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!

Thursday, April 5, 2012

Wait! What Is That Noise I Hear?

Silence is golden. It's rather cliche, but it is true, at least in most instances. However, this morning as I visit with you through this media known as "the blog" silence represents something else. Since last Wednesday afternoon we have been blessed to serve as hosts to two different groups of house guests. First to arrive was my BFF from childhood and his beautiful wife, Mark and Lisa. We had a great weekend of fun with them.

When Sunday rolled around and they exited to return to their home in the Mountain State of West Virginia, I scarcely had time to miss them because as they were driving West on I-26 our next guests were waving at them from the East bound lane. My cousin Susan and her two WONDERFUL daughters, Emily and Delaney, arrived Sunday morning. After a trip to the beach at Sullivan's Island on Sunday we settled into a whirlwind week of shopping, touring and dining. It was so much fun.

I have to admit though, a bit ago when they pulled away from the house at 0'dark-thirty, I was sad. And while I sat down at the kitchen table to read, I heard the most odd roar throughout our home. The sound of silence. Oh don't worry, it won't last long, in fact, the washer and dryer are soon to be humming as I prepare two bedrooms for some more special guests. My brother and his wife stopped by briefly yesterday after flying into Charleston from their home in Chicago enroute to Augusta for three rounds of The Masters Golf Tournament. They will return Saturday afternoon and we will be blessed having them on hand for the Easter Holiday Weekend. And, my oldest son JD will make the trek from Columbia tomorrow afternoon along with his "sweetest", Alex (all you A.D.Pi girls are the same)setting the scene for a GLORIOUS EASTER in the Hammond household.

The preparations remind me how much I love my family. I am sooooooo lucky to have two wonderful sons who are becoming FABULOUS young men, right in front of my eyes. Growing up in today's world is hard, for sure. So many pitfalls, temptations and possible wrong turns. I pray that lots of love and a stern hand of guidance from their parents will steer both of them through the obstacle course that is life. That, and of course a moral compass provided by their faith journey with Jesus Christ.

So, as the sun rises on a new day in The Land of Palm Trees potential and excitement are on the horizon as we prepare for a much anticipated Easter Weekend with family. I wish all of mine and Michelle's family were going to be here with us, but you can bet those who aren't will be missed, as well as talked about. Teeeheeee, just kidding. Not really.

Tuesday, April 3, 2012

Did You Have To Say That? Really?

Anybody who frequents From The Land of Palm Trees on a regular basis, and there are many who do, knows that I am an advocate for Charleston as the World's Best Tourist Destination. Her people, her places, her history and her beauty are second to none. This fair city, my city has earned numerous awards and accolades over the past decade, and I have trumpeted her worth all over the blogosphere like Louis Armstrong blowing his horn. My wife and I are smack dab in the middle of two straight weeks of various out of town guests visiting with us in our home. We love to have friends and family visiting with us. If nothing else it gives us a chance to be tourists in our own city.

For instance, since last Wednesday we have kayaked the Folly River, enjoyed happy hour at the Pavilion Bar, dined at Husk, King Street Grille, Bowen's Island Restaurant and Bocci's. We did the Cooper River Bridge Run and spent the day on the beach at Sullivan's Island, visited the South Carolina Aquarium, enjoyed a carriage ride around the city and shopped on King Street with our guests. Tomorrow we will greet yet more guests, as my brother and sister-in-law arrives for The Masters and the Easter Holiday, so don't look for this tourist in your own town lifestyle to end any time soon.

For the most part, our guests have experienced the Holy City at it's finest. They have recognized just what I mean when I write about Easy Livin' and Southern Hospitality here in From The Land of Palm Trees. Tonight, however while we waited for what ended up being an absolutely wonderful Charleston Ghost and Graveyard Tour with Bulldog Tours our guests got to see a thankfully rare occurrence in a city that prides itself on treating people as guests in a world class tourist destination. While waiting in the corridor outside of the Bulldog Tours box office with a large group of guests who were taking one of several Bulldog Ghost Tours I made the mistake of standing in front of a doorway leading to what I didn't realize at the time was another Tour Company box office, located across the corridor from Bulldog Tours. The website for this tour, The Original Pub Tour of Charleston, indicates that it is operated by the Lesesne Tour Company and offers it's guests the chance to experience a tour operated by "experienced beer brewers" and offering "a very intimate and specialized tour placing quality over quantity so that everybody can enjoy a comfortable atmosphere" as they tour historic pubs located all over Historic Charleston. What you won't read on the website is anything about the rude and nasty treatment that visitors to the Holy City who make the same mistake that this guy did by standing in front of the their doorway might receive. As I was standing and talking with some other guests waiting for their Ghost Tour, the door to the Pub Tour box office opened and a young women whom I presume to be an agent for the Pub Tour appeared in the door and said, in a very abrasive tone, something to the effect of "would you move and quit standing in front of our doorway." Those who heard her were somewhat taken back by the rude and condescending tone, to the degree of raised eyebrows. I guess I wouldn't have been taken back if she would have kindly reminded me that I was blocking her entry way, but the tone was mean spirited and ugly, not what those of us who live here proudly proclaim as Southern Hospitality. After a couple of seconds to digest what had just happened, I opened the door to the office and spoke with the young lady and as I was reminding her that she really shouldn't talk to people with such an abrasive tone, she looks at me and says, "yeah, right, whatever, just get out of the way and don't block my door."

I guess that as a local, one with an extreme knowledge and understanding of how hard most Charlestonians who are in the tourism business work to get it right, I should be glad that this experience happened to me, and not one of our thousands of guests. Unfortunately, the sad truth is that If it happened to me the nastiness from this person who represents one of our tour companies has and will probably be shared elsewhere with others including those who may be visiting this wonderful city for the first time and may not have an acute awareness of the true Charleston experience.