Wednesday, March 30, 2011

A "Prince" of A Day In Charleston

The morning radio buzz was a little more exciting and hyped than normal on my drive home from work this morning. Thanks to a forecast of rain this evening at the North Charleston Colliseum Purple Rain that is. I am talking about Prince, uh the artist once known as the artist once known as Prince brings his Welcome 2 America Tour to town this evening. The usual pre-concert radio hype is happening today and it is happening on just about every number on the radio dial. One of my favorite blogs, Charleston Treasures even, features Prince today in her New in the News Wednesday posting. I guess you would expect that when a megastar like Prince comes to town. Wait, did I say "megastar"? Ok, I have to admit, I don't consider Prince a megastar. Heck, I never really even cared for his music except for a handful of hits from the early 1980's when I was in college. You have to admit, singing a song about his hot little red headed date for the night using all sorts of car metaphors and referring to her as a "little red corvette" is epic. At least in the musical entertainment sense.

My wife, who was a big Prince fan before he was known as a symbol, was really disappointed that I had to work on the evening of the show. I told her she should go ahead and go but I don't think she wanted to go that badly. What the hell was that symbol anyway? Even though I can't consider myself a fan of Prince it does sound like the Colliseum is the place to be this evening.

I guess that sometime today a luxury jet will touch down at the Charleston Airport. I picture a jet with fine leather seats and deep red shag carpet on the walls. The star will descend from the jet wearing a leather jump suit, high heels and a purple feather boa and be whisked away to one of the luxury hotels in Charleston, probably in a white stretch Hummer limo. Wait, I think I hear a Lear flying over now. But I will miss the show, my only chance to see Prince is if he trips walking around stage in those platform heels and has to be treated as a patient at my hospital. Just a little over a year ago when Brad Paisley was performing in Charleston he had an accident during the concert and ended up at another Charleston hospital where he was treated for broken ribs. I guess the scene was quite comical, as there were physicians, nurses and med students rushing to the Emergency Department for pictures and autographs. I can see it now, "pardon me Mr. Paisley, I am your doctor and would you mind autographing this bedpan for me?" I guess Brad was a good sport about the whole thing, he even sent out a Twitter bomb later on saying that the doctors had reassured him that he was a "good boy."

I hear that there are tickets still available to see Prince tonite, so it's not to late. I guess I will settle for reading the review in the Charleston City Paper and will listen to all the callers on the radio tomorrow morning talking about how bizarre the show was. I hope you have a great Wednesday wherever you may be and if the opportunity arises, put on your raspberry beret and party like it is 1999.

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Prime Time Weekend

One of the best weekends of the year is set to blastoff in the Lowcountry. There are three major events happening in and around Charleston this weekend and it is hard to identify which of the three is the headline event. WCIV-TV | ABC News 4 - Trio of Events Landing On the Same Weekend in the Lowcountry

Forty Thousand, that is right, forty thousand runners and walkers will be stacked up for over a mile at the starting line of the Cooper River Bridge Run on Saturday Morning in Mount Pleasant. For first time participants like my wife and our friends who have entered as a team called The WV Transplants, it is hard to imagine and comprehend just what an experience participating in the Bridge Run will turn out to be. For starters, they have no clue how many people are going to be lined up with them when the starting gun goes off, it is impossible to comprehend being inside the race gates with forty thousand other people. I have experienced alot of excitement throughout my life, but I can tell you last year when I took part in the Cooper River Bridge Run, I was blown away by the experience. To arrive at the Gailard Auditorium at 5:30am to board a bus to take me to the starting area only to see thousands of other racers and literally dozens of buses lined up waiting to take race participants to the other side of the Cooper River left me spellbound, really, at 530 in the morning. Even though the race starting time was over 2 hours away, the logistics of getting 40,000 people to the starting area is mind boggling.
It was an experience that I will never forget and one that I am disappointed to not be participating in this year, but I am excited for my wife and our friends. I know the exhillaration they will experience as they complete the 10K in front of hundreds of thousands of spectators who line the 6.6 mile course.

Meanwhile, in Summerville, the town known around the world as "The Flowertown In The Pines", the annual Flowertown Festival will be taking place. The festival is one of the largest and most noted festivals in the Southeastern United States and is held every year to benefit the Summerville YMCA. Now being a former Director General of West Virginia's oldest and grandest of festivals, The Mountain State Forest Festival, I feel that I am somewhat qualified to judge festivals. I can honestly say, I have never experienced a density of humanity participating in a festival quite like the Flowertown Festival attracts. It is hard to believe that on Saturday afternoon there will be 200,000 people lining South Main Street in Summerville, shopping and browsing at hundreds of artisans, craftsmen, and other vendors booth's.

If 10K races and huge arts and craft festivals isn't your cup of tea, maybe you will be interested in heading over to Daniel Island for the opening weekend of The Family Circle Cup Womens Professional Tennis Tournament. Top seeded female tennis stars will invade Charleston for one of the hottest pro tournaments of the year, and what better venue than the Family Circle Cup Stadium on Daniel Island.

