There Was Rice

Duncan Clinch Heyward wrote Seed from Madagascar in the 1930s. He wrote to chronicle rice cultivation in the Lowcountry from its beginnings in the late 17th Century to its end in the early 20th Century


First edition…still think it was designed to look like an old croker sack

According to Hewyard, it was rumored that Captain John Thurber gave rice seed to Dr. Henry Woodward while Thurber’s vessel harbored in Charleston. From whence came that rice seed? You got it. Madagascar. At least that’s how Mr. Heyward tells the story of the beginnings of rice culture round these environs. That tale is repeated in the Rice section of that venerable Charleston cooking tome, Charleston Receipts

“Long before there were cobblestone streets along the Charleston battery, there was rice, and there were slaves – the twin pillars upon which colonial Carolina wealth was built.” Duncan Clinch Heyward. Seed from Madagascar, The University of North Carolina Press, Chapel Hill (1937)

I have copy number 4593 of the original printing. Mr. Heyward claimed to be a distaff relation of Dr. Woodward, too.

From 1685 to 1914, rice grew in the Lowcountry in large amounts. The Big Gun Shoot ended slavery. Hurricanes in the late 19th and early 20th centuries inundated rice fields which could never recover. Subsidence of flooded land didn’t help either. Neither did the discovery that rice could be grown cheaper and easier in Arkansas, Louisiana, and Texas

Local farmers have brought back rice growing round these parts in the last few decades, but we will never be the rice kingdom we once were

Carolina gold indeed

Despite not having large scale rice production for over a hundred years, this part of the world still eats a lot of rice. LOTS of rice.

Mashed potatoes at Thanksgiving? Hell no

It’s always rice and gravy.

Any good meat and three restaurant round these parts always includes rice as a vegetable

Old joke:

Why are Charlestonians like the Chinese?

They eat rice and worship their ancestors

And, oh, what rice they eat! Almost all versions of which evolved from West African cooking through the same people who planted, tended, harvested, winnowed, and packaged the rice for market

From plain white rice steamed hard in the old school rice steamer, to Hoppin’ John on New Year’s Day, to Limpin’ Susan with okra, to all manner of pilaus, and, to get to the point at last, cooked with onions, bacon, and tomato paste to make red rice

Some people add a little sausage to it

Red rice is my all time favorite rice dish, which food historians now tell us is an adaptation of Jollof rice from West Africa. Makes sense considering the slaves who grew the rice were brought from West Africa because of their ability to handle a rice crop

There was rice

There were slaves

My mother makes a baked version with shrimp and sausage. It’s devine. She makes it in an old Le Creuset Dutch oven with a tight fitting lid

The old Piggly Wiggly at the Sea Island Shopping Center in Mount Pleasant made the best red rice. Hands down. Each grain separated. Each grain coated with tomato, bacon grease, a little salt sugar, pepper. Onions cooked to almost liquid. Sausage coins throughout. A little heat from black pepper, but not much else.

I make the red rice from Charleston Receipts. I steam it hard in the old aluminum rice steamer that my parents gave me. It had been given them as a present in the early days of their moving to Beaufort

When I was in college in Chapel Hill, my aunt and uncle who lived there would ask me to make them some red rice and bring it over from time to time. They would freeze it. Both from South Carolina, they just couldn’t find red rice in The Southern Part of Heaven in Orange County, North Carolina

I think red rice might be a dish served from Brunswick, GA, up to Wilmington, NC. The old rice growing areas of the Southeast. I don’t see it anywhere else on the menu

I was asked by a pal in Charlotte, NC, to share the recipe, or I guess I should say receipt

In the old seafood restaurants round here, seafood was always accompanied by red rice and cole slaw

The Shrimp Shack outside of Beaufort always serves red rice with their seafood. It’s perfection, too

This goes great with any manner of fish, shrimp, crab

It’s gluten free

It’s not Keto

It’s not vegan

It is a balm to the soul

If you don’t have a rice steamer, make the rice as set forth below, but add four cups of water, turn into a baking dish large enough to hold all the ingredients, and cover tightly with a lid or with foil and bake for 40-45 minutes, stirring a couple of times

But, really, if you don’t have a rice steamer, then, well, bless your heart

Just kidding

As I said above, my mother has baked her red rice for decades and decades, and it’s amazingly delicious with the addition of shrimp and sausage. I probably should get her receipt

But, I still steam mine

Jeanne Sams Aimar, whom I called Memar, our across the street neighbor growing up, has her version of red rice printed in Sea Island Seasons. Memar steamed her red rice. However, right next to Memar’s version is Mary Olive Whitney’s baked version. No right or wrong to it. Steam it or bake it.

This version is an adaptation of the Red Rice as printed in Charleston Receipts submitted by Mrs. Charles Gibbs (Wilmot Welch).

