When I set out for Hatteras Island the weather was overcast and a bit drizzly, which meant no sun in my eyes as I drove due east. I was grateful for that. I imagine the route I took, which is only two lanes for a good part of the drive, can be hellish with beachgoing traffic on a summer Friday afternoon, but on an early autumn Monday morning it was quiet and calming. I cranked the windows down and listened to some quiet music and craved some breakfast, but I’d already told myself I’d stop for a good lunch once I crossed the Croatan and Roanoke Sounds into the Outer Banks. Three hours later, right at lunchtime, I arrived. I knew I wanted to go to Sam and Omie’s to dine, and only had a vague idea of its location, but like a homing pigeon I went right to it. I was just ahead of the lunch rush and had my shrimp burger and onion rings in no time flat (a continuation of the ruinous eating choices I made in Raleigh). Then I got back in the car, pointed it south on NC 12 and crossed the Herbert C. Bonner Bridge onto Hatteras Island.
The northernmost part of Hatteras Island is occupied by the Pea Island National Wildlife Refuge, and once you get past it and the towns of Rodanthe and Salvo, the view gives way to the Cape Hatteras National Seashore. There’s not much to see but dunes, ponds and the occasional sound or sea view. There was a fair amount of repair work being done on NC 12, partly as a result of Hurricane Arthur’s drive-by back in July, and I had to keep my eyes open to the many, often rapidly-changing speed limits as I headed toward Buxton and the Cape Hatteras Motel, my ultimate destination. After another hour’s drive (and a stop at a grocery store in Avon to pick up a few supplies), I arrived, checked in and got my key to my second-floor oceanfront room from Dave, the friendly manager.
If you look at the photos of the property from the website link above, you’ll see a big dune and a boardwalk to the beach from the oceanfront rooms. Both dune and boardwalk are gone – casualties, I’m told, of Hurricane Isabel more than ten years ago. Beach erosion here has been quite bad, as you can see from this photo of a property right next to the hotel (note the big sandbags at the foot of the property). I’m sure the guys fishing off the deck thought it was great, but the waves breaking around the property’s foundations would have spooked me a bit, particularly at high tide. At said high tide, the porch outside my room was literally a stone’s throw from the water, and you wouldn’t need to throw that stone very hard.
That said, the view from my room was delicious, and once I opened the windows, so was the sea breeze and the sound of the waves crashing. I hauled my stuff from the car up to my room (a bit of a workout, since the motel is a typical Outer Banks mom-and-pop place and has no elevators) and put everything away. The Cape Hatteras Motel isn’t luxe by any stretch – one of my two dresser drawers was stuck shut and an armchair was so seat-sprung you couldn’t sit in it – but it was the end of the season and I was willing to put up with it for the location. There was a long counter with coffee-maker and toaster where I could prep food, as well as a small refrigerator and a microwave, so I made a pact with myself that I would eat two meals “in” each day to try to get my eating habits back on track.
HAH. I was in the land of fried and broiled seafood, not to mention HUSH PUPPIES, which are like crack to me. I stayed in the first night, creating a nutritionally-responsible dinner from my personal stores and enjoying the experience of writing right by the window with the waves roaring just outside (it was a particularly windy night). I was also a good girl the next day and made breakfast and lunch in my room, since I mostly hung around on the motel’s beach, although I did make a short jaunt to Hatteras Lighthouse in its new location. I’m well-acquainted with the structure, having visited it many times in the past and climbed it with John and Margaret on my last visit (when it was still perilously close to the surf line due to beach erosion), but it was nice to see the old girl in a safe place. I drove out to the lighthouse’s previous location and did a little birdwatching (a Double-Crested Cormorant and a Great Egret, neither of which were new to me but were nice to observe all the same) then headed back to the hotel, showered, changed clothes and went to The Captain’s Table for dinner. I don’t remember what I had – a glass of wine and a broiled seafood dinner of some kind which was good – but I made a pig of myself on the hush puppies and then waddled back to my hotel room and wrote for a while, with another glass of wine and some totally unnecessary munchies to keep me company. I went to bed early as I hadn’t slept well the night before (never do, in a new place) and because I was getting up early to go to Ocracoke Island in the morning.
