Ramblings: Don’t fear the pluff mud, it’s the least of your worries!

Triumph!

Triumph!

Over the weekend I was a witness to a spectacle of human fortitude, sportsmanship and an incredible amount of mud. It was the inaugural Face Your Fears mud run, held in the neighboring town of Bluffton, SC.

Apparently mud runs are becoming quite popular, a thrilling step up from the run-of-the-mill 5k or 10k races that occur with regularity here in the Lowcountry (and probably everywhere else in the US). Our area, i.e. the ‘low-country’ is well, low and muddy, so it’s the perfect locale for this kind of adventure race.

This is pluff mud. Stepping into it you could sink a mere 6 or 7 inches... or 3 or 4 feet!

This is pluff mud. Stepping into it you could sink a mere 6 or 7 inches… or 3 or 4 feet!

We even have different kinds of mud here – sandy mud, red clay mud, and our own indigenous “pluff” mud. Pluff mud is the bees knees of mud. It is heavy yet fluffy with a sticky viscosity that will suck the Keds right off your feet. Pluff mud is found in the salt marshes – it’s the rich, organic matter formed from decaying plants, sea creatures and every other critter that’s ever lived (and died) in the estuary. Pluff mud has it’s own distinct aroma too – as native son Pat Conroy says, “I don’t know of any place that smells like this. It’s a magnificent smell. It’s the smell of where all life comes from. I love that all shrimp, all crab, all oysters are born in the marsh.”

When I was young I didn’t care for that smell myself, but as I grew older pluff mud forever linked my brain with the coast. Its smell became sweeter and instantaneously recognizable as soon as it hit my olfactory cortex. To me that smell equals “home.”

Now, back to the race. So although our area was fashioned perfectly for a “mud run”, lo and behold if it seems that even a mud run has become passé – enter the “fear” part of the equation. Rumors were running rampant prior to the race, regarding the obstacles being added to induce ‘fear’. I heard there may be some electric shock(s) and perhaps live animals. While I discounted electric shock figuring the liability cost would be prohibitive, I thought, “hey, live animals could occur even if the event producers didn’t plan any.” Alligators, poisonous snakes (eastern diamondback, cane brake rattle snakes and water moccasin are common here) and leaches and eels are indigenous in our rural (and not so rural) landscape.

After wading through a muddy pool of frigid water it's up a 20-foot "mountain".

After wading through a muddy pool of frigid water it’s up a 20-foot “mountain”.

Luckily our temperatures have been quite cool over the past couple of weeks, consequently the likelihood of any reptiles lurking out and about on a cold morning was low. So here trudged our group (Girly Girl and I were the support staff) into the rainy, cold morning at Palmetto Bluff Resort. Now Palmetto Bluff has been named one the top resorts in the U.S. (2012 Conde Nast) and it IS quite impressive with an atmosphere replete with Southern nuances and an extremely accommodating staff. But the Face Your Fears mud run was on the OTHER side of the resort – the decidedly “natural” side. Other than a few dirt roads weaving throughout, several shorn acres of corn and an irrigation pond or two this part of Palmetto Bluff looks the same as it did 20 years ago, probably the same as it did 100 years ago.

As the race grew closer the rain drizzled on and off and the mud got muddier. Perfect. When it was all said and done my sis and Dear Hubby made it through and received their ‘dog tags’. Obstacles included a 20-foot high dirt ‘mountain’ climb, a vat of ice, an army-style crawl under barbed wire, straw bail jumping akin to a Mario-brothers game, and lots and lots of mucky pluff mud! No gators or snakes were reported to have joined in the fun. Almost as soon as they were through the finish line, Dear Hubby told me he was ready to take on

After the climb and sliding down the other side, run a hundred yards where a huge vat of ice water awaits.

After the climb and sliding down the other side, run a hundred yards where a huge vat of ice water awaits.

more ‘fear” next year, while my sis may chalk this up to the bucket list… one and done!

About the Face Your Fears Mud Run: Face Your Fears is the creation of Thomas Viljac of Bluffton, SC. Challenge yourself to face your fears both physically and mentally!

The course options included:

Course “B” (the Courage Course) with 3 miles and 16 obstacles and Course “A” (the Valor Course) with 10 miles and 25 obstacles, not including 2 mystery obstacles, the “Game Changers”.

The Face Your Fears Foundation supports four charities. All proceeds are equally distributed to The MARSOC Foundation, US Navy SEAL Foundation, Lone Survivor Foundation, and Brothers In Arms Foundation (SOCOMM).

The last obstacle was a jump into one of the lagoons. At least most of the mud gets washed off...

The last obstacle was a jump into one of the lagoons. At least most of the mud gets washed off…

Dear Hubby helping my sis out of the pond. Ever the gentleman!

Dear Hubby helping my sis out of the pond. Ever the gentleman!

They made it! No snake run-ins, leech entanglements or broken limbs. Just lots of shivering and some muddy clothes to wash.

They made it! No snake run-ins, leech entanglements or broken limbs. Just lots of shivering and some muddy clothes to wash.

Ramblings: Gullah on my mind, part 1.

The newly freed slaves and one of their Union liberators on Hilton Head Island. These Gullah ancestors became the first Freemen of Mitchelville.

The newly freed slaves and one of their Union liberators on Hilton Head Island. These Gullah ancestors became the first Freedmen of Mitchelville.

In the last several months I have had the pleasure to work on a project about Gullah culture and heritage. If you’ve never heard of Gullah, honestly I would not be surprised… but if you read on you should be prepared to be the one surprised.

Now the term Gullah refers not only to a “people” but also to a language. So one could correctly state that a person could both “speak Gullah” and “be Gullah”. For a long time, it seemed to me like most people outside of the Gullah community, only knew the term as it relates to language. However, over the past two decades or so, Gullah has become more known to outsiders and rightfully recognized for its many contributions to southern culture.

Gullah heritage encompasses art, food, religious practices, music, dance, folklore, and some of the most note-worthy political, social and military history since the founding of the United States. There does exist a good bit of research and written history about the Gullah and I have listed at the end of this post some of the resources I’ve found helpful. By no means am I any kind of expert or even all that knowledgeable on the subject – I’ve been intrigued by Gullah history and captivated by it’s culture and people.

A Brief Overview

First off let’s begin with a very general and brief introduction of Gullah and then I’ll cover one of the most dynamic and important subjects in Gullah history… Mitchelville.

Gullah artisan creating a one-of-a-kind sweetgrass basket.

Gullah artisan creating a one-of-a-kind sweetgrass basket.

