Sunday, January 29, 2012

As Steel Sharpens Steel

One of my co-workers at Bon Secours St. Francis Hospital said to me the other day, “You sure don’t seem to let things bother you much.” As my wife and kids read this quotation they will probably drop and roll on the floor laughing, but I do try and stay calm, cool and collected when practicing my profession; although I wasn’t always that way. I believe that each of us is a product of life's experiences. For me, it was an event that sharpened me and made me realize the importance of staying cool and forging ahead even when under intense pressure. Since the incident in early 2006 there really hasn’t been much happen to me professionally that has caused me to rock back on my heels.

At the time I was working at St. Joseph’s Hospital in Buckhannon, West Virginia. My job title was Vice President of Diagnostic Services, an important sounding name for the person who basically had administrative responsibility for the Pharmacy, Imaging and Clinical Laboratory departments at the hospital. You may remember that on January 2, 2006 there was a terrible explosion in the Sago Coal Mine in central West Virginia that had trapped several coal miners’ miles below the surface within the mine. Well that particular coal mine happened to be a mere 10 miles from my hospital, and due to the incident the hospital had been placed on a heightened state of readiness. Over the next 48 hours we began to prepare and rehearse for what our role could eventually become: all possibilities were considered and the administrative team along with the management group held tabletop drills to make sure that we were ready. The hospital was involved directly in the rescue efforts and we had deployed assets to assist with the operation; physicians, nurses, food, medications and bedding for the family members holding vigil at the site.

In the early morning hours of January 4, 2006 we received the initial reports that rescuers had located the trapped miners 2.5 miles into the coal mine. What happened over the next twelve hours still to this day is a surreal experience to me, a twelve hour period of time, an emotional roller coaster ride, twelve hours that seemed like 30 minutes. As you know, the initial reports indicated that all twelve miners had been located and were fine. As it turned out, those reports were inaccurate; a terrible error of communication from within the mine to the command center on the surface had lead to the reports. While the world was watching Geraldo Rivera and other internationally known correspondents gleefully report the news of recovery, a courageous St. Joseph’s ER physician was deep in the mine providing life support to the only critical survivor of the explosion. I was with other members of the administrative team when we received notice that the initial reports of twelve survivors was incorrect and instead we would be receiving one patient, suffering from exposure and severe carbon monoxide poisoning and that we could not confirm any of this information until the Governor had a chance to address the family members gathered at the church. In that moment, the gravity of what I had just been told, and the knowledge of how things would unfold over the next 30-60 minutes changed something inside of me. We knew that within minutes the news would break that one, not twelve, had been rescued and was in route to our hospital.

As soon as I had touched base with all of my direct reports, I found a quiet spot, a bathroom down the hall from the ER, near the entrance to the OR where we had established a multi-bay triage area that would not be needed on that night, and I prayed. I prayed for the victims, I prayed for their families, I prayed for our staff and I prayed for myself. Then, I opened the door and proceeded to meet the next 6 hours head-on.

As I drove home that evening, tired and suffering from the effects of an adrenalin rush of epic proportions long since declined, I realized, nothing that I would ever encounter professionally going forward could challenge me in the ways that I had been tested over those three days. I was proud of my hospital, my co-workers and my community. As the sun set that evening in my rear view mirror I realized, after twenty-plus years of professional experience, this event had prepared me for anything that lies ahead, and because of that, at least in my professional life, I don't get too excited about anything that happens. I had learned that if you prepare and meet a crisis head-on with a can do attitude and keep your cool, you will accomplish what needs to be accomplished. In a sense, I guess you could say that the disaster and my role within had sharpened me, as steel sharpens steel.

Saturday, January 28, 2012

Golf, A Good Walk Spoiled? Not!!!

There is just something about a Lowcountry golf course in April that makes you feel complete. The warm sunshine beaming down from an almost indigo sky, the birds singing in the long leaf pines and the smell of fresh cut Bermuda. Not to mention the azaleas, I have never seen azaleas as vibrant and colossal as those on a South Carolina golf course. That pretty much describes my day today, well at least up until the part about the fresh cut Bermuda and azaleas. You see you just can’t find any freshly mowed Bermuda grass or hot pink azalea blooms in January. But otherwise, that’s how it has looked and felt this week.

Even the spring peepers (small chorus frogs) were out in force Tuesday celebrating spring in January, they could be heard anytime I was close to a pond, lagoon or marsh. The weather wasn’t the only thing that was enjoyable about Tuesday’s round of golf. I had the rare pleasure of playing in a foursome with three other walkers or “hoofers” as some would say. Golfers who walk and either carry their golf bags or push them on a push-cart are becoming a more frequent sight on Lowcountry golf courses and for good reason. They are becoming increasingly aware of the health benefits of walking and playing golf as opposed to riding around the course on a motorized golf car. At my club, Summerville Country Club, I often play in the noon weekday blitz and three years ago, out of the 20-30 golfers who regularly played in the daily group there were maybe a total of 3 or 4 golfers who would walk while playing on a regular basis. Tuesday, that total was easily doubled, if not tripled in number. And it’s a trend that I observe at other golf courses around Charleston that I visit from time to time.

Health benefits aside, I enjoy the game so much more as a walker. It is said that Mark Twain referred to Golf as "a good walk spoiled" although even though the comment fits Twain, he probably never really said that, but the beauty of the golf course, the sounds the wildlife, and the chance to reflect on all matters of import while strolling along through the pines and manicured bermuda grass all add to my overall pleasure with the experience. Tuesday's round was really special, because it reminded me of how golf must have been before 1952 when the Marketeer Company began producing the first electric golf carts that were widely used by golfers to traverse the golf course. I usually enjoy my playing partners even when they are riding carts from tee to green, but the sight of four golfers walking abreast down a wide fairway, conversing, sharing stories, and telling jokes between shots is a thing of beauty, and a rare sight on golf courses today. Don’t get me wrong, I am not anti-golf cart. There are many golfers in our group who could not play the game without the convenience of the golf cart, and for that reason alone I am grateful that they are available. But, there will always be something chivalrous about the spectacle of a foursome of hoofers approaching the 18th green for the final prelude to the fabled 19th hole. Besides after walking the course, the cold beverages taste so much better.

Thursday, January 26, 2012

Awesomely Easy Chicken Fajitas

At the Hacienda de Hammondos Mexican night is always greeted with enthusiasm and happiness especially when the menu features my nearly famous Chicken Fajitas. I have to be honest, there really isn’t anything that special about my fajitas, after all, fajitas are pretty basic Mexican fare, other than they taste so fresh and so home-made and I use much larger chunks of chicken than what you would find when ordering fajitas at your favorite Mexican cantina.

I believe that great dishes always begin with great ingredients, so I am a little picky about the fixings for my fajitas. I start with boneless skinless chicken breasts and fresh bell peppers, red chills, Spanish onion, and a sweet onion.

First off, I chunk the onions, cut the green peppers into strips and dice the chili peppers. Next I cut the chicken breasts into bite size chunks about the size of a sea scallop.

The second step of prep work on the fajitas is where the magic takes place. I place the chicken chunks into a large bowl and season them with sea salt, black pepper, chili powder, cumin and an Old El Paso cheesy taco seasoning packet. This process mimics a dry rub and I let the seasoned chicken rest for an hour or two in the refrigerator, absorbing the spices.

I go ahead and sauté the vegetables in a wok, until the onions just become translucent and the pepper strips are crisp-tender, then I remove the vegetables from the Wok and place them in a warming bowl and lightly season them with chili powder, cumin and black pepper. This is a crucial step because it is important that the vegetables maintain a bit of a crisp texture, yet be sautéed enough to be tender. I set the vegetables aside and right before serving the fajitas I reheat them in the microwave.

The chicken chunks are then fried over medium-high heat in a wok or iron skillet and the cooking process along with the cheesy taco seasoning dry rub tends to create what I will describe as a “gravy” and it is this “gravy” that makes my fajitas so unique. To finish the dish, I warm the tortillas on a griddle and accompany the vegetables and the chicken with sour cream, four-cheese Mexican cheese, salsa verde and hot sauce.