Since Ocracoke is only accessible by air or boat, I did what most folks do and took the ferry. Since I love ferries and was still feeling nutritionally reckless, I stopped at the Orange Blossom Bakery and Cafe and bought one of their famous Apple Uglies, a ginormous apple fritter which cost, I think, all of $3.50. I put it aside while I drove to the ferry station at the very end of Hatteras Island, although the urge to pick at it during the trip was almost more than I could stand. I pulled into the line for the ferry and with about twenty minutes to kill, chowed down on the Ugly. IT WAS DELICIOUS. Kind of insanely delicious, and every bit the size of my whole hand, fingers and all. I ate two-thirds of it and forced myself to wrap up the rest of it up. I washed it down with a Diet Pepsi (OF COURSE) and fortunately had some water to wash the sticky goodness from my greedy digits. About then the folks running the ferry starting directing us aboard, and I was lucky enough to get a front-row position. As instructed, I put the emergency brake on, shut off the ignition and watched as they chocked my wheels.
It was a gorgeous morning for a ferry ride, but I was glad I’d brought my jacket as it was windy on the water. It was a bit too rough to birdwatch – my binoculars kept jiggling from the chop – but I saw the usual Brown Pelicans and Herring Gulls and more cormorants and lots of other seabirds, and just contented myself leaning on the rail and looking. Other ferry passengers came up to enjoy the view and several of them got splashed when the occasional wave broke over the ferry’s nose. The trip took about 55 splendid minutes – if one could travel in a straight line it would take a fraction of that time, but because of the shoals the ferries have to describe a route that’s like an inverted U – and then we were landing at Ocracoke. There’s not much besides the ferry station at that end of Ocracoke Island; you have to drive another dozen miles to get to Ocracoke Village, passing through more of the Cape Hatteras National Seashore.
Ocracoke Village is quaint and rather charming, particularly in the off-season when many of the tourist-y places have closed for the season. Many people park their cars and rent golf carts to get around, but as the village isn’t that big and I have two perfectly functional legs, I didn’t see the point. I parked near the southern ferry docks (where you can take a ferry to Cedar Island or Swan’s Landing), paid a quick visit to the Ocracoke Preservation Museum (where I learned, to my surprise, that figs are HUGE in Ocracoke – another thing to love about it) and then set out walking to the Ocracoke Lighthouse.
It’s a squatty little structure, nothing like its towering cousin on Hatteras, and you can’t climb it, but it still looked pretty in the morning light. Did I mention it was a beautiful day? As it got warmer, I stripped off my jacket to enjoy the sun, but nearly put it back on as I made a side trip through Springer’s Point Preserve, which is a maritime forest and reputedly once a hangout of the pirate Teach (better known as “Blackbeard”). I was beset by mosquitoes a short way down the trail and was grateful I’d brought bug spray, although I wished I’d had the foresight to apply it before starting my walk. The trail empties out onto a soundside beach, and I sat on one of the thoughtfully-provided benches and took in the view before heading back.
I walked back through the village, finally ending up at Books to Be Red and Deepwater Pottery, where I indulged myself in two books about local history, two bars of scented soap, a pretty cuff bracelet and a nice conversation about Snowy Owls with the lady running the shop. Apparently two of the birds visited Ocracoke during the winter and were quite the media sensation. The lady was kind enough to invite me behind the counter to look at the shop’s Facebook page on her computer, where some wonderful photos of the owls were posted.
By the time I finished at the bookstore, it was just after the lunch hour and I thought I’d better find myself something to eat. Many restaurants were closed for the season, but I stumbled upon Dajio, which was open, lucky me. I had one of the best grilled cheese sandwiches of my life there: manchego and Vermont cheddar on country white bread with bacon and green chile chutney. It was so good I could have eaten it twice.
Lunch devoured, I went back to my car and headed back to the northern ferry dock. Along the way I stopped at the Ocracoke Wild Pony pasture viewing site and was treated to a view of a half-dozen or so of the horses, one of which came to a nearby pond for a drink while three Killdeer squawked in the grass close by, as if upset about the pony’s incursion on their turf. Back at the dock, I forced myself to toss away the remains of the Apple Ugly (stale or no, I would have continued noshing on it Because It Was There) and then enjoyed another ride back over the waves to Hatteras. I had dinner in the room, along with more wine, and then enjoyed a solid night’s sleep after so much fresh sea air and sunshine.
The next day I mostly loafed on the beach, reading, taking photos, strolling around and watching the surf roll in and out. I didn’t see any dolphins, which was a wee bit disappointing, and most of the shore bird life was comprised of Sanderlings, Sand Pipers and Willets – all familiar to me. In my rambles I stumbled across the remains of someone’s sand castle, which made a nice photo.
