Field Trip: Travel through time on a stroll down Savannah’s Bull Street

Camelia's like this one bloom throughout the winter in Savannah (and the Lowcountry).

Camelia’s like this one bloom throughout the winter in Savannah (and the Lowcountry).

Just before the hectic frazzle of the holidays struck a chord with our family, we hopped in the car and made our way down the road a bit for a lovely afternoon in Girly Girl’s hometown of Savannah, Georgia. After a quick stop at the mall for something very specific and realizing there is no longer a Brookstone store there, we headed through our old ‘hood of Ardsley Park and into the historic district. It was a busy Saturday and we were happy to find a parking spot just off Bull Street – one of my most favorite streets in the world and a place where a family like ours can find a little bit of everything.

The chocolate case at Wright Square Cafe - the place is brimming with delectable goodness - this is just one display!

The chocolate case at Wright Square Cafe – the place is brimming with delectable goodness – this is just one display!

When we lived in Savannah our house was (and still is, but it’s not “ours” any longer) actually located on the corner of Bull and a numbered street just over 2 miles south of Forsyth Park. Traveling north of the park though, i.e. the “ritzy” side of Forsyth Park, Bull Street skewers several of Savannah’s famous squares including Monterey Square (home to the Mercer House of Johnny Mercer and Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil fame), Madison Square, Chippewa Square, Wright Square and Johnson Square before ending at the US Customs House and the Savannah River. For the day tripper, a walk along this street is a great introduction to the hostess city and for my family was and still is, exactly like coming home!

Now I am not an expert on Savannah nor a travel professional, but I offer a few highlights from our walk, showcasing some of our favorite stops. If you like art, architecture, history, great food, interesting people and are considering a visit to a historic city in the South, please consider Savannah (along with Beaufort, Bluffton and Charleston).

"Dammit Doll" - solves most of life's problems with just one whack!

“Dammit Doll” – solves most of life’s problems with just one whack!

The winter is actually a great time to visit the Lowcountry, as it should not be congested with tourists and the weather is, in my opinion, quite nice on most days. Not exactly beach weather, but perfect for long walks, a carriage ride, playing golf, what have you. I adore Savannah, so if you have any questions about visiting here, please feel free to send them on to me, I am happy to make recommendations or in the least, point you in the right direction to get an answer.

Forsyth Park: 30-acre public park on the southern side of the historic district. Bordered by trees, mostly live oaks all around and anchored by much-photographed Forsyth fountain on one end. The AAA 4-Diamond hotel, Mansion on Forsyth Park, is located next to the park and several public concerts and civic events are held here annually.

One never knows what you may see on a walk down Bull Street. This is a downspout on a house gutter.

One never knows what you may see on a walk down Bull Street. This is a downspout on a house gutter.

“Squares” are synonymous with Savannah. They were designed by Savannah’s founder General James Oglethorpe and originally intended to provide colonists space for military exercises. Originally intended to have just 6 squares there are 24, all within about ½ square miles. The five squares along Bull Street—Monterey, Madison, Chippewa, Wright, and Johnson—were intended to be grand monument spaces and have been called Savannah’s “Crown Jewels.” Many of the other squares were designed more simply as commons or parks, although most serve as memorials as well. They are all beautiful and unique – just like Savannah.

Monterey Square: Closest to Forsyth Park, this square commemorates the Battle of Monterrey, in which American forces captured the city of Monterrey during the Mexican-American War. The Mercer House is on one side and was home to Jim Williams who featured prominently in John Berendt’s book, Midnight in the Garden of Good & Evil which was made into a movie filmed here too. Locals refer to it eerily as “The Book”. The square is also home to Congregation Mickve Israel, which boasts the only Gothic-style synagogue in America, dating from 1878. Between Monterey and Madison Squares are several fancy antique shops.

Madison Square: Named for James Madison, 4th President of the US. Famous for marking the start of several main roads in Georgia and features a statue of Sgt. William Jasper, a soldier in the Siege of Savannah (Revolutionary War) who, though mortally wounded, heroically recovered his company’s banner. One corner houses Shop SCAD and across the street is SCAD’s Gryphon Tea Room. SCAD is the Savannah College of Art & Design, a private university founded here in Savannah in 1978. Their success has been Savannah’s success over the past 25 plus years with much in economic growth and historic restoration in the city due to SCAD.

The Six Pence Pub is easy to find on Bull - just look for the British red telephone box (booth). The Julia Roberts/Dennis Quaid movie "Something to Talk About" shot scenes here, if you happen to recognize it. Good hearty fare found here.

The Six Pence Pub is easy to find- just look for the British red telephone box (booth). The Julia Roberts/ Dennis Quaid movie “Something to Talk About” shot scenes here, if you happen to recognize it. Good hearty fare found here.

Between Madison and Chippewa squares there is the Six Pence Pub, Gaucho (upscale women’s clothes) and Gallery Expresso, Savannah’s oldest coffee bar that offers a few outdoor tables and excellent coffee drinks.

Chippewa Square: Named in honor of American soldiers killed in the Battle of Chippawa during the War of 1812. Features statue of Gen. James Oglethorpe, British General and founder and defender of the colony of Georgia. The park bench scene in the movie, “Forrest Gump” was filmed at this square, although the bench used in the film was a prop as there is no bench actually on that spot.

Between Chippewa and Wright Square you’ll find hole-in-the-wall Angel’s BBQ (off West Oglethorpe), Bull Street Station (old fashioned hobby store) and the birthplace of Juliet Gordon Low, the founder of the Girl Scouts – USA.

Wright Square: The second square built in the city, originally named Percival Square. It is the burial site of Tomochichi, a leader of the Creek nation of Native Americans. Tomochichi was a trusted friend of James Oglethorpe and assisted him in the founding of this colony. This is my family’s favorite square as its home to both the Wright Square Café AND the Cupcake Emporium plus thousands of beautiful azaleas that bloom profusely in the spring! There is also a neat art glass gallery and a retail store called Simply Irresistible next door to Wright Square Café, that carries some cool handmade items. I gave my sister a “Dammit Doll” purchased here during our day in Savannah.

Between Wright Square and Johnson Square you’ll cross East Broughton Street (Savannah’s ‘main street’) and several ordinary buildings, nothing really of note except for Jen’s & Friends, a local’s watering hole that offers 150 kinds of martinis. People love this place!

There's a pretty lady in this side garden, 'peek" gardens are similar to those found in Charleston, SC.

There’s a pretty lady in this side garden -‘peek” gardens are similar to those found in Charleston, SC.