In addition to the "big three" events this weekend, another well attended activity occurs on Sunday. The Lowcountry Cajun Festival at James Island County Park. A big slice of Louisianna invades the Lowcountry, with great cajun food and zydeco music. I have never attended the cajun festival but I know it receives rave reviews.

So, if you can't find anything to interest you this weekend, you might want to check for a pulse. What is even better is that the weather forecast for the weekend is calling for sunny and cloud free skies with temperatures in the mid seventies. Get out and enjoy the weekend, but save a little bit of energy because next weekend jets will fill the skies over Charleston as Joint Base Charleston hosts their thrilling air show. More on that later on next week.

Monday, March 28, 2011

Trust Me, It Will Fit

It's a damp and raw Monday Morning here in the Land of Palm Trees. The kind of morning where you just consider rolling over and staying in bed for another hour or two. But that wasn't an option for me this morning, so now that I have the kids delivered to school I will have to settle for another cup of coffee and my normal "writing" chair perched at the bistro table in the breakfast nook watching the explosion of green taking place outside through the windows.

Since we had the extreme pleasure of going to an "ahhster roast" (thats Chawlston for oyster roast) Saturday Night and I took some great pictures to feature in a blog, and since the rawness of the weather this morning reminds me it is still oyster season in the Lowcountry, I thought it was a great morning to blog about a southeastern coastal tradition, the oyster roast. Now the last place I lived was absolutely without a doubt the "chicken-burn" capital of the universe. For those of you not from West Virginia, a chicken-burn is when a bed of Kingsford Charcoal (it's local you know from the hardwood forests of West Virginia) is built in a cinder block pit 40 foot long by 4 foot wide and fabricated steel screens used as barbecue screens are covered with whole chickens that have been marinated in a "nectar of the Gods" type of sauce and "burnt" to perfection by flipping the screens at regular intervals. The "burns" were a major fund-raising vehicle for local Lions Clubs, Little Leagues, Women's Clubs and just about any other charitable cause known to man. Now that I live here in the Lowcountry, I realize that in a lot of ways, the oyster roast is very similar to a chicken burn, although, much more elaborate and especially when they are held in a friends back yard, much more fun.

As you would expect, the Lowcountry Oyster Roast has morphed into a style of it's own, and has recently garnered a lot of attention nationally in style and food sections of some Nationally syndicated publications. One such article that I read recently from the New York Times Dining and Wine Section instructs on the many facets of holding "as faithful a facsimile of the Lowcountry creek-bank roast" as possible on the banks of the East River in NYC. Can you believe it, "as faithful a facsimile?" Bubba says, "Huh?"

But you get the point, oyster roasts are in vogue, and besides that, they are a helluva good time, especially when combined with cold beer and other pot-luck favorites, and of course, bannana pudding (see my earlier blog post "Sweet Friday"). Case in point, on Saturday night we were invited by our good friends Troy and Danielle (Troy is a fellow West Virginia University Alum) to join them and some other friends in their backyard in Goose Creek for an Oyster Roast and Lowcountry Boil. I've got to tell you, as you can see for yourself from the picture, Troy and Danielle have one of the coolest back yards in the Lowcountry and Troy knows some grillin' and smokin'. If it will fit on his huge industrial sized smoker he can make it taste good.

Upon my arrival I rushed to the roasting area to survey the scene, what I found was a couple of huge coolers filled with Lowcountry select oysters on ice, fresh from the tidal creeks around Charleston.
These tasty bi-valve morsels had resided in a creek until earlier in the day when they were whisked away into a boat that eventually landed at a dock where they were quickly placed into big burlap sacks for their journey to my belly via Troy's grill.

Also, next to the grill was a huge pot of water heating over a propane flame. Now aside from the roasting of the oysters, the buzz of the day was the on-going debate between Troy and his wife whether the ample supply of potatoes, sausage, corn, onions and shrimp would all fit into the HUGE pot. Relying on my cooking skills and instincts of measurement, and since I am a man and felt the need to support my buddy Troy, I immediately sided with Troy and said, "well of course it will fit," even though I had my doubts.

Not that anybody who knows me would ever accuse me of being one who likes to "stir the pot", I did have quite a bit of fun reminding the ladies that the pot obviously had room to spare once all the ingredients were added and in fact, this time, Troy was right.

Soon enough, hot dogs complete with WV Hot Dog Sauce and macaroni and cheese was prepared for the teenagers who just haven't acquired a taste for good oysters and Lowcountry Boil. And on the adult side the hearty Beaufort Stew was served along with trays of steaming hot oysters. And for the next two hours we ate and drank beer, although I was pretty wiped out from working 9 of the past 11 nights so I stuck to the sweet tea. As darkness engulfed the backyard oasis and the tiki torches took over where the sun left off the oysters got better.

Troy and Will, the oyster roasters were getting their groove on so to speak and the bed of coals was nearing perfection and the oysters began to take on a much more firm and roasted texture, and a smoky and salty taste. For me, it was nearly Valhalla.