After a shower and change of clothes, I went to dinner at Diamond Shoals Restaurant, which was so close I could have walked to it (but I drove, lazy me). I had a delicious broiled grouper filet with a side of very good green beans and MORE hush puppies, and I was such a pig that I asked for seconds of those. I went back to the motel and packed up most of my gear so I wouldn’t disturb anyone when I left in the morning – the motel, which had been largely empty through most of my stay, was starting to fill up with weekend fisherfolk. I got the car partially loaded and then read for a while before turning off the light and enjoying my last ocean lullaby before I dropped off.
I woke up before my alarm went off and was able to catch a final shot of the beach at sunrise (I’ll share it with you to conclude this post). I dropped off my key at the motel’s still-closed office and drove north back over the Bonner Bridge. I stopped at the Charles Kuralt trail at the Pea Island National Refuge and did a little birdwatching, where I saw a White Ibis, Louisiana Heron, White Egret (all familiar to me) and a Lesser Yellowlegs (which was not, and got added to my birding Life List). I also got chewed up by mosquitoes and had a near encounter with a confident young racoon when I got off the main trail. I stopped for a few minutes at the Bodie Island Lighthouse on Nags Head and then continued on home, refreshed and rejuvenated, my little ten-day solo jaunt a rousing success.
It’s getting to be that time again: when you’ve been rushing around, busy with your little everyday busies, and you suddenly realize that it’s nearly November and it’s gotten abruptly colder and Halloween is nearly on us and the rumbling wheels of Thanksgiving are right behind that and beyond that looms the madness of the holidays…
For the past week, I’ve been busy shooting an industrial. For those not versed in ActorSpeak, that means a film used for instructional purposes, frequently sponsored or funded by a corporate or government entity – in other words, not for consumption by the general public. In my case, the industrial involves ethics in research, and I’m playing a character who has a lot of long speeches containing much industry jargon and client buzzwords (which explains why this paragraph is so wordy).
In any case, filming this industrial has meant some very early mornings and some long drives to location shoots, sometimes before the sun has risen. It’s interesting work, but it’s a completely different discipline from the stage work I usually do – virtually no rehearsal, filming scenes out of order, filming scenes over and over again, from different angles – as well as trying to memorize all the aforementioned jargon-y speeches alone, in what amounts to an artistic vacuum. All this is a long way of saying that when the “Freeze Warning” from WeatherBug popped up on my cell phone today, it took me by surprise.
I’d already begun to get a bit panicky the day before, when I finally got around to buying my Halloween pumpkins and realized I was probably going to have to carve them ahead of time due to my schedule. I hate carving my Jack O’ Lanterns ahead of time because my neighborhood is rife with squirrels and chipmunks. What begins as a beguiling array of perfectly carved Jacks rapidly turns into a rodent smorgasbord – and what the squirrels and chippies don’t get, the ants will, and then there’s the potential for frost and mold and by the time the trick-or-treaters arrive your Jacks are gnawed beyond recognition, or gross with bugs, or turning rotten. I figured if I HAd to carve in advance, there had to be ways to thwart my Jacks’ early demise. I did a little online research and found some articles claiming that a couple of common household items can help extend the life of your Jacks. I thought I’d give the methods a whirl, and bought a small, extra pumpkin to experiment with.
Ingredient #1: bleach. Carve your pumpkin, then fill a bucket with enough water to submerge the pumpkin and add some bleach (two teaspoons for every gallon of water seems to be the formula). Let the Jack soak for eight hours, or overnight, then pat dry. In theory, the bleach will both preserve the pumpkin and discourage mold. I gutted my pumpkin and gave it a quick, simple carving, then plunged it into the bleach bath and left it, not just overnight, but well into the following day, as I was called to a shoot location in Baltimore and that ate up the morning and the better part of the afternoon.
When I took the little Jack out of his bleach bath, I noticed something odd and kind of wonderful right away. The cut surfaces and interior flesh of the Jack had gone from a rich yellow-orange to dead white. It made a bright contrast to the orange rind. Once Jack was dry, I moved on to Step 2: petroleum jelly. Smear a thin film of petroleum jelly on the cut surfaces of your Jack as well as the rind. The theory here is that the petroleum jelly will discourage nibbling creatures, as they don’t like the taste. I would think the bleach alone would do the trick (the Jack does have a distinct public-swimming-pool scent), but regardless, the jelly does make Jack look as if he’s been buffed to a high gloss. That, and his startlingly white flesh, gives him a rather debonair air. I put him out for a brief while late this afternoon, and when I brought him in this evening (as I doubted either bleach or jelly will prevent him from freezing), he was, as yet, untouched. I’ll report back on his condition as Halloween approaches.