Johnson Square: The first and largest of Savannah’s 24 squares. Interred in the square is Revolutionary War hero General Nathanael Greene. An obelisk in the center of the square now serves as a memorial to him. The cornerstone of this monument was laid by the Marquis de La Fayette in 1825. Today, the square is surrounded mostly by bank buildings – I used to work around the corner (now that makes it famous!). During the summer there is a free concert here on most Friday afternoons. Keep walking north from here to cross Bay Street and then BAM! you’re at the Savannah River (or at least in front of the buildings that face the river…).

So, what do you think about my Savannah? Remember this is just part of one street …there’s lots more to see and do. Maybe I’ve piqued your interest a bit? I would be grateful for your comments!

James Oglethorpe's statue at Chippewa Square.

James Oglethorpe’s statue at Chippewa Square.

A girl and her candy are not soon parted at Wright Square Cafe.

A girl and her candy are not soon parted at Wright Square Cafe.

This building houses Shop SCAD - a must every time we visit.

This building houses Shop SCAD – a must every time we visit.

The display case at Wright Square Cafe. They serve a great lunch too, but the sweets are the draw here!

The display case at Wright Square Cafe. They serve a great lunch too, but the sweets are the big draw here!

The historical marker for Juliet Gordon Low. Lots of girl scouts visit in summer - but not in winter (if you're planning a trip here!).

The historical marker for Juliet Gordon Low. Lots of girl scouts visit in summer – but not in winter (if you’re planning a trip here!).


Ramblings: “All In” at Palmetto Bluff’s Music to Your Mouth.

Hugh Acheson’s (Empire State South in Atlanta) roasted Caw Caw pork belly with woodland fermented carrot and radish, kimchi, sorghum soy lime vinaigrette and “Anson” benne. Caw Caw is an ‘artisan’ pork producer in St. Matthews, SC.

Fall is an awesome time of the year to be in Bluffton, South Carolina! Not only is it the season for oyster roasts and all manner of outdoor activities, when the calendar rolls over to November then it’s time to gear up for Music to Your Mouth (MTYM) at Palmetto Bluff. Attending the Culinary Festival during this week-long event is an honest-to-goodness gift of the highest order, if you are, like me, a foodie.

Music to Your Mouth is now in it’s seventh year of laser-focusing attention on all things delicious and Southern set against the wild, beguiling beauty of Bluffton’s May River and environs. And being the good neighbors they are, MTYM dedicates a portion of ticket sales to local non-profit Second Helpings, who distributes food destined for landfill to the disadvantaged in Beaufort, Jasper and Hampton Counties in South Carolina.

Chef Acheson’s visual recipe explains the genius behind this great concoction…

During the week leading up to the crescendo of the Culinary Festival (and afterwards too) there are food-centric events like a “foraging cruise” nearby Daufuskie Island, a cooking class with James Beard award-winner Chris Hastings and a floating cocktail party aboard the resort’s circa 1913 yacht, dubbed the “Stink & Drink”. I love that name!  Add in the annual Potlikker Block Party and the Kiss the Pig Oyster Roast and you’ll find that the “best sips, swills, sweets and savories in the south” and the most “talented local and regional chefs and artisans” are to be found at MTYM.

The bacon “forest” complete with sweet and savory porkalicious offerings.

Not only that, but this year there was even a “bacon forest” – I am not joking people! The Culinary Festival also included a veritable king’s cellar of fine wines and spirits for the sampling and cooking demonstrations by the likes of celebrity chefs Kevin Gillespie, Mike Lata, Sean Brock, Hugh Acheson and Ashley Christensen. Southern Foodways Alliance director and all-around Southern food enthusiast, John T. Edge, hosted all proceedings for the day.

Even with all the regional chef-celebrité under the tent it was exciting to see local favorites Orchid Paulmeier (One Hot Mama’s), Ted Huffman (Bluffton BBQ) and Matt Jording (Sage Room) bring on the creativity. Ted’s creamy, smoky pork barbeque with traditional crunchy slaw started my culinary tour off right! Orchid kicked it up with her “Lowcountry sushi” and Chef Jording’s duck with microgreens and crisp sesame noodles was perfection on a plate.

Chef Chris Hastings

Chef Chris Hastings and his wife, Idie, hard at work under the big tent. In the two years I lived in Birmingham I could not make it to his restaurant, Hot & Hot Fish Club (dang it!), but I do have his cookbook, which is excellent by the way!

Other favorites were Chris Hastings lamb with quinoa and Craig Diehl’s paté wrapped in pastry. I am not exaggerating when I state that everything I tasted was over-the-top fantastic. However, I will go out on a limb or rather a palm frond, and pin my top taste “award” of the day on Chef Sean Brock (Husk & McGrady’s restaurants in Charleston, SC) and his ‘apple salad’.

At first glance this plate deceivingly presents a few crisp apple slices with what appears to be black sawdust on top. Huh? Just dig in with a fork… and surprise! There’s local lump crabmeat nestled underneath the black butter (not saw dust!) and thin apple slices, lightly drizzled with delicious hazelnut oil and circled with a trace of bright green tarragon puree. Managing to get a bit of it all in one bite, it was in two words: extraordinary and sublime, all at once. Chef Brock, you did it, again. If my mouth could swoon then it just did… and I’ll be trying to figure out how to make black butter for the next month.

Chef Sean Brock’s FABULOUS apple “salad” with fresh lump crab, hazelnut oil, a trace of bright green tarragon puree and that unusual black butter. It was great.

Once again the Music to Your Mouth Culinary Festival delivered the goods – in every way possible, I may add. If you’ve never been, its a unique and wonderful foodie experience like no other, and if you have, then lucky you! Either way, may the foodie Gods (and the fine folks at Palmetto Bluff) hold another fabulous MTYM in 2013. Count me all in!

Bacchanalia (Atlanta) served a yummy hand pie with hot pot likker consomme – great on a cold day as it were. Some more table “art” too. Chef Anne Quatrano participated on the chef’s demonstration stage and was quite the card. It’s refreshing to know these “celebrity” chefs don’t take themselves or their “art” too seriously!

Jeremiah Bacon, The Mcintosh

Jeremiah Bacon’s clam filled ravioli with pine nuts and kale. His restaurant, The McIntosh, is located down the road in Charleston, SC.

The Sage Room (Hilton Head Island) and chef Matt Jording hit all the perfect notes with his duck dish – served with micro-greens and sesame ‘crispies’.

All that great food and libations were accompanied by river front scenery and some live music fitting for the day. The columns you see are the remements of tabby ruins and some brick work from the original home on the property.