Scattered, smothered, covered, wrinkled, annotated

Red Rice

1 can tomato paste

3 cans of water – will make sense in a minute

1 large yellow onion, chopped fine

2 tsps salt

2 tsps sugar – yes – sugar

5 slices bacon

1 tbsp or more fresh ground pepper

2 cups raw rice – do not use Uncle Ben’s – trust me

Cook bacon until crisp in a large sauté pan. Remove bacon and crumble when cool. Sauté onions in bacon grease until soft. Do not brown. Add tomato paste, then fill tomato paste can up with water. Add to the onions and tomato paste. Do that two more times for a total of three cans of water. Told you it would make sense. Add salt, sugar, pepper. Cook until smooth, about 5 minutes. Place rice in top of rice steamer and add tomato paste mixture and mix well with a fork. Fill bottom of steamer with as much water so to steam hard but not to touch the bottom of the part that holds the rice. If you steam rice, then you know what I mean. Steam hard for 1/2 hour. Add the bacon and mix well. Steam for another 30 to 40 minutes. If it seems too dry, you can add another half cup of water. You generally don’t have too. Fluff with a fork to mix any sauce that has settled on the top.

Again, if no rice steamer is in your kitchen, add four cups of water and not three cans of water, turn into a baking dish large enough to hold all the ingredients, including the bacon, cover tightly with foil and bake for 40-45 minutes, stirring a couple of times

Serve hot

I put a little hot sauce on the table when I serve it. Tabasco. Texas Pete. Whatever you like

As you savor each bite of goodness, remember to thank John Thurber, Henry Woodward, Wilmot Welch Gibbs (Mrs. Charles), and the thousands of slaves whose names will we never know who really brought, grew, harvested, and taught us to cook that seed from Madagascar

Class Clowns

“Wisdom comes to us when it can no longer do any good.” Gabriel Garcia Marquez. Love in the Time of Cholera

In the spring of 1990, there were a privileged group of high school Seniors studying in the southwest back corner room of Bullfinch Hall on the campus of Phillips Academy in Andover, Massachusetts

We were taking a high level English class under the tutelage of Lou Bernieri, then head of the English Department. For some reason, I recall that we had to apply to take the class. I have been told that the class was called “The Myth of America”. I don’t remember what it was called, but I know we read great works, discussed them with great vigor, and wrote great responses to the writing

The material was all over the map, but there was a strong emphasis on magical realism and the beautiful word

Raymond Carver’s Cathedral, Don DeLillo’s White Noise; Gabriel Garcia Marquez’s Love in the Time of Cholera; Vertamae Smart-Grosvenor’s Vibration Cooking: or, the Travel Notes of a Geechee Girl, which was my favorite since Ms. Smart-Grosvenor was from the Lowcountry. Yankees didn’t get it. A friend of mine and I did. Not sure why we read Garcia Marquez in that class, but we did

Speaking of the work, “A Small Good Thing” by Mr. Carver still makes me cry. “They waited all day, but still the boy did not wake up.” If you’ve never read it, I highly encourage it. Bring some tissues

In that rarefied environment, Hamlin O’Kelley, skinny white boy from the Lowcountry, and Todd Isaac, skinny black boy from the Bronx, sat side by side and cracked each other up and drove Mr. Bernieri crazy. We drove our classmates crazy, too. Wanda Mann still recalls our antics. She rolled her eyes in time with the rest of the girls in our class

“Ok, you, two. That’s enough,” Lou would say to us

“Oh, look, the odd couple are at it again”

“Isaac! O’Kelley! I swear I’m sending you two to [Mr.] Carter [the Dean of Students]!” He never did

Todd and I just found so much of the material to be fodder for jokes, which material could be a bit heavy

“Cholera? More like diarrhea! Of the mouth”

“So, the baker keeps calling and calling and calling. Why the hell doesn’t the dad just pay the damn $16.00?”

“The dude in the Hitler Studies department has a kid named Heinrich?”

“Airborne Toxic Event….like after Chicken Kiev from Commons?”

“Reading this makes me HONGRY, Lou!”

Basically, Statler and Waldorf type cracks all class

Todd and I looked forward to Lou’s class and would high five each other around campus whenever we saw each other

Todd and I did not have the same friend group otherwise. We didn’t eat in the same dining hall. We didn’t live in the same dorm. We didn’t hang out on weekends. We didn’t try to flaunt the rules of the Academy together

Todd’s family, like so many black families in New York City, was originally from the South. He told me stories of going to see relatives in North Carolina. When he found out I was going to the University of North Carolina, he said that he would come visit on a trip to see his family in Salisbury

Todd was going to Holy Cross in Worcester, Mass. He had been recruited to play basketball. I said may be I’d see him if I ever came back to Massachusetts.

“You’re never coming to Chapel Hill!”

“You’re never coming to Worcester!”

“Dude, no one wants to go to Worcester. Not even the people from Worcester”

And, then, Todd would laugh and crack another joke and slap me on the arm

“Hammy, you are terrible”

“Todd Antoine, you are terrible”. I liked to kid him using his middle name.

