A Continuing Journey
By Doc Lawrence:
We are not alone on an island. With deference to poet John Donne, whenever someone suffers or is afraid, it affects each of us. We are one, always have been, always will be. Through this spirit of unity, no crisis can defeat us.
Shouldn’t we dream about better days ahead? After all, travel is the realization of our dreams, a priceless gift from our imagination. Each of us remembers stories in books or movies that elevated our spirits during childhood. Mark Twain’s Life on the Mississippi, Huckleberry, and Jim running and hiding. Musicals like “South Pacific,” “Singing in the Rain” and “Oklahoma.”
We were inspired to seek out new places, find new faces and feel the exhilarating thrill of air never breathed before. Keep that ambition, extend that vision, and start dreaming about those destinations.
I took a little time to revisit some features and columns I’ve written over the years. What an amazing journey, an affirmation of personal growth that would not have happened if I stayed home. Wanderlust enriched me and will do the same for anyone. My peers didn’t just read Kerouack’s On the Road, they lived it, bringing me along.
Actual travel experiences began early on. For me, baseball and college took me as a teen to the Caribbean, then Key West, and at 17, a freshman at FSU. Florida opened up a new world where the cuisine was as diverse as the population. Cracker culinary heritage at Marjorie Kinnan Rawling’s Cross Creek, Spanish cooking traditions in St. Augustine, chowder in the Conch Republic, Cuban sandwiches, Ybor City’s unsurpassed cuisine, soft shell crabs and fried grouper, swamp cabbage, Pindar palm jelly, Tupelo honey, mangoes, smoked mullet dip, and heaven knows what else.
Florida was my personal awakening. New worlds of flavor and aroma translated into more enjoyment at the dinner table.
It’s impossible to have these experiences confined to one place. Mobility educates the palate.
Florida also opened up much of the South for me. Like the Conquistador’s 500 years before, I journeyed to New Orleans, hitchhiking three times with only a few bucks. I discovered the French Quarter and learned to stretch a buck reading and sipping coffee in Pirate’s Alley. Later, I learned that William Faulkner and Tennessee Williams followed a similar routine. I never forgot the kindness and generosity of locals there who, almost without effort, practice the art of joie de vivre better than anyone.
I returned many times, able to dine in legendary restaurants and enjoy the great galleries and museums. French, Spanish, Italian, German, Creole, and Cajun dishes broadened a world view. Wines, to my surprise, belonged at the dinner table and with a little imagination, paired quite nicely with almost anything. One cardinal rule remains: when in doubt, drink Champagne. Everything including barbecue welcomes it. Names like Chef John Folse, Paul Prudhomme, Dickie Brennan, Justin Wilson, Emeril, and dozens more still influence almost everything I write or produce.
Randy Newman’s songs are Creole symphonies.
A PERSONAL MANIFESTO
I am committed to starting new adventures, blending fantasy into those highly anticipated experiences.
An imaginary dinner with Scott Joplin in St. Louis, devouring baby back ribs with a background of ragtime classics, enjoyed with Missouri wine like Norton.
Irish Whisky (I prefer Jameson’s) at Silky O’Sullivan’s on Beale Street, the best watering hole in Memphis.
Dinner in Louisville with the world’s top Bourbon authority, Michael Veach. So many outstanding restaurants to choose from, but I’ll settle for the opulent Oakroom at the Seelbach Hotel, looking for Jay Gatsby between bites.
Just imagine what dinner would be like in Asheville with Steve Martin. Between courses, perhaps he could be persuaded to pick a few tunes on his 5-string banjo.
Pat Conroy has joined the heavenly band of angel writers, but his beloved Beaufort still has serves South Carolina Low Country classics at incomparable restaurants. For those who haven’t had Carolina Gold Rice, She-Crab Soup, or Frogmore Stew, here’s a promise: life will change for the better after each meal.
I’ve witnessed Atlanta’s food and dining evolution first-hand. Let’s go restaurant hopping on Buford Highway’s corridor comprised of over 100 international restaurants representing Vietnam, Brazil, Peru, Cuba, Malaysia, Japan, El Salvador, Columbia, Korea, China, and more.
Florida still pulls me like a magnet. Cedar Key, White Springs, Monticello, Micanopy, Everglades City, Dog Island, Captiva, and Key West beckon. Dinner in Sarasota with Chef Judi Gallagher will be a life-changing, deliciously dreamy James Beard meets Julia Child moment.
Come on along. We’re doing everything by car and boat, giving our best effort to channel that inner Hemingway waiting to be released, never shying from new adventures, particularly at the bar, dinner table, and dance floor.
THE GOURMET HIGHWAY: RECIPES AND CULINARY TREASURES ENJOYED WITH THE GLORY OF THE GRAPE
By Doc Lawrence
The Gourmet Highway is equal parts imagination blended with actual experience. These journeys allow the palate to expand with each meal, providing an additional benefit that invariably comes with wines, when poured, that are either familiar or exciting introductions. Since ancient times, the dinner table has been a birthplace of friendship and love. Those who share good food and fine wines soon feel a soulful exhilaration, a spiritual reward rooted in our culinary DNA.
