It’s the day before Thanksgiving, and I’m sitting in a quiet house with sun streaming in through the windows. My children are either napping or playing quietly in their rooms, and at least half of the cooking for tomorrow is already done. There is gratitude here.
I had every intention of sharing a Thanksgiving-type recipe here at some point over the last two weeks. Then, this morning, I looked up and realized Thanksgiving was tomorrow. And I had yet to post a holiday-themed anything. I think that’s okay, though. I’m sure you’ve had enough of stuffing, pie, sweet potato and turkey recipes. Lord knows I have. Instead I’m sharing this photo with you. I shot this on my trip to St. Simons Island a couple of weeks ago. We’d gone out on a shrimp boat, and these gulls trailed behind us the entire time. Ever the opportunists, gulls have learned where they can grab an easy meal. As the net is raised from the water, they flock en masse waiting to pluck a tasty morsel from the air. This particular photo was taken as our guide threw a fish overboard – the lucky bird in the bottom right corner caught it in mid-air. I aimed the camera and fired the shutter, not even waiting to see if it was in focus. It was a split second, and then I moved on.
It wasn’t until almost a week later, when I was sifting through the hundreds of photos I’d taken, that I even remembered the moment. As I clicked on the thumbnail, I didn’t expect much from the picture. Imagine my surprise when I saw that fish grasped in the beak of the gull. Pure luck, that – no skill involved (unless you count mad reflexes).
As I studied the details of the photo, I was struck by the beauty of the birds. Usually I avoid seagulls at all costs. Like pigeons, I tend to think of them as “rats with wings.” Scavengers, nuisance birds. But when you see them in flight, as you do above, their grace and skill is evident. This photo gave me a whole new perspective.
I guess this post follows suit with my last one. Beauty and grace are found in so many unexpected places. There are wonderful surprises around every turn – a surprise photo, a new job (!), new friends, new opportunities that at one time seemed impossible. You just have to be open to them, and perhaps willing to look at them through a different lens to see them for the blessings that they truly are.
I am thankful for the unexpected, and abundant, blessings in my life.
There are places in this world that have become embedded in my soul. Something about the history and atmosphere and architecture and general overall there-ness touches me and leaves a mark that can’t be erased. They aren’t always grand or spectacular; sometimes – rather often actually – they’re quiet and small and simple.
Christ Church, Frederica is one of those places. An historic church in the Christ Church Parish of St. Simons Island, nestled among giant live oaks and old crepe myrtles festooned with spanish moss, there is something magical about the gothic-style building and the cemetery grounds surrounding it. It’s quiet, peaceful, simple. You can feel the weight of history there.
We stopped here on our way back from touring a golf course. It was almost an afterthought – not a scheduled stop on our route. In fact, we were late getting back because so many of us couldn’t tear ourselves away. Our tour guide spoke to the abundance of churches on St. Simons Island, saying that he believed you couldn’t visit a place of such beauty and not believe in the existence of a higher power. You feel that here.
When you walk through the weathered wooden gate, surrounded by moss-covered red brick, you are struck by the serenity of the place. There are cars going by on the road just behind you, but somehow you are sheltered from all of that. The light filtered through the trees falls just so, dancing haphazardly in the breeze.There is unexpected beauty here – dried brown leaves on the roof of the entry gate, dappled sunlight through moss-covered trees, gray-green shingles and heavy wooden beams. Even the hint of a yellow leaf through the dried fronds of a fallen fern, with the bokeh created by the light coming through the trees above, takes my breath away.
As you walk among the tombs and gravestones, there are little tokens left by visitors. Some might even make you chuckle quietly to yourself. Rachel and I joked that Bo and Luke were laid to rest here. Irreverent? Maybe – but I don’t think we were the first to think it.
There are small surprises around every turn. These soft pink camellias were nearly hidden from view behind a large oak heavily draped in moss. Had I not been looking for treasures, I might not have spotted them. Sometimes I think my camera seeks out these little gems – like it’s leading me to capture fleeting beauty.
The interior of the church is just as lovely as the surrounding landscape. Every stained glass window is unique and the exposed-beam ceiling and warm-wood pews are a testament to the workmanship that must have gone into the construction of the building. This is a church that is well loved and well used. And it is still an active Episcopal church, with daily morning and evening prayer, and Friday, Saturday and Sunday Holy Eucharist services.As with many churches, The Episcopal Churchwomen of Christ Church put together a cookbook of their best loved recipes. Being a lover of church cookbooks, I couldn’t resist purchasing one while I was there. In many ways it is a typical church cookbook, with scads of casseroles, gelatin-based salads and more variations on brownies and pound cakes than you might think possible. There are some hidden gems, though – I especially like the chapter at the end titled “Men Cook, Restaurants, Olde Time”. There you’ll find a “Cure for Dysentery or Diarrhea” alongside “Martha Washington’s Boston Cream Pie.”
