Posts Tagged ‘South Carolina’

Our “Spring Break” trip (minus any actual Spring Break-ers) was a week of relaxed-pace recreating in Myrtle Beach.  I knew our vacation was off to a great start when I spied our condo’s dishes:


If you guessed Fiesta, you guessed correctly. I’m feeling very influential these days.  Or maybe I’m just in good company.  What’s not to love about these dishes?

The week provided several rounds of golf for Mr. Official, a couple hours of hot yoga and a nice 5-mile run for me, plus plenty of pool time.  Our winter whites have been banished for the season, replaced by a pink-brown color they call “tan” – I hear it’s the “in” color this summer.

The temperatures exceeded expectations, pegging out in the high 70s/low 80s most days.  We  ate our fill of local seafood each night and we drove Thunder Road:IMG_3395


…well, one of us did. Somebody had to take pics, and besides, I wasn’t sure I met the height requirements.


Because Mr. Official is an easy-going good sport, one night he agreed to forgo a seafood feast and dine on movie theater popcorn and Cokes while watching Jurassic Park in 3-D (in a nearly empty theater.. which was kinda weird.)

In between golf, yoga, and taking laps around the lazy river on innertubes, we also got in a day of antiquing, which netted two red fruit bowls and a turquoise salad bowl for my (ever-growing) collection.  I also acquired some wonderful additions to our landscape, courtesy of a plant sale at Brookgreen Gardens and a fabulous little nursery in Murrells Inlet:IMG_3426.

But the highlight of the trip was on Friday…it was a paparazzi moment for me and my camera when I spotted this gosling surrounded by a couple tough-looking bodyguards on high alert.  I managed to squeeze off a few shots before they shooed me away.


Technically, it was six goslings.


Oh, wait…you thought I spotted Ryan Gosling?  Silly goose.  Nope. But I think these Canadians are just as cute as he, and it was way easier to get a photo of ’em than THAT guy.

Happy Monday,

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Charleston in October

As some of my past posts hint, I love (love, love, love) South Carolina, and most especially Murrells Inlet and Charleston.  There are a few cities that have captivated my heart and spirit, mainly New Orleans and New York.  And most recently, Charleston. All three have some things in common:  they are all old cities, by American standards.  They are all large, prominent cities.  One is ultra-modern, one is a rich blend of classes and customs and cultures.  Charleston is a charming blend of old and new – Kings Street offers shopping on par with the best and funkiest boutiques in SoHo, while one block south is Meeting Street, which except for the occasional powerline and fire hydrant, might be mistaken for pre-Civil War era.

Maybe it is because it blends old with new so effortlessly.  Maybe it’s the palm trees that grace the streets without being overbearing.  Maybe it’s the walled gardens, which give you a glimpse into each resident’s tastes and gardening prowess. Maybe it’s the food, which is comfortingly familiar to my southern palate, but yet rich, decadent and unique in its own right.

Whatever “it” is, it had me at hello and hasn’t let me go.  When I visit my other favorite vacation haunts, I take my leave full and satisfied. Not so with Charleston. Every time we visit, I find new places to explore and a new litany of excuses to return.

We did not make our annual spring pilgrimage to the Low Country and I had resigned myself to skipping a year.  But Mr. Official offered a South Carolina football weekend getaway:  the only catch was hitting the road at the uncivilized hour of 3:30 on Saturday morning so we could make opening kickoff in Columbia by 11:00 a.m.  I agreed and we did.  After coming achingly close to closing the deal against USC, we wiped our eyes and drove on into Charleston.  We arrived before dark in time to discover the city damp after a day of dreary drizzle, courtesy of Hurricane Sandy.  A leisurely dinner at Cru Cafe and a stroll along East Bay Street with the winds whistling through the palms found us back at our hotel where we turned in earlier than most of the Saturday night crowd.

In the morning we found a new favorite breakfast place in Toast of Charleston. (How can you not love a place that dares to stack a poached egg on a crab cake on a fried green tomato and cover the whole mess in remoulade?)