The neat thing about Lowcountry oyster roasts is that there are so many options for making the event uniquely yours. The backyard at Troy and Danielles provides a beautiful and relaxing location with a pool and tasteful landscaping to serve as the focal point and on this warm evening the tiki torches set the mood for a tropical feast. But sometimes on cooler nights and in a different locale a big bonfire serves as the focus or even a dock out over the river. On this March night we had stereo sound of NCAA basketball, but it is not uncommon for guests at Lowcountry oyster roasts to spend the night shag dancing to a live band or disc jockey playing beach music.

But the best ingredient at an oyster roast is not the oyster, or the shrimp or even the bananna pudding. No, the best ingredient is the friendship and company that you experience while enjoying all the other ingredients.

Once again, the purpose of this blog is to share life here in the lowcountry from the perspective of a transplant. Somebody who during their time spent vacationing along the South Carolina Coast didn't realize that life as a permanent vacationer was so much more multi-faceted than you ever get a chance to see just by spending a fabulous week in paradise on a Carolina Beach. I hope you enjoy my blogs and I hope as I share our experiences you will be inspired to follow your dreams wherever they may take you or keep you.

Friday, March 25, 2011

Sweet Friday!

There is probably less than a handful of desserts as decidedly Southern as bannana pudding. It is a great choice for any buffet or pot-luck dinner and goes well with just about anything, but especially a back yard barbecue. This is going to be a great Lowcountry Weekend with warm temps and an oyster roast around a friends backyard pool. The menu for the Oyster Roast includes frogmore stew or lowcountry boil as some may call it. Our contribution to the extravaganza will be a huge bowl full of homemade bananna pudding.

There are hundreds of recipes for bananna pudding available online and in just about every southern cookbook known to man. The preparation can be as "scratch" as making your pudding from corn starch and milk in a double-boiler or as easy as using instant pudding mix and non-dairy whipped topping. Too be honest, I am not sure that I have ever met a bannana pudding that I didn't like.

For this special occasion, I have decided to use a recipe out of a novelty cookbook that I often use, Aunt Bee's Delightful Desserts: More than 350 Recipes from Mayberr, America's Friendliest Town.

As usual, any good food creation starts with gathering your ingredients. For today, I decided to change Aunt Bee's recipe just a little, instead of using Nilla Wafers, I used Nutter Butter Cookies, the subtle combination of peanut butter along with the bannana pudding is a delectable taste sensation.


1-Mix 2 cups of cold milk with 2 boxes of vanilla instant pudding.

2-Fold in 1 cup of sour cream and 4 ounces of non-dairy whipped topping.

3-Line a large glass bowl with a layer of Nutter Butter Cookies and then layer half of the pudding mixture on top.

4-Now build a layer of sliced banannas and top that layer with the remainder of the pudding mixture.

5-Finish by layering the remainder of the dairy topping to the pudding and form peaks with a spoon.

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

The Weather is Here, I Wish You Were Beautiful

First of all, apologies to any Parrot-Heads (Jimmy Buffett Fans) who may have stumbled upon the title of this post and thought they were tuning in to a blog about Jimmy.

The underlying theme of From The Land Of Palm Trees is to share the life experiences of a transplant to the Lowcountry of South Carolina and to chronicle the day to day life in this beautiful and magical place that we refer to as "vacation land." I hope that through my writing, you, the readers will be inspired to follow your dreams and realize that we are only limited by the things that we choose to allow to hold us back.

The weather influences our lives in so many ways. It affects our health, our emotions, our plans, our wallets and is often directly linked to our happiness. The type of weather that one prefers is a very personal choice. Prior to moving to the Lowcountry I lived in a beautiful little hamlet in the mountains of West Virginia, a town tucked into a valley between mountains and smack dab in the middle of ski country. Many fans of the Weather Channel across the world will recognize the name, Elkins, West Virginia. Many times it is the coldest spot in the country and certainly receives it's share of snow. For many years, I considered myself a fan of wintry weather. I spent a good deal of the winter on snow skis and hanging out in a hot tub on my back deck with a view of the snow covered mountains. But that is all in the past now and one of the primary considerations for transplanting myself into the sandy soil of Coastal South Carolina was the pleasant year round weather.

Since moving here I have grown to realize just how much the Atlantic Ocean controls the weather here. I also now understand that during all of those weeklong vacations at Myrtle Beach and Hilton Head Island we weren't so "lucky to have hit a great weather week" after all, it is simply that way MOST of the time. I love being outdoors, as you have learned from reading this blog, so much of what I write about is related to outdoor activities. I even enjoy being outside when I am not really doing anything at all, hence, "front porch sitting" is one of my favorite modes of relaxation. Many of my friends and family members are constantly accusing me of bragging about the weather or "rubbing it in." In that regard, I think I am truly misunderstood. It is hard for me to not point out to my friends and family up North that while they constantly complain about the rain, and the snow, and the cold, it is really nice to enjoy a cup of coffee on my front porch, or a walk in the sunshine or even a bike ride around town. I think it is kind of cool to live in a climate where people arrive at Christmas Eve Service on the family golf cart. I think that I probably do have a sub-conscious desire to spawn the realization in them that they don't have to live where it is cold and wet a large portion of the year, but then I remind myself that while my personal preference is for the warmth of the coast, they may be quite content with the weather in their neck of the woods.

