While I’m not on vacation in the classically defined sense of the word, in the last few months, I have become a sort of vacation cosplay expert. Embracing varying methods of escapism as I try to make anything seem less hopeless or more interesting. In Brooklyn, that means riding the ferry recreationally (you can bring wine and just ride around for hours without getting off, it’s an absolute blast) and thinking of getting an Iced New Orleans with oat milk at Blue Bottle as “going to town for a treat,” even though it’s only 3 blocks away.
Another thing I like to do when I’m roleplaying a person on vacation is make food I associate with “real vacation.” Eat for the life you want, not the one you have, etc. The definition of “real vacation” will depend on where you’ve been and how you prefer to define the word, but for me, it’s a tiki drink I’d never otherwise make at home and seafood I have to work hard for. Yes, even on vacation, I struggle to find joy if I’m not working hard at something and yes, I am talking through that in therapy.
Working hard for seafood, incidentally, the title of a book I would 100% read, is one of my greatest joys. It does for my brain what I imagine leisurely reading a book or casually putting together a puzzle does for others. Steaming and cooling then cracking and picking crabs or lobsters, ripping the shells and sucking the heads from prawns or shrimp, sitting around large stainless steel bowls of clams and eating them casually like tiny snacks: these things relax me because they give me purpose, an almost primitive task for my brain to complete that does not require the use of my phone or any amount of overthinking. This says a lot about my personality, which, unrelated, I’ve just learned is an enneagram type 4.
I am extremely lucky to fill my life with wonderful people who are as enthusiastic about this style of eating as I am since I can’t imagine convincing anyone this is the most fun a person could have if they didn’t already know it in their blood. It doesn’t always have to be an entire box of surprise lobsters shipped from Maine (unless it’s your birthday and then it does. My friend Drew ordered a case for me last year, only one died en route; we steamed, split, grilled and doused the rest in melted butter) and it needn’t be an overly ambitious crawfish boil involving an outdoor burner and 25 pounds of crawfish for four people (unless it’s your birthday and you’re from Louisiana like Anoop, and then yes, it does. He likes these guys for delivery). Sometimes, just a platter of grilled or seared head-on shrimp scattered with chopped parsley, raw garlic, and something spicy can be enough to make you feel, even for a little bit, that you might be anywhere but here.
drew doing the hard work bc it was my birthday and I simply did not want to; anoop’s crawfish which he also boils with tiny potatoes, corn, sausage, shrimp and whole artichokes, which blew my mind. he also wants me to let you know his favorite song on folklore is epiphany. these photos were not taken on the same day.
SHRIMP ON VACATION
How many shrimp you buy depends on the size and how many people you’re feeding. For our group of four, Chris bought twelve head-on prawns because they were absolute UNITS, a true sight to behold. Small lobsters, really. But this can also be, like, two pounds of smaller shrimp, head-on or otherwise.
I love them cooked on the grill and in a skillet and there are arguments to be made for both: Done on the grill, the shells get a little more dried out, charred and crispy, so then you can eat them like a chip. In the skillet, they’ll be a little saucier, which is almost always preferable, but then the shell will get softer and not as pleasant to eat (although I always try). That all said, if there is a grill to be had, I will be grilling.
Either way, once they’re off the heat, I like to scatter them with a mix of whatever I’ve got lying around, which, if you’ve guessed: Yes! Is definitely a mixture of fresh parsley or cilantro (about 1/2 cup of herbs, finely chopped), raw garlic (1 clove, finely chopped) or scallions (2 of them, thinly sliced), something spicy like half a serrano or whole jalapeño (finely chopped), and lemon (first the zest, then the juice later on). Season this with flaky salt and lots of pepper. It’s Gremolata-ish, but less about the herbs and more about the alliums/heat/lemon.
So let’s say you’re also grilling them. Season the shrimp with salt and pepper and give them a good bit of olive oil to coat. Grill them on both sides until they’re bright pink and blackened in spots, about 3 to 6 minutes total, depending on their size (if you’re not grilling, just sear them in a skillet with a little oil, cook until bright pink and cooked through).
The most delightful part of doing the whole head-on, shell-on thing on the grill is how burned and crispy the little legs and antennas get, they are the crispiest and best things to eat. As soon as they’re cooked, put them on a platter and scatter them with the spicy herby business. Give them another healthy pour of olive oil for some sauciness and a squeeze from that lemon you zested.
To eat them, be as messy as you can be. Forks and knives strongly discouraged. Rip the heads off, suck the juices from inside, tear the legs away from the body, chew on the shells, use your hands to dip the meat in the sauciness that’s been made on the plate as they sit. Maybe don’t wear white (or, do, lol), maybe do drink a beer on ice, wipe your hands on paper towels, or maybe your shirt. Eating this way should make you feel a little free, a little wild. Remember, you’re on vacation.
vacation shrimp, ill-advised all-white outfit, beer on ice.
Realize citronella candles are an absolute hoax; Light one million of them every time you go outside anyway. Watch this version of Silver Springs and sob at the way Stevie Nicks and Lindsey Buckingham look at each other starting at 4:12. Listen to this old episode of Ezra Klein’s podcast with Jia Tolentino and wish she was your therapist (My friend Sue sent this episode to me to listen to and I do whatever she says. Trick Mirror is hitting especially hard these days. If you’ve never read it, read it. If you’ve read it, now is a good time to re-read it. This episode is a great reminder of why). Choose to get caught in the rain, get deeply and thoroughly soaking wet, convince yourself bathing in natural water will solve all your problems. Listen to the new Widowspeak, especially if you’re into Mazzy Star energy, which, who isn’t. Make pickles to delight your future self in a few months when you discover those pickles you made back in August (I use the “basic brine” recipe in the condiments section of Dining In with cucumbers, garlic, dill and lots of black peppercorns because I love a basic pickle. These Aranya peppercorns from Diaspora are truly the best I’ve found, a little goes a long way). Read this 2020 cook through of Nothing Fancy by @darrendub and tear up that someone cooked all the recipes in this book you love so much (he rated the recipes with emoji 😭). Get hot for Biden/Harris 2020, I know I am!
As a reminder, this newsletter is free with the *option* to subscribe. Paid subscribers get additional recipes, Q+A’s, discussion threads, and more to come. Upgrade or subscribe below.
For August, all proceeds will go to La Cocina, an SF-based non-profit that’s working to solve problems of equity in business ownership for women, immigrants, and people of color. Learn more about them here, purchase their beautiful cookbook full of amazing stories and recipes here.
Past organizations to put on your radar: The Okra Project / Food Issues Group