Charleston Two Ways

Practically all that know me or have read this blog know my daughter and I share a birthday and for the last 15 years or so we’ve taken a trip to celebrate, just the two of us. This year with the pandemic waning, hotels and restaurants returning to full service and for me the nagging desire to get back to writing about food and drink, it seemed that finally it was time to go south to Charleston South Carolina. In a blog post from a while ago (My Es-Cape May be of Interest) I labeled my dear girl and I as HAGs ……. lovers of History, Art and Gardens. While that hasn’t changed and this trip was full of it, my focus of this post will be the absolutely marvelous food and drink we experienced while visiting the Holy City.

The Boozing

It only took a hot minute to experience our first handcrafted cocktail upon arriving in Chuck Town. You see, the spectacular Spectator Hotel www.thespectatorhotel.com in which we were staying for five glorious nights offers their guests a drink of the day immediately upon check in. The idea is that you can sip the concoction while your personal butler gives you the grand tour of this boutique style hotel that gives personalized service to but 41 rooms. The place has a swank, speak-easy style bar as well that fit perfectly into my plan to drink jazzy-old timey-artisan cocktails all week made be professionals who tend bar as an artform. My mission was accomplished at the Spectator by the talented Allen Lancaster and a sundry of great Charleston places and barkeeps……….

My everyday cocktail is a Dirty Martini, vodka or gin. I had several at various restaurants in Charleston. Whether it was because I was on vacation or just a fact, the martinis I experienced in Charleston were just better than what I get or even make at home. One take away is that with rare exception Chuck Town and Southern bartenders are very generous with their pours!

Rooftop cocktail lounging was all the rage in Charleston at least in April. We visited two and although the drink presentation left a little to be desired, they were tasty and the views divine. One early evening we went to The Rooftop at The Vendue http://www.thevendue.com. Touted as an “Art Hotel”, it’s worth the wait for the crammed elevator up to the roof just to experience the artsy lobby…very fun! The other cocktail drank atop a roof was at The Citrus Club at The Dewberry http://www.thedewberrycharleston.com. There you’ll find more elegance up top but the journey getting to the roof is not nearly so arty.

I have two more cocktail bars to mention because both are a must if you too want a significant portion of your visit to Chuck-Town to be on the boozy-jazzy-amazing food side. The Gin Joint http://www.theginjoint.com was hands my favorite, well, gin joint we went to. Dark, narrow, sultry with a mysterious vibe, it checked all the boxes for me. This was EXACTLY what I hoped we find. To make the experience more perfecter, the menu had an option for the Bartender Choice to just make you a cocktail based on two descriptive words…mine were boozy and savory (I got to throw in a third which was “herbal” for free) . The other very exciting cocktail lounge you must know about is Doar Brothers http://www.doarbros.com. This place is so cool BUT make reservations because it is teeny tiny!

The Eating

Make no mistake, Charleston has become a “foodie” town. Five days and nights is simply not enough time to get everywhere we wanted to so as usual I deferred to our typical travel scenario. You see, we two gals have an understanding about meals that we experience on trips that eating and boozing are primary activities. My daughter does all the upfront research of where and when we should go for our sustenance. Her research is extensive and laser focused on local foods, “up and coming” as well as renown Chefs and starred reviews. My little girl takes her task so seriously that this trip she insisted that we have two lunches one day in order get the most benefit from her labor!

I’ll get all breakfasts out of the way right at the start. They were all at the Spectator and included with the room rate. Such lovely breakfasts indeed with our birthday one including bubbly and chocolate covered strawberries. Each evening we’d fill out a little card with our choice from four plated meals, juice coffee and tea along with what time we’d like to have it. The next morning, voila, a beautiful and seemingly nutritious breakfast would appear. A perfectly lovely way to start the day I tell you.

Our first meal in Charleston was dinner at The Ordinary eattheordinary.com . Billed as “a fancy seafood and oyster bar”, this place was anything but ordinary. The joint was bustling when we arrived and didn’t calm down one little bit while we were there. It’s loud and festive and lots of folks go for the fairly obnoxious-in-size seafood towers, but we opted to be a bit refined and ordered several dishes to share. favorites of mine were the Smoked Oysters with Old Bay Saltines and the Clam Spaghetti.

The Monday of our stay was our two lunch day! Of course this was not until after I had decided I must have one of those big floppy straw hats that I purchase for way too much and then promptly let it blow off my head into on coming traffic. One SUV ran over it slightly on the edge while the kind gentleman who followed behind got out of his vehicle and retrieved it for me receiving a round of applause from the onlookers on the other side of the street. Anyway our lunch number one was at Edmund’s Oast https://edmundsoast.com which is a brewpub where we drank Peanut Butter and Jelly Beer and feasted on Spicy Korean Meatballs. A soft-shell crab sandwich was consumed as well since they were in season. Lunch #2 came a bit later after a long walk and visit to the home of Hat Trick Botanical Gin, the esteemed High Wire Distillery highwiredistilling.squarespace.com. So number 2 was at Leon’s Fine Poultry and Oyster Shop https://leonsoystershop.com because research told us we must experience the chicken and my daughter was hellbent on eating as many oysters as she could down within reason (great T-shirts here too! I still could kick myself for not getting one for my son).

Our lone Italian dinner came from La Faralle lefarfallecharleston.com. This restaurant has such a lovely atmosphere and is slightly off the beaten path so it appears to be more popular with locals than tourists. Our Uber driver from another day was very impressed that we had found it. I thought the food was delicious. We shared Whipped Ricotta and Braised Artichokes (yum) and I had Duck Confit Agnolotti while the little one had Squid Ink Pasta with local Shrimp and Salami.

