Sunday, October 31, 2010

Good Eats... Charleston Style!

This post is dedicated to one of my favorite hobbies (no, not that one), a hobby I happily indulge in as much as two, or three times a day! Really! If you know me at all, you know that I love to cook, and especially to eat. And I abso luv southern cooking, and fresh, local Seafood.
Happily for me, Charleston SC has plenty of both! In fact, if you Google "Restaurants Charleston SC" you will get "about 688,000 results". Wow! Talk about a town that just loves it's food,and this one has to make anybody's short list. Forget any of the fast foodss, and don't bother with any chains, and you still could eat at a different restaurant, for every meal, for quite a few years. And we have certainly had some of the best dining in our careers.
In no particular order (what, you think I really can remember any particular day?) I'll share some our more memorable times when we gathered around the table and had a good nosh. Let;s start with Hanks a premiere Seafood Restaurant with an unassuming name. Go ahead and nose around that previous link, especially the photos. They will show you a bit about the decor and the food. It's ok, I'll still be here when you get back. This is the one meal where our entire family somehow managed to assemble, and what a joy it was! Yes, Hanks is also the most expensive eatery we've been to, but every once in awhile, you just hafta give yourself a treat. Even more of a treat was that Barb's sis and hubby graciously picked up the entire tab! The waiters all wore white jackets, the atmosphere was top class without being snobby, and every dish was superb. Our waiter was from Connecticut (is anyone here a native?) and had some wonderful wine, and food suggestions. But far more impressive than any wine, was a perfect Martini, and perfectly served! Vodka for me (none of that bum Gin belongs in a Martini glass) with no more than 2 drops of Vermouth, served up (never on the rocks, that would be an insult) and teeth cracking cold. Ah, civilization at it's finest! And yes, fresh, local Seafood certainly is the order of the day. And today this order is done Southern style, which means interesting ingredients and a rich taste. All around the table our family was ooohing and awwwing and sharing and smiling. Really rather amazing that eight people as diverse as my family, with far ranging views on anything, could all agree that this is simply the best seafood any of us have had in an age. But such is the delight that is Hanks. And if you are thinking that you don't like Seafood, you simply haven't had it done properly. I seriously doubt that anyone could walk away from here without a full tummy, and a smile.

And at the other end of the spectrum would be the Voodoo Tikibar. fun and funky, and a low impact on the wallet. They feature such exotic items as Lobster corn dogs, Tater Tots with truffle, and even  Duck Sliders!? Yes, Duck Sliders, and they are yummee! Go ahead and look around the link, it's definitely drool worthy. And yes, the Martini's are great here too. Best of all, it's a five minute drive from our condo. Of course, downtown is only a ten minute drive, so we're in an ideal location.
Well kids, Charleston is famous for fresh, local seafood, especially She Crab Soup, and Shrimp and Grits. What, you say, in the world, is a She Crab Soup? Simple really, you use the roe, or eggs, from Ms. Crab and put into a very rich, creamy chowder, and use sherry to finish it off. It's not really yummee, it is incredible! After having sampled this delish delicacy all over town, we have firmly decided that the best of the best is to found at Toast. And about those Shrimp and Grits, well, here's what the menu says, "Sauteed shrimp, tomatoes, peppers, onions, and sausage with garlic, deglazed with white wine and served with thyme cream sauce over grits". Again an item not to be missed!
Think I'll end this blog (I saw you nodding off back there) with a last review, of Vickery's Shem Creek, a casual dining eatery on the wharf with an open air deck, and an intimate interior. The service was prompt, the food delish, and we enjoyed muchly!
On a sadder footnote to this particular blog, we just found out that one of our extended family just had to put their Yellow Lab to sleep. GoodBoy Ben suffered from an injury, and simply couldn't recover. Since I do know that Ben enjoyed shrimp, and eating in general, I am dedicating this post to his memory.  Ben, you are now happily woofing in the Elysium Fields and merrily bouncing along...

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

A Wedding and well that's really it....

