Sunday, July 31, 2011

Come Spend The Day at The Edge of America

Well another blistering day of heat and humidity has already descended upon us here in the Lowcountry. Michelle and I just completed our 3 mile walk around our neighborhood walking trail at White Gables and are now assessing our options for the day. One of the considerations is some time at the beach. From The Land of Palm Trees, the blog, is defined by an innate desire to share with many of you what life is like for those of us who stay behind on Saturday mornings when the vacationer packs the trunk and heads back up I-26, I-77 or I-95 toward their home and a big part of living here in the land of palm trees is having the ability to take 3 hours out of your day and head to the beach for a little while.

So many times I talk to friends, old neighbors, classmates and the such and they talk about taking their beach vacations to Myrtle Beach like it is the only beach to visit. While MB is a great place, albeit more the quintessential tourist trap than piece of paradise, their are some other great beach destinations just a little further south on the Atlantic Ocean from "the Grand Strand." Fortunately, for us Lowcountry folks, Charleston is home to four distinctive beach towns, each unique in it's own right, and if you extend the reaches of Charleston just a little bit South and lump Edisto into the mix we have five options.

While it is not necessarily my favorite beach in Charleston, Folly Beach, aka "The Edge of America" is a great beach town in it's own right and one that any of the Myrtle Beach crowd should consider trying out one year. Especially if after you get back home and start looking through those beach vacation photos you notice a lot of concrete, a hundred different versions of putt-putt golf, miles after mile of high rise after high rise, and just about every other get rich quick scheme known to tourism. Folly isn't exactly all sand and waves, and beach stores are counted on one hand instead of "on every corner" like at MB, but Folly Beach is one cool little beach town and I think a lot of you may enjoy visiting there. I found a You Tube video that provides a pretty good taste of Folly Beach and have embedded it for your enjoyment.

Like most places around Charleston, Folly Beach is a treasure trove of historic facts. Serving as a barrier island protecting Charleston, when ships traveling from England and other locations approached the coast Folly was one of the first pieces of land that they encountered after months at sea. At one time the island was known as "Coffin Island" because ships would drop off any passengers suffering from cholera or malaria rather than taking them into Charleston. There is also a fair amount of Civil War history involving Folly and it's neighbor Morris Island. Perhaps my favorite little snippet of Folly Beach notoriety is that George Gershwin wrote the American Folk Opera Porgy and Bess while living on Folly Beach in the 1930's, and you all know what a fan I am of Porgy, ie Summertime, and the livin' is eeeeeeeeezzzzy!!!

So, if you are looking for a beach vacation that provides laid back evenings listening to bluegrass and acoustic guitar, real fresh seafood not the truckload of all you can eat frozen for months variety and sunrises over the ocean and sunsets over the Folly River, come on down to the Edge of America. Who knows, you just may not go back home. Whether you are on the beach today or in the back yard, have a great day, From the Land of Palm Trees.

Thursday, July 28, 2011

Whoopie Pie Recipes

I promised you in the last post that I would share the recipes for the chocolate whoopie pies with peanut butter cream filling. As mentioned earlier, the recipe comes from the current issue of Cooking With Paula Deen. The boys and I had a blast with this recipe, as you can tell from the blog post. If you get a chance, try this recipe, you will be satisfied I trust.

The Cookie Recipe
Ingredient List
1&3/4 cup all-purpose flour
1/4 cup cocoa powder
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
10 tablespoons butter (softened)
1 & 1/2 cups sugar
1 egg
1 egg yolk seperated
2 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 cup buttermilk

Recipe Instructions:
1- Pre-heat oven to 350 degrees and line 2 baking sheets with parchment
2- In a medium bowl, stir together flour, cocoa, baking powder and salt
3- In a large mixing bowl beat sugar and butter until fluffy
4- Add egg, egg yolk and vanilla to fluffy mixture
5- Gradually add flour mixture and buttermilk to the mixture above in portions, alternating flour and buttermilk making sure to end with a flour portion on your last add in
6- Refrigerate batter for 10 to 15 minutes then using a 1/4 cup scoop drop batter onto baking sheets, spacing by at least 3 inches
7- Bake for 12-14 minutes until a toothpick inserted comes out clean

Creamy Peanut Butter Filling Recipe
Ingredient List
3/4 cup creamy peanut butter
1/2 cup butter (softened)
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1&1/2 cup confectioners sugar

Recipe Instructions:
1- In a medium mixing bowl beat peanut butter, butter and vanilla at medium speed
2- Once smooth, gradually add confectioners sugar, 1/4 cup at a time, beat until smooth

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Whoopie!!! A Rainy Evening

Today was a rare overcast day, for the most part, and while it is no longer raining the cloudy evening was perfect for an inside activity with my two sons. While we could have spent the evening playing video games or cards, I had something a little different in mind. Why not something really masculine, you know, an activity that would prepare my two boys to be real men, great husbands and respected fathers. I gathered the two of them together for some man time and announced to them, "let's make some homemade Whoopie Pies." They looked at me quizically, like I had entirely lost my faculties and gone stark raving mad. Then I showed them the pictures in the latest edition of Cooking With Paula Deen and smiles came to their faces, almost simultaneously.

