Saturday, June 30, 2012

The Greatest Sound Known To Man

The hot and humid days of Summer have arrived in earnest to The Land of Palm Trees and for the entire Eastern-half of the Nation so it seems. In fact, my heart goes out to friends and family in the State of West Virginia this morning who endured a hellish string of thunderstorms and straight-line winds yesterday evening while we were enjoying a walk on the beach. Reports this morning suggest that over 500,000 people are without power and the Governor has issued a state of emergency in the Mountain State.

Yesterdays heat and humidity reminded me of a couple of things that I love about Summertime. I am not a beer snob, not by a long shot. In fact, the love of beer is at best an acquired taste and I have just never succumbed to the craze. Now that's not to say that I don't enjoy a beer now and then, especially with dinner if the menu includes: burgers, brats, oysters, shrimp, ribs or even barbecued chicken. But when many a beer aficionado will drink many beers, I am usually pressed to drink two, I just don't savor the taste and feel for hops and grains the same way that I do grapes. There is however, one exception to that rule. To this day, there is NOTHING that I can drink that is more satisfying after lawn work in the hot Summer sun, or a round of golf in near one-hundred degree temperatures than an ice cold beer. In fact, I was reminded yesterday morning during my pre-noon round of golf on the 15th hole when a member of my foursome pulled a cold brew out of his cooler pouch on his golf bag, perhaps one of the greatest sounds known to man is the opening of a beer can by tugging mightily on the tab, "clickssssshhhhhh". Ahh, that is heaven in an aluminum vessel.

Speaking of enduring heat and humidity, I tell my friends and family as well as visitors to this blog, "don't come to Charleston during June, July, August or early September UNLESS you are coming to spend time at the beach or in the pool." I might add to that, if you want to play golf when you visit, please come prepared for a tee-time no later than 830am. But, if you enjoy the beach, the Lowcountry has some of the best, so come on down. We are hosting my wife's sister and niece this weekend and yesterday they did make an early day journey to King Street for some shopping, but they were home shortly after lunch for some air conditioning and pool time. Even though yesterday was the hottest day of the Summer thus far, with heat indices into the 112 degree neighborhood, after dinner last night on Sullivan's Island at Taco Mamacito we headed two blocks east to the beach for a twilight walk. It was nearing low tide and the HUGE sandbar that forms at low tide was accessible by some of our party, including me who weren't afraid of hiking our shorts, and shirt dresses (good job Michelle) and wading through the mid-thigh deep salt-water to reach the sandbar. We were rewarded for our efforts by the sight of a LARGE container cargo ship slipping out of the Charleston Harbor into the open sea of the Atlantic Ocean. But the amazing thing was that even on a 100+ degree day, it is comfortable on a South Carolina Beach.

Thursday, June 28, 2012

Tomato Pie

Even though I am a transplant to The Land of Palm Trees I have always considered myself a Southerner since I was born and raised South of the Mason-Dixon Line and after all the family cemetery plot in Southeastern West Virginia does have a couple soldiers of the Confederacy buried within. The differences between living in the South versus other regions of the country are stark. It simply goes beyond sweet tea. As natural and logical as the Southern lifestyle seems to those of us who were born and live South of the Mason-Dixon Line it probably baffles those from the Midwest or the Northeast. But that's okay with me. No, this isn't going to turn into a geography lesson, and certainly not a history lesson even though there are "huge" divides in perspectives on how certain aspects of American History are taught "down here" versus in the chilly "Nawth." But it's true, there are differences much more lighthearted than historical slants and the colors of states on an election night news network.

For instance, a humorous quote regarding differences in religious tolerance in the South versus the North; "in the North people say you worship in your way and we will worship our way, in the South we say you worship God in your way, we will worship God in His way." Humorous? Yes, Accurate? Absolutely.

But yes, there are differences, perhaps the greatest difference is in the way food is prepared and presented. For instance, if I were to tell a New Yorker about the great tomato pie that my wife created last weekend with heirloom tomatoes he would immediately tell me that "nobody can make a tomato pie like you can get in Brooklyn." And in a way he might be correct, however what he refers to as tomato pie doesn't come in a deep dish apple pie plate.

Tomato pie, the Southern version, is one of those things you either love or hate, there simply is no middle ground. This has been a bumper crop year for tomatoes in our kitchen garden and my wife had been admiring the tomato pies for sale at the Farmer's Market for the past couple of weeks saying that she had never made one but would like to try. So when she opened her current issue of Southern Living and found a feature on tomato pie, the deal was sealed.

The recipe she wanted to try called for two pounds of heirloom tomatoes, and it just so happened we only had a couple heirloom purple cherokee tomatoes ready to harvest so off we went to the Farmer's Market. It just so happened that our friends from Gruber Farms had a nice selection of various heirlooms that would work just fine for the pie. For her maiden voyage Michelle prepared quite a tasty dish, a definite keeper for the family recipe box. She served the piping hot pie with some local South Carolina steamed peel-and-eat shrimp. It was a perfect summer supper, oh so good.






Wednesday, June 27, 2012

I Am Everyman

I have always taken great pride in my organizational skills at work. Throughout my career in pharmacy management and hospital administration I have always managed to keep my files organized, accessible and efficient. I learned very early in my professional life, you don't have to know everything, you just need to know how to find the information. Although I have given up administrative pursuits, at least for now, I still remain very organized. My Outlook account at the hospital is impeccably filed and organized, making it very easy for a busy night shift pharmacist to find critical clinical information and protocols leading to quick and efficient care for my ICU, OB, and ER patients at three o'clock in the morning while most of you are dreaming of sandy beaches and lush green fairways (at least that's what I dream about).

But the "at home" version of Doug, not so much! Much to the chagrin of my wife. Recently while walking my black lab throughout the neighborhood I have started walking down the alleys of the neighborhood to enjoy the backyard landscaping/gardening efforts of my neighbors. An added benefit to the back alley jaunts has been the opportunity to rubber neck some of the neighborhood garages. For me, a well organized and efficient garage is a sight to behold. I sometimes stare in awe at the creativity and neatness, I guess I am somewhat of a "peeping-Tom" of garages, a grease rag voyeur of sorts. Ewww! That sounds creepy, well maybe I am not so much of a voyeur, but more of a curious fan of the ultimate garage, you know the kind of a garage that could be termed "a man's man garage." The kind of garage that meets the definition of "finished living space" but yet also serves as a living, breathing and functioning tool to meet the family's mechanical needs.