“Dude, that’s what my mama calls me when I’m in trouble”

“Dude”

We said “Dude” all the time. What were we? Surfers?

After graduating from high school, we went to our separate colleges. After college, I went on to live in Kenya for a year and then on to Law School. After college, Todd went on to working in finance in his native city

He wrote to me a couple of times when I was in Kenya. I wrote him a couple of times when he was in New York. I have the letters he wrote me in Kenya

Lots of jokes about whitey in his homeland. Asking if I felt out of place. Wondering if I had killed a lion on my safari

I can’t remember what I wrote him, but I knew he was off to a storied career already working those crazy NYC finance hours. First in; last out

Then, like a lot of friends, we lost touch. Not because of any falling out but because of entropy

The last I heard about Todd was that he had already become a partner at the place he worked

In big time finance

At Cantor Fitzgerald

One World Trade

Lest we forget

Todd Isaac died at 8:46 a.m. on September 11, 2001

Twenty years ago today

When the news readers repeated the name Cantor Fitzgerald in the aftermath of that terrible day, I knew Todd was dead. We all did

I knew he was probably one of the first ones in to work and one of the last ones out. Always. First in; last out

I knew he probably cracked everyone up as he rode the express elevators to those fated floors. I knew he was cracking up his partners, his staff. I knew he was deadly serious about that which needed to be serious but with a strong sense of humor at the ready to take the piss out of anyone who needed it taking

In those pre-texting days, emails went around among our classmates confirming what we all knew

Todd was somewhere between the 101st and 105th floors of One World Trade that morning that began with the most blue of blue skies over Manhattan. The most beautiful of mornings

On each anniversary of September 11, I laugh and cry thinking about our whispering together, our disrupting, our discussing great literature under Lou Bernieri’s bemused gaze, much to the annoyance of our classmates

You know who you are

Lou acted mad, but Todd and I were the class clowns and class favorites. Lou has since confirmed our obstreperous presences made him smile. He loved that two so different fools found each other and bonded over the written word

In the years after 9/11, our schoolmates have hosted the Todd A. Isaac Memorial Basketball Tournament and an after party in Todd’s memory in New York City. Our high school’s alumni come to play and to laugh and to mourn and to remember. Proceeds established a scholarship to our alma mater in his name. Our class contributed early, often, generously. In two years, we had raised enough funds for a full schlarship in his name. Go Blue!

I need to go to the tournament sometime

Todd would laugh at my showing up and laugh even harder if I tried to play in the tournament

There is a scholarship to Holy Cross in his name, too.

In another twist, our classmate Jake Barton helped design the 9/11 Memorial Museum. Jake noted that Todd was in his thoughts literally every day as he worked on that sacred space

Every

Day

Jake confirmed that Todd would have been laughing his head off knowing that he, Jake, was on the job.

True statement

If you ever go to Ground Zero, please look for Panel N56 on the National September 11 Memorial and find Todd’s name

Kiss it for me

From the Andover Magazine. Enduring indeed

Sophomore Soar

What a difference a year makes

Last year’s initial college drop off for our elder daughter was tough

Not because of our elder flying the nest. I’ve never read Grown & Flown. Not planning on starting

It was tough because of Covid

Stupid Rona

Hate her

Last year, it was a drop off at the private dorms where I lived 31 years ago

Last year, it was masks and foreboding

Drop off 2020 – not that great

Last year, it was “Where You Heading Carolina?”which was a shaming social media account busting students gathering in groups of more than four and heading out to act like, well, people their own age

Last year, it was uncertainty and dark clouds hovering

Last year, it was graduate from high school and then three days later head to Chapel Hill

Well, this year, it was literally rainbows, unicorns, smiles from ear to ear, joy, joy, and more joy

It’s a great day to be a Tar Heel

#gdtbath

May be that is the benefit of being a sophomore and knowing a good group of people and having a sorority house in which to live in which friends of mine and my daughter’s have also lived. More on that later

May be it was that despite Delta variants and Covid protocols and unprecedented times and admonitions to “stay safe”, life does and will go on and on and on

Thanks be to God

This year’s drop off had a wonderful sense of opportunity and joy

The two weeks before, we began packing, assembling, putting together, organizing, check listing

The week before, we began to amass goods and furniture and items in the dining room

Three days before we had a family farewell supper at a restaurant

Two days before, we had a going away supper with dear pals

The day before, we loaded my car and our elder’s car with everything but hanging clothes and our spend the night clothes

The day of, we were out of our driveway and on the interstate by 8:30 a.m.