But who are “Gullah”, anyway? Truly the history of the Gullah is like a blueprint for the history of America – a desire and ensuing struggle for freedom at all costs. But unlike the European immigrants who came to the New World by choice (for the most part) the Gullah were brought here forcibly, as slaves. The Gullah are descendents of enslaved peoples brought to the South Carolina, North Carolina, Georgia and north Florida coasts from West Africa to work the indigo, rice, sugar cane, and later cotton fields. The word “Gullah” may refer to Angola, where some Gullah people may have originated or from from Gola, an ethnic group living in the border area between Sierra Leone and Liberia in West Africa. The name “Geechee”, another common name for the Gullah people, may come from Kissi, an ethnic group living in the border area between Sierra Leone, Guinea and Liberia.

While enslaved Africans worked and lived on inland plantations, some that worked along the coast lived on actual islands – like Hilton Head, Daufuskie, St. Helena, Edisto, and Sapelo. For as much as these folks were so very isolated, even after winning their freedom in the Civil War, those that remained on the sea islands were able to hold on to many of their traditions and preserve their language, foodways, and culture due to that very same isolation.

There was no bridge to the mainland – one had to use oar, bateau and brute strength to reach “civilization”. This remained the case (there was ferry transportation for some after 1910) until the 1920’s for St. Helena Island and believe it or not, 1956 for Hilton Head Island. The famous spiritual “Michael, Row the Boat Ashore” was a song sung by the islander’s rowing the ferry across Port Royal Sound to St. Helena. It became popular when missionaries and others wrote down the words and melody and began to use it.

Gullah community members take part in a “ring shout” in Georgia, circa 1930. Photo courtesy of the Anacostia Community Museum, Smithsonian Institution.

Gullah community members take part in a “ring shout” in Georgia, circa 1930. Photo courtesy of the Anacostia Community Museum, Smithsonian Institution.

I find the most far-reaching “story” of the Gullah intertwines politics, the military, and an inspiring narrative. It is an important bit of American history which has, for the most part, been sidestepped in textbooks, and pretty much everywhere else.

In Hilton Head Island, on what is now Port Royal Resort, there was a Confederate fort, Fort Walker. The fort was a station for Confederate troops, and its guns helped protect the 2-mile wide entrance to Port Royal Sound, which is fed by two slow-moving and navigable rivers, the Broad River and the Beaufort River. Basically it is the body of water between Hilton Head Island and Beaufort/Port Royal to the north.

On October 29, 1861, the largest fleet ever assembled in North America moved south to seize Fort Walker during the Battle of Port Royal. On November 7, 1861, it fell to over 12,000 Union troops. Hilton Head became an important base of operations for the Union blockade of the Southern ports, particularly Savannah and Charleston and was also the site of a military hospital.

Mitchelville

After the occupation by Union troops, hundreds of ex-slaves flocked to Hilton Head Island to become part of the First South Carolina Volunteers and/or reside as full-fledged citizens in the first self-governed
 freedmen’s town in America, Mitchelville.

The Battle of Port Royal, made Hilton Head Island a Union stronghold and brought freedom to the enslaved people there.

The Battle of Port Royal, made Hilton Head Island a Union stronghold and brought freedom to the enslaved people there.

Before the Emancipation Proclamation was signed in 1863 and at the height of the Civil War, a group of escaped slaves, considered “contraband of war”, set about creating their own town on the grounds of the former Drayton Plantation called ‘Fish Haul’. Here Union General Ormsby Mitchel, created an actual town – instead of one of the more prevalent camps – with orderly streets, simple but accommodating wooden homes, a church, and most importantly, gave its inhabitants the freedom to govern themselves.

The newly minted citizens went about their business with elections, enacting various laws, collecting taxes, making a living, and naming their town “Mitcheville”, in honor of the forward-thinking General Mitchel. A compulsory education law for children was enacted— most likely the first such law in the South. Fort Howell, an earthworks garrison constructed in 1864 by the newly emancipated men of the 32nd U.S. Colored Infantry Volunteers, protected the town’s growing population of 1500.

Today, over 150 years after the Civil War began, local Gullah, direct descendents of Mitchelville, carry on the traditions of their history-making ancestors and work with a diverse group of Islanders to preserve and promote Mitchelville and its story of freedom.

Mitcheville had 1500 residents by November 1865.

Mitcheville had 1500 residents by November 1865.

While a work in progress, The Mitchelville Freedom Park has been fitted with a covered gazebo, an observation platform looking out toward Port Royal Sound, and kiosks telling the Mitcheville story through words and historical images. Plans are in process by the Mitchelville Preservation Project (www.mitchelvillepreservationproject.com) to construct replica structures and offer learning opportunities to the public through lectures, exhibits, tours and special events.

Like me, the folks involved in the Mitchelville Freedom Park see this project as a positive lightening rod for discussion, contemplation, and a place to ‘come together’ not just here in the Lowcountry, but for the entire country. As I heard just today in a lecture by the Reverend James E. Moore, “It’s not about you or me any longer in America… it’s about us”. I think Mitchelville Freedom Park is the perfect place to put that beautiful thought into action.

Want to learn more about Gullah culture? I’ll be adding more posts on various Gullah related and inspired topics but in the mean time check out these resources:

There are several Gullah-inspired festivals and events held through the calendar year and sprinkled across the Lowcountry of South Carolina. In January and February, it’s time for the Hilton Head Island Gullah Celebration with its myriad of fun, educational, and delicious events. Photo: The Native Island Business and Community Affairs Association, Inc., (NIBCAA).

There are several Gullah-inspired festivals and events held through the calendar year and sprinkled across the Lowcountry of South Carolina. In January and February, it’s time for the Hilton Head Island Gullah Celebration with its myriad of fun, educational, and delicious events. Photo: The Native Island Business and Community Affairs Association, Inc., (NIBCAA).

Ramblings: “doing better” on ML King, Jr. Day, plus a poem…

laurel beach jump!

I think we can all do better. This thought has occurred to me over the last several days as I wrote a blog post about upcoming ML King Jr. Day events in my community. While I was familiar with the basics of Dr. King’s life and work, I realized in the process of researching that post that I knew very little about this man. Reading through the materials found at The King Center website especially, I found myself transfixed by this time in American history and moved by Dr. King’s sermons and speeches.

The fact that I have also been working on a significant project about the Gullah people and culture over last 7 months has probably also heightened my awareness and interest in African American history. Never heard of the Gullah? This term refers to both a language and a people, descendents of enslaved Africans who live from the Wilmington, North Carolina area to Northern Florida. A large concentration of these descendents lived in relative isolation on the sea islands in South Carolina (the Lowcountry) down into Georgia, from the Civil War through the modern era. (Visit the new Gullah/Geechee Cultural Heritage Corridor website for more information).