The big tent at the Culinary Festival is perched adjacent to the May River and the Inn at Palmetto Bluff. Don’t be put off by the Orvis and Burberry clad “Garden & Gun” set. At this event you’ll find a veritable foodie paradise where you can actually meet some of the best chefs in the South. Ask questions too… they love that!

Field Trip: Most Excellent Edisto Island

Edingsville Road located on Edisto Island, SC. Adjacent Edingsville Beach was once a coastal retreat for well-to-do families in the colonial to pre-Civil War era escaping the heat of summer in mainland SC. All the houses in this part of Edisto Island are gone although broken pottery and other relics wash ashore occasionally.

Edisto Beach is a place for family focused fun. Here I am introducing a fiddler crab to Girly Girl.

A few times in my blog I have referred to “my family beach house” and/or it’s location in Edisto Beach, SC. This week I am enjoying a week here with some members of my family. While I am sure most of you don’t care one iota about seeing family vacation pictures, I thought you may be curious about Edisto, a Sea Island located just off the coast of South Carolina in the USA. There are a good many unique things about this area, none more intriguing than how it has held on to it’s quiet, and for the most part pristine, surroundings.

To get your bearings, Edisto is located approximately halfway between Charleston, SC and Savannah, GA. Actually it’s a little closer to Charleston. Technically, there is Edisto Island with the semi-attached Edisto Beach – sitting just across a short man-made causeway on the Island’s southern tip. My family’s beach house is located near the southernmost point of “Edisto Beach” where Big Bay Creek meets the Atlantic.

Here is a dilapidated cottage close to Edingsville Beach, to me still hauntingly beautiful.

Botany Bay, described as “4,000 acres of heaven” this SC wildlife management property is made up of three historical plantations from marsh to maritime forest to the gorgeous, shelled-filled beach seen here. It is simply spectacular!

Edisto Island’s first inhabitants were Native Americans, who fished and worked the fertile soil in the island’s center for thousands of years before Spanish priests established a mission here in the 1500’s and Spanish pirates sailed up the Edisto River. Later, when neighboring “Charlestown” (Charleston) was settled, English-born colonists created plantations growing rice, indigo and famous Sea Island cotton. As you approach from the south along Highway 17 before turning onto Highway 174, the one road that meanders to Edisto, you can still make out what were once rice fields. And catch a glimpse of the house at Myrtle Grove Plantation and several other gated, live-oak-lined drives disappearing toward what surely are spectacular vistas.

Visit in summer to early fall and blue crabs are abundant. All you need is a trap and some chicken “parts”…and maybe some crabby catching skills and patience wouldn’t hurt.

Trinity Episcopal Church founded in 1774 and consecrated in 1881, it was occupied by federal troops during the Civil War, destroyed by fire in 1876 and damaged by the hurricane of 1893. The sanctuary was rebuilt and features beautiful interior work done by a former slave. The old bead-board and blown glass windows have been lovingly preserved.

Once you reach Edisto Island, you are surrounded by marshy estuary and pass hundreds of live oaks literally dripping with Spanish moss. Watch for egrets, osprey nests and even hawks and bald eagles. The island is also home to bobcat, alligator, fox, owl, deer, and various birds. On a clear night, the stars create their own spectacular show at Edisto, so if you have a telescope, bring it! Be amazed by the bright celestial sights and shooting stars that seem to be so close, you can reach out and grab them.

The tiny Museum of Edisto gives a good introduction to the flora and fauna of this Sea Island and the Lowcountry.

At the Edisto Museum there are always many “relics” from days gone by…like this mustache cup. It was so unusual I had include it. Wonder who (and what!) could have drank from that fancy cup!

A few sights here along Highway 174 are also surprisingly rustic with some native islander’s living conditions less than luxurious. Some of these locals have had family living here for many years and are descended from Africans brought over as slaves to work the plantations. As the Edisto Museum writes, “their skills and labor created great wealth for the plantation owners, while their culture thrived even in adversity.” Some of that culture can be seen in the lovely sweetgrass basketry of local artisans and in tasty Lowcountry treats like Hopp’in John, red rice and Country Captain.

While it may seem odd to see a tiny, weathered wooden cottage standing next door to a coastal “mac-mansion ”, having visited here for many years it seems normal to me. No one here at Edisto feels they should leave their home to make room for the ‘nouveau riche’ or the “old riche” for that matter. Edisto is sort of a place “out of time” you see – change has come slowly here. This is good and bad, I suppose.

Pick up some fresh fish or shrimp or crab or oysters for dinner tonight at Flowers Seafood, right on Highway 174.

On the good side, there are no big real estate developments or even medium-sized ones here. There is very little commercial development – just enough to make both visitors and full-time residents comfortable. For instance there is one grocery store (for Edisto Island and Edisto Beach). There is one golf course (on Edisto Beach) and no real hotel – just one smallish timeshare with condos.

If you want to visit you will be staying in a house, a timeshare unit, renting either of those or camping at the adjacent State Park. On the not so good side there isn’t much work here, so if one needs to make a living AND reside on Edisto, you farm, fish or devise a business that deals with the seasonal tourist industry in some fashion. I use the term ‘industry’ lightly – compared with other coastal resort areas Edisto is minuscule.

One of the best “sights” on Edisto to me is a good book and a marsh breeze by way of a comfortable porch hammock!

However, I think that if someone decides to reside here full-time, or rather has the ability to live here, rather than anyplace else, they probably are not that concerned with ‘making it rich’. It’s the unpretentious, laid back “Edi-slow” lifestyle that’s the draw.

So far, mass commercial development and its ilk have stayed way up along Highway 17, miles from our Edisto. Luckily, various landowners in the surrounding rural areas have also created conservation easements that will protect the land from development, helping to ensure most excellent stargazing for our family for many years to come, and yours too, if you find yourself traveling down the shady, sandy path toward Edisto Island.

Cleveland Rocks! (or how I spent my summer vacation.)

Reilly’s Irish bakery (C-11 stand) offers up a taste of the British Isles with Bakewell tarts, scones, their triple chocolate Guiness stout cake (made with 6 pints of Guiness beer!) and a regional favorite, pasties… meat or veggie filled hand pies. Yum!

Last week at this time I was perusing the stalls of the West Side Market  in Cleveland, Ohio, thoroughly enjoying the bustle of the crowd and alluring aroma of local and exotic cheeses, fresh baked bread and all manner of butchered meats. Years ago I had seen a documentary on PBS entitled “To Market, To Market To Buy A Fat Pig” (like the nursery rhyme) where several farmers markets/fresh food markets were featured, including the West Side Market in downtown Cleveland.