On the other hand, my garage? Well let's just say, I like to think of my garage as an
"every-man's" garage. Some organization, a smidgeon of order but quite a bit of chaos and more than a few "piles". Yes I must admit, I fumed for months that somebody had stolen my variable speed Craftsman Drill "right out of my garage" only to find it stowed away in a box where I had placed it. Now, I am not saying that my garage isn't functional. There is room for my wife's car. The tools and machines that I use on a weekly basis to maintain my lawn and gardens are easy to find, they just aren't hung on nice plastered walls. I do have the standard peg-board wall above my makeshift work-bench, it just seems like somebody comes in periodically and takes all of the tools off of the pegs and piles it on the bench. I often find myself hurriedly pushing the garage door button to close the door before my neighbors driving through the alley have the chance to see my pitiful den, with the sheepish attitude of an anxious teen who discovers a pimple on his forehead two days before the junior prom. Contrast my demeanor with the confidence displayed by the man up the street perched upon a high-back bar-stool near the back of his lair with the garage door open for all to see as he assuredly admires his epoxy coated floor. You know the kind of haughty exuberance surrounding a car owner at a classic-car show as scores of admirers parade by to appreciate the hours of work put into restoring his candy apple red 66 Nova SS with Hooker headers and a polished chrome Spectre air-intake.


You may be tempted to interpret my diatribe as bitterness, however nothing could be more inaccurate. In fact, "everyman" admires the overachiever, he envisions his own garage with those same appointments and has an appreciation for the time and effort that it takes to create and maintain a garage with such high standards and taste. In fact, "everyman" understands that the motivation and pride that drives the custom garage owner to painstakingly create such a masterpiece. So much so, that on a recent walk when I encountered one such man's man in his garage, spending some quality time I stopped to tell him how nice his garage looked. Before walking away on this Friday afternoon, I couldn't help telling him that "he had a lot of competition throughout the neighborhood, but his is probably in the top five." Hope I didn't ruin his weekend plans, you know striving to be the boss of custom garages in the hood. You know the old saying: If You're Not The Lead Dog, The View Never Changes.

So, today, Mr. Custom Garage Owner, I salute you. You are the one who puts the MAN in
"man-cave", you are the envy of the neighborhood, keep doing what you do. You have inspired Everyman, today I will... er, aw screw it, I'm headed for the beach, my garage can wait.

Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Not Your Grandma's Cupcakes

I promised that I would be spending some time this week featuring some of our favorite vendors from the Summerville Farmer's Market. Today's vendor is actually one of my wife's favorites, Bubbies Bakery, a home-based bakery that specializes in delectable gourmet cupcakes. The owner/baker, Lola, characterizes her style as "bold and adventurous" and based upon the delights that grace her tent on Saturday mornings, I think she is spot on.

Cupcakes seem to be a hot commodity lately and that is surprising for a treat that has been around for ages but the current craze is driven by every thing that your grandmothers cupcake wasn't. Today's cupcakes are creative, daring, over-the-top and shocking, to say the least. Take a look at just a few of the photos borrowed from the Bubbies Bakery webpage.

Banana Pudding, Smores, Peanut Butter and Jelly, Wedding Cake, Blueberry Pancakes and Bacon and even a bacon and egg breakfast treat. You can find Bubbies Bakery on Facebook and many weeks she offers a special benefit to her Facebook fans.

The baked goodness at Bubbies is noteworthy, but there is a story in the background here that ties in very well with the theme of this blog, having faith and trusting your dreams and Lola's story certainly exemplifies this theme. For those of us lucky enough to call the Lowcountry home Bubbies Bakery is another reason to check out the Summerville Farmer's Market next Saturday morning and if you are reading this from far off make sure your plans to visit the Lowcountry include a stop in Summerville on a Saturday morning to visit the Summerville Farmer's Market. And just in case you are beginning to think that the market is all about desert treats tomorrow I will share an amazing tomato pie prepared with heirloom tomatoes from the market.

Monday, June 25, 2012

The Cookie Chick

O.K. So what's your definition of the perfect cookie? How could you build a case against this characterization? "Mine is big & chewy in the middle with crisp edges. The kind that begs for a tall glass of ice cold milk or a mug of hot tea. The kind that tastes great still warm from the oven and even better the next day, when the flavors have mingled together (if you can wait that long!)" That is not my personal definition, it is borrowed from the webpage of The Cookie Chick the feature vendor of todays piece.

Faith, the Cookie Chick, is a professional in every aspect of the word as you can tell just by walking past her tent and table at the Summerville Farmer's Market and observing her presentation: neat, crisp and clean = yummy. Once you stop and speak with Faith you will see that her passion for baking cookies in small batches using quality ingredients like dried fruits, madagascar vanilla and real butter is not just something she does, it is something she loves. And that love comes through in every single bite.

Like most good bakers, The Cookie Chick loves to experiment. Recently on her Facebook Page (like her), Faith talks about her success with the fresh Strawberry-Lemonade cookie during berry season and hints at good things to come like the Orange Creamsicle Cookie, an orange-scented, vanilla-bean-specked cookie with a fresh orange glaze. See what I mean, a cookie artist!

You can find The Cookie Chick at The Daniel Island Farmer's Market on Thursdays and in Summerville at the market on Saturday mornings. This week I tried the Double Chocolate with Walnut cookie and all I can say is "WOW!"

The Cookie Chick is just one of the new vendors at this years Summerville Farmer's Market. I really can't say enough about the NEW Summerville Farmer's Market. The organizers have at least doubled, if not tripled the vendor spots and the new vendors are of the culinary artisan variety, with everything from baked breads, fresh pasta, sweet-potato dog treats, gourmet popsicles, organic vegetables, fresh seafood, cupcakes, pies, cobblers, barbecue sauce, locally roasted gourmet coffees and of course the best in local produce. If you have tried the market in years past and had a "ho-hum" reaction, do yourself a favor and give it another try, you will be glad you did.