The Gullah have an incredible culture and history, which is finally being recognized more widely for their numerous contributions to American food, art, language, and religious beliefs. For instance, if you love Southern food like pit cooked barbeque, okra and shrimp-n-grits, then thank the Gullah! It is a fascinating, LIVING culture – thanks to many Gullah who have worked tirelessly to keep it from sinking into obscurity. I’ll write more soon about the Gullah, so stay tuned…

ML King, ForbesFor now I’ll salute Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and his legacy of creating a better, more just world through personal accountability, non-violence, and service to others, with a poem I find fitting for this day. While Maya Angelou’s poem The Rock Cries Out To Us Today, has been explained as an ode to environmentalism and to rally respect for our natural world, I also infer that taken as a whole, the poem directs the reader to look for courage in the eyes of your family, causes that you find just and worthy, and in your country.

The poem encourages the reader to separate themselves from fear and violence and allow hope, dreams and your own personal resolve to determine your future. Thanks to heroes like Dr. King, African Americans (and women, folks with disabilities, minorities, children and pretty much every American), obtained the right to create (“mold”) their own futures.

Yes, “doing better” when compared to Dr. King’s remarkable deeds and legacy, seems like a formidable task, but there exists the opportunity of hope, and this begins with you. As Ms. Angelou so poignantly says, “The horizon leans forward, Offering you space to place new steps of change.”.

The opportunity to “do better” for yourself really starts by helping others.

_________________________________________

The Rock Cries Out To Us Today
 by Maya Angelou

A Rock, A River, A Tree

Hosts to species long since departed,

Marked the mastodon.

The dinosaur, who left dry tokens

Of their sojourn here

On our planet floor,

Any broad alarm of their hastening doom

Is lost in the gloom of dust and ages.

But today, the Rock cries out to us, clearly, forcefully,

Come, you may stand upon my

Back and face your distant destiny,

But seek no haven in my shadow.

I will give you no more hiding place down here.

You, created only a little lower than

The angels, have crouched too long in

The bruising darkness,

Have lain too long

Face down in ignorance.

Your mouths spilling words

Armed for slaughter.

The Rock cries out today, you may stand on me,

But do not hide your face.

Across the wall of the world,

A River sings a beautiful song,

Come rest here by my side.

Each of you a bordered country,

Delicate and strangely made proud,

Yet thrusting perpetually under siege.

Your armed struggles for profit

Have left collars of waste upon

My shore, currents of debris upon my breast.

Yet, today I call you to my riverside,

If you will study war no more. Come,

Clad in peace and I will sing the songs

The Creator gave to me when I and the

Tree and the stone were one.

Before cynicism was a bloody sear across your

Brow and when you yet knew you still

Knew nothing.

The River sings and sings on.

There is a true yearning to respond to

The singing River and the wise Rock.

So say the Asian, the Hispanic, the Jew

The African and Native American, the Sioux,

The Catholic, the Muslim, the French, the Greek

The Irish, the Rabbi, the Priest, the Sheikh,

The Gay, the Straight, the Preacher,

The privileged, the homeless, the Teacher.

They hear. They all hear

The speaking of the Tree.

Today, the first and last of every Tree

Speaks to humankind.

Come to me, here beside the River.

Plant yourself beside me, here beside the River.

Each of you, descendant of some passed

On traveller, has been paid for.

You, who gave me my first name, you

Pawnee, Apache and Seneca, you

Cherokee Nation, who rested with me, then

Forced on bloody feet, left me to the employment of

Other seekers–desperate for gain,

Starving for gold.

You, the Turk, the Swede, the German, the Scot …

You the Ashanti, the Yoruba, the Kru, bought

Sold, stolen, arriving on a nightmare

Praying for a dream.

Here, root yourselves beside me.

I am the Tree planted by the River,

Which will not be moved.

I, the Rock, I the River, I the Tree

I am yours–your Passages have been paid.

Lift up your faces, you have a piercing need

For this bright morning dawning for you.

History, despite its wrenching pain,

Cannot be unlived, and if faced

With courage, need not be lived again.

Lift up your eyes upon

The day breaking for you.

Give birth again

To the dream.

Women, children, men,

Take it into the palms of your hands.

Mold it into the shape of your most

Private need. Sculpt it into

The image of your most public self.

Lift up your hearts

Each new hour holds new chances

For new beginnings.

Do not be wedded forever

To fear, yoked eternally

To brutishness.

The horizon leans forward,

Offering you space to place new steps of change.

Here, on the pulse of this fine day

You may have the courage

To look up and out upon me, the

Rock, the River, the Tree, your country.

No less to Midas than the mendicant.

rainbowNo less to you now than the mastodon then.

Here on the pulse of this new day

You may have the grace to look up and out

And into your sister’s eyes, into

Your brother’s face, your country

And say simply

Very simply

With hope

Good morning.

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!

Ramblings: Turning the page with my friend Porter

“Books are living things and their task lies in their vows of silence. You touch them as they quiver

with a divine pleasure. You read them and they fall asleep to happy dreams for the next 10 years.

If you do them the favor of understanding them, of taking in their portions of grief and wisdom,

then they settle down in contented residence in your heart.”

Pat Conroy, My Reading Life

Last week a man named Porter Thompson passed away from this life and into the next. He was a person who I worked with for over a dozen years within the last 20 or so of my life. In a tiny size office, with just a handful of people, and Porter’s personality, it would be nearly impossible that the two of us would not also become friends over all those years.

Although he was not born into the South, “he got here as fast as he could” and generated as much charm and character as any southerner’s slightly eccentric elder relative ever could. He was a wonderful writer and an even better storyteller. Many times, I never new what was real and which details had taken a spin through the “Porterizer”, but that was, for me, the appeal – and the fun – of just about any conversation (unless we were on deadline!). And for him, I am positive it was all the fun.

Porter moved on too early from this world, and Hilton Head Island, which he adored. Around here it’s just a little less lighthearted without someone like Porter around. I feel grateful that we were able to visit a couple of times since I moved back to the Lowcountry, the last time having a good, long conversation about writing and this blog, in particular. I don’t know if he ever did visit southbyse.com, but I like to think so.