My family probably enjoys Mexican food almost as much as Italian food, although Italian still wins in a close race, which actually reminds me of another nice thing about this fajita recipe. If you have enough chicken, peppers and onion left over it makes an excellent base for a killer chicken cacciatore the next day. It’s a creative and delicious use of your left over fajita fixings indeed, and thrifty as well. I usually start by stirring a cup or two of red wine into the left over veggies and chicken and heat just until it starts to simmer, then I add my favorite spaghetti sauce and simmer for about 20 minutes. While the sauce is simmering, prepare your angel hair pasta. Plate the pasta after draining and use a slotted spoon to top the pasta with the cacciatore ragout, that way the pasta sauce is heavy on the peppers and chicken. It’s yummy and resourceful.

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

How Does She Do It?

Those of you who visit this site often know that my day job is actually a night job. What I am trying to say is that in order to pay the bills and tuition for my sons I work professionally as a midnight shift pharmacist in a hospital here in Charleston. I am convinced that it takes a person with certain characteristics to work an overnight job, not necessarily “special” abilities, but certain qualities. For instance one such attribute required is the ability to keep things in perspective. To illustrate why proper perspective is important to an over-night worker: I say there is no difference in working the midnight shift or the 7am – 3 pm day shift. The day shift worker is tied up all day on the job and sleeps all night, the night shift worker works all night and is tied up all day long in the bed. See, the net result is equal. That’s perspective for you.

Another requirement for a midnight shift worker, especially a hospital pharmacist, is a great sense of humor. Once again, the clever reader may question; how so? Clearly because at times if you couldn’t laugh you just might cry. Like during those times when you have an ICU full of critical patients constantly needing IV drips prepared and delivered, four moms in labor needing delivery meds to ease the delivery, a newborn requiring IV antibiotics prepared to treat a life-threatening infection, a cardiac arrest patient in the ED needing a clot busting IV drug stat with the drug dose calculated based upon the patients weight and the IV prepared and delivered to the ED, and the hospitalist has just written orders for the pharmacist to calculate Vancomycin doses and order the pertinent lab tests to monitor the dose on 3 of his patients. And you probably wondered why a hospital would need a pharmacist on duty at night. Please note: we don’t fill prescriptions like the drug store pharmacist.

I do have a good sense of humor, well at least I think I am funny. My wife probably doesn’t think so, especially after our conversation on Friday Evening. I simply asked her what she had planned for her Saturday off. After she told me her plans, I proudly said to her, knowing that I would be leaving for work soon, “I think I am just going to sleep all day long, do nothing just plop my lazy butt into the bed and sleep all day.” I went on to say, “you know, I’m leaving here in a bit, and I’m going to be out all night long, don’t look for me until daylight.” Really chugging along at this point, I then broke the news to her, “you know where I am headed for the night is going to be a hopping place, the only bad thing is, there seems to be drugs everywhere you turn.” (insert drum roll please)
I really don’t know how that woman puts up with me.

Monday, January 23, 2012

That's Entertainment!! Something For Everybody

During the past year, Charleston has racked up one award after another as a world class travel destination, and like most Charleston based writers and bloggers I have lauded these accolades ad nauseum right here in From The Land of Palm Trees. Understandably when the place where you live and work is ranked with Paris, Oahu and London as one of the most desired travel spots in the world, you have to step back and scream, “hey world, this is my neck of the woods they are talking about.”

And I might add, the recognition is well deserved, but for me there is another perspective on Charleston not just as a travel destination, but also as a relocation destination, a place to call home. For all of the same reasons that Charleston is a great city to vacation in, it is also a great city to live in. One thing we never find ourselves saying is “there is just nothing to do.” It is really nice to be able to look at an event guide in one of the local entertainment guides, The Charleston Scene or Charleston City Paper Events Guide, (click on the links and see for yourself) and plan your days in the sunshine and your nights out on the town. You can’t do it all, but you can do what you want to do and you don’t have to drive 3 hours to get there. That’s nice for visitors to the Holy City, but it is over-the-top way too cool for those of us who are lucky enough to live here year round.

For instance, let’s look at mid-January through March. First off: the foodie scene, as you know from reading From The Land of Palm Trees in mid-January you have Charleston Restaurant Week, that actually lasts two weeks, giving residents and visitors world class dining experiences for pennies on the dollar.

Next up, for the music lover, beginning February 2nd and going through March 18th at the North Charleston Coliseum and Performing Arts Center you have the opportunity to see Jimmy Buffett, Darius Rucker Singing Frank Sinatra,Miranda Lambert,Celtic Woman,Need To Breathe,Elton John,Trans Siberian Orchestra and The Moody Blues.

In addition to the concerts, the North Charleston Coliseum and Performing Arts Center also hosted the CNN Republican Presidential Campaign Debate on January 19th, and speaking of under-the-big-top style entertainment the real circus, The Ringling Brothers and Barnum and Bailey Circus comes to the coliseum February 29th through March 4th. Not to mention for the fans of Broadway, the Best of Broadway Series presents Mary Poppins at the Performing Arts Center February 1st to the 4th. Now, if you can’t find something to satisfy your entertainment needs in that lineup, you might want to borrow your neighbor’s bi-focals and peruse the list a second time. The best part, anybody who lives in the Charleston Metro Area can be at the venue for all of those shows within a half-hour, driveway to doorway. Of course, for the Buffett show the coliseum lots open at noon for those who want to join the Parrot Head Party early.

But I digress, if it all sounds like a tourism sales pitch to come and visit Charleston you are half right. It is a sales pitch, but not to potential visitors. The world has too many opportunities for somebody who is not satisfied with their current situation to just sit idly by and let unhappiness and the fear of making a break hold you back. As the tag line From The Land of Palm Trees reads, “If you haven’t the strength to impose your own terms upon life, you must accept the terms it offers you.” If your own terms find you looking for a new place to call home, you might just want to take a look South to Charleston, South Carolina. On the other hand, no matter where you call home if you are happy where you are today, you are indeed blessed and you should be applauded for living your dreams. That’s what From The Land of Palm Trees is all about.

Sunday, January 22, 2012

I Want My Sweet Tea!!!

I never really gave it much thought in my youth, the thought that the older that you get, the faster time and life seemed to travel. But now that I am a mature pup as Garfield would say, “I resemble that remark.” The first month of 2012 is jetting toward the finish line, full speed ahead. 2012, the year that I FINALLY get my body back into shape, not “game weight” shape from back in the day, but at least a healthy 50 year old kind of shape. That’s right; there you have it the cat is out of the bag. Later this year in September I will turn 50 years old. And yes when 2012 ends I will weigh considerably less, my endurance will be improved and I will be able to tell you, “I told you so.” Or else, I will just hit delete button and erase this post from the archives, FOREVER. Just kidding, I won’t be doing that.

The end of January serves as a reminder to me, that you just can’t will yourself to better health. Oh of course, I have been faithful to my goal of doing a 2.6 mile walk/run four days per week. I had hoped to begin my life as an ESAC (East Shore Athletic Club) Member but the new Summerville location isn’t quite ready yet, soon, I hope, soon. So while I wait patiently for spin class and weight training opportunities I continue to walk and attempt to mix in a little jogging here and there. While I have been a little more conscious of attempting to eat “healthier” the casual approach to my diet that I have taken for the first three weeks of the New Year just isn’t going to cut it. So, this week, I have called out the reinforcements. I have made a tremendous commitment from a dietary standpoint. I am eliminating bread, that’s right, ALL forms of bread from every meal and/or snack, but that’s not all. I am also begging off of sugar and sweets, not in a total carb restriction way, but an aggressive sugar busting approach to what I eat.

