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6/100: Grilled Peaches with Ice Cream & Caramel Sauce

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Summer is, without argument, the most magical season. Long days, warm nights, endless possibilities and freedom. Summer brims with nostalgia and potential, all wrapped up in the warm glow of the long sunlight evenings. I pack my days and nights full with people and parties and travel and salt and sand and laughter until before I know it months have blurred into one long humid afternoon. Exactly the way that I like it.

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Recently I had an unexpected weekend all to myself, which never happens, and had me giddy with the possibilities. Would I go to the beach and lay in the warm sand for hours? Would I buckle down and get to all that work I probably should tackle (unlikely)? Should I curl up on the couch with the dog and marathon Gilmore Girls while polishing off the last of the salted caramel sauce? As I sat at my computer that Saturday morning checking the weather and sipping my coffee it occurred to me that this free weekend might be the perfect opportunity for spontaneity. A little Googling and a few phone calls later it was decided, I was going peach picking in Brunswick County.

brunswick

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Brunswick County stretches from the Cape Fear River to the border between Carolinas, making it the southernmost county in the state. Its 1,050 square miles include the Brunswick Beaches- Sunset, Ocean Isle, Holden, Oak Island, Caswell, and Bald Head Island. Driving through Brunswick County you’ll find farmlands, fast growing communities, beaches, riverfront, and plenty of golf. Founded in 1764 it was named for Brunswick Town, a settlement and major 18th century port. Brunswick Town is now a colonial ghost town, but it was the first settlement on the Cape Fear River and thrived until it was destroyed during the Revolutionary War. The county seat is Bolivia, and Brunswick County borders Columbus, Pender, and New Hanover to the north and Horry County, South Carolina, to the south.

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I’d been thinking that my late summer installment of Tasting North Carolina should focus on the stone fruits currently flooding the market, and had been toying with the idea of visiting a peach farm. That Saturday my friend Brandy and I drove the hour south to Calabash to visit a farm that (according to the web) had pick your own peaches, berries, figs, and more. It sounded like heaven! It sounded like fate! I should have known better! As we pulled into the farm the skies opened up, letting loose the kind of rain that only a week of unbearable heat in the South can elicit. We scrambled inside and started to make arrangements, only to discover that they a) only offer pick your own in the early morning (we got there around 11.30) and b) don’t ever pick your own peaches, just blueberries. A double whammy of disappointment.

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Thankfully Brandy and I glass-half-full type people, especially when we’re on a spontaneous road trip, so we bought some peaches, green peanuts, and hot sauce (made right there on the premises) and headed on our way. Our original plan of visiting the beaches were dampened by the rain, so we headed back on home, happily chatting as we drove about how we were going to spice our boiled peanuts.

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The real highlight of the trip happened in Leland, just over the bridge from Wilmington, when Brandy spotted a massive alligator on the side of the road. And because this was a day of spontaneity I turned the car around and we pulled out our cameras, sprinting to find it. As we approached he swam from one side of the marsh to the other, towards us, allowing us an up close look at easily the biggest alligator either of us have seen in the wild. The moral of the story? Things may not always work out as you expect them to, but in the end there will probably be alligators.

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Grilled Peaches with Ice Cream & Caramel Sauce
Serves 4

2 large peaches
1 tbsp coconut oil
Vanilla ice cream

caramel sauce:

1/2 cup sugar
1/2 stick butter
¼ cup cream
1 tsp vanilla extract

Begin by making your caramel sauce. In a heavy skillet melt the sugar, stirring constantly. Sugar will clump and then melt, continue to stir as it turns an amber brown. Cube butter and stir into sugar until combined. Remove from heat and add cream. Stir rapidly until fully incorporated. Add in vanilla extract and allow to cool.

Slice peaches in half. Brush each half with coconut oil. Grill peaches flesh side down for 5-6 minutes or until tender. Serve hot with ice cream and drizzled caramel sauce.

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Peach Salsa

peach salsa 5 In the weeks since my big freelance project wrapped up I’ve felt drunk with the power of free time. I’m a say-yes-to-everything kind of gal anyway, so the sudden onslaught of free time combined with all the opportunities provided by summer life at the beach has kept me busy. The very best kind of busy.

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peach salsa 2 This week we decided to picnic at the beach with friends one day after work, giving ourselves the chance to enjoy the sand and sun and salt. I made a pulled chicken and a batch of peach salsa, and we feasted on tacos and watermelon and edamame and snickerdoodles. It was an easy and simple dinner that was perfectly portable and just what we needed before surfing and swimming into the dusk.

peach salsa 3 Peaches have been flooding the markets lately and, by extension, flooding my kitchen. Eating them whole, grilling them, throwing them in salads and smoothies and pies. They’ve been especially helpful in my efforts to stick to the “Vegan Before 6” program. This salsa was fresh, tart, and sweet, a nice balance to the spicy chicken. I will absolutely make it again to pair with fish, grilled portabellas, grits, burgers, sausages, grilled pork, or even mango sorbet.

peach salsa 1 Peach Salsa

2 white peaches
2 yellow peaches
1 red onion
1 cup/handful cilantro
1 jalapeño
Juice of 3 limes
Salt & pepper

Chop and seed peaches, keeping the skin on. Peel and mince the onion, stirring into peaches. Add chopped cola to, chopped and seeded jalapeño, lime juice, salt, and pepper. Let rest 30 minutes before serving.

