The beach is all about sun and waves and family time. For the Howell and Melendy combined families, our annual trip to Holden Beach, N.C., is also about food.
We’ve been through a lot of “what’s for dinner?” scenarios in our beach life. In the very beginning, when there were only four of us and two ate from the kid’s menu, we ate out almost every night. When the kid’s menu was no longer in play, but mom didn’t want to spend her vacation in the kitchen, we ate at the beach house one night, a restaurant the next.
We kept that plan when we joined with the Melendys for a starting total of eight people. By the time we had grown to 11 with wives, we were eating out only a few times during our week. When the grandchildren started arriving, even a few times were trying and certainly rarely worth the cost.
This year we number 17. Eating out as a group during a beach week that includes the Fourth of July is not fun. The experience usually involves hour-long waits, food that is mostly fried and always overpriced.
So, we cook at the beach house, and we eat like kings and queens. We are blessed to have the executive chef of one of Seattle’s finest restaurants in our family, plus an expert barbecue guy and wives who make prepping look easy.
Last year, my Seattle son, Brett, had a whole salmon flown in for one of our dinners. This year, to celebrate the senior Melendy’s 70th birthday, his son David had 25 pounds of live crawfish flown in from New Orleans. We had an authentic crawfish boil. The children, ages 12 to almost 2, thought pouring crawfish, shrimp, potatoes, corn, mushrooms and sausage out in the middle of the table was lots of fun.
For the Fourth of July, the cooks and chef decided to “go American.” The question came mid-morning: Would Gigi watch the kids while the brothers and their wives went shopping for dinner?
Would Gigi take care of a 12-year-old who is very self-sufficient, a 3-year-old who was on his way to the pool with Granddaddy and an almost 2-year-old who just went down for a nap? Oh yes, I can handle that.
After the shopping was completed, the menu unfolded to include ginger ale-braised pork shoulder, charred and roasted St. Louis style pork ribs, roasted whole chickens, Southern-style coleslaw, Bush’s baked beans, four-cheese mac and cheese, collard greens braised in pork sausage and white wine, Silver Queen cornbread with an apple pie, a cherry pie and ice cream for dessert. Fireworks on the beach followed.
It’s easy to see why the kitchen is considered the heart of the home. Watching our beach family working together in the kitchen almost brings tears to my eyes. The house is filled with laughter and friendly jabs sprinkled in with the chopping, slicing, braising and baking. We eat well, but, for our family dynamics, the actual food is really just the icing on the cake.