"Where we love is home - home that our feet may leave, but not our hearts.” - Oliver Wendell Holmes
The past week was one of those treasured times that I didn’t want to end, but that seem to proceed at double the speed of any normal week. I had the pleasure of spending over a week with two of my three sons and my sister, on “our beach,” as we refer to St. Joe Beach. Our home.
I was determined to make the most of every second we had there before heading back to work in Texas. I didn’t get everything done that I wanted to, as time just flew by, but it was wonderful anyway, not only because of the beautiful setting of our beach home, but also because of the people who make up the community surrounding Port St. Joe. I was reminded, as always, of just how special, not to mention delicious, Northwest Florida is. I hope you don’t mind if I brag on it a little bit.
First, we visited the Shell Shack on Mexico Beach to get some fresh red snapper, grouper, and shrimp to make our meals with. The Shell Shack is special to me because it’s been there for as long as I can remember. I remember that I loved going there as a child with my grandmother. Not only do they have wonderful seafood, they have those fun, kitsch-y souvenirs like animals made from shells, and funny t-shirts, that I am inexplicably drawn to. We visit every time we’re in town.
When I got home with our seafood, I grabbed a large bowl, a small knife and a grocery bag, and took the shrimp with me outside. I cleaned the shrimp out on the back porch overlooking the Gulf, using the method my parents had taught me years before. Some folks don’t find it necessary to remove the “vein” from each shrimp, y’all, but for me, it’s a must. As I sat there doing that, I chatted with my sister about all the times mom had sat us down at the kitchen table, which she'd covered with newspaper, and had us clean the shrimp dad had brought home. We always think about mama even more than usual when we’re home on our beach.
When I cooked the shrimp later, along with some of the fish, I used mom’s method: plain flour with some garlic powder, salt and pepper added. I gently tossed the shrimp in the mixture, and fried them for just a couple of minutes in some hot oil. I used the same method for the fish, adding a bit of blackening seasoning added to the flour mixture for them. It’s simple and perfect, and better than any heavy batter one could use, in my opinion. I paired it with some smoked Gouda grits and spicy baked beans, and everyone, myself included, devoured it.
On Saturday, Sherrin and I visited Wewahitchka, where the Tupelo Honey Festival was being held. Talk about fun! We had grouper sandwiches made in a booth by some lovely church folk. We had boiled peanuts, fished out of a huge pot that was perched upon a gas burner. Those peanuts were simmering away, filling the air with the salty, delicious smell that so many of us here in the South adore.The festival marked my first visit to Lake Alice Park, and if you’ve never been there either, make it a point to do so while the weather is nice. The view of the lake is lovely, and it’s surrounded by beautiful old oak trees dripping with Spanish moss. Pack a picnic and enjoy an afternoon there; I think you’ll be happy with your day.
The people-watching at the festival was spectacular, as folks from all over the southeast were there, which was made obvious by the variety of license plates on the cars we spotted all over town. Of course, I came home with some of that culinary gold known as Tupelo honey. It’s as good as everyone says it is, believe me. We use it in recipes, on peanut butter sandwiches, and on hot biscuits. It’s perfectly sweet and tasty. Thanks to all the beekeepers out there who work to get this treasure to its adoring public!
On the last day of our visit, after the festival, I was disappointed not to have another week to enjoy in our beloved Gulf County. We didn’t get to see all the people we had hoped to see. We didn’t get to spend nearly enough time on the beach (there is never enough time on the beach for me, honestly). But the people we were indeed able to see, like my dad and our beloved lifelong friend, Laurel Riley, made our hearts glow with love and gratitude. Being able to feed our dad a few homecooked meals blessed my heart. And talking for hours with our childhood friend on a balcony overlooking the beach on our last night in town reminded us without a doubt that we were home, and we loved every second.
How blessed we are to have the people and places that exist along “The Forgotten Coast.” I buy the t-shirts that proclaim the coast’s nickname, but in reality, I could never forget the people and places that make up that special area of the world. Each visit home serves to strengthen my love for the place and the people who live there. If you are so blessed to call Northwest Florida home, be mindful of its uniqueness, and be grateful you are a part of that special community.
Now, on to my recipe for this week. While we were home, I bought a lemon pound cake at "The Pig," and it was delicious! I wanted to make something similar when I returned home, as my boys really devoured that cake, so today I created the following recipe, a riff on that vacation pound cake. I added blueberries, because they were my mom’s favorite and we all love them in our family; if you prefer raspberries, I think they’d work well, or omit berries altogether if you prefer.
This cake is made extra moist by the addition of Greek yogurt; you can use plain or lemon flavored yogurt, whatever you prefer. It really cuts down on the amount of oil in the recipe, which is a nice bonus.
Let me know how you like it! My email is Steph@WhatSouthernFolksEat.com.
Blueberry-lemon Greek yogurt cake
1 box lemon cake mix
3/4 cup plain or lemon Greek yogurt
2 tablespoons olive oil
2/3 cup milk
the number of eggs called for on cake mix box
pint of blueberries
Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Spray bundt pan with cooking spray, or use shortening and then flour the pan.
In mixer bowl, combine all ingredients except blueberries. Mix for about 30 seconds, then stop, scrape down the bowl with a spatula, and then mix again for 2 minutes.
Stop mixer, then fold berries into the batter with a spatula.
Pour the batter in the sprayed or greased pan, and bake for around 35 minutes. Test with a toothpick for doneness, as baking time may vary depending upon your oven.
Tip: Coat the blueberries with a little plain flour to keep them from sinking to the bottom of the batter, and then proceed with the recipe.
Stephanie Hill-Frazier is a writer, food blogger and regional television chef, whose on-air nickname is "Mama Steph." She grew up in Gulf County, on St. Joe Beach, a place she will forever call home.
She is married and has three young adult sons who have never met a cake they didn’t like. You can find more of her recipes at whatsouthernfolkseat.com.