Monday, July 28, 2014

Maya Angelou  1928-2014
     For the next installment in my summer reading theme, Memoirs, I chose an unread book from my bookshelf, a book that I had considered often and always remarked, "Oh, that one looks good.  I'll read it next."  Years passed and it remained unread.  After Maya Angelou's sudden death on May 28th, 2014, I walked directly to the shelf, pulled out Maya's memoir of her early life, I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings, and began to read.
     Her words were powerful, clear and colorful.  They evoked a sharp picture of the United States at a time in American history that no one should be proud of, the Jim Crow south and the WWII west coast, during the first half of the twentieth century.  Her story is one of prejudice, inequality, determination and horror.  Ms. Angelou was a victim of childhood sexual abuse, racial prejudice and parental ineptitude.  
     Many aspects of the story were amazing to me.   That Maya Angelou was able to move forward after being sexually abused at age eight amazed me.  That she became stronger after each custodial setback amazed me.  That she learned from each bad experience, however horrifying, and became stronger for it amazed me.  
     Maya Angelou wrote each word with honesty, something that can be difficult when relating devastating life events.  Her words are full of emotion; never sensational, never downplayed.   She expressed real bitterness and outrage (and rightly so) about the way that she was treated by society, yet she also expressed shock and puzzlement that she didn't feel the same outrage when confronted with the poor treatment of the American Japanese.  Such a real and honest memoir is not to be missed.  

Friday, July 11, 2014

Each summer I give myself a reading theme which guides me through the lazy, hot days of summer's literary banquet.  Last year I read the works of Hemingway (loved Green Hills of Africa and The Sun also Rises) and the summer before I re-read my favorites (The Road, Crime and Punishment, Marjorie Morningstar).  This summer's reading theme is memoirs (with a few contemporary fiction titles thrown into my beach bag, as well!).
So far, I have enjoyed the life stories of cold New Englanders,  early twentieth century English servants and the Lords and Ladies they served and one reluctant Southern belle.  I begin my summer reading reviews with a memoir by the author of Under the Tuscan Sun, Frances Mayes. 

In her newest book, the memoir Under Magnolia
Frances Mayes shares the painful details of her Fitzgerald, Georgia childhood.  Raised by parents tormented by an excess of money, liquor and misplaced self-esteem, Frances Mayes childhood story paints a picture of both pain and love.
She shows us the deep, personal drama of the well-written memoir, sharing stories that are both beautiful and sad.  We, the readers, are immersed in Ms. Mayes heavy sense of place, as we walk with her on the warm, red clay paths in the shimmering, smothering summer heat of south Georgia.
Taking us through her school years, from elementary school to Randolph-Macon College, we get to know Ms. Mayes through vignettes, musings and verse, an interesting start to her interesting life.

I resisted reading this fascinating mystery/thriller as I have an annoying habit of avoiding anything that seems trendy or popular.  Silly me!  This is a fabulous read, one that pulls you in, tricks you into a series of erroneous beliefs then sets you back up for the big fall.  It would ruin your reading experience if I told you too much about the plot.  It is enough to say that "Boy meets Girl, Boy loses Girl"... or does he?  I can also tell you that the ending transforms the story from a mystery/ thriller into a horror story.  After reading the last few lines, you'll shiver in disbelief and be glad that you have allowed yourself to be enmeshed in author Gillian Flynn's web of deceipt.  Bravo, Ms. Flynn!

Monday, July 7, 2014

Located at 1217 Savannah Hwy, next door to The Glass Onion, 
newly opened Swig & Swine is like no other bar-b-q restaurant in Charleston.
Swig & Swine 
creatively renovated an old garage and has used the space wisely.  On one side is a medium sized bar area which offers an extensive drink menu that includes a wide variety of craft beers and bourbons.
The rest of the space holds a large dining room, decorated with painted pallets on the walls  (black pig and cow sillouettes with the cuts of meat labeled in white on each pallet) and a chalkboard with daily specials and sides that covers the wall at one end of the room.  The space is open, airy and cheerful; the seating, both at tables and booths, is comfortable.
All of the wait staff were well informed about the restaurant's offerings.  Clad in t-shirts with comic sayings on the front, ("I like pig butts and I cannot lie" and "We love you long swine") they zoomed around efficiently with metal trays full of pulled pork, beef brisket and smoked turkey.  I tried all three on golden baked buns in the Trio of Meat Slider special.  
The pulled pork was moist and full of smoky flavor, the brisket incredibly 
tender-crispy on the outside, juicy and packed with flavor on the inside.  The smoked turkey, served in thick slices, was easily the best turkey I've ever eaten.  It was moist and tender with just the right amount of smoked aroma and taste.  Smoked pork belly and homemade sausages are also on the menu but we were too full of the other wonderful meats to try them this time!
There are four sauces on each table: a red sauce that is a cross between ketchup and bar-b-q sauce, a mustard based sauce, an Alabama white sauce, mayonaisse based and flavored with horseradish (my favorite) and a vinegar and tomato sauce. 
And now, the sides.  
What can I say about the sides other than that they are little bowls of perfection?  Creamy mac n' cheese (had to have at least 3 cheeses in it), cole slaw with mayo and vinegar, the best potato salad I've ever eaten which was so creamy that it must have contained a ton of sour cream (Not sure about that because I was too busy eating to ask about the ingredients!) and hearty collard greens torn in large pieces, were enjoyed by our table of bar-b-q aficionados.
On our way out of the restaurant, after lunch, we lingered in the outdoor dining area which was quite comfy, with large spool tables, aluminum stools and umbrellas.  At one end of that area was the screened-in bar-b-q cook house, attached to the main restaurant.  Two of the men in our party stood beside it and chatted through the screen with their friendly Chef/Bar-b-q Master as he tended the smoking meat.  
Cooking "Low and Slow" over nothing but wood, he told them that the huge smoker he uses was custom fabricated in North Charleston.  It was crafted almost in the shape of a boat hull, from stainless steel, surrounded by carbon steel, over a ceramic firebox.  It is the quintessential cooker/smoker.  
We will return soon and often, as Swig & Swine serves the best bar-b-q in West Ashley, greater Charleston and possibly the entire Lowcountry.