Lesson In The Kitchen

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Veggie Sauté, all local produce

I have struggled this week to write a blog post. The heavy feelings of all that has transpired in Orlando compounded with the one year anniversary of what happened here in Charleston gave me pause. Do I address what is happening in the world and how do I do that in a way that adds anything to what has already been said? Do I write a random blog post this week about southern life or writing and ignore current events?

I have mulled it over for several days as I have gone about the business of living. Last night I was standing at the stove sautéing up a skillet of fresh local veggies, white beans, rainbow chard, onion, and orange cherry tomatoes. I should add I don’t normally take photos of my cooking, but the colors were so lovely and I wanted to show it to a friend who had brought me most of the local produce I was cooking.  Facebook and the news have been plastered with rainbow images to message love over hate in the wake of the Orlando mass shooting. Last night, which was a Wednesday night, the Charleston A.M.E. Mother Emmanuel had a memorial bible study and a double rainbow formed in the sky arcing over the church. The image went viral, at least locally. So this morning my thoughts finally came together.

These are my thoughts and the lessons I gathered this week. First, love begins at home. We have to practice our tolerance and love with the people we live with and in our communities each and every day. Unity and respect are part of our daily stand, not just expressed for a few weeks after a tragedy. Second, the diversity and differences among us is what makes us a vibrant community and nation. When I was gazing into that skillet, each vegetable added to the pleasing composition of color and texture. If it had just been a skillet of chard, it would have been less appealing and less nutritious. Each one of us brings strengths and contributions to the whole. Finally, I was moved by Charleston native Stephen Colbert, when he said in his monologue that love is a verb. Words are only words unless they lead to action. It can be a physical action, volunteering and helping or it can be a change in your attitude and treatment of others.

Just like my skillet of diverse veggies made my body healthier and stronger, A community and a nation filled with a rainbow of people is also stronger and healthier. So my take is that no matter the colors of our skin, or orientation, or religious beliefs, if we use love as the glue to bind us together, we create the beauty of the rainbow and a bond that hate can never break.

Captivated by a Cover

unnamedMy heart skipped a beat when I saw the final design.  I have to say I was giddy with delight at the surreal experience of seeing my debut novel’s cover.  I was blessed to work with a fantastic local designer, Chris Berge of  Berge Designs.  He really listened to my vision and incorporated his know-how to bring us to the final product.  I hope it will inspire readers to pick it up and get to know my main character Lizzie. I know I fell in love with her story all over again when I first glimpsed the cover.

I knew the cover was one of the most important components of the book. I have only seconds to capture the attention of a browser. It was important to me that this cover reflect my other main character in this novel, the beautiful and magical South Carolina lowcountry, the place I call home.  I have been in love with this place since I arrived as a teenager. Yes, even in these pollen hazy days, It literally has been snowing pollen so thick, you see footprints on the sidewalk. I wanted this cover to pay homage to the lowcountry water, marsh and sky and that is what inspired the color palette.  This place is an elixir of healing for my Lizzie, and Chris really captured that with the lowcountry seeping through her scarf.

I know we are cautioned not to judge a book by it’s cover, but please judge away!  I am confident you will be captivated.  I have found some of my favorite authors simply because I was drawn in by their covers.  That is not to say, I have not also picked up a book on recommendation despite the cover.  But an eye catching cover is a definite hook. In my very biased opinion, I think this cover is a winner.

I can hardly believe that a little over a month from now, this book will be released as both an e-book and a print book, with an ISBN number, a bona fide novel!

I want to thank y’all for following me on this journey and encouraging me every step of the way.  I can’t wait to share the story of Lizzie with you.

 

Sip and Savor

 

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A small batch bourbon in Charleston

I recently went out with two friends to the bar at Husk in the heart of historic Charleston.  We went there to try the cheeseburger which came highly recommended. I had expected an interesting and lengthy drink menu and I was not disappointed.  I was highly impressed that the golden liquid called whiskey and bourbon had a menu book all of their own.  The range was seven to sixty dollars with offerings from all over the world and many from the United States.  I admit I enjoy a good bourbon, I tend to be a wine drinker, but I thoroughly enjoy a bourbon and ginger, or a quality selection poured neat. One of the friends I was with was quite knowledgeable about many of the offerings.  The other one was a complete novice.  She asked would you get it with water, over ice, with a mixer?  We explained to her that a quality bourbon is meant to be sipped, to be savored.