Saturday, June 23, 2012

Saturday Morning At The Farmers Market

I made a quick stop at the Summerville Farmer's Market on the way home from work this morning. This years version of the market is WAY over the top compared to years past. As the week goes by you will see what I mean, since I met up with some of my favorite Summerville Farmer's Market vendors today I will feature a couple of them throughout the next couple of days.

But for now, since the bed is screaming my name I will just leave you with a couple samples of what we bought today. At least the healthy selections:




Have I told you lately how nice it is to live in The Land of Palm Trees?

Friday, June 22, 2012

Just A Couple Lowcountry Classics

Summer evenings in the Lowcountry are perfect for a cold glass of lemonade and some relaxation on the front porch. While enjoying a few minutes of solitude and browsing through some pictures from this past Spring here in The Land of Palm Trees a couple of images caught my eye: Lowcountry Classics.

Other than maybe palm trees and live oaks, no other tree is reminiscent of the "Old South" as the Magnolia Grandiflora, commonly called the Southern Magnolia. The large white flower was even used as a symbol for the Confederate Army during the American Civil War. Alleys canopied by tall evergreen Southern Magnolias are found all over the South, especially in and around the Lowcountry, often serving as driveways to the past on plantations and farmhouses. The landscape designers who planned and planted our neighborhood obviously had reason to incorporate newly planted Southern Magnolias into the design for White Gables as evidenced by the several towering mature Magnolia trees near the entry to the neighborhood. In fact, our entire street is lined on both sides of the street with the trees, that will one day undoubtedly form a canopy to frame the street.

While on the subject of Lowcountry Classics, the conversation would be imperfect without mentioning the Lowcountry Boil. The term, Lowcountry Boil, is actually a bit ambiguous, at least a double entendre since it is not only the name given to the hearty seafood stew being prepared, but it also represents the proper name for the social gathering that features the classic dish. The dish has various names: Frogmore Stew, Beaufort Stew, and Beaufort Boil are just a few but no matter what you call it, it is sure to be a crowd-pleaser.

Just as there are many names for the one-pot feast, there are several variations on the recipe. Basically, the concoction is comprised of chunks of sausage, shrimp, corn-on-the-cob, chunks of red potatoes, slices of pepper, onion and lemon-halves boiling over an open flame in a large pot. The dish can be as spicy as you want, but Old Bay Season and Zatarains Creole Seasoning always find their way into my boil. There is a bit of an art to the preparation, and the shrimp always go in last, since you don't want to over cook the prawns.

But, the entree is only half of the Lowcountry Boil, the other half? The social aspect along with the presentation, newspapers spread over the top of a picnic table, set the stage for a great way to spend a Lowcountry evening. Of course there are "condiments" interspersed around the table, i.e. Pabst Blue Ribbon, the cheaper the lager the better. If you are really wanting to "put on the dog" you might follow dinner with a big ol' bowl of banana pudding and a fire in the fire pit is perfect for enjoying a nightcap of fine American Bourbon. I can hear the tree frogs calling my name. Goodnight Y'all.

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

The Steakhouse Lady

Here we are on the cusp of another Summer living in The Land of Palm Trees. We spent the latter part of last week with friends and family in West Virginia and on Father's Day as we motored down I-77 homeward bound to "vacation land" I was reminded of that Father's Day back in 2007 when I drove a 29 foot U-Haul truck on that same path followed by a convoy of cars occupied by my wife, sons, 2 dogs, 2 turtles and a cat. Needless to say, it was a lot easier to unpack at the conclusion of this recent excursion.

It's hard to believe how time flies, reflecting on the past 5 years in our new home. But every now and then something happens to take me back even further into the past. It can be something as simple as standing in line at the grocery store, for instance, just yesterday I found myself in line at our local Publix and a nice young college lady was packing my grocery bags for me at the checkout counter. She smiled and asked me if I needed help to the car with my purchases and I declined her assistance but her kind disposition provided me with the opening I needed to tell her a story about my Summers spent as a "grocery bag boy."

Publix, like many stores these days that provide baggers and "carry-out" service have policies that discourage or disallow tipping for the service. That certainly wasn't the case, back in the days of my youth. I worked at a local Foodland Store during my Senior year of high school and during summers and breaks from college. In fact, tipping was a major motivation for us "bag-boys" to outperform each other and "bring home the bacon" while packing the milk and eggs into the trunks of cars. It was somewhat comical watching the baggers as they jockeyed for position and strategically positioned themselves at registers where known "big tippers" were checking out. One of our regular customers was the wife of a local steakhouse owner and her visits to the store always provided a lot of competition for the crew. Her tip was always a free steak dinner for two at the Bonanza Steakhouse. An informal alert would go up anytime that she entered the front doors. Older, more experienced baggers would temporarily come off of their "special assignments" of re-stocking the soda displays or straightening the candy aisle and hover near the front checkouts waiting for the chance to bag and deliver her provisions to the car, knowing the prize that awaited them for their service. Every bag boy had a strategy. I figured out one that worked well. The head cashier liked to have the bag boys take their 15 minute breaks in a continuous fashion. There were usually four guys working, and she would like to have the breaks "out of the way" in an hour, thus requiring precise timing once the first bagger went on break. I figured out a way to manipulate her obsessiveness by requesting my break as soon as the steakhouse lady entered the store. I would then monitor her progress through the store and if she would approach the checkout area, I would clock back in quickly and present myself for service so that the next bag boy would be sent immediately on break. I figured it was a method to improve my chances by 25%. Sometimes it worked perfectly, sometimes I was foiled. But I always seemed to have a couple coupons in my wallet at any given time and my dates always enjoyed a night out for steak and a movie.

Those Summers of the past have left me with many fond memories, and stories. Maybe I will share some of them with you over the next several weeks, but for now I think the White Gables Club Pool is calling my name, a quick dip before heading off to work for the night. I hope that you enjoy the first day of Summer and the entire Summer season.

Monday, June 18, 2012

A Family Classic: Bringing Back The Memories

Lewis Grizzard, famous American writer and Southern lifestyle humorist, once said, "It's difficult to think anything but pleasant thoughts while eating a homegrown tomato.” Grizzard had a good point and I feel like you could make the same comment about any homegrown fruit or vegetable. As mentioned before, it is somewhat akin to blissfulness to walk into your backyard and pluck veggies fresh from the vine and then use those fresh goodies to prepare the evening's meal. When the recipe for the evening meal is an old family favorite, the joy becomes rapture.