The bread thing, oh that’s a minor inconvenience, although I will miss those morning bagels and cream cheese. But, the sugar thing? Oh my, I want my sweet tea!!! I can deal with breaking off from the relationship I had developed with Little Debbie. I can even adjust to not using those delectable flavored coffee creamers (Almond Joy and Italian Sweet Cream) in my daily cup of coffee. (NOTE: After my last episode of A-Fib I went from 6-8 cups a day to ONE) But no sweet tea is a major sacrifice for this guy. Oh I know there are always other sweeteners that can be added to a big old glass of iced tea. Yeah Right. It’s not the same, and YOU KNOW IT. So, I will rally around the cause, I can do this, at least I think I can. No, I must. And, I will. That’s all. I will, you will see.

Saturday, January 21, 2012

Charleston Does It Again

The Holy City, my Charleston, has done it again. Another high-profile travel industry award announcement has placed Charleston, South Carolina in elite company. Fodor's, the travel guide people, have placed Charleston on its current list of "Top 21 Places" to go in the WORLD. What's more, only one other destination on the list of 21 is in the United States, Oahu in Hawaii, made the list. What are even more impressive are the other locations that made the list: Paris, London, and Budapest for example. Fodor’s editors made the announcement last week dividing their “Go List” into one of four categories: Buzzy Destinations (new energy suffuses there rural and urban hubs), Emerging Hotspots(cutting edge locales that are ahead of the curve), Great Values(underrated and overlooked destinations) and Noteworthy Events(timely trips).

photo from

My beloved Charleston was named to the list primarily due to the Southern food revival that is currently underway. Thanks to Chefs like Sean Brock (Husk/McCrady’s) and Kevin Johnson (Grocery) as well as others who are using traditional and locally grown southern ingredients to re-introduced a style and flavor that has been missing in Southern food for decades. Of course, great nouveau Southern food isn’t the only thing that’s hot in Charleston according to Fodor’s; World Class and luxurious hotels and inns as well as the great climate; especially March to June makes Historic Charleston a top choice.

photo from

This has been an interesting week for our kingdom by the sea with the eyes of America somewhat focused on the entire state of South Carolina, but especially the Lowcountry as the GOP Presidential hopefuls and their entourages along with the army of media outlets have invaded The Land of Palm Trees. It’s hard to tune in to a cable based news show this week that isn’t originating from some coffee shop, hotel lobby or diner in vacation land. I imagine that the tourists who are currently visiting are exuberant that the announcement of this latest award became public during their time in paradise. It probably adds a little value to the cost of their vacation, gives them a little boost of feeling like "a job well done." A few more reasons to boast to their office mates and neighbors about their little get away. Maybe it provides for a slight increase in urgency to get out there and see the sights, snap the pictures, enjoy the restaurants and buy those souvenirs.

But what really makes me wonder, is how do these awards and accolades and the exposure that comes with the release of them make my fellow Lowcountry residents feel. You know, there are thousands of guests going to bed tonight in the many hotel and inn beds across the holy city, but there are hundreds of thousands of permanent residents in the Charleston Metro area who will go through their nightly routines this evening before turning out the lamp on their bedside tables and settling in for a southern slumber in Americas friendliest, most polite and most desired travel destination in the world. How might those people view the awards?

Well I can't speak for them, although I would assume that some of them really couldn’t care less, and that some of them may embrace the news. For me, not only do I enjoy hearing about these awards, it gives me a feeling of satisfaction. Affirmation, if you will, in the knowledge that my decision to relocate my family to The Land of Palm Trees was the right thing to do. Like the tourists, many of whom just may be thinking tonight, "why do I want to go back to the cold and snowy weather back home?" I came to the conclusion that if I enjoyed visiting Charleston as a guest, I would really find a lot of satisfaction in becoming a permanent resident. So when these awards and acknowledgements are made public, it reinforces my belief that I made a good choice. It also excites me to know that each award introduces more people to Charleston as a destination, and like anybody who is happy with their place in the world, it is only natural that I enjoy sharing a piece of my world with others.

Today, I am curious. There are a lot of local folks who visit and read From The Land of Palm Trees on a regular basis, some of them bloggers themselves. I would like to ask you, the reader, what does it mean to you when Charleston is recognized either with an award or accolade or an honor such as hosting a major event, such as the recent GOP Debate? Please leave a comment below and help me to provide our out of town friends who read this blog a glimpse into a local’s perspective on the awards. Thanks in advance for your comments.

Friday, January 20, 2012

Thai Cuisine, It's Whats For Supper

Over the past several months I have grown fond of Thai Cuisine. I have always enjoyed Asian food on occasion, it’s not the kind of food that I desire on a regular basis, but when I am in the mood, few cuisines satisfy me and excite my taste buds as Asian food. I have never really thought about what separates Thai food from other Asian cuisines, but I just know that lately if I had to choose between Thai, Chinese, or Japanese: Thai wins every time.

I have dabbled somewhat with preparing some Thai stir fries at home, but up until now my actual experience has been limited to very basic dishes utilizing kits and store bought sauces/condiments. On a recent shopping excursion to Trader Joe’s I picked up some frozen Thai stir-fry vegetables, a bottle of Pad Thai Sauce, some spicy pepper peanut oil and some Sriracha hot chili sauce. I stopped off at the seafood store and secured some delectable and succulent sea scallops and headed for home to prepare some Thai Stir Fry with Scallops over aromatic Jasmine Rice. Quick, simple and D-Lish.

The nicest aspect of cooking most Asian foods is that when the cooking is complete, there aren’t a bunch of pots and pans to wash, the Wok is an amazing implement and when preparing Thai Stir Fry you are basically preparing a 4 course meal in a single dish.

When I wish to learn more about a subject, Google is my best friend so when I decided that it was time for me to improve my knowledge about Thai Cuisine; naturally I turned to my laptop and began to do some research. What I discovered was that my cooking philosophies are somewhat closely aligned with the philosophies and traditions behind Thai food preparation. I also discovered that there is a reason that Thai food seems to be more satisfying and appealing to me than other types of Asian food.

First off, Thai Food is influenced greatly by its neighbors, China and India. In fact, the cornerstone of good Thai cooking comes from ancient Chinese cuisine and makes use of the five fundamental tastes: sweet, salty, bitter, sour and spicy. The combination of all five of these flavors into different ingredients or courses of within the same dish accounts for that unique experience that is Thai Cuisine. Upon researching Thai Cuisine and some basic techniques I have discovered that another characteristic of preparing Thai food closely matches my own cooking methodology. You won’t find many measuring cups being used by Thai Chefs. Consequently another guiding principle of the cuisine is balance. An accomplished Thai cook relies on taste and experience to guide them in the addition of spices and ingredients rather than measuring devices. That also accounts for why Thai food is always a thrill to the senses, whether the dish is predominantly hot and spicy or sweet and sour, each chef will instill his or her own unique tastes and flavor to their signature dishes resulting in the preparation of Thai food being somewhat of an art. Perhaps that is what accounts for my preference of Thai Cuisine over other Asian foods. At any rate, I look forward to learning more about Thai cooking and hopefully I will be preparing my own sauces and curries in no time at all. But in the meantime, even cheating with store bought sauces is quite tasty.

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Mysteries Of Life, Just Talkin' To The Heavens

At what point in your life do you begin to notice the beauty of a sunset or the amazing wonder in the way the clouds and the heavens sometimes dance to the sound of the waves crashing on the beach? What happens to make you content with just hanging out in a beach chair listening to the rhythmic pulse of the waves complimented by the occasional call of the gull as he feeds along the water’s edge? When do we begin to appreciate that life is fleeting, one day here the next day gone and consequently realize that once a day passes and midnight tolls on the next morrow the day immediately past is gone forever?

Where on life’s incredible journey did you and I first realize that life’s not about the breaths you take but the moments that take your breath away? Why do we not begin to see the world through the eyes of our parents and grandparents until long after they have gone? How is it that if a thousand parents from a thousand different towns across America were to make a list of the top twenty things they want their teenagers to know about life that there would be at least 15 of the 20 items identical on every list? And further, why is it that the teenagers of all 1000 parents still tell their parents, “I know, you don’t have to tell me that, I already know that”?

