Thursday, July 12, 2012

"I'm going back to dignity and grace."* Well, we were going home, at least.

Our last day in Charleston dawned not as hot and muggy as the previous mornings, but we were both slightly melancholic at the thought of leaving Charleston behind. It’s always a great trip when you don’t feel the pull of home so quickly. If you’re anxious for your bed, your couch, your HOUSE, then maybe the place you’re visiting isn’t for you. Charleston wasn’t as magical as Richmond for us, but it had SOMETHING. Maybe it was the food (most likely it was for me), or the lowland feel of the place (I think that was it for Dutchboy) but we both wanted to linger for a bit, to extend for a few precious minutes and to most likely return again, someday.

I had tried before arriving in Charleston to get even a brunch reservation at Husk, and was denied on even that attempt to eat there. So, I had thought we would wander the city and happen upon a brunch option. But we were too early, and breakfast WASN’T really an option anywhere. We had passed The Bakehouse Bakery CafĂ©, on East Bay Stree, during our ramblings and I had read good things about it. We decided to drop in and pick up a picnic breakfast/brunch. Standing in line for our food, I noticed a framed article, in which Anthony Bourdain rated them as one of the most UNDERRATED places in Charleston! Foodie fortune had serendipitously smiled on us again. We picked up a couple of HUGE biscotti, a huge soft chewy ginger cookie, two yogurt parfaits, and two mochas and headed down to Waterfront Park.

Ahh. Finally. Breakfast!

And what sight would greet us at Waterfront Park?? A HUGE cruise ship, in dock to pick up passengers and set sail that evening. Charleston’s Maritime Center has become Home Port for the Carnival cruise ship Fantasy – the starting point for a cruise to the Bahamas.

The photo really doesn’t do justice to how big the ship really is—and how it dwarfed everything around it. It ate up the landscape, truly. 2056 passengers, 920 crew and 855 feet in length. Yeah. Big seems like an understatement.

With breakfast done and photos taken of the ship, we were running out of time. Dutchboy, in his infinite wisdom, saw the bronze plaque with the map of Charleston and decided we needed a portrait taken with the city in front of us and the harbor behind us. You see, the thing about Ton is he LIKES TO PLAY WITH THE CAMERA. And play. and play. We have quite a few photos of him running to stand beside me, of me making horrible faces at him, and of me complaining. He finally did manage a decent shot though. I guess for all his little boy ways, he comes up with a good idea once in a while.


We decided to spend our final few minutes on a swing, enjoying the harbor views instead of oogling a man-made monstrosity or fighting with the camera. In an odd coincidental sidenote, a kind lady who turned out to be a contractor that worked with Lowe’s in Mooresville, offered to take our photo and capture our final moments in Charleston, and the beginning of our eighth year of marriage. I suspect she witnessed the self-portrait attempts and took pity on us!!!


With that, it was time to share a final anniversary kiss and return to the car to begin the trip back to the daily grind. Charleston lingers though, with thoughtful grace and laid-back charm, searing heat and the mnemonic whiff of confederate jasmine on a shady side street. Probably the greatest thing about traveling is you never really leave a place behind. It leaves it mark, its own passport stamp on your psyche. Sometimes it is good, sometimes it is bad, but it is always an experience that opens you up to different possibilities.

*Title quote from Gone with the Wind: "I'm going back to dignity and grace. I'm going back to Charleston, where I belong." (Rhett Butler)

Married freaks and frikandellen.

Day Three was left open in the planning of this trip. No itinerary. Just the two of us, letting the city open to us and our itchy feet. This isn’t our normal modus operandi when we travel. I’m a planner, as you can see from my earlier entries. I like to schedule as much as I can and squeeze every last drop out of my time anywhere. But it had been so miserably hot, topping 90 every day we were there with high humidity, and I was so miserably sunburned that we took it easy. Besides that, it was our seventh wedding anniversary. Today was more about being together than about what we could squeeze in or what we could see.

We drove into the city and parked at the cheapest parking lot we could find. Dutchboy is still Dutch, after all. And our steps took us to the dog show that was happening in Francis Marion Park.

We watched dogs prance in costume, attack dogs attack men in padded suits, agility dogs doing agile things and all this made me terribly lonesome for my own sweet Allie. Nothing cheers me up like a bakery! Being Charleston, you can turn around without bumping into a bakery, and we bumped into Whisk, where I ordered a chocolate roll and a cup of coffee.


And soon, a little bird told me it was time to move on.


The rest of the morning was spent soaking in the sites of the city and wandering in and out of art galleries and antique stores, dreaming of things I couldn’t afford and furnishing a house I will most likely never own. It was gloriously fun and unfettered, and filled with sunshine and the scent of confederate jasmine.


Now most of you will know I’m not a deeply religious person. It’s not my nature. That said, I ADORE churches and cathedrals. There’s something about the stillness that moves me almost to tears. It’s not the presence of a higher power, or any belief. It’s the sanctuary. So when St. John’s arose before us, I had to go inside.