In determining which recipe to make first from the Christ Church cookbook, I knew I wanted something rather simple that would reflect the unexpected beauty found on the grounds and in the building. I adapted this apple cake from a recipe for “Apple Dapple Cake” by Mary Jane Flint, but I changed quite a few things along the way. The original sounds delicious, and it certainly inspired the cake you see above. But, if you want the original recipe, you’ll have to order a copy of the cookbook for yourself (all proceeds from the sale of the books go to help charitable organizations on St. Simons Island and worldwide).
Grease and flour a 10×18 inch pan and preheat your oven to 350F
Whisk together dry ingredients
Stir together the sugar, apple butter, butter and eggs
Mix wet ingredients into dry ingredients
Fold in the chopped apples
Pour batter into prepared pan and bake in preheated oven for 45 minutes, or until brown on top and a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean.
Serve plain or topped with unsweetened cream, creme fraiche or yogurt.
I’ve actually eaten this for breakfast every morning this week. With a cup of hot black coffee, it’s just what I want to start my day with. Mildly sweet, moist, full of autumn apple flavor – it’s reminiscent of baked oatmeal, but all grown up. There’s something really lovely about it – it’s beautiful in its simplicity. Unexpectedly so.
Father, we thank you for this meal, for our lives, for other people, for beautiful things, for goodness, and for You. Amen ~Christ Church Cookbook
A week or so ago, I packed a bag, grabbed my camera and laptop, and climbed in a car with my good friend, Rachel. We drove five hours south of Atlanta to St. Simons Island, Georgia for three nights and two days at the King and Prince Beach and Golf Resort. Rachel and I have traveled together many times over the years, and I can honestly say this was one of the best trips we’ve ever taken.
It was a bit of a working vacation, as we had both been invited to attend a FAM trip focusing on the resort and their efforts to incorporate local and regional cuisine into their dining experiences. If you’re unfamiliar (ha!) with the term, FAM is short for “familiarization,” and these trips are often offered to travel writers and agents as a way for them to educate themselves about an area. Obviously I am neither a travel writer nor a travel agent, but since this trip focused on Southern Culinary Traditions, they were also looking for writers who focused more on food. This is the first sponsored trip that I’ve been invited on, and I am admittedly a little ambiguous about them. Since I don’t have a reference point, it’s hard to say whether this trip was typical; however I was very impressed by the fact that, even though the trip was sponsored by the King and Prince, we were exposed to a myriad of local vendors, growers, producers and attractions. It really felt like an educational opportunity, and in that sense it was an extremely enriching experience. This is the first in a series of posts focusing on what I learned over the course of three days.
The King and Prince is a historic hotel, opened in 1935 as a seaside dance club. It has seen many iterations over the years, including serving as a naval coast-watching and training facility during World War II. In its current state, it is an elegant resort with multiple dining options, five swimming pools and it boasts the distinction of being the only beach-front hotel in St. Simons Island.
The rooms are spacious and comfortably appointed. Each room has a Keurig coffee maker, mini-refrigerator, free wi-fi, flat screen television and either one king or two queen beds. My room had a small balcony overlooking the pool and the beach and ocean beyond. There are a number of premium rooms available, as well as villas and resort residences.
When we arrived at the King and Prince on Sunday, we were greeted by a light-filled lobby, a friendly reception agent and the hotel’s publicist, Leigh Cort. We had time that afternoon to get settled in our rooms and then it was off on the Lighthouse Trolley for an excursion to the old Coast Guard Station and Maritime Museum. St. Simons Island has a storied past spanning the prehistoric and historic eras and rife with interesting tidbits related to Native Americans, Spanish explorers, Revolutionary war battles, rice and cotton plantations, Gullah Geechee culture, and German U-boats. The Coastal Georgia Historical Society offers a number of different programs related to the history and culture of St. Simons.
Upon our return to the hotel, we were treated to cocktails courtesy of 13th Colony Distillery, and an assortment of cheeses from Flat Creek Lodge Dairy. The hotel’s Director of Food and Beverage, Vinny D’Agostino, is making a concerted effort to incorporate local and regional products into his various menus, and these are just a couple of the vendors with whom he’s been working. Although he’s only been with The King and Prince for a short while, he’s making significant changes to their Food and Beverage Program, using wild-caught seafood, most of it from local and regional waters; incorporating prohibition-era cocktails utilizing spirits from 13th Colony; Featuring Georgiavineyards on the Wine Menu; working with the Georgia Olive Growers Association to get the word out about their product; and partnering with a variety of other growers and producers to round out his offerings.
For dinner, we dined on shrimp and grits. The hotel’s chefs did a cooking demonstration in the Solarium, and they were kind enough to share the recipe with everyone so that we could try it at home.
