So. My vacation. As you can tell from my lack of posting this week, I’m still pretending to be on it. I’m a firm believer that no vacation should last for less than 2 weeks and if I can’t still be on vacation in reality, I’m on the beach in spirit.
The vacation was wonderful. We rented a little cabana with bright yellow walls and starfish decorations. The whole area was practically to ourselves as not many people are vacationing in North Carolina in March (it’s still pretty cold there.) The first few days were tumultuously windy. With vacationy-good-cheer, we made the best of it and took long walks on the beach anyway. The weather cleared within a few days. We took nature-walks through lush sea-side forests. Champ was unwillingly washed. And we ate a ton of tuna.
On the super-windy days, we checked out the local restaurants. I won’t say our eating over vacation was overall-tasty, or on-average-satisfying because, really, it was some of the best, and some of the worst, food that I’ve had in a long time. About the worst I won’t say much—just that when we first arrived at “our little fishing village on the tip of the Outer Banks,” I was surprised to see a lot of people very overweight and otherwise un-healthy-looking. Not that I have anything against portliness, not in the least, it’s just that this kind of portliness—it’s the McDonald’s variety, not the foie gras and creme brulee type—is unnerving. The latter is no less health-hazardous but I find it less sad. The more I learn about the dreaded farm bill, and corn subsidies, and evil corporation’s PR campaigns, the more disheartening it is to see obese people, many of whom work what I assume to be (and I know because I’ve worked many of these) underpaid jobs.
I’ve got to admit at first I was amazed. In an area where you could get the freshest fish I’ve ever tasted for cheaper than usual prices, how can the people living there be overweight? I had imagined they were all slinky gods and goddess, with sheeny hair and perfect skin. And then I ate at the restaurants. A lot of them were teeming with fast-food type fare, sometimes without the fast food prices! I realized how good I’ve been eating over the past year (how bad some people in this country have been)—and how little I’ve spent to eat my way.
Jim and I always complain about how much we spend on our fancy cheese and organic fruit at Whole Foods, but we spent about triple the amount of money on a week’s worth of food on vacation—and didn’t even eat out the whole time! And jesus, money aside, most of the food sucked. See, I’m all for spending 100 bucks on a dinner that I can savor and enjoy, but spending 50 on something that belongs in a school cafeteria (and if I had it my way, it wouldn’t even belong there) is a damn shame. I wanted to do something. I wanted to scream that it’s not that hard to cook! And a bag of beans and rice is so much cheaper than a Mikkey-Dee’s! And it will even fill you up better—not the filled up I feel sick feeling that results from eating twice your daily caloric intake in one meal!
Did I say I wouldn’t say much about the worst? Whoops. Well, at least I won’t name any bad-restaurant names publicly (if you really want to know, email me) and I’ll stop ranting now and move onto the good stuff.
I had a few firsts down in North Carolina—my first crawfish, my first (enjoyed) oyster, my first taste of alligator(!) We ate the alligator solely for the novelty of it. The pieces of alligator tail were tender but also a little rubbery—somewhere between the texture of fish and pork, oddly enough. The restaurant owner who offered the alligator gave a nice lesson of how alligators are farm-raised in Louisiana—in big indoor swamps, kept dark at all times, with the doors only opened when the (assumedly-scared-shitless) farmer needs to feed his stock. Can’t say I’m hankering to eat alligator again but the dish was indeed fun.
I tried crawfish and enjoyed its lobster-like flavor and meatiness—after, that is, I shamefully admitted to the bar girl that I had no idea what to do with the things, presenting her with the two specimens I thoroughly mangled before giving up. She graciously obliged, showing me how to start by pulling off the tail (mentioning that I could suck out the head if I wanted to be “authentic”) and then how to “shimmy” the meat out. After I finished 1/2 a pound—my hands stained red from the Old Bay and drawn butter glistening my lip—I proudly announced to her that I’d mastered the art of crawfish eating.
At this same friendly, delicious bar, I fell in love with oysters. I ate them the way, I realize now, they should always be eaten—unpretentiously, ordered at the bar by the dozen and served on a styrofoam plate with a few wedge of lemon and a bit of cocktail sauce. Little plump pillows, the oysters were transcendent. Briny, tasting of the shells they slept in. I’ve had oysters before, at fancy NYC restaurants paying an outrageous price per pop, but I enjoyed them ten-fold more in this small, dank North Carolina bar.
Finally, the tuna. Once the weather brightened, Jim and I didn’t want to do anything but be outside, and decided to start buying all our dinners at the local seafood market. We would show up at 5PM, as the boats were getting in, and spend some time on the docks watching the fishermen slice up their bounty, the pelicans chomping at the bit. Once inside, where though it was a small room full of fish, the only smell in our nostrils was that of the fresh, crisp, ocean. Nothing was fishy smelly. It was unlike any fish I’ve ever encountered and I knew we’d have to have tuna tartare.
It was fantastic. No, that’s not the right word. It was awe-some. It was hilariously, ridiculously good—we laughed the whole time we ate, unable to believe our plates. The only bad part was realizing that tuna tartare, my favorite dish to order at restaurants, would henceforth pale in comparison to the fresh, sea-scented tuna we had in the Outer Banks.
A Tuna Tartare Un-Recipe
This is an un-recipe because it’s really just a basic idea—something that you can go off of if you have no idea how to start upon tuna tartare. But really, it’s just a bouncing-off point, and you need to experiment and find the perfect taste for you.
- 1 1/2 pound sashimi-grade tuna
- 1 or 2 avocados, diced
- 1 bunch scallions, sliced white parts only
- 2 cloves garlic
- 1/2 cup soy sauce
- 1-2 tablespoons sesame oil
- 1-2 tablespoons sesame seeds
- 1-2 teaspoons fresh ginger
- 1-2 teaspoons wasabi paste
- pinch of sugar
- juice of a lime
Slice tuna into strips against the grain and cut into dices. Combine tuna with avocado and scallions. In a separate bowl, combine rest of ingredients, mixing well. Taste and adjust. Taste with a piece of the tuna and if it’s to your liking, pour over tuna. Mix and serve with sesame crackers.