If you are a regular visitor to this blog then you probably already know that I spent my formative years as a child growing up in an area of North Central West Virginia known for it's Italian heritage, thanks to the Italian immigrants who settled in the area around Fairmont, West Virginia decades ago to work in the coal mines and raise their families in the hills and "hollers" that surrounded those coal mines. My father, while not of Italian descent, grew up in a town and neighborhood that was home to many of the families of these Italian immigrants so consequently he not only had a fond appreciation for eating Italian food, but he was a pretty good Italian food cook as well. Italian food and it's traditions seemed to be infused into my family as evidenced by the way we celebrated holidays and special occasion meals. For instance, every Sunday at our house was "pasta day", or angel food as my dad would say. The menu and activities on any given Sunday at our house included some sort of pasta, salad and garlic bread for the afternoon meal and if it was football season you would always find the Pittsburgh Steelers on our television. There was a small radio in the kitchen and on Sunday afternoon it would be dialed into AM 1490 WTCS Radio in Fairmont and "The Italian Hour" where local radio station owner, Nick Fantasia, played and dedicated traditional Italian music to the matriarchs and patriarchs of local Italian families. (Treat yourself to a sample of the original Italian Hour by clicking here)

I probably owe my affinity for gardening to my parents as well, they always planted a large garden and produced some amazing tomatoes, peppers and squash. Like most people who garden and grow squash, especially the green ones called zucchini, my parents had to search for creative ways to use all of the harvest. It seems that you can make any kind of food using zucchini in place of the primary ingredient. There was one family favorite though that used zucchini that was an authentic "zucchini recipe." The dish is a hearty tureen consisting of zucchini, Italian sausage, potatoes, onions, sweet peppers, hot peppers, mushrooms, chicken broth, tomatoes , basil, oregano, garlic and grated italian cheeses and is called Tialla.I can't begin to describe the aroma that permeates the entire house while this dish slowly bakes in the oven. And paired with some warm Italian bread, the dish becomes a Summertime meal fit for a king.

Hopefully the weekend provided you with some opportunities for quality relaxation and fun. We are at the stage of Summer where our thoughts and attitudes are most carefree with most of the season in front of us, we haven't yet begun to think about "back to school" and the upcoming Autumn. If you are a gardener or happen to be the recipient of the bounty of a harvest from a summertime vegetable garden you will probably have an abundance of squash. If so try this hearty casserole, it's sure to be a hit with your family.

1 pound of Italian Sausage cut into chunks
2 zuchinni squash sliced
5 medium size potatoes sliced
1 medium sweet onion chopped
2 cloves garlic minced
1 can of diced tomatoes or 3 fresh tomatoes diced
sliced mushrooms
1 cup chicken broth
parma cheese
romano cheese
1 green pepper sliced into rings
1 hot bannana pepper sliced into rings

1- Prep all ingredients
2- Spray a large baking pot with cooking spray
3- "Build" the tureen by layering all ingredients and repeating until complete
4- Bake at 350 degrees, covered for 1.5 to 2 hours (uncover for the last 30 min)

Thursday, May 31, 2012

A Great Way To Spend An Afternoon In Charleston

When one lives in "vacation land" it seems like there are always dates circled on the calendar that represent visits from friends and family. In fact, we planned for that reality when we moved to Charleston by searching for and purchasing a home with a guest room. We enjoy serving as hosts and planning agendas for our visitors, going so far as to even query them before their appointed time to make sure that we "customize" the itinerary to match their interests. Oh sure, we have our favorite activities and locations, but for the most part when you visit Hotel de' Hammond you get a customized vacation.

One attraction that always seems to receive consideration is the South Carolina Aquarium located on the Charleston Harbor. Not only is the location one of the most picturesque in the city residing in the shadow of the Cooper River Bridge and across the Harbor from the USS Yorktown but the aquarium is very well done, has something for everybody, is interactive and when the temperature and humidity soars, it is AIR CONDITIONED. What is remarkable though is that I never get tired of visiting the aquarium, actually every time that I visit I discover something new. In a way, I am like my grandfather. He lived in the mountains of West Virginia near the Cass Scenic Railroad and he never tired of taking house guests, grandchildren and company to Cass to "ride the train."

For you to understand the value of the attraction I have to elaborate on the design and flow of the exhibits. Your visit begins with a breathtaking view of the blue water of the Charleston Harbor and as you enter the Great Hall, you are provided with a very impressive first impression thanks to the two story windows overlooking the harbor and the 15,000 gallon circular Carolina Seas tank, home to colorful fish representative of those found living among the natural reefs found just off shore of Charleston.

From the Great Hall you embark on a journey that takes you from the Mountain Forests of the upstate of South Carolina, through the Piedmont areas, to the coastal marshes and eventually the Atlantic Ocean. Along the way you will enjoy a walk through spectacular rock formations and waterfalls carved out of the rocks where you will see river otters, birds, fresh water trout and snakes. As you progress towards the coast, you will enjoy the coastal plains and lowcountry habitat catching a glimpse of shore birds, crabs, and even an albino alligator in a swamp. Watch out while you are in the swamp though, a nasty simulated thunderstorm arrives periodically.

Next you glide into the salt marsh, in an exhibit designed to make you feel as if you are kayaking along on a coastal tidal creek. Of course you aren't the only one gliding in the salt marsh, you are joined by a tankful of stingrays. Who knows, you may even get the opportunity to feed the rays during your walk through. The salt marsh and coastal exhibits provide our visitors with a chance to see up close and personal the marine habitats of several species of seafood that they may be lucky enough to enjoy on the dinner table at some point during their visit to the Land of Palm Trees.

As exciting and rewarding as your tour has been up to this point, I have got to say, "you ain't seen nothin' yet." As you enter the Ocean Gallery you will have your breath taken away by the two-story 385,000 gallon saltwater tank serving as home to sharks, baracuda, loggerhead turtles, tuna, and dolphin as well as other fish species that reside among the reefs off the coast of Charleston. The massive two-story nature of the tank allows the exhibit to depict deep water reefs and also allows for visitors to view the tank from two different levels of the Ocean Gallery. Auditorium style risers and benches allow for you to sit and gaze as if you are under the sea in a glass submarine. Few experiences have the ability to calm my type A personality like twenty-minutes in the Ocean Gallery.

