Monday, March 26, 2012

A Wedding Anniversary Celebration!

Warning: LONG post! A week's worth in one go. You've been advised!

Mr. Kim's comments in italics.

March 20th was our 30th wedding anniversary. At first, Mr. Kim was all for some Big Important Celebration. He was sending me emails about Bermuda and Costa Rica and cruises. I was pushing for something a little less flamboyant. With the year that we’ve had (both good and bad), I just wanted to relax. I didn’t want to have to research restaurants, site seeing, etc. I didn’t want there to be anything that was a ‘must see’. I told him I wanted something nice, but a bit dull. He was not really convinced. This was before my ‘retirement’. After that, he became much more amenable. I really should have expected this -- she took the same position about our honeymoon 30 years ago... no touristy area, no place that she HAD to get out and explore. So we ended up back then at a ski resort in spring. That was wonderful for its privacy and intimacy, even if it was a bit less sensational than some locales. So here, for our 30th, we did what we’ve done so many happy times before. We went to the Outer Banks in NC. Except, since we didn’t have to worry about how much leave I had, we stayed for a whole WEEK! We stayed at the Sea Ranch Hotel. The majority of the hotel is being renovated, so we had very few neighbors. And there were some issues with the hotel – AC not working very well and the window wouldn’t stay up. But there was an indoor pool and the hotel is right on the ocean. We also got a voucher for a hot breakfast every morning at the Jolly Roger – right up the street within walking distance. Years ago, we had an extremely ordinary Italian dinner at this place – we didn’t know the area at all and wanted to watch basketball. But the breakfasts are fine – eggs & bacon (and really good fried potatoes and grits), sausage gravy and biscuits, waffles, pancakes, etc. Funny decorations – equal parts Pirates and Christmas with a few movie posters for good measure.

We got there Sunday night and had dinner at Captain George’s Seafood Buffet. It was fine. We ate much too much. Dessert was the best thing on the line. Evidence:

My dessert plate. And it’s a dinner plate, not a bread plate. From 12 o’clock: coconut cake, chocolate-chocolate, carrot cake, German chocolate, white cake with strawberry mousse filling and strawberry glaze topping. And they were not even ALL of the cakes available – just the ones that especially appealed to me. I didn’t eat all of it, but had at least a taste of each. They were surprisingly good. I couldn’t pick a favorite.

That night we had a lovely pre-bedtime walk on the beach. We were blessed with fabulous weather for almost the entire week – probably the best weather we’ve had since we started spending time here each March.

Monday we headed to the nearby town of Manteo. This town is on tiny Roanoke Island, the site of the first English settlement. Go to Wikipedia and look up Virginia Dare et al. This is the place it all happened. In Manteo we wandered the Christmas Shop. It was sold a few years ago by the family that had owned it forever. The last time we went in, their stock was VERY low and it has improved, but is still not the magical place that it was. It still has room after room of Christmas ornaments, halloween items, books, antiques, jewelry, artwork, candles, and beach crap. It's hours of fun to explore, even if it used to be so much more than it is now. We tried to find a place on the waterfront to have a drink and write postcards, but nothing was open. This is always one of the drawbacks to coming when we do – so many places are not open yet for the season. This is both a con and a pro – it means we don’t get to sample many of the places that are here, but it also means that we have most places to ourselves. Mr. Kim helped one nice lady hang a curtain rod and got me a 20% discount!

We had a late lunch/early dinner at Sam and Omies. Just a local joint, but we like it a lot. I had their really thick and CRABBY She Crab soup and Mr. Kim had a salad. We both had cheeseburgers – good and juicy and crusty on the edges. I indulged and planted a bunch of the onion rings I ordered on the burger. A tacky but delicious pleasure. Then back to the hotel for a walk on the foggy beach and an evening swim.

Mr. Kim is apparently still confused by the recent time change. This is what I found when I came out from changing into my bathing suit:

Um, Mr. Kim, look here:

He remonstrated a bit, but ultimately we DID go swimming. I assumed that I was entitled to a nap on vacation. Silly me.

The pool is indoors, but you have to walk outside to get to it – very chilly when you are wet. The structure and the pool are nominally heated. It took me a while to get acclimated, and Mr. Kim never really did.