They were setting up for a wedding, so we didn’t linger too long. Besides that, our chocolate roll had long since vanished from our tummies and we were working up an appetite! Now, I said earlier there wasn’t an agenda for the day. That’s not exactly true. I had a lunch agenda and a dinner agenda. Dinner reservations had been made in advance. Anniversary, remember?? That meal was not being left to serendipity. Lunch was reserved in my mind for something special, too. You see there is a Dutch snack bar smack in the middle of downtown Charleston. Patat Spot—real BelgianDutch frites, falafel, oliebollen, and yes, even frikandellen. We had actually met the owner, Phillis, earlier in romp, on our way to Francis Marion Square, and had promised to return. She is of Dutch descent, her mother came from Bussum. What a wonderful place! Patat Spot, not Bussum. (Not that Bussum is bad, I guess.) And what a hard-working dedicated owner of a shop. She was everywhere, making sure everyone was happy and having fun. And she made sure we got our Dutch discount, too! Being Dutch, this made Ton EXTREMELY happy! Phillis came to our table and chatted for a long time about Holland, her family, the Jewish Holocaust (it was Remembrance Day in the Netherlands), and just about anything else you could imagine. Ton decided that he wanted an oliebollen, too, and sweet lady that she is, Phillis made us delicious Douwe Egberts coffee, and gave it to us for free. Gotta love Dutch hospitality!

(You can read a great review with better pictures that I took playing with our fry cone, at Elssipkes fotografie

So much fun! Sadly, we left our new Dutch friend behind. But the afternoon was young and we had to digest all those fries, so we headed out to Sullivan’s Island. We walked over the wetlands on the boardwalk to the harbor there, spending a lot of time watching the crabs dig in the mud.


Don’t tell me that we didn’t have anything exciting to do!!! ANYWAY. The sun was hot, the day was moving on and drove on to the Sullivan Lighthouse. And….didn’t get out of the car. We were tired. We were lazy. We drove around, looked at houses and went to the hotel to get ready for dinner. I didn’t want y’all to think that all we do is walk and do healthy things all the time. Sometimes, we do in fact give way to our inner slobs and take the easy way out. Plus, I was saving my energy for dinner. You see, I get so excited at the thought of an upcoming meal, that I bubble. I get almost…perky. I’m not perky by nature, until you promise me an exciting meal. Then watch me go Katie Couric on you. It’s positively disgusting.

Not that I plan to change it one little bit.

For our anniversary dinner, I had wanted something special. Something quaint but well-reviewed. I wanted Husk. But the two or three week wait to get a reservation stymied me. (Keep in mind, I booked our restaurants a week before the trip.) Instead, I got my second choice, Husk’s next-door-neighbor, Poogan’s Porch. I am so glad that I did!!!! Set in an old Charleston House, it’s a quaint old glory, each room a dining room or bar. It’s got an eclectic mix of furniture. It had character. And it had amazingly fantastic food. If Husk is any better than that, kill me now. I don’t think I could have survived it. Poogan's would be my happy first choice in the future!

Starting off with my cocktail for the evening, Sparkling Blueberry Lemonade. Van Gogh Acai Blueberry Vodka, Lemonade, with a splash of bubbly. Very nice. And very refreshing! (And very, very, very loaded with vodka, but I digress.)
For an appetizer, I went with a Southern staple with twist: fried pimento cheese fritters! IMG_4036
Delicious creamy pimento cheese, deep-fried and served with a slightly spicy, fruity sauce. Lovely!

For the main course, I stayed with the seafood theme that had dominated my trip. Pan Seared Jumbo Scallops with smoked bacon and white cheddar grit cake, citrus scented spinach, crawfish buerre blanc. Yes, it tasted just as amazing as it sounds! I paired it with a lovely Sauvignon Blanc.

Dutchboy, still being “healthy” opted again for two appetizers instead of a main course. Not that Fried Ravioli filled with pulled pork & goat cheese ravioli over collards, with a BBQ beurre blanc sauce is healthy.
But I imagine the Carrot and Ginger soup with Herb Reduction was healthy enough.

Both were tasty enough to please Dutchboy and keep him quiet for a few, all to brief, moments! After seven years, a girl takes her moments of silent pleasure where she can.

This time, I DID remember to take a picture of dessert. Both before and after. And here, for the record, is our anniversary dinner dessert: Chocolate-stuffed Bread Pudding with Bourbon Sauce!
So divinely decadent, we did everything but lick the bowl. Even the lens cap got in on the action.

It was a sweet, sweet ending to a day of togetherness, to seven years of past happiness, and a lifetime ahead of traveling together.

