Tuesday, December 18, 2012

On a cold and rainy December night in Charleston, reminiscent of a blustery London night, to be sure, a lovely 4 course dinner was served at theWentworth Mansion's restaurant, Circa 1886.  The annual Dickens Dinner, featuring storyteller Tim Lowry reciting Dickens' story, A Christmas Carol, took place in their cozy dining rooms on Dec. 12th.
The attentive wait staff served each course between segments of the story told by Mr. Lowry, who alternated between the two dining rooms, in period costume, with vitality and verve.
The first course was a creamy parsnip soup, an English specialty, with a Lowcountry touch....lumps of tender poached crabmeat.  The nutmeg whipped cream swirled throughout was the perfect finish to the dish.
The second course this year featured braised chestnuts, (last year's chestnuts were roasted) which were perfectly prepared with just the right nutty flavor.  They complemented the poached egg salad, served with wilted endive, lardons and a tangy malt dressing.
Our main course was wild pacific salmon, "Fish & Chips" with a twist.  It was cooked in a light lemon caper sauce, served over a very crispy potato cake and accompanied by tiny, whole baby carrots.
Our fourth course, the "Sweet Finish", was an absolutely perfect Christmas pudding.  The dish was full of plump golden and dark raisins, with just the right spongy consistency and a strong but sweet brandy flavor.  All of the guests at our table agreed that it was the best dessert they had tasted in a very long time, and a picture perfect Christmas pudding.  Bravo!!

Sunday, December 9, 2012

Author Mitch Albom's books are always interesting, thought provoking and controversial.  I say controversial because they are sometimes considered "light" by those who feel you should read "high brow" or stay home, so to speak.  As someone who reads voraciously, everything from St. Paul, Dickens, Wiesel, Dostoevsky, Hardy, Fitzgerald and Hemingway to Theroux, Stewart, Mayle and Krakauer, I feel like I can speak honestly enough about books to say that my first reaction to his books, just for a flash of a few seconds, was "light weight".  Then, I read them.  They make you think, they make you feel and they make you remember and return.  Isn't that what good literature is all about?  
Albom's newest book, the time keeper, lower case, is certainly interesting.  It gives us time personified, in the form of a primitive man who produced the first clock and calendar, much to his eventual dismay.  The dismay is thought provoking, as it makes the measurement of time the villain.  The controversy comes in when you see the squandering of time by both young and old.  Is time put to good use, which actually is still measured, a villain?  Not in the summation of the events in this novel.
The Ben Franklin quote, first published in Poor Richard's Almanack in June 1746, comes to mind....
"Dost though love life? Then do not squander time, for that's the stuff life is made of."  Is it the squandering of it or the measuring of it that's the enemy?  Take the time to read the book, and you can decide for yourself.

Friday, November 16, 2012

I finished reading "The Book Thief" by Markus Zusak early this morning.  It's a novel about a young girl in Nazi Germany just prior to and during WWII.  Told from the point of view of the Angel of Death, the story unfolds around Liesel, a pre-teen foster child who lives with a family just outside of Munich, Germany.  It's a beautiful, disturbing, deeply moving book, written almost in outline and diary form, at times.  Finishing the book is like losing a good friend.. I will wake up each day and miss Liesel Meminger, but know she is in a better place, as am I, for hearing her story.  Amazing job, Markus Zusak.

Saturday, November 3, 2012

On a recent shopping trip on Meeting Street, downtown Charleston, I stopped in to the Mills House Hotel's restaurant, The Barbadoes Room, for lunch.  Their she-crab soup has always been my favorite, and it was still just as creamy and delicious as I remembered.  It has a little kick from just the right amount of red pepper and a nice finish from the dash of sherried cream on top.  The restaurant itself is cozy and quiet,  decorated in a rich, Caribbean style, with paddle fans in the shape of palm leaves, comfy upholstered chairs and deep carpets.  The wait staff is experienced, professional and friendly.  Most of them have been waiting on me for years.  The new presentation of the food on the lunch menu, however, is not quite up to par.  The chicken salad has always been a favorite, served in a halved pineapple, but is now served in a mound on the plate.  Just not the same.  Still, worth the trip for lunch, if just for the she-crab soup.