Porter’s office was a lot like his home, with bookshelves overflowing with volumes and variety – no wall was spared. It was a little cluttered but never a mess, the familiar and cozy smell of books permeating the air, like your favorite book store. One of the finest places one can be, if you ask me. I like to think that is where Porter is hold up now, his wife Barre at his side, in a comfortable chair reading a good book or having a laugh about some wind-bag authored, preposterous letter-to-the-editor in the local newspaper. Maybe his friend Tim Doughtie drops by and they ceaselessly crack jokes at each other’s expense, pausing only for one of Porter’s favorite treats, a root beer float.

Porter, my friend, you’ve sailed away toward a better place where the sun shines for you always, there’s a salty breeze at your back, a good read on the side table and it always falls open to your exact spot. Have as many root beer floats as you want – and enjoy every damn sip!

Ramblings: … still the “land of the free and the home of the brave”

Along the fire line in Idaho. Josh, my brother-in-law, chainsaw in hand.

As I drove my daughter to preschool this morning, I said to myself, “what a beautiful blue-sky day”, and with that thought, feelings of regret in the moment afterward swept over me. It is Sept. 11th after all. And much like the weather outside today, that specific morning, a robin’s-egg blue filled the sky, and the air had a slight crispness to it, somewhat unusual for this time of year in the Lowcountry. Looking back, it felt like change was literally in the air…and boy, was that ever the truth.

While I am just an average American, do not live in or near any of the locations struck down on that fateful day, I will always remember where I was, who I was with, and the horrific sadness inflicted on America that day. And while I will never forget, in the years that have passed I have moved on from anger and emotional distress, not to complacency, but to appreciation for what and most importantly, who I have in my life.

In attempting to honor those who were lost that day and in the resulting years of war and strife, I like to think that all these people – who I’m sure thought of themselves as everyday people – are in the realm of true heroes, nay, super-true heroes, if you will. Put into precarious situations and without thought for their own lives, 9-11 first responders represented the best in humanity through their selflessness.

Water drop from a helicopter. I think this is in Utah.

Yes, 9-11 was a tragedy in so many ways. After the shock, sadness and the anger of that day, I do not allow whining and complaining (think airport security) resulting from that act of terror to overshadow the big picture. Get to the airport early and remove your shoes without comment, people. Being a “cup-is-half-full” type person, I think about what good can come from such calamity, if at all. It is a hard nut to crack, but in the last 11 years and especially since I became a wife and mother, much of the energy previously spent with inward focus has turned outward. I am more altruistic in general, more aware – and more appreciative.

In that light, I want to honor 9-11 heroes by moving on some, as I believe most of them would prefer that we move on, always remember and learn, but move on too…

Just recently, there was a hurricane in Louisiana and Mississippi and wildfires all summer in the western US. During Hurricane Isaac, a father and son team, Jesse and James Shaffer, rescued 120 people in Plaquemines Parish, Louisiana when flooding rains overtopped and burst the levee. In heavy downpours and winds up to 80 mph they trudged through, putting their own lives at risk for neighbors and strangers alike.

Hot shot crew in for the duration.

This past June in my own county, a quick-thinking UPS driver, Eric Logan, rescued a family (including 3 children) from a submerged vehicle after the driver suffered a black-out and veered off the highway and into the adjacent marsh. There are heroes all around us…

My brother-in-law, Josh is a wildland firefighter, working on a “hotshot” crew in Utah. Just this summer, he and his crew worked to contain and put out fires in Colorado, Idaho and Utah. Of course, we worry about him but he has a good head on his shoulders and he has been well-trained. While he would be most reticent and probably embarrassed at my describing him as a ‘hero’ (he would say, “this is my job”) it takes courage and fortitude to handle the tasks and environment of his particular ‘job’.

Fire crews are available 24 hours a day, 7 days a week during the fire season, which typically lasts six months. Crews pack all water and supplies needed for work shifts that frequently exceed eight hours, and may be 12 hours or longer, sleeping on the ground and hiking long distances with heavy packs and tools, like chainsaws, to reach remote areas. So far this fire season over 7 million acres have burned in the US – mostly in the west. It has been a very busy summer for wildland firefighters and local firefighters alike, dealing with these forest fires. Countless lives and much property (including pets and livestock) have been saved due to the work of these brave folks.

Crews work throughout the night to contain the fires that have threatened and taken lives and property this summer. Josh has accrued hundreds of overtime hours this fire season.

This summer I have thought often about Josh and the hardship he encounters daily in his work, and even though he signed up for this ‘job’, he – like a soldier, sailor, airman, or police officer – lives with a varying amount of uncertainty, never knowing when the seemingly mundane may become extraordinary.

Just after Sept. 11, 2001, I think all us in America probably felt this way to a certain extent – nervous and stressed when it came to the unknown. The optimism and thrill of imaging the future gave way to fear and anxiety, for a good while at least.

Today’s America and world may be quite different than it was 10 years, 364 days ago. The power of humanity and the courage of those who responded during the events of 9-11 – and those who, today, perform courageous acts of their own volition, or work the truly hard ‘jobs’, by their own example, lift us all up as Americans…and as human beings.

Now go hug your family… and tell them you love them.

Fighting a fire in a remote location sometimes requires that the crew be deposited by helicopter into the back country.

Josh heading out with his best friend during fire season – a chainsaw.

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!

I went back to Ohio… but my pineapple ginger marinade was gone.

This week I am going on “vacation”. Well, it is more of just a trip but ‘vacation’ sounds way more impressive, don’t you think? We are traveling (by car) north to what several of my friends – and a large percentage of the population living on Hilton Head Island call the “motherland”… Ohio.

I lived on Hilton Head Island for a long time and it is a beautiful, wonderful place indeed with many (can you believe over 200!) very good and interesting restaurants. While the Island still retains some of it’s southern roots, it is a real melting pot of people – one of the best aspects of living there I think. On the one hand it can be enlightening to be around people from all over, but on the other hand, it can be difficult to ‘get ’r done’, i.e. squabbling, lack of compromise, so many transplants wanting everything to be just like it was in “insert town name here, Ohio”.

It’s curious to live in a place where so many people move to mostly because they loved it so much on vacation. I used to joke that it’s as if the Island magically set adrift from the Buckeye state and then took hold of the South Carolina coast or perhaps Charles Fraser (he developed Hilton Head for the most part) threw out a line as it was passing by and then anchored it good and taut in Calibogue Sound.

But I do like Ohio folks – in my opinion they should just slow down a bit, allow the southern way of life to percolate awhile and enjoy Lowcountry living. And I do like visiting my father-in-law Mike and his wife, Kay up in O-h-i-o. Their latest weather report of 70’s during the day and high 50’s (50’s!) at night is right on time for this southern girl. I’m also looking forward to trying some local Walleye and an exploratory trip to the West Side Market as well.