Why do the seconds and the minutes pass so slowly when you are away from somebody that you love, but when you are finally reunited, the days pass like hours? Why is it that when you are sick or in pain, you can’t remember what it felt like to not be sick or pain-free? Why do the hours in our day spent trying to get more stuff outnumber the hours spent being thankful for and enjoying what we already have? Why did we run to the ice cream truck when we were kids, but hope that our own kids don’t hear the ice cream truck coming around the bend? And on a related note, why did we love popsicles when our parents decided whether we could have one and now that it’s our own choice we never buy them for ourselves?

What a blessing it is that nature provides us with beautiful reminders to slow down and think about life every now and then and in doing so reminds us that it really isn’t just about us. Hopefully you can take some time today to reflect on the beauty and wonder of a beach at sunset and the beautiful blue sky that is always there, sometimes God just has to let the clouds clear away in order for you to see it. Many thanks to my friend Sara for the picture here that was taken on Monday evening, January 16, 2012 on Isle of Palms Beach in Charleston, South Carolina.

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

82 Queen

Charleston, my Charleston, is a city whose past is so intertwined with the history of America that her streets, monuments and buildings are a living museum to anybody who visits her. Whether you are a history buff or not, you can’t help to be intrigued and mesmerized by the fact that you are walking down an alley where George Washington once strolled, or perhaps as you admire the architecture of that building on the corner the realization that it was built by first generation sons and daughters of the American Revolution. Or perhaps, as you carefully tip toe across the cobbled stone alleyway you begin to feel the gravity that these stones were used as ballast and were eventually offloaded from ships that came across the Atlantic Ocean hundreds of years ago to a new world, a beautiful and lovely new world.

Today, From The Land of Palm Trees continues with our series on Charleston Restaurant Week by visiting a dining room with a history as rich and intriguing as the charming and romantic city where it is located. If you can, click here to follow a link to the 82 Queen website and spend some time scrolling down through the "ABOUT" section of the site where you will discover that the history of the address, 82 Queen, which just happens to be the name of the restaurant as well, goes back to the late 1600’s when the property was granted to a Barbadian immigrant who built a home and slave quarters on the piece of property that resided within the original walled city of Charlestowne. You will also marvel, I think, that the property has seen earthquakes, fires, and hurricanes and through the nearly four-hundred years has been home to stores, leather shops, and restaurants and that for the past 30 years its current tenant, 82 Queen has racked up awards and recognition from Southern Living and Wine Spectator to name but a couple.

But this evening, she is mine all mine as we make our way into Charleston’s French Quarter to 82 Queen for a 3 for $30.00 night on the town courtesy of Charleston Restaurant Week. The 82 Queen CRW menu poses a bit of a dilemma for this diner, too many choices. But after much deliberation and consternation I arrived at a clear cut choice for my dinner at 82 Queen. For my appetizer I am choosing Pickled Okra Fries with a tasty Carolina Remoulade. I really went back and forth considering the Fried Green Tomatoes served with Country Ham, Cheddar Grits and a Red Pepper Chutney, but in the end what can I say, I love me some okra. Besides, like any true strategist I was planning my next move and I felt like the okra dish would serve as a better prelude to the main event, Chicken and Waffles made with fried chicken on a sweet potato and bacon cornbread waffle smothered in a pecan bourbon reduction. Woooooeeee!!!

Now for desert, the folks at 82 Queen are making this one a mystery to CRW diners, the posted menu just simply reads; Your Server will have tonight’s selection. The optimist in me is hoping for a desert that I have made several times at home because the recipe appears in one of my favorite cookbooks, Charleston Receipts Repeats and combines two of my favorite tastes, strawberry and banana in the 82 Queen Strawberry and Banana Pie. The pie uses a tasty graham cracker crust and is filled with a filling consisting of cream cheese, powdered sugar, walnuts, bananas, strawberries, and cool whip. Yummo!!! But I am sure no matter what the server offers, it will be decadent and southern. Just like the address, 82 Queen.

Don’t forget the great giveaway we are providing for the rest of January. You could win a one-year subscription to AZALEA Magazine just by commenting on this post at the bottom of the post or by choosing to follow From The Land of Palm Trees on Twitter (Doug@landofpalmtrees). AZALEA is a great magazine that captures the charm and essence of life in a small southern town. Don’t miss out on the opportunity. To visit AZALEA click the link to the right of this post near the top of From The Land of Palm Trees.

Monday, January 16, 2012

Holiday Monday Blog Surfing

Today I am enjoying a rare Monday that is NOT a transition day. As you may know, Monday is my transition day for work. With my 7 nights on, 7 nights off schedule at the hospital I am either finishing up my 7 day stint at work on Monday morning or I am taking it easy all day Monday gearing up for the beginning of my 7 nights of work. But thanks to a requested night off, I will not assume to my overnight role until tomorrow. So, for me, it was a bonus day off with the family. We enjoyed a little shopping excursion to Trader Joe's and Whole Foods, a nice 2 mile walk/run (God I am so out of shape) and a little bit of relaxation. I am also taking the day off from blogging, well sort of. Let's put it this way, today, I am cheating somewhat by just using todays spot to link my readers (I just love you guys) with some of my favorite blogs so that you can enjoy what I enjoy.

Do yourself a favor, click on these links and spend a couple of minutes visiting these blogs. Also, don't forget From The Land of Palm Trees is giving away a one-year subscription to AZALEA Magazine, all you have to do to enter the contest is to click comment below this post, OR follow me on Twitter Doug@landofpalmtrees.

The first blog I would like to share with you is home to a letter from a West Virginian to his home state. The letter has made it's rounds on the social media networks this week and if you haven't read it already I think you will be blessed by reading. While many of you may have seen the letter, you may not realize that the blog where the letter originated has a lot of content that could entertain you for hours. Visit The Revivalist for words of wisdom from the Appalachian South.

One of my old school mates from High School in Fairmont, West Virginia takes a humorous look at life in Points Pondered. Today Genny is taking a look at life's small victories.

As you know, in-shore fishing for monster spot-tail redfish is always on the mind of any true-blue lowcountry sportsman and The Charleston Angler displays what awaits the fly fisherman with a boat or kayak on the tidal creeks surrounding the lowcountry.

And finally, maybe saving the best for last, please visit Doug's Photo Blog (not me, but another Charleston blogger named Doug). If you like to look at beautiful and professional photography, this is the blog for you. For an old point and click kind of guy like me, his photography is mesmerizing.

Well, there you have it, my holiday gift to you. Enjoy From The Land of Palm Trees.

Sunday, January 15, 2012

Delectable, Rich, and Unforgettable!!!

So many times when I sit down to read a restaurant review or a blog post featuring a high-end eatery the same old tired words are used to describe not only the food served, but also the hospitality and level of service provided by the restaurant staff. And quite honestly, sometimes you read those pieces and you think, “uh huh, yeah, umm, right.” Then you show up at this highly acclaimed dining room with wait staffs decked out in white coats and gold rimmed dinner plates adorning an impeccably appointed table, and your dining experience begins with a half-hearted superficial greeting from a host or hostess who seems to be very tired of greeting another fat guy in a jacket and tie. Often after reading or hearing about the house specialties and all of the awards and accolades bestowed upon the chef the actual experience is a bit disappointing, not a bad experience, but maybe just not a “wow” experience either. Perhaps this is due in part to your expectations, your anticipation of something really, really special.

I have been hearing a lot of good things about Halls Chophouse, located on King Street in Historic Charleston. A couple of the blogs that I follow have provided glaring reviews on Halls. A sample of some of the terms and phrases used to describe Halls: “family”, “relationship”, “ladies and gentlemen serving ladies and gentlemen”, “aged steaks, like a fine cabernet”, “ Cooked to a perfect mid-rare, this is a bright beautiful steak", "seasoning was spot on”, “buttery”, and the piece de resistance of quotes, “it is so good, I get emotional.”
So, as you can see, a lot to live up to, No? The bar has been raised If this dining experience is going to live up to the reviews; this place has got to make me say “wow.”

