What's Cooking at the Jersey Shore
On every beautiful and peaceful summer weekend spent on Long Beach Island, New Jersey with my husband's family, my husband and I are given the utmost warmth and hospitality throughout our stay. One of the best treats of these weekends at the beach besides the wonderful company is the cooking. My husband's godparents, John and Fran, love to experiment with new gourmet recipes that they find using their outdoor grill and their lovely kitchen. They print out their recipes and plan when they will make each one well ahead of time, and do the shopping before they even drive to the beach. Aside from our many interesting conversations with John and Fran, we do tend to converse about food often. We talk about what we like and compare different styles of cooking. We discuss in detail who makes the best hot dog and how we feel about casings. We marvel in my husband's story of the time he ate "A Junkyard Dog", a sandwich in Sea Isle City, NJ, containing one egg, bacon slices, pork roll slices, scrapple and cheese on a Kaiser roll, a sandwich that should have sent him straight to the emergency room. These are the light-hearted conversations that we enjoy as we sit in rocking chairs on the porch in the evenings with a glass or wine or a cold pint from the kegerator while we take in the ocean breeze.
Friday evening was simple and delicious. We snacked on a mixture of Wasabi Peas and Mixed Nuts, a trick Fran learned when staying at the Four Seasons in Maui, where they served this spicy and salty snack at the bar. After lots of porch sitting, we enjoyed fresh Tuna Salad Sandwiches on soft, large Kaiser rolls. The tuna salad, home made by Fran, was perfectly refreshing with a slight crunch of chopped onion and celery and just the right amount of mayo, not too creamy and not too dry. After a long day at work, drive to the beach and wine on the porch, this yummy sandwich had me ready for bed nice and early. Saturday morning we enjoyed White Cream Doughnuts from Crust and Crumb Bakery before hitting the beach. After a long, gorgeous day of beaching, we freshened with a shower and were ready for some porch sitting, snacking and indulging in liquid refreshments. Our contribution hit the table for happy hour, a plate of freshly sliced cucumber and pita bread and an unbelievable Baba Ganoush, a roasted eggplant dip. Along with Fran's home made Guacamole and Tortilla Chips, we were snack-happy, allowing John plenty of time to prepare his highly talked about and planned dish of Beer Can Chicken.
John and Fran's "we will eat when it is ready" mentality with no set dinner time has never been a problem for my husband and myself. I was raised in a family where being late for a gathering was no big deal because it more of an open-house than a formal dinner. We had no problem with enjoying more wine and snacks while the gumbo finished cooking. This way of being is normal to me. However, many like to give John and Fran a hard time on this matter as in the past they have said dinner would be served around 6pm but the food would not be ready until 8 or 9 at night. John made sure to get his Beer Can Chickens on the grill good and early giving them plenty of time to cook, so he would not have to hear any comments about dinner being served "late". The four chickens to serve 14 people were rubbed down in spices and marinated well in advanced. With this being a kegerator house, the only cans available were soda cans. After a good rinse, these empty cans were filled to the rim with fresh, light beer from the kegerator before sitting a chicken on top of each one. The four little chickens got situated on the grill where they roasted for a good two hours. During this time, fresh-picked Jersey Corn Cobs were being boiled inside while a huge casserole dish of cheesy, creamy Scalloped Potatoes were cooking in the oven. Baked fresh bread, cucumber and onion salad, green salad with fresh fruit and deviled eggs completed this Saturday summer night menu. The meal was served very close to "on time". Two long tables were set up on the back patio where we dined on this feast under the stars.
Satisfied and full, we stayed up later that night allowing for plenty of time to digest. Sunday morning we got up and took a long walk on the foggy beach and brought home cinnamon sugar doughnuts from the other bakery on the island, Marvel's Market. Everyone grabbed up one of these to hold them over until the next meal. Sunday's meal would be our shore staple, Pork Roll, Egg and Cheese on Everything Bagels. Seems fairly simple but with the fine execution between John and his good friend also named John these quick Sunday morning hangover cures became gourmet. Pork roll was cooking and bagels were toasting on the outdoor grill, as a large pan of fried eggs sizzled in the kitchen. All items came together on this perfectly salty and cheesy egg sandwich keeping our protein and caloric levels high all day as we took in a few more beach hours before our drive back to the city.
The Sunday afternoon drive back from the beach is always sort of depressing. Headed back to the hot city with no ocean, no wrap-around porches, no sea breeze just reminds me how are summer weekends are numbered. Only a few more weekends and we will be on to cool nights and autumn leaves but I can always feel the warmth of summer just by thinking of the good times and good meals had at shore. Being able to enjoy time spent with family and friends, surrounded by delicious food that we are so fortunate to have is the essence of a happy life. Try to get away from the stresses of life, step away from your i-pad and i-phone, and turn off the news. Find a way to sit back and take in the peace and enjoyment from the simple things that life has to offer like good company, good conversation and good cooking.