Beach Picnics

by: M.R. Stanton

photography by: Terry Pommett

Deborah Moxham and Carla Finn became friends the way many women do: they met while watching their young children in an extracurricular activity. For them it was swimming lessons at Children’s Beach. While they sat on the beach watching their kids learn to flutter kick, dog paddle and hold their breath underwater, Moxham and Finn became fast friends. Their husbands were the commuter types – off in the real world at big deal jobs Monday morning through Friday afternoon. Nantucket was home to them on the weekends. At some point early on in their friendship they decided that they should get together over the weekend so the husbands could meet each other. Thus was born the first beach picnic for them and the seed for their collaborative book, “Nantucket Beach Picnics.”

“We did everything together,” remembered Moxham, a food-writer and restaurant consultant based out of Providence now. “Back then our husbands were away during the week, so we started this regular thing of beach picnics as a way to get together.”

Their kids were under five when they first met, so taking them to the beach for dinner, or lunch, and even breakfast was an easy way to keep them amused. There are a number of recipes in the book for “Beach Brunch” dishes: crabmeat and egg lasagna, berry streusel French toast and egg and bacon brunch Living on an island, why wouldn’t you have breakfast at the beach if you could – or tea for that matter.

Finn, who lived in England for many years, has thrown a variety of festive parties at the beach including tea parties. She includes her recipes for Watercress and Stilton Sandwiches, Cream Cheese and Date Sandwiches and Peter Greenhalgh’s famous English scones.

Moxham and Finn, both excellent cooks, had fun devising creative and fun recipes that would transport easily to the beach. Some dishes, like the ever-popular “Sticky Chicky,” chicken parts that have been marinated in a coconut-ginger mix and then glazed and popped in the oven after grilling, are best made at home and transported to the beach. The Cheddar-Chili Corn is also prepared at home in a heavy cast-iron skillet and then transported to the beach t be heated up until bubbling on the grill.

“That is excellent. There’s really never any of that left,” said Moxham.

The side dishes and salads that appear in the book are easy to assemble and transport. The Asian Cole Slaw is a simple mix of shredded green cabbage, green onions and cilantro tossed with toasted slivered almonds, Ramen noodles and oil and vinegar. The Watermelon Salad combines cherry tomatoes, feta cheese and mixed greens with refreshing chunks of melon. The mix is then drizzled with a balsamic and honey dressing.

What makes “Nantucket Beach Picnics” better than just a cookbook are the stories and photos Moxham and Finn share about their own experiences growing up on Nantucket themselves. Moxham’s grandparents, Jim and Betty Todd, lived down on Easton Street on Brant Point from the 1920’s on, and she regales her readers with tales from those days. Life centered on the water for her and for Finn, who writes about her early memories of sailing.

“I remember my years on Nantucket as a very sweet time,” said Moxham. “The images and textures of the place are burned in my mind like the phosphorescence of the fish in the water at 40th pole. It was magical. I loved it there so much.”

Nantucket has changed greatly in the 20 years since Moxham and Finn began watching their children learn to swim and concocting delicious dinners for the beach. But you can recapture some of that magic for yourself through the pages and recipes of “Nantucket Beach Picnics.”

M.R. Stanton writes about food, wine and travel for Nantucket Today.

Beach Picnic Recipes

Three Menus:

Sticky Chicky
Jasmine Rice
Asian Slaw

Surprise Burgers
Easy Pepper-Tomato Relish 
Roy’s Roasted Vidalias
Grilled Corn

Pineapple Curry Spread with Crackers
Grilled, Marinated Shrimp
Watermelon Salad

Sticky Chicky

Sweet, sticky and delicious, the authors recommend serving this with white Jasmine rice to sop up the sauce and Asian slaw. This is best prepared at home and brought, covered in foil, to the beach to be served at room temperature seaside, where one can run down to the water’s edge to wash off the sticky sauce after feasting on this scrumptious dish.

1 chicken, cut into 4 pieces 3 scallions, cut diagonally into thin slivers

1 can coconut milk 2 tablespoons minced ginger
1 teaspoon hot pepper flakes (optional)

3/4 cup rice vinegar
1/2 cup sugar 
3 tablespoons soy sauce
1 teaspoon hot pepper flakes (optional)

Combine marinade ingredients and pour over chicken in covered container or Ziploc bag. Marinate overnight, or for at least three hours at room temperature. Remove chicken and reserve marinade. Grill over high heat on gas grill with lid closed, or over regular coals, basting with marinade and turning frequently to avoid burning. Cook on grill about 15 minutes. Remove chicken to roasting pan. Preparing glazing sauce and pour over chicken before roasting for another 10 minutes in a preheated 450 degree F oven.

For serving, or transport to the beach, put chicken in rectangular dish or pan, pour pan drippings over all and garnish with sliced scallions.

Asian Slaw

Light and filling, this slaw is best dressed just before serving to keep the vegetables from wilting too much.

1 head green cabbage, shredded
1 bunch scallions, chopped, including green parts 
1/2 cup slivered almonds
1 package Ramen noodles 
1 bunch cilantro, chopped
1/2 cup vegetable oil 
1/2 cup rice vinegar (Marukan brand preferred)
Salt and pepper

Put cabbage and scallions into a bowl and toss. Heat vegetable oil in a skillet and lightly brown the almonds. Remove almonds with a slotted spoon and add to slaw. Turn off the heat under skillet, and add rice vinegar. (Careful, as it will spatter slightly.) Pour dressing onto slaw mix. Crumble dried Ramen noodles and add to slaw. Add cilantro. Toss again. Add salt and pepper to taste.

