Hugging the Coast

Dr. Jessie Voigts's picture

Love southern food? Me too. There's something about the richness of locale and ingredients that just make this food special.  I am a foodie, and am always looking for new recipes, food blogs, and food places to visit!  I especially love to find cuisines that are different from my own, and explore those fully. There's nothing like learning about a culture through its food!

 

boiled peanuts

 

A few months ago, I found the Coolest Food Blog. It was created by a former NYC cab driver, who is now a southern chef and was named the Grand Prize Winner of the Taste of the South Recipe Competition.  His name? Doug Ducap. His site? Huggingthecoast.com - A Celebration of Coastal Food & Travel...

Not only does Hugging the Coast give us a wonderful recipe a day, but it also provides a depth of learning about the South. As well, one of my favorite pages is the Foodie Movies Page. Global and food-oriented, it made me hungry again! You can also explore the Southern Coastal Life MP3s page...All in all, this site definitely inspires a trip to the Southern Coast. I long for the sultry weather, the laid-back milieu, the fresh seafood, and the excellent food. Until we can travel there, this is a good stand-in.

I was lucky enough to sit down and talk with Doug, the Editor of HuggingTheCoast.com. Here's what he had to say...

WE: Please tell us about your site, Hugging the Coast. How did you decide to create it?

DD: Hugging the Coast is about the abundant pleasures of living near water: incomparably fresh local ingredients (especially fish and seafood), abundant and inspiring natural beauty, and a lifestyle that's all about taking the time to enjoy those things.

The website came about as the result of an epiphany. Several years ago, my wife and I came to Charleston, SC and fell in love with its friendly people and the special beauty of the coastal Carolina Lowcountry. It was only then that I realized that I'd always lived near and had a close connection to water.

I grew up in a post-industrial city across from Manhattan, where the Hudson River lets out into New York Harbor and from there into the Atlantic. Some of my earliest memories are connected to those waters: glimpses of Independence Day fireworks silhouetting the Statue of Liberty; the smell of diesel from the harbor tugboats tied up at the dock, their rough hawsers spun over weathered cleats as formidable as blacksmith's anvils; the silent fall of thick snowflakes on the ruined piers that stretched out over the steely tumult of the winter river. On summer days I caught shiny, squirming eels, feisty crabs, and my first 'real' fish (a striped bass) in that river. Back then, catch-and-release was the sensible thing to do, as water pollution was a serious problem.

At the time, I didn't think of where I lived as a 'coastal community.' It was just too urban and gritty. People who lived in coastal communities had sailboats and clambakes and sunset walks on the beach. We had street crime, toxic waste sites, and fishsticks. Still, the river was where I went to relax, reflect, and commune with nature – such as it was.

As an adult, I lived near Cayuga Lake in Ithaca, NY, the heart of the dramatically beautiful Finger Lakes region. Though not strictly 'coastal', Ithaca embraces the spirit of the definition. The city surrounds the southern tip of the lake and as a result, the lake is central to everyday life there: sailboats abound, families picnic on its shores, brave souls swim its chilly waters, fishing boats pursue deep-running lake trout, and local farmers bring their produce to market on the inlet where Cornell rowing crews go skimming past.

It was there while working as a live-in chef that I met and befriended Dr. James Gulledge, a former Cornell professor of ornithology, in the last year of his extraordinary life. He was a true Southern gentleman, born and raised in the Carolina Lowcountry, and he spoke eloquently of its warmth and gentility, of its verdant marshes teeming with life, its gnarled and ancient live oaks garlanded with Spanish moss, and its soul-enriching Southern foods. After his passing, I started to write about the time I spent cooking for Jim, and came to Charleston to do "a few months research." That was three years ago.
 

Banana pudding

 

 

WE:  What do you enjoy most about the Lowcountry?