Tuesday, after our pirate/Santa breakfast, we drove north as far as we could. If we’d had a FSUV (the 'F' stands for something rude), we could have done some beach driving, but as we are anti-SUV folks, we decided to stop and do a nature walk – hoping to see the wild ponies. It was a gorgeous walk – a boardwalk that goes out to the Sound and another walk through the trees, but this was as close as we came to spotting the wild horses:


The wildlife we did see:

The beautiful Sound:

Tuesday night was our annual visit to Ocean Boulevard for our anniversary dinner. We figure that we’ve been going here almost every year since 1997, with a couple of extra trips in between. Every time that we go, we worry that something will have changed and that it just won’t be as good as the last time. And it is always as good as our last visit. Some things are even better. Like the service. When we first started going, the food was fabulous, but the staff was a bit snooty. Not so the current staff. I said to Mr. Kim that they always treat us like someone who they see spend $100 every week. You really can’t do any better than that! We got seats at the kitchen window – we love to do this:

At OB, they really chat with you and answer questions and it’s a lot of fun. The chef asked us if we were here for a special occasion. After we told him we were celebrating our anniversary, every single staff member wished us a happy anniversary during the night. We started out with cocktails – Maker’s Mark w/ bitters for Mr. Kim and a South Beach martini for me: Stoli Ohranj, Absolut Citron, Cointreau, and lime. Yummy martini.

Our starters were Lamb Pie and Bistro salad. Mr. Kim had decided on the Lamb Pie and then our server told us that the chef was sending it over to say happy anniversary. Nice gesture and the knock-out dish of the evening:

Phyllo-encased ground lamb with vegetables on top of braised cannellini beans and wilted local Toscano greens all topped with minted goat cheese. A view of the open phyllo packet filled with the delicious and fragrant lamb:

This was truly unusual and delicious. I am SO stealing the minted goat cheese and serving it with Mr. Kim’s smoked lamb at Easter. I always seem to get some grand idea when we eat here. Last time it was black pepper infused honey – I use that one a LOT. The braising liquid was amazing – I kept sopping it up with bread until Mr. Kim threatened me with his fork. We really liked the greens – very hearty with a nice bitterness, but no kale-like skunky-ness.

My Bistro salad:

Mixed greens, endive, frisee, poached pears, Brie, candied pecans and vanilla vinaigrette. Just lovely – the poached pears went perfectly with the Brie and the slightly bitter frisee. And the vanilla vinaigrette was so delicate and perfect. My only quibble (other than that the candied pecans staged a no-show) is that I’m not sure that Brie is the best cheese to serve on a cold plate. Brie is at its best at room temperature, not chilling on an already chilled plate. In fact, it tasted wonderful at the end of the course when everything had warmed up. I’ve had salads (perhaps even at OB in the last 15 years!) where they actually warmed up the Brie to almost melting and then slid it onto the top of the salad. That would have been perfect here.

For my main, I chose one of the small plates:

I thought it looked like a Guy Fieri caricature. Either that or Beaker:

It was a play on surf and turf – Fried Oysters & Seared Angus Beef with frisee, Jack Daniels Horseradish sauce and Pomme Frites. Really a fantastic combination – and those gorgeous, sweet, tender and perfectly cooked oysters!

Mr. Kim’s main was Grilled Scottish Salmon w/ rosemary braised cannellini beans, grilled NC sausage, NC shrimp, Brussels sprouts, grilled sweet onions, winter greens and roast garlic:

This was a really wonderful dish – delicately flavored, with a gorgeous broth.

For dessert, Mr. Kim chose the blueberry cheesecake:

It was very good, but the dessert winner was an old favorite:

Macadamia tart with house made caramel ice cream. This dessert has been around since at least 2004, since that’s the year that I made it from the Ocean Blvd. cookbook and put it on my Recipe Circus page. It is so gooey and chewy and delicious. One of my very favorite desserts, ever.

Back to the hotel to moan and groan about how full we were and how we always over eat – another anniversary tradition!

Wednesday was another day of gorgeous weather. We wandered around and dropped in on a couple of thrift stores and a used bookstore. I found some very fun books:

And a few to fill in a couple of collections:

The Cooking of Spain and Portugal from the Time-Life series and the 1990 & 1991 Southern Living Annuals. I got everything at great prices – especially that $2 Time-Life book!