We had to be in Chapel Hill in time for a Zoom call at 3:00 p.m. for rush training

It’s a big deal

Trust me

We love Chapel Hill

We don’t love the ride

It’s really dull

I95 to I40

The only good thing about it is that we may stop for food at Smithfield’s Chicken ‘N Bar-B-Q

#scnbbq

There are two that we love

One in Lumberton – Exit 22 on I95 in North Carolina

One in Clayton/Fuquay-Varina – Exit 312 on I40 in North Carolina

Well, it was early, but we stopped at the Smithfield’s in Lumberton

There weren’t many people there

Even though the county seat of Robeson County is only 22 miles from South Carolina, it’s another world

I love their Eastern NC bbq, the fried chicken, the hush puppies, the slaw, the potato salad, the skinny french fries

But, what I really love is the people watching

“Y’all drive careful gettin’ home. We’s fixin’ to have a pour down”

That was the advice from one of the ladies who worked at the Smithfield’s in Lumberton

A pour down

I’ve never heard that term, but it’s mine now

This was also the same lady who said, “Lemme put this tray down right chere, and I’ll hep you with that in a sec”

I love North Carolina

After that repast, we rolled straight on into Chapel Hill

First stop, the Carolina Inn

Early check in requested and granted

We adore that place

Our daughters beat us there by a few minutes. I watched with pride as the elder spoke to the parking attendant, took her parking ticket, and drove over to the self parking lot

Such pride

We took all of our things to check in and Dylan welcomed us. I know him as Dyls at this point

Old pals

“Welcome back, Mr. and Mrs. O’Kelley. See y’all will be here in September and November, too”

Our elder child texted her friends “They know my parents at the Inn. So on brand”

She was full of joy to be in town

We threw our things in our room and headed to Student Stores on campus to pick up some loot for a neighbor who is also a Tar Heel. He has to indoctrinate his children

Much to our chagrin, masks are still required in all UNC owned buildings, so it was masks for all of us

NBD

Then a little walk through campus on the way to Franklin Street

The Old Well, South Building, Tourists

Back to the Inn for our elder who had to jump on her Zoom

We wandered around Franklin Street seeking two items of UNC clothing, both of which we found

It was great to see people on the street

So different from last year

Then, back to the Inn for my wife and younger daughter

I stopped in at the Ackland Museum of Art, which is free and open to the public. Mask required. They have been closed for months and months for renovations and rona. It’s UNC’s art museum. Mr. Ackland wanted his fellow Tar Heels to have access to fine art. He did a great job even if the museum is greatly reduced due to staffing concerns during these, wait for it, unprecedented times

I did get to see Cleopatra and The Peasant by Delacroix. I wrote a paper about that painting for an art history class

Then, I met everyone back at the Inn

We heard Dyls telling another couple at the front desk that there were going to be two weddings that night

I told them they could crash both

I also advised that D.J. Joe Bunn would be working one of them

And, come on, free drinks!

My younger daughter was mortified

I have never crashed a wedding

At this point, we were flagging a bit. It was down to the Crossroads Restaurant for a drink and some snacks

And, it being Chapel Hill, for unplanned mini-reunions

I looked at this lady there

She looked at me

Finally, I said who I was

She replied, “Oh my Lord. Hamlin, it’s [So and So]. You know I’m [So and So]’s pal”

I have not seen her or her husband since 1994

She was dropping off her sophomore son

And, I met a dad who was there dropping off his daughter at the same place we would be

Lovely people

Always great to see a Tar Heel or three

We visited and hung out and laughed and talked about people we knew and who was where and what they were doing these days

As we sat on the patio near the front porch and visited with our pals, we noticed two girls on a Zoom not far from us

A few minutes later, our elder sent a text, “Y’all are on the Zoom background of [So and So’s] screen”

It was the daughter of the dad we had just met

“Y’all need to come back here tonight. We’re going to shut it DOWN”

That was going to be a no for me, but I love the idea

Anyway, after our refreshment, we had to go to Target, because one is never fully prepped for drop off

Then, it was finally time that we could go back to the room

We fixed an adult beverage and went to the private courtyard and garden while our children beautified themselves

No one is ever there in the courtyard

View from my private courtyard

Well, usually no one is there. The bride and groom and the wedding photographer of one of the weddings I planned on crashing all showed up. When we offered our congratulations, the groom seemed a bit grumpy

“Guess he forgot about the wedding night,” I said to my bride

“Shhhhh”, she said to me as we walked inside

We went back to the room to collect our people to go back to supper at 6:30

Early birds

Worms

Big day ahead

My younger child and I were leading the pack and crossing the lobby when a lady walking across our path stopped, turn, and said, “Hamlin? It’s [So and So]. I’m going to a wedding. Cocktails in the tent then supper in the ballroom.” I introduced her to our younger daughter

“What are y’all doing in town?”

“Moving [Elder Daughter] into the [Same Sorority She Was In] House in the morning.”