As I pointed out earlier, it is sort of humorous when visitors to "vacation land" think that they "hit it lucky" with the weather during their visit. Almost as humorous as when I have people say to me, "I don't see how you stand it in the summer." Once again, a failure to fully understand the big puddle of water known as The Atlantic. Yes July through September is HOT and HUMID, but their is always a nice sea breeze blowing, and I have never been uncomfortable in my beach chair sitting on the beach. Granted, and I advise my family members accordingly, a sight seeing trip to Charleston to enjoy the history and beauty of the city is not a good idea in July or August, but if the pool and beach are what you are looking for, and if you don't mind getting your round of golf in before 11 AM, I think you will find that Summer in the Lowcountry is quite enjoyable. And no, unlike the comment I saw on a friends Facebook status last week, we do not have to live underground in the summer.

I could go on, but as I look out my back door at the neighbors palm tree swaying in the breeze, against a blue sky, it occurs to me that I have things to do outdoors. I hope you are enjoying your day wherever you may be and I hope that the next time I cave to the temptation of bragging about the weather that you will understand I can't do anything but say nice things because it seems that like always, The Weather Is Here, I Wish You Were Beautiful... Just like the song Jimmy sings.

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Cafe Streudel: A Cafe With A European Flare

Life is so bittersweet at times. Any parent who watches as their son or daughter backs out of the driveway to head back to college knows what I am talking about. The satisfaction of what they are accomplishing, the pride in who they have become is balanced with the broken-heart and empty sinking feeling that comes as you watch the tail-lights disappear around the corner. The melancholy that grabs you each time you walk past their bedroom is tempered by the thrill and excitement of a visit to campus for a ball-game, an awards ceremony or a parents function.

This past weekend we traveled up to Columbia to spend some time with our oldest son JD who is a student at The University of South Carolina. The touchstone of the trip was the Sigma Chi Parents Cocktail and Derby Days Philanthropy Gala to be held at the Lacy House on the grounds of the Governors Mansion. We anticipated a fabulous night, and we weren't disappointed. The evening was brimming with great food, good company and some proud papa moments. The seven-piece dance band with a full horn section provided Motown Classics and Beach Music to keep us dancing under the stars. As the evening came to a close our son invited us to meet in the morning for bruch, he said he had the perfect spot picked out.

We were looking forward to brunch and figured that he was taking us to a standard breakfast joint that a Sophomore in college may be attracted to, you know, like an IHOP or Waffle House, but we were still impressed with the invitation. We picked JD up at the Sigma Chi House and as we crossed the Congaree River leaving the skyline of Downtown Columbia and headed into West Columbia JD directed that I turn onto State Street, and up ahead on the right I saw our destination, Cafe Streudel, a rather smallish and narrow looking building whose facade resembled an old bank building, mainly because that is what it was in it's former life.

In front of the building on the sidewalk, were several cafe tables where an eclectic mix of patrons were enjoying the March morning sunshine and their brunch. In addition to the cafe tables out front, there was also a huge group of people, waiting to be seated, not quite like a scene from Hymans Seafood Restaraunt in Charleston, but you get the idea.

Once we were inside with our names on the list to be seated upstairs, I made my way to the "coffee side bar." It was a self serve gourmet coffee bar, very laid back but with top shelf gourmet coffee choices. My Joe of choice was the Vanilla Bean, which I chose over the Cafe Streudel Morning Blend. And I could easily see why there was a crowd at this dining spot. Cafe Streudel claims to be a "European style" cafe on it's website. The place is just amazing and a very popular spot for Sunday Brunch. The cooking area reminded me of an old style diner, complete with an aromatic pile of shredded potatoes, onions and peppers cooking on the grill top.

A fantastic beer list including one named Smutty Nosed Old Brown Dog Ale hung on the wall, and a display case out of the 1950's caught my attention as it was jam-packed full of delectable treats like seven-layer red velvet cake, 8 inch tall cheesecakes and homemade streudels, hence the name Cafe Streudel. This was a jewel, boutique beer, incredible sweets and grilled hash browns, ooops, sorry, back to my coffee.

After a short wait we were seated in the upstairs dining area. The place was decorated with local artwork for sale, that was both colorful and creative. Our cafe table was located in front of a window with an interesting stained glass displayed in the sunlight. I passed on the feature item of the brunch menu, "the hangover hash browns" made with hand shredded potatoes, grilled onions and peppers topped with two eggs any style and shredded cheddar.

My choice? One of my favorites, a smoked salmon bagel, with thinly sliced smoked salmon, tomatoe, red-onion, capers and cream cheese. Michelle had a french omelet, tastefully prepared with mushrooms, swiss cheese and onion. And college boy, he had the Charles Bagel featuring turkey, provolone, and bean sprouts. We passed on the temptation of a piece of streudel or some other caloric monstrosity, but we enjoyed some great coffee and a wonderful end to our parents weekend at the University of South Carolina.

So now we are back home and looking forward to a brief visit from our student during Easter Weekend, and then of course, summer break is not far away. And we have the memories of a grand time at the Governors Mansion and a great little "sursey" from JD, brunch at Cafe Streudel.