Fortified, we wandered around the Charleston City Market where for the first time I noticed the Daughters of the Confederacy sign on the upper level:I darted into a favorite little Christmas store and picked out this year’s keepsake; a spun glass pineapple will join two other Charleston mementos on our Christmas tree this year.

After I oohed and ahhed my way through the flea market type stalls, we hopped on a carriage ride with Freddie pulling us along for an hour. It was a leisurely and lazy way to learn more about some of the grand residences on the southeastern tip of Charleston.  The rest of the afternoon was spent strolling around the streets near Battery Park, camera in hand before .  As the sun settled low in the sky, we made our way back to the hotel, soaked up a few more minutes of sunshine in the courtyard then darted to Magnolias just in time to keep our dinner reservation.  As I drifted to sleep, contentedly full of sights, sounds and savors of this wonderful city, my mind was already making plans for the next visit, which can’t happen too soon.

And can you blame me?  These snapshots are just a sampling of the pictures I captured and the sights that captivated me.  If I thought Charleston was beautiful in the spring – and it is – I know now it is equally glorious in October.

While the memories are still fresh, I think I’ll try my hand at making some tasso for hearty winter and holiday meals of shrimp and grits, jambalaya and red beans and rice.  Maybe they can keep me warm this winter, until I have a good excuse to return to this amazing and gorgeous city.

Happy Tuesday,

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Doing a slow boil

I love my husband for many reasons, among them his ability to spot interesting foods and eateries.

Which is pretty remarkable given his upbringing. He was raised in a very traditional southern family and his mama’s fried chicken, pork chops, squash casserole and macaroni and cheese outshines Paula Deen’s any day of the week. But her recipe repertoire is pretty limited – I suspect that is due in large part to the picky palates of her family and the tight budget she had to work with when her children were young. 

Case in point: when we married, my husband had never tasted broccoli.


However, he was more than willing to try new foods, and has been our longtime intrepid food scout, always looking for new and unusual foods and venues.  (Like ordering barnacles in Portugal.  But that’s another story, for another timezone.) 

We moved to Tulsa, Oklahoma in 1985. At some point soon after we arrived on the scene, Mr. Official spotted a hole-in-the-wall place called “The Cajun Boiling Pot” and suggested we try it.

Just as I remember it

 The interior was quintessential strip-mall diner: worn linoleum floor, heavily varnished (and slightly greasy) pine paneled booths with ripped vinyl padded seats and formica-plated tabletops.  A little dark, a little dingy but filled with contented diners.

The menu choices were unlike any we had ever seen, so we plunged in and ordered a family-style boiled dinner.   We had no idea what we were doing but the zydeco music was playing and the smell was intoxicating.

The waiter spread newspaper on our table, and dumped steaming hot food on it: spicy boiled crawfish, shrimp, corn on the cob, new potatoes, and sausage, much like this photo.

A wood mallet and small forks were our only utensils.  We looked around at the other diners, looked at each other, shrugged and dove in, and didn’t stop eating until it was gone.


We went back several times while we lived in the area.  I hear it has since closed.  But it has never left our memories.  We’ve never found anything quite like it around here, but I did some research and discovered a bit of the history and background on seafood boils.  What we experienced was pretty authentic to the Louisiana-style boiling pots.  In South Carolina, the name and ingredients change slightly: Frogmore Stew, Beaufort Boil, or Low-country Boil.  They all refer to a similar dish, with no crawfish or hot sauce, and emphasis on the shrimp.

I brought home the ingredients for a seafood boil the other day.  Not as good as just-caught shrimp and fresh Andouille sausage, but tasty, nonetheless.   A boil is easy; the following is enough for 4-6 generous servings.

4 quarts water
juice from one lemon (you can also add the remaining rinds if you like)
4 teaspoons Old Bay seasoning (more to taste)
1-2 teaspoons hot sauce (more or less to taste)
1/2 pound small new red potatoes
1 pound Andouille or kielbasa sausage
2 ears fresh sweet corn, broken into 2-3 pieces each
1 pound (or more to taste) raw shrimp in the shell
1/2-1 pound crab legs (optional)

additional lemon wedges, cocktail sauce, sour cream, hot sauce, butter

Bring water, lemon juice, and seasoning to a boil in a large stockpot (we have also used our turkey fryer outdoors and doubled the when we’re cooking for a crowd.)  Taste and adjust seasonings before adding other ingredients (you want it to be fairly spicy or the food will be bland – trust me on this.)