So as I am preparing for said vacation – finishing real (i.e. paying) work and packing a sweater (yes a sweater in August), I came across this marinade that uses fresh pineapple and ginger and realized I had not posted it yet. I love fresh pineapple but unless we have company or a party, I end up with that last cup or so uneaten. I hate to waste delicious fresh pineapple, so I made this marinade, and slathered it on some thick bone-in pork chops that then seared off in my hand-dandy grill pan. Easy peasy for the day before vacation, ya’ll.

The few ingredients are combined in the food processor and ground up to a chunky puree.

Slather the chops in the marinade, cover and allow to marinate several hours.

About 30 minutes before serving sear the chops. Here I used my grill pan because it was a rainy evening, but you could use your outdoor grill.

Turning the chops over you can see I got some good grill marks with my pan.

Baste the chops with the reserved marinade. Sorry this pic is blurry!

Once the chops are seared on both sides cover the grill pan (or remove to a covered roaster) and allow to cook until you reach your desired doneness. I like my pork slightly pink in the center. And keep in mind that meats continue to cook even after you remove fro direct heat.

Finished chop – still juicy and delicious. Fresh fruit salsa, scalloped potatoes or coconut jasmine rice would go great with this entree!

Pineapple Ginger Marinade for Pork Chops

  • 2 thick bone-in pork chops
  • 1 cup fresh pineapple chunks (and juice)
  • 2 tbl fresh ginger, grated
  • 2 tbl agave nectar
  • 1 tsp dry mustard
  • salt and pepper

In a food processor or blender mix all above ingredients except the salt and pepper. It will be thick and mostly smooth – some small chunks are okay. Reserve ¼ cup of this mixture for basting. Slather the balance of the marinade on the chops, cover and allow to chill in the refrigerator 4 hours, turning at least once.

Prepare your grill. If using a grill pan, brush on grape oil, or other oil with a high burn temperature threshold. When the grill pan or grill is hot (but not smoking) sprinkle the chops with salt and pepper to your taste and sear on each side. Baste with reserved marinade. Cover grill pan and cook to your desired doneness. If using a grill you may remove the chops to a roasting pan and roast in a preheated 350 degree oven. You can double this recipe.

This marinade is also very good on chicken – 2 large bone-in breasts or 2 thighs and 2 drumsticks or a combination of pieces.

PEAS pass me the grilled shrimp, zipper pea and heirloom tomato salad!

In my recent search for local figs (hardly any luck here I’m sorry to say) I have run across an item at the farmers market that caught my fancy. It reminds me of my youth and many a summer afternoon sitting on my parents screened porch cross-legged, basket in my lap shelling field peas or butter beans or a peck of whatever goodies had been picked that morning. It could be a monotonous job, and was not something I volunteered to do.

It was the better of two choices my Mom would offer (demand), like “weed the garden or shell peas” or perhaps, “fold 3 loads of laundry or shell peas”. For some arcane reason I liked shelling peas and by the end of the summer I was fast. And if we had a bushel or two to “put up”, we would all shell –  even neighbors would join us, and it was sort of a pea-shelling party. There would laughter, some gossip and perhaps a slice of something sweet my mom had baked when we were finished. Divide up the finished bags ‘o peas with an extra bag and slice of cake for the elderly neighbors.

It sounds quaint, even old-fashioned and maybe hard to believe in today’s world that a tween/teen would enjoy something like that and even decades later remember it fondly. But it’s all true – well, the extent of my warm feelings are probably more exaggerated now that I have grown older, experienced a few things, and look back in retrospect. The demanding ways of the busy world make that repetitive and quiet hand work more appealing. Sometimes one needs to pull the hand brake and extricate oneself from the ceaseless hamster wheel of life. Sometimes one needs to start a task and finish it the same day. Sometimes it okay to relax your mind and allow nothing to seep in… only the question of whether you’ll get 3 or 4 bags of peas for the freezer.

A feeling of accomplishment can do wonders for the human soul, especially when it’s a solid task, one that directly benefits your family, friends and even strangers. Got an extra bag of peas? Cook them up and send them over to the neighbor down the way, you know the one who’s been struggling, but always gives you a wave and asks if they can do something for you. Pay it forward may be cliché but who cares? There are peas to be shelled.

Good times… good feelings all around… and all you need are some peas. Who knew?

____________________________________________________________

The peas I use in this recipe are called zipper peas. They are a ‘cream’ pea akin to black-eyed peas but smaller. I mean teeny tiny. Fresh ones are a cinch to cook – some chicken or vegetable stock and a little bacon (I used smoked hog jowl, believe it or not… amazing what you can find at the Piggly Wiggly). The cook time is quick – 25 to 30 minutes for about 2 cups of fresh peas. Don’t overcook them because they will get mushy, thus the term “cream” pea.

I like them over rice with pickled onions on top – a traditional, southern way to enjoy field peas. But I also love them in salads as I served them in the post. They make a good addition to grain based salads like couscous, rice or quinoa or added into a vegetable soup.

This salad also boasts the most gorgeous and wonderfully-flavored heirloom tomatoes I’ve encountered in a long while. Purchased at the Bluffton Farmers Market and called ‘Mr. Stripey’.  Also one of my favorite grilled shrimp recipes, using local Beaufort County shrimp and a fairly low fat creamy dressing made with ricotta cheese, buttermilk, lime and cilantro.

Ingredients for cooking zipper peas. I like hog jowl as it isn’t too smoky and a little bit renders a good amount of fat, which is what you want in a this dish. The cooked jowl is discarded.

Grilled Shrimp, Zipper Pea & Heirloom Tomato Salad

  • 1 recipe zipper peas, room temperature
  • 1 cup creamy ricotta cilantro lime dressing
  • 1-2 lb. grilled shrimp – your favorite recipe or see below. I figure 6 shrimp per person for lunch and 12 for dinner.
  • 1-2 sliced large tomatoes, preferably heirloom or home grown or your favorite
  • 2 Avocados, sliced and coated with a squeeze of lime or lemon to prevent browning
  • Mixed greens like green and red leaf, Boston butter, spinach, etc. – 1 1/2 cups or so per person

Prepare dressing and set aside in refrigerator. Prepare zipper peas. Both of these can be made earlier in the day. Prepare your grill. 20 minutes before serving prepare the grilled shrimp. Assemble salads with green first, tomato slices, avocado slices, and  shrimp. Drizzle with dressing. Serve with slices of 1-2-3 bread slathered in olive oil,sprinkled with parmesan cheese and lightly toasted.