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Back to Hemingway's "The Sun Also Rises" today-  His prose is powerful, clean and painful, with his own life just barely hidden below the surface. The more I read by and about E.H., the more I feel like I have a brilliant but very sad friend whom I just can't help.  Reading "Sun Also Rises" after reading "A Moveable Feast", you can see his mistakes, self-indulgences and potential, all swirling around in a whirlpool just outside your grasp...you want to get his attention, to warn him, because you know how it will all turn out, but you can't.  You're on the other side of a thick, plate glass wall, knocking, banging, yelling...he doesn't hear you and he never will.

Saturday, October 20, 2012

Books that are now in my bullpen are...Dearie, The Remarkable Life of Julia Child, by Bob Spitz, J.K. Rowling's new novel, The Casual Vacancy, Twelve Patients, Life and Death at Bellevue Hospital by Eric Manheimer, MD and Autobiography of Mark Twain, Vol. 1.  Truth be told, I am halfway through Mark Twain's Autobio and love it.  I would have liked to have known him...and especially attended public events with him, as he was such an acerbic commentator on the foibles of those around him.  Am sure, at serious, sober events, many folks had to stifle a laugh at his "under his breath" and right from the podium comments.  As much as I am enjoying Vol. 1, what on earth could there be in Volume 2, as Vol 1 is over 600 pages, with very, very tiny print?
As I've mentioned before, I am obsessed with Ernest Hemingway.  I am reading The Sun Also Rises right now...his prose is so clean, his wit and sarcasm perfectly placed- am loving his description of the running of the bulls in Pamplona....p.164, "Suddenly a crowd came down the street.  They were all running, packed close together.  They passed along and up the street toward the bull-ring and behind them came more men running faster, and then some stragglers who were really running."  Can't you just see that?  The last line is so funny!  Many thanks, Mr. Hemingway.

Thursday, September 27, 2012

A recent literary discovery of mine are the short stories of Ambrose Bierce.  His American Civil War stories are especially heart-rending.  They capture the complete severing of innocence from the spirit in war, the brutality and waste of human beings in battle and the horror of the result of doing one's duty.  My favorites...A Horseman in the Sky and Chickamauga.
Gaston Leroux seems to me to be the Wilkie Collins of French detective fiction.  I am currently reading "Phantom of the Opera" by Leroux and am loving the characters, the mystery and the atmosphere of the book.  On a quest for English translations of his other works....any suggestions on which are best?

Saturday, September 22, 2012

For those of you who don't already know this, Charleston is a Rock Star in the world of foodees/restaurants.  Charleston chef Mike Lata,  of FIG and soon to open, The Ordinary, was featured on CBS This Morning today, discussing his baked sea bass dish, his passion for food and Julia Child....Yes, every good cook's inspiration, Julia Child.  While in college, Mike skipped class to hear Julia Child speak, and the rest is gastronomic history.  Thank you Julia, for turning Mike Lata away from a career in broadcasting and into the kitchen!  And, thank you Mike Lata for memorable, delicious meals and for preparing the best, green peas I've ever eaten, anywhere, anytime, in my life.

Friday, September 21, 2012

One item on my "Please God, before I die I'd like to..." list is to walk the Camino de Santiago, the way of St. James, in Spain.  Even walking the last 100 miles, which would be required for a completed Camino passport, would be amazing.  After reading "Seven Tips to Make the Most of the Camino de Santiago" by Cheri Powell, I am encouraged that it is a possibility for me.  All I need is 3 months off (I walk slower than most, with a cane), 1000 or so Euros, my very willing husband and 2 plane tickets....it could happen!!
"Wild" by Cheryl Strayed....interesting, but not compelling.  Last 3 pages at least revealed the sliver of hope that you wished for throughout the book.  I have a tough time watching someone purposefully and intentionally torpedo their life...have seen it too many times in my 55 years.  Thank goodness for the last 3 pages.

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

I am three quarters of the way through the book "Wild" by Cheryl Strayed and still not sure what I think of it.    While I admire her courage, I wonder if it came from a confused state of impaired judgement, rather than a conscious effort to change her life.  Her body is changed, but I am reserving judgement about the change in who she had become prior to the hike until the end of the book, 50 pages from now.  Stay tuned......

Saturday, September 15, 2012

I cannot stop thinking about the book "Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close", by Jonathan Safran Foer, which I have just completed reading.  Is it a book about the 9/11 attacks only?  No.  Is it about terrorism only?  No.  It is also about refugees, survivors, war, the frailty of the human mind and heart and the ways in which the human spirit heals itself.  It makes your heart ache, your stomach contract and your intellect question what you think you know to be true about war.  Read it.