In the 3 or 4 times I have traveled to Cleveland in the past 6 years this was the very first time I had made it to this market, and believe me it will not be the last. It is housed in a restored 1912 brick-clad building complete with clock tower and architecturally pleasing interior arches; it’s quite dramatic yet unpretentious as any good market would be.

The main hall of the West Side Market. Usually there are lots of folks shopping and milling about – like most markets. Go early for the best selection and smaller crowds. Photo: Stu Spivack.

My family was smart enough to allow me time to myself to wander the entire main market concourse after we all browsed the adjacent produce aisles together. I did feel there was some pressure by the produce vendors to buy something if they caught my gaze fix on any of their fruits and vegetables for more than a couple of seconds. But we were only visitors – not residents, so other than buying a half pint of plump blackberries we excused ourselves from making any produce purchases.

Here’s an old photo of the market ‘back in the day’. Love it! Photo: Cleveland State University/Michael Schwartz Library

However, in the main market I did buy a fresh dressed rabbit, beef marrow bones (I can NEVER find these at home), German style sausages (Weisswurst and Feine Mettwurst) a package of Flageolet beans and some spices. We came prepared with an ice filled cooler so we could enjoy a leisurely lunch without the fear of spoilage of our prized purchases.

Speaking of lunches, I had awesome ones during this trip. The day before the Westside Market my in-laws treated us to lunch at Pier W, located in a groovy concrete (yes I said “concrete”) building designed to resemble the hull of a luxury liner cruising along Lake Erie. Well, that is, you would see that if you were IN Lake Erie or take notice of the restaurant’s self-portrait in the lobby area. Nevertheless, you are cantilevered over the lake allowing for incredible views of Cleveland and any passing sailboats, ships, birds…what have you.

Fresh meats including a whole piggy. Personally I like knowing (and seeing) where my food comes from, not only allowing me to appreciate the quality but also placing real value on the process and work involved.

The food here was outstanding with local Walleye prepared tempura style gracing my lunch plate. I also enjoyed a first course of beef short rib pierogies while my father-in-law Mike and Dear Hubby had the decadent lobster bisque, which was poured into their lobster-laden soup bowls tableside.

The next day was the West Side Market and we lunched afterwards at Great Lakes Brewing Company, where we dined al fresco cooling our heels with their onsite-brewed beers. Again I ordered the Walleye, a lunch special served with rice and veggies. Dear Hubby had the Brewpub’s three cheese mac & cheese with crisp pancetta and roasted chicken. Normally I am a wine drinker but when in Rome… so I tried the Ohio City Farmhouse Saison beer, made with coriander plus fresh ginger and lemon grass from Ohio City Farm. I liked it, a lot. That evening we decided on pizza at Dewey’s in Lakewood. This is a regional chain and they make a very good pizza, which I recommend especially if you prefer a thicker crust on your pie. They don’t scrimp on toppings either. On Saturday evening we were prepared for a fine dining experience at a local Rocky River restaurant, Georgetown, so we played it smart and had a hearty, late breakfast and skipped lunch that day.

Need ‘shrooms? It would be no problem finding any and all varieties at the West Side Market.

This was smart as I spied my favorite indulgence on the appetizer menu… Hudson Valley foie gras. I know it is not healthy, I know there may be questionable practices, however as I said, this foie gras is designated “Hudson Valley”, thus my mind was at ease. Not all foie gras is raised in the same manner but this purveyor/farm is open about their practices, which are as humane as any cage free poultry facility. I watched the Anthony Bourdain video and have read about the Hudson Valley Foie Gras farm in the NY Times.

Anyway, this foie gras appetizer at Georgetown was perfectly prepared and I enjoyed it thoroughly, as I did my entrée, smoked boneless short ribs with black rice, buttermilk onion straws and watercress & apple salad along with a delectable big red chosen by Mike and Kay. Everyone at the table ordered something different and since none of us have any aversion to “sampling”, I tasted the Maine lobster pizza, the honey mustard & panko crusted grouper and more Walleye – this time Parmesan crusted and served with a mustard beurre blanc. For dessert I had the coffee crème brulee, which was excellent as well.

Beside meats, seafood and produce, the Market also offers fresh baked breads and sweets, locally made and international cheeses, fresh dairy items, spices and flowers. Whew! Honestly, I could have spent the entire day there…

After this outstanding dinner we all contently rolled back to the house, ready for our last day of adventure on Sunday with a quick trip to the Village of Chagrin Falls. Our meals at Chagrin Falls consisted of a double-header – first a late lunch at Yours Truly, a local Ohio-based chain that is housed in a renovated 1930’s building once a Ben Franklin Five-and-Dime, complete with checkered tile floor and mini juke boxes. Our meal here was quite satisfactory and I tried a “chicken broil”, which hit the spot. Their sweet potato fries with Tango sauce were above average, very good indeed.

The flavor ‘board’ at Jeni’s. The hardest part was deciding what to get although they are kind to let us sample a few before making this monumental decision. And if you can’t make it to Ohio, you can order online!

The “black and tan” for the beer drinker with a sweet tooth! Stout-spiked bundt cake with salted caramel ice cream, chocolate sauce, caramel sauce, chopped smoked almonds and whipped cream.

After a quick post-lunch stroll around town, we headed for the big foodie treat of the day, a place called Jeni’s Splendid Ice Creams. Here you can get a taste of creamy cold creativity in a cone, a cup or even nestled inside a fresh macaroon. With flavors like sweet corn and black raspberry, reisling poached pear, salty caramel or my hubby’s choice, “’the milkiest chocolate in the world’, there is some sweet concoction here for everyone. I could not resist ‘whiskey & pecans’ (wonder what this says about me?!?). Needless to say this was a foodie-fabulous ending to our trip and someone was smart to relegate it to our last afternoon there, as we probably would have found a way to stop by Jeni’s every day during our short five-day trip – it was just that great.

Girly Girl thinks “Cleveland Rocks!” too.

So I hope you liked my recap – and if you happen upon Cleveland in your travels, be enthused knowing you can rock it with some excellent eats in the ‘Western Reserve’.

What an excellent adventure, so thanks to my in-laws. And… thank you Cleveland!

Field Trip: mixing business with pleasure in Bluffton, SC

One of the small towns located close to where I reside, Beaufort, SC is Bluffton. Actually, Bluffton is not all that small as it ranks as the 5th largest ‘city’ in the state (by area), due to the incorporation of various annexations in the past dozen or so years.

