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Posts Tagged ‘crab’

Seaweed on coral, Tortola

The recent warm days are making me think of barbecue season and the best barbecue I ever ate. Is it treason against the U.S. if I said it was on Tortola, in the British Virgin Islands?

Right, we’ll come back to that. First let’s establish setting.

Tortola and Peter Island are two of the delicious Caribbean islands which we visited in early 2008. I was coming out of the throes of a years-long illness which led, at different points, to assorted travel whims. At this point in my recovery, I needed a change of scenery, just for a long weekend. And if it included pale turquoise water sliced with royal blue and had a view of hazy green islands, the kind Peter Pan and Wendy flew across, all the better.

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Tortola isn’t really remote, but it feels as if it is. The customs office is the size of a two-car garage. Chickens run around like squirrels everywhere you go; one of our taxi drivers waited to let a mommy and her seven tawny-colored chicks cross the road.* And a rooster was our 5am wake-up call.**

Our hotel, Long Bay Beach, is the kind of place where the cooking staff picks guava off the tree growing outside your window, every suite has its own hammock, and dawn comes up pink over the water. One whole wall of our room, the one that faced the water, was a sliding screen door, some ten feet long. We left it open whenever we were in the room, loving the balmy wind so much that we even put shells and rocks on anything likely to blow away. One morning on our way to breakfast, a blue macaw flew right over our heads.

Dawn, Long Bay Beach, Tortola

Sand crab, Tortola

A very, very shy sand crab taken with a very, very good zoom.

Pelican, Tortola

A pelican we watched from our balcony as he dove up and down in the water, looking for fish.

Breakfast at the hotel was just my bag: fresh pineapple, banana, guava juice, cereal, yogurt and perfect homemade lemon poppy seed muffins.

First we took a day trip to Peter Island, population 1, because we planned to kayak from there to Dead Chest. This was the place where folklore says Blackbeard marooned 15 men–that’s a one-way island vacation in the middle of bloody nowhere—with just a bottle of rum between them. Everyone we spoke with on Peter Island told us it was nothing more than a giant rock, and dissuaded us from going.

Dead Chest Island, from Peter Island

There it is, across Deadman’s Bay–the appropriately dark island at left.

So we didn’t. Next time. But no worries; instead we hiked the island, which was all at once a glorious tropical Eden…

Peter Island, B.V.I.

Peter Island

and the American southwest, featuring spiky vegetation…

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…and spikier animals.

Sunning iguana, Peter Island

He didn’t budge in the 20 minutes we spent admiring him and his comrades on the rocks. Showboat.

The hills along the three-mile path we hiked were also home to mountain goats, skittish things that would tiptoe near you to get a better look, then would scamper away through the trees.

One more detail about the day trip to Peter Island is worth noting, and that’s the ferry ride. No sitting in the lower cabin and looking through the fogged-over windows for me. I only like ferries if they move at a really good clip and if I can stand right on the bow, letting the sea spray wash over my face and hair and dew-dropping the outermost layer of my clothes.*** This one did. And the view of the islands we passed was hypnotic.

On the way back from Peter Island to Tortola we shared the ferry with several locals returning home for the night. And we witnessed something so charming that it has stayed with me. Up on deck one of the gentlemen broke out some Dominoes and set them on a table. I deducted that this game was played on the ferry every night because other men fell in very smoothly, in a loose and easy choreography. Empty five-gallon buckets were upended for seats, and players joined and left from time to time, including a uniformed kid in charge of the ferry and a grizzled older sailor, an American ex-pat who now lived on Tortola. ‘I haven’t played in 25 years, but what the hell,’ he said, and stayed in for the rest of the ride back. What struck me most was how relaxed and comfortable everyone was with each other, and it was a reminder of how much joy is accessible in the simple. I could see why one would want to slide out of an old life, as if out of a jacket worn too thin at the elbows, and sink happily into a life like this.

Time to eat.

We asked our cabbie about the Bomba Shack, which Frommer’s listed as the ticket for barbecue in this part of the Caribbean. And apparently on Wednesdays and Sundays they offered all you can eat for $10/plate. Hello.

He stopped next to a set of shacks that looked as if they’d been decorated by a group of pre-teen surfers after a ten-box Mallomar binge.

Bomba Shack, Tortola

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How to explain this place? Here’s one way: The owners apparently have created a god of sorts called Bomba whose nature isn’t clear, and Google was no help. But you’re encouraged to offer sacrifices to it (note underwear, above).

Here’s another way: The Bomba Shack serves shroom-spiked tea when the moon is full.****And they give it to you for free because they aren’t allowed to sell it. The menu is scrawled onto plywood out front. Music—emanating from speakers taller than me—is cranked up to levels that could orbit Jupiter, and grill smoke and customers alike float between the shacks. We paid the cabbie right in the middle of the street and went looking for dinner.

The party is on one side of the street. There, to a very friendly American woman behind a counter, we shrieked that we wanted two plates’ worth; she grinned, took our money and gave us tickets. The cook (a single woman) and picnic tables are on the other side of the street.

You have a choice of barbecued chicken or ribs. Both come with corn on the cob and red beans with rice, and I’ll stop here to bring up a concern that I’m sure is swimming through your logic-loving minds: Exactly what kind of lunatics eat at an open-air shack on a dirt road, one whose owners hand out drugs and worship a deity with a preference for women’s panties?