Okay here we get to one of my most favorite meals…lunch at the Glass Onion ilovetheglassonion.com! Did you ever think you knew what a certain dish tasted like and knew you loved it only to find out years later that you only now were tasting the best? That’s my experience with Pork Belly at the GO. Hands down the very best pork belly I’ve ever had! Don’t get me wrong, the Fried Green Tomatoes with Pimento Cheese, the Braised Beans, Red Rice and Macaroni Salad were great too, but the pig’s belly…sublime. The Glass Onion is a wee bit out of town but go, you won’t be disappointed.

FIG is another great restaurant in Charleston that makes most every list of where to dine. Food is Good https://eatatfig.com is actually a product of the same team as The Ordinary that I listed above, a tad more upscale and not totally seafood focused. For us, it was just another terrific meal. I would definitely recommend sharable Ricotta Gnocchi alla Bolognese and the entrée I got at the time, Chicken Milanese.

On our actual Birthday, traditional meal order was disregarded! We decided to throw caution to the wind and have our celebratory meal at lunchtime at Chez Nous https://www.cheznouschs.com. Chez Nous is not for everyone. You see the menu changes daily, consists of just two small plates, two entrees and two desserts. The real rub is the menu is hand written and posted to social media only at 10AM the day of! You never know what you’re going to get but we were confidant we could handle whatever came to the menu on our big day. This was my very favorite meal of our trip! The food was excellently prepared and so very delicious. Tucked away in a residential neighborhood in an iconic Charleston single house, the ambience of this pint-sized establishment is lovely. I’ve included photos although who knows what will be served on the day you decide to go. Try it, you’ll like it!

We did an a lot of fun stuff on our birthday. Having dinner wasn’t one of them. We did however share a delicious piece of the famous coconut cake served at the Peninsula Grille at the Planter’s Inn https://www.peninsulagrill.com/store/ultimate-coconut-cake . It’s too funny that the bartender there keeps pieces of cake to-go behind the bar for all the folks (usually us girls) who wander in for cake and a cocktail! Later after we took a “Dark Side of Charleston” walking tour we had made our 9:45 reservation at Doar Brothers that I mentioned above for cheese and charcuterie.

Our final day in Charleston brought us to two more notable restaurants. A friend joined us in Sullivan’s Island for lunch at the Obstinate Daughter https://www.theobstinatedaughter.com. Unlucky for you, I forgot to capture our order but I highly recommend the Frogmore Chowder and the Tonnato Salad. Coincidentally, at dinner we met a different friend back in Charleston at Delaney Oyster House https://delaneyoysterhouse.com/. Again, the food was very good and obviously seafood focused. Both dishes I got were specials but I believe represents well the quality of the menu.

This was long I know. I appreciated everyone who made it this far. Just know that Charleston is a charming city with wonderful dining options. Some recommendations for other-than-eat things to do? Visit Middleton Place (not the manor, just the grounds), King Street shopping, Gibbes Museum of Art, walk the Battery, Dark Side of Charleston Walking Tour, visit Sullivan’s Island and Shem Creek Park to name a few. WooHoo done!

Thanks to JR for giving me the motivation to finally write this post!

“One thing inspired me the most from the time I spent in Charleston was how much heritage and history are connected to influencing how I cook. Each dish tugged my heart in a different spot that after I finished cooking, I was really emotional and felt fulfilled at the same time.” ~ Shirley Chung

The Power of One

I’ve been writing a lot lately, just not on this blog spot. I’m conflicted. My intent all along, encouraged, maybe even pushed by my late husband, was to write fluff, mindless humor and yes, sappy mush at times revolving totally around my love for all things that gives you and me pleasure through what you taste, smell and see. I’ve been at this blogging stuff for six years now. The first two years were prolific and for the reader probably bordered on tedium but I was happy with my endeavors and let’s face it, this really is all about me. Time passed, life happened and my posts became more focused on the love that can be expressed through making, sharing and consuming food. Then, for me, the unthinkable occurred in February 2019….. my love, my someone, the object of my desire and the object of my ire died. The A #1, top-of-the-list, head of the heap, king of the hill person who I cooked for, dined out with, winery and culinary adventured with was gone. So too was my ability to muse about anything really. Slowly, with the help of family and friends I got my food and drink mojo back to almost full tilt when the COVID Pandemic struck…..

I managed to push out one blog post at what ironically turned out to be what was only the first phase of this awful pandemic. I attempted to balance humor with some great tips and a bit of gratitude to friends and family who stayed in touch and of course to our heroic frontline workers who are still at it. Like I said, I was conflicted then just as I’m conflicted now. Musing about eating and boozing just seemed so inadequate, so shallow but I do it a lot. One friend of mine writes a blog about aging with grace. She posts often compared to me, never as long as mine, but always so eloquently and with meaning. In a time of everyone suffering I just couldn’t seem to square my civically aware and caring self with my culinary comedic side. So I sat, wrote, painted and cooked of course in the bubble of Hodge Podge Lodge having suffered my worst year the one prior. During the pandemic my stress was minimal compared to others with my inability to move forward in the way I wanted being my biggest obstacle. It pales in comparison what so, so many others went and are still going through…. what YOU are going through. My contribution to ease the pain has been simple: wear a mask, social distance (very tough!) and stay home most of the time. I cooked for friends, had a few porch or patio gatherings for no more than four and took time to handcraft some food and artsy gifts for folks whether they liked it or not. I was hopeful for and am now experiencing 2021 as a kinder, happier and funnier year. With that, I’m determined to get back to using this blog site as I intended.