Monday, March 14, 2011

A Day On The Water

Picture yourself slicing through the top six inches of water on a calm and secluded tidal creek through a lowcountry salt marsh. You are surrounded and towered by marsh reeds and sweet grass growing in the marsh along the channel and all you can hear is the gentle sound of the water as the bow of your vessel parts the water ever so gently and the sound that your paddle makes as it pushes through the water of the canal. Of course, you also hear the call of the shore birds and redwing blackbirds perched on top of the marsh grasses and amongst the palmettos. You have timed your excursion perfectly taking advantage of the last two hours of an incoming tide so that the current of the tide helps you along upstream. At the time of changing tides, you will have the opportunity to relax a bit, maybe spend some time casting for spot tails or just enjoying the smell of the salt and the earthy scent of the marsh. Then as the tide shifts and the marsh teeming with wildlife starts to drain back toward the Atlantic Ocean, you begin the homeward bound leg of your kayak trip with a relaxed yet confident feeling of accomplishment.

Since moving to the Lowcountry, and before, I have been attracted to the water. I flat out love sitting in a beach chair under an umbrella and reading a book beside the ocean, I live for seafood, and covet the property of those with deep water docks behind their homes. On one trip across the bridges to the Isle of Palms I saw a lone kayak floating lazily along one of the tidal creeks, and it occurred to me that it would be a fine way to spend a morning or late afternoon. Soon, I began to take notice of the activity and realized that in the Lowcountry, a lot of people use recreational kayaks. For the better part of two years I have told my family how much I wanted to become a kayaker. They have hinted to me that I should go ahead and do it, in fact, my oldest son even bought me a guidebook with over 100 trips within 1 hour of Charleston, Kayak Charleston by Ralph Earhart. Finally this past weekend, I jumped in, so to speak, and booked a 3 hour guided instructional trip for the four of us.

Coastal Expeditions located off of Mill Street in Mount Pleasant on one of my favorite bodies of water, Shem Creek, hooked us up with rentals, PFD's (life jackets) and a great guide named Heidi to spend the next three hours learning and exploring. After some onshore instruction beside the dock it was time to carry our kayaks down to the dock and get into the water. Our guide, Heidi, had told us to all meet up about 50 yards down Shem Creek, on the opposite bank and hang out a while to "get our sea legs on." And within minutes Michelle and I were powering our tandem sea kayak down Shem Creek, not toward the Charleston Harbor though, nope, right into the marsh to the right. Needless to say, it was a quick lesson on how to turn our boat, and a warning to Heidi that she better keep an eye on Mom and Dad. But in all honesty, after I explained the "physics" of directional control to Michelle we were well on our way following in line behind our guide. It was amazing just how fast we caught on, although the rudder system installed on the sea kayaks sure did help.

Our adventure took us to the mouth of Shem Creek, past one of my favorite spots, Red's Ice House, and into the Charleston Harbor.

Heidi gave us all a landmark way, way, way on the opposite shore of the Harbor and we took off across the shipping channel toward a 22 acre island known as Crab Bank.(visit the link provided for a great photo slide show of Crab Bank) Crab Bank is a protected rookery and is closed to landing from mid March to October, during the nesting season for the multitudes of shore birds that will inhabit the island during those months. As it turns out, Heidi told us that we may be one of the last groups lucky enough to actually land and spend some time walking along the beach in search of sharks teeth and some incredible shells, since landings were scheduled to end the next day. From the shore of Crab Bank we had a special and unique view of Charleston, off to our right in the distance we could see the Ravenel Bridge, a little bit closer but still off to our right, a Carnival Cruise ship docked while it's passengers enjoyed a day in the Holy City.

After a break and a bottle of water, we were back in the boats to shoot the shoals on the back side of Crab Bank, our whitewater experience for the day, and then back across the shipping channel toward the beautiful mansions of the Old Village of Mount Pleasant that line the Charleston Harbor. This part of the trip was so much fun, the five and six million dollar homes are really impressive from the water, a perspective that many of the thousands of visitors to Charleston never get to experience. And the birds, the dolphins and during the summer months, the manatees that hang out around the deep water docks serving these homes is amazing.

In no time at all, one of the fastest three hours of our lives was coming in to sight as we headed back up Shem Creek. It was about 3pm and the smell of seafood being cooked up at Red's and Vickery's and the other great Shem Creek hot spots was intoxicating to us. Shortly before turning out of the shrimp boat channel toward the home docks of Coastal Expeditions we pulled over as a very nice yacht headed towards the harbor. The captain had a very confident demeanor as he piloted his vessel past the meek kayakers below him, not only on the water but also the food chain. His passenger, presumably his wife, was enjoying a glass of wine as she sat perched in an obvious position of honor aboard the luxurious liner. Somebody in our group said,"now that's the way to enjoy the water." And it got me to thinking, yeah, it probably is a lot of fun, but they won't get to experience the same things that had made our trip so much fun. The up close looks at the pelicans, the splash of a kayak paddle, the exhillaration of shooting across the shoals on the back side of Crab Bank, or weaving in and out of pilings beneath the docks in search of dolphin playing.

