Wednesday, November 10, 2010

What I'm Good At: Oysters, Sangria and Lots of Work.

We’re in the thick of autumn here in Charlotte. The temperature is dropping, the foliage is lit up like church windows on a Sunday morning, the air is tantalizingly smoky-crisp, the leaves rustle and crunch as Son walks Josie-the-Rescue-Dog, and Thanksgiving is a few weeks away. 

My only thought, though, is that it’s practically Christmas, and I’ve got boxloads of stuff to get down from the attic. The baseboards need to be wiped down. The foyer light needs to be cleaned. And I don’t think I can survive another holiday with the mustard/burgundy wallpaper in the downstairs bathroom.

Clearly, I’m not stopping to smell the roses. Or the pumpkins, the apple cider, or roast turkey, either.

It’s not that I want to rush the season, but to top it all off, Darling Daughter is urging me to have a holiday party. “It’s a lot, a lot, A LOT of work,” I remind her. “I know,” she responded, “but that’s what you’re good at.”

That’s what I’m good at.

When I was married, we had an oyster roast every year on the Friday evening that school let out for the holidays. Although common where I grew up (most Charlestonians have their own knives and gloves, which they’re expected to bring – along with a six-pack – when invited), here in Charlotte, oyster roasts are, let’s say, unconventional. Perhaps, even, bohemian. 

When invitations went out that first year, we had to answer all manner of questions. “No, it’s not like a standing rib roast.” “No, the oysters aren’t fried.” “No, ‘casual attire’ really does mean jeans and sweatshirts.” “ No. We said ‘dress warmly’ because we’ll actually be outside.” “No, you’ll have to learn to shuck your own.” And finally, “Yes, you’ll love them.”

My Charleston family – from whom we were borrowing the essential accoutrements like oyster knives, gloves, steamers and shucking tables – was equally puzzled. “Your friends don’t have their own knives? What kind of family do they come from?” “You don’t know anyone with a shucking table? They’re not hard to make, you know.” And, “Your friends have never been to an oyster roast? Bless their hearts.”

Truly, though, an oyster roast is one of the easiest parties ever. It has to be casual, because there's mud, and oyster juice, and bits of shell. There’s beer, there’s wine, and Chez Wiles, there’s sangria. There’s cocktail sauce and melted butter. My Dad, and now that he’s old enough, Son, tend to the oysters, which involves hauling the bushels up from Charleston, pressure-washing them in the driveway and steaming them in what we fondly call “The Bigass Pot.”

For non-oyster-eaters, we have chili. And saltine crackers. When the oysters are gone, the party’s over. Easy peasy, lemon squeezy. (Oooh. We'll want some lemon wedges, too.)

I guess when I told DD that throwing an oyster roast requires a lot, a lot, A LOT of work, it’s mostly because I make it so. And I guess, after taking a year off, I’ll make it so again this year.

It is, after all, what I’m good at. 

If I’m going to get around to those baseboards and lights, though, I need to start cooking quicker meals. Something like this Shrimp in Cream Sauce over Lemon Rice. Honest. It could hardly be easier. 

If only I could say the same about stripping that ugly wallpaper.

Shrimp in Cream Sauce over Lemon Rice

1 cup rice 
1 14-oz. can chicken broth 
1 lemon, zested and juiced 
1 large handful of finely chopped parsley

 1 tablespoon butter 
1 large clove garlic, finely minced or grated 
1 pound raw shrimp, peeled, cleaned and de-veined 
1 lemon, zested and juiced 
1 cup heavy cream 
several shakes of Tabasco sauce

In medium saucepan, combine rice, chicken broth, and juice and zest of one lemon. Bring to a boil, reduce heat to low, and cook, lidded, for 13 minutes. Fluff with a fork, to separate grains. Meanwhile, melt butter over medium high heat in a large skillet. Stir in shrimp, garlic, and juice and zest of one lemon, constantly stirring and sautéing until shrimp is pink and barely cooked through. Pour in cream and cook an additional 1-2 minutes. Season generously with Tabasco sauce. Taste for salt and pepper. Serve hot over cooked Lemon Rice.
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