The largest of these was the property known as Palmetto Bluff, previously a hunting property, now a development replete with Jack Nicklaus golf course, a spectacular Auberge Resort, multi-million dollar homes and it’s own little “town”. These fine folks also hold homage to all things deliciously Southern at their annual Music to your Mouth Festival held in November. It’s a literal bacchanalia of food, wine and southern-inspired artisans showcasing their work.

Of course, with the gorgeous setting overlooking the May River and sumptuous, tasty treats prepared by foodie celebrité chefs like Chris Hastings, Sean Brock, Craig Deihl, Steven Satterfield and Hugh Acheson one cannot go wrong just attending the Saturday Culinary Festival. I was lucky to be invited last year and write about the Culinary Festival as part of my other blog, Hilton Head Island Foodie Vibe. Fingers-crossed, I will be invited back this November. Whether I am or not, it remains the finest example of mixing business and pleasure that I have encountered.

There are actually a whole slew of events that make up the festival and one can surely carve a very nice foodie-centric getaway out of the week, if you are so inclined. Note that it is not a free affair – the cost is as they say, somewhat substantial, but where else can you actually strike up a conversation with that many accomplished chefs AND sample their best creations, all on the same day? This year I heard that there will be a bacon forest – are you kidding me? I must see (and nibble?) that!

To say that Palmetto Bluff is a “nice property” is an understatement. To give you an idea, it has received the AAA-5 Diamond award for the last 3 years, U.S. News & World Report ranked it as the #1 hotel in the entire U.S. this year, and Conde Nast Traveler named it the #3 best southern golf resort and #15 spa this year. While that is all well and good, I find that the best aspect of this place is that it actually fits into Bluffton.

This could be deemed peculiar since Blufftonians are known – and proud – to flaunt their ‘own state of mind’. Old Town Bluffton itself, is well, old… and rustic with paint peeling, un-manicured yards and even neighborly roosters crowing at dawn… and other, usual times too. The flora and fauna here can be wild and well, quite beautiful in it’s own overgrown and verdant way.

In Bluffton you can find a million-dollar home sitting contently next to a tiny, rusty tin-shingled cottage. When you belly up to the oyster table at the annual Rotary Oyster Roast don’t be surprised to find yourself standing between the CEO of the largest corporate business in the county and your car mechanic – both happily shucking and sucking down some briny May River beauties and discussing fishing for sea trout, college football and/or the stock market. No one really puts on any “airs” here – it’s that kind of town.

Bluffton is one of my favorite places in the Lowcountry. I did live there for a few years and while it has transformed in ways there are still some things that have not changed in literally years (or even decades). I find comfort in this – the positive changes which equate to growth and, hopefully, prosperity – and reassurance that the beautiful aspects of the town, the May River and the quirky, friendly people of Bluffton will remain that way.

Here’s to you Bluffton with my mixed bag of pictures taken over the last 12 months, maybe you’ll be enticed to give her a visit …

Chef Matt Jording of the Sage Room on Hilton Head prepared this dish: Parmesan and Crab Rissoto Cake, Bacon Buerre Blanc, Truffled Shiitake at the Culinary Showcase held during Music to Your Mouth 2011.

Gail Simmons of Food Network fame and local Chef and Food Network Star Contestant Orchid Paulmeier entertain the crowd up on the expansive demonstration stage at the Culinary Showcase.

The Culinary Showcase tent and artisan promenade light up the green lawns of Palmetto Bluff (that’s the May River beyond the live oak trees).

The Store is, well, a store that features vintage household items and real honest-to-goodness antiques. The centuries old building is in Old Town Bluffton on Calhoun Street.

Bluffton is also an art-town with many working artist studios and galleries located in renovated cottages in Old Town.

The May River and salt water estuaries (the marsh) are a place for play and work in Bluffton. Here are shrimp and fishing boat moored to a dock on the May. Also of note are the “pocket parks” the town is creating in the historic Old Town. Open to all, some have awesome views like this one.

There are several festivals in the Bluffton area (including Music to Your Mouth). The Bluffton Village Festival is in May, the Art & Seafood Festival in October and the totally unique Christmas Parade in December. Many merchants (including artists) offer their wares for sale – like this pretty painted furniture.

Live music is almost always on tap for Bluffton festivals . Check out the accordion! There was also a band member playing the wash board but he stepped out of the picture. Even the weekly Bluffton farmers market features live music.

A pretty clematis vine grows among the azalea bushes and honeysuckle at the pocket park.

Seven Oaks was constructed in 1850 and has been carefully restored in a manner typical of antebellum homes. It’s located near the end of Calhoun Street, close to the Church of the Cross and May River.

Treasure Island: Salvaged Cumberland Charts

The perfect spot to display my latest masterpiece! They greet me instantly when I wake in the morning.

I am thrilled to have my first guest blogger on, Kate McEvoy!  Kate and I have known each other a long time, bonding over the mysteries of traversing the singletons life and our mutual love of vintage chic, good food, and Savannah, Georgia.

Now that we’re both married ladies with our own families, we see each other less but thanks to the wonders of this digital age we keep in touch and as it is with good friends, we can pick up our conversation left dormant months ago, with no fear of upsetting one another with “you haven’t called me back!” Kate’s writing is truly fresh and she has an enviable sense of style in everything from home décor to clothing to outdoor spaces. When Kate told me she found these cool charts of Cumberland Island and had the idea of blogging about them, I jumped at the chance to share her creativity in

Cumberland Island  is just off the coast of southern Georgia, about as close to the Florida border as you can get and still be in the Peach State. It is a naturally magical place – with tall, billowy sand dunes, wild horses, huge moss-draped live oak trees and remnants of past glory among the ruins of the Carnegie, Green and Stafford mansions.

I was lucky enough to visit this beautiful place several years ago and highly recommend it, because with all of it’s wild loveliness it is difficult to describe – it’s meant to be experienced. Accommodations include two choices: camping (close-in near the ferry landing which is what I did on my visit, or backpacking to the interior) or at the other extreme…the timeless, award-winning Greyfield Inn. I’ll confess I have always wanted to visit the Greyfield.  (Are you listening dear hubby? )

Treasure Island: Salvaged Cumberland Charts (Kate McEvoy)

Here’s my dog Cookie and her proud new fetch, properly rewarded with an ear rub and a green biscuit.

I’m Kate, southern by birth, Savannah by variety. In Savannah people are known for having their own unique way. I don’t mean one unique way shared by all, but an expectation that everyone is entitled to her own expressive behavior. Paula Deen likes big hair, big twang and big butter…and that’s just cool. But she accounts for just one, and that leaves about a hundred thousand more blends of peculiar Savannah wine.