In response, the Wedding Guest did her arms in the Greek letters along with a signature move

“She’s going to have the best time. I loved living there. Ok – off to the wedding. Actually, they got married last year at Bald Head. This is just a celebration. I’ve not been out in months”

It was off to supper where another table of girls in another sorority and their parents were sitting

And we had a lovely meal

We all went back to the room instead of shutting down the bar

Everyone was asleep by 10 p.m. after watching the gripping “Thirteen Going on Thirty” starting one Jennifer Garner. I highly recommend it

The next day dawned early

I was up and at it

Took things to the car

Drank coffee fast

Straight to breakfast

Where we saw more girls who would be moving in shortly

And my new best friend fellow sorority dad

“What time did you go to bed?”

“Oh, we shut down the bar at 12:30”

“Just like [So and So] said she would”

“Oh yeh…see y’all in a few”

As soon as breakfast was wolfed down we hopped in our cars and drove to the Greek lettered building on East Franklin Street

And, then, it began

The sweat filled move in of 2021 at the [Greek Letter] [Greek Letter] House

Our poor daughter had never been in despite being a Sister/Brother for almost a year

We sweated, we lifted, we groaned, we moved, we coordinated

We spoke to everyone

Everyone spoke to us

By 10:30 we were finished

A few minutes later, one of the roommates announced she and her mama were pulling into the parking lot

I saw new best friend dad several times

We also saw other parents we knew and met some others

Old home week style

Ensconsed behind those two windows on the 2nd Floor – great view of Franklin St

Our younger daughter and I were the real man power, real woman power, real girl power

Elder daughter and Mama were decorators, bed makers, arrangers

Clammy with sweat we were

The house mother could not have been more lovely. She was ready to greet the girls with smiles and warmth and ready, willing, and able to help

And to take my check for the semester’s room and board

We walked back to Student Stores for an exchange and liquids

Then back through campus

“How about a picture by the Old Well?”

’24, ’94

So, iconic images captured

Of the Old Well, not the old alumnus and current student I mean

We went back to the house for one last check in with roomies before lunch

Trying to find the one restroom allowing men, I got turned around, again, and, got lost in the constant upstairs, downstairs. Through my sweat dried eyes, I turned and came face to face with a shot of Ginny Meeks, one of my oldest friends who lived in the same sorority house some thirty three years ago.

She died in 2017

She and I had a moment of prayer, then I may or may not have kissed the composite photo. I asked that she look out for our daughter and not let her doing anything she wouldn’t have done

And, yes, I kissed the glass

We went out to lunch at a local spot our daughter loves

We were all beyond hot and in need of more liquids

Back to the house to check that half of the occupants of the room were fully unpacked

Then, it was time to go

No tears at all

Just joyful hugs

“See you in a month”

“Parents’ weekend is going to be so much fun”

“We will mail you that stuff tomorrow”

“One last selfie”

“Let me take a picture of y’all”

All Smiles 2021

So much different this year

So much happier

So much joy

#gdtbath

It’s a great day to be a Tar Heel

The next day, I awoke to a text advising us that our elder daughter had a wonderful night, went out with a fun group, and hung out with a certain group of boys who live in a similarly Greek lettered establishment not too far away

Ginny was on the job already

Easy As

Pie

Of course

In the summer, when the tomatoes are really great, we make tomato pie, that wonderful concoction of layered tomatoes, green onions, basil, salt and pepper all baked under a mixture of cheese and mayonnaise.

We always buy two deep dish pie shells. Ain’t nothing wrong with store bought pie shells

We always say we’re going to use the other pie shell. We never do. Instead, we throw it in the back of the freezer where it burns and desiccates into a cracked mess

Instead of that waste, I am prone to make a dessert pie to go with the tomato pie

And, what is easy as pie?

Buttermilk Pie

Specifically that from one lady named Sibyl

I have a splattered sheet entitled “Sibyl’s Buttermilk Pie – Junior League of Jackson, Miss”

It’s really the easiest pie in the world

Most of time, I have the ingredients on hand

Yes, I still buy buttermilk

It’s a great summer dessert

Especially on a Sunday afternoon

And so damned easy

Sibyl’s Buttermilk pie

1 9 inch deep dish unbaked pie shell

1/2 cup butter, softened to room temperature

2 cups sugar

3 tablespoons flour

3 eggs

1 cup buttermilk

1 tsp vanilla

Dash ground nutmeg or mace

Cream butter and sugar with mixer until light and fluffy. Add flour and mix well. Add eggs one at a time and mix well after each addition. Stir in buttermilk, vanilla, and nutmeg. Mix well. Pour into pie shell and bake 350 for 45 -50 mins. May need to shield the crust after 30 minutes or so.

Let cool completely before serving

If you want to gild the lily, you can add whipped cream or some such when serving. I never do

With thanks to dear Sibyl from Jackson.

Punchy

Iced tea spoons. You have some of these, right?