The peas are boiling, so then turn down the heat, cover and allow to simmer until they are cooked through.

The peas are done! Allow them to cool while you assemble the salad or make them earlier in the day.

Zipper peas

  • 2 cups fresh zipper peas
  • 1 cup chicken or vegetable stock
  • (4 ) 1-inch pieces bacon, hog jowl or fatback
  • salt & pepper to taste

Wash the zipper peas in cold water and drain in a colander or sieve. In a medium saucepan cook the hog jowls or bacon until fat is rendered –about 4-5 minutes (do not burn). Remove from the saucepan and add the stock and peas. Bring up to a boil, stir, reduce heat to a simmer and cover. Allow to simmer for 25-30 minutes. Season to taste with salt and fresh ground pepper. Peas should be soft but not mushy.

Mixing the dressing ingredients in a food processor makes quick work of this recipe. You could also use a blender or immersion blender. Stir in the cilantro and green onions into the blended mixture.

I used this product – wanted to give it a try and it gave a light cilantro flavor. I prefer fresh but this will do in a pinch…

This dressing uses no oil – but it’s creamy and flavorful without all that fat. Makes a nice dip for veggies and grilled shrimp too!

Creamy ricotta cilantro lime dressing 

  • 1 cup ricotta cheese, light or regular*
  • ½ cup low fat buttermilk
  • 1 lime – juice (approx. 2 tablespoons) and zest
  • ¼ cup plus chopped fresh cilantro or 2 mini cubes cilantro seasoning
  • 1 clove garlic, crushed and minced
  • 2 green onions tops, minced fine
  • 1 scant tsp. salt
  • 1/4 tsp. fresh ground pepper

In a blender or food processor combine ricotta cheese, buttermilk, lime juice and zest, salt, pepper and garlic. Puree. Pour into a mixing bowl and stir in green onions and cilantro. Store in a covered bowl in the refrigerator for at least an hour for flavors to meld. Remove from refrigerator 15 minutes before serving so dressing comes close to room temperature before drizzling on your salad greens. Makes about 2 cups of dressing.

* If using regular ricotta cheese increase buttermilk by 1/4 cup  (3/4 cup total) so dressing will be easier to pour.

Ingredients for the grilled shrimp. Double or triple this if you are grilling several pounds of shrimp. This grilled shrimp recipe is a nice appetizer on its own too, just add a toothpick because the tumeric will stain your nails!

Shrimp on the grill. If you use wooden skewers be sure to soak them in water before hand. Or else if your grill is super hot they may catch on fire. I like these smaller-diameter wooden skewers for grilling shrimp.

Grilled Shrimp with 3 Spices

You can use your favorite grilled shrimp recipe for this salad. Here’s one of mine based off a recipe from the classic cookbook, The New Basics by Julee Rosso and the late Sheila Lukins. In the original lots more butter is used and  they are broiled (even though they say in the book ‘grilled’). I find wooden skewers easier to use with medium shrimp, just remember to soak them in water so they do not catch fire…

  • 1 lb. fresh shrimp, washed, peeled and deveined (if necessary). Tails left on.
  • 1 tsp. tumeric
  • ½ tsp. coriander
  • 1/8 tsp. cumin
  • ½ tsp. salt
  • Juice of 1 lemon
  • 3 tbl. butter, melted
  • skewers – wooden or metal

Skewer the shrimp and set aside, covered, in the refrigerator while you make the marinade. In a small bowl mix the spices, lemon, salt and melted butter. Prepare your grill. Brush one side of each skewer with the butter mixture and lay that side down on the grill. Brush the other side of the skewers (facing up) with the butter. Allow to cook about 3-4 minutes*, or until they begin to turn pink, turn over and brush again with the butter mixture and cook for another 3-4 minutes. Remove from the grill and serve immediately. This recipe can doubled or tripled, depending on how much shrimp you are grilling.

* If using extra-large or jumbo shrimp grilling time be a minute or so longer on each side.

“Mr. Stripey” was so pretty – and flavorful. Just dunk those slices into that dressing – yum!

Ramblings: Dog days of summer arrive with football, fresh figs and… optimism?

Ahhh, so it is August 1 and the proverbial dog days of summer have arrived here in the Lowcountry. Like clockwork, I opened the door this morning to be greeted by what my Dear Hubby describes as, “an all-enveloping blanket of humidity and heat”. Like a burning, slow motion tidal wave, it affects pretty much everything and everyone in its path from now until mid-September.

Add to this the low-slung haze and the oppressive daily heat index, and people around these parts either high-tail it for cooler temps, say in the elevations of  western North Carolina or Virginia for a week or two, or they simply learn to appreciate the annual scorch-fest known as August.

Now, it’s been hot here pretty much all summer – we did have a few days in the 80’s during June – but most days were measured in the high 90’s and last week the thermometer called in sick after registering 110 degrees for three days in a row. Lots of places around the country have been h-o-t and you’d think us Southerners would be “used” to it. Well, this Southerner is not.

This is not my favorite time of the year. In fact, to me there are only 3 good things about August:

  • Knowing that in about 6 weeks, it will be over for another year
  • College football season begins
  • Local figs are finally ripe

Well, if one can find figs, they should be in-season in my area in August. I am in an all-out hunt for local figs now, so “God willing and the creek don’t rise”, in the next 2 weeks or so I’ll have some figgy recipes to share.

In my parents yard, there were three fig trees – well, until my good-intentioned father pruned one to death, then we had two. They produced abundant crops of figs, if we could keep the birds (and the neighbors) out of them. My mother always made whole fig preserves, which like chow-chow and other oddly old-fashioned and quirky preserves, was not a favorite of mine until I got older and grew into my taste buds.

The common fig (Ficus carica) is native of the Middle East and was one of the first plants cultivated by humans. It was a common food source for the Romans and used to fatten geese for the production of a precursor of foie gras.

Fresh figs are one of nature’s most wonderfully tasting foods – if you’ve never had them – or rather, never had sweet, ripe ones – that is a real shame. Obviously running out the screen door and picking them at will off your mama’s tree is preferred, but I have bought decent figs at the farmer’s market since my mama’s yard is not in close proximity. I have also purchased mediocre ones from the grocery store, when my craving for fresh figs was high, my willpower was low, and no fig trees in northern Alabama.

Preserved figs are now one of my favorites and next to homemade apple butter, the thing I desire most on my breakfast biscuit. Pureed preserves also make a wonderfully moist addition to spice cake batter and a tasty morsel on the cheese board.