Hi kids! We're still in the Deep South of Charleston SC, and I thought to share some of the wedding we came for, and a few other bits of magic as well. So kick back, put on your fave wedding moozik, and enjoy the ride. Just in case you need something to set the tone, click on this over played link.
One of our fave nieces, Staci, was thoughtful enuff to invite her old Aunt and Uncle to come share in the nuptials and festivities, and we were honored to have been asked. Staci is a wonderful young lady, and has always been quite beautiful, and very loving. Her fiance, David, was raised here, and this is indeed an extraordinary city in which to wed. As a "destination wedding" Charleston lacks for nothing. It has all the history, romance, and attractions to keep even the most jaded of travelers wonderfully entertained and engaged. The dining *anywhere* is top shelf, (very fresh, very local seafood, yummee) and so are the people.
Staci and David had both the small ceremony, and reception that followed at the Harbour Club. This is true Southern sophisticate hospitality at it's finest! The vows were exchanged up on the third floor, open air deck. With the sun at our backs for an early evening wedding, it was quite beautiful. Even if the Groomsmen did squint quite a bit at the direct sunlight! But no matter, Staci was truly one of the most radiant brides ever to grace a pavilion. And David was obligatorily nervous,  altho he still did his bit quite well. (good thing the Reverend gave him his lines) This particular deck on the third floor actually looked out at another open air eatery, on the fourth floor, just across the alley. So there a few more "guests" present at the wedding than were invited. Happily as the loving Bride kissed the Groom, everyone on both decks broke out in applause. I was concerned that some wag over there might be tempted to shout over the wrong kind of "encouragement" and put a damper on the affair.
So nuptials were performed, and down a level for a fantastic dinner, and dancing. Food, drink and laughter all flowed easily as old friends got reacquainted, and new friendships were forged. At our table, my own dear Barb was lucky (?) enuff to be the Captain of Fun, and her job was to ensure each of us had a good time. {Just so many bad jokes there that I can't even start}
So, Barb and I had an enjoyable dinner, some fun (and free) drinks, and a great time dancing together. At one point the DJ even played our song, Truly, Madly, Deeply. And yes, each and every time we dance, especially to this song, we fall in love all over again. See, that's us over to the right...
So maybe this is the place to finish off this post. I know I promised you some voodoo Magic, and I'll get to it later, but for now just know that the absolute bestest thing in the world is to be in love with the one that is in love with you!

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

A Soiree in the South

Heya kids, once again, (or should I say as usual), this crazy concept known as Life, has been treating me to another delightful whirlwind of family, traveling, and more misadventures. This time we have had a lovely driving tour from The Hundred Acre Woods By The Inland Sea all the way past the Mason Dixon Line to the true Deep South of Charleston SC.

We split the journey into two long days, with a stop at Barb's parents in the dreaded town of Columbus OH. Of course, this year those never-to-be-sufficiently-damned  Buckeyes don't seem to be the devils of old, do they? That was the short day with only about 9 hours on the road. After a wonderful dinner by JoanMom, and a nice visit with them both, we're fast asleep and then up just way too early for even the cows, roosters and Sun. But we clamber into the car by 6am (shudder) and off we go. This was indeed a minor miracle, but honestly (don't tell Barb I enjoyed it, I have a reputation to protect) the vivid teals and turquoise that glowed thru the morning fog was breathtaking. And so was some the driving, as the locals didn't appear to care for my cautious approach, and thought that it would be fun to show me how to play Bumper Car at 70mph..

We peel thru the Columbus area during those dark hours before Dawn, and then surreptitiously stole thru West Virginia, and Virginia as morning turned into a brilliant Fall day. The leaves just couldn't make up their minds about the correct wardrobe choices of color. So we drove thru sections that had some, or a lot, or no color at all? But each passing scene was welcome, and the scenery truly beautiful.
At one point as we wend our way thru the switchback, and up thru the Appalachians, Barb and I comment on this seems so familiar? Very similar to a trip we had taken with my folks a few years ago. Just when we decide that it was about time to take a break, OMG! We drive into the very Lookout that we had stopped at so long ago! And we even approached it from the other direction! Must be the TravelGawdz smiling on us for having made it thru the Purgatory like state of Ohio. Well, we simply had to stop and take a nice leg stretcher to see all around the valleys before, and behind us. Ace delightedly led the way, scrambling over mossy rocks, and finding the obligatory cockle burr bush. the view was astounding, with the low flying clouds that floated their jigsaw like shadows below, it seemed out of a movie, just so special.
Other highlights include Tudor's Biscuit World just outside of Charleston WV (just how many Charlestons are there anyways?). If you have never had the incredible, light, flaky delight (yeah, sounds like an old girlfriend of mine) that a true Southern Biscuit is, then your life has not been fulfilled. For you mates in the Yew Kay, or Oz, Enn Zee, over here in America, we take our biscuits very seriously! Not the sweet type of treats that we refer to as cookies, oh no, these wantonly sensual pastries are their own statement that life is good! and really, if you live North of the Mason Dixon Line, you simply cannot get a good biscuit. Family grudges and feuds have been volleyed across generations for the "proper" making of a good biscuit.
As we toddle across West Virginia, then Virginia (the two parted company during the War Of Aggression By The North) the scenery changed from gently rolling hills and pastures to a much more mountainous route. Yes, the Appalachians were under foot and over head! Driving here was both pleasurable, if sometimes a wee bit intense. Barb was rather quick to point out that we were dricing by a hundred foot gorge, and there was minimal guard rail. I shrug and continue on in the best tradition of an Ice Road Trucker, and put the hammer down! Well, not too far down. But hey, what a beautiful drive!