Now it's no secret that I truly enjoy experimenting with food and cooking, and if I do say so myself, I am fairly adept. I am confident that my wife would confirm that appraisal. And, I do honestly feel that cooking is a skill that makes a young man a high value target in the eyes of bachelorettes worldwide. I mean what beautiful southern belle wouldn't pine for a beau who knows how to make whoopie pies?

And so we begin, after both boys were appropriately uniformed for the task they gathered the dry ingredients for the cake batter. Michelle was skeptical when she realized that they would be making the batter from scratch which only seemed to strengthen the resolve of the two apprentice bakers.

JD took charge of the batter preparation phase confidently directing his capable assistant Noah who diligently measured out the ingredients for his brother.

Like any good assistant, Noah occasionally referred to the recipe in order to insure that JD was on track.

JD was finding the mixer process to be a bit of a challenge and slightly messy so he "directed" his younger brother to step in and "do something." Noah with his usual ginger swag willfully accepted the assignment while reminding his older brother that after all he was a "master mixer."

While the master mixer worked on achieving a fluffy mixture of butter and sugar, JD began to incorporate the cocoa powder into the flour and baking powder.

When the sugar and butter were adequately fluffed, JD took the lead once again adding vanilla extract and eggs to the mixing bowl.

The master mixer took over again as JD alternately added the flour and cocoa dry mix along with buttermilk to the mixing bowl in order to finish the whoopie pie batter.

When the batter was finished, the two bakers decided it was time to test the mixture. After all, the best part of baking is licking the beaters.

Sammie even dropped her favorite sock monkey in order to make herself available for beater duty, just in case.

While JD prepared the cookie portions for the oven Noah began prep work on the peanut butter cream filling.

The master mixer rides again...

After the pies were removed from the oven and cooled, it was time for the peanut butter cream filling and final assembly of the whoopie pies. They found a temporary home on a plate. After all, quality control is of the utmost importance in the kitchen.

After sampling the Chocolate Peanut Butter Cream Whoopie Pies Noah informed JD that his newly acquired skill could be put to use back at the Sigma Chi House at USC and that the whoopie pies would be a great addition to the football tailgate parties. I don't know about that, but I do know I had a lot of fun watching and listening to my sons as they worked together in the kitchen, and I am betting that some day, when the right girl comes along they will both pull this one out of the old memory bank and charm their way into a young girls heart through her sweet tooth.

Hopefully the sun will shine wherever you are tomorrow AND here in the Land of Palm Trees as well. Check back Thursday for the recipe for these Chocolate Peanut Butter Cream Whoopie Pies.

Monday, July 25, 2011

The Dog and Duck

In a lifestyles blog that focuses on day to day life in "Vacation Land" and the benefits of being blessed to call a place like Charleston home it almost seems redundant to write about great places to eat and drink. The Lowcountry is an absolute Mecca for fine dining, both sophisticated and casual. Consequently, the dilemna when choosing a spot for dinner is never one of having too few choices, instead it is a matter of narrowing ones choices. We have just marked our fourth anniversary as residents of the Lowcountry and we have only begun to scratch the surface of experiencing the joints of Charleston. With time and practice though, the savy diner develops a list of "go-to" options that are tried and true, thus I have, and the Dog and Duck is certainly near the top of that list.

For me, the D & D fits the bill for casual and fun dining, good service, great food, awesome t-shirts and a comfortable atmosphere. Whether you are looking for a casual spot to kick back after a day on the beach or maybe a spot to re-charge after a long day of work, the Dog and Duck is a solid option. I'm not sure what attracts me most to the D & D, maybe it's the laid back locals-only kind of feel or the fact that not only is your pooch welcome there, he even gets his own water bowl delivered to your table by the waitress.

The menu at the Dog and Duck is unique and offers a variety of food choices. Some of my personal favorites are the yardbird wings, double dunked of course. I especially like the house garlic variety, they are dunked in batter, seasoned and deep fried, then dunked, seasoned and fried a second time resulting in an incredible tasty chicken wing. Often I will combine the wings with an order of German JoJo Potatoes, a cross between a potatoe skin and a twice baked potatoe tossed with green onions, bacon and smothered with melted cheese.