Of course the South Carolina Aquarium is more than meets the eye and in addition to being a tremendous tourist attraction the Aquarium is a leader within the Lowcountry community through their conservation efforts promoting and providing education, research and advocacy for a sustainable seafood initiative that has successfully partnered with area restaurants to promote the use of local seafood in a way that insures the sustainability of the precious natural resource. However, conservation efforts and initiatives are not the only way that the South Carolina Aquarium serves to protect the interests of the sea. The aquarium is home to a full service Sea Turtle Hospital, that works to nurse rescued sea turtles for their eventual release back into the depths of the ocean. You can even schedule tours of the state of the art hospital facility. If you are interested in learning more about the sea turtle hospital at the South Carolina Aquarium check out this link.

One day I plan to become a volunteer at the South Carolina Aquarium and provide some sort of repayment to the animals, fish and turtles that provide me with such a wonderful experience to share with our guests. Until then though, if you come to visit, chances are you will make it to the South Carolina Aquarium at some point during your visit.

Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Husk: The New Standard In Southern Cuisine

I've been sitting on this piece for nearly two-months, thinking, planning, conceptualizing only to cast it aside and start over again. I didn't want to just do another foodie blogger type review of my visit to Husk. Instead, I really wanted to come up with an article that would not only introduce the reader to the restaurant and chef, Sean Brock, but even more than that I wanted to pen a work that would help to explain what all of this fuss is about regarding "new Southern cuisine" and it's emergence in Charleston, South Carolina.

For years Southern cooks were somewhat stereotyped and the cuisine was thought to be all about butter, lard, bacon, ham-hocks and sugar. But over the past several years, that perception has changed thanks to culinary pioneers like Brock. As recent as ten-years ago due to the popularity of syndicated food network shows featuring southern cooks the buzzwords that everybody used when talking about good old homestyle Southern food were butter, gravy, pan-fried and custard. Today, there are new buzzwords, like locavore and lardcore showing up in magazines and publications dedicated to gourmet cooking. Media giants like the Huffington Post, CNN, Fox News and Bloomberg are now raving about "the new southern cuisine" and red-hot young chefs like Sean Brock are in high demand. Yet many people who haven't been lucky enough to visit foodie meccas like Charleston may still think that Paula Deen's Restaurant is the holy grail of southern cooking.

Just one visit to Husk and you will begin to understand what Brock is talking about when he says "this new cuisine is not about rediscovering Southern cooking, but exploring the reality of Southern food." The web page for Husk describes the dining experience at Husk as "casual as it is chic, evoking a way of life centered on seasonality and the grand traditions of Charleston life—one lived at a slower pace, preferably with a cocktail and a wide porch in the late afternoon." And for the four of us, that is exactly how our lunch went on the upper piazza at Husk overlooking Queen Street on a late April afternoon.

In a recent interview with Charlie Rose on Bloomberg, Brock explains that originally Southern cuisine was formed around the concept of "what was in the pantry." The chef goes on to explain that this bountiful harvest of crops from the Southern fields was impacted by the mosaic of cultural influences in early Charleston, with the English, Native American, French-Huegenot and the African Americans resulting in a period that he considers "the most beautiful" era of food in America. And as if applying mathematical theory to the design and programming of computer software, you can see the fusion of this philosophy and Brock's culinary skills by perusing the menu at Husk, which by the way, changes almost hourly depending upon what is coming through the kitchen doors.

As I mentioned earlier, I don't intend for this to be interpreted as a standard restaurant review because for us, that casual lunch spent with "best friends" from childhood in a sunny corner of the front porch at Husk was about much more than fine food and dining. Although the Husk Cheeseburger, the fried green tomatoes and baked grits with mushrooms and cheese was worthy of a robust review. Interestingly enough the actual menu from the day that we visited Husk is available in the menu archives section of the web page by clicking here (this feature on the Husk website shows the genius of Brock et al.)

If you are lucky enough to live in The Land of Palm Trees or if planning a visit to the Lowcountry, you don't want to miss the experience of Husk. But do plan ahead, it is not a walk-up spur of the moment type of place. I urge you to make reservations, for instance, the day we visited I overheard a lady at an adjacent table saying she had waited 2 hours for the opportunity to experience the "reality of southern food."

Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Summer Goodness From The Kitchen Garden

It is absolutely blissful to be able to stroll into my rather smallish backyard and emerge with an armful of fresh produce. Yesterday afternoon, in between Beryl's rain bands, while we hung out at the pool with some friends a spur of the moment Memorial Day cookout was contrived. It was more of a suggestion, "hey why don't you guys bring your stuff, we will put it with our stuff and feast," but it turned out to be a great idea. The mound of summer squash had been accumulating in the vegetable basket that resides on our kitchen counter so I decided to empty the basket and raid the pantry and refrigerator to "create" some goodness. I hurriedly checked the internet for a squash casserole recipe that would meet two requirements, it must be quick (we were headed to the neighbors house in about an hour) and since a trip to the grocery store was not happening the ingredient list had to match our provisions. Well, I found a couple of possibilities but it just wasn't exactly what I had in mind, so as I often do, I went into "modification mode." And what resulted was, well, I think pretty darn good.

So, I wanted to share with you. I regret that I didn't take the time to snap a picture of the tureen as it emerged all hot and bubbly from the oven, I told you we were in a real hurry as I could still hear the dish bubbling as I placed the dish into the back of the car for the short drive. I could have provided a picture of the empty casserole afterwards, but other than providing an affirmative exclamation point, it just wouldn't add much to the post.

The story here just isn't another cooking piece, nor is it to convey the benefits of square foot gardening, although both topics are satisfied by my contribution to this blog today. Nope, the story ends with an impromptu gathering of families around a large formal southern style dining room table in a tastefully and smartly decorated southern dining room enjoying a spontaneous and very informal holiday supper, on paper plates. Ahhh, summertime! And the livin' is EEEEEEEEZZZZZZY!