Girl Power– The idea for my first event of significant size that I held post vaccine started to come together in March via Facebook. I had posted the very important fact that I had just ordered a boatload of Girl Scout Cookies and shared the link so others could order as well. I also shared that perhaps I’d have a GS Cookie and Wine Tasting once we were all vaccinated since I knew tastings of this sort was a “thing”. Typical Facebook banter ensued with some of my lady friends about scouting in general where I admitted in the comments and through FB Messenger that I been an excellent Brownie, an alright Junior and an absolutely terrible Cadet. We all agreed the annual cookie sale was a good thing and something worth supporting. To my delight one of my “widow” FB friends who I had not yet met in person expressed interest in attending a tasting event if I opted to have one. That got the wheels turning….. Girl Scout Cookies, Wine and Strong Widows and their Allies. Perfection! I’d finally meet my two kindred spirits that lost their husbands way too early as well and within the same window I created for my own loss. So too I would include some of my dear friends who have stuck by me since the loss of my love, one another widow herself and others who just “get” me and lived near by. One idea, one Facebook invitation crafted and sent to one dozen invitees was all it took to put on my party (planning) hat and to get to work playing.

By shear coincidence when researching appropriate wine and cookies, I found that the three Ruth Bader Ginsburg labeled wines from Teneral Cellers https://teneralcellars.com that I had acquired in honor of one of the greatest women to walk this planet would pair nicely with three different Girl Scout Cookies. The fourth and final pairing would include a wine from the Wonderful Wine Company https://wonderfulwine.com/. This conventional wine pairing consisted of one Girl Scout cookie, one wine and one RBG quote/anecdote. How perfect to put to legacy of the notorious RBG at the forefront of this one night only event!

I expected this first gathering of my very own Strong Widows and their Allies Club to be fun. What I hadn’t anticipated was the bond that was created almost immediately between a dozen women who had come together on my invitation. In some instances we didn’t know each other very well or not at all. I was the common thread among the group that consisted of two lovelies I’d never met face-to-face, a couple who I hadn’t seen for years, a few others that I had never socialized with and a smattering of new and old friends who have been there for me since my loss. The yakking was instant and within minutes connections were made between everyone.

We widows have learned how to reach deep within ourselves and pull out a strength that prior to the loss one could ever imagine. Sadly, I know now it’s similar to facing a personal health crisis but there’s one component that makes it so much more intense…..your grief will never be “cured” or lessened. That part of your life is gone forever and you are left with the memories of your former life and the reality that what you had envisioned for the rest of your life is an impossibility. By sheer strength you push on going forward with the support of only certain family members and friends. I am grateful that I have the very in best support and love from my one daughter and one son. Likewise, I have a rather large (enough for me anyway), sort of eclectic group of friends from all over who inspire me everyday to go forward and live my best life I can. I’d like to think I offer the same to many of them. Heck, I bet we all have that one power inside us, to inspire others we care about to live their best lives. I digress. On with the featured presentation…..

It’s all about the food for me-Please be aware that no one is invited to my house for just boxed cookies and tastes of wine! Homemade food and drink are always served. That’s my shtick ….aim to impress and show I care through my culinary skills. If there’s one thing I excel at is cooking for friends and family. This particular evening my very famous chicken salad was on the menu stuffed into lady-like miniature croissants. I realize there may be others out there that think their chicken salad is special and no doubt it is. My made-up recipe is hardly unique. I do put in a dash of not s?o rare curry as my not so secret ingredient, but other than that my chicken salad consists of the usual. Where I do stand out though is how I cook the chicken thanks to one Florence Lin and her first and my first purchased cookbook Florence Lin’s Chinese Regional Cookbook. https://america.cgtn.com/2018/01/25/china-cook-chef-florence-lin-obituary

It’s worth the effort to prep chicken the Basic White-Cut way.

I started cooking chicken for many Chinese Recipes using the White-Cut Basic Recipe that appears on the well-worn pages 50-51 in 1979. I’m not sure when I decided it was a good way to prep for chicken salad but it was years and years ago so by now it’s just part of my process. Without going into more detail, white-cut is similar to poaching except you use chicken stock instead of water and the actual cooking process only takes twenty minutes for a whole chicken and only ten for just breasts plus sitting time. In the end you have succulent, moist, flavorful chicken that’s recipe ready. The key ingredient here is a spoon! The spoon is either inserted into the cavity of a whole chicken or in between breasts in the pot before heating begins. That one spoon conducts the heat through the flesh rendering a moist finished product. Now I rarely make chicken salad any other way. My chicken salad is really great I tell y’a!

I made other stuff too. Probably the most unique was Mini Quiches with Nasturtium Leaves from my garden “Crusts”. Those were fun to make and made one or two of my sweet lady friends smile. Speaking of smiles, we were all beaming when we retired to my backyard sanctuary. Laughter and camaraderie ensued one shared story at a time. I never share photos of individuals on my blog (names neither except for my perfect dog Lily and my stupendous grandnephew Dominic) but if ever I was tempted it would be photos of these wonderful ladies who have made my life richer.

Real cooking is more about following your heart than following recipes.”
– Unknown

All the foods. Votes for Women napkins!

One idea. One gesture. One invitation. One great woman. One perfectly timed meme received in the morning when you first wake up. One heartfelt text. One phone call asking if you’re okay. One dinner/lunch date. One (or a lot) beautiful photograph shared. One thumbs up or better yet a heart. One spoon. One recipe. One Facebook message to a stranger……All these things prove the Power of One. We all have it in us to make a difference in someone’s life. You all have done it for me and gosh darn it I hope I’ve done it for you.

50 Musings + 1

The Lemon Pepper Trout at Cracker Barrel is pretty good. Get the Country Platter rather then the Fancy Fixins’. No one needs three sides.Edit: Just got curbside delivery. The Trout is just that good!

Some veggies and fruits in my Misfits box are mis fitted more than others. Edit: I don’t get Misfits boxes anymore because of an awful experience of a box of veggies arriving way, way too late that ended up amounting to literally a box of garbage.

Thank goodness I can now get mini avocados. Regular size avocados are a perfect example of too much of a good thing. Edit: Still a thing with me. While right now avocados are priced low and I’m preparing for the masses again, the mini version are perfect for the single serving eater which is me 80% of the time.

