A Tale of Many Tails: Finding My Peace of Mind in the Port City

Adventures of Fanny Slater

 

I first met Lieutenant Mango in the summer of ‘95.

Our eyes connected across the crowded store, while his half-brother Zoro shyly peeked out from the shadows. This probably sounds like the beginning of a juicy crime novel, or a confession proving my whereabouts that season. But no, this is none of those things. This is the story of a tale of many tails.

Mango was a large tangly Persian with a fiery orange hue. He had a stomach that could digest an answering machine and the boldness of a majestic, legendary lion. Zoro—officially christened “Shambhala” by everyone but me—was also a Persian, but of far more petite stature. This black beauty had golden glowing eyes, a sensitive digestive system, the gentle soul of a Buddhist monk, and an affinity for crumpled paper. In the summer of ‘95, these two kitties said goodbye to Oleander Drive in Wilmington and became part of our North Raleigh family.

Onto the next tail.

I was four years old when my parents put my butt into the backseat of our crimson-colored Volvo and drove east to Wrightsville Beach. My sister and I spent the two-hour car ride playing Mad Libs and arguing over who got to marry Jason Priestley. She won. It was our first coastal Carolina vacation and I couldn’t wait to try out my banana-colored boogie board. We rolled down Lumina Avenue and made a sharp turn into a row of four-story condos. The sign read: DuneRidge Resort. I immediately felt a sense of calm, which (for a kid with severe anxiety) was not a typical emotion. We would return to DuneRidge every summer for two weeks over the next thirteen years.

This made for many tales.

There was the dance of the dicey gate hop when my sister and I forgot our keycards (or when we were showing off for the boys at the pool). There were yearly photo shoots on the pier—typically featuring headbands and cutoff shorts. There were bagels and lox on the balcony. There was our annual outing to Jungle Rapids (pre-renovations), and those few exhilarating, yet alarming, seconds when I was certain I was going to fly out of the slide. We lost time modeling silly hats in Redix while waiting for our Causeway Café breakfast table. Once seated, there were sticky, foamy mugs of hot chocolate and stacks of malted pancakes. There were crab cake dinners at Bridge Tender. There were countless trips to Motts Seafood, followed by aromatic pots of Bouillabaisse brimming with fresh, local shellfish. We painted with watercolors and played rounds of Scrabble. We snacked on rice cakes and peanut butter. One summer when I was ten, we wandered into a small pet store off of Oleander and welcomed new two kitties into our family.

Once upon another tale (many years later)…

I turned twenty-five and moved to Hollywood, California by myself. After nearly two years on the west coast, I returned to Raleigh in search of the next chapter of my life. I drove to Wilmington and wandered down Front Street. I roamed the Riverwalk, and immediately decided that this peaceful setting was the idyllic backdrop I needed to spread my foodie wings and fly. I drove twenty more minutes to the beach, and stood with my toes in the sand in front a row of four-story condos. The sign read: DuneRidge Resort. I felt a familiar sense of calm, which for me, was still not a common sentiment. Within three weeks, I was moving into an apartment on North 4th street. Months after that, every puzzle piece in my life fell into place. I let go of fruitless desk jobs and opened Fanfare—my very own catering company. I met the love of my life. I became a local food writer. Eventually, I won a national cookbook competition held by Rachael Ray.

PrintMy cookbook Orange, Lavender & Figs was released around the country this month—and I owe much of that to this magical place. Now that I call Wilmington home, I am constantly surrounded by nostalgic stories from my past. It is this very concept that inspired the tales and recipes you’ll find in my book.

Speaking of tails…

Lieutenant Mango and Zoro thrived in North Raleigh (fueled by my dad’s roast chicken and my mom’s infinite love) for almost twenty years each. My anxious nature has finally begun to fade—as I’ve learned that change is simply a part of life. But although time moves forward, nothing can stop my memories from stretching on like the ocean. I even crafted my very own seafood dish to honor my many seaside moments in Wrightsville Beach. Each bite of these citrusy buffalo wraps takes me right back to those salty summers at DuneRidge where my family once gathered every year to share love, laughter, cats, and shrimp.

A tale of many tails, indeed.

Citrusy Buffalo Shrimp Lettuce Wraps with

Yogurt Dressing

Serves 4 to 6 as an appetizer 

30 large shrimp, peeled and deveined

1/2 small bunch scallions, white and light green parts finely chopped (save some green slices for garnish)

6 tablespoons neutral oil (sunflower, vegetable, grape seed, etc.)

Zest and juice of 1 lemon

Zest and juice of 1 lime

Kosher salt and coarse black pepper

1 cup panko breadcrumbs

Homemade Buffalo Sauce (recipe follows)

Yogurt Dressing (recipe follows)

1 large head Bibb or Boston lettuce, leaves separated

2 carrot sticks, peeled into ribbons

2 celery sticks, peeled into ribbons

 

In a large bowl, toss the shrimp with the scallions, 4 tablespoons of the oil, lemon zest and juice, and lime zest and juice. Season with salt and pepper. Allow the shrimp to marinate for no more than 10 minutes. Meanwhile, prepare the homemade buffalo sauce and yogurt dressing.

 

In a large non-stick pan, heat the remaining 2 tablespoons of oil over medium to medium high heat. Toss the shrimp with the panko and shake off any excess breadcrumbs. Working in batches so you don’t overcrowd the pan, cook the shrimp in a single layer until golden brown (about 1 1/2 minutes on the first side, and then 1 more minute on the second side depending on their size).

 

In a large bowl, carefully (as the panko breading is delicate) toss the cooked shrimp and buffalo sauce. Pile the buffalo shrimp into a dish and serve with the lettuce leaves, yogurt dressing, carrots, and celery so guests can build their own wraps.

 

Homemade Buffalo Sauce

Makes approximately 3/4 cup

3 tablespoons unsalted butter

1 small clove garlic, minced

1/2 cup hot sauce (such as Texas Pete)

1 tablespoon lemon juice

Kosher salt

 

In a small saucepan, melt the butter over medium-low heat. Add the garlic and cook for 2 minutes. Add the hot sauce and lemon juice and whisk to combine. Simmer for 5 minutes and then season to taste with salt.

 

Yogurt Dressing

Makes approximately 1 cup

3/4 cup plain Greek yogurt

1 tablespoon olive oil

2 teaspoons honey

2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice

1/2 tablespoon chopped fresh dill

Kosher salt and coarse black pepper

 

In a small bowl, whisk together the Greek yogurt, olive oil, honey, lemon juice, and dill. Season to taste with salt and pepper.

 

 

 

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