Saturday, June 30, 2012

The Greatest Sound Known To Man

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

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

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

Thursday, June 28, 2012

Tomato Pie

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

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

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

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

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






Wednesday, June 27, 2012

I Am Everyman

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

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

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


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

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

Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Not Your Grandma's Cupcakes

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

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

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

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

Monday, June 25, 2012

The Cookie Chick

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

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

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

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

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

Saturday, June 23, 2012

Saturday Morning At The Farmers Market

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

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




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

Friday, June 22, 2012

Just A Couple Lowcountry Classics

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

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

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

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

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

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

The Steakhouse Lady

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

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

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

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

Monday, June 18, 2012

A Family Classic: Bringing Back The Memories

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

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

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

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

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

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