Another detail about fig trees is that they go completely bare during the winter. All the leaves drop and the stark and naked tree is left to over-winter. If one does not realize that it is a fig tree, and have the faith that it will bloom anew in the spring and bear fruit after a long (hot) summer, you would think it’s all she-wrote for that tree. But then, spring arrives and the leaves sprout, buds bloom and if the pruning shears have been left alone, all is well again with that fig tree. Take a bite of a fresh picked, ripe fig and you’ll understand what I mean.

It takes all kinds – all types of people, events and things to make the world go round, I suppose – even the dog days of summer.

“Nothing great is created suddenly, any more than a bunch of grapes

or a fig. If you tell me that you desire a fig. I answer you that there

must be time. Let it first blossom, then bear fruit, then ripen.”

– Epictetus

 

Welcome Back, Mr. Crab!

Summer has arrived here in South Carolina in all its humid glory. While I am not too keen on 60%+ humidity, the warm tropical temps do have at least one very positive effect – male blue crabs are getting plumper as they fill up the local saltwater marshes. Catching blue crabs by hand off the dock is a summer pastime I learned on weekend jaunts to my aunt’s beach house in Garden City, SC.

That beach house saw a lot in its time, many fish stories told, re-enacted and perpetuated by members of my family. Everyone I know has at least one to tell, even if it they weren’t witness to the actual fish-story generating event.

Blue crabs, sure they’re interesting looking but they are fun to catch and delicious to eat. Watch out for the pinchers!

My personal favorite involves a 30-gallon trash can full of shrimp and some wily blue crabs caught by my Dad, uncle and older cousins in a large seine net in the creeks around our beach house. I’ll never forget almost losing my finger to one of those testy crabs when I reached into the shrimp container and then made the belated realization that I had made a very poor choice! Instantaneously, I felt panic and pain as that voracious blue caught hold of my finger. My ensuing scream heard ‘round Garden City Beach’ was followed by howls of laughter from my brother as I flung the crab across the dock where it landed squarely at my Mother’s feet. I’ll admit that it took a couple of summers to participate in catching blues again following the “crab incident”. However, these days I do take great pleasure (revenge?) in every crab crack, crab cake and crab casserole set in front of me.

Now I know you may think, 30-gallon trash cans full of shrimp and crabs? We need a fact check here. But yes, the waters along the entire coast of South Carolina are brimming with blue crabs, shrimp, oysters and flounder for the taking. Back in the day (the ‘70’s in my case) all you needed was a permit, the right equipment and some local insider knowledge to catch the limit. Today, while you may not be up for pulling a net through 3 feet of pluff mud or setting crab pots you can visit your own local seafood market. Look for a product that was caught as close to your own town/state/area of the country as possible. I was recently informed that there are no commercial crab packing facilities in SC any longer – although there are plenty of commercial “crab men” – the picking and packing is done in NC. So you may have to ask where the crab was caught, but do ask, as any good seafood market would be happy to oblige. (If they do not, I would propose buying from a different source.)

Here’s my standby recipe for crab cakes. No real secrets involved, however, I will suggest using your own freshly made breadcrumbs as well as fresh lemon juice and parsley. Here I topped them with a cold lemon dill sauce – recipe below. You can even freeze them for up to a week, so it’s a delectable, do-ahead appetizer for a party. Just freeze them on a lined cookie sheet and transfer to a large bag or plastic container (with a good sealing lid) after they harden and freeze. Easy, peasy!

Fresh blue crab, picked out by ‘moi’ just a couple of hours earlier. Less than 24 hours before this picture was taken these crabs were footloose and fancy free in a nearby marsh, now they are dinner. There is some work involved but not as much sacrifice as those ‘blues’…so thanks to them we get to eat crab cakes tonight. Hurray!

All the ingredients, sort of… you will actually need some more bread crumbs as well as the ingredients for the lemon dill sauce (lemon, mayo & dill).

I know this is a boring image but you have to start somewhere…whisk the eggs first in the one bowl you need for making these crab cakes. Then…

add all the other ingredients except the butter. Mix together and chill. I only used a 1/2 teaspoon of hot sauce as we needed ‘family-friendly’ crab cakes but feel free to add more if you like spicy.

Here is the crab cake ‘batter’. Cover and chill for at least an hour.

Coat each crab cake in fine bread crumbs. I only use fresh bread crumbs that I make in my mini food processor, never canned breadcrumbs. Go light on the bread crumbs.

Here they are, ready for the big chill. If you want you can freeze them at this point on the baking sheet. When frozen solid remove to an airtight bay or container.

After they chill, bake in a preheated 400 degree oven. Flip them over once and bake another few minutes (exactly depends on the size). I baked these 8 minutes per side.

Fresh out of the oven. I find baking the crab cakes – instead of frying – still gives me a crispy crust but is lighter tasting (not greasy) and better for you, I would think. It’s all about the crab!

Okay, so this product, a refrigerated herb by Gourmet Garden is really the bomb. I do not have room to grown fresh dill and buying it is too expensive so this works great. A tube will last me a couple of months and I’m not throwing out old withered herbs – waste makes me c-r-a-z-y. They make other ‘flavors’ but the dill is the one I have used.

Carolina Crabcakes

  • 1 lb. of crabmeat
  • 2/3 cup + extra, fine breadcrumbs
  • ½ cup sweet bell pepper, finely chopped
  • 2 eggs
  • ½ tsp. salt
  • 1 tsp. dry mustard
  • 1 tsp. Worcestershire sauce
  • ½ tsp black pepper
  • ¼ cup fresh parsley, finely chopped
  • 1 tbl. fresh lemon juice
  • 1 tbl. butter
  • hot sauce, like Tabasco or Crystal, to your taste

In a medium bowl lightly whisk the eggs and all the other ingredients except the butter. Mix well, cover and refrigerate for at least 1 hour. Shape into crab cakes: 18-20 bite-size or 8 meal size. Coat each in extra fine bread crumbs lightly and place on a wax paper-lined  sheet pan. Chill another hour in the refrigerator (or pop into the freezer if you want to bake* them later).

Meanwhile preheat oven to 400 degrees. Melt 1 tablespoon butter in a cookie sheet to coat. Place crab cakes on the cookie sheet and bake for 2-3 minutes for mini crab cakes and 8 minutes for large crab cakes. Turn crab cakes over once and bake another 2-3 minutes for minis and 8 minutes for large ones. Serve immediately with rémoulade, tartar or my favorite, cold lemon dill sauce.

Lemon dill sauce: Mix ½ cup mayo with 1 heaping tablespoon chopped dill weed (fresh or  “Gourmet Garden” type) and juice of ½ a lemon. Chill until ready to serve.