Food is an adventure, a salute to geographical diversity and the many cultures that contribute to enjoyment. Julia Child personified the ritual of dining, always enthusiastic when introduced to new dishes. Nothing is written in stone: we welcome culinary explorations that excite and stimulate. Above all, we share with others, strengthen friendships, and are always open to creating new relationships. The dinner table works magic, a vehicle to a higher life.
These recipes were gathered as I traveled the Gourmet Highway along the rural Gulf Coast of Northwest Florida. Often called “Original Florida,” food is uniformly fresh and the locals welcome diners with open arms.
Alligator Point Artichoke & Oyster Soup
2 Tbsp. olive oil
1 bunch green onions, chopped
1 tsp. minced garlic
1/4 cup all-purpose flour
1 1/2 cups fat-free chicken broth
1 pint Apalachicola oysters (reserve 1/2 cup liquid)
1 bay leaf
1/2 tsp. fresh thyme leaves
Dash cayenne pepper
2 (14-ounce) cans artichoke hearts, drained and coarsely chopped
1/4 cup chopped parsley
1 cup fat-free half-and-half
1/4 cup sherry
Fresh thyme leaves
In a medium nonstick saucepan, heat olive oil over medium heat; add green onion and garlic and cook for 5 minutes. Add flour, stirring constantly, until combined. Gradually add chicken broth and oyster liquid. Add bay leaf, thyme, and cayenne and bring the mixture to a boil. Reduce heat and simmer for about 15 minutes. Add oysters, artichokes, and parsley; cook until oysters curl around the edges, about 10 minutes.
Stir in half-and-half and sherry and cook until thoroughly heated. Remove bay leaf before serving. Garnish with fresh thyme leaves, if desired.
Panacea Greek Salad
1 head romaine lettuce- rinsed, dried, and chopped
1 red onion, thinly sliced
1 (6 ounce) can pitted black olives
1 green bell pepper, chopped
1 red bell pepper, chopped
2 large tomatoes, chopped
1 cucumber, sliced
1 cup crumbled feta cheese
6 tablespoons olive oil
1 teaspoon dried oregano
1 lemon, juiced
ground black pepper to taste
In a large salad bowl, combine the Romaine, onion, olives, bell peppers, tomatoes, cucumber, and cheese. Whisk together the olive oil, oregano, lemon juice, and black pepper. Pour dressing over salad, toss, and serve.
Dog Island Grouper Burger
(Lovely Dog Island lies isolated in the Gulf waters due south of Tallahassee.)
1-pound fresh grouper fillet, rough chopped
1/2-pound fresh Georgia peeled and deveined shrimp
1/4 cup red onion, finely chopped
1/4 cup red bell pepper, finely chopped
1/4 cup celery, finely chopped
1/2 cup unseasoned breadcrumbs
1 tsp wholegrain mustard
2 tbsp mayonnaise
1 egg, beaten
3/4 tsp salt
1/4 tsp ground black pepper
4 Whole grain, freshly baked buns
Thin sliced red cabbage.
Spring Creek Tartar Sauce, see recipe
Add the shrimp to a food processor and pulse until it forms a paste. Roughly chop the grouper into pieces the size of a dime.
In a large bowl, combine the chopped Grouper, Shrimp paste, salt, pepper, onion, bell pepper, breadcrumbs, egg, mustard, and mayonnaise and fold gently to distribute the ingredients evenly. Divide the meat into four equal sections. Shape each portion into a patty. Cover the patties with plastic wrap and refrigerate for 1 hour. Cook the burgers for 4 minutes per side or until the internal temperature reaches 150°F. Place the cooked burgers on top of the whole grain rolls, then top with red cabbage and Tartar sauce.
Spring Creek Tartar Sauce
1-cup low-fat mayonnaise
1 cup Greek-style yogurt
3 tablespoons finely chopped shallots
1 teaspoon finely minced fresh flat-leaf parsley
1 cup fresh basil, leaves picked off of stems
1 cup fresh cilantro, leaves picked off of stems
1 cup fresh Mexican tarragon, leaves picked off the stem
1 cup fresh baby spinach, stems removed
1 teaspoon capers, drained and chopped
1 teaspoon chopped cornichon or dill pickle
1 teaspoon fresh lemon juice
Salt and cayenne pepper, to taste
In a food processor or blender, add the fresh herbs, spinach, and lemon juice, then puree. Add the mayo and yogurt and puree to incorporate the herbs. Pour this mixture into a bowl and fold in the remaining ingredients. Season with salt, pepper, and cayenne. Cover and refrigerate until ready to use.
WINES: Sancerre from the Loire Valley of France is universally renowned for food-friendliness, particularly fish and seafood. The varietal is Sauvignon Blanc, and the classic French style assures compatibility with good food and elevated conversation.