If salads are more your style, your mouth will be watering over the bacon double cheeseburger salad, it's healthier than it sounds and even includes toasted sesame seeds and a dill pickle spear on the side. As good as the wings and salads are, this joint is famous for their creative sandwiches and burgers. My vote for the most original is cast for the Hillbilly Cheeseburger, get this, a thick slab of fried bologna on sourdough bread, dressed up like a cheeseburger, my idea of a real cheeseburger in paradise. Of course, one of my favorite sandwiches is The Golf Club (don't forget who is writing this blog anyway).

One other reason to love the Dog and Duck, as if outdoor seating and being accompanied by man's best friend isn't enough, is the make your own bloody mary bar on Sundays. I have found it is a great way to kick off a Steelers football Sunday, and if you don't like your drink, you have nobody to blame but yourself.

Great weather, great fun and great places to eat like The Dog and Duck, part of why we LOVE life here From The Land of Palm Trees. No matter where you are today, or what you are eating, have a great day. And the next time you are in The Lowcountry, check out one of the Dog and Duck locations, you can thank me later.

Dog & Duck on Urbanspoon

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

The Back to Work Blog

Time certainly does march on, doesn't it? A mere three weeks ago I stood at the front end of a full three weeks of vacation, no work for an entire three week period. It seemed like utopia had arrived in my world, it was in a word, Valhalla. But the funny thing is, while I am extremely grateful for having the opportunity to take a three week vacation from my job, three weeks passes by just like one week and when it is all said and done, no matter how much time you take off, vacations don't last.

So, the past couple of days have been transitional here in The Land of Palm Trees. In fact, a lot of changes have taken place. The front porch is no longer littered with pool toys and beach towels, the big party cooler on wheels has been emptied, drained and put away into the garage, the back porch chairs set empty under a lonesome umbrella and the family hound has resumed her position beside her dinner bowl.

The three weeks produced a load of family fun and memories, and pictures to document, but last night it was time to get back to work. And in the coming days we will somehow resume a somewhat more normal way of living, here in Vacation Land. Back to normal, whatever that means. But don't feel too badly for me, on the heels of three weeks off I am sure you don't, in between shifts at the hospital there will be plenty of golf, swimming pool, beach and Charleston style fun. Besides, Autumn and back to school signals the beginning of our favorite time in the Lowcountry. Soon footballs will fill the Friday night skies and Saturdays and Sundays at the beach will have a much more laid back feel to them. So, vacation time, thanks for the memories. I hope you have had a chance to make some vacation memories as well and no matter where you are today, I hope you have a great day, From The Land of Palm Trees.

Sunday, July 17, 2011

Summer Breeze Makes Me Feel Fine!!!

Saturday was one of those unbelievably wonderful and pleasant weather days in Charleston, and it came in mid-July, can you believe it? We decided to take advantage of the relative NO HUMIDITY and the great breeze and head for the waterfront. As we descended the Ravenel Bridge that spans the Charleston Harbor to the Mount Pleasant side of the harbor we could tell it was going to be a wondrous evening for a little pier time.

The Waterfront Memorial Park is a beautiful addition to the list of casual activities to do in Charleston, what a marvelous way to spend a couple of hours on a lovely evening. The park is located underneath the Mount Pleasant side of the Arthur Ravenel Jr. Bridge, on the Cooper River as it open's into the picturesque Charleston Harbor and to characterize it as simply a park or a pier is a misnomer. Waterfront Memorial Park is really a community center on the water, a cultural center that not only offers a place for residents and visitors to fish, play and relax, but also provides a venue for dances, concerts and movies under the stars. The pier attracts everything from fisherman to bicyclist to couples on an after dinner stroll at sunset. It is so Charleston, I saw everything from Seersucker to red satin dresses and it is obvious after people watching on the pier that Charleston does have some of the most attractive people in the world. We stopped by the bait and tackle shop at the end of the pier and rented some fishing equipment for my neice Morgan and bought some frozen shrimp and finger mullet to use for bait, after which we eagerly hurried half way down the pier to fish on the rising tide. For the first hour or so, the fishing was sort of slow and we took advantage of the opportunity to take some unique photos.

Eventually though, the fishing heated up a little bit when Morgan landed the only fish of the evening, at least the only one we actually laid hands upon, a nice 12 inch blue. JD and Noah both hooked fish, but neither could successfully land them onto the pier.