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

Imagined Ghosts, Godzillas and Gluttony

Charleston, day two, dawned just as hot and muggy as the first night ended. And it was cloudy to boot. A sky that was white and heavy before nine A.M. didn’t bode well for the rest of the day. But that didn’t stop Dutchboy and I from forging on with our plans for the day. Plantation day! A day to head out to the Ashley River and visit a true Southern Plantation. Many of the old plantations have been torn down and rebuilt, being “restored” to their former, imagined splendor. But I didn’t want that. I wanted the real thing. I wanted old, I wanted history, I wanted the ghosts of the past to be present. And I think we found that at Drayton Hall.

Here’s the lowdown on Drayton, from their site: “When the National Trust purchased Drayton Hall from the Drayton family in 1974, they purchased a house that had survived the better part of three centuries, the only plantation on the Ashley River to survive intact to present-day. But survival alone isn't what makes Drayton Hall unique. Even more remarkable is the fact that Drayton Hall survived without ever having been substantially altered — in near-original condition. In fact, even electricity, plumbing, heating, and air-conditioning were never added. Rather than restoring the house to reflect a single period of grandeur, the National Trust made the bold decision to preserve the site as it was received from the Draytons in 1974 in order to provide a time line showing change and continuity through three centuries of American history.”

It is the tour guides that bring this plantation to life. They escort you through the property, each room is a story of the family, a re-creation of a life and a time that has passed. Yes, it is partially a slave story, and that is shared, too, through remembrances of Richmond Bowens, born of a slave family, who chose to stay on as share croppers after they were freed. He loved this land so much, he returned in his later years to help recreate the story of Drayton Hall and share his memories. He and his ancestors are buried on the property, in a cemetery that was started by the slaves and was kept up by the sharecroppers and the family. You can and you should visit this hallowed place. It was an surreal experience that I don't have words for, even those months later. Burials of descendents is still allowed.

The Drayton family still gathers here annually at Thanksgiving. Inside the house, you will find a growth chart etched on a wall, where the family members are still allowed to record the growth of their children. It is an intensely personal place, beautiful and graceful, existing outside of time.

There are various trails you can walk during your visit to Drayton. There’s a walk that follows the Ashley River, as well as a Swamp boardwalk. Thankfully, I have my own crocodile Dundee along on the trip.
Because God-freakin’-zilla showed up in the swamp!!!

SURE! You scoff. He looks tiny and harmless. All lizards look that way. Then they turn on you and BAM!!! Tokoyo is swept off the map. Who’s laughin’ then??? Dutchboy, not heeding my warning, kept provoking it, trying to get a great photo. I shouted advice from a safe distance, but my pleas fell on deaf ears. And finally, finally, I was proven right. Godzilla was angry. IMG_3734

SEE????? I told you so. Angry lizard. Dutchboy, proving his bravery, stood his ground for one photo before retreating. (Retreating is typical Dutch, btw. Retreating is usually followed by coffee and cake, but not this time.)

We did retreat back to our hotel to prepare for dinner. Which was going to be a special treat at a highly recommended restaurant—SNOB! AKA Slightly North of Broad. Oh, oh, my what a treat it was. It all started with a lovely berry sangria and the usual bread, a fantastic cornbread, and butter.


After that, the appetizer of choice, the cheese platter. If this was placed before me at anytime, I would be the happiest person on the planet. Let's just say one bite and I was ECSTATIC. A lovely French blue cheese, Thomasville Tomme from Sweet Grass Farms in Georgia, and a locally sourced Goat Cheese from Split Creek Farms.
How could they ever top the deliciousness of that blue cheese and fresh berries? Or the goat cheese with dried fruit? Or the creamy Tomme and the nuts?? I don’t know how, but they did.
Following the advice of our helpful waitress, I opted for the specialty of the house: BBQ tuna. A perfectly seared tuna steak topped with delicately fried oysters, green onions, country ham butter (OMG this was a Southerner's idea of NIRVANA), and a mustard BBQ sauce. It was. SIMPLY. DIVINE.
Even Dutchboy’s normally boring and unchallenging choices, fresh strawberry salad and gazpacho, tasted as magnificent as they looked! In the case of the gazpacho, it was better than it looked-- much to the infinity power better!

How could I hold anymore food??! I felt like a bloated Roman Emperor, or Mr Creosote-- "Just one little mint, Monsieur. It is so thin..." I don’t know how, but I managed. A luscious bread pudding. But now for the truly distressing part of this tale: I forgot to take a picture of dessert. I was so giddy with good food and two glasses of wine that I fell upon that bowl of sweetness with a gusto that is reserved for men who are stranded on an island without food for a week. But I did remember to take a picture of the damage.

Not bad, huh??

After all that food, we needed to move or die in at the scene of my over-self-indulgence. So we waddled off into the sunset, to the pier and down Rainbow Row to watch the sunset set, and the city come alight.

It was the night of the “super moon”—a fitting end to a super day.
Moon over Charleston As always, the entire set is available on my Flickr Account.