I loathe sweetened ice tea. Or is it sweet iced tea? O sweet ice tea? Or sweetened iced tea? It matters not. I don’t like it no matter how it’s spelled or what it’s called

It’s very Un-Southern of me. Like lose your Southerner Card Un-Southern of me. And, don’t get me started on that foul concoction known as banana pudding. That’s a tale for another day

At the now shuttered Price’s Chicken Coop in Charlotte, NC, I once asked the lady behind the counter for an un-sweetened ice tea to wash down my boxed lunch of fried chicken, slaw, hush puppies

She glared at me and said, “Baby, we only have sweet tea”

As she said it, I watched another lady across the kitchen space mixing freshly brewed tea with pounds and pounds of sugar

“But, she’s mixing unsweetened tea with sugar right there”

She was not to be trifled with by me

“Baby, we only have sweet tea.”

So, I drank the sweetened humming bird nectar and felt heart palpitations, headache, and more thirst. Sweetened ice tea does nothing to slake thirst. In fact, it only makes the drinker all the more thirsty

Change my mind

You can’t

Protective even

All that being said, there is one sweetened tea mixture that I will drink by the gallon

It’s my great grandmothers Tea Punch made with strong black tea, sugar, lemons, mint, pineapple juice, and ginger ale, pronounced jin-juh -A-uhl

My great aunt in Savannah used to make it for family functions

“Well, I’m serving mama’s tea punch” she would tell us

It’s really refreshing on a hot summer day

It can be served in a punch bowl with punch cups, too. But, I like it in a glass with a ton of ice

We children couldn’t get enough of it. It’s not cloyingly sweet like that stuff they pour all over the South, but, boy, is it good

I have the index card with my great aunt’s writing on it that reads “Big Easy’s Tea Punch”. Notes included. It’s those notes that are a treasure.

Because it’s the summer, I’m sharing this with all four or five of you who follow me. Some of you have had this at my parents’ house, too.

Wish you could have quaffed it at my great-aunt and uncle’s house in Savannah paired with shrimp creole and hot rice and beaten biscuit along with that green salad with a secret dressing on the side

Pass additional sliced lemon and mint and serve over lots and lots of ice

Mint won’t grow in a henpecked house. It grows with abandon at our house

Big Easy’s Tea Punch

3 family sized Lipton’s tea bags

2 lemons, quartered and additional lemon slices for garnish

1 cup sugar

1 cup pineapple juice

1 cup ginger ale

1/4 cup fresh mint leaves plus more for garnish

In a pot bring 3 quarts water to rolling boil and add the tea bags. Add a quarter cup of the mint. Let steep for at least 20 minutes

In a separate pot, place the quartered lemons and add 3 quarts of water. Place on the heat and remove as soon as bubbles form. Don’t bring to a boil. If it boils, it will be bitter as gall per my great aunt. She used that term a lot, bitter as gall.

N.B. I have no idea what gall is but I know that Sinners, whose love can ne’er forget the wormwood and the gall are told to spread trophies at His feet in “All Hail the Power of Jesus’ Name” so it must be pretty nasty if our Redeemer took away our sins and exposure to gall

Remove the lemons and add the sugar and stir to dissolve. Once the lemons have cooled, juice them into the sugar syrup

In a pitcher combine the tea, sugar/lemon syrup, pineapple juice, and ginger ale. Let cool completely and serve over ice

This can be doubled, tripled, quadrupled as needed

Serve with additional lemon slices and mint

Guess I can get my Southerner Card back if I admit to at least liking Big Easy’s tea punch. Now about that banana pudding …..

A Little Gassy

Is it 1974?

On May 11, 2021, the Southeast lost its collective mind again…this time over gasoline

“The Colonial Pipeline shut down may lead to some gas shortages” the newspaper told us that morning

Well, what does everyone then do?

Hightails it to the nearest Exxon, BP, Shell to fill up the tank

So stupid

I needed gasoline after traveling the prior weekend

On my way to pick up some lunch, I stopped at the convenience store cum gas station not far from my office

This was around 11:45 in the a.m.

I was not aware that the panic buying had begun

There were lines already at the gas station

I got in line behind a car with Massachusetts plates

Lest ye think I was judging just because of the plates, Dear Reader, please know that I went to high school in the Bay State and think that Massh**e is a terrible expression

We sat for a few minutes when finally the two cars ahead of us cleared the two pumps for which we were waiting. Or so I thought.

Mr. Massachusetts, instead of pulling up to the far pump, stopped at the closer pump and pulled up far enough that someone couldn’t get to the farther pump easily

Terrible move

I got out of my car, knocked on his window

He rolled it down and said, “Yes?”

“Sir, can you please pull up so we can use both pumps?”

