Tuesday, April 14, 2009

There's Only One Place They Call Me One Of Their Own

It startles -- and probably concerns -- my children on those rare occasions when someone asks me where I'm from, and I name my hometown -- Charleston.

Their confusion is understandable.  Charlotte, not Charleston, is the only home they've ever known.  Besides, I haven't lived in Charleston for nearly 30 years.  In a way, it's just one more item tacked on the ever-lengthening list of "Ways Mom Is Losing Her Mind."  (This list, which includes things as mundane as "Can't Remember Where The Car Is Parked" and "Called My Friend 'Sugar'" and "Asked How Many Vegetables I've Eaten Today" is not as long as the list of "Ways Mom Embarrasses Us," but there are some redundancies between the two.)

A friend claims that Charleston is a balm to my soul.  He's right (a nasty habit which I overlook, because, well, he's often right).  When I roll over the bridge on the way to James Island, I eagerly roll down the windows, hoping for that funky, decaying, salty smell that signals low tide, and which, to the unfamiliar, smells like something that maybe needs to be flushed.

Sure, given its balmy breezes, overwhelming history and unceasing charm, Charleston is popular with lots of people.  But it's not home to lots of people.  Home is home, whether it's Aiken or Atlanta or Summerton or San Francisco.  There's an odd comfort in returning to the place where we're as well known for our flaws as for our achievements.

When I'm home, my mom knows I can cook, but she also knows full well about my need to be right, my inability to be patient in the face of stupidity, and my intolerance for bad table manners (with the exception of mine, in which case, I'm just being funny, not rude).

My dad knows that although I've got plenty of good intentions (with which I'm undoubtedly paving a highway to hell), when it comes to certain situations (and relatives), I am downright harsh.  He also is aware that I've gotten away with plenty of things by insisting that I'm not a good liar (except on rare occasions when I am).

My sister.  Well, what doesn't my sister know?

Still, when I go home, they welcome me, they feed me, they take care of me.  Sure, they may buy me drinks, too, but that's not why I go.

It's home -- H-O-M-E.  One day, my kids will feel that same way about their own hometown -- with its incredible canopy of trees, clean streets and street names that suddenly change without rhyme or reason.

Until then, they'll have to tolerate my affection for my own hometown, and my understandable craving for the seafood of my childhood.  This dip is actually named for McClellanville,  a small coastal town just above Charleston, known for its fishing and shrimping.  I never actually even ate it growing up, but the tastes are so familiar, it always reminds me of home.

McClellanville Caviar
This is the dip the folks always crowd around at a party.  Serve it with big, hearty chips -- Fritos Scoopers, for example.  The next day, you can also scoop any leftovers onto a bed of lettuce for a quick salad or fold it into an omelet.

1 1/2 pounds cooked shrimp

1 16-ounce can black beans, rinsed and drained
1/4 cup finely chopped bell pepper
1/2 cup finely chopped Vidalia onion
1 1/2 cups prepared salsa
1/4 cup fresh lime juice
2 tablespoons honey
2 tablespoons vegetable oil
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
fresh ground pepper

Finely chop shrimp (or even quicker, carefully pulse about 20-30 seconds in food processor).  Toss shrimp with remaining ingredients.  Taste for seasoning (particularly salt and lime juice).  Cover and refrigerate for 8 hours, stirring occasionally.  Serve with chips.  (Keeps for 2-3 days.)

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