Sunday, March 13, 2011

Memories of Growing Up In The Lowcountry From A Young "Natives" Perspective

Today I am so excited, and honored to turn over The Land Of Palm Trees to a guest blogger. Rick is a friend that I met through work at BSSF in the pharmacy department. Rick is a recently retired pharmacist whom I respect immensely, not just for his humor and wisdom, but for his character and integrity as well. Rick is an interesting man, ex-military with a family background that goes back to England. In addition to being a great creative writer, as you will see, he is also a good artist. Many thanks to Rick for accepting my invitation to guest-blog, his willingness is your good fortune, I think you will agree.

I was lucky to have been brought up here in the low country. When I was in grammar school back in the 50's my parents bought a lot beside a small canal that leads out to the Stono River. It's situated diagonally across this small waterway to the 15th hole of Municipal Golf course. It was a wondrous playground for kids my age.
Across the canal (small stream, big ditch, whatever you would call it) was the marsh, playground to fiddler crabs and home of Redwing Blackbirds, which was the ideal place to muddy up shoes and jeans while searching for evidence of Indians--Pre-Ameircans of the native persuasion--such as arrowheads and piles of oyster shells.
The Stono River was named after the Stono Indians which was one of the tribes of the Cusabo group. I used to run around hiding behind scrub oaks with long flowing trains of Spanish moss hanging from the branches. In my head I was one of those young boys learning about the land around me.

I was that lad clothed in deer skin tied around my waist and on my feet the soft leather moccasins for protection against the prickly undergrowth surrounding the paths made by feet traveling from one village to another.
I imagined the round houses covered in bark stuffed with the moss of the oak or mud from the marsh for insulation. Several of these homes would be within a protective wall. Also within the wall was a council house for tribal meetings. Just outside the council house would be a clearing that was used for dances and games. But all that was beyond my understanding, I just played at learning to shoot the bow and arrow which I believed was important to learn if I was going to be a worthy warrior. I searched for crabs in the stream along with otters who swam along the banks on occasion. I dreamed of launching an arrow into the heart of a deer to provide meat and skins for food and warmth. I knew in the winter that more leather was needed for leggings and capes to ward off the cold of the winter period.
I often found arrowheads in the marsh while slipping between the waving blades of grass sprouting from the plough mud. I stumbled onto shark's teeth as well as mounds of decaying oyster shells beneath light green spindly grass. To me they were the remnants of those shell thrown along the outer perimeter of the village. Proof that those long lost tribes had been in my area.
Charles Towne had been founded around 1670 on Cusabo land and the tribes established close ties with the the Englishmen. The early cooperation was of mutual benefit to ward of the aggressive Yuchi tribe. However, their ties crumbled in a very short time.
The Stono tribe joined the rebellion against the colonists in this area in 1674. The war was brief. The Stonos and Coosas who were not killed were enslaved and taken to the West Indies. Slavery of Indians was officially sanctified by the colony due to these uprisings.
Though the Stono tribe is no longer their memory lives on by the river between James and Johns Island called the Stono. Other rivers nearby are named after other memebers of the Cusabo family of tribes such as the Ashepoo, Combahee, Edisto, Wando, and others.
The oaks with moss draped over the limbs, the marsh waving in cool breezes off the Stono and the warm smell of plough mud wafting along those breezes often bring thoughts of the Native Americans who lived in this area in days long past. Parties of men padding along the beaten down paths. Whoops from men playing games on the open areas. These were all imaginings of a young boy growing up here with such a rich past full of lush stories and memories evoked in almost natural surroundings.

Friday, March 11, 2011

It's Not All About Sunshine and Warm Temperatures

From The Land of Palm Trees has experienced great success, thanks to all of the regular readers as well as the occasional visitors to the blog. As I have said before, a blog without readers is hardly worth the effort. I have enjoyed providing this media, it has been a lot of fun and I continue to be motivated by the comments, that is the best part. I am driven by the desire to chronicle for you just what life is like living here in "vacation land." As I scanned the newspapers and local magazines for some ideas on things to do this weekend I was struck by the wealth of entertainment available here in Charleston over the next several weeks. Even though I prefer outdoor activities like golf, beaching, biking, walking and gardening I also enjoy living in an area that is richly blessed with culture, art and musical entertainment options. I thought you might be interested too, so I decided to blog about it.

One of the premier venues here in the Lowcountry for an interesting mix of entertainment is the North Charleston Coliseum and the North Charleston Performing Arts Center. The NCC offers hockey games, basketball games, concerts, comedy acts, broadway productions and other family events like Disney shows. Over the next couple of weeks the stages at the coliseum and PAC will be home to Sugarland and Little Big Town (3-11-11), (4-19-11), Prince (3-30-11), The Trans Siberian Orechestra (4-21-11) and an appearance in November by Josh Groban has just been announced. In addition to those concerts the complex will also feature Cirque Du Soleil: Alegria (3-17 to 3-20-11), Disney Live: Mickey's Magic Show, The Steve Miller Band and Gregg Allman w (3-31-11) and The Best of Broadway Series will present Spring Awakening (3-15,16-11) and Beauty and The Beast (4-26,27-11).