From the very start, my ‘way’ was a blazing passion for all things homespun. I gather I’m driven by a desire for my mark on the world to be utterly one-of-a-kind. My book bags, Halloween costumes, dorm bedding… they were all hand-crafted treasures. Today, happiness comes from my many original or often repurposed discoveries. Actually you can boil me down to a constant project list and a storage unit of diamonds waiting patiently in the rough.

No big surprise I target weekend yard sales as the very best vehicle for spotting affordable new treasures. The allure of possibility at a rummage sale really gets my engine revving. Though utterly penniless, I recently stopped at a neighborhood sale while out walking the dog and walked away with the score of the century. In the fiery heat of a record-hot summer, I skipped home unfazed – ecstatic about a couple of old nautical charts! I found them in a pile of castaway junk marked FREE. That’s right, sale price = $0!!

The authentic seal for one of the charts.

Here’s what came of my find: two worn maps of Cumberland Island with catchy kelly greens and subtly faded blues. One chart is north island; the other its southern counterpart. How much more perfect is this pair for new wall art? There’s actually a bedroom called “Cumberland” at my family’s beach home on Tybee Island. In fact, the house itself is named “The Barrier Islander” in honor of Georgia’s coastline. The theme runs prominent throughout our happy vacation home.

My maps have to be an improvement over the stock art found in a pre-cut Michael’s frame!

Well, let the projecting begin… A visit with a custom frame shop and I was quoted $600-$700. How dare they rob me of the pleasure and pride I take from frugality?!! I promptly hit up Michael’s art store for an alternative. During a 40% sale, I found a pair of rustic frames that totaled just $70. While imperfect in size, they were nimble enough to get the job done.

Using the empty frame as a cookie cutter, I determine the exact portion to be fitted within the final frame.

By folding instead of trimming, I retain the option for converting to custom frames in the future.

The backdrop for my new art – the Cumberland bedroom at our beach house. See the top image for placement of these framed charts in the room.

Field Trip: Cooking up a storm at the Culinary Arts Center

Recently I attended a cooking class at the Culinary Arts Center at Hilton Head Health. The CAC facilities were totally renovated in 2011 into a larger space with top of the line EVERYTHING. Hilton Head Health has been in existence over 35 years, helping those struggling with weight issues AND individuals (and groups) who would like to focus on a healthy lifestyle. By addressing the mind-body connection between weight loss, fitness, nutrition and overall well being they supply the tools to sustain a healthy weight-loss. They were featured on the A&E weight loss docudrama, HEAVY.

This is the classroom. Each station has a professional range, sink and even pot fillers. At front is the huge stone “island” demonstration area – large monitors make following along with the chef easy. Photo courtesy of the Culinary Arts Center, Hilton Head Health.

But my afternoon there was all about cooking and seafood. As part of a post that I am writing for my other blog (Hilton Head Foodie Vibe) I was invited to attend the “Seafood 101” participatory class. Led by Chef Jen Welper the packed class began by getting some basic instructions and information about the ingredients we were going to use. We were given a packet of recipes for sauces or marinades plus instructions for cooking methods for fish fillets, shrimp, and scallops.

We then paired up with a partner. Mine was Marie, who was on a 3-day getaway program – a gift of her husband. Nice husband! She was bubbly and friendly and we hit it off from the start. I will state that I had thought to myself, “Okay, I know how to cook seafood so I’m wondering what I can learn here?”

Well, I learned how to quickly “press” garlic cloves without using a garlic press the professional way. Also a great way to let some aggression by slamming your lower palm down on a chef’s knife that is pressed flat on a garlic clove. Then just mince a little – so easy.

The snapper was pan seared and then surrounded by a pool of sesame ginger marinade.

I learned that shrimp can be crunchy and delicious by baking in an oven and that one of my favorite restaurant appetizers, Bang-Bang shrimp, was super easy to make at home. While I do not have step-by-step instructions for the “Bang Bang Shrimp”, I am offering up the recipe, courtesy of the Culinary Arts Center, below. It is a straight-forward recipe with two parts – the sauce and the shrimp. You can make the sauce earlier and simply warm it before tossing with the shrimp too.

The other two recipes we made were a sesame ginger marinade (which we used as a sauce) for a mild, pan seared snapper fillet and shrimp scampi, where we were able to use that garlic smashing technique. With the onset of the local shrimp season and plenty of fresh local fish I’ll be preparing those recipes in the future with step-by-step images and instructions.

Shrimp scampi: garlicky, lemony, tasty!

The cooking classes and demonstrations at the Culinary Arts Center are open to everyone – you do not have to be enrolled in a program at Hilton Head Health. So if you are interested in visiting the Hilton Head area and would like to include some learn’in (and cooking fun) while you’re on vacation, check it out.

Bang Bang Shrimp

Culinary Arts Center at Hilton Head Health

Bang Bang Sauce:

  • ½ cup orange marmalade
  • ¼ cup sweet chili glaze
  • ¼ cup water
  • ¼ tsp. Red pepper flakes
  • Panko shrimp (below)

Preheat a medium saucepan. Mix all ingredients (except the shrimp) in the saucepan until sauce is well mixed and warm. Toss in the cooked hot panko shrimp until coated. Note: we served our sauce on the side. Serve immediately.

Panko Shrimp:

  • 6 shrimp per person peeled, deveined (21/25s size)
  • ½ cup Panko Bread crumbs (Japanese bread crumbs)
  • ¼ cup Egg Beaters or just egg whites
  • ¼ tsp. ground black pepper
  • ¼ tsp. salt

Preheat oven to 375 degrees.

In one bowl place Panko crumbs, pepper and salt. Mix lightly. In a separate bowl place Egg Beaters. Dip each shrimp in Egg Beaters, then toss each shrimp in the Panko crumbs. Spray baking sheet or pan with non-stick cooking spray. Place shrimp on baking sheet and bake in the oven for about 15 minutes. Remove from the oven and toss with Bang Bang sauce and serve!

Field Trip: of goats & poetry at Connemara

“Time is the coin of your life. It is the only coin you have, and only you can determine

how it will be spent. Be careful lest you let other people spend it for you.”

― Carl Sandburg

3-day old nubian goats at the Connemara Farm, Carl Sandburg National Historic Site. Photo courtesy of the National Park Service.

It’s no joke that I have a thing for goats. Ever since my eighth grade class took a field trip to poet Carl Sandburg’s North Carolina home they have fascinated me. I think that trip was the first time I realized that there were other people, even famous people, who lived their life sort of like my family did. In as far as my father was no Pulitzer Prize winning poet and we did not raise goats (like Lillian ‘Paula’ Sandburg), my father was a business man, my mother worked as a dietician but we did not live in a suburb; we lived in the country.