Summer Squash Medley
1 zucchini squash
1 pat-a-pan squash
1 yellow summer squash
3 eggs beaten
1/2 cup milk
1 cup Italian seasoned bread crumbs
2 cups stuffing mix
1 cup grated parm/romano cheese
1/2 onion
1/2 stick of butter cut into 1/4 inch slabs
bacon grease
salt and pepper

1- Slice Onion and seperate into rings, prep squash into 1/2 inch slices
2- Simmer onion and squash in a large skillet in bacon grease until tender (don't over cook)
3- Place squash and onions into large bowl and add the rest of the ingredients, saving the beaten eggs for last.
4- Gently toss to mix and place the mixture into an adequately sized glass casserole dish
5- Sprinkle extra bread crumbs and grated parm/romano on top
6- Bake at 375 for 40 minutes
7- Remove from oven, cover with foil and allow to sit for at least 15 minutes before serving

Monday, May 28, 2012

Lest We Forget

I hope that somewhere in the midst of grilled foods, potato salad, cold beer and back yard corn-hole tournaments you will take the time today to remember our fallen military heroes. The Memorial Day Holiday, is a true American Classic providing us with the opportunity to not only honor and memorialize those who gave the supreme sacrifice for the freedoms that we enjoy, but also a time to remember loved ones and family members who no longer are with us.

Of course, for many, the holiday ushers in the Summer Season and the easy livin' that goes along with Summer. In fact, in many areas of the country Summer is defined as the period of time from Memorial Day until Labor Day. Not here in the Lowcountry, our summer starts earlier and lasts much later. Although, the beach traffic does "crank up" significantly during this weekend.

Here in The Land of Palm Trees today we will dodge rain-bands associated with the landfall of Tropical Storm Beryl as well as pausing to reflect on those who we love and miss beyond belief. The day serves as a reminder that freedom is not free. While you enjoy a classic American holiday enjoy another American Classic from Elvis.

Sunday, May 13, 2012

I Wonder

This is the 12th Mother's Day that I have woke up without a Mom to call and wish Happy Mother's Day. I this piece will warm your heart as it did mine when I wrote it.

Hmmm, I wonder… Tonight on the eve of Mother’s Day I have spent some time remembering my mother reflecting on my childhood and the time spent growing up in that little ranch style stone house back in West Virginia. I have found myself wondering, a lot. Life sure was different in rural West Virginia back in 1972 for a certain skinny red-headed nine year old boy named Doug. Mother’s Day in 1972 occurred on Sunday, May 14th. ( I didn’t remember that, I googled it) I wonder about Saturday evening, May 13th in 1972. I so wish I could remember but I honestly can’t, so I will have to imagine; but that’s fine, because based upon my memories life was pretty simple back then. I have to believe that the evening started with baths and showers for everybody in the house. Nightly baths were regularity in our house back in the day.

Every evening sometime after sundown, my parents would shower, put on their pajamas and head for the living room to watch television. The Saturday night lineup would usually start with The Lawrence Welk Show and sometimes Hee-Haw followed by The Love Boat and finally Fantasy Island. As I said earlier, times were different then, most homes only had one television and the entire family would gather in one room for the evening and watch the tube together. There were no IPads or smart phones, nobody had to constantly check their Facebook news feed or tweet important updates, it was just the family that was all we knew.
Those Saturday nights were special indeed. In addition to the television watching there were other Saturday night rituals in our house. Like some sort of bedtime snack, maybe a bowl of cereal or popcorn and sometimes ICE CREAM. In many ways I was a mama’s boy, back in the day that was common. Most young boys were closer to their mother; after all, they spent more of their day with their mothers. As my older brother and sister always liked to point out, I was the baby of the family. So, expectedly I would end up on the loveseat next to my mom while my father reclined on the couch, usually snoring halfway through The Love Boat, waking up every so often only to insist “I’m not sleeping”. But not mom and I, no sir, we were sailing off to exotic locations with Captain Stubing and the Cruise Director Julie, on The Love Boat. Usually by the time that “da plane” was descending onto Fantasy Island my mother had coaxed me into “fixing her hair” for her. I was destined to become a hair stylist by the time I was eight-years old, thank goodness for my uncle the pharmacist who rescued me from my destined occupation. But seriously, my mother loved to have her hair brushed and she would sit on the floor for hours whilst I brushed, teased and styled her hair. She was a hard worker, extremely responsive to the needs of her family and household and while we had a good life, as I look back I realize that my mother didn’t have many pleasures or luxuries to comfort her so I am glad that she enjoyed her regular living room floor coiffure.

While my father continued to snore during Fantasy Island, by now he was well past periodically waking up and insisting that he wasn’t asleep, my mom would always say how much she would love to go to Hawaii some day. To which I would promptly reply that one day “I am going to live in Hawaii mom, and you can come live with me.” She always knowingly smiled, obviously realizing that it was nice to dream about such things. And so, I continue to sit here and wonder… Happy Mother’s Day Mom, Aloha.

Saturday, May 5, 2012

Just A Simple Saturday In Vacation Land

The best kinds of Saturdays in The Land of Palm Trees are the ones where you start the day with a clean slate and no firm plans. These are the Saturdays that start with sleeping in until the morning sunshine leaking through the plantation shutters gently wake you up and a fresh brewed cup of Starbucks brings you into the world on the back patio listening to the sea gulls squawk over head.

It was an enjoyable morning to spend working in the kitchen gardens. I harvested some romaine lettuce and cultivated around my peppers and tomato plants. My gardens are doing sooooo good this year, I just hope that the harvest is as bountiful as the early growth of vines and plants. I was so inspired by my garden that we headed down to the Summerville Farmer's Market, to browse and see what kind of goodies we could "harvest" from the market. I am very impressed with this years version of the market, so many more vendors this year, and their offering is pleasantly expanded. New this year, the King of Pops gourmet popsicles (I had a bannana pudding popsicle and Michelle tried the Strawberry/Lemonade), the Cookie Chick, delectable cupcakes, tomato pies, fresh local shrimp, local seafood, along with some new wood artists, and awesome brownie vendors. More on the market and some of the specialty vendors to come throughout the summer.

Even though a slight threat of isolated thunderstorms is mentioned in the Lowcountry forecast, we are headed to the pool for a few hours and then a little "porch" party with fellow blogger, Charleston Treasures, Lisa and "the mister." That's how we roll here in the land of easy livin'. Hope you have a rewarding and relaxing Cinco de Mayo. Find an Irish pub to go to and celebrate with some green beer.

