My little dog, Madam, and I were at the annual spring art fair at Seaside, the well-known “little pricey town that could” here on the Gulf Coast when I heard my name called.
It was a friend from Chattanooga who recognized me under my disguise. It’s the one with my logo infested hat pulled down low on my forehead. It included my new wrap around biker sunglasses that I bought on sale at the Sunglass Hut.
I’ll spare you regarding more details of my clothing choice that day except to say I was the epitome of shabby chic less the chic of course. That’s what happens when you live down here on the Gulf, its casual Friday all week long.
My Chattanooga buddy wondered why he had not read any of my food articles lately? I made some lame excuse about being so busy but the truth is time really does rush along when you are busy.
It became apparent to me early on that retirement is for sissies. Real men, and women, those who don’t play golf, find another occupation to keep them away from the sedentary lifestyle of a few of my contemporaries.
Actually I made the time recently to come up to Chattanooga for a mini reunion with former classmates and lifelong friends. We had our first reunion maybe six years ago. I say maybe because when you reach another birthday milestone, as most of us had, remembering anything is special.
Our reunions take place at Nikki’s Restaurant which is located just before the tunnel through Stringer’s Ridge. Why Nikki’s you might wonder? Even if you don’t, Nikki’s was Headquarters Central after important occasions such as a Baylor or Chattanooga High School Dance or a first date. Or, because they had and still do have the best darn fried onion rings and fried shrimp perhaps in the Western Hemisphere.
That might be a gross exaggeration unless of course you have tasted these signature offerings. I might add I did once again this trip and did not suffer the retched excesses of over indulging in what you know is bad for you but oh so good. Instead for just a moment I thought I was the reverse of Tom Hanks and small again.
Traveling almost 1,000 miles by car over a two days period to spend an afternoon reminiscing about events that happened six plus decades ago might not appeal to everyone. However there are those who are no longer with us who would have been happy to have had that opportunity.
This time there were nine hearty souls who sat around those patio picnic tables. That was an increase of two from our first reunion. I need to point out that an increase of anything at our age is welcome.
There was a caveat however to join our group. You had to have grown up north of the river either to the east or west of Hixson Pike. There was also a demarcation line but it was murky. Suffice it to say there were numerous emails on the subject of demarcation.
As “reply to all” emails flew back and forth questions were asked about such absorbing subjects as, “What was the name of the soup cans behind the counter at the original Fehn’s Restaurant on Tremont Street? And what kind of soup was in those cans?”
Jeopardy entered a new phase during the onslaught of these emails. Watson would have collapsed in a computerized heap. However the Class of ‘55 just “keep ‘em coming."
The buildup to the important weekend was as exciting as the first sighting in the Nikki’s parking lot. How auspicious was that event? There was lots of fibbing about how everyone would have recognized each other should they meet on the street. It would have had to be a street in darkness but to us everyone had not changed “that much.”
Well of course we had changed unless we were all Benjamin Button. But then again how far away were those Depends anyway that we couldn’t enjoy stretching the truth just a bit?
It was somewhat unnerving to find out that one of our original members was missing because their grandchild was getting married? Then someone mentioned another contemporary of ours who was now a great-grandmother. Depression set in immediately.
Blessedly we forewent discussing future funeral arrangements but instead turned our attention to ordering lunch. It had been agreed in prior emails that the fried shrimp and the onion rings were, liver-spotted-hands-down, an outstanding choice.
I held out for a tossed salad but went with sharing a side of the onion rings. Several were bold enough to include beer with their order and I probably embarrassed everyone by producing my trusty companion, bottled water.
Thanks to the wonders of cell phones we were able to contact, not others from beyond the grave, but by speaker phone one of our classmates in Memphis. Once on speaker phone he announced he’d never been to Nikki’s or in fact had heard of the place until we called. We hung up immediately.
Nostalgia is another great descriptive adjective for this meeting. Remembering the good times we had and the places we had it was such a special way to come back for a brief visit.
Afterwards on my drive back home, from my former home, I thought about all the things I meant to say and all the people we never got around to discussing. There is just so much time you can spend on Nikki’s patio before the waitress comes calling for those picnic tables. Actually I’d rather it be her than the Grim Reaper.
So what has all this got to do with Corn Chowder? Absolutely nothing except that fresh corn has been on sale lately and I also picked up some extra large scallops while I was at the seafood market.
I hadn’t thought about the combination but I looked in my fridge and found some non-fat half and half and some chicken stock and all of a sudden I was boiling corn and slicing it off the cob and poaching my scallops in a mixture of the stock and half and half.
I laid my scallops in a bowl and poured the corn chowder, which I had perfumed with curry powder, around the scallops. A dice of red pepper to garnish added some needed color to the dish.
Served with a salad of baby greens tossed in classic French vinaigrette and a baguette, it makes the perfect summer meal. Plus there is room enough for a great dessert.
Nix the fruit and cheese and do something with dark chocolate. Having just read another of those endless studies that informs you of the health benefits of dark chocolate, I wondered why they didn’t asked me right off and saved the research money.
What to drink? No need to be traditional anymore and go with white wine for seafood. I think a light red is excellent and it goes well with dark chocolate, but what doesn’t? Furthermore according to another new study, red wine is good for you as well. Can it get any better”?
CORN CHOWDER WITH SCALLOPS (serves 4)
You will need:
3 ears of fresh corn cooked and sliced off the cob
½ cup diced sweet onion
3 or more ounces of butter
1 teaspoon curry powder
4-6 extra large scallops
4 cups of chicken stock
1 cup half and half cream
Diced red pepper to garnish
Salt and pepper to taste
Optional: Cayenne pepper to taste
Sweat onions in melted butter over a low flame
When onions are soft add curry powder and continue to cook for several more minutes
Add chicken stock and let mixture simmer for 10 or more minutes
Add fresh corn and ½ of half and half cream and continue to simmer until soup begins to bubble. Remove from heat and let cool slightly.
Place ½ cup of half and half cream in saucepan along with any of the juices from the scallops
A small amount of water can be added as well to have enough liquid to partially cover the scallops
When mixture begins to bubble turn heat down and add scallops
Cook scallops carefully turning occasionally and being careful not to over cook
Note: slightly undercooked is best as scallops can turn rubbery very quickly
Place 2 or 3 scallops in the soup bowl
Turn up the heat on the scallop poaching liquid and reduce by half
Add the liquid to the chowder and incorporate fully
Ladle chowder around the scallops and garnish with diced red peppers