So onward ho! As we approach the border from Virginia into North Carolina, Ace the DufusDog, and my body, both make a request for a Bio Break. Oh look, there's a nifty rest stop on the side of the highway now, we are saved! So in we toddle merrily, and while Ace takes Barb for a walk, I go in to find some ballast relief. Well... okay... my goodness me... as I attempt to enter a stall to allow my intestinal tract to divest itself of all those light, flaky biscuits, I notice that the stalls are so narrow that both of my shoulders are squeezed to the point where if I breathe in, the stall will collapse outward?! Huh? Wha? Are all the men in this state extremely skinny? Do they never have a tourist of full figured proportions? fuggedaboudit... I decide to travel on and hope for the best. So across the State Line we go, and (oh thank gawd) find what turns out to be the abso bestest rest stop of the trip! The floors are inlaid stone with geometric patterns, and a gentleman of my obviously over rated shoulder width, could sit comfortably.... ahhh.... relief at last!

So a long day is closing into late afternoon, and we cross the border into South Carolilna, soon my dears, soon to be done! But also as we cross that same border, I notice that oh my gosh, each and every car on the road suddenly speeds up to well past 20mph over the speed limit! Yup, we're in South Carolina!

The rest of the trip was dedicated to putting miles under our tires, some food and gas in our bellies, and enjoying the trip. Going from the Hundred Acre Woods By The Inland Sea, all the way down and across to the Deep South was a transformational journey. The land itself changed as we journeyed thru various geological regions, and our souls were refreshed and restored as we surveyed new lands, new opportunities, and new friends.

Well, my young friends, about 16 hours later, we pull into the parking lot of our condo, and it's just as dark as when we left! But boy howdy we made it, and all in one piece, even if a bit stiff and achy.
So the *real* reason of our journey is to attend the wedding of a fave niece, and we will be joined by both sons and their wives (hurray) and later Barb's sis and hubby (another yay).
So yes kids, another adventure to be had, more Love to be shared, and more Life to be thankful for! Love, Laugh Live...

Friday, October 1, 2010

Grand Rapids Art Prize is Grrrrrrrrrrrrreat!

Tony the tiger couldn't have said it better! An unassuming, mid-sized city, in the Midwest has turned itself into an Art Gallery Extraordinaire. And what a show it is! Everywhere you walk, thru the entire city of Grand Rapids, Michigan, you will discover a tremendous outpouring of talent and enthusiasm for the Arts. Sculptures, paintings, mixed media, performance art, and some stuff just too esoteric for categorization all abound.

Art Prize (yes you should click on that link, I can wait) is a sheer genius idea come to fruition. In a day where many small, and mid-sized towns and cities are experiencing  a crumbling decline in numbers of residents and quality of life, Grand Rapids is showing that you should never give up on a dream! This is the second year for Art Prize, and it looks to be a long term party for the city. Here is a happenstance that provides for a lot of wins, for everyone involved (no mean feat these days).

Sure it got off the ground with help from a Mover And Shaker, but what grand vision doesn't? As the web site says: "On a brisk, clear morning in April 2009, Rick DeVos announced a new “social experiment.” He was going to give away the world’s largest art prize based solely on a public vote. DeVos said the event would take over downtown Grand Rapids, Michigan that fall. As it turned out, that was just the beginning." Social Experiment? Wha? Huh? Why that almost sounds like a commie! *chuckle* But it's true, and an experiment that successfully demonstrates that people of all walks, ages, faiths (or lack of faiths), race, creed, colors, sexual identity, or whatever... well simply put all of us is Human, and surprise (!) you enjoy Art too!

That's the unique aspect of this particular showing. The really Grand Prize of a cool quarter million bucks is decided on not by an esteemed panel of judges and critics, but rather by ordinary folks like you and me. Aye yup, the public votes (via Interwebby, or SMS, or even at a station - in person) and whomever collects the most votes wins. I love the simplicity of it! And yes I admire that it us that chooses what we want!

Entries are from all over the world, and the Event is up and running! You can go the website and register (free!), then look at the various works and vote. But in order to Vote you do have to go to Grand Rapids and complete the Registration process. Last year they had 200,000 visitors come to town and do just that. And when we were there, each and every venue welcomed us warmly and not one soul seemed put out by the influx of Art, Artists, or Visitors. 

So you see, and hear, some of the best Art ever, and yes of course there's some clunkers and some I Don't Get It pieces. But that's the real beauty of such a large event as this, you can take in some wonderful Art, and simply ignore what you don't care for. There was one piece in particular that I voted a thumbs down for, because of it's particular political voice, that I don't like. But much more often I voted a thumbs up for some artists whose work captivated me. You know, the stuff that you want to stand in front of for awhile, just to soak in it's beauty.

So, yes last Monday was a long day with the 2hr drive each way, but the journey was so delightful, and of course the small group of us that went down (from our Church) either were, or became, good friends, that day. That's one (of many) reasons I love our little Church, it invests itself in our community, in a lot of ways. And taking this trip, with these people, to the Largest Art Show in the World, well, that was a treat not be forgotten soon. And the larger community of Grand Rapids that is bold enough to host a "Social Experiment", is getting paid back handsomely, and deservedly so! I do hope that you will take part in this Social Experiment, it is worth participating in.