That got me thinking about quality versus quantity. I thought about the tendency in our instant and fast paced world, to grab and go, rather than sit and sip.  I have come to appreciate the smaller and slower things in life.  A slice of artisan crafted cheese over a pound of factory produced cheese. One set of high thread count sheets over a linen closet full of multiple sets of lesser quality. A well-made, classic article of clothing over a bag full of trendy lesser quality clothing from a chain store.

I like to think that I have crafted my life in a way that I savor the moments, even the mundane things.  It is a battle sometimes in this world to go, go, go, constantly looking forward and not savoring the moment we are in. I think writing keeps me more reflective and thoughtful and observant. I hope that makes me a bit more appreciative of the beauty in the everyday as well as the moments that sparkle.

If I think about life as a fine bourbon, enriched over the passage of time, then I have to draw the conclusion that life should be sipped and savored. Bon Santé my friends!

In The Lowcountry The Oyster Is Your World

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shucking oysters

I could give you an in depth history lesson of how the oyster is an integral part of the South Carolina lowcountry.  This lesson would begin with the native American tribes and their shell rings, move on to tabby construction in colonial times, then lime kilns in the brick building industry.  I could tell you how in 1657 a Spanish explorer documented how the Edisto Indians roasted oysters. I could tell you it’s good to eat oysters in any month with an “r” in it. But what I want to tell you is if you have an opportunity to go to a Lowcountry oyster roast take it.

Whether you have enjoyed fried oysters, oysters Rockefeller , or never had an oyster at all, you are in for a new experience. Eating a freshly steamed oyster is to taste the essence of the Lowcountry. Personally I think January is the best month for an oyster roast.  It is something festive after the holidays and mid-oyster season. There is usually a bonfire and a big pot of chili as well as plenty of beer.  The table, is a large board with a hole cut out in the middle resting on sawhorses.  The hole is where you push your empty shells. Locally the shells are required to be recycled.  On the table you will find saltines, cocktail sauce and hot sauce.  The host may provide a shucking knife and gloves, but I have my own. Some folks use a towel instead of gloves.

The just steamed oysters are poured out onto the table and everyone digs in.  I confess I could stand there for hours.  It is a bit like potato chips, you can’t eat just one. I like the challenge of a cluster, even getting out the tiny ones. I enjoy the small ones with a drop or two of hot sauce and the larger ones on a saltine. Watch and you will see all kinds of methods. Experiment until you find the one for you. Then stand around the table shucking and socializing with the other oyster lovers until you get your fill or your wrist get’s tired. Then indulge in some chili by the fire.

Here are a few tips I have learned over the years. It is worth it to have your own knife and gloves or towel. I have a very affordable one with a plastic handle, although like any southern girl worth her salt, I want one with my monogram on the handle. Take a Ziploc baggie to put your wet, muddy gloves and knife in. If you are anything like me, your clothes will get wet from bellying up to the table, plan to throw them in the wash as soon as you get home, you don’t want to leave it until the morning, that includes the gloves. Oysters are good to eat, not so pleasant to smell.

An oyster roast is a bright spot in the drab of winter. There are many organizations that hold them, selling tickets, most raising money for charity. However my favorite ones are held in someone’s backyard with people you know and love.  In that moment that you are savoring the salty morsel out of the rough shell, laughing and connecting with the people you hold dear, the warmth of the lowcountry flows through you leaving the chill of winter out in the cold.

A Charleston Thanksgiving

 

WP_20151126_003Thanksgiving Day Turkey Trot Charleston 2015

This morning started with mild temperatures and beautiful sunshine.  The starting corrals for the annual Turkey Trot were packed with locals and out-of-towners treated to the view of the steeple from the Citadel Baptist church as it rises over the live oaks draped with Spanish moss that line the Meeting Street side of Marion Square.  That church is separated from The AME church, the site of this summer’s tragedy by a parking lot.  Some joke that Charleston has a church on every corner, and they are not far from the truth.  I think that is one of the reasons our fair city confronted hate with love and aggression from outside forces with peace.

