“The whole object of travel is not to set foot on foreign land; it is at last to set foot on one’s own country as a foreign land.” – G. K. Chesterton
It has really been hot lately—in the mid-90’s—with still, thick air that sits close to your skin. While this may not seem so hot to those of you in the American South, or the Mediterranean, or the Tropics, here in my grandmother’s house it is stifling. There is no air conditioning, and only a few electric fans so old you worry as much about sparks as sweat.
The current climate has turned eating into a chore- a rare state of mind for me. I don’t feel like cooking, and at most can only muster enough enthusiasm for food to do a little assembly of cold ingredients. I’m much more interested in ice cream.
On warm nights we always eat on a screened-in porch on the second floor of my grandmother’s house, where we can catch a tiny bit of breeze from the beach a mile away, but lately even that is futile. So the other night we tried something new: a beach picnic.
This was not your typical tuna-and-sand-sandwiches-from-a-cooler-type beach picnic, but a planned operation designed to capture the conventions of dinner. We had three sets of hands, and carried three folding chairs, a card table, tablecloth, dishes, cutlery, wine glasses, and our meal. It took us about ten minutes to set up on the waters’ edge.
We chose the nearest beach to the house, since we wanted everything to stay fresh. This is the beach that I’ve been coming to since I was born—literally, my first visit was at two months’ old—often at sunset after the parking lot stops charging for the day. My brother and I used to climb the empty lifeguards’ stand, or bury each other in the sand.
For some reason though, my family had never thought to set up our dinner table there when I was a kid. This was a first. We brought a pasta salad with chick peas, lemon, and artichoke hearts, a baguette, and a bottle of white sangria with macerated fruit. For dessert, there was a bowl full of cherries.
We dug our feet into the sand under the table and watched vacationers walk by. A family prowled around behind us with metal detectors picking up soda can tabs and the occasional quarter, while a teenaged girl took pictures of the sunset.
The air by the beach is always a surprise. While it is stifling one mile inland, you often need a sweater at the shore. We drank our wine (thumbing our noses at the ‘no alcohol’ sign) while a fog rolled by. The moon was nearly full, and rose over the water.
It reminded me of a night in Thailand some years ago, a few days after meeting my future husband, when we sat on mats in the sand with an upturned cardboard box for a table at a beach ‘bar’. Everything was extraordinary there: the food, the company, the setting, the people around us. It seems like a long time ago in some ways, and only yesterday at the same time.
Last night one of my colleagues asked me if I miss travelling, now that I’m back in America and in my family’s home. I couldn’t explain that I’m still on the road.
- 1 card table
- 1 tablecloth
- 1 folding chair per person
- 1 plate, cutlery, and wine glass per person
- 1 candle
- a one-pot dish, preferably cold
- a loaf of bread
- a bottle of olive oil and small dish for dipping
- a bottle of white sangria
- a few plastic bags for wrapping dirty dishes in to carry them back to your car
- 1 bottle white wine (2 buck chuck is a good choice, since it’s cheap and will be dressed with other things)
- 1/4 c ginger brandy
- 1/8 c triple sec
- 1 c soda water
- 2 c cut fruit (I used limes, lemons, cantaloupe, and strawberries)
- 1/3 c sugar
- fresh mint
Mix wine, brandy, triple sec, and water into a big bottle or pitcher. Chill. In a separate container, mix the fruit and sugar and set in the fridge for an hour or so.
When you’re ready to serve, spoon a little of the fruit mixture into each glass, then top with the sangria and a few mint leaves.