The BH&G books are hilarious – they offer a wonderful slice of life of what folks in the late 60’s – early 70’s aspired to. Bizarre creations and concoctions. Weird combinations – hot dogs and cream of mushroom soup, avocado and cranberry sauce with French dressing. An odd obsession with black olives – they seem to be in almost every recipe. Did anyone ever REALLY cook like this? My mom sure didn’t – and neither did anyone I ever knew. I have a lot of cookbooks in this vein and they are pristine – not a folded down page or smear of sauce in any of them. I am a huge fan of Jim Lileks’ Gallery of Regrettable Food at and I’ve been known to dive into that website, only to resurface hours later – bleary eyed and weak from laughter. I love it when I find something that I have featured on there.

The lovely day called for more beach time. It was so warm that we both got a little burned (I am the whitest woman in the world, so I burn in about 5 minutes). We even dabbled in the water a bit:

But hot sun does not necessarily equal warm seas:

We opted for an early dinner at another old favorite:

We love this place and go every time we are at the Outer Banks. And I’ve had the same meal every single time we go – Hatteras style clam chowder:

Briny and clean-tasting, this chowder is packed with tender clams and vegetables. Not a drop of cream, but still amazingly delicious. I also always get a steamer tray of those same beautiful clams and NC shrimp:

Mr. Kim had the same tray minus the clams. Clams are the last bastion of his bivalve phobia. When we met, he ate NONE of them – now he joyfully slurps down mussels, scallops and even oysters. So I hold out hope. Do not hold your breath. If oysters taste like the ocean, clams taste like the sea floor under an oil derrick.

Thursday was a very lazy day. Every vacation needs at least one of these to actually qualify as a vacation. I couldn’t even be bothered to walk up the street for a pirate breakfast! We did some Easter shopping and general wandering. We had gotten The Child a tacky shell souvenir for her Blasphemous Bathroom (she needs to blog about this – go to her blog – Suck Out All the Marrow – and nag her about this) and it needed some embellishments to make it truly tawdry, so we stopped at a shell store for freeze-dried fish and starfish.

We had lunch at a new (only a year old) restaurant, the Firefly. We had a great meal. Mr. Kim had a wonderful grilled meatloaf – classic mixture of beef, pork and veal, brushed with a sweet tomato sauce and finished on a grill (I’ve seen this method a lot lately on TV and am interested – it added a nice crunch). It came with fantastic collards. This was the second best meal of the trip for me (behind OB.) Truly memorable for its flavor and nice prices too. I'd be a regular here. I had a prime rib sandwich and onion rings. I ordered the beef rare and, wonder of wonders, that is EXACTLY how it came. Pink and tender and juicy, with a side of jus that seemed to be truly pan juices – not just a can of bouillon! I asked for some horseradish and the waitress (who was also the sister of the chef/owner) asked if I’d prefer horseradish sauce. I did and it took a couple of minutes, because they made it fresh for me. We were really impressed with this place and hope that they survive!

We spent the afternoon lazing around the room reading and on the beach. It was so warm that we actually wore our bathing suits. I feel the same way about sitting on a beach as Ratty does about “messing about in boats” – truly, “there is nothing…half so much worth doing”. The sounds of the surf and the sea birds, the salty-briny odors, the warmth of the sun and the feel of the breeze all combine to make the perfect day, no matter where you are in the world.

For dinner, I made sandwiches and we had a picnic at a table in front of our hotel and watched the sun set over the beach houses across the street.

Friday was a much busier day – it was our last full day, so we crammed a LOT of stuff in. We’d gone to the beautiful Elizabethan Gardens a few years ago, but not at all lately. With having such an early spring this year, we thought it was worth another visit. I’m so glad that we went, because it was exceptionally beautiful this time. The gardens are large and the paths meander, but it is an easy wander. Lots of shady areas to escape the sun and one section goes right down to the water and has lovely views. Some pictures:

Of all the beautiful flowers, my favorites are the camellias:

This all made for a lovely, relaxing stroll. After the garden we found a wonderful antique store – the rabbit warren kind that you could poke about in for hours. We only saw half of it, because my blood sugar took a dive and we had to find something to fix it. I decided that frozen custard from the Kill Devil Hills frozen custard stand would cure me. It was good, creamy incredibly smooth custard. Not sublime like the old Dairy Bar in Falls Church, but good. I got a vanilla. The only choices were vanilla, black raspberry and S’mores. I am extremely conservative when it comes to frozen custard – vanilla and chocolate are really the only possible choices. Fruit flavors belong in frozen yogurt, not custard. Ice cream? Sure, pile on all the additions you like. But frozen custard is sacrosanct – as plain as possible, please.