Charleston this year has a lot to be thankful for.  We are far from perfect, we have a long way to go to fix disparities that persist in our community like the nation as a whole.  However I feel hopeful we can and will make Charleston a better place for all because we will tackle the problems with compassion.  Charleston has an attitude of gratitude. A grace that shows itself best in the worst of times, I saw this after hurricane Hugo as well as many times since. It also is what makes Charleston a loving and living community, this of course extends off the peninsula to East of the Cooper and West of the Ashley.

I am thankful for the beautiful preservation that makes downtown Charleston such a charming place to be. My gratitude runs deeper for the graceful people that make the day to day living here so pleasant. We smile and wish folks a good day or evening, we are polite and patient with inconveniences, such as traffic and lines, for the most part. The exceptions to that tend to stick out. We are quick to offer help and cheer each other on, those in our circles and those in the community at large. I think the beauty of the people of Charleston far exceeds the architecture and southern charm of magnolias and camellias. So this Thanksgiving I am thankful for living in a truly beautiful place.

 

 

 

 

 

Another Reason I love the South Carolina Lowcountry

Mount Pleasant, SC Waterfront Park

Mount Pleasant, SC Waterfront Park

If it wasn’t for the clouds, we would have witnessed a glowing sunset over the water behind the trees, but being that it is late August, cloud cover was a welcome way to keep the temp down and the breeze coming off the Charleston Harbor and Cooper River was a gentle caress on a Friday night.  The screen you see was set up to play a movie, kind of like an old fashioned drive-in, but with lawn chairs and blankets instead of convertibles and hot rods.  The smell of burgers on the grill and kettle corn wafted along the breeze and children tumbled and played on the grass.  This was my first time experiencing what has become an August tradition in my community and I am so glad I finally did.  At dusk before the movie began we were treated to live music and as darkness settled in the movie finally began.  It could have been the people I was with, a good friend and my two favorite kids in the whole world, or it could have been that it was Friday night and I was ready for some fun and relaxation, either way my exhaustion from the week melted away.  Once again I was struck by how blessed I am to live in this wonderful place with so much to offer. The clouds thinned enough behind us to reveal an almost full “Super” moon and as it followed us home, I was thankful for the lovely souls and lovely places here in the South Carolina Lowcountry.

Charleston Grace

Grace Episcopal Church Wentworth Street Charleston, SC The church I was confirmed in.

Grace Episcopal Church Wentworth Street Charleston, SC The church I was confirmed in.

Like the nation and the world, I am horrified by the events on June 17th at the AME church on Calhoun street in Charleston.  I weep for the loss of life.  I am shocked it happened in such a sacred place.  I am sad that such a young person could be filled with such hate.  I also am so proud of the grace our community has shown as the events have rapidly unfolded.  It has not even been forty-eight hours since this tragedy has unfolded, yet people of all walks in our community have come together in unity.  Charleston has long been at the top of lists giving accolades for being polite and friendly.  Visitors I am sure wonder if all the yes ma’ams and sirs, the smiles and door holding are sincere or a show we put on for tourists. that politeness and friendliness is just an outward sign, the surface of what underlies our community and it’s values.  The true measure of a person is not how they act in happy situations, but how they conduct themselves in adversity and the same is true of a community.  We are far from perfect.  We have members of our community who do not work for the good of all, but I would argue they are few and far between.  In Hurricane Hugo, and other weather disasters, wrongful shootings, animal cruelty, no matter what the adversity the majority in our community comes together to lift each other up.  We respond to hate with love.  We take on our problems with hope, encouragement and compassion.  Maybe it has something to do with being the “Holy City”, we practically have a place of worship on every corner, and that includes all faiths. The church I have posted above has Grace as it’s name.  It is where I was confirmed in my faith.  Immediately behind it is another church. Several blocks away there are synagogues and many other churches of many other denominations, our city has a long standing history of supporting America’s freedom to worship, one of our country’s founding pillars. Our southern charm is deeper than our friendly hospitality. Our community responds in action that echo our words of welcome and our expressions of love. Charleston is an example of grace in a world that lately seems to have grown a bit dark.  Charleston’s Grace is the loving people who call her home.