I’m not saying you don’t have a point. But we did it. One bite of that meal and all sense floated out to sea with the grill smoke. The barbecue sauce had a no-BS kick, and the meat from the chicken and the ribs slid off the bone with no embarrassment whatsoever. It was delectable—one of the great meals of our lives. We shared a table with some amiable Australians, licked our fingers and grinned at each other. Lunacy loves company.

Then we crossed the street to watch the surfers cut through waves shimmering from the apricot-colored sunset, soaking even further into a place where the night wind smells like earth and salt water.

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*For the obvious reason.

**Click the rooster link. Long Bay Beach is yellow–but a muted yellow. Not a biggie.

***My first name comes from the Latin word for ‘sea’ (mars). The genitive is ‘maris’ (of the sea). Put an ‘a’ on the end and you make it feminine: Girl of the sea. Yes, I’m a mermaid. My parents didn’t do this intentionally, but there it is.

****No, we didn’t. The moon wasn’t full, anyway.

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Soft shell crab sandwich, The Circus Drive In, Wall.

Been chowing some of our best-loved treats here at the Shore and wanted to share them with you.

My mom loves the fried soft shell crab sandwich at The Circus. It’s somewhat unnerving to lift the bun and see an entire crab lying there in state, but one taste—just utter sweetness—and you’ll get over it. A seasonal restaurant, The Circus’s site announces their opening day not as opening day but when ‘Flaps open’ 🙂 Here, a waitress comes out to your car and delivers your food on a tray that she hooks onto your window. Mom’s been coming here since her high school days in the 1950s. The pulled pork has a bit more kick than others I’ve tried—a welcome change.

Pulled pork sandwich, The Circus Drive In, Wall. Shot this on my lap in the car.

The best fries at the Shore are at the Windmill, and everyone here knows it. If you’re going make a point to consume a positively alarming amount of fat and carb calories, you might as well love every minute (words to live by).

Windmill french fries, Allenhurst Boardwalk, facing Asbury Park.

Okay, Freehold’s not really the Shore, but it’s only twenty minutes west and I’d be remiss to ignore this cake. Had a slice of it when visiting my friend’s restaurant. It was saturated with creaminess—cold, rich, and delicate all at the same time—and so good that I actually got emotionally involved with it. But I ate it anyway.

Tres leches cake, A Little Bit Of Cuba Dos, Freehold.

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“There’s a Jazz Festival at Governors Island in late August,” my sister said.

All right.

“Oh, and there’s going to be a major food event at the New Amsterdam Market—something like a dozen vendors will be bringing their homemade ice cream for public tasting.”

You guys know me by now, right? Show of hands—who thinks I went?

I put on a thirties-style dress and matching jacket, white gloves, and a wide-brimmed hat. When my sister, brother-in-law and I got to the Market, a guy stopped me and told me I looked like I just got off the Titanic. Which really doesn’t makes sense, seeing as no one got off the Titanic.

But there was food to be eaten. I didn’t argue with him, and instead did the intelligent thing: I took off to buy a fruit tart.

Ahoy.

Pie Corps is a one of the nicest ideas I’ve ever heard of: from-scratch pies, tarts and hand pies, and a dizzying selection on their one little stand. The below knocked me out. It’s a s’more baked as a tart, with a graham-cracker crust, a layer of ganache (a chocolate/cream icing) and toasted marshmallow fluff bruleed on top. Killed me that I didn’t try it, but it was giant and I wanted to save my dessert appetite for ice cream.

Guess what's inside?

Instead I got the below, an Eccles tart, named after a city in England. It’s a wonderfully flaky crust filled with raisins, brandy, nuts and other things that taste Christmasy together. I know, I should have had lunch first. But one of the best things about being a grownup is that no one makes you.

Next stop was to Hudson Valley Duck Farm’s stand, behind which stood a smiling guy. Well, he sells duck salami. Rich, gamey, salty, tender. Prettiness on a stick.

Jewel-like heirloom cherry tomatoes.

Okay, okay, time for actual lunch. Worth the wait when it’s Luke’s Lobster’s half crab sandwich: bun spread with melted butter, doctored-up mayonnaise, and cold, shredded sweet crab. Oh heaven.

Couldn’t believe it—they were selling sarsaparilla! If you’ve never had it, this comes from a root, like root beer does. (Really? What gave it away?) and it tastes like a lighter version of root beer. Awesome, kicky, bubbly—not syrupy or too sweet. I pronounce it sass-pa-RILL-a, the way the voice-over guy from Schoolhouse Rock did back in the ’70s when he sang about pronouns: “Rufus Xavier Sarsaparilla.”

So here’s how the ice cream thing went: You buy a bunch of tickets, and one ticket gets you one little baby ice cream. Most of the flavors were made with locally-sourced ingredients, which always makes me happy. It’s an all-around win: the farmers and purveyors don’t have to go far, the produce can be picked at its most delectable ripeness, and we get to taste, and can take pride in, what we grow right at home. We ate ice cream made with wild beach plums from south Jersey,  from sweet corn grown in Flemington, from homegrown chocolate-mint.

We smiled all the way home.

Rapidly-melting ice cream shot with my sticky fingers.

Two happy customers.

bent spoon (Princeton). I loved their salted caramel.

Beach plum ice cream--tart and yummy.

Buttermilk-espresso cookie ice cream.


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