Dinner that night was at High Cotton, a BBQ place that we discovered on our last trip. Mr. Kim had pulled pork, ribs and smoked chicken with collards and Brunswick stew on the side:

I had ribs and fried chicken with slaw and chicken & dumplings on the side:

The pulled pork is good – nowhere near as good as Mr. Kim’s, but good. Both of the chickens are fantastic – the smoked was extremely tender and full of smoky flavor and the fried is perfect – crisp and juicy with a well-seasoned crust. I could have just pulled the skin off and had a feast – I suspect that lard was involved in the frying process. The ribs were outstanding. None of that fall off the bone, soggy meat nonsense here. The meat was tender and smoky and not overly sauced, but there was a bit of a bite to it – you had to work a little to get a bite. Perfect. Nice smoke ring, too. The sides were all very good – I’m a fan of thicker stew, but that’s just a quibble. Chicken and dumplings were excellent. It sounds odd, with all of this delicious food, but the thing that kept me nibbling until way past full was that slaw. It was just stellar. Honestly the best slaw I’ve ever eaten. If I lived there, I’d never make my own again. It was chopped rather than sliced or shredded and it consisted of just cabbage – no other vegetables. It was creamy without being gloppy – maybe mayonnaise and cream? A little sweet, but not overly so. It made a great side, but would have been perfect on a BBQ sandwich, too. We tried the lemon chess pie for dessert. It was fine, but mine is better (LOVE it when that happens). We waddled back to the hotel and relaxed for a while before taking an evening stroll on the beach. We walked about a mile down the beach to the Avalon fishing pier and back, letting the waves just tickle our toes and star gazing. Perfect last evening.

Saturday was our last day, so the morning was full of packing, sorting and organizing. We always take all of our leftovers to the beach to feed to the birds on our last morning, but had only one taker – and he wasn’t even a sea bird, just some random blackbird. But we left him a feast anyway – bread, cookies, leftover pie! He seemed grateful.

We took the slow road home – stopped at a couple of antique/flea market places and at the Husband Torture Store aka: The Cotton Gin. This store in a seemingly never ending series of rooms, nooks, upanddownstairs crannies – all crammed with housewares, clothing, decorated sweaters, jewelry, decorative boxes and gewgaws. Girl heaven – Boy nightmare. We did find a couple of Mother’s day gifts, so as I pointed out to Mr. Kim, it was not a wasted trip. He remained unconvinced. (Do I really need to comment here?)

We stopped for dinner at Mr. Jim’s Sub Shop in Chesapeake, an almost 40 year old place that is miles above most sub places. We shared the lumpia (try to find THAT at your normal sub shop) with sweet and sour sauce. I loved it, Mr. Kim was meh. I had a club-type sub and Mr. Kim had some meatnormous combination and we shared a ‘regular’ order of hand cut fries. We didn’t come close to finishing those. Everything was delicious and out sized. Folks in Chesapeake are LUCKY to have Mr. Jim’s. Richmond doesn’t have anything to touch it.

We got home later than we should have, thanks to the apparently insane and/or sadistic folks at VDOT. One of the bridge/tunnels was closed, so there was a detour. OK, it happens – no biggie. But we saw signs advising us of this for MILES after we got on the highway to Richmond. When we finally got within spitting distance of the tunnel, we were directed to the detour – back EXACTLY the way that we had just come and PAST the exit that we had originally used to get on that highway. Sigh. We grumbled a bit, but since the extra time just added to time we could laugh and chat and complain, we weren’t really too terribly peeved. That is kind of our travel philosophy – SNAFU’s happen, as long as no one is maimed, it’s ok. Plus, everyone likes to make fun of government workers, even other government workers (maybe even MORE than regular people).

What a wonderful week and a perfect way to celebrate our anniversary. Mr. Kim indulges me always. I am a lucky, lucky girl. Lucky that he indulges me, lucky that he enjoys so many of the same things that I do. But I’m also lucky that he WANTS to spend time with me and that even if he doesn’t enjoy something, he loves seeing me enjoy it. I have a lovely, loyal, upright and generous man. It doesn’t get any better than that.

Same time next year, dearie? It's a date! xxxxoooo