Saturday, July 7, 2012
N is for: New Jersey & Beyond
Instead, I was incredibly lucky to visit the sparkling gem that is Seven Mile Island, home to Avalon and Stone Harbor. It's lined with beautiful Colonial-style homes, complete with white picket fences and beach cruisers parked to the side of each house. The town of Stone Harbor is bristling with adorable shops and eateries...like Springers Ice Cream and Hoy's 5 & 10 Store, which have been beloved in the town for as long as anyone can remember.
My boyfriend's family spends an entire week in this magical place every fourth of July, so I was honored to be included in this amazing family tradition this year.
Stone Harbor was just part of a whirlwind trip that actually started in L.A. Remember my post about my cousin and her adorable baby Kenzie? Well since I was headed to Palm Springs anyways, I decided to first fly to Los Angeles so I could have brunch with my cousin Erin, Stu and baby Kenzie, who is about 7 weeks now. (How time flies!) After we ate breakfast at Sloopy's, I borrowed a car and was off to the desert to meet up with my good friend Erin to celebrate her bachelorette party. (Yup, I'm honored to be in another wedding later this year!) We had an amazing day and night filled with pool time, dinner, and drinks (loved the basil grapefruit martinis at Tommy Bahamas) with some of my favorite ladies from my San Diego days.
Sunday morning, it was back in the car...drive back to L.A., momentarily freak out when I realized the gas tank was on empty, finally locate a gas station, arrive back in Manhattan Beach, hug goodbye to the "cuzins," hop on a cross country flight to Philly (on Virgin America, thank goodness), greeted by my boyfriend and his cousin Jessica, and drive another hour or so to Stone Harbor. Phew!! Talk about planes, trains and automobiles!
But when I woke up Monday morning, I was greeted to THIS, and it was all worth it. Pristine beaches, gorgeous ocean, and a week of perfectly hot and sunny weather with my amazing boyfriend and his wonderful family.
On Tuesday, we ventured off the island to Wildwood to check out the boardwalk. This is probably more like what my friends were picturing when they heard me say "Jersey Shore." Lots of muscle shirts and Situation wannabes. It was also extremely HOT. Like, you felt like your face was melting off hot. Nothing a little fresh squeezed lemonade and soft serve ice cream couldn't cure. But after a couple hours of getting our stomachs flipped upside down on the rides, we were thankful to return to our little slice of paradise.
I think you can tell a lot about a person by their family. So it came as no surprise that Colvin's family was awesome. (And huge!) At one point during the week, I think we counted 29 or 30 people. His grandparents, Charlie and June, rent the same house every year, which is just a stone's throw from the beach. They invite all of their kids and grandkids, and somehow, even with all those people, it felt so comfortable. The grandkids range in age from 5 to 31, and by the end of the week, I felt like they were my cousins too.
Each part of the family takes a different night to cook dinner for everyone, with the 4th of July always reserved for Charlie and June. They traditionally do a big seafood night, and they certainly did not disappoint. We had oysters on the half shell, shrimp cocktail, clams steamed on the grill, scallops, crab cakes, flounder, and grouper. I bellied right up to the breakfast bar to sample everything as soon as it came out. It was the most impressive seafood spread I've ever seen, and everything tasted amazing! (Even the rice crispy treat "flag," made by Wendy :))
Thursday was our night to cook. I was kind of feeling the pressure because Colvin and his mom Jill had been talking up my blog and my cooking skills to the rest of the family. Let me just say that cooking for 25 people is not easy! I come from a very small family, so our holiday gatherings are pretty manageable, even when I'm doing it all myself. We also had a couple of dietary restrictions to take into consideration (vegan, vegetarian, and gluten free). My solution was to take advantage of the nice weather and do some relatively simple flavors on the grill that everyone could easily enjoy.
First, I marinated some chicken breasts in a mixture of Dijon mustard, maple syrup, olive oil and fresh rosemary, and cooked them on the grill. I grabbed a ton of fresh veggies at the store, including zucchini, summer squash, asparagus, Chinese eggplant, scallions, and mushrooms. We simply tossed them in some olive oil, grilled them up, and dressed them with a little balsamic. We did two different kinds of inside-out burgers. The beef ones had bacon and sharp white cheddar cheese inside, while the turkey ones (mixed with a little grated onion and garlic), were stuffed with brie. A simple caprese salad with tomatoes, fresh mozzarella, basil, olive oil and balsamic vinegar provided another fresh vegetarian accompaniment to the meal. As Colvin and I were preparing everything, we kept saying how much food we had and were eagerly planning our leftovers for the next day. Ummmm....not so fast. Apparently 25 people can put down a lot of food!
Jill always makes a fun cake every year with the kids as well. This time it was this adorable sand castle cake. Isn't it so creative?! It's just vanilla cake with a buttercream frosting and graham cracker crumbs on top. "Towers" made out of ice cream cones and decorated with chocolate candies that look like sea shells. I thought they did a fantastic job!
Another fun family tradition during Shore week is Springer's Homemade Ice Cream. As the sign says, it's been around since prohibition. There's a reason places like this stick around for so long. It's because they're just plain good. One look at the line that wraps around the block and you'll understand. But one lick of the creamy goodness that is literally dripping onto your hands and you'll be a believer in this stuff. I got peanut butter cup...which tasted more like a chocolatey, caramely (are those even words?) swirl than a peanut butter cup. Whatever it was, it was decadent and delicious and I wanted about five of them. We followed up ice cream with a little shopping and mini golf (I won!), making it the perfect ending to a perfect trip.
Saturday came the tearful hugs and parting of ways. One by one, everyone packed up and headed their out while the rest of the family stood on the porch waved goodbye to everyone as they drove off. (LOVE that.) Since we were flying out of Philly, I partook in one last tradition...cheesesteaks! I became somewhat of a connoisseur during the NLCS two years ago, and Tony Lukes is definitely my favorite. I go for the steak with American cheese, grilled onions and mushrooms. Colvin got his "wit whiz" and Jill opted for the veggie version with broccoli rabe, sauteed spinach, and onion rings.
My sincere and heartfelt thanks go out to June, Charlie, Jill, Jeff, JoAnn, David, Emily, Julie, Tom, Jessica, Keith, Wendy, Curt, Chloe, Ginger, Scott, Dixie, Jane, Sydney, Ross, Rachel, Sally, Steve, Abby, Miriam, Joanna, Natalie, and of course Colvin for making me feel so welcome and for making my first trip to the Shore one I will never forget!