Surprise Burgers

The cheese melts inside these burgers, making grill clean-up easier. Pass the fresh pepper-tomato relish below and the usual condiments. Serve on extra-large grilled English muffins.

2 pounds ground sirloin 
1 cup minced Vidalia onion
2 tablespoons Worcestershire sauce 
2 tablespoons soy sauce
2 tablespoons A-1 sauce 
4 thick slices cheddar cheese

Combine sirloin with onion and three sauces. Form into 8 patties. Place slice of cheddar on top of four patties and cover with another patty, sealing the edges.

Grill for 5 minutes on medium coals before flipping and grilling for another 3-5 minutes on the other side. Serve with homemade Pepper-Tomato Relish.

Easy Pepper-Tomato Relish

Why buy relish, when it is easy to make it yourself? And it tastes oh so much better than store-bought!

1 cup chopped sweet red pepper 
1 cup chopped and seeded red tomato
1 jalapeno pepper, seeded and chopped 
1/2 cup chopped red onion
2 tablespoons balsamic vinegar 
1/4 teaspoon salt

Combine all ingredients in a bowl, then cover and chill for two hours. Store in a covered jar in the refrigerator until ready to use as a topping for hamburgers or hot dogs.

Makes 2 cups.

Roy’s Roasted Vidalias

The late Roy Bailey was an island artist with a zest for life that was infectious. He also loved to cook. This recipe was passed on to his Vestal Street neighbor, Deborah Moxham, and has remained a favorite accompaniment to grilled steak, but is good with other grilled meats as well.

2 vidalia onions, cut into 4 wedges each 
2 ounces butter
1/2 cup Balsamic vinegar

Place all ingredients on a sheet of aluminum foil and fold into a packet. Put directly onto gray coals and cook for 20 minutes.

Perfect Grilled Corn

A must-have for an August cook-out when corn from the Slosek family’s Moors End Farm is at its peak.

12 ears fresh corn
2 sticks butter, melted 
Juice of 3 limes
Tabasco sauce or Belizian hot sauce 

Peel corn husks back from ears, but do not remove. Strip away all the corn silk and discard. Pull husks back up around ears of corn. Soak corn in a stockpot or bucket filled with sea water. Melt butter and combine with lime juice and hot sauce. Pull corn from water and fold back husks to brush ears liberally with butter-lime-hot sauce combination. Pull husks back up and grill on hot coals for about 20 minutes, turning occasionally.

Pineapple Curry Spread

A light and lovely appetizer to share with a glass of crisp Sauvignon Blanc while the coals are heating up. Transports beautifully to the beach.

8 ounces cream cheese, softened 
1/4 cup chutney (any kind will do)
1/4 teaspoon dry mustard 
1 teaspoon curry powder
1 fresh pineapple
Toasted, slivered almonds

Mix cream cheese, chutney, dry mustard and curry powder thoroughly. Chill for at least 4 hours to ensure maximum flavor.

Cut the pineapple in half from top to bottom, but do not cut off the leaves. Hollow out and save the pineapple chunks for another use. Fill the pineapple half with cream cheese mixture. Sprinkle with toasted almonds. Serve with your favorite crackers.

Grilled Marinated Shrimp

A dish that’s easy to fix on the beach and one that delivers great flavor. Soak the bamboo skewers in a soda bottle, filled to the top with water and the cap screwed on tightly. Skewers will travel safely to your cookout destination and be thoroughly soaked by the time you are ready to grill. Put shrimp in Ziploc bag on ice if transporting to the beach.

28-30 large shrimp, peeled and deveined 
1/2 cup olive oil
2 tablespoons rice wine vinegar 
3 tablespoons Dijon mustard
1 tablespoon shallots, chopped 
1 teaspoon fresh ginger, finely minced
2 cloves garlic, finely minced 
1 tablespoon fresh dill, chopped
1 tablespoon fresh basil, chopped 
Pinch of sugar

Mix all ingredients in a bowl, blending with a wire whisk. Add the shrimp and toss several times to coat. Cover and refrigerate several hours or overnight.

Prepare the grill so the coals are gray and not flaming. Thread the shrimp on the water-soaked bamboo skewers and grill approximately 2 minutes per side, until they are firm and opaque, but not dry. Be vigilant as they will cook quickly.

Watermelon Salad

This light and refreshing combination of fruits and vegetables and tangy feta is perfect for hot summer days, and a nice accompaniment to the grilled shrimp. On the hottest of days it can be served as a main course alone for lunch.

4 cups seedless watermelon, cubed
2 cups cherry tomatoes, halved 
1/2 cup feta cheese, crumbled
2 cups baby lettuces 
1 cup watercress, stems removed
2 tablespoons olive oil 
2 tablespoons balsamic vinegar
1 tablespoon honey 
Salt and pepper to taste
1/4 cup fresh mint, chopped

Line a serving bowl or platter with lettuces and watercress. Scatter watermelon chunks, tomatoes and feta on top of greens. Mix together olive oil, vinegar, honey, salt and pepper. Dress the salad when you are ready to serve it. Sprinkle chopped mint across the top.

Texas Gold Bars

People and things from faraway places have an odd way of winding up on Nantucket’s shores. This fabulous dessert bar comes to the island via the Houston electric company.

Preheat oven to 325 degrees

1 package yellow cake mix 
1 egg, lightly beaten
1/2 cup butter, melted 
1 teaspoon vanilla
8 ounces cream cheese 
1 pound powdered sugar
2 eggs, lightly beaten

Combine cake mix, egg and melted butter. Press into ungreased 9-by-13-inch Pyrex pan. (Must be Pyrex!) Mix remaining ingredients and spread over top. Bake for 50 minutes. Cool before cutting.