His reply, incensed, “No…no I cannot…you’re going to have to wait”

So be it

While waiting, I noticed a utility van/service vehicle of a local contracting company circle around the parking lot

Then, I heard the BEEP BEEP BEEP BEEP of that vehicle backing up to get to the pump that my new buddy from Boston would not pull up to after being requested to by me

When my Codfish Stater finished pumping his gas, he realized he was blocked in by the contractor and by me

He huffed and made gestures to the contractor who shrugged his shoulders and must have said it would be a minute

Next thing I know, the Baked Bean Stater was at my window demanding that I back up to let him out

I just looked him in the eye and said, “As someone I know recently told me, you’re going to have to wait”

Bienvenidos a Miami

What does one do when Jet Blue changes a flight to Florida ?

Well, one calls one’s traveling companions and books an extra night

At the Fountainebleau in Miami Beach

I’ve never been

If it’s good enough for James Bond; it’s good enough for me

One night in Miami Beach might be fun

And, if it’s not, well, it’s only one night

Little did we know about the Spring Break riots to come and curfews and crackdowns

“Largely peaceful protests”

Oh well, we’d already booked our tickets

So, it was up at 4:45 a.m. and straight to the airport on a Saturday morning in March

Sailed through TSA for the first time since Oct. 2019

Felt a little weird, TBH

We landed in Ft. Lauderdale at 8:23 in the a.m.

Straight to get the rental car – mini van naturally

The two teenagers were mortified

The four adults were o.k. with it

The girls were starving, so we stopped at a Waffle House

In Miami Gardens

A wee bit industrial

The manager of the place was originally from Batesburg-Leesville, SC

Always good to find a fellow Sandlapper

Even amid the strip clubs of Miami Gardens

A quick trip down I95 and up and over a bridge or two and there we were

Not much traffic that early on a Saturday morning

“I think I see Crockett and Stubbs,” one of our party said

“I think you mean Crockett and Tubbs,” one of our party corrected

Where is Philip Michael Thomas these days?

Pulling up to the Fountainebleau by 10:00 a.m.

We were sure the rooms would not be ready

As we stood in line for the front desk, it was clear we were no longer in Kansas

I travel in a blazer/sport coat/jacket

I was the only person in blazer/sport coat/jacket

I was also the only person with a Yeti cooler strapped across his chest, too

You can take the boy out of South Carolina

Clerks always treat customers better

With the Yeti cooler strapped across said customer’s body

No, not really, but with the blazer/sport coat/jacket

Really

Try it

Saying “Yes, Sir” and “Good morning” to the nice man at the desk, we were told our rooms were ready

By 10:25 a.m.

Amazing

And, welcome to the United Nations

All kinds of accents, languages, visages

Place was packed

Man in line behind me had just flown in from Tel Aviv

“We finished the Seder and got on a plane. We weren’t able to do it last year. We’re so glad to be back”

“Everyone in Israel is vaccinated”

As we waited to go to our rooms, we stared in wild amazement

So much bling

Have you ever seen a Gucci romper on a man? I have

Have you ever seen a Louis Vuitton romper on a man? I have

Have you ever seen a Goyard bigger than the lady carrying it? I have

Have you ever seen a Rolex so tacky you were embarrassed for its wearer? I have

All in the lobby that morning

Along with a lot of ink

Room was amazing

Full view of the beach and Kingman turquoise waters beyond

We went down to the sundecks/beach/pool where almost every chair was occupied

Attendant found us a spot and said, “Man, you’re lucky. You have to get out here by 6 a.m. usually to reserve a spot”

So, we began to break spring

We lathered on the sunscreen

We roasted in the heat

We watched influencers influencing

Mask?

What mask?

Drank a couple of cold beers

Got the children some drinks

We got snacks from the hotel shop

$40 for almonds

What a bargain

We still explored the place

Morris Lapidus’ design holds up

Goldfinger….the man with the Midas touch

The pool with boompcha boompcha boompcha tsss tsss waaah waaah boompcha boompcha boompcha blaring was not for us

We hung out in the sun for a while, but it was really hot and we had all gotten up really early

Astroturf retains heat

We were tie-uhd

Extended rest period needed

The girls fell asleep actually

We all showered and refreshed and agreed to meet in the bar around six

The Bleu Bar

Bottle service available

Ice cold martinis, margaritas, old fashioneds, and Shirley Temples

Cocktail service available

Ice chunks floating on top

So necessary

“You know what we call a Shirley Temple that we add vodka to? A Dirty Shirley”

Learn sumpin new every day

One martini, two martini, three martini, floor

After the drinks, we summoned our ride for the evening

$95 Uber to Joe’s Stone Crab

Worth every penny

When they brought out the bag of warm bread, well, it was like no one had ever eaten before that moment

Six people destroyed the entire offering in just a few seconds

Foil wrapped butter pats never saw such abuse

Then came the stone crab bisque and cole slaw and stone crab claws with the famous mustard sauce and creamed spinach and hash browns and lobster macaroni and cheese

Worth every penny

We came, we saw, we devoured

The waitress was shocked to learn we catch stone crabs round these parts but always throw them back with one claw

“That’s what we do here, too. Season ends May 1”

Guess we made it just in time.