As the sun set over the waters of the Cooper River we sadly realized that the sun was also setting on the vacation for my sister-in-law and niece. After a moonlight hike from the pier back to our car, we decided one final indulgence was in order. A trip to Menchies, a delectable frozen yogurt store that has now become a "must do" on the vacation list for Joni and Morgan. No pictures though, we ate the evidence. I will tell you that I enjoyed a mixture of peanut butter and bannana frozen yogurt with some reeses peanut butter cup chunks, a fudge brownie chunk and some marshmallow cream. We all marveled at how something so delish could be good for you. Yeah right!

No matter where you are today, I hope you have a great Sunday and that your livin' is EEEEEEEEZZZZZZZYYYY, From The Land of Palm Trees.

Friday, July 15, 2011

Fiesta Means Lots of Margaritas In Spanish, Right?

If you have been following this little series of blogs on From The Land of Palm Trees vacation to Snowshoe Mountain you have probably concluded that we had a great time and good food and drink was in abundance. Another of the highlights of the trip had to be "Fiesta Night". Remember that we had a couple of teams overseeing the planning and preparation of dinners for the group. My niece Lisa, I have no earthly idea why she is puttering around with chemistry degrees and praxis exams in WV when her obvious calling is in hospitality, event planning and culinary skills as you can see, was team leader for the Hammond Family Fiesta. (banner art by my wife Michelle)

Several of us had played an afternoon round of golf at the Raven Course at Snowshoe and when we arrived back at the house on the mountain top I can remember looking at my oldest son JD and saying, "this could turn into a hot mess." That was after seeing the industrial size margarita blender on the counter with the hundred different kinds of fresh fruit for margaritas.

My fears were realized when I noted some of the family members were approaching the margarita bar from a two-fisted perspective.

Not to mention the fact that my youngest son (virgin margarita by the way) had invented a spill proof lid for a frozen margarita glass and was playing the part of Pedro to perfection.

Well fortunately we moved quickly from happy hour and appetizers to the main course of fajitas a dozen different way and before long it was time for the entertainment to begin. It was a fun night of family time and relaxation and the memories will linger for a long time.

Judging by the temperature on my front porch this morning, the heat wave of 2011 has released us from it's grip, the weekend is here and my three week vacation is nearing it's end, but not before a fun weekend with company (my sister-in-law and niece are visiting). Wherever you find yourself today, I hope you have a great day From The Land Of Palm Trees.

Thursday, July 14, 2011

A Train Ride Back Through Time

OK, so you went to Snowshoe Mountain for the week and you hiked alot, saw some great sunsets, some tremendous scenery and you ate some great italian food, that's great! And then, one day you went to a defunct mountain mill town that has been restored as a West Virginia State Park and you rode a scenic train powered by a 100 year old steam engine. So what is so special about that? Well, nothing except that the town, Cass, was built to serve as a company town for the West Virginia Pulp and Paper Company on land originally owned and purchased from my great-grandparents. And my grand-father, prior to his stint as deputy sherrif and grocery/meat market owner, worked in the mill during his youthful days. And, because nearly every childhood visit to my grandparents resulted in a trip to ride the "Cass train."

The town of Cass as a company town in it's day served as the flagship for a pulpwood dynasty and rail operation that employed thousands and the West Virginia Pulp and Paper Company evolved into Wesvaco. As the years passed and the industry changed, the town of Cass began it's slow decline that most small towns in America eventually experience and in the 1960's the State of West Virginia saw an opportunity to create a new state park centered around the train tracks that once served a vital role in transporting the timber from the top of the 4800 foot mountainside to the mill in the valley. Critics of the plan were quite vociferous, however, after 23,000 people visited the Cass Scenic Railroad during it's first months of operation, the critics were quickly silenced.

Through the 50 year history of the Cass Scenic Railroad the state park has grown and evolved, and still has a multitude of potential for growth. A photo featured in a 1964 edition of National Geographic magazine shows a 140 foot waterfall located within the Cass Cave, a cavern under the mountain where the scenic train operates. The cave is on private property and is not open to the public, however, there remains the possibility that at some point this wonder of nature may become part of the state park system as well.

Even though I have logged several trips on the Cass Scenic Railroad through the years, I still get goose bumps when I hear the sound of that classic lonesome train whistle that is akin to the Shay Locomotives that power the passenger cars up that mountain to the top of the world and back into the history of my descendants who settled in that rough and rugged area of Almost Heaven, West Virginia. I have embedded a video below that features the train ride from the Autumn of 2010. I would strongly encourage you to plan a late September or early October trip to the mountains of Pocahontas County in West Virginia and enjoy natures artistry at it's finest with the colorful explosion that takes place across the mountain ridges during the fall. Wherever you may be today, have a great day From The Land of Palm Trees. Enjoy!