Eating on 'Staycation'

Vacationing at home this year? You can still dine like you're away.

August 06, 2008|By Kate Shatzkin | Kate Shatzkin,Sun reporter

If I were going to the Outer Banks this year, as our family often does some week in summer, I'd be as busy poring over my pantry and cookbooks right now as I would be figuring out how many bathing suits to take. Which spices would be best with fresh seafood? How many packets of yeast would I need to slip into the luggage to try a new recipe for cinnamon rolls?

And I'd be dreaming of meals out, too: Wouldn't the barbecue at the Duck Deli taste comforting after our six-plus-hour drive from Baltimore? Would we somehow find a sitter and slip out to a nice dinner at the Left Bank in Sanderling, N.C., or Elizabeth's Cafe in Duck, N.C.?

Alas for us, this year the beach is not to be. Like thousands of Americans feeling the pinch of the economy and the pull of increasing work demands, we're "staycationing" - vacationing in place. Watching for dolphins in the ocean will be replaced by the dolphin show at the National Aquarium in Baltimore; building sandcastles will have to happen on the "beach" at the local pool.

But we can still eat like we're really on vacation. For our family, that's always meant cooking in a rented kitchen, viewing the often less-than-ideal equipment as license to find shortcuts and simple ways of eating well. We've also seized the extra free time as an opportunity to try something new. And if the experiments don't work? There's always great takeout pretty close by.

Fortunately, The Outer Banks Cookbook recently came out, with recipes from some of the places would-be vacationers like to eat along these North Carolina barrier islands.

Author Elizabeth Wiegand writes that when she's anticipating a visit, her thoughts go to eating "crisply fried oysters from Rose Bay, soft-shell crabs shed on Collington Island on the full moon of May, or fresh yellowfin tuna brought into Hatteras Village Harbor, grilled rare and served with a mouth-burning wasabi sauce. Or maybe warming up with some classic Outer Banks clam chowder, or firing up the grill for bacon-wrapped scallops, or peeling green-tailed shrimp, fresh and succulent from the waters of Pamlico Sound." Her husband dreams of reeling in a big striper from the beach.

We like our stripers around here, too, so in that spirit, I adapted a recipe from another new shore cookbook to make a simple grilled striped bass (also known as rockfish). Grilling is usually a staple technique of our beach trips - nearly every beach rental has a basic grill available, and it's hard to go wrong with grilled seafood, spritzed with fresh lemon.

Simply seasoned with salt and pepper and accented with an easy, cool mustard-dill sauce, this grilled rockfish is the essence of easy beach eating.

In Wiegand's book, I found a delicious and easy seared-scallop dish accented with browned butter, another sauce that's effortless enough for vacation cooking - not to mention right on trend.

She also had a recipe for a "wine-friendly" salad dressing from the aforementioned Elizabeth's Cafe. It's made with chardonnay instead of vinegar. Emulsified in the blender (more ease - whisking is not a vacation pleasure) with the help of toasted pecans, it has an intriguing sweetness that went particularly well with peppery arugula. And, of course, it nicely accompanies the light white wines that are a staple of summer evenings in a beautiful place.

Another aspect of the vacation menu I'll be replicating at home: eating from the local farm stand. Anna Pump, who operates the much-loved Loaves & Fishes store in the Hamptons, knows plenty about beach eating. Her Sweet-Corn-and-Tomato Salad With Fresh Cilantro, from her new book Summer on a Plate, will taste just as good in Maryland.

For dessert? The world's easiest fruit galette has become a tradition on my beach trips. At home, there is pressure to make your own crust. But who wants to lug or buy flour and butter at the shore, and then worry about the heat turning your pastry to rags? A refrigerated piecrust, folded over whatever fruit looks best at the market to make a quick free-form galette, will do just fine.

I will allow myself to eat this galette for breakfast, too. Yes, even with ice cream.

After all, stay or go, I'm on vacation.

Find recipes for Simply Seared Scallops and Sweet-Corn-and-Tomato Salad With Fresh Cilantro at

On-Vacation Fruit Galette

Serves 6

1 ready-made, refrigerated pastry for a single 9-inch pie (use the kind that comes folded or rolled)

1 1/2 cups blueberries

2 sliced peaches or nectarines

1 tablespoon lemon juice

3 to 4 tablespoons sugar, depending on the sweetness of the fruit

1/8 teaspoon ginger or 1/4 teaspoon cinnamon (optional)

1 egg yolk

Preheat the oven to 450 degrees. Set the dough out on the counter until it is warm enough to unfold or unroll.

In a bowl, carefully mix the fruit with the lemon juice, sugar and ginger, if using, until combined.

Unfold the dough into a circle on a baking sheet, patting out slightly to widen the circle.

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