My mind then went to my baby trees, planted back in the early summer. I figure the cherry trees will do okay – they’re pretty hardy – but I was worried about my little fig, which has weathered both Japanese beetles and marauding deer with aplomb. A little more internet research led me to set one of my large rectangular tomato cages around the tree (which is about thigh-high), then wrap the cage in burlap, then cover tree, cage and burlap with plastic trash bags. I pinned everything down with clothes pins, so it’ll be easy to cover and uncover as the weather does its usual seasonal flip-flop from warm to cold and back again. Once the leaves have fallen from the trees I’ll take off the plastic, fill the empty spaces between burlap and fig tree with dead leaves, and then wrap everything back up in the plastic and seal it in for the balance of the winter. We’ll see what’s happened to the fig once spring rolls around again.
For the big Fruit Experiment, I decided to start easy, with apples and bananas. I did more reading on the topic and realized I’d need some kind of anti-browning agent for the apples. I knew I could use lemon juice, and some recipes called for dipping the apple slices into a combination of honey and water, but I decided to use a powdered ascorbic acid mixture, which, I was assured by my online research, was readily available in supermarkets. Off I went to the local mega-grocery, only to discover that canning supplies, so plentiful two weeks ago, had been shunted aside to make way for Halloween candy and were nowhere to be found. I finally asked at the desk; a clerk was dispatched and turned up a few minutes later with what he assured me was the one and only jar of ascorbic acid mixture left in the store. With it, two bright yellow bananas and a pair of lovely organic Gala apples, I went back home and started the second experiment.
I read over the section on fruit dehydrating in my Nesco manual and then set to work. First order of business was to make the ascorbic acid dip for the apples; there was nothing in the manual about the proportion of water to acid mix in the manual, and indeed, nothing on the acid container itself, but I found the info online and wrote it on the jar so I’d always have it.
I made my anti-browning bath and set it aside, then peeled the apples. According to the Nesco’s manual, the optimum width for apple slices is 3/8 of an inch, hence the ruler. (Lest you think I am so anal that I measured each and every slice, let me assure you that the ruler was only to check the width of that first cut.) I sliced up the apples and tossed them into their little bath. While they had a little soak (about 5 minutes), I peeled and sliced the bananas. Two large bananas filled two racks; two large apples filled three racks, so the Nesco was at full capacity when I started it up.
The apples were done in roughly five hours; the bananas took an hour or two more. Because the pieces were so uniform, it was a little less painstaking than drying the tomatoes, which can vary widely in moisture content and shape. The dried fruit makes a fairly dull snack, though. All I did was dry them – I didn’t add any sweetening or seasoning or oil or anything – and while they were tasty enough, there’s a certain lingering chewiness to the dried fruit that is okay in small doses, but not conducive to cries of delight. I haven’t tried rehydrating them yet; I want to do more research into other drying recipes.
Next up was kale. I like kale chips (but for their tendency to leave tiny green bits clinging to one’s teeth, they’d be a perfect snack) and I’ve made them in the oven, so I was eager to try them out. I found a recipe that called for mixing a bunch of washed, dried and torn kale with two tablespoons of olive oil, half a teaspoon of sea salt and a quarter teaspoon of smoked paprika. It didn’t seem like a lot of seasoning for so much kale. The kale was done in about four hours and I was glad I’d resisted the urge to add more seasoning; some leaves were overly salty. I wasn’t really happy with the results of that recipe – the dried kale has a sort of dull, metallic tang and after storage, it lost some of its crispness. I used red kale for the recipe and am wondering if curly kale might be a better choice. I’m not ready to give up on kale in the dehydrator, but I’m definitely going to look for other recipes.
Yesterday I dehydrated a second batch of tomatoes, this time using only a little kosher salt, oregano and basil. The results were really nice: beautiful color and a nice, bright flavor. John is lobbying for me to try making jerky next, but I’m feeling a little less bold about that, as I know there are more steps involved and a greater possibility of food poisoning. There are still other fruits and vegetables to dry, as well as herbs; I planted a eucalyptus this summer and the plant is nearly five feet tall, so I may try drying that as well. I’ll keep you posted!