If you're interests are more in the domestic arena, two shows have been booked for the PAC that might interest you. On March 12 learn how to cut your grocery bill in half when Super Couponing: A Savings Extravaganza with Jill Cataldo invades the stage at the Performing Arts Center, and if you are a Food Network Fan, Guy Fieri brings his road show to Charleston at the PAC (5-17-11).

And finally, if all of that sounds good but you would still rather enjoy the sunshine don't miss out on the Family Circle Cup Tennis Championship takes place on Daniel Island in Charleston April 2-10, 2011. With the top female professional tennis players such as Carolina Wozniacki, Jelena Jankovic and Maria Sharapova scheduled to participate this event is bound to be a crowd pleaser.

So, there you can see that living in the Lowcountry isn't just about sunshine and warm temps. We are blessed with fun and entertainment, now to find the time to do it all.

Wednesday, March 9, 2011


A couple of weeks ago I had the pleasure of visiting Charlestowne Landing State Park. I had researched the park on-line and had looked forward to visiting the site for weeks. I had mentioned it to my wife and youngest son on Presidents Day as a possible day trip, but their response was less than enthusiastic. It is quite obvious, albeit understanding, that they don't share my passion for history.

I did have the opportunity a couple of days later to visit the park on my own. It was a beautiful February day in the Lowcountry, after dropping Noah off at school for the day I pulled into the access road to the landing and stepped back in time for my big adventure. The temperatures was pushing 70 degrees by mid-morning and the sun was warm on my back as I exited the indoor displays for my self-guided tour. I was armed with my camera, a park map and the rented MP3 player offered by the park ranger loaded with information to walk me through my soiree. Just as I started down the path leading toward the animal habitat area I heard a female voice saying, "excuse me sir." I turned to see who was calling me only to see a distinguished looking lady with a pair of binoculars around her neck and a very excited look on her face. Instinctively I answered her, "yes maam" and she begins to say, "sir, is this your first visit to Charlestowne Landing?" Not realizing that I must have looked like a full blown "touron", (half tourist, half moron) with all of the battlegear hanging around my neck I replied, "well yes, yes it is my first time." She smiled a warm and comforting smile and introduced herself as a regular and proudly announced that she was an official volunteer at the park, then she threw me a knuckleball. That's right, not just a curveball, but an all-out knuckleball. This seemingly hospitable lady says, "you seem like you are not in a hurry today, I was just wondering, would you like to take a few minutes and come along with me while I chase some rainbows?"

I guess she could tell by the look on my face that I was somewhat taken back by her question, so she immediately assured me that she was not a crazy lady but that her favorite activity on the park grounds is to walk about and look for actual rainbows, in the mist created by the various fountains that are installed in many of the ponds and lagoons throughout the park. Her face grew almost painfully lonesome and then turned to nearly beaming with pride and ownership when she pointed to a lovely fountain in the middle of the pond and she said, "I just donated that fountain right there in memory of my late husband." She then insisted, rather enthusiastically, "please, walk with me along this path, let me show you one of my rainbows." Well, I didn't have the heart to not oblige her request, and admittedly, at this point, I was intrigued. As I committedly followed her along the path, she explained to me that the rainbows are only visible for about 30 minutes in the morning, when the sun is precisely at a 42 degree angle in the sky, and then she stopped. Abruptly, only to re-adjust her stance ever so slightly, with a most satisfied smile on her face, much like somebody who has just seen the face of an old friend. Then she says, "there, there is one now." And sure enough, as I tilted my head to one side, there was a beautiful rainbow, just over the surface of the lagoon, in the mist of the fountain.

After receiving some more facts and information regarding rainbows I finally set off on my own to, among other things, chase some rainbows. I strolled along a path and I was moved by the nine George C. Birlant Battery Benches given in honor of the Charleston Nine, the nine firefighters who died in the line of duty on June 18, 2007 my first full day as a resident of Charleston. I read each memorial plaque on each bench, the firefighters name and thought what a moving tribute this must be for the family members of each fireman. When all of a sudden, it caught my eye, there it was, visible only for a second as I passed by a bench. A tiny droplet of water hung from one of the bench slats and there was a small rainbow prism of color eminating from that hanging droplet.

I proceeded down the path toward the animal display area of the park, and just as I entered the area where the shore birds are displayed in their natural swamp habitat I took a break and sat down on a bench to watch the birds. And there it was, a rather large spider web off to my right in the live oak tree, and the water droplets trapped by the web were causing another rainbow to capture my attention. I smiled and chuckled out loud. How amazing, had I not taken five minutes out of my day to visit with this wonderful woman, this woman who had found the most amazing passion for one of God's wonders, the visible prism of light caused by sunlight refracting through water, I would have never noticed these two rainbows. I wondered how many times I had gazed at rainbows in the past without really even recognizing them.

