As soon as I drive over the bridge into Margate, New Jersey, my stress melts away and my worries calm. The sun, the seaside, the lovely little shops, and the weekly farmers’ market never fail to lure me back to this unique beach town where my family and I spend our summers. It’s the perfect getaway from the daily grind back home, a place for enjoying rest and relaxation.
Pulling up to the house, I already feel the culinary inspiration that seems to accompany my time here. This is where I do my most creative work; the stress-free atmosphere and the happiness I feel while I’m here inspires my cooking. For some, a week at the beach is an excuse not to cook, but whether at the shore or not, I’m always working in the kitchen. It’s my passion and I wouldn’t have it any other way. The host of a digital cooking show, Cook This! with Shereen and professional recipe developer, I’ll turn any kitchen into a test kitchen and welcome taste testers. Over the years in Margate, smelling the salt in the air, I have drawn enough inspiration for an encyclopedia of fresh, easy, seasonal recipes. My focus here is simple: cook, drink, eat, repeat.
To kick off summer, I’m preparing brunch for our good friends and neighbors to catch up after a long time away. Once all of the groceries from home and our gear for the weekend is in the house, I take a walk down the street to the farmers’ market to gather fresh produce. Vibrant colors from bell peppers and an abundance of zucchini, eggplant, and Jersey tomatoes welcome me.
My wheels start to turn and I begin creating our breakfast dishes in my head. New Jersey is the Garden State, and the vegetables at the market live up to that reputation. I fill more than one bag with them. Walking a little farther, I notice fresh bread — baguettes from a local bakery — and honey, too. I grab a loaf and a jar of honey, knowing that the baguette will partner with the vegetables and the honey, brightened up with fresh lemon, will make for the ideal brunch cocktail. I turn the corner and see mounds of blueberries resting in crates on a large table. Without looking, I already know that these are the famous Hammonton blueberries. Hammonton is a small town, a little farther inland from the coast, known as the “Blueberry Capital of the World.” Its sandy, acidic soil makes for the ultimate blueberries. They’re plump, juicy, and sweet-tart; I grab several pints. Some will make it onto the menu for our breakfast gathering and the rest I’ll freeze.
Back home, faced with this bountiful array, I finalize my brunch menu. Although my husband, Andreas, and I are each half Italian, this is a menu to celebrate the other half of his heritage — our Cypriot relatives — with dishes his Theá Anthoula has introduced to me over the years. Since lemons grow everywhere in Cyprus, I begin by squeezing some lemon juice into honey for the perfect sweet-floral balance. Then I add Spanish sparkling wine. It’s a simple cocktail, a twist on the classic mimosa, and it offers a refreshing morning welcome to the friends and neighbors joining us.
Our Cypriot family usually enjoys ouzo around four in the afternoon, but today we will start off the morning with a dose. A few days before we headed down to the shore I mixed a shot of the anise liquor into a salt cure for a side of wild king salmon. The aromatic fish, served on pumpernickel squares with ribbons of fennel and cucumber is perfect for a light, warm-weather brunch. The addition of the fresh vegetables sweeps one’s palate clean, a fresh start with every bite.
I work through the pile of vegetables from the farmers’ market, peeling and dicing. These I roast with fragrant fresh oregano and lemon juice for a traditional Greek summertime classic called briám. Similar to ratatouille, it’s a mixture of seasonal vegetables, potatoes, oregano, and parsley; however, I’ll swap the potatoes for eggs to create a casserole instead, ideal for breakfast. I serve the bubbling dish with garlic crostini made from the baguette I grabbed at the farmers’ market. As we dig in, the egg yolks break over the vegetables, a sauce that’s excellent for dipping into with the garlicky crostini. My Cypriot relatives would be proud of me for this one.
For dessert — because even breakfast deserves dessert —we’ll finish with tender Hammonton blueberry muffins and maple butter. Since these deep blue gems are so famous, I super size the muffins, baking them in a popover pan and topping them with coarse sanding sugar. A sweet ending to a calm summer morning preparing fresh, local ingredients for a meal with friends. For me, there’s no better way to start off the summer season at the shore; I’m sure of it.