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This evening Charleston was a buzz, for a cool and crisp evening there were a lot of people out and about. Of course, if the reporters, anchors and news staff members from all of the cable news networks that are in town to cover the upcoming GOP Presidential campaign were out on the town tonight, I am sure that would account for at least half of the crowd that I encountered on King Street. From the reviews, I was expecting a warm reception, what we received was so much more than that, we were met and greeted at the front door with firm handshakes and a sincere welcome, by not one, but two members of the Hall Family. Immediately, Billy Hall offered to take our coats and told us to feel free to visit the bar and that our table was ready for us whenever we were ready to be seated. Allow me to set the stage for you, we are in Historic Downtown Charleston on a Saturday night dining in one of the most popular restaurants in town, they are jam packed with diners and not only have we been properly greeted at the front door by two people whose last name matches the name on the sign, but they have made us feel like they are on our schedule and we are guests within the Hall household, not their family business. For crying out loud, they hung our coats in the hall closet.

And the hospitality didn’t end there either. After meeting our friends with whom we were dining at the bar and enjoying a glass of wine and some conversation we moved on to our table. When Billy Hall spotted us beginning to make the move to our dining room table, he met us half way there and insisted on carrying the ladies wine glasses to the table for them. Can you say impressive attention to detail?

I am a huge beef lover and I am a tough critic when it comes to steak. I had read an article about Halls Chophouse serving Allen Brothers steaks. Allen Brothers has been around Chicago since the late 1800’s and anybody who knows anything about the gourmet steak industry knows that Allen Brothers is second to none as a source for the finest, most tender and tasty USDA Prime beef. I also knew that my server at Halls Chophouse would present to us a steak plate prior to taking our order so that we could see first-hand, up close and personal the quality steaks that we would be enjoying this evening. What I didn’t expect was that this wasn’t just a ritual that the waitress was trained to perform for each table of diners, she was actually purpose-driven in her presentation. I engaged her in discussion about the bone-in filet mignon and I could tell that she wasn’t just reciting the points provided to her by the chef staff, she knew what she was serving and she knew what was good.

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Michelle and I both started off with Halls chop salad, a wonderful marriage of greens, black eyed peas, celery, feta cheese and a heavenly green peppercorn buttermilk dressing. We both ordered steaks, Michelle had the petite filet mignon and I had the dry aged rib eye. Once again, rather than just taking our order and asking us for our doneness preference, our waitress quizzed us on what we were looking for in terms of internal temperature of the meat, and then I was blown away when she said to me, “would you prefer a leaner rib eye, or one with a fair amount of marbling?” Really, I thought, are you serious, you mean I can choose that?

The steaks did not disappoint and at Halls the side orders are served family style so we enjoyed a generous dish of pepper jack grits to compliment our steaks. Finally, we decided to share a piece of whiskey bread pudding, after all, as one of my fellow bloggers had recently written, “it’s so good I get emotional.”

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So, after experiencing Halls Chophouse for myself, how do I describe the dining experience? Here are some words that I can use to describe it: “family”, “relationship”, “ladies and gentlemen serving ladies and gentlemen”, “aged steaks like a fine cabernet”, “cooked to a perfect mid-rare this is a beautiful steak, the seasoning is spot on”, “buttery”, and “it is so good, I get emotional.” OK, honest, no I didn’t cry over the experience, but all of those other comments, ABSOLUTELY.

As Billy Hall retrieved our coats from the “hall closet” he walked us to the front door, held the door open for us and wished us a good evening. Once again, it was as if we had spent the evening in the Hall Family home, not their family business. I mean what restaurant owner walks their patrons to the front door and bids them farewell by saying, “stay in touch.”?

Saturday, January 14, 2012

From The Land of Golf Tees...

If you walked outside on Monday or Tuesday morning and thought that you had pulled a Rip Van Winkle and slept through January and February it is of course understandable. The record breaking warm weather that we have enjoyed in the Lowcountry earlier in the week serves as a reminder that winters are mild and short here in vacation land. Back in October, I packed all but one pair of golf shorts to make room in the closet for the sweaters and jackets that are usually required in January and February, but it sure was nice to play golf in shorts and shirt sleeves.

Of course for the past two days, cooler daytime highs in the low 50's have reminded us that it really is January and the flip flop of my house HVAC system from cool to heat seems to be the only flip flops visible recently, although according to my favorite weather anchor, Bill Walsh (Mr. Dome-of-D'light) near 70 degree highs are in the five day forecast, like I said, our cold snaps are usually short lived.

I wanted to take a little break from the Charleston Restaurant Week posts this morning, but I do want to provide a disclaimer. The series that I have been offering is for informational purposes only, an opportunity to feature not only some of the GREAT dining spots available to those who visit Charleston on vacation, but also places where we look forward to dining on occasion. In other words, relax I am NOT actually dining out every night of restaurant week, I don't have the time or the money, even with the great deals being offered to "hit-up" a world class restaurant each and every day of Charleston Restaurant Week. But tonight, it's on, for real. Michelle and I are looking forward to visiting Hall's Chop House with some friends for a little CRW love and tomorrow, Lord willing, I will provide you with a personal review of our experience.

Don't forget From The Land of Palm Trees is giving away a 1-year subscription for AZALEA Magazine to some lucky reader between now and January 31st. If you love to read and learn about new places, this magazine is "the bomb". And winning is easy, but you need to enter to win, so PLEASE leave a comment below OR start following me on TWITTER (Doug@landofpalmtrees).

Hopefully wherever you are today, you are enjoying a mild, if not short, winter. If
the cold weather gets to be too much, you can always head South to the land of golf tees, errrr, uhhh, I mean The Land of Palm Trees.

Friday, January 13, 2012

Hanks Seafood Restaurant: In The Tradition of Charleston's Fish Houses

Whenever we host out-of-town guests at Hotel de Hammond a night out dining on local seafood is ALWAYS on the itinerary. I guess when you live near the coast and fresh local seafood is readily available and an option for dinner every night, you don’t realize the attraction of good, fresh seafood. I am a big seafood fan, but I have become somewhat picky over my seafood though. In a similar fashion to when I lived in the mountains smack dab in the middle of snow skiing country, I only got real excited about hitting the slopes on days with perfect conditions; I tend to prefer authentic local seafood now to the frozen stuff served in many restaurants as “fresh” seafood. As acknowledged, we are blessed to be spoiled living here in Charleston. It is quite possible to enjoy seafood for dinner that had its breakfast in the water earlier in the day. Accordingly, there are scores of good restaurants serving good seafood in Charleston; however, there are only a handful of great restaurants serving great seafood. Hanks Seafood Restaurant located overlooking the Market at the corner of Church and Hayne Streets is one of those “great seafood restaurants.”

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So, what allows Hanks to distinguish itself from the dozens of other good seafood restaurants in the Lowcountry? Well for me, it’s not just the freshest local seafood, although that is certainly compulsory to being a great seafood restaurant.

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Another part of what sets Hanks apart is an ingredient not possessed by any other Charleston restaurant, Chef Frank McMahon, a native of Limerick, Ireland of course. McMahon has the pedigree that you would expect. He is an honor grad of the Culinary Institute of America in New York and has former stints in world renowned restaurants in New York City and Los Angeles on his resume. But it is not just his reputation and resume that allows Hanks to rise to the top.
It has more to do with Chef McMahon’s creative use of local seafood to offer exquisitely prepared gourmet versions of Lowcountry seafood favorites dating back to the genesis of Charleston’s famous fish houses of the early twentieth century.

In fact, Hanks Seafood Restaurant doesn’t just pay homage to the heritage of Charleston’s fish markets and fish houses through the genius of McMahon’s menu planning, the atmosphere at Hanks owes itself to its location in a 1900’s warehouse building turned restaurant thanks to a design created by the design firm responsible for many popular New York City restaurants like The Modern, and Gramercy Tavern as well as being involved with the makeover of New York City’s Grand Hyatt. Upon entering Hanks be prepared for a delightful “wow” experience thanks to the use of mahogany, hand-blown glass windows and pine plank floors, can you say rich interior? But it’s not just the bricks and mortar that create the unique atmosphere for your dining experience at Hanks Seafood Restaurant. No, it’s much more than that. It’s the detail that Hanks puts into making your night out an individualized experience, and in a town that is packed with thousands of tourists that is a quality that resonates loudly with local patrons. You don’t have to look any further than the “community table” at Hanks. The community table is a wonderfully unique idea for a busy restaurant. It allows you to walk in off the street by yourself, without reservations and join other like diners at a community style long table, after all, who wants to eat alone?