Thursday, May 3, 2012

Any Excuse For A Party

I love holidays, especially the traditional ones. By traditional, I mean New Years, Easter, Memorial Day, Independence Day, Labor Day, Thanksgiving and Christmas. In addition, there are other "days" throughout the year that are fairly mainstream days of note as well, such as Valentines Day, Halloween and St. Patty's Day. Not to mention other days of commemorative importance including Veteran's Day, Mother's Day and Father's Day. Then of course, there are the "personal" holidays, like birthdays, anniversaries and such. For various reasons, I enjoy them all. I guess when you get down to it, hardly a month goes by where a fellow can't find a reason to celebrate something. Of course, I didn't even touch on the "no other reason than an excuse for a party" days, like Super Bowl Sunday and of course Cinco de Mayo. I have never gotten to caught up in the whole Cinco de Mayo craze, although I love mexican food and the adult beverages that accompany it.

Recently, my son and I visited the Huger Street location of Taco Boy which in my opinion is one of the most fun eateries around town.

I think you can see why!

And I noticed the staff was in full preparation mode for the high day in Mexican culture coming up on May 5th(loads of pineapple infusing into the golden elixir of fun).

It got me to thinking about the celebration, and what it really means, other than a day for the Mexican beer and Tequilla manufacturers to boost their marketing and sales efforts to capture additional market share. I did a little research, as in a Google search,and discovered there is some significance to the day other than lime slices stuffed in the neck of a beer bottle or pineapple infused tequilla. Little did I know that this day has a link to the American Civil War, albeit indirectly, and I was really surprised to know that honest Abe Lincoln in a weird sort of way has a hand in a celebration involving an intoxicating worm tainted liquor and beef and bean burritos.

At any rate, here it is 2 days prior to "the big day" and I am wondering, do you have your party spot picked out yet? I have to believe that when "no other reason than an excuse for a party" type holidays occur on a Saturday that the party increases significantly. That coupled with the EXTREME larger than normal full moon predicted for Friday and Saturday should make for an "interesting" crop of Facebook pictures being uploaded over the weekend. I will probably shy away from any public congregational areas associated with Cinco de Mayo this weekend, maybe it would be a good weekend to hit an Irish Pub, like Tommy Condons or Madra Rua since you couldn't get close to either during St. Patty's Day, hopefully all the green beer guzzlers will be chewing on agave worms and enjoying Nachos Grande and there should be plenty of seats at the pub.

Tuesday, May 1, 2012

Heavenly Scents of Spring

From time to time in this old blog about life where the livin’ is easy I allude to the sobering fact that amongst all of the frivolity of easy livin’ in “vacation land” resides the reality of life, as it involves jobs, tuition payments and the daily travails of raising boys into young men. The past 4 days have been everything BUT easy livin’ around here. When one of your children suffers an illness of any type, it adds a certain type of stress to your life, but when that illness involves ambulance rides and visits to Children’s hospitals the effect on a parent can best be described as a gut wrenching vice that wrings the optimism and encouragement right out of your heart. By the grace of God, it doesn’t appear that our son’s health issues involve anything extremely serious and we are hopeful that the initial reports are confirmed by ongoing tests, but I am reminded that these are times that try men’s souls.

To say that I was ready for a bit of a respite in the form of a walk around the golf course early this morning is an understatement. I was feeling adventurous so I even took my golf clubs with me. There are few places in this world that I enjoy in the early morning hours than a golf course, walking, by myself. The sights and sounds of the golf course are unique in the early hours of the day. The birds, water fowl, and squirrels are much more active in the mornings. It’s hard to explain to somebody who hasn’t spent a lot of time on a golf course but the rhythmic droning of a mowing machine in the distance blended along with the calls of the brightest colored little blue birds and the occasional squall from a sea gull provides a relaxing background conducive to getting lost within the moment. If all of this weren’t enough, the month of May in Charleston, South Carolina is a magical time of the year when the air is heavy laden with the unmistakable fragrance of confederate jasmine.

The smell of confederate jasmine is one which you will never forget, the treat that it supplies to your senses embodies the romance and ambience of the old South every bit as well as the sight of Spanish moss hanging from a live oak tree. This morning, on the golf course, the spell cast by the sweet smelling jasmine can best be described as intoxicating. I was so relaxed by the experience that I didn’t even mind the occasional errant drive off of the tee, or the splash of a golf ball in a lagoon or even the big beady eyes on that log sticking up out of the water, huh? What? Oh my, that’s not a log and it’s no longer sticking up out of the water, it just disappeared as I walked to within five foot of the reptile looking him right in the eyes as he lazily disappeared under water.

Jasmine is as much a part of the history of Charleston and the old South as uniforms of blue and grey, or stories of cannon balls and muskets dating back to colonial times. In fact, Civil War era author, Mary Boykin Chestnut most often remembered for her published diary of the Civil War where she described the war from her perspective within the upper-class circles of Southern planter society, describes the South Carolina countryside in the spring as being “laden with opopanaz, violets, jasmine, crab apple blossoms, roses. Araby the blest never was sweeter perfume.”

Quite honestly, confederate jasmine is everywhere in Charleston, not just on golf courses. I even have my very own confederate jasmine starting to spread along the fence in my back yard, all part of the plan for my back yard oasis inspired by the wonderful gardens of downtown Charleston. I wish that this blog provided me with the ability to send a sample fragrance to you, but if you have ever been blessed with the experience of smelling jasmine in the southern air during Spring, all you really have to do is close your eyes and remember.

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Give to Caesar What Is His!!!

