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.

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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!