Add the potatoes, corn and sausage and cook until done (10-15 minutes.)  Add shrimp and crab legs; boil for a couple minutes (do not overcook), then strain and place on clean newspaper or waxed paper.  Hand out plates and napkins; serve with chunks of warm crusty bread and butter.  Lemon wedges, cocktail sauce, butter and sour cream are definitely nice-to-have on hand, too.

Happy adventuring,

(Photo of The Cajun Boiling Pot courtesy of tulsainsite.com)

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A while back, I posted a recipe for Parker House Rolls, which was shared by a very gracious lady from South Carolina. Another “keeper” recipe of hers is this one – it’s a family favorite that seems most fitting in the warm months of the year. One word of advice: these bars are very rich, so cut them small for serving.

Miss JoAnn’s Lemon Bars

Crust Ingredients
1 cup all-purpose flour
1/4 cup powdered sugar
1/2 cup butter

Filling Ingredients
2 eggs
1 cup sugar
1/8 cup flour + 2 tablespoons
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/4 cup lemon juice

Heat oven to 350.  Sift together flour and powdered sugar.  Cut in butter (it can be slightly softened, but it shouldn’t be room temperature) until crumbly.  Press in bottom of 8×8 pan (I like lining mine with parchment to make it easier to lift and cut these bars.)  Bake at 350 for 20 minutes or until brown.

In the meantime, beat eggs until frothy, add sugar and incorporate well. Whisk in flour and baking powder until there are no lumps. Add lemon juice and stir thoroughly.  Pour over crust as soon as you remove it from the oven.

Return to the oven for another 25 minutes or until the filling is just set (it will still be soft.)  Sprinkle with powdered sugar and let cool completely before cutting.  (Or cut warm and enjoy them while they’re still gooey.)

Note:  Store the bars at room temperature for up to a day, or in the refrigerator to keep them fresh longer.  You can also double this recipe and bake in a 10×15 pan.  I’ve even quadrupled it and baked it in a parchment-lined jelly roll pan.

Happy baking,

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Time’s up

Today we pack it up and head northwest.  I’ll be shaking sand out of everything for a while. 

College of Charleston

I think beach time goes faster than real-world time.  Where has the week gone?  Once again South Carolina has captured my heart and captivated me.  (Swimmer Girl should think hard about College of Charleston – Southwest now has nonstop flights to this charmed city, and her mother would love an excuse to come up for long weekends occasionally. Make that frequently.  Okay, all the time.)

Next week is back to the usual routine: working, working out, cleaning, laundry, cooking (and cooking out), and scouting out a new abode.

Come to think of it, life is really good–no matter where I am.

Sunset on the marsh walk

But every time I visit this part of the country, I think I leave a tiny bit of my heart behind.  One of these days, we might just have to figure out a way to make this home, especially if my heart insists on staying here piece by piece.  One of the employees at one of Mr. Official’s new favorite golf course was putting his golf bag in my car and remarked on the Tennessee tags and “Carolina Girl” window sticker.  I told him a girl can hope, even if it might take another 15 years or so before we can think about retiring somewhere.  (I’m pretty sure I could stand a few more spring breaks in South Carolina while we count down the years.)

Happy spring,

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Looking at the calendar, there’s just under a month before spring break.  After this year’s winter weather, it absolutely cannot. come. soon. enough.  Breaking our trend of visiting somewhere new each year, we’ve planned a return to Murrells Inlet, South Carolina with swimmer girl and one of her friends I refer to as my “other daughter.” Last year’s weather was a little cool, but we had an awesome time eating our weight in seafood, drinking in the sights of Charleston, shopping in Myrtle Beach and kicking around the beautiful beaches and marshes in the area.

