When the signs outside of Columbia, South Carolina, started mentioning Charleston, my older daughter, Laura, dialed a clue. “Charleston, yay! I want to go to the beach!” My husband and I exchanged glances, but didn’t reveal the true vacation plans. Once in Charleston, we parked the minivan and ate at our favorite hometown restaurant, Jestine’s, home of some dandy fried chicken for me and crab cakes for my husband.
We pointed out the ship to the girls and they noticed the show-off red and blue whale-tail /smokestack and the waterslide on the upper deck. “Doesn’t that look like fun,” we asked. “But where’s the hotel?” Laura replied. “Where’s the beach? C’mon, guys, where are we going?” It wasn’t until we pulled into the “Cruise Traffic” lane that Laura finally understood “We’re going on the boat!”
Maybe my blood sugar was low - the sweet tea boost from Jestine’s had worn off by late afternoon. My mood dramatically improved once I was fed. I’m easy - just give me starched linens, fresh-faced waiters and a menu without chicken fingers and hot dogs, and I’m content. With the ship pointed south towards the Caribbean, the menu included warm-weather selections such as cold soups. Gazpacho the first night was low-calorie, tart and satisfying. Laura chose the Orange Sory, which I’ve come to believe is just melted orange sherbet garnished with tapioca pearls. Naturally, it’s one of the best things she’s ever eaten. The next night, she chose strawberry bisque, which was like a grown-up smoothie - sweet and pink and creamy. The service for the chilled soup is part of the magic - a soup plate with a garnish in the center placed in front of the diner, then the waiter reaches over with a small pitcher of soup and pours into the plate, from 10 o’clock to 10 o’clock.
Since our return home, we've experimented with cold soups - I made chilled cherry soup, thickened with a cornstarch slurry. I have plans for a cantaloupe soup once the melons become stinky-ripe, just crying out for a blitz with lime and honey and a dash of chile pepper.
I use homemade vegetable broth, a snap to make and useful to have on hand.
Serves 2 soup bowls or 4 demitasse cups (very civilized)
¾ cup almonds, blanched preferred, but whole with skins ok
3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
¼ cup fresh bread crumbs
2 cups cold vegetable broth
Salt and pepper to taste
1 tablespoon sherry vinegar
Sliced almonds or green grapes for garnish
1. Toast the almonds in a skillet for a few minutes, remove from heat and let cool.
2. In a food processor, puree shallot, then add toasted almonds. Blitz until finely ground. Add olive oil and bread crumbs and process until combined. With the motor running, slowly pour in vegetable broth through the feed tube. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Finish with sherry vinegar.
3. Strain and serve in rimmed soup plates or demitasse cups.
I’ll end with a kid-pleasing cruise ship gimmick - towels folded into animal shapes. Each night, we returned to the cabin to find out what the cabin steward Igusti would create next: There were lobsters, manatees, crabs, swans, pigs and this. Dog or rabbit, you decide.