Stouts and Porters should really have peanut butter, coffee or chocolate in them. Edit: Troegs has a Stout with Chocolate available at my local distributor right now….light enough to still work on a coolish evening outdoors after dark!

Vodka can be infused with practically anything but nasturtiums is still my favorite. Edit: My crop of Nasturtiums is coming along. Just this week I used the leaves to make mini quiches for a dozen or so of my strong widows and allies club.

Olives, especially green, are one of the best things to eat. Edit: Every Martini, every egg salad and every Chicken Tagine recipe should have green olives.

There is definitely a possibility of too much garlic. Edit: 40 Cloves Garlic Chicken. Trust me, 30 will be fine.

Constant Comment should be designated as the world’s best tea bag. Edit: No change here although I will offer up Lady Grey as a stellar alternative. That being said, COVID-19 lockdown opened me up to to David’s and Augusta Teas.

Speaking of tea, always bring your water to a boil first. Edit: Duh!

There are only three really, really good flavors of salt water taffy: banana, peppermint and peanut butter. A related fact is that Banana Laffy Taffy is almost perfect. Edit: No change here

Chicken thighs are much more flavorful than chicken breasts. Edit: This goes for tried and true recipes that pre COVID I would’ve used 100% breasts. Thighs add the flavor I tell y’a!

It’s a toss up which is better, Skittles or Starbursts. Edit: Only change here is that our dear Alex Lofgren lost his life in April and I’m told that the Berry flavor Skittles were his favorite so hence forth I have a bias.

Risotto is worth the wait. Edit: Clearly, yet pre and post COVID I have “cheating recipes” that work just fine.

Ham goes with Swiss just like Turkey goes with Cheddar. Edit: I’ve re-thought this during lockdown: Swiss holds up to almost any meat any sandwiches.

Most Cabot cheese varieties are lactose free. Edit: True yesterday, true today…. Cabot has rocked the lactose free world.

Almond Extract is superior to Vanilla Extract but it’s fun to make Vanilla Extract with Bourbon. Edit: No doubt. My eyes have been opened to the world of gluten free baking where almond flour rules supreme.

Speaking of Bourbon, most brown liquors are awful to drink. Edit: No obvious change here with the exception that brown liquors can enhance a rich dessert.

All creamy crab soups should have sherry in them. Same goes for mushroom soup. Edit: Again, duh???

Everything Bagel Seasoning is a thing. Edit: It is and I use it often.

Red Wine is the nectar of Gods. Edit: Weird to admit, but I drink an a lot of dry Rose now.

McDonald’s Shamrock Shakes should be available year round. Likewise, Chicken McNuggets should not be available at all. Edit: Obviously no change here. Much like DJT, Chicken McNuggets should be considered irrelevant.

Capon is a big old bird therefore it should never be eaten. Edit: A perfect place to again tout the marvelousness of chicken thighs and also provide a shout-out to duck confit.

Lorna Doones are the best packaged cookies money can buy. Edit: At the time I forgot about Vienna Fingers

Just because you’re bad at baking doesn’t make you a bad person. Edit: This has to be true or I am doomed.

Why can’t someone else always pare my butternut squash. A related thing, I wish someone called me Butternut. Edit: Thankfully I have only on two occasions pared my own butternut in the last 18 months. Grocers have risen to the call that we want our butternut already cubed. Thanks you-know-who for calling me butternut.

Charcuterie is fun to say. Hors d’œuvre is not and it’s hard to spell. Edit: another duh!

I don’t know why stewed tomatoes go with Mac and Cheese but I glad they do. Edit: Why do I love canned tomatoes of all kind so much?

A well prepared Hot Dog should be considered a gourmet food. Edit: Oh my just this week a Boarshead uncured Beef Hot Dog with fresh kraut, onion and mustard…..perfection.

Dukes isn’t the best mayonnaise to use when making chicken salad. Edit: Kraft Real Mayonnaise is.

Capers are the most underrated thing that comes in a jar. Edit: Yeah.

To be honest, I like regular yellow mustard better than Dijon. I’m not proud of that. Edit: Pride takes on all kinds of traits. I’m proud of my kids. I’m proud to be a Dem. Heck I’m proud of my resilience BUT with mustard, I’m just proud to call yellow mustard my home.

I have no Italian DNA, but my lasagne is really, really good. Edit: True statement. I made a vegetarian version around Pat’s birthday that coincided with meatless Monday…. For some reason I have a lock on lasagna making.

My best work friend and I love to spread butter on Saltine crackers. Edit: Yeah so that became a thing as if we we weren’t the first two to put butter on saltines. Seems a little fishy to me.

Nori just tastes like the ocean. Edit: Obvs no change here, nori does taste exactly like ocean water. Always has always will.

Someone should write a cookbook with recipes filled with what you can do with Cheese Curls. Edit: Maybe me!

Does anyone eat Bugles anymore? Edit: Still no clear answer.

If you eat gummi bears while drinking red wine you’ve made sangria in your mouth. Edit: Just gave a tutorial on this on Tuesday night.

Sherried Cream Mushrooms should be on everyone’s Thanksgiving table. Edit: So many duhs!

I love cottage cheese. Anyone else? No apple butter though! Edit: Savory Sundaes became a thing during the pandemic. I like to think thanks to me.

Breakfast is my least favorite meal of the day. Unless it’s Brunch, then it’s my favorite. Edit: Brunch, yum!

I wish I could cook a meal for whoever I wanted to. Edit: I love that things have opened up so my cooking guest list has also widened BUT I still need YOU on it.

Wraps are not as good as sandwiches. And they’re no better for you. Get over it. Edit: True as ever.

When Trump ate a taco salad it made me hate them. Edit: I’ve gotten over this because a good taco salad goes above and beyond what Trump stood for.

Enchiladas are the very best as long as they’re cheesy. Edit: Yes, always cheesy.

All steaks should be cooked at medium, preferably medium rare. Well done is not well done. Edit: So very many duhs!

