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Mountain Pie

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Ladies and gentlemen, boys and girls, today is my birthday.  I may or may not have mentioned here before that I have a tendency to make a very big deal out of my birthday.  I think that it stems from having a lot of family spread over the east coast and a summer birthday.  I would start celebrating in May with my class and then keep celebrating as we visited people over the summer.  For most of my childhood my birthday spanned months instead of hours.  It may have spoiled me.

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When I was fifteen I got a job as a lifeguard, and then all of the sudden I had access to what became a private pool after 9pm.  In the six years that I worked at the pool, we threw some really excellent parties.  We also started a tradition called the beerbeque, a tradition that extended to my 21st birthday, an all day drinkfest in Baltimore.  That particular celebration of life ended with Dan buying me a whiskey shot in Fell’s Point, me throwing up out of a taxi’s open door, and having to go to work the next day even though my legs were covered in permanent marker.  Apparently my brother saw the opportunity to make my foray into legal drinking a little more memorable with a sharpie and his creative imagination.

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It’s safe to say, then, that I’ve had some pretty excellent birthday parties.  From the pool parties at my grandma’s house to the beerbeques of my teen years, I have always celebrated in style.  The one consistent in all of my birthday festivities is that I have always eaten mountain pie on my birthday.  Mountain pie is, in my opinion, the only dessert suitable for a July birthday.  They’re served with ice cream, they’re full of fresh, delicious fruit, and I grew up eating that way, so it’s tradition over everything else.

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Mountain pie is what Dan calls a “dump cobbler.”  Meaning you dump it all together and let the oven take care of the rest.  My grandmother always made it with either fresh peaches or blueberries, but I suppose you could use blackberries or even raspberries if you were feeling frisky.  I like both blueberry and peach, and this year I had one of each.  I made a blueberry pie for my family when we were in Morehead last week, and Dan and I enjoyed a peach pie this past weekend.  I made it with white and yellow peaches, and it was just divine.  I think my father summed it up best when he said “This is delicious.  No, it’s better than that.  This is DAMN GOOD.”

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Mountain Pie

1 cup flour

1 cup sugar*

3/4 cup milk

1 stick butter

1 1/2 tsp baking powder

1 tsp salt

2 cups fresh blueberries or peaches

Heat oven to 350.

In your dish, melt the butter.

While the butter is melting, mix together to flour, sugar, milk, baking powder, and salt.  If you are using peaches, peel and dice.

When the butter is melted, pour the flour mixture into it.  DO NOT MIX.  Add the fruit on top.  DO NOT MIX.

Bake for 40 minutes to 1 hour, or until golden brown.  Serve with ice cream.

Serves 6

*If your fruit is very ripe and therefore very sweet, cut down the amount of sugar.  For overripe peaches I would cut the sugar amount by half.

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Cayenne Candied Pecans

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One of the hardest foods for me to resist at fairs, carnivals, and outdoor concerts is candied nuts.  The smell of them lure me in and I can’t say no.  My favorite nut, the pecan, is also my favorite candied nut.  I like it when nuts are not just sweet when candied, but also spicy, so when I make them at home, I mix in a little cayenne to give it a kick.

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Candied pecans are a malleable food because they can be served alone as a snack or used as a topping in salads, on top of soups, or with a little vanilla ice cream.  They have a shelf life of a few weeks, so you can make a batch and then dole them out as needed, which is something I always appreciate.  They’re like the bacon bits of sweet toppings.

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Candying nuts is pretty easy.  You want to moisten the nuts so that the sugar and spice can stick, so you dip them in frothed egg whites first, and then in the dry mix.  For my dry mix I used brown sugar, white sugar, cinnamon, cayenne, red pepper, and nutmeg.  My main flavor makers were cayenne and cinnamon, but I added the other flavors to make a complete taste.  After I baked them I tossed them again in more sugar and spice and then let them cool.  This makes sure that there is a crusty sugar layer on the outside.  The spice is subtle and the overall experience is wonderful- crunchy, chewy, sweet, and spicy.

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Cayenne Candied Pecans

2 egg whites

1 tsp vanilla extract

1 cup pecans

1/4 cup brown sugar

1/2 cup sugar

1 tbsp cayenne

1 tbsp cinnamon

Dash of red pepper

Dash of nutmeg

Use a whisk, mixer, or immersion blender to froth your egg whites.  Add vanilla extract.  Add the pecans and coat entirely.

In a separate bowl, mix white sugar and spices.  Split in half and set one half inside.  To the other half add brown sugar.  Dip the pecans in the brown sugar mix and place on a wax paper covered baking sheet.

