is that the first time I got to say that?) for approximately 2 1/2 days. I spent a lot of time in buses, on trains and in the driver’s seat, shuttling between business and pleasure, New York, New Jersey and Pennsylvania. Good times. The only confection I had time to whip up was a quickie chocolate mousse which means I have loads of catching up to do, friends. Let me start by giving you a few foodie highlights of my escapades.
I spent three days of sand and sunshine at the shore, reading, chasing sea gulls, flirting with the waves and of course, finding something scrumptious to eat. The boardwalk boasts a plethora of diet-busting goodies and I couldn’t help but laugh at the irony of my early morning run past billboards for fried oreos and french fries, the smell of bacon and coffee wafting at me from numerous breakfast joints. Luckily for me, I find exercise to be a natural junk-food deterrant. Unluckily for me, I skipped my run the next morning and devoured three pieces of Mack and Manco’s pizza as a result. This fall off the wagon was inevitable, though. I can’t go to the shore without eating some of this pizza and I can’t eat some of this pizza unless it is fresh out of the oven and you can’t get it fresh out of the oven unless you order a whole pie, and the boyfriend and I can’t seem to order a whole pie without consuming the whole thing: 5 for him, 3 for me. And it’s not just us: people line up outside all three locations all hours of the day and night. Like I said, it is a sad, limp slice that is not right out of the oven, the only air conditioning consists of a few ceiling fans or the occasional sea breeze that survives past the heat of the pizza ovens and they don’t let you use the restroom (isn’t there some law against that?)! So what is it about this place that is so addictive? The tradition. The cheese. The birch beer. In that order, I think. This place has been open since 1956 and who wants to go to the new guy down the boards when you’ve been coming to this place since before you were old enough to see over the counter? Then, the cheese. It’s salty and stringy like mozzarella yet tangy and melt-y like white cheddar; there’s a mix going on there, and it’s delicious. And they serve birch beer! Nothing cools cheese lava burns better than the earthy sweet bite of birch beer. Enough said, I’ll be coming here for years to come.
Aside from the pizza, there are two specific things I crave when in Ocean City: crab claws and, oddly enough, a chicken wrap from Spadafora’s, the no-fuss seafood shack found in the parking lot below my boyfriend’s family’s condo. The sweet blue crab claws are straightforward and fresh, served cold with cocktail sauce and dijon mustard for dipping. Chicken is probably the last food item I think about when I’m near the ocean, with the exception of this chicken wrap. We order it blackened and grilled to juicy perfection. They throw on some lettuce and jersey tomato for good measure but the important condiment, here, is the orange slices on the side. I have a feeling these are meant strictly for garnish, but a healthy squeeze of fresh OJ lingering with the spice and salt is what makes it so memorable. My trip to the shore was short and sweet, just long enough for sun-kissed shoulders and a few tasty meals.
During the rest of my travels, I stopped long enough to fill in some recent holes in my spice cabinet with dried lavendar, celery seed, candied ginger and a vanilla sugar and cinammon grinder. Ok, that last one is a new acquisition and is used for the recipe I’ll give you in a hot second. I also shared a few lovely days and a warm summer evening at the grill with my sister and brother-in-law. We made quite a feast of grilled crab brushetta, veggies with yogurt-dill dip, grilled broccoli and cauliflower, homemade baked french fries, a large pot of mussels and clams (which I’ll tell you about another day) and marinated grilled pineapple. I’ve grilled pineapple before until it was warm, sweet and caramelized, but I never thought to add anything to it. It is delicious grilled pure, but this recipe is pretty fantastic too. I was given a free sample and the recipe at The Fresh Market, where I promptly bought the novel grinder containing vanilla-scented rock sugar and bits of cinnamon stick. If you don’t have one near you, you can make your own vanilla sugar. See the second recipe below. Yes, it’s time to break out the grill (or for many city dwellers like me, grill pan). Cheers to summer.
The Fresh Market’s Grilled Pineapple Spears
1 package of fresh pineapple spears or one whole pineapple cored and sliced into spears
1/4 cup coconut milk
vanilla cinnamon sugar
3 tbsp fresh chopped mint
Pour coconut milk over pineapple and coat thoroughly; allow to marinate for at least 30 minutes. Dip spears into ground cinnamon and sugar to lightly coat. Grill spears for 10 minutes on each side. Garnish with chopped mint.
To make your own vanilla sugar and cinnamon:
2 cups granulated sugar
1 vanilla bean
Split the vanilla bean lenghtwise with a sharp knife. Bury the vanilla bean with the sugar in an airtight container for about three weeks before using so that the vanilla permeates the sugar. If using for the recipe above, mix 1/4 cup of vanilla sugar with about 3 tsp of cinnamon or to taste.