Before a dance in high school we all ordered the fried shrimp. No one knew whether to use utensils or our fingers. I took the lead and dove in with my fingers. I’m proud of that. Edit: Now I say fingers, fingers everywhere. Utensils are overrated.

I’d rather have a hamburger than a steak. Still medium or medium rare. Edit: Forget the medium. Medium rare is where it’s at.

Clear liquors rule. Edit: With the exception of Bourbon Crème from the Tarnished Truth Distillery.

Salmon can be delicious if prepared correctly. Barramundi is more forgiving but delicious as well. Edit: Yes and by done correctly I mean Salmon must be moist and semi rare in the middle.

Shrimp can be awful if it has that weird taste. Edit: I’m told that weird taste is an additive known as “pump” in the biz.

Yellow cake with chocolate icing is the truest birthday cake there ever was. Edit: Surely no one has an argument with this.

He was Nuttier than a Fruitcake

I’ve always hated fruitcake. I never could understand why anyone would think Fruitcake was an appropriate gift to give or worst yet serve on your holiday table where there should be much more desirable sweets. My most vivid memory had been going to my step- grandmother’s house as a kid and seeing a tray of sliced fruitcake along side a tower of fig-filled cookies, date-nut spirals, crystallized grapefruit peels and dried apricots ……. nothing a child of any age would want to consume. Truth be told, most of the food served at Grandmother Esther’s was awful. Esther was a fine Professor of Music at Edinboro State Teacher’s College, but as a fine or even fair cook she was not. I was told by my mother that Es had an illness in the 1940s that altered her sense of taste so she really didn’t know what good food tasted like. I didn’t buy it, I think she reveled in annoying her step-son-in-law (my dad) and step grandchildren by serving us gross food. Perhaps I’ll write a future blog post about that but for now I digress. I hate fruitcake.

My husband did not hate fruitcake. In fact he loved it. I dare say his favorite might’ve been those loaves you could get at a drugstore usually sitting aside the fake tin of Danish Butter Cookies that was only sold November-January (and now probably 70% off). After years of debating the reason for the very existence of fruitcake and pleas from my husband to try making one, four seasons ago I defied my culinary values and agreed to make a fruitcake.

I set rules. The cake would be considered one of his Christmas gifts as the expense, effort and shear horror of what I would experience was gift worthy. Likewise, the cake would be unveiled on Christmas day in the company of only our immediate family and never, ever appear on our dining table after that. If he liked it, my husband was permitted to share it with known fruitcake lovers only. If he didn’t like it, we would never speak of it again.

I chose the recipe for “Dark Fruitcake” out of “The Joy of Cooking”. I bought all the ingredients right down to the currants and citron and all those other candied fruits that stick together in clumps and dates that are almost impossible to chop. I mixed everything in a gigantic bowl and used a 12-cup ring pan. My fruitcake weighed a TON. I baked it for many, many hours and then cooled it for many, many, hours. Surprisingly, once cool the menacing dark glob came out of the pan okay (Jeez it was dark. Maybe burnt? It didn’t smell burnt, just fruitcakey.). I covered the behemoth with brandy-soaked flour clothes, wrapped in multiple layers of plastic wrap, stuck it in a super-sized zip-lock bag and placed it in the cupboard of my antique dry sink. That was 3 weeks prior to Christmas day.

My man loved the fruitcake I had made. That year, he might’ve shared a tad, but mostly he ate it himself over a course of about two weeks. With each passing day he told me he loved me more than the day before because I had become a fruitcake maker. It was clear that another family tradition had begun and the following Christmas would include a homemade fruitcake.

So the next year there was indeed another two-ton fruitcake made that tasted similar to the first. Last year though I got bold and decided to make three large loaves instead. The idea being that now my fruitcake gift was even more fun because my husband could taste the cake at varying ages and share more easily since now his fruitcake had gained a small following. He finished the first loaf in about a week. The second loaf took him just about through basketball season (those who read this blog often know my husband was a basketball coach). To him, this was the best fruitcake ever! I’ll never get over the fact that my husband could love a gross food so much. For him, my fruitcake was right up there with the very best of my recipe rotation.

This is where my story gets a little sappy. You see my husband never got to his third fruitcake loaf. He unexpectedly died on February 18th of last year. Needless to say I never gave that fruitcake aging in my antique dry sink a thought until this holiday season, over a year since it had been baked. My daughter, son and I knew the holidays would be hard for us but we were determined to make the best of it while keeping our papa and husband in our hearts. I had suggested to my daughter we open the fruitcake on Christmas day to see what became of it then throw it away. I forgot all about it so the holidays came and went without the fruitcake making an appearance. Just yesterday (it’s January 7th) I remembered a Hallmark Christmas Movie featuring an 100 year old fruitcake (it’s called “Broadcasting Christmas”, I looked it up). That made me go right to the dry sink to fetch the last fruitcake loaf.

I took it out, unwrapped it’s many layers of plastic wrap and brandied cloth. It was still moist, dark and smelled thick of molasses. I took a bite. It tasted as gross as always. That same gross taste that my husband loved only now the brandy flavor was magnified. I took another bite. This time it tasted so much better. I could taste the love I put into making it. I could taste my love! Almost a year since my husband had passed and I was enjoying his fruitcake! In the end the gift I made for him became a gift to me. And that gift is going to keep on giving at least another year. I wrapped that “dark brick of molasses filled love” again in a brandy doused cloth, applied multiple layers of plastic wrap, put it back in the zip-lock bag and in the cupboard it went. Next Christmas, if I don’t think it’ll kill anyone, I’ll make my kids take a bite and share some with my husband’s fruitcake fans. I may keep any remaining for the following year but probably not.

I still think you’ve gotta be nuts to like fruitcake, but in this first week of January 2020 having a few bites was a gift to me. Live each day, be kind to one another and share the love.