Back in February I did a piece on my “square foot garden” project click here. My back yard is not large, in fact, it’s rather small. My goal is to create an oasis, a garden-spot inspired by the beautiful gardens in downtown Charleston. I want a show-place to entertain and relax in, a work in progress. I plan to maximize the limited space, and part of my back yard garden will always be dedicated to my version of the “kitchen garden.” I have never pushed the envelope on maximizing my vegetable yield per square foot before, but I am doing that this year. My plan is simple, Square foot gardening.
When I prepared the two beds I created a plan that established 1 foot by 1 foot squares on a grid. Within those 1 foot squares I would plant the vegetables and herbs that I hoped would allow me to experience a bountiful harvest of tomatoes, peppers, okra, eggplant, onions, lettuce, spinach, cabbage, beans, squash and cucumbers, as well as herbs. Thanks to an earlier than usual onset of Spring weather in The Land of Palm Trees, I was able to get an early start on some of my “warm season” veggies, and I am happy to report that I already have tomatoes setting on the vines (no I did not buy plants with tomatoes already on the vine either.) I am still several weeks away from ripe tomatoes, peppers and cucumbers, but I have been harvesting a heaping helping of Romaine lettuce. Over the past week we have enjoyed several salads made with lettuce from our garden, and the fresh taste is WONDERFUL. This evening I put together a Caesar Salad just using some romaine, cherry tomatoes sliced in half and dressing. No anchovies in my Caesar though.
Being the “fledgling” historian that I am, I couldn’t help but find some logic in the fact that I was enjoying a salad bearing the name of “Caesar” from Romaine lettuce grown in a square foot garden. After all Julius Caesar’s reformist policies in Ancient Rome are credited with awarding lands to his soldiers and giving the common plebeians the chance to own their own lands thereby providing many the means to feed themselves, which helped to ease the problems of unemployment and poverty among the people. The only flaw in my logic is that, well it is flawed. Why, you may wonder? Well, it sounds good but unfortunately the “Caesar” in “Caesar Salad” is not Julius, but is instead the salad’s creator, restaurateur Caesar Cardini an Italian immigrant who operated restaurants in Mexico and the United States. At any rate, my salad tonight was good, even though as far as Caesar Salads go, it was fairly simple and plain. There are a lot of various ingredients that can be used to “dress” a Caesar, like chicken, shrimp or bacon to name some of my favorites but by design, the star of tonight’s show was the Romaine harvested from my square foot garden just minutes before being plated as a side salad for dinner. If you haven’t attempted square foot gardening, what are you waiting for? It’s not too late, and you can do it, trust me. Hopefully soon there will be other fresh ingredients being hauled into our kitchen from the back yard, and you can bet that I will keep you posted.

Friday, April 20, 2012

Lights, Camera and Action

I'm really not sure which season is more pleasant here in the Land of Palm Trees, Spring or Fall? Both times of the year have distinct attributes and provide reasons to fall in love with the great Lowcountry weather. Fall is somewhat refreshing, welcome relief from the oppressive humidity thanks to the Atlantic Ocean in our front yard. Spring, however, is equally as comfortable but also provides a colossal treat for the senses thanks to the colorful flowers that dot the April landscape. Both seasons provide lots of excitement for sports lovers, baseball is king during the spring months and the pigskin rules the roost from September through January. So much of our lifestyle here in the Lowcountry centers around the water. Of course, the beaches of Charleston provide a tremendous recreation opportunity for residents and visitors alike, but the various tidal creeks, rivers, salt marshes, lakes and ponds offer something for everyone when it comes to outdoor enthusiasm. The waters are full of life and provide the perfect habitat for some pretty interesting birds and other wildlife. It is not uncommon to see Bald Eagles and Fish Eagles (aka Osprey) hovering over the water then suddenly diving hundreds of feet down to the water surface to grab a fish in their efficient talons. Over Easter weekend my brother and I enjoyed watching a Fish Eagle perform this maneuver in a neighborhood lake merely a pitching wedge shot from my front porch. We have also enjoyed watching a couple, as in pair, of Osprey nesting in a rather large nest made of tree branches and limbs on one of the baseball field light poles at Northwood Academy in North Charleston. It is somewhat entertaining to watch the majestic birds of prey during baseball games as they swoop in with fish in tow to feed their family in the nest overlooking first base. A unique and entertaining feature of high school baseball in the Lowcountry.
Of course, not all baseball fields in the Land of Palm Trees come with raptors and graceful large birds. And I might add that there are plenty of opportunities to see eagles and ospreys other than at baseball fields. One of my favorite activities, recreational kayaking is an excellent way to get up close and personal not only with birds of prey, but also many other birds, such as pelicans, egret and marsh wrens. And if feathery animals with wings don't get you too excited you always have the possibility of seeing dolphins and other fish and wildlife from your kayak perched on the surface of the river. If you would like to learn more about kayaking, I suggest that you visit the East Coast Canoe and Kayak Festival, Saturday at the James Island County Park. The festival provides an incredible array of learning opportunities for anybody who is interested in kayaking. Not only are their classes and demonstrations, but you can actually visit with several vendors and try out some great equipment before you make the decision to buy it. So if you have been itching to get out on the water, but aren't sure that you could handle maneuvering a fiberglass canoe along the water, Saturday is your chance to learn a little bit and maybe give it a trial run.

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Sweet Sweet Solitude

There is just something about a comfortable chair on the front porch, late on a mid-April evening that sharpens the senses. It is almost a religious experience, a calm moment in a sea of chaos that is life in this busy world. Most of the neighborhood has long since retired for the evening and up and down my street front porches are softly lit with the warm glow of table lamps, standing guard over the house through the night. It is very quiet here in my sanctuary, save for the occasional hum of an air conditioning unit or the distant bark of a dog. This is my time, time for a few chapters in a book and a glass of ice water, maybe a sip of bourbon. Time for pondering, searching for answers, and resting. The light breeze hits me in the face, as my house is oriented to the East and most evenings the sea breezes gently make their way westward from the Atlantic Ocean toward my inland location.

Our cat, Kitty Lee, likes this time of the day as well. He enjoys the company on the porch, seems very comfortable doesn't he? I enjoy his company as well, he listens, quite good. Never answers, never offers his opinions, he just listens. Oh I guess occasionally he looks up at me, wrinkles his nose and squints his eyes as if to say, "Really." But for the most part, he just listens, and watches me.

I am blessed in many ways by this idle time. It recharges me, it comforts me, and it completes me. But most of all, in this quiet solitude I feel that I am just where I need to be. I hear the squeak of a door opening and gazing down the street searching for the source of the sound that has disturbed my moment, I see a man emerge from his home and choose a spot in a comfortable chair on a lamp lit porch, and I am happy for him, because I know that he is about to begin to enjoy the quiet as well. As I take my last few sips of bourbon, and close my book for the night, I quietly slip off of the porch into the security of my home, ever so quietly, like in Church, so as to not disturb his peaceful moment. Good Night, friends. Good Night!