Thursday, September 13, 2012

There are not enough positive adjectives to describe our visit to McCrady's restaurant tonight....I'll begin with the gracious hostesses and wait staff.  When we arrived, the hostess mentioned that they had noted my request for comfortable seating, due to my slight disability, and had two possible tables for us.  I was so pleased by their thoughtfulness and attention to detail.  This was the first restaurant to seat me in a comfy location after I noted my physical issues on my Open Table reservation request.  We chose an intimate table for two in their bar area, a subdued, softly lit area beside a two story bar/ wine cellar.  The booth area had a beautiful barrel ceiling and  soft cushions and pillows.  Our server, Claire, was extremely helpful and knowledgeable, giving us detailed descriptions of many menu items.  
As this is Charleston Restaurant Week, McCrady's offers 3 courses for $40.00 or 4 courses for $60.00- we chose 3 courses, beginning with the Charleston Stone Crab and Soft Poached Farm Egg.  The stone crab was served salad-style, with bibb lettuce, wild onions and grilled lemon.  There was just enough of a hint of lemon to be pleasing, but not overpowering.  The poached egg was cooked in the shell for close to 60 minutes, creating a creamy yellow yolk, surrounded by a white foamy sea of flavors- courgettes, Bonito and kimchee.  The result was a subtle blend of flavors- smooth and light.
For our meat course, we chose the Duo of Kathadin Lamp and the Thornhill Farms Chicken, per Claire's recommendation.  My husband's lamb was perfectly cooked, med-rare, tender and flavored with fennel and elderberries.  It tasted the way lamb should taste, and wasn't overpowered by the seasonings.
My Thornhill Farms Chicken was better than any chicken dish I have eaten in Charleston.  It was roasted skin-on, crispy, moist inside, served over pumpkin vines and topped with a dark meat juice that had an aroma that enhanced  the taste.  House-made sausage accompanied the chicken, which I dipped in local apricot puree.  The chestnuts served with the dish were roasted just enough- not too soft and still nutty in texture.  
Our server, Claire, suggested the Apple and Oat cake for our dessert course, served with green apple ice cream.  It's taste was better than your grandmama's apple crisp, turned up a notch by the ice cream.  Perfect.  I tried the Chocolate Pots de Creme, with powdered peanutbutter and vanilla mascarpone- a little bit of chocolate heaven!  I ate tiny, tiny bites, to make it last longer- it was creamy, smooth and mixed  chocolate and peanutbutter without blurring the flavors.  We finished with delicious french press coffee.  This could be our new favorite restaurant, which is a hard choice to make in a city that offers so many dining gems.  Hats off to McCrady's.

Friday, September 7, 2012

A lovely dinner tonight at Carolina's- we chose from the Charleston Restaurant Week menu...3 courses.  My husband chose the bibb salad, which he said had a hint of a bite to it...white pepper?  Very good.  My first course was a smokey tomato bisque, thick and deep red with a definite smoked flavor....tasted like ham stock, perhaps, was used?  Good and quite different, which I like.
My husband had the Pan Roasted Keegan-Filion Chicken.  It was moist and delicious, with a hint of buttermilk.  My second course was the Pan Sauteed Flounder, which was crispy, buttery and the best prepared fish I've eaten in Charleston in a long time.  One of the most delicious parts of both meals was the sauteed vegetables, greens, mushrooms and slivered ham served under the fish, and a similar mix, with croutons, served under the chicken.  The flavors blended so nicely that we would have let them linger in our mouths for a while longer, if not for the sight of course three.  Our dessert was a delicious Pecan Brittle Basket, filled with smooth vanilla bean ice cream, fresh fruit (huge blueberries...yum) and drizzled with chocolate and caramel sauce.  We finished with Carolina's own blend of coffee, which was really very good as well.  A perfect meal- we will definitely return.  Carolina's is a quiet, little gem.

Thursday, September 6, 2012

Are you joining the countywide reading experience this year?  The book Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close has been chosen by the Chas. County Public Library as its second annual One Book Chas. County initiative, which begins on Sept.11th.  Perfect choice- I downloaded it to my Kindle and have not been able to stop reading since.  The story, which describes the damage done to one NYC family by the 9/11 attack is like a crack in the windshield....it keeps growing, spreading, destroying....I'm spellbound and heartbroken at the same time.
The College of Charleston had picked a non-fiction book by the same author, Jonathan Safran Foer, for The College Reads.  Eating Animals explores food production.  I have not started it yet, but have downloaded it, as well.  The college will follow this up with a series of speakers on the topic- the most exciting to me will be Temple Grandin on Nov.27th, a pioneer in ethical livestock treatment at the slaughterhouse level and expert on animal behavior.  Stay tuned....I was once a vegetarian and wonder what this will do to my eating habits...hope it doesn't make me just order the salad at Halls Chophouse.