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Hanks is well worth it at any price, but thanks to Charleston Restaurant Week, you can enjoy a gold standard gourmet three-course-meal created by an acclaimed chef for just $40.00. My tab for the night at Hanks will look sort of like this: for starters, I can’t pass up the Charleston She Crab Soup. Hanks does it good, as good as I have ever tasted in fact. The soup will lead into the main course quite adequately. For me, it’s going to be the seafood platter #1, a generous serving of fried grouper filet, crumb fried shrimp, French fried sweet potatoes and of course, southern coleslaw. Keep in mind; we are not talking Captain Long John here. As you know, I always save a little bit of room for desert, you will too at Hanks during CRW because the entire Hanks desert menu is available for you to choose from as part of your 3 for $40 deal. Immediately, I see pecan pie but just at the last moment, something else catches my eye. My decision is made as soon as I see the word “Signature” in front of a menu item, as in Signature Pie, chock full of bananas, drizzled with caramel and chocolate sauces. Yep, for me tonight, it’s Hank’s Banana Cream Pie, but of course.

Don’t miss out on Hanks Seafood Restaurant during Charleston Restaurant Week, but if you can’t make it to town this week, make sure that your next visit to the Land of Palm Trees includes a trip to Hanks. Your senses will thank you.

Don’t forget the great giveaway we are providing for the rest of January. You could win a one-year subscription to AZALEA Magazine just by commenting on this post at the bottom of the post or by choosing to follow From The Land of Palm Trees on Twitter (Doug@landofpalmtrees). AZALEA is a great magazine that captures the charm and essence of life in a small southern town. Don’t miss out on the opportunity. To visit AZALEA click the link to the right of this post near the top of From The Land of Palm Trees.

Thursday, January 12, 2012

Happy Birthday From The Land of Palm Trees

Exactly one year ago, January 12, 2011 thanks to motivation from my good friend Lisa @ Charleston Treasures I decided to revive a blog that I had started shortly after moving to the Lowcountry to keep friends and family members up-to-date with our life here. I had allowed the original blog to become dormant because I just sort of lost interest in the whole effort it began to read like one of those annual holiday letters on steroids but then I began to follow Lisa's blog I realized that the lifestyle we live here in "vacation land" is something that people might enjoy reading about.

Fast forward, today after 142 posts and visits from over 20,000 guests From The Land of Palm Trees celebrates the one year anniversary of it's rebirth. It is an exciting time at From The Land of Palm Trees because we are in the midst of a series on Charleston Restaurant Week.It is also an exciting time because thanks to my neighbors Will and Dottie, the publishers of AZALEA Magazine, I am able to offer the readers and followers of From The Land of Palm Trees my very first GIVEAWAY. That's right, at the end of January one lucky reader of From The Land of Palm Trees will win a one-year subscription to AZALEA Magazine. All you have to do is register to win. There are two ways to enter your name for the drawing. The easiest way to register to win is to comment on any of the remaining January posts at the foot of the blog post. You can also register by choosing to follow From The Land of Palm Trees on Twitter by following Doug @ landofpalmtrees.

You can visit AZALEA Magazine by clicking on the logo to the right of this post. Good Luck, register today by either commenting to this or any of the rest of January's posts or by following Doug @ landofpalmtrees on Twitter.

I am excited about this giveaway, anybody who enjoys reading about life in the Lowcountry will enjoy AZALEA Magazine. Thanks again for visiting my blog and have a great day From The Land of Palm Trees.

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

How About Italian Tonight?

From The Land of Palm Trees continues with the series on Charleston Restaurant Week (CRW) today with a review of the delicious CRW options for diners who might be in the mood for a little taste of Sicily or Tuscany without the flight over the Atlantic Ocean.

In the heart of Historic Charleston is a street that provides my absolute FAVORITE sight in Charleston. Every time we host out-of-town guests and make the trip downtown to hang out, I make it a point to end up walking West on S. Market to the corner of Church and S. Market and I always point out to them the amazing view looking South down Church Street. Right there, smack dab in front of you is the beautiful St. Phillips Church. This structure is so impressive that the historic street that was named for it, Church Street, runs straight as an arrow start to finish, except for the little semi-circular turn that it makes so that when standing North or South of the church and looking up or down Church Street, St. Phillips rests right there in the center of the street. It, in a word, is AWESOMENESS defined.

Located just South of Market Street at 158 Church Street is a smallish little Italian restaurant with a big reputation for being a great place to dine. Bocci's is designed like many of the classic Italian Restaurants that I tend to love to go to with many small dining rooms, each one unique and with it's own character and flavor, sort of like Italian food, don't you think?

The web page for Bocci's points out that the joint is critically acclaimed, mentioning recognition from USA Today as well as TRAVELHOST of Charleston. The menu lists an impressive wine list, and I am quite sure that when I have finished my meal at Bocci's and have folded my napkin and placed it back on the table top I will enjoy one of their special Italian coffee drinks to top off the evening.

For my CRW meal at Bocci's, for the Antipasto course I have decided upon the Crude (Italian for raw or uncooked or not cooked long)
Sashimi grade Yellow Fin Tuna Tar Tar, tossed in a spicy roasted pepper agro
dolce, arugula and crustini
. Mama Mia!!!

My Primi (main course) selection will be Roasted Quail
Charleston Tea Plantation brined and roasted quail served over a fried, creamy
polenta cake and sautéed broccolini with a prosciutto cream sauce
. Doesn't that just sound magnifico?

And finally, for the Dolce (desert) course I will lust over Cassata
A three-tiered sponge cake, layered with sweetened Ricotta cheese, amaretto,
chocolate and almonds then topped with chocolate ganache. So sweet, yet balanced with the Ricotta and complimented with the sweet kiss of amaretto. Bella! Si? Of course, although it's not included in the 3 for $30.00 price, I can't pass on the caramel cappuccino along with my Cassata.

And what better way to end your night out, than the view down the street as you exit the cafe. Have I told you about my favorite street view in Charleston... Goodnight Buonnanotte From The Land of Palm Trees.

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

The Barbados Room

All it takes is a single visit to Historic Charleston, South Carolina to fall in love with the romance and allure of her old South beauty and sophistication. World class shopping, award winning hotels and restaurants, celebrity weddings, relaxing strolls down quiet alleys to admire exquisite gardens and romantic carriage rides under Spanish moss laden live oak trees await your visit. I am blessed and fortunate to call the Lowcountry home with Charleston and her charm a short drive away.

Several months ago I published an expose on Barbados and the Caribbean Nation’s influence on the development of Charleston so it was only natural that while perusing the list of restaurants participating in the 30 dollar category during Charleston Restaurant Week I was attracted to the Barbados Room at The Mills House Hotel for today’s feature From The Land of Palm Trees.
The Mills House Hotel has been named by Conde Nast Traveler Magazine to the Gold List of the World’s Best Hotels, and the awards don’t end there. Frommer’s Charleston Guide has tabbed The Mills House as Charleston’s Best Historic Hotel, and with good cause. This old auberge with her classy and inviting lobbies beckons one deeper into the bowels of this classic Charleston landmark. The Mills House Hotel has a connection to the storied history of Charleston, maybe the subject of another post in the near future.

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There is something very southern and distinctly Charleston about dining at the Barbados Room, from the time you enter the dining room through the arched entrance you will encounter elegance and history as you are transported to your happy place and your taste buds are treated to a decadent Charleston dining experience.