“Political advice is a bit like your average Christmas fruitcake: something everyone gives and no one wants.” ~ Bob Dole

The Story of Hodge Podge Lodge and the Patchwork Garden

20130426_151722000_iosMy favorite Billy Joel song is the less popular “You’re my Home”. Life as an Army brat played right into the lyrics as I moved around a lot when I was young so I never really had a place I could call my very own until I fell in love with my eventual husband with whom I was married to for just shy of 38 years. Thing is, once you find that certain someone and as a couple you have the opportunity to acquire the “right” home together, Billy’s lyrics, while still lovely, don’t adequately portray how truly special it is to live and love in a dwelling that just “fits”.

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We stumbled upon Hodge Podge Lodge over thirty seven years ago. It was only up the road a piece from where my new husband and I were renting. I never gave the long empty, perpetually for sale, seemingly sad house much notice until one summer day when we were walking back from the swimming hole (yes, really and it’s still here) I decided to take a peek into the dirty windows.  

 

To say I was mesmerized at my very first glimpse inside is fairly accurate. The feeling of looking into my future was pretty intense. We were only twenty four years old, certainly not looking to buy, but how could I pass up finding out more about this oddly long house with what appeared to have not one, but two unique fireplaces, real knotty-pine on some of the walls AND ceilings along with nooks and crannies throughout!? The magical acre that surrounded the building was overgrown, buggy and poison ivy saturated but when I squinted a little and took a moment to dream I saw my garden beds, my little pond, my fairy stuff and plenty of room for outdoor entertaining. Another look and I saw our not-yet-born kids growing up here along with a sweet collection of cats and dogs. I was hooked. Fortunately my partner in life was willing to agree to our biggest impulse buy ever! Hence, Hodge Podge Lodge (fondly, HPL) and my Patchwork Garden was born.

A couple of seasons corn was planted among the flowers

We started out slowly, at a snail’s pace really, transforming what was once another family’s “place” (I know this because years ago the previous owners very grown-up children asked if they could spread some of their mom’s ashes down by the creek) into ours or more accurately, mine. The love of my life was no handy man and I, in turn, am no traditionalist. Whimsy is how I roll (even though my career choice was, uhm, restrictive to say the least). That being said, my personal time, my HPL time, for the last 37 some years has been filled with silly photos, tons of super-fun parties, my-style paintings and edible landscaped gardens.

My husband easily went along with my HPL vision while often reminding me he was just along for the ride. Occasionally he’d put his foot down, like when I wanted to put terraced steps down to the creek or create a fitness trail around the perimeter of the property (usually when it required “muscle” from him), but more often than not he let me meander through life at the lodge however I saw fit.

There’s nothing like drinking tea and eating scones on a grownup size toadstool dinette

Through the years parties and get togethers were many! Obviously since I write a blog about it, you already know I’m very fond of food and drink. Cooking is my passion followed closely and not unrelated by gardening. Our social events at HPL through the years are numerous and varied. There was the 60’s Retro Party, the Sangria Competition, and the Halloween Happy Hour where I read everyone’s tea leaves. There were countless Christmas parties, after B-ball game parties, Ladies luncheons and even a “St. Patrick’s” Day or two. Tablescaping (not sure that’s a word) is just like painting for me and to be honest I’m better at it! I love to start with a bare table and create a beautiful table tailored to the festivity at hand whether it be grandiose gala or an intimate dinner for two.

Traditions are huge in our family. Although not always, food and drink naturally plays a role in most of our traditions. We always had Crème Brûlée French Toast on Christmas morning, Spaghetti for the big guy the first night of basketball practice and Pork “Floaters” and Sauerkraut every New Year’s Day. Our famous Shrimp Spread (see my post “History, It’s in the Making” to know more) showed up often. Through the years at HPL, I’ve extended family traditions into my gardening. I grow a whole bunch of herbs. Years ago I developed my own double secret herb mix called Jen Blen. I use fresh in season, but also dry, package and label it. It’s then given to family and friends. I also make make blends of “Charsley”, “Chasil” and “Thanksgiving” all of which that are family staples that make their way to my grown children’s kitchens every year (yes, my daughter and son have become foodies in their own right). I “press” flowers and herbs and use them in art work. I’ve pickled cucamelons while my daughter created Cucamelons Photography! And of course there’s my social media favorite…. Friday Food Faces.

Things were not perfect at Hodge Podge Lodge.  The outdated wiring was a challange that has ever-so-slowly been replaced through time. For years our well water had a tendency to have the appearance of chocolate milk a couple of times a year until we invested lots of money we didn’t have into a heavy-duty filtration system. Poison Ivy has refused to vacate still and deer families and the resident ground hog seem to think the flowers and vegetables planted is their very own all you can eat buffet.

Our home life, like everyone’s, was filled with our own unique set of challenges. Ours was my husband’s health. Early in our marriage, my husband was diagnosed with a kidney disease. Chronic gout, a blood clot and a resulting pulmonary embolizism, kidney transplant, hip replacement and a triple by pass followed through the years. Always an extreme busy man, to everyone outside the home my husband’s health problems were hardly noticed. He rarely missed work except for required procedures and as a varsity basketball coach for 37 seasons he did NOT miss pratice or games….no way! At home it was different though. Hours were spent filling his meds box for the week (in recent years has was taking 26 pills a day, not to mention the monthly infusion given to him at the office or at home). Late night trips to the ER for an elevated heart rate happened several times but somehow he always got stablized so he’d be back at school the following morning. Inside and outside home improvement projects were put on hold in order to address the current health issue. Some of our family holidays can be remembered by whatever ailment “Papa” was suffering from at the time. Thing is though all this happened within the walls of our Hodge Podge Lodge, our family safe place.