DD: There's a timelessness about this area. History is a living, breathing thing here – and not just the Civil War era (though the first shot of the war was fired in Charleston) but the early history of the colonies, too. Everywhere you turn, there are landmarks and memories of formative events in American history. It almost feels as if you could dig your fingers down into the soil and come up with your hands full of stories.

The climate here, with the exception of high summer, is quite gentle, and it fosters a relaxed attitude – quite unlike the New York metro area where I grew up. Nothing here needs to get done in a hurry; if not today, there's always tomorrow, and if not then, well, next week is okay too. It took a bit of getting used to, but I'm quite happy to live on 'Carolina time' now.

As a cook, the food here has been a revelation. It was the palette of classic Southern foods, such as boiled peanuts, country ham, pulled pork barbeque, and grits, that inspired my recipe for Charleston Chili, which won the 2007 Taste of the South Recipe Competition. It just goes to prove how kind and generous Southerners are that they'd give the award to a guy from New York!

 

Charleston chili

 

 

The seafood in the Lowcountry is so fresh and so delicious it's almost a religious experience. The first time I had the local shrimp, harvested right off shore, I realized I hadn't tasted 'real' shrimp for years. The flavor was so evocative, I was tempted to drop everything and write À la Recherche du Crevettes Perdu! Oyster roasts are great fun, too. If you've never been to one, they're an all-you-can-eat bacchanal of the sweet, briny delights eaten steaming hot out of the shell. All you need is a glove, a sturdy oyster knife, and a big appetite. Who knows, you might even bite down on a tiny pearl like I did one year!

 

Isle of Palms

Isle of Palms

 

WE:  What sorts of things are on your site?

DD: Being raised in an Italian household, I've always been passionate about cooking with fresh ingredients as well as seeking out new tastes in the places I've lived in or where I've traveled. After all, food is – and always has been – one of the strongest links between people. The articles on HuggingtheCoast.Com definitely reflect that perspective.

Our regular features include The Fish For Friday Seafood Recipe of the Week, The Free Cookbook of the Month, a 'foodie' movies list (including Tampopo and the underappreciated Gerard Depardieu film Vatel), a coastal life and food photo gallery, a streaming  MP3 playlist of 'foodie' songs (like Fats Waller's You're Not the Only Oyster in the Stew), links to almost 300 food and travel blogs, as well as some of my own original recipes, reviews, kitchen tips, and commentary based on a life spent cooking, eating, and learning about food.

Some of our recent articles have covered such topics as the many benefits of teaching children to cook, a nostalgic look at salt water taffy, techniques and tips for cooking outdoors (using everything from pie irons to foil to barbecue smokers), how to photograph food, as well as the surprisingly controversial history of ice cream.

We've recently done recipe roundups on how to make a variety of chilled summery soups and exotic ice creams, and we've served up interesting, unusual recipes for such holidays as Valentine's Day and Cinco de Mayo.

In the near future, we're planning to add some original cooking and travel videos, and I'll be posting excerpts from the books I'm working on.

 

Sausage gravy

 

 

WE: How do you come up with new ideas for posts?

DD: In addition to reading a variety of cooking magazines, I'm a big fan of Google Alerts, a free online news clipping service from Google that lets you get updates about emerging stories on any topics you need to follow.

Digg, Twitter, and Foodbuzz.Com have also been great places to get inspiration for the blog as well as meet others online who care passionately about food.

 

barbeque

 

WE: You've got such yummy recipes. How do you develop your original ones, and do you try out all the featured ones yourself?

DD: I really love to improvise in the kitchen. When I'm stressed out, I find relief by immersing myself in the creative process. When I'm happy, I enjoy cooking even more, especially for the people I care about.

Over the years, I've created hundreds of original recipes from scratch, but it's only fairly recently that I've begun to write them down and refine them properly so I can share them with others.

There's a real art to translating an improvised recipe created on the spur of the moment into one that's designed for others to follow. People bring different skill levels and experiences with them to the kitchen, and that's something I try to keep in mind when making notes about a new recipe to share, whether online or as part of a future cookbook.