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For my CRW visit to The Barbados Room, I will choose the Pan Seared Crab Cake, complimented with a crispy grit cake, heirloom tomato relish and a spicy chipotle remoulade. This appetizer course will prepare me for the main course, it was a hard choice but I am going to work on a little surf and turf theme here by going with the Pimento Cheese Crusted Filet Mignon served with seasonal local veggies and pan jus.

If I save some room for my sweet tooth, and you know I will, my plate will be graced with an exquisitely prepared Barbados Bread Pudding with Chantilly Crème & Fresh Strawberries. Yummm!!! Sounds good, No?
A distinguished and classic dining experience in one of South Carolinas best restaurants in a city known for culinary excellence, try the Barbados Room at The Mills House Hotel, you can thank me later.
By the way, while you are forming your game plan for Charleston Restaurant Week, don’t forget to vote in the Charleston City Paper Best of Charleston Poll (click here to vote). If you are so inclined, please remember From The Land of Palm Trees in the best local interest blog category.

Monday, January 9, 2012

Charleston Restaurant Week

It's time for the January version of Charleston Restaurant Week (CRW). Beginning January 12th and going through January 22nd the South Carolina Hospitality Association along with the Charleston Resaurant Assocation will mark one of Charleston, South Carolina's premier culinary events. During the period, some of the best eateries in the Lowcountry will be offering special menus and prices that represent deep discounts providing diners the opportunity to dine at world class restaurants for literally pennies on the dollar. Here is how it works, visit the CRW web page for a complete list of participating restaurants. There are three categories, 20 bucks, 30 bucks and 40 bucks. What you get for the price is an exquisitely prepared three-course meal, created by world famous chefs and served in high style by experienced wait staffs specializing in Southern Hospitality, Charleston style.

To mark the occasion throughout Charleston Restaurant Week, From The Land of Palm Trees will feature a few of my recommendations for you in each category. Of course, I will provide you with my selections from the published menus, but be sure and visit the link for each of the restaurants that I feature, because your choice of offered menu items may be different from mine. I particularly like to visit the $40.00 locations during CRW because most of the restaurants participating at that level are world renowned AND outside of Restaurant Week you are going to pay close to a hundred dollars for the same meal.

To start things off, I am going to stay close to home here in the suburb of Summerville, SC at The Firewater Grille. The Firewater Grille located at 109 Holiday Drive in Summerville is one of my favorite restaurants, I have never had a bad meal there. During CRW they are a 3 for $20.00 choice, and thus they offer what I feel to be one of the best values of that category. Check out the CRW menu here. For my first course I am going to order Fried Local Green Tomatoes With our Horseradish Marmalade Sauce. The tomatoes will provide a light and tangy balance to my bold and hearty main course which will be Grilled Sirloin Steak basted with our secret steak glaze and served over
smashed potatoes
. You can't go wrong with steak at Firewater Grille, besides did you say "smashed potatoes?" Finally, my favorite course of the night, the finishing touch to a delicious supper, my desert selection will be The Ultimate Pecan Lime Pie. Two of my favorite flavors, pecan and lime, blissfully joined in a tasty pie.

There you have it folks, I think you have the idea now, especially if you clicked on the links. Now hurry and make your plans, reservations are filling up quickly. What 3 for $20.00 spots do you plan to visit during Charleston Restaurant Week? Check back to see where we are headed next.

Also, don't forget to vote in The Charleston City Paper Best of Charleston Poll. Be sure and cast your vote for best local interest blog while you vote. There are lots of great Charleston based bloggers and one of us will surely win.

Thursday, January 5, 2012

Best of Charleston

The Charleston City Paper is having it's annual "Best of Charleston" poll now through January 23, 2012. The contest provides readers with the opportunity to go on-line and cast their votes for their favorites in several different categories. One of the categories being polled is "favorite local interest blog."

There are several reasons why I write From The Land of Palm Trees but recognition, the quest for awards and notoriety are not any of those reasons. I do however strive to publish a site that is fun to read and informative to anybody who might be interested in taking a glimpse into what life is like for a full time resident of a vacation destination like the Lowcountry. I have often said that a blog that doesn't have readers is hardly worth the effort, so I obviously want to do all that I can do to promote my efforts, and if that means that I need to shamelessly grovel to my readers and plead with them to log on here in order to vote for From The Land of Palm Trees, then well I will place my pride aside and beg.

In all honesty, there are so many GREAT blogs published by bloggers in Charleston. I list links to several of them on my site. I am inspired by all of them and I aspire to produce work that is fractionally as good as theirs. So having said that, I really don't expect that I will receive a lot of votes, but if you are a fan of From The Land of Palm Trees, and if you are so inclined, please go online and vote. Thanks a lot!

Wednesday, January 4, 2012

Baby It's Cold Outside!

Back in the Spring of 2007 when we were busy packing the household preparing for our relocation to The Land of Palm Trees we methodically seperated our belongings into two groups. The one group, items that we would no longer need moving to a more temperate climate was not a large pile, but it gave us some degree of comfort knowing that snow sleds and the such would not be needed where we were headed. There were other "cold-weather" related items that we deliberated over, coats, scarves, wool-caps, ski-gloves, boots and the such. For the most part, we packed most of those items and loaded them onto the truck, just in case. Last evening, as I bundled up to head out the door for my nightly drive to the hospital, I was glad that I had not only packed my Columbia ski-parka, but also my wool scarf and warm ski-gloves. This morning, I was uber happy to have those cold weather garments at the ready for the chilly walk to my car and the drive home.

Maybe my friends "up-there" would consider me a wimp, they may even surmise that since moving South my blood has gotten thin, that's what happens to us transplants, No? But seriously folks, 19 degrees is cold, no matter where you are, especially in the Lowcountry. During our first Autumn as Lowcountry Transplants my wife coined a phrase that was not only clever and appropriate at the time but has been the source of some degree of comic relief to us occasionally when the outside air carries a chill. Not long after moving to Charleston during the hottest and most humid summer on record, our son began his high-school football season at Summerville High School playing football for the legendary John McKissic. It was August, and it was steamy. The opening game of the regular season was scheduled for Saturday afternoon, August 29th and would be televised nationwide on ESPN. The high temperature that day would hover in the upper 90's. At one point during the game, I was genuinely concerned that my wife was about to have a heat stroke. Less than two months later, in early November we sat huddled together in the bleachers on a clear and crisp full moon Friday night, shivering. The temperature by the end of the game had fallen into the mid-fifties and we were cold. Now, you are probably saying to yourself, "cmon, fifty degrees isn't cold." I don't know how to explain it, some say that it is due to the moisture laden air being so close to the ocean, but fifty degrees here doesn't feel like fifty degrees "up-there". At any rate, as we hurried to the warmth of the heated leather seats in the car, my wife says, "how can any place with all of this sand and palm trees be this darn damn cold?"

It does get cold here, at times it gets down right frigid. This morning was one of those times. And when it happens, it gets our attention. But the good thing is, when a really cold snap occurs, it doesn't last long, a good example is this morning when the mercury hovered around nineteen degrees, this afternoon it is pushing fifty. In fact, the temperatures are forecast to be in the upper sixties by the weekend. Also, our coldest days and nights are cold due to the absolute crystal clear sky overhead, that means sunshine and that means NO GREY SKIES OVERHEAD AND ALL AROUND.