Bake your pecans in a 350 oven for 20 minutes.

When they’re done, toss them in the remaining sugar mix and place them on a rack to cool.

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Catch of the Day

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This weekend Dan and I journeyed south to Morehead City on some wedding business. It was a great weekend, full of the unexpected and a lot of fun. My two brothers, Reid and Ryan, and my father and stepmother were there the whole weekend, and Dan’s parents joined us for Saturday. On Friday we were treated to what turned out to just be a boat ride on the Tortuga, as the weather turned out to be a little much past the inlet.

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Dan recently finished his open water SCUBA certification, and this weekend was his first open ocean dive. Originally we had intended to take him to the USS Indra, a landing craft repair ship that is sunk in 70 feet of water. When it started to look a little rough to go offshore, we opted for the USS Theodore Parker, a liberty ship that sits in 60 feet of water inshore. Unfortunately our boat ride ended up being a “look and see.” With three foot swells none of us wanted to try and fight to dive, and I definitely didn’t want Dan’s first NC dive to be one where he got bucked off the ladder because of rough waters.

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We were all really bummed out on the way back, because there’s nothing quite as depressing as going to all the trouble to gear up and ride out there only to have to scratch the dive. However, my brother Reid saved the day by suggesting that we do a drift dive on the Beaufort Rock Jetty. Jetties aren’t necessarily my favorite dives, but in a tight spot they’re fun and most importantly they afford you the opportunity to breathe underwater, which is the main goal.

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We switched over to a smaller boat and motored over there. Most people who dive the jetty drive up and carry their gear to the water, but we have a 20′ Robolo that’s the perfect size to pull up and anchor. Reid, who is my father’s first mate and a recent divemaster, was going to dive with us, but in poor DM form shook us within a few minutes of descending. Thankfully we’re fully competent and didn’t need his pretentious hovering anyway. The dive was a drift dive with 3-5 feet of visibility in 30-40 feet of water, and I had such a good time. Since we live in DC we don’t get to dive as often as we’d like, and just being underwater was good enough for us.

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Dan also had a wonderful time. I keep telling him that not a lot of people would have enjoyed that dive, and even fewer would have raved about it. I could not have been happier that Dan loved North Carolina diving. I’m taking it as an incredibly good sign that he had a great time in what were pretty much the worst case scenario conditions. Usually the perpetual pessimist, he found the best in the situation, which makes me happier than I can even express. I can’t wait to show him what NC can offer on a good day.

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After Reid ditched us, he speared a flounder and a small tautog. When we got home he cleaned them, breaded them, and fried them for fish sandwiches. I love flounder and this was probably as fresh as it gets. We ate that fish within two hours of spearing it, and it was completely delicious. Later in the weekend my dad made freshly caught grouper fingers, which were equally amazing.

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My dad’s friend Scotty (the one he wrote a book about) turned him on to the House of Autry fish breading a few years ago, which is what my dad uses pretty exclusively on his fish these days. I meant to take a look at the ingredients, but if I had to take a guess, I would say it’s cornmeal, flour, and some spices. If you can find House of Autry, you can use that, or you could make your own breading. My dad also crumbles up some triscuits (or potato chips if you’re in a tight spot) and mixes them in for some crunch.

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We ate the flounder on sandwiches with fresh tomato, salt and pepper, and a little dijonaisse (the only condiment in the refrigerator- tartar sauce would have been preferable). The grouper was cut and fried in fingers, perfect for eating alone or dipped in some dijonaisse. It combined two of my favorite southern culinary treats- tomato sandwiches and fried fish. I know that it seems insanely simple and that the foodie in me should revolt, but no food makes me close my eyes and sigh a sigh of pure happiness like fresh fish and tomato.

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Fried Flounder Sandwiches

1 whole flounder, or 2 flounder filets

2 cups House of Autry seafood breader

1/2 cup crunched triscuits

1 tomato

2 rolls

1 cup peanut oil

Tartar sauce

Salt & pepper

If you’re working with a whole flounder, you want to skin and filet it.

Combine your breader with the triscuits in a bag. Throw the filets in the bag and shake until thoroughly coated.

In a large skillet, heat your peanut oil until it bubbles around the bottom of a wooden spoon, or dances when you splash water in it. These are very scientific tests, clearly.

Place your fish in the oil and cook 4-5 minutes on each side, or until golden brown. While the fish is cooking, slice the tomato, toast the rolls, and spread on some tartar sauce. When the fish is cooked, toss those on the sandwich, put your feet up on the front porch, and enjoy.

Serves 2.

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