When I saw a third white boat cross the horizon on the blue-green ocean, I could stand it no longer.
“Fishies, fishies, fishies! Catch fishies for me!” I shouted, fanning my hands like beckoning fins. “Come to me, fishies!”
The Hub adjusted his sunglasses and pulled down his cap to disguise himself as we walked on the beach. He was surely thinking: Yes, I know we are on vacation at Cape Hatteras, but this fishie chant, really? For the third time this week? And at 10 in the morning?
Not too early for me. I was already thinking about what finny or shell-covered swimmer would be on my plate for dinner.
Never miss a local story.
That, and how long it would take Hub to finish the Sudoku and Cryptoquote in the paper he had snagged from the Red Drum Tackle Shop so I could then have the crossword puzzles. Until he did, I would divert myself with a selection from the two bags of books we brought along.
Why, yes, as a matter of fact, we are over 50.
Along the beach, the sea spray scents of seafood. The pale ghost crabs that scuttle from our path make me think of crab cakes. We ask surf fishermen we pass – the ones that aren’t asleep beside sand-planted poles and PBRs – if they’ve had any luck.
I have three goals for a week at the beach: consume as much seafood, read as many books and return as close to the same fishbelly-white hue as possible. (I have never tanned in my entire life; my color choices are flounder-white or crawfish-red. If I did one of those Ancestry DNA tests, my genetic heritage likely would be underground cave dwellers.)
I love seafood. I think I could abandon steak and fried chicken before giving up soft-shell crabs, clams, tilefish or sheepshead. Steamed with spices, grilled with olive oil, boiled in beer, roasted in the oven, pan-seared with shallots or crispy fried. Yes, fried. Perfectly fried fish is a glorious thing and is how I prefer my soft-shells, allowing me to crunch their little legs with evil, noisy abandon.
My love blossoms at the beach, where what’s on my plate was swimming that morning. If I needed another reason besides basketball to love living in North Carolina, the state ranks at or near the top in the country for the variety of fish caught, according to N.C. Sea Grant.
The variety of flavors fascinates me, from tender and sweet as honey to the brine of salt and sea.
Come to me, fishies.
My delight in seafood is surprising, because I was raised to think fish came shaped like a Bic lighter and wrapped in soggy breading. To serve fish, my mother believed in walking softly and carrying a small stick.
“You can never get the smell out of the house,” she exclaimed each time the idea of her cooking a less rectangular form of fish for dinner came up. This from a woman who simmered collard greens all day, filling the house with an odor that could have been banned as a chemical weapon but to which she was apparently immune.
In my life so far, I’ve found two kinds of fish that I didn’t like.
1. Bluefish. It has to be totally fresh – as in remove from the hook and cook immediately – or it develops a very strong flavor and oily texture. I’ve been burned too many times by bluefish, so I’ve moved on to other relationships.
During our week at the Outer Banks, Hub and I dined out on clams, black grouper, tuna, crab cakes, scallops, mahi, oyster, drum and fried shrimp.
No, I didn’t cook every single night. Don’t you look at me like that. Even food writers go on vacation.
But one day, we visited our favorite seafood market to get something good to make for dinner. We spied a gorgeous slab of yellowfin tuna, cut thick the way we like it, not thin like inland tuna steaks often are. We grabbed some meaty cobia, too. And the market steamed, spiced and chilled down a pound of shrimp, which would go fine with pre-meal wine sipping.
Olive oil, lemon juice, a few herbs, and a battered frying pan that came with the rented kitchen — that’s all I needed.
Come to me, fishies. Let your perfume linger.