Dinner itself was lovely, both the food and the company. Although it was our first night together as a group, the conversation flowed as easily as the food. I’m sure some of that could be attributed to the abundant cocktails and wine, but I also think it has a lot to do with the setting and the simple act of breaking bread together. Food is the great equalizer (we all have to eat), and when you enjoy a meal together, you’re sharing more than just the food – you’re sharing stories and experiences that might not otherwise be revealed in a different setting. The fact that this trip centered on food gave us all an opportunity to get to know each other in a comfortable setting over delicious cuisine. Again, the wine and spirits didn’t hurt matters at all.
My first experience with Shrimp and Grits was at Crook’s Corner in Chapel Hill, North Carolina back in the mid-nineties. Since then I’ve tried a number of different variations on the same theme, but have not, until now, encountered Shrimp and Grits to rival those at Crook’s. The version that Vinny and his team presented to us on Sunday night might just have surpassed them. The combination of cajun spices, tasso ham, whole kernel corn, stone ground grits, sweet white Georgia shrimp, and a rich cream sauce came together to create a well balanced combination of flavors and textures.
It was so good that I recreated it for my family when I got home. We will make it back down to St. Simons Island and The King and Prince sometime in the near future, I feel certain of that. In the meantime, I can share the culinary souvenirs that I brought back and spread the word about this quaint little island and all that it has to offer.
Shrimp & Grits (adapted from King and Prince Shrimp & Grits in a Tasso Cream Sauce)
prep time: 10 minutes
cook time: 20 minutes
1 pound wild Georgia white shrimp, peeled and deveined
1/2 cup tasso ham (I couldn’t find tasso, so I used 4 sliced of uncured peppered bacon instead)
1/2 cup chopped green onions
1 cup whole-kernel white corn
1 cup diced tomatoes
1 clove garlic, grated
1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper
1/2 teaspoon dried thyme
1 cup half-and-half
1 cup asiago cheese, divided
4-6 servings of stone-ground grits, prepared according to package directions
Prepare grits according to package instructions. For more flavor, replace the cooking water with chicken stock.
Chop meat (either tasso ham or bacon) into small pieces and saute in a large skillet over medium heat until crispy and all of the fat has rendered out.
Drain all but 1 tablespoon of the fat from the pan and add the green onions. Saute until wilted
Add the corn, tomatoes, garlic, cayenne and thyme. Stir to heat through.
Add the shrimp and saute until just cooked through
Add 3/4 cup of the half-and-half and 3/4 cup of the cheese. Stir to combine and remove from the heat.
Add the remaining half-and-half and cheese to the grits and stir to combine. Taste both the shrimp mixture and the grits for seasoning. Add salt and pepper to taste.
Serve shrimp mixture spooned over grits. Garnish with additional green onions and cheese.
Disclaimer: While our accommodations and food were provided by the King and Prince Beach and Golf Resort, I was not compensated for the trip and the opinions in this post are mine. I was under no obligation to write about my experience, but I felt compelled given how much I enjoyed my stay. Thank you to our hosts and to the residents of St. Simons Island for a truly memorable time.
I’m getting ready to head down to St. Simons Island for three days of southern cuisine and hospitality. I’ll be sharing my adventures here, on my facebook page and on twitter so stay tuned. I’m looking forward to meeting some of Georgia’s best growers and producers and learning all about Georgia olives(who knew?!), honey, peaches, pecans, shrimp, spirits and more.
Before I get on the road, I wanted to share these cookies with you all. I made them first for a bake sale fund raiser last weekend, and then again yesterday with the residual carrots I had left from making my youngest son’s 2nd birthday cake. I’m planning to take some on the road today for sustenance (because who couldn’t use a little cream cheese frosting to keep them going?).
If you like carrot cake, then you’ll love these cookies – they’re kind of a cross between my favorite oatmeal cookie, carrot cake and a whoopie pie. What’s not to love? I was inspired by this recipe from Martha Stewart, but I adapted it to suit my taste, adding some baking soda and powder for leavening, and grating in some fresh ginger instead of dried (fresh is always better in my opinion, especially in recipes where the added moisture won’t affect the outcome).
Carrot Cake Cookies
prep time: 10 minutes
bake time: 12 minutes
yields: 20 sandwich cookies
1 cup rolled oats
1 1/4 cup whole wheat flour
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1/8 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 cup carrots
1 stick butter, softened
1/2 cup brown sugar
1/4 cup granulated sugar
1 teaspoon freshly grated ginger
1/2 cup raisins
Preheat your oven to 350F and line two baking sheets with parchment paper
Whisk together your oats, flour, baking powder, baking soda and salt
Cream together the butter and sugars
Add the egg and mix to incorporate
Add the ginger and the carrots
Mix the wet ingredients into the dry ingredients
Fold in the raisins
Drop teaspoon-full sized rounds onto prepared cookie sheets, 1 inch apart
Flatten with your hand
Bake for 10-12 minutes in a 350F oven
Allow to cool on a rack
Spread 1/2 a teaspoon of cream cheese frosting on one cookie and place a second cookie on top to make a sandwich