I know that most of my northern friends really have lost their patience with us when it comes to boasting about our weather. I also know that I spent the better part of forty-five years of my life living in a place where winter comes early and stays late, and we are talking about dark winter, no green trees, over-cast and dreary days, can you say UGGGH? As much as I love my family and friends, as proud as I am to be a West Virginian, as much as I enjoyed the changing of seasons and the excitement of a winter storm warning, I just can't imagine myself ever enduring one of those winters again. It is somewhat humorous to watch the progression of attitudes towards the bleek cold winter weather as it develops. Facebook in addition to being a great tool to keep connected to friends all over the world, through it's status update feature provides a strikingly accurate glimpse into the effects of the seemingly constant battering by Mother Nature. The early part of winter arrives with the excitement and anticipation of "snow days," a rare phenomenon here in the Lowcountry (rare but not entirely unheard of). Gleeful cries of bliss quickly transition though into various pleas for mercy. "I hate winter!" "Really, another winter storm." "I miss Summer."I need a vacation!" "Will the sun ever shine again?" I think you get the picture. Fortunately, for us that is no longer a part of our daily toil. After spending forty-five years of my life where Winter was like that, I guess you might say, I have seen the light. And because of that, I just can't understand why people continue to endure those types of winters, especially those who are already looking forward to the end, when it is really just beginning. Except of course, I was one of those people until one cold January day in 2007 when I decided, enough is enough. So, I will continue to bundle up when the temps drop below fifty, knowing all the while that before long my coat and scarf will return to the back of the closet. No matter where you are today, or what kind of weather you are experiencing I hope you have a great day, and to my West Virginia University Mountaineer Football Team, PLEASE, PLEASE, PLEASE beat Clemson tonite in the Orange Bowl. Let's Go Mountaineers, From The Land of Palm Trees.

Monday, January 2, 2012

The Perfect Butt For New Years

Nothing sends delicious aromas circulating through the house on New Years Day like a Barbecued Boston Butt slow roasting in the oven. Especially when the roasting process combines the pork with the trifecta of onion, celery and carrots. Add a little red wine to the mix and the result is heaven in a dutch oven. After roasting the pork, I will let it cool down to the point that I can comfortably work with it, and within hours we will be enjoying some Lowcountry Pulled Pork sandwiches paired with homemade cole slaw, hoppin' john and angel biscuits. Yum!

I actually prefer to use my outdoor smoker to cook my pork barbecue, but this morning for convenience sake (the smoker method is a little bit more high maintenance than the oven) I decided to use the oven and use celery, carrot and onion along with some red wine to impart the flavor to the pork instead of applewood smoke.

I start by dicing up an onion, a couple of stalks of celery and a peeled carrot.

Next I heat just enough vegetable oil to cover the bottom of a dutch oven and brown the butt on all 4 sides.

With the roast browned and resting on a tray, I add the vegetable trifecta to the oil and cook for a minute or two, then blend in a 1/4 cup of red wine and simmer for another minute. Finally, I finish the ragout with 1/2 cup of chicken stock and let the blend simmer for about 5 minutes flushing out all inhabitants from every nook and corner of the house as they scurry to the kitchen to see what I am cooking.

After simmering the ragout, I put the seared pork back into the pot, seal with a tight fitting lid and pop it into the pre-heated oven (250 degrees) and let it roast for 2-3 hours, until the meat falls apart.

Once the roast is done I set it aside for a couple of hours to cool then simply "pull" the pork apart shredding it into flavorful strands of pork barbecue. At that point, you can either toss the pork with your favorite barbecue sauce or leave it "un-sauced" and serve various sauces on the side. I prefer to leave it "un-sauced" because in my house, some like traditional sweet and tangy 'cue sauce and some like a golden mustard/vinegar based sauce. I happen to like both, so it just makes since to serve the barbecue naked (the pork not the server) and let each person decide how to dress the 'cue.

Before enjoying our New Years Day dinner of pulled pork, slaw, hoppin' john and some tasty little angel biscuits with honey-butter we hung out on the back patio reading for a bit. You have to love life From The Land of Palm Trees, while my friends up in the mountains are prepping for 3 days of wind, snow and frigid we are enjoying a mild New Years Day by the fireside.

Sunday, January 1, 2012

Happy New Year! Are You Ready For Some Football?

It's New Years Day, a day rich with tradition. Pork, Hoppin' John, Sauerkraut, Champagne Toasts and FOOTBALL. In fact, other than Super Bowl Sunday, New Years Day used to be the pinnacle of the football season for most of us. Sadly, in my opinion, over the past 10-15 years changes have occurred within the political world of college football, and wouldn't you know it, politics has college football all pooched up. Back in the day, all of the "big bowls", the important ones, were played on New Years Day. Your day of football viewing would start early in the morning with the Cotton and Rose Bowl Parades, and usually at about 1030am you would begin your vigil in front of the television with the kick-off of New Years Day football games. About 13 or 14 hours later, you would peel yourself off of the couch, turn the TV off and head for bed. The only problem, we finished the entire college football season and had no idea who the national champion actually was. Oh yes, there were opinions, but there was no definitive system in place to determine a true national champion. But all of that has changed for the better today, or has it?

Oh sure it has, for instance, now the big bowls are called "BCS Bowls" and there is a clear-cut and non-controversial system in place that insures that the "best" teams go to the "big bowls." Yeah, right, sorry Hokie and Wolverine fans. Also, from a "viewer friendly" standpoint, what is better than having the Orange Bowl on television in "prime time" on a Wednesday night after we have all gone back to work and school? I mean you can even see that by having the game played mid-week on January 4th, that thousands of fans from both teams have elected to stay home and watch on television, no big deal there. Now that things are better the schools involved measure there seasons success by how much money they lose on ticket sales. But boy how nice, no more channel switching or planning out our New Years Day football menu in order to see bits and pieces of all of the big games.

Of course the current "BCS System" and the unbelievable control over the world of college football that the executives at ESPN currently brandish like a steel saber have made things better by guaranteeing that we now have a National Championship Game between, unequivocally, the two best teams in the nation. Right? I mean finally, a game, where regardless of which team wins we will have a CLEAR National Champion, Right? Hmmm, ask an LSU fan that question in the event that Alabama wins the repeat version. And after all, a full week between the other "big bowls" and this mythical, albeit official, National Title game for the network to hype and hype again the big event. A week for all of the other, un-worthy teams to recover from their insignificant seasons accomplishments in order to gather and watch "The Game Of The Century; Part II."

Now, don't all of you SEC fans bristle here and assume that I am attacking the SEC, because that is not true. I acknowledge that in as accurate a manner in which two teams can be deemed the best of the best in a system devoid of a tool that involves a tournament style format, LSU unquestionably should be included and Alabama has at least an equal claim as any team other than LSU to play in "the game." There is no question, your conference is the strongest, especially at the top. Although, I will also say that there is a bit of amnesia clouding your perception through those Crimson colored glasses. Throughout history, football conferences ebb and flow in the greatness category, just ask the Big 10, the PAC 10 and the Big 12. Having said that, if a format with characteristics similar to those used to determine a champion in the NCAA basketball tournament were in place for football, chances are the final game may very well not include both LSU and Alabama.

Let me talk about a playoff system for a moment. The naysayers claim "it wouldn't work." OK, yeah you are probably right, it fails miserably in the two systems on both sides chronologically of NCAA football, right?(insert sarcasm here) High school football which produces the talent pool for NCAA Football uses various playoff systems to determine their champions in each state, and it works. On the other end, the NFL where the best college football players land after college has a playoff system that works, so obviously it just wouldn't work in college football. Wow, I am not making this up folks. And after all, the bowls would never allow it to happen. Hmmmm, each year the bowl games other than the Mythical National Championship game lose more of their luster, as more focus and glory gets shifted to the mythical Championship Game, and how many years of losing money for participating in a post season BCS bowl game will it take before some of the University Presidents and Athletic Directors and Conference Officials begin to realize, while the bowl games provide a venue and some nice cocktail parties and meet and greets, it is the schools and the conferences that own the product, the attraction, the talented players. And the conference executives and university presidents have proven themselves to be shrewd operators with creative minds. I wouldn't be surprised if they couldn't devise a system that would generate more money for the participating schools, could you imagine that instead of a month of practice time between Thanksgiving and January 9th you had an Alabama vs. Oklahoma State game or a South Carolina vs. Boise State matchup. I can only imagine the excitement if on New Years Day, the football version of the final four looked like this: LSU vs. Oklahoma State and Alabama vs. insert name of Cinderella opponent who through the proper mix of luck, destiny and heart elevated itself to the final four. But no, things are much better as is, sure they are.

So enjoy your New Years Day traditions, hopefully the food and fun will fill the void left by the lack of a New Years Day filled with bowl after bowl of college football. Hopefully 2012 will be the best year, so far, of your lives. Happy New Year, From The Land of Palm Trees.