Friday, August 17, 2012

Julia Child's 100th birthday was celebrated this week at the Chabot house by making her fabulous Gratin Dauphinois......scalloped potatoes!!  I am here to tell you that it is the best recipe for scalloped potatoes EVER.  It's on page 523 of Mastering the Art of French Cooking, and is super easy.  You can also substitute any other white cheese for the swiss listed in the recipe....I made it with mozzarella and we did everything but lick the casserole!!  Bon Appetit!

Wednesday, August 8, 2012

Ever since Woody Allen's movie, Midnight in Paris, I have been obsessed with Ernest Hemingway.  I'm reading A Moveable Feast, about his early years in Paris with first wife Hadley.  He seems such a tortured soul, so talented and wounded.  Another emotional casualty of WWI, his writing is clear and true.  I fell asleep reading it last night, then awoke at 4am and continued reading it til my husband's alarm went off at 5:15.  I've only read his non-fiction so far, and will jump into The Sun Also Rises when I finish this.  Almost don't want it to end, as I know the real ending.
Raise your hand if you love Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn!!!  I sure do- am reading The Gulag Archipelago.  He was the true voice of Russia...totally understand why they tried so hard to silence him...no one likes to hear the truth about themselves, especially when it's painful.  He paints a picture, in black, of all the cruelty he witnessed in 20th century Russia.  His dedication of the book tears your heart right out.
"I dedicate this 
to all those who did not live
to tell it.
And may they please forgive me
for not having seen it all
nor remembered it all,
for not having divined all of it."
Aleksandr I. Solzhenitsyn

Saturday, August 4, 2012

Don't you love it when you pick up a book, read the back cover, think it sounds sooooo interesting, buy it, start reading it, and discover during the second chapter that you've already read it?  Just did that with Charles Todd's Watchers of Time.  But the good news is, that after age 50, your memory dims just enough to forget how the book turns out....so I'm still reading and enjoying it!!  Another perk for the "over 50" phase of my life.

Went to Slightly North of Broad last night for their Sunday Chef's Table Dinner- Amazing!  We had an Amuse Bouche, then five courses and a dessert.  There is a limit of 6 diners at the table, which borders the kitchen.  The wait staff was great, the chef chatted with us between courses, explaining his food choices, sources, seasonings, methods of food preparation, etc. and the food was just fantastic.  SNOB's chef has been there for 10 years and is really a master of his craft.  Some of my favorites were his "in house made" kielbasa, the Charleston Gold rice, the addition of lemon oil to his tomato coulis, their use of Timms Mill grits (from a home mill outside Anderson, SC) and the brown turkey fig salad with pistachios....yum!

How much fun would Thomas Hardy be at a party?

         I have recently become obsessed with Thomas Hardy novels....Tess of the D', Jude the Obscure, The Mayor of Castorbridge.   But, now that I am familiar with his writing style, I know immediately upon being introduced to each character, that things will end badly..for everyone.  When he shares the characters innermost desires, you know that they will not only NOT achieve them, but will watch them crash in flames in an excrutiating way.  It makes me wonder what Thomas Hardy would be like at a party.  Would he flip his drink over in your plate after hearing you state when dinner is served, "Oh, I've always wanted to try that!"?  When discussing a movie that you are very excited about seeing, would he tell you the ending- loud enough for all in the room to hear, ruining their movie experience as well?  Would he explain the choking hazards of each snack, then watch you intently as you over-chew it?  The man must have had his hopes dashed over and over to have used that as the engine that runs his plots so effectively.  My fantasy dinner party with Thomas Hardy would  include Cormac McCarthy, John Steinbeck and Dostoevsky, as they, too, beautifully weave a tale of doom, while making you want more!  What do you think, readers of Hardy?

Monday, July 30, 2012

Just finished F.Scott Fitzgerald's Great Gatsby again...forgot how sad a book it is.  Fitzgerald really understood pain, futility and human frailty and his creation of humanity in his characters is masterful.  I'm looking forward to seeing what Hollywood will do to the newest Gatsby movie.  Anyone know when it's being released?