Sometimes, when I'm in full-on creative mode, I find it easiest to use a small voice-activated digital recorder so I can keep the spontaneity flowing while still noting the precise details and measurements needed for the written recipe. Otherwise, I just make careful notes (and in some cases helpful diagrams) as I go through the prep and cooking process. Often, I'll take photos along the way that to help jog my memory once the meal is made as well as to use later on the Hugging the Coast website.

I love reading cookbooks and food-related writing; I'm much more likely to stay up all night reading Anthony Bourdain than John Grisham. And recipes built by such authors and chefs as Pierre Franey, John Martin Taylor, Madhur Jaffrey, and Penelope Casas can be very inspiring and often spark irresistible new ideas. I've been known to jump out of bed at 3 AM and start cooking!

Reading other people's recipes is kind of like reading sheet music: if you're familiar with the elements and structure and techniques, you can 'hear' the music before you play it. Consequently, although I have tried quite a few of the featured recipes written by others on the site, just having an understanding of how the ingredients relate and how the techniques used will transform them gives me a pretty good sense of how the recipe will 'play' in realtime.

 

deep fried peanuts

 

WE: What projects are you working on now?

DD: I'm working on two books right now. I came to the Lowcountry to write about the year I spent as a live-in chef in Upstate New York, a 'memoir with recipes' called Cooking For Jim. Part cookbook, part tribute to an unsung hero, it will be about food, fellowship, and learning to appreciate and embrace life every day.

I'm also writing a book called Hugging The Coast, which I started working on after I was confronted with some heretofore unknown gaps in my knowledge about seafood and fish. In doing some basic research, I found two things: one, that I was far from alone; and two, that there really aren't many books that explain things clearly.

Seafood is far more complicated than meat: you don't need specialized knowledge to eat a steak. On the other hand, the inside of a decapod shell contains mysteries and pitfalls for the uninitiated.

Since the Carolina Lowcountry is the one of the great fish and seafood regions of the country, I found myself in the perfect place to take myself (and my future readers) on a journey of discovery. I went out on boats with the local commercial fishermen, crabbers, shrimpers, oystermen, and clammers and learned firsthand how their catch goes from the depths to your dinner plate.

 

oysters

 

In the process, I found that there's a compelling story that needs to be told about a vanishing way of life of these small scale commercial fishermen. These men and women work incredibly hard for very little reward, but they have such a steadfast love and respect for these waters and pride in the quality of their harvest that they wouldn't want to do anything else.

However, their numbers are dwindling as costs rise and cheap imports increase: twenty years ago, over a hundred shrimp boats regularly worked the waters off Charleston; today there are fewer than ten.

 

oyster shells

 

I strongly believe that the momentum of interest in farmer's markets, organic foods, and local ingredients will continue to grow, and will come to include the brilliantly fresh and flavorful fish and seafood that's found right here in these warm, generous waters.

 

clamming

 

If Hugging The Coast, both the website and the book, contribute to that, I'll feel that I've been able to show at least a small measure of my abiding love for my new found home.

 

boiled peanuts

 

 

WE: Thanks so much, Doug. Your recipes have inspired me in the kitchen, and your photos and essays have inspired us to make a trip down to the Charleston area next year. Let's eat!

For check out this incredible site for yourself,  please see HuggingTheCoast.com.

 

Folly Pier

Folly Pier

 

 

All photos courtesy and copyright of Hugging the Coast.

Share

Comments (1)

  • nonameharbor

    10 years 11 months ago

    This is my kind of foodie post!

    I love all the ideas I've some away with and the great photos.  And I'll tell my daughter who lives in Charleston about Hugging The Coast. 

        "Take the adventure, heed the call, now ere the irrevocable moment passes!"

           ...The Wind In The Willows, Kenneth Grahame

Leave a comment