I miss spring break.
Growing up on the gulf coast, I spent the holiday slathered in sunscreen, swimming in cerulean water. When I graduated from college, I traded in those endless beach days for an occasional summer sunset. Stay in school, kids.
This week, I'm determined to reclaim my former spring break glory. Every day, I'm going to cook a new snack and head to a sugar sand beach. Since I now pay rent, unlike my care-free college self, my food budget for the week is $25. That means I'll have to keep my snacks to $5 each.
If you want to join me on this journey, slip on a pair of flip-flops, pack a picnic basket and head to the nearest beach.
With three overripe bananas on my kitchen counter, I choose banana bread for the first beach snack. My earliest memory of banana bread is devouring it in the backseat of a car on the way to Disney World. Maybe that's why I consider it a perfect on-the-go snack. You can prepare it a day or two in advance, and you don't need a cooler to transport it.
Although the recipe calls for an electric mixer, you can stir everything by hand — as I did — and you'll build enough muscles to be an arm wrestling champ. As I stir in the mashed bananas, I call my mom to ask whether it's okay if the batter has lumps in it. I may have graduated from college almost a decade ago, but when it comes to cooking, I'll never outgrow my lifeline.
By the time I take the bread from the oven, I'm ready for bed. Today was supposed to be my first beach day of the week, but grocery shopping and paperwork got in the way. That's probably the most adult sentence ever. Is it truly possible to reclaim the glory of spring break?
I pack the foil-wrapped loaf of banana bread in my picnic basket and head to the beach. When I arrive at the shoreline, I taste a slice for the first time. Miraculously, there are no lumps. The crust is as sweet as I remember, although I may have cooked it too long — it's a little dry. Still, it's a perfect beach snack: rich enough to count as comfort food, hearty enough to satisfy saltwater-induced hunger pangs.
As I devour three slices, I have to remind myself not to check Instagram — a temptation I never had to deal with during my actual spring break years. I set my phone aside, and it's worth it. This is the pastel time of year, before summer heat bakes the sky an angry orange. March sunsets over the Gulf are soft, romantic moments. The sky turns pale pink, the sea turquoise. Palm fronds scritch against each other in the night breeze and a little red tugboat disappears into the horizon.
I never would have made it out here today if I hadn't already committed to it, but it's just what I needed.
When I wake up, the temperature has dipped to the low 60s. That's cold for this Florida girl, but my friend Tori and I have already planned our beach day, so I ignore the semi-frigid temps and start preparing antipasto skewers. Because they only take 10 minutes to make, the antipasto skewers are ideal for a spontaneous beach excursion: You can prepare them that morning and transport them in a cooler. Adults and kids alike will love the simple, refreshing flavors of cherry tomatoes, fresh basil and mini mozzarella balls.
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Before Tori arrives, I tear pieces from my large log of mozzarella and try rolling it into tiny balls of cheese. It crumbles in my hands. Apparently, you have to buy the mini mozzarella balls pre-made. New plan: I cut the cheese into cubes. It takes a little longer, but the square shape compliments the roundness of the tomatoes. Once the skewers are assembled, they're so tantalizing, you may be tempted to stick the entire thing in your mouth, like a fork. It will hurt. Trust me.
At the beach, Tori and I spread our picnic beside vacationers snapping selfies. The mozzarella cheese is a creamy compliment to the piquancy of the cherry tomatoes and basil. "It's like a deconstructed salad," Tori says. I could eat this all day.
So could the ants. We spot a long-legged sentry crawling toward our food. That's it. Our resolve, already weakened by the cool weather, cracks. We scoop up our towels and run away.
Back at my apartment, it's time for a post-beach refreshment: Coconut Vodka Cocktails. To make this two-ingredient drink, all you need is coconut water and vodka, with a twist of orange peel. It's sweet, smooth and tropical. If you can't make it to the beach, a sip of this cocktail is the next best thing.
As soon as I wake up, I start preparing the quickest recipe of the week: Cinnamon Sugar Almonds. You simply dump almonds into a saucepan and cover them with cinnamon, sugar and water. According to the recipe, the water will evaporate after 15 minutes, leaving a salty-sweet coating behind. I can't wait to enjoy them by the ocean — sweet-and-savory nuts are my favorite beach snack.
An hour later, I'm still stirring.
To stay motivated, I toggle frantically between Pandora stations. I eat a bag of mozzarella cheese scraps. It's no use. The almonds float in a syrupy glop, which looks like something that would swallow a naughty child in Willy Wonka's factory. Desperate, I pluck the almonds from the syrup and place them in a foil-lined casserole dish, hoping they will toast in a 250-degree oven.
After another 60 minutes, the almonds are blackened and taste like charcoal. I must have burnt the sugar. By now, it's too late for the beach. I toss the almonds in the trash and eat two slices of banana bread to console myself.
After yesterday's culinary catastrophe, I'm apprehensive. But this recipe for Parmesan Cream Crackers is one of the best I've ever tried. Except for the parchment paper, I already have the ingredients in my kitchen: cheese, flour, butter and cream. The recipe is both inexpensive and a breeze to make. Since these crackers take a little more forethought than the antipasto skewers, you can make them the night before a beach trip.
It suggests rolling the dough ½-inch thick, but I roll it much thinner, about ¼ inch. I bake the crackers until they are brown and crackly around the edges. When they're done, I sprinkle sea salt over them. They taste like a fancy version of Cheeze-Its, which is to say I never want to stop eating them. In fact, they're as delicious eaten on a couch as they are on the sand.
I end up watching two episodes of HBO's TV show Girls, because going to the beach feels like too much effort. Age has caught up to me.
If you're looking for easy, transportable treats, the antipasto skewers, coconut vodka cocktails and cheese crackers are the best choices. They're fast, delicious and fairly inexpensive. Since I already had most of the ingredients, I managed to keep all five snacks to a total of $28, or about $6 per dish.
As for the beach? Spring break is way better when you're actually in college. If you invent a time machine, let me know. I'll be over here drinking another coconut vodka cocktail.
Contact Emily Young at email@example.com.