I have always interpretted the phrase, "chasing rainbows", in a sort of negative vein. Usually when somebody is said to be "chasing rainbows" they are on a quest for something that is not practical or even possible, headed for frustration and failure. How unfortunate. But from now on, the phrase has a different meaning for me, one of hope, one of faith and one of appreciation. In doing some research on rainbows I recently found a website dedicated to weather phenomena and atomospheric optics and the science behind them. The author(s) of the site have included a FAQ page and of course one of the questions asked about the mythical "pot of gold" at the end of the rainbow. The answer to the question, I thought was quite appropriate. Of course the idea is that you can never reach the end of a rainbow, and since you will never get there to check, it can't hurt to think there is a pot of gold. Even if there isn't a pot of gold, a rainbow is such a beautiful thing that it should be considered a pot of gold in it's own way and we should be grateful for every chance we get to see one.(Schneider Family Web Pages at

I couldn't say it better myself. That day I had gone to Charleston Landing to learn about the past, to learn about the original settlers, pioneers who had come from a foreign land, some by choice and some against their will to a new land and a new beginning. I did learn alot about them that day, but thanks to my chance encounter I learned a little bit about myself and my life as well. I received a tangible reminder that there is beauty and wonder all about us if we just take a little time to chase the rainbows.

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

A New Day In The Kitchen Garden

While more March-like temperatures have returned to the Lowcountry with highs in the mid-60's this week with abundant sunshine I continue to add to my kitchen herb garden. This morning I planted some greek oregano, fern dill, and some lavendar. Visions of home-made spaghetti sauce, southern dilly bread and home grown herb-de-provence on roast pork dance in my head.

This morning while I worked in the soil, our cat, Kitty Lee kept me company as he hung out close by laying in the sun curled up around a knockout rose in the rose bed. Like his family, Kitty has adapted quite well to his southern environs. Before moving South, Kitty was a fairly anti-social feline who would disappear anytime visitors arrived at the front door. In fact, many of our friends and family swore we were just playing make believe about owning a cat. But, I must say, after a mis-fortunate event of staring me down as he watered my Lazy Boy Kitty became an outdoor resident, and his life has blossomed because of it. Watching him sun himself there in the rose bed reminds me that there really is no reason to worry, when life deals you a setback, you find a sunny spot to relax and take it all in.

Sometime within the next couple of weeks, my collection of heirloom tomatoes will find their permanent home in the vegetable bed and shortly after that they will be joined by an assortment of peppers. Things are growing in my backyard and it is an exciting time of the year in The Land of Palm Trees as we anticipate visits from friends and family members this spring. Have a great day and try to be like Kitty Lee today, find a sunny spot and take a break.

Monday, March 7, 2011

Baseball, Chicken Bog and Barbecue: As Lowcountry As It Gets

Baseball is a religion in South Carolina. From the recreational leagues (in our town youngsters have three options for "rec ball" ie Little League, Dixie Youth and Cal Ripken) to high school and college, hardball is the king. High schools in the lowcountry are rich with Div 01 college prospects, and college baseball is played at a very high-level in the area. At one point last year, South Carolina had 4 Div 01 teams contending for the National Championship and a trip to the College World Series which the University of South Carolina eventually won.

I love baseball season in the Lowcountry. When I refer to baseball season I am referring to the scholastic baseball season that starts in February and goes through May. Of course here in The Land Of Palm Trees baseball is played year round, except for a couple of weeks before Christmas and a couple of weeks in early January. But for me, nothing compares to the excitement of prep school baseball, young lads representing their school colors and playing for school pride. Adding to the attraction, A high-school baseball game in the Lowcountry is also an epic culinary event, a happening, a gathering. A hybrid of an athletic event along with a social event, but 100 percent a gastronomical symphony. And I am not talking popcorn, peanuts and hot-dogs, your standard ball park concession stand issue. No, I am talking about barbecue, boiled peanuts flavored with ham and cajun spices, fresh fried fish, hamburgers grilled over the open flame on machine fabricated iron grills on wheels, weighing as much as the truck that pulled it to the park and of course, chicken bog.

My blog readers from outside of South Carolina quite possibly have never heard of the dish, chicken bog. As best I can tell it is not only strictly a southern dish, but quite possibly unique to South Carolina and in particular the Lowcountry and Pee Dee Basin. To say that chicken bog is just another chicken and rice dish is like saying that a porsche is just another foreign car. Perhaps Edward D. Borden said it best in 1968 in Sandlapper magazine, "The dish looks as if the cook went on a binge the night before, but legend has it one Yankee officer liked it so much he switched uniforms. It's called Chicken Bog, and it's a conglomeration of rice spices and chicken, topped with bacon. To Pee Dee natives, the dish is as traditional on Fourth of July and other holidays as barbecue and cole slaw is to the rest of the south."

Chicken bog officianados will debate the origin for the name of the dish, some claim it refers to the way Carolina rice was grown in and around Charleston back in the 1700's in rice bogs while others claim that it is because the ingredients of sausage, chicken and rice all get bogged down together when properly cooked. One thing that can't be debated is how good the stuff tastes and how a heaping and steaming bowl of chicken bog makes a great baseball game even better. An internet search will yield several recipes and versions, it is similar to looking at recipes for chilli, everybody has their own secret formula, but the one recipe that I have found online and that I intend to experiment with can be found by clicking here.