Eight months ago my love, the father of my wonderful children, the person I have laughed with the most in my life died unexpectedly. While my grief is still immense, I am so thankful that my little Hodge Podge Lodge is filled to the brim with the sweet memories of our 40 years of life together. The way I look at it your “home”, whether it be your people, a place or both, intertwined with simple pleasures and traditions give you a sense of belonging.

 

We all have it in us to find true happiness, whether it’s with a true love, a place, family relationships or simply self-care. Find your “thing”, find your “person” or find your “place”. Just know that once you find it, no matter what happens you’ll never lose it. Memories live forever. Love, in all it forms, lives forever. I wish you love.

“I’m just someone who likes cooking and for whom sharing food is a form of expression” – Maya Angelouimg_1653

 

 

 

I’m not Cavalier about the Cavalier!m

20180906_144857494_iOSAfter spending the entire summer musing about relationships and losing as opposed to musing about eating and boozing, I’m back, better, and filled with lessons learned! When you treat someone with loving kindness you should be able to expect that in return….. that’s not always the case. Feminism isn’t age specific, one-dimensional or anger driven…… if you claim to be a feminist, you should be supportive and mindful of all women. My feelings are hurt certainly not for the first time or the last and I didn’t get a proper goodbye ……. I will try never be so “cavalier” with a loved one’s feelings.

Speaking of cavalier, and in this case I mean the Cavalier Hotel, early in September I spent four glorious days at this newly revamped gem in Virginia Beach. I got several musings I must share:

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Coupe style glass filled with a delic Dirty Martini overlooking the Croquet lawn.

The glasses: Martinis served from the Raleigh Room Bar are superb and the coupe style glass used gives the whole experience a certain elegance of a by gone era.

20180904_005049087_iOSBecca www.beccavb.com : The more upscale restaurant at the Cavalier serves Cheddar Popovers as the bread option! After one bite of this heavenly puffy, gooey, pastry slathered in sweet cream butter I kinda forgot that I had an entrée coming. I heard one server say the dinner menu changes weekly, I certainly hope that’s not the case for the popovers.

The Hunt Room: Meeting my high school/college chum and her husband is always fun! This occasion was no different. I recommend the duck thigh… it’s succulent, just the right size and the roasted brussels sprouts served with it are divine. In addition, in my opinion the in-house distillery, the Tarnished Truth, produces a fine Vodka and my husband would vouch for the bourbon and rye.

20180906_003414305_iOSBaladi’s http:/baladicafe.com/ : We dined with my 7 year-old grand-nephew, Dominic (most likely the only actual name you’ll ever see on this blog) and his parents at this absolutely delicious Mediterranean restaurant. Tucked away in a strip-mall, I didn’t expect much but once you enter you’re greeted with a quaint bistro feel and the food was more than delightful. I got the fish special which is prepared the same way as described on the menu just with different fishes. Our night it was Mahi-Mahi and well, it tasted as lovely as it looks. The jasmine rice was tasty as well and I just wish the Cavalier had more space in the honor fridge so I could’ve taken the leftovers. As it were I gave all that I had left to my absolutely favorite nephew who lives in the State of Virginia.

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EAT Bistro http://eatbistro.net/: Our last night we made a return trip to a place that we had been to three years ago that was ironically within a short distance of the Cavalier. Eat was very good years ago, but this time it was great! I ordered one of the specials that was on the board, a Halibut dish that was wrapped in rice paper. It was superb! Likewise, my husband ordered a Veal Chop special so I can’t promise similar results but I’m pretty sure everything on the menu is just as succulent.

Some random pictures:

 

“A farewell to a good relationship is like a fine meal eaten. Although it’s over, you should be thankful for the experience and make sure the chef knows it was appreciated.”

Something New from Something Classic

20171025_163015337_iOSI took the opportunity recently to develop a couple of recipes using a new dressing offering from Gazebo Room, Asian Vinaigrette. With two of my close friends as guinea pigs, I set out to create and serve them an Asian inspired luncheon using the flavorful bottled dressing as a highlight in two of the dishes I prepared.

For the entrée, I changed ingredients but used a preparation for Chicken thighs that I’ve prepared many times. The Chicken ALWAYS comes out tender and very flavorful. The use of one of Gazebo Room’s newest additions had the same delectable results!

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Asian Vinaigrette Chicken Thighs

2 Tbls fresh lemon juice
12 skinless, boneless chicken thighs
1/4 cup all-purpose flour
1/2 tsp salt
1/4 freshly ground black pepper
1/2 tsp five spice powder
2 tsp olive oil
2 cups chopped onion
1 Tbls peeled fresh ginger, minced
2 garlic cloves, minced
1/2 cup unsalted chicken stock
1/2 cup GAZEBO ROOM ASIAN VINAIGRETTE
2 Tbls chopped parsley or green onion for garnish

1. Combine lemon juice and chicken in a large zip-lock bag. Seal and marinate in refrigerator 30 minutes. Remove Chicken and discard marinade.
2. Pat Chicken dry with paper towels. Dredge in flour mixed with the five spice powder. Sprinkle with salt and pepper. Heat oil in large nonstick skillet with high sides over med-high heat. Add half the chicken and cook for 3 minutes on each side until lightly browned. Repeat procedure with remaining chicken. Remove all from pan.
3. Add onion, ginger and garlic to pan and saute 5 minutes or until tender. Return Chicken to pan. Add stock mixed with vinaigrette. Bring to a boil. Cover, reduce heat and simmer 1 hour until tender. Garnish if desired. Makes 6 servings (2 thighs with 1/3 cup sauce.

 

The salad I served was a revamped version of an old recipe I’d clipped from a magazine in 1982.

