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About a month ago, a dear friend of mine from back in my NC teaching days invited me up to her Topsail Island beach house.  She and another friend were planning to enjoy a few days of relaxation on the beach.  Having visited her beach house a few times before, I knew that there would be lots of wine punch, delicious food and lazy hours lounging in the sand.  How could I turn the invitation down?

Well, since I’m no longer a single woman, I had to run it by the J-man.  He was quick to give me his full blessing (I knew he would) on one condition…that I leave plenty of food in the house.  Easy.  I even made him a batch of his favorite cookies.  So when the date of the trip rolled around, I hopped in my tiny car and drove the six hours north to Topsail.  Day one greeted us with high winds and rain, but we didn’t let that dampen our spirits.  As old friends, who haven’t seen each other in ages, often do, we stayed up till 3am chit-chatting.

Loggerhead Sea Turtle Nest

Day two was cloudy, windy and rainy.  By evening, we took advantage of a brief window of calm to walk on the beach.  How cool would it have been to see a Loggerhead sea turtle?  I knew it wasn’t likely, but a nature loving girl can dream, can’t she?

Thankfully the weather cleared up on day three.  The sun wasn’t shining, but we were finally able to claim a spot on the beach!  Since the waves were too rough for body boarding, I spent most of the morning collecting sea glass in my empty root beer bottle.  Ok, it wasn’t really sea glass.  They were actually small smooth stones…but I was calling them sea glass.  I felt like a kid.  It was therapeutic.  ‘Nuff said.

We stayed out there until an afternoon storm rolled through.  That storm had perfect timing because it was time for a lunch of leftovers back at the house!  After lunch, we went shrimp shopping at a local fish market.  A little before sunset, we headed back to the beach with our chairs and frozen concoctions.

In the pic above I’m holding a mole crab.  They live in the sand under the surf.  When the waves roll back, little bubbles form in the sand from where they dig themselves under.  The poor thing was scared stiff.  At first, so was I.  When I dropped the little guy into the surf, he furiously dug himself into the safety of the sand.  One of my friends dug up twenty mole crabs in one scoop.

The clouds were gorgeous.  All red and fiery.  There was even a double rainbow.  No, I didn’t shed any tears.

These guys were much more daring than this landlubber.

After sun set, we headed back to the house to prepare our feast.  The ladies boiled these Old Bay seasoned NC shrimp to perfection.  I let my native North Carolinian friends tackle the meal prep.  Where I was raised, the nearest fresh shrimp is at least four hours away.  I copied down their method so I can try my hand at fresh shrimp boiling here in coastal GA.

They also sautéed up these scallops.  Amazing.

And here is the dish that knocked my flip-flops off.  It was soooo simple.  So fresh.  So easy.  It’s just a veggie bake.  No, not just a veggie bake.  It is the veggie bake of all veggie bakes.  I plan to pass along this recipe one day soon.  It is an excellent way to use up the bountiful produce I’m sure many of you have from your gardens right about now.

My love for this veggie bake cracks me up because it reminds me of my Dad.  As a kid (and even now on occasion), he would come home from hunting camp raving about some dish or meal that one of his buddies had whipped up over the weekend.  He’d rave to my Mom about how amazing it tasted and all the preparation his buddy went through.  My Mom, an awesome cook in her own right, would just look at him with this expression on her face that said, “Hello.  I cook stellar meals every night of our lives, and you’ve never gotten this excited over them.”  There sure is something special about those meals you eat after a long day of fun in the outdoors.

You may have noticed how I haven’t given you any tips on where to wine and dine or stay or shop on Topsail Island, NC.  My recommendation for a good time on Topsail is simple…gather a few good friends or family and rent a house.  Be sure to hit a nearby grocery store on your way to the island.  And a farm stand.  Don’t forget fresh seafood from one of the shops!  Then hit the beach, stay in your swimsuit all day, fill up on snacks during the day, chill at the house and cook up some simple but delicious vacation food.  Enjoy.  Oh yeah…that is my idea of relaxation and fun.