The Sandburg’s most definitely lived in the country too and they raised…goats. Well, Paula Sandburg did and my mother raised quail… at one time, at least. My three older sisters also had a goat at one time, although it was not around by the time I arrived on the scene. My well-intentioned sisters had over fed the little guy and well, he expired. His short life is a story told many times in our family, with the result being that I would never be getting a goat.

The Sandburg’s could have lived any place they wanted but they chose Flat Rock, NC, located among the picturesque, green rolling hills about one hours drive south of Asheville. I also noted that the Sandburg’s simple farmhouse was filled with bookshelves, down most of the hallways, with every cranny filled with books and reading material. They loved books too. And the furnishings and the personal effects were left in tact. It was as if Paula Sandburg just left to tend her goats and would come through the kitchen door with a big glass jar of goat’s milk at any moment.

Carl Sandburg’s study. The interior of their home is warm, comfortable and appears as if Carl and Paula will be home any minute, well, if it was 1965. Photo courtesy of the National Park Service.

Paula Sandburg took up goat–keeping as a necessity when her husband was a struggling poet in Michigan. She continued to raise and breed goats as her husband became successful, having as many 200 Nubian, Saanens and Toggenburgs in her herd (called the Chikaming herd) in it’s hey-day. While Carl spent most of his time with words, Paula spent most of hers with her goats. By the time they moved to North Carolina in 1945, Paula was as famous for her goats as he was for his poetry and writing. In 1960 her champion Chikaming Toggenburg doe, “Jennifer II” set a world record for milk production with 5,750 lbs. of milk in ten months.

The National Park Service manages their home, “Connemara Farms”, today and you can visit it and Paula’s goats. There are around a dozen or so, reportedly some with the original Sandburg champion bloodline.

The goat barn at Connemara Farms on a foggy day. Photo courtesy of the National Park Service.

Visiting the Sandburg National Historic Site made quite an impression on me. After my visit there, I read up on raising goats AND Mr. Sandburg’s works – Rootabaga Stories was a favorite. I checked, A Sandburg Treasury: Prose & Poetry for Young People, out of the public library and poured over the tome, reading its entirety within my allotted two weeks. The simple beauty of “Fog” created a poetry fan for life and moved San Francisco to the top of my “must see” travel list. Visiting that city, and the adjacent wine country, years later, inspired and reignited my love for cooking and writing.

My husband will wince when he reads this, but I still hope to someday own a goat or three. But even if that never happens, we will take our girly girl to Connemara in a few years. I think she’ll love it as much as I did. In the meantime enjoy some poetry,  I’ve got to the get to the library to check out a book…

Fog by Carl Sandburg

THE fog comes

on little cat feet.

It sits looking

over harbor and city

on silent haunches

and then moves on.

Stars, Songs, Faces by Carl Sandburg

GATHER the stars if you wish it so.

Gather the songs and keep them.

Gather the faces of women.

Gather for keeping years and years.

And then …

Loosen your hands, let go and say good-by.

Let the stars and songs go.

Let the faces and years go.

Loosen your hands and say good-by.

Field Trip: Feel the (Animal) Love at Riverbanks Zoo & Garden

Well, hello there fella! Mugging for the camera…what a gorgeous animal. Check out those eyelashes. And very sweet natured too.

Back in March my family took a trip to Riverbanks Zoo, which is located in my hometown of Columbia, SC. I’ve spent many a fun morning or afternoon at this wonderful park but I’ll admit it’s been awhile since my last visit – at least 12 years. And while I wasn’t sure what to expect exactly, I hoped the experience would be as fun and educational for my 4-year old as it was for me when I was a kid. Needless to say my expectations were exceeded.

Hello Mr. Meerkat!

It should be known that I am an “animal person” in that I am enamored of most all-living creatures. My exceptions are parasites and snakes, although I appreciate them nonetheless. When my child was born I anticipated that she would carry on this trait but one never knows. While my husband does like animals, he does not share my fascination to the same extent, i.e. when I talk longingly of having a mini farm with chickens, a couple of Nubian goats and maybe a horse or two, he rolls his eyes and moves his head back and forth. Not a good sign.

Feeding the giraffes. I don’t know who was more excited my daughter, or me!

So we keep the peace with animal–centric field trips (while providing a learning experience for our daughter). From state-run petting zoos in Alabama to the Georgia Aquarium in Atlanta to Disney’s Animal Kingdom to the ‘ginormous’ Cleveland Zoo we’ve been fortunate to visit some outstanding parks and farms. Fairly close-in to our town are the South Carolina Aquarium and the Middleton Gardens (they have a wonderful colonial-era inspired farmstead), both located in Charleston, SC. Hope to arrange a visit to both this year.

Besides the giraffes, my daughter’s favorite of the day were the flamingos.

Getting back to Riverbanks… This park has grown substantially but is still considered mid-sized which is a great thing I believe, after my recent visit. We arrived early, right after opening time on a Saturday, strolling in straight away through the main gate, touring the exhibits at a leisurely pace, breaking for lunch and finishing up shortly thereafter. As we were leaving we noticed that a substantial line had formed under the warm Carolina sun. We were pleased not to be in that line (but happy the park was busy!)

Taking a decent shot of a penguin is tough. They are so very quick! I barely got a shot of this dude (or dudedress…not sure)

Since the zoo opened in 1974 care has been taken to not “over do it” as we say here in the South. This means that growth has been gradual with the science of caring for the animals and their wellbeing placed ahead of everything else.

I’ll pick the tortoise over the hare any day!

The park has expanded and now includes the Riverbanks Farm, Aquarium Reptile Complex and beautiful botanical gardens that are the envy – and the inspiration – of every master gardener from Greenville to Charleston. There are also a myriad of educational facilities including a 3-D Action Theater, Raptor Clinic and many, many activities geared toward children including camps and school programs.

This is Chaka, the oldest male gorilla. He was very active on this morning.

The park was one of the nation’s first to use realistic non-cage enclosure designs for its exhibits. It has won many awards for everything from its design and architecture to its breeding and conservation programs.

No shirt, no shoes, no problem…I think this is Mike. He looks, and acts, pretty happy to me:)

As you can tell, Riverbanks holds a special place in my heart and I am proud to say that my Mother (who lives in Columbia) has been a supporter and member of the zoo practically since its inception. So, I suppose I get my affinity for all creatures great and small honestly, and I would not want it any other way.