* Frozen crab cakes will take a bit longer to bake, 1 more minute per side for the minis and 2 more minutes per side for the large.

Ode to Daddys Everywhere: Succulent Cheat’in Ribs

My apologies for only posting twice this week. As it happens, ‘real’ work became a priority and dang nabbit I had to write, write, write all week long. If you’d like to see a snapshot of what I do outside of the southbyse.com blog, I invite you to pop over to the Hilton Head Island Bluffton V&CB blog site, where I make the big bucks (ha-ha) as their foodie vibe blogger.

Ingredients are basic – not too many frills. But you can see the “cheat’in” ingredient in this recipe in the upper left – liquid smoke. Don’t spill any on yourself, you’ll be bound to attract all type of pesky critters looking for barbeque.

Check out these nice juicy, meaty ribs. These are baby back ribs but I really prefer St. Louis style.

Since I feel bad about shorting the posts this week I am going to double-down with both a story-post and a recipe. Here in the states it is Father’s Day on Sunday and I would be remiss if I did not honor the Dads in my life. First there is my husband, who not only is a patient and kind father to our 4–year-old girly girl, but never complains when he gets put in time-out (again!) during ‘class’ ruled over with iron crayons, by said daughter. Cheers go out to my father-in-law Mike, who shares my love of strong coffee and red wine and actually listens to my sometimes forthright opinions on politics, world affairs, and cooking. To my older brother-in-law Lee I say, good job on raising smart, open-minded kids with the wherewithal to appreciate both creamy, slow-cooked grits and foie gras. To my newest brother-in-law, Evan, being your first father’s day and with certainly many more to come, remember to never let a day go by without hugging both your child and your wife and telling them, “I you love”. Sure they know it, but it’s always best to show it!

Make the rub. I always use salt, Demera or brown sugar and different kinds of pepper but it’s really a matter of your taste preference.

Since my own dad passed away almost 9 years ago, father’s day has been a little sad for me. But knowing my Daddy, this would not set right with him and I can imagine him say saying, “Sugar, now don’t be sad! I’m up here watching out for you, don’t you know. Go on and have yourself a big piece of that (insert: cobbler, pie, cake, fried chicken) and you’ll feel right as rain. I’ll see you again someday – not too soon, but someday”. Ah, my Daddy. He was a strong Christian and of the Baptist faith, which fit him perfectly since he was as tall, boisterous and friendly but exceedingly kind and modest, as any country preacher-man.

On the rack with the rub, ready to be covered with foil. Pour the juice or wine or beer or whatever in the bottom of the pan and add the liquid smoke. Shhh… don’t tell.

My Daddy was a friend to both neighbor and stranger, and truly aimed to live by the golden rule: “Do unto others as you would have done to yourself.” It’s a little saying that has a huge impact and to this day I try to live by the same. My father was also a tinker, a thinker, a fisherman, a gentleman farmer and a lover of nature. All traits I admire, and some of which luckily rubbed off on me. Thanks Daddy!

This is a boring picture but it is important to cover the entire pan with foil securely – no rips or missed spots.

There’s so much more good stuff to know about my dad, I could write a book. But I’ll stop here and state that above all my Dad loved his wife (my Mom), his 5 kids and our extended family. We were always his number one, second only to God and placed well above himself.

One thing my Daddy did love was to eat good food. He had a pretty strong sweet tooth and never passed up a dessert, especially my Mother’s cakes or pies. And, as I’ve mentioned before my Dad was a barbeque expert, commonly referred to as a pitmaster. He would laugh at that title, I think. But he did rule the ‘pit’ as his specialty was roasting a whole hog in a traditional method, known as Williamsburg County style. Of late, this method has garnered some fame mostly through Rodney Scott of Scott’s Bar-b-que in Hemingway, SC . TV host and foodie Andrew Zimmern called Scott’s barbeque “the best he’s ever had”. And Rodney cooked up some fine ‘Q’ at the last year’s Music to your Mouth festival at toney Palmetto Bluff. Not surprising to me at all.

Out the oven it’s not as pretty as a wood smoked rack for sure but it should be juicy and flavorful. We’re taking care of the pretties in a moment.

This method of cooking the pork is very basic, allowing the flavor of the pork and the wood smoke to shine, so as long as you don’t use overly hot coals, or otherwise overcook the meat, you’re good. The recipe I’m presenting today is NOT great barbeque on line with Scott’s or my Daddy’s. But it is pretty darn good and since I am currently at a lack for a pig pit or whole hog for that matter, I improvise my barbeque technique.

Here it goes onto the rack to sear and get some nice grill marks along with your favorite barbeque sauce.

We love pork ribs in my family so I make these racks whenever we have a hankering for barbeque. The method is the key – cook them low and slow, i.e. low temperature for a long time. I make my own rub with whatever I have available but it always includes salt, sugar, and several kinds of pepper. The cheat’in part is to make up for the lack of smoke – hard to come by without a real wood fire! And of course better quality pork makes better tasting pork ribs.

Here we go, that’s better! Finish it up on the grill and you’re all done. Easy peasy.

Succulent Cheat’in Ribs

  • 1 rack good quality pork ribs, baby backs or St. Loius preferred
  • 1/2 cup brown sugar (or Demera)
  • 1 tsp. salt
  • 1 tsp. black pepper
  • 1/2 tsp. ground chipotle pepper or red pepper
  • 2 tsp. adobo seasoning
  • 1 tsp. smoked sweet praprika
  • 1 tsp. liquid smoke (this is the cheat’in part!)
  • 1 1/2 cups liquid – fruit juice such as apple or wine or beer or a combination
  • barbeque sauce (your favorite!)

Preheat oven to 200 degrees. Wash and dry the ribs. Prepare a roasting pan with rack. Mix together all other ingredients except the liquid smoke and liquid/juice to make the rub. Sprinkle this mixture over and rub onto both sides of the ribs. Place ribs on the rack. Pour the liquid or juice into the bottom of the roasting pan and add the liquid smoke. Cover roasting pan with foil, making sure it is sealed well. Roast in the oven for 3 1/2 to 4  hours or until ribs are cooked and tender but not literally falling off the bone. Depending on what type of grill you have prepare it while the ribs are roasting.

When hot, place cooked rib on grill and brown or sear on each side. After one side is browned slather on the barbeque sauce and continue to grill until ribs are to your liking. Serve immediately with extra sauce.

* If you are using a charcoal grill and have a smoker box feel free to use it when you are grilling off the meat, even it’s just to lessen the “cheat’in” aspect of his recipe!