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5/100 Pender County Blueberry Lemon Cake

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Inevitably every year I find myself in a bit of a culinary rut during the months of March and April. After the bustle of the holidays, the excitement of roasting root vegetables, and the inevitable sugar high of National Pie Month (religiously observed in our household), the remaining months of winter feel slow and uninspired. I grow weary of eating root vegetables, of slow cooking meats. I’m ready for FRESH and the wait is difficult. This is all to say that when the blueberries start flooding the market in the beginning of summer, I indulge. I help myself to pints and pints of blueberries, shooting my antioxidant intake through the roof and top every dish, from pancakes to pork chops, with blueberries. They’re a little, compact, tart sign from nature that the tides are turning and that summer’s bounty is coming. I, for one, fully embrace signs from nature.

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It is fortuitous, perhaps, that I now find myself living a short 36 miles from Burgaw, the home of the North Carolina Blueberry Festival, which celebrated it’s 10th anniversary this June. A few weeks ago we packed into our car (which is not unlike a blueberry in shape and color) and headed up Highway 117, our only expectation being the consumption and celebration of blueberries. Okay, maybe we were also hoping to see someone dressed as a blueberry, a la Willy Wonka. But other than that, we were in it for the ride.

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As promised the festival was wonderful. Everything was blue, there was an abundance of blueberry-related foods and crafts and games, and (best of all) farm stands were selling out of pints of berries all over the festival grounds. Hundreds of people gathered to eat and drink and dance in the small town of Burgaw, all in celebration of this fruit. It never ceases to amaze me how food can bring us together.

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Pender County is located just north of us, situated between Duplin, Onslow, Brunswick, Bladen, Columbus, New Hanover, and Sampson Counties. It’s home to our favorite place to take Kaylee for a hike, Poplar Grove, part of Topsail Island, Burgaw, the home of the blueberry festival (and Pender’s County seat), and much more. Named for William Dorsey Pender, a Confederate general who was mortally wounded in the battle of Gettysburg, it spans over 930 miles, 62 of which is water, and has a population of around 50,000 people.

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Pender County was one of the first counties to reach out to me after I launched Tasting North Carolina with recipes from their cookbook of award winning NC Blueberry Festival recipes. After careful consideration I decided to try my hand at a Blueberry Lemon Cake with Lemon Cream Cheese Frosting, a recipe submitted by Kelly Griffin of Wallace, NC, and was delighted to  have a chance to make it with fresh Pender County blueberries. It was a smash hit around the house, and certainly tasted better than it looked (not really a skilled cake baker over here). Dan has put in an official request for more cake. Perhaps now that we’re seeing more and more stone fruit in the market I’ll indulge him with a peach pound cake.

pender

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This post is part of the ongoing series, Tasting North Carolina. Read more about the project here.

 

Blueberry-Lemon Cake with Lemon Cream Cheese Frosting
adapted from Kelly Elaine, Griffin Wallace, NC

2 c flour

1 pint fresh blueberries

2 tsp. baking powder

1 tsp. salt

1 c. whole milk

1 ½ c. sugar

2 tsp. vanilla extract

4 lg. eggs

1 tsp. grated lemon peel

1 c. (2 sticks) unsalted butter (room temp)

-Preheat oven to 350°.

-Butter three (9 inch) diameter cake pans with 1 ½ inch high sides. Butter pans and dust with flour.

– Sift flour, baking powder, and salt into medium bowl. In a separate bowl toss blueberries in a bit of the flour. Set remaining flour mixture and blueberries aside.

-Stir whole milk, vanilla extract and grated lemon peel in small bowl.

-Beat butter in a large bowl until light and creamy.

-Gradually add sugar, beating until mixture is light and fluffy.

– Add eggs one at a time.

– Add flour mixture to egg mixture a little at a time, alternating with milk.

– Fold in blueberries and divide batter equally among pans.

– Bake  25-30 minutes or until golden brown.

– Cool cakes in pans on rack for 10 minutes. Run knife around pan sides to loosen. Turn cakes out onto racks to cool completely.

– Layer cakes with frosting spread generously between layers  and on top.

Lemon Cream Cheese Frosting: 

2 (8-oz.) pkgs. Cream cheese (room temp)

4 c. powdered sugar

Juice of 1 lemon

1 tsp. lemon zest

1 ½ sticks unsalted butter (room temp)

1 tsp. vanilla extract

Using electric mixer, beat cream cheese and butter in large bowl until light and fluffy.  Gradually beat in powdered sugar.  Add vanilla, lemon zest, and lemon juice.

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