Maybe Hubby will go for the henhouse… if I ask for a Llama first? Insert yield sign here! My feeble attempt at reverse psychology in progress…now where’s that website for The Araucana Club of America?

Okay last shot…baby giraffe eating. I could not resist…my favorite animal-only pic of the day.

Field Trip: Fly away with me to the Coastal Discovery Museum

The flower of the Passion Fruit Vine (Passiflora incarnata), known locally as Maypop, is at once both strikingly unusual and lovely. The vines grow wild all around the Lowcountry and butterflies love them!

On Hilton Head Island, just a quick 45-minute drive from my home, is the Coastal Discovery Museum. The museum has been in existence for many years, having lived sort of a gypsy life moving from location to location until 2007 when it found a permanent home on the grounds of town-owned Honey Horn Plantation.

Honey Horn was a real, working plantation and while most folks around here sort of wince these days at the word, “plantation”, it denotes a time and a place that I think for all the right reasons we should not forget. As George Santayana wrote, “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.” Remembering the past, good and bad, can be cathartic especially when it leads to a learning experience applicable to the present and the future.

This fellow was kind enough to be still while I took his picture.

However, this visit to Honey Horn centers on the Coastal Discovery Museum and specifically the butterfly enclosure. It’s hatching time right now and if you find yourself in the area it’s worth a stop to catch the monarchs and other species in various stages of their lifecycle. The enclosure is surrounded by lots of pretty butterfly and bee loving plants too. It’s a serene way to spend a half hour and it’s free*.

The thoughtful folks at the museum have a nice little set up to encounter butterfly eggs, caterpillars, and chrysalis. And if you are lucky, witness a chrysalis evolve into an adult butterfly -as I did!

While you’re there, be sure to check out inside the museum – you can self-tour in about another 45 minutes. There are very good exhibits on the history of the Island and surrounding Lowcountry including the Native Islanders or Gullah. For the planners, there are also set talks and walks covering subjects like The Civil War era on the Island, a salt marsh discovery (wonderful for kids new to the Lowcountry environment) and special programs/events happening throughout the year. The Evening Turtle Talk & Walk off-site at the beach would be of particular interest to our family.

The Magnolia flower…in bloom now in the Lowcountry… need I say more?

For instance, last weekend was the annual Kiwanis Rib Burn Off. I was invited to be a judge and jumped at the chance – it was both educational and delicious! After sampling all those rib and barbeque entries (professional and amateur) I realized two things – I love barbeque more than ever and I need to work on my own barbeque recipes. Inspiration is a wonderful thing!

Inside the museum there are goodies for sale (of course I found those!) and informative exhibits about the local history including the Gullah or native Islanders. They also have special exhibits that change throughout the year- including sculpture, paintings, high-end crafts and last I visited – some very nice photography.

The Coastal Discovery Museum also has a child and parent friendly ‘kid zone’ set aside for learning about the history and natural history of the island. It is set up for interaction so hands-on is not only okay but encouraged. They even offer  scavenger hunts that allows children, with a scavenger hunt guide, to explore Historic Honey Horn and find

The cottage-style main building of the museum is a nice, cool respite from a warm Lowcountry summer afternoon.
Photo: Discover South Carolina.

items related to the cultural heritage and natural history of the property. As my 4-year old says, “very cool”! No doubt we’ll be making another visit to the CDM very soon – hope to see you there!

*While the museum and its attraction are technically free, they do kindly ask for donations.

Field Trip: Birmingham Botanical Gardens

Irises located in - you guessed it - the Iris garden!

Most Southerners have a thing about gardens. Many, like me, grew up with a backyard vegetable garden where many humid, summer hours were spent pulling weeds, or gathering the day’s burgeoning squash crop, or picking any encroaching critters off my mother’s prized tomato plants. Mostly it was a lot of work, and only as an adult did I think back on what a monumental influence that family garden has had on my way of living and thinking.

The red bridge in the Japanese Garden in Spring. I'm more relaxed just looking at this image. Photo courtesy of Birmingham Botanical Gardens.

Foremost is my innate love of the land that I carry with me always. Then there is the satisfaction found in completing a good day’s work and an appreciation for farmers everywhere (and all the wonderful things they grow). I could go on and on, but I’ll stop by adding just one more thing: that an unassuming family-tended garden showed me that there is beauty all around – at any place, at any given time. Just slow down and pay attention.

There are open spaces for kids (and Dads) to run and play.

That being said, the Birmingham Botanical Gardens, located in the quaint hamlet of Mountain Brook, Al (just south and east of the Birmingham city limits), has to be one of the most spectacular public gardens I’ve visited. Yes, they do have a vegetable garden (complete with whimsical rabbit sculpture) and a collection of over 3,000 types of plants in 25 plus thematic gardens and a lovely glass conservatory.

Guarded by a large rabbit sculpture, the vegetable garden showcases some tasty cabbage (and pretty annuals too!).

At most times of the year the garden has something spectacular blooming or sprouting or happening. My family and me were lucky to live close by in the Homewood neighborhood so we visited here many times. It is a wonderful spot for spreading out a picnic either in the Ireland old-fashioned rose garden or the formal garden and grassy queen’s gates near the conservatory. Around every corner is a happy botanical surprise.

Iris blooming beside the pond in the Japanese Garden.

But I think our favorite area must be the Japanese garden. With it’s red curved-top torii, or “gate to heaven”, tranquil tea garden, wonderful stroll garden set around Long Life Lake complete with red footbridge, colorful koi and bamboo grove, it is surprising to realize that you’re still on US soil let alone in the state of Alabama. My 4 year old (and my husband!) loved ringing the friendship bell within the Hulsey Woods garden that is adjacent to the Japanese garden.

Fantastically beautiful Helleborus (hellebore) plantings dot the gardens.

Calling themselves a living museum, the Birmingham Botanical Gardens house the largest horticulture library in the nation and boast a nice collection of outdoor sculptures sprinkled throughout its 67.5 acres. There is also an onsite garden store and a café, that utilizes onsite-grown herbs and ingredients in it’s offerings as much as possible.

Honestly, I would need to write paragraph infinitum to describe all that is offered here. For the serious gardener, southern or not, it must be on your bucket list. And for the casual visitor to the area it should be a top attraction for you, especially if you have kids (or you’re a kid at heart) who love the outdoors. There’s plenty of room to roam and run and relax here – and maybe learn a little something too.

And by the way, admission is free for all, local and visitor alike.

Granite Garden is a sculpture of red granite by Jesus Moroles (1988) located near the entrance. There are shady benches surrounding it - so sit and contemplate awhile.

Honeybees working for a living near the Southern Living themed garden.