Since my heart goes pitter-pat every time I think of the upcoming trip, I’m using the anticipation as a motivator to pick up the exercise pace and drop a few pounds so I can indulge in the regional food without guilt.  It seems my calf strain has finally fully healed, so I’m committed to hitting the treadmill three days a week, in addition to my Body Pump, yoga and pilates classes.  I figure logging several miles each week, along with cutting out a lot of empty calories (paring down the pantry is also whittling down our usual snack food reserves) should help me slough off the pounds that sneaked up on me during the holidays.  And I’m challenging myself to doing a 15-minute “hotspot pickup” every time the urge to munch hits.

So we’ll see if my plan works.  If it does, the house and I should both be in much better shape by the time we leave.  And to all my local friends:  feel free to hold me accountable.  If you see me skulking around the post-Valentine chocolates or noshing on unhealthy foods, go ahead, give me a nudge.  I’ll love ya for it.

Happy Monday!

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Since my first visit a long time ago, New Orleans – specifically the French Quarter and Garden District – has been my favorite place to go. Forget Bourbon Street – give me a beignet and cafe au lait at Cafe du Monde, then let me amble around Jackson Square, buy some remoulade sauce at a Central Market, slip into some out-of-the-way courtyard eateries, browse through some antique stores and funky art galleries, and I am in a state of bliss. Before Katrina, a ride on the trolley all the way to the end of the Garden District and back was a wonderful (and cheap!) way to see the stately (and not-so-stately) homes, schools and other sites along the route. Our last visit required taking a city bus to get us back to the French Quarter, to gather our luggage just in time to catch our flight. The bus ride was not as magical as the trolley, and a painful reminder of the blight that Katrina left on this city.

No matter how seldom I actually visit NOLA, I have my favorite spots burned into my mind and heart, and I can find them with my eyes closed. Well, maybe not quite that intimately – but definitely without a map or a moment’s hesitation. Every visit feels like I’m going home.

My first visit to NYC was a business trip, pre-Giuliani’s cleanup efforts; I was pregnant and taking no chances with the subway or the streets. I saw little of the city, and had zero desire to ever return. But a second visit to NYC a few years ago mesmerized me much like NOLA, but for decidedly different reasons. Manhattan practically hums with energy, and you tingle when you step out on the street. Seeing Rockefeller Plaza lit up with Christmas splendor, standing outside the NYSE on Wall Street, meditating near the site of the WTC towers, enjoying the lush beauty of Brooklyn Botanic Garden, taking a stroll through Central Park, an afternoon of Monet and Manet at MONA, a Knicks game at Madison Square Gardens, and of course, a real Broadway play combine to spell magic. In a future trip, I’m sure I’ll be ferreting out my favorite places, and finding new favorites in a New York minute, no pun intended.

And now South Carolina – especially Murrells Inlet and Charleston – has joined NOLA and NYC on my short list of absolute favorite places to visit.

Sleepy little Murrells Inlet is part salt marsh, part fishing village, and a gorgeous, pristine state park/beach (Huntington), where the dolphins came out to play a few yards from where we were standing, and the starfish threw themselves on the beach (we took pictures and threw them back.) Walt Disney cannot hold a candle to that sort of magic, try as they might. The seafood of this area is legendary, the people are friendly – as small town southerners are – and the pace is definitely laid back. And if that’s not enough, it’s ridiculously convenient: only a few minutes from Myrtle Beach’s shopping, and a couple hours to Charleston, on the sweetgrass basket highway. (Yes, of course we stopped ;o)

Charleston – like NOLA – boasts dreamy architecture in town, magnificent plantations all around the city, great shopping, and utterly amazing food. I’m sure it sees its share of revelers and party-goers, but the atmosphere is decidedly more family-friendly than NOLA.

I’ve fallen hard for South Carolina’s charms. I just hope my husband REALLY loves all the golf courses there, since I think I might be wheedling a repeat visit (or two or three) in the near future. For now, I’m content to put a sticker on my car window – a palmetto tree and crescent moon. Of course, mine is orange.

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