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Food

Pineapple yellow curry — or the closest approximation I can muster.

Pineapple yellow curry — or the closest approximation I can muster.

Love, adventure — and curry

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For the last several years, my husband, daughter and I have traveled to a different national park for a late-spring vacation. We camped first in Badlands National Park, waking up with bison at the edge of our campsite. The next year, we visited the Great Smoky Mountains, where we communed — at an appropriate distance — with wild turkey and black bears. Last year, we decided to visit Congaree National Park in South Carolina. We’d bought a canoe the summer before, and decided to carry it all the way down south to enjoy the park’s many canoe trails and the bald cypress trees that wade there.

When we got to our campsite, it rained. We had a hard time starting fires, a hard time cooking. My husband and I got bad colds, and the 6-year-old got an ear infection. We were all annoyed with each other. This is just the kind of stuff that can happen when you surrender yourself to the great outdoors — you have to be willing to hand over your comfort to receive its blessings.

After we’d been there a few days, we decided we were well enough to finally enjoy the canoe trails. We loaded up our lifejackets, paddles and lunches, and drove our canoe over to the launch.

At which point we discovered the canoe trails were all closed for a controlled burn.

We packed up a few hours later and left Congaree National Park for Myrtle Beach.

Having grown up in Florida, I have never intentionally taken a vacation to a beach. If I want a beach, I’ll kill two birds with one stone and go and stay with my parents. But we’d been spending the last few vacations hiking by day and sleeping on the ground by night, usually without toilets or running water. After the Great Congaree Disappointment of 2017, as I decided to call it, we suddenly wanted mattresses and the ability to flush.

We spent the next few days in a beachside hotel, cheap because it was still before Memorial Day, and nearly empty for the same reason. We swam alone in the hotel’s heated pools — yes, there was more than one — and in the unseasonably warm Atlantic. We watched movies and napped. We told Lucy that you don’t have to wear shoes on the beach, because that’s beach life; she wanted to know if “beach life” extended to the pizza place on the boardwalk and the Krispy Kreme as well.

As a family, we did something we hadn’t done on vacation before: We chilled out.

The memory that sticks in my mind most is from our last night there. We’d ordered Thai food to eat in our room. Lucy sat in her own queen bed and watched “Trolls” and ate a giant bowl of rice. Anthony and I dragged our room’s little table and chairs onto the balcony, even though we weren’t supposed to, and closed the sliding glass door behind us — a dinner date of sorts. I don’t remember what we talked about, but I remember enjoying the conversation. I remember the dark waves under the moon, hearing their rush and retreat with my husband who, on this balcony, I somehow loved more than I had three days prior in the woods. Mostly, I remember the smell and taste of the pineapple yellow curry I’d ordered.

I concede that Myrtle probably would not have been as good as it was if it hadn’t been preceded by Congaree. And I suspect that it wouldn’t be as good if we packed up and went back right now. They say you can’t go home again; I posit that you also can’t go to Myrtle again.

I’m sure the same goes for that pineapple yellow curry. Nevertheless, I keep making my own version of it — which is probably just me trying to get back to Myrtle after all.

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Pineapple yellow curry

Ingredients:

• 1/2 cup yellow curry paste (I use Mae Ploy brand, as it’s vegetarian; there are lots of recipes online if you’d like to try and make your own, but as in Myrtle, I go the chill route and let Mae Ploy do it for me.)
small onion, chopped
• 2 cups (or more, if that’s what you’re into) vegetables of choice, chopped (I use mainly just cabbage, because I dig cabbage — see earlier columns.)
1 can full fat coconut milk (Don’t use light, it’s just not as good.)
1 can pineapple cubes in juice (You can also use fresh, if you like, but I prefer the canned as it’s reliably sweet and I pour some of that extra juice back in the dish.)
steamed rice

Directions:

Sauté onion in oil of choice over medium heat until transparent. Add yellow curry paste, sauté another minute. Add vegetables, sauté a few minutes further. Add pineapple chunks and a bit of juice, as well as coconut milk; when it begins to bubble, cover and reduce heat to low. Cook on low for 10 minutes or so. Serve over rice.

If you want protein in the dish, you can add tofu, meat or meat substitute before the veggies. I also sometimes add a half cup or so of vegetable broth with the coconut milk if I want to stretch the recipe out a bit or if I want it to be soupier. This, of course, makes the recipe saltier and dilutes the taste of the coconut milk, so I’ve taken to adding some sweetened coconut cream — yes, the kind you put in piña coladas. I’m not proud of it, but darned if it doesn’t do the trick.

This column originally appeared in the June 7 issue of the News.

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