Far East Rice Salad
2 cups cooked rice
1 cup cooked ham diced
1 8-oz can chunk pineapple, drained
1 green or red pepper cut in thin strips
1/2 cup water chestnuts coarsely chopped
1/3 cup sliced green onion
2 Tbls GAZEBO ROOM ASIAN VINAIGRETTE
1 Tbls low sodium soy sauce
1/2 cup mayo
1 can (3 oz) chow mein noodles

Combine rice, ham, pineapple, peppers, water chestnuts and green onion. Blend Vinaigrette, soy and mayo. Mix with the ham mixture. Serve on greens if desired and top with chow mein noodles. Makes 6 side dish servings.

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Both dishes were easy to make, tasty and appealing to the eye. My friends gave the meal two thumbs up as well. Give either recipes a try if you’re in the mood for some Asian flavor!

“Laughter is brightest in the place where food is.” – Irish Proverb

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My Es-Cape May be of Interest

The stunning Congress Hall in Cape May

Those familiar with this blog page may know that my daughter and I take a birthday trip each Spring sometime after April 13th (the actual day of our birth). Last year, I wrote about Savannah, the year before it was about a stay-cation in the District and the year before that I believe I let the readers know about wonderful Winchester Virginia. This year the final destination was Cape May NJ just before the official start of summer.

To our credit, my favorite daughter and I make an excellent team when it comes to trip planning! We find places to go and things to do that always include extraordinary food and drink as well as giving us a chance to be the HAGs (History, Art and Gardens) we truly are. This trip with the final destination being Cape May was no exception.

We departed from DC on Friday morning taking the 2 hour trip to our first stop which was the Winterthur Museum and Gardens.  Since this blog is dedicated to food and drink, I shan’t spend too much time on the wonders of Winterthur but suffice it to say that this place is absolutely perfect for HAGS. The Enchanted Garden designed for children in mind was perfect for this old soul who has believed in fairies for decades. Please put this on your list if you’re anywhere near Chaddsford PA or Wilmington DE.  The Cafe which is located within the lovely Gift Shop is perfect for a light lunch and serves wine and beer if you need an afternoon nip.

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DO NOT GO INTO A FAIRY RING! Winterthur

The next stop with more focus on “boozing” was the Chaddsford Winery. While I can’t say that I found the regular tasting particularly visitor focused, the wines themselves were a delight. I’d definitely wouldn’t mind attending one of the many festivals they have throughout the year when I’m back in the area. Another winery we really enjoyed was Penns Woods Winery. The gal who poured for us was so knowledgeable and friendly. The wine was good too.

Lodging that night was at the kinda quirky Brandywine River Hotel. Since this was our annual birthday trip I spared no expense at this place by reserving a deluxe room complete with a whirlpool tub and gas fireplace. Little did I know when making our reservation that the night we stayed would be the hottest day of the year thus far tipping the thermometer at 90 degrees! Not to be deterred, my girl promptly opened the large windows in the morning after it cooled down significantly so we could enjoy the fireplace before checking out. The BR Hotel includes tea and cookies in the afternoon and a continental breakfast in the morning which makes it perfectly lovely for the price paid.

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Tasty wine is at Chaddsford Winery

While spending the night at the BRH, we had dinner at the adjacent restaurant, Brandywine Prime. While billed as your typical steakhouse, I found the emphasis on local produce and appealing ambiance very nice not to mention that the beef was delicious.

After enjoying our cozy fire upon waking and eating a bit of breakfast, we checked out and headed to Cape May but not before going to the extremely fine Brandywine River Museum of Art. I am soooooo glad we didn’t pass this place up! This extremely attractive museum features the art of the Wyeth family on three wonderful floors. I learned so much…those Wyeths were/are quite the talented bunch. If you’re a bit of a HAG, make sure to put this stop on your list.

Even the lobby areas in the Brandywine River Museum are lovely

Now on to the main event, Congress Hall in Cape May for a “Presidential Cocktail” weekend! Yes, you read right, our stay at the glorious Congress Hall was booked featuring the cocktails of the Presidents. I’m not sure the package is even available during the peak of summer but for us it added just a smidgen of whimsy to our stay, perfect for two HAGs also obsessed with eating and boozing. Upon check-in we received our package perks that included coupons for 2 Presidential cocktails in the stunning Brown Room and a hardcover edition of the funny yet fact filled book “Mint Juleps with Teddy Roosevelt”

 

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Elderflower Cocktail

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This book is so entertaining.

 

We had several outstanding meals during our stay but I’ll highlight just three:

Dinner at the The Red Store in Cape May Point is a must-do in my book. The establishment is BYOB, accepts cash only and the best part is that there is NO menu. Our food was expertly prepared and came in 6 or 7 courses. The attentive wait staff asks up front if there’s anything you can’t eat so they can adjust your meal accordingly (I, for instance, don’t eat oysters so I got “stuck” with a fabulous avocado ceviche instead). Dinner is served in 3 separate seatings which made the experience more enjoyable because everyone in the room (only about 20 people) were at the same place in their meal. If you like fresh, well prepared food and are a tad adventurous try this treat.

Dinner at The Ebbitt Room at The Virginia (a sister hotel to Congress Hall) was very good and is a short walk from Congress Hall. Produce there often comes from Beach Plum Farm which is associated with the Cape May Resorts group. Cocktails on the Veranda or in the small parlor is especially nice.

If your at the beach around Congress Hall have lunch at George’s Place. The Gyro and Spinach Salad I had was outstanding. I imagine dinner would be delicious as well but be warned this is another BYOB, cash-only establishment.

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Delicious!

Cape May is lovely and staying at Congress Hall made our stay perfect. The charm that that CH holds is intoxicating (as well as the handcrafted cocktails!). Just sitting in lobby area with it’s grand fireplace sipping on a perfectly made Dirty Martini was a real treat. The live music coming from the Brown Room was sublime (especially Saturday night with Darin MacDonald). I can’t wait to go back and this time I might bring the old Coach with me!

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The hall at Congress Hall 

“It was the most delightful wine when drank in moderation, but that more than a few glasses always produced a headache the next day.”
— James Madison on Champagne