A storm was blowing up when we summoned our second $100 Uber ride

We had some time and milled about the entrance and closed bar

The manager began talking to us and offered a tour

The numbers they pull in are astronomical, even during a pandemic with a closed bar

Places can’t be legendary for over one hundred years unless they’re doing something right

So damn good

Eat at Joe’s

Really

Eat at Joe’s

When our Uber driver, Miguel, finally arrived, he was across the street

No big deal

When we crossed the street and got in his min-van he said, “Oh, man, sorry. Didn’t know you were at Yo’s”

Miguel was a literal trip giving us a run down of Miami Beach over the last 30 years

He should quit driving an Uber and open up a tour service

“My friend was stuck on the bridge from like 2 a.m. to 6 a.m. the other day because of the curfew. It’s rough around here some times”

I guess he wasn’t lying

We made it back to the hotel and watched people for a bit in the lobby

I called my parents to advise all was well and that we loved eating at Yo’s

“You do know your grandparents went there to see Frank Sinatra?”

What?

How on earth would I know that?

“Yeh, they went to that hotel a couple of times to see him”

I had no idea my grandparents were that cool

“Daddy thought it was full of Yankees but Mama thought it was wonderful with all the people watching”

Not much has changed

These may have been the most Miami people I ever did see

Slide slide slippity slide

Mask? What mask?

The next morning being Palm Sunday, I got up early and went to the beach to watch the sunrise

All Glory, Laud, and Honor!

And this guy

“When I’m out walking/I strut my stuff/And I’m so strung out”

He was listing to starboard and still on something from the night before

“I slept out here, dude…. what time is it?”

He rubbed his face so hard I thought it was going to peel off

Meth is a helluva thing

“You got a cigarette?”

“No, Sir,” I replied

He then went up to the next sunrise gazer and asked the same question

He had to move on down the beach as the tractor raking the sand was a coming

Eat your heart out Frank Zamboni

Back to the room to pack and get the hell out of dodge and head on down to the Keys

More my speed

Our elder daughter tried to warn us

She had just spent her own spring break there

She had way more than one night

But, she is young and fun and the target audience

Guess I just don’t bounce in the club where the heat is on

But, really, eat at Yo’s

It’s damn good

Bienvenidos a Miami

Adios Miami

Mon Cherie

Where’d she go?

The Elevator Lady

The Elevator Queen

The Lady in the Lift

Who?

Cherie Berry, head of the North Carolina Labor Department

Pronounced Sherry Berry, of course

For over twenty years her face was in every elevator in North Carolina verifying the inspection of the carriage, pulleys, hydraulics, brakes

For over twenty years, if you entered any elevator in the Old North State, you saw her

Memes

T-shirts

Jokes

The most well known signature in North Carolina

The most well known face in North Carolina

She assured any Tar Heel and anyone visiting North Carolina that the rider would not fall to his death in the elevator shaft

The Lady in the Lift

There she is in her signature red pointing to a black and white picture

She upgraded to color with a red jacket and blonded hair

The most famous visage in North Carolina

Recently, we learned she retired

The current head of the labor department’s photograph is slowing replacing mon Cherie

He’s not as recognizable

Average white guy

Mon Cherie’s cherry jacket stood out

As the new dude supplants mon Cherie, elevators with her picture in them have now turned into collectors items

Were I to be in such an elevator, I might swipe the inspection certificate and frame it so mon Cherie’s visage could kindly remind me that I would not be plunging to my death

There is a t-shirt company based out of Charlotte, NC, that puts a silk screened likeness of Ms. Berry on it

The caption states “Cherie Berry Gives Me A Lift”

Not any more, though

Being my second favorite state, being a proud UNC graduate, being the father of children who attended camp in North Carolina, and, now, being a father of a Tar Heel, I have flat logged some hours in North Carolina

I have flat logged a lot of time with mon Cherie smiling at me from the corner of the inspection certificates

That she is gone from mechanical hoisters in the Vale of Humility makes my life a little less, well, lifted

Her Twitter handle is Elevator Queen

That she was, is, and forever shall be

Cracka Meal

My father was and is a proud graduate of the Citadel in Charleston

My mother taught in Charleston

Growing up in Beaufort, we went to a lot of Citadel football games

Also, growing up in Beaufort, it felt like we had to drive to Charleston to buy almost anything

There’s a joke at home that my mother will drive to Charleston for a gallon of milk. She still keeps Highway 17 hot.

From the time I was born until 1998, if we were travelling to the Holy City from Beaufort any time on a Thursday, Friday, or Saturday, we tried to time it right to hit The Edisto Motel & Restaurant in Jacksonboro, South Carolina, known to all in the Lowcountry as the Edisto Motel.

At one brief time, Jacksonboro was our State’s capital on the banks of the Edisto River

From 1947 when it opened until it closed in 1998, the Edisto Motel was the main draw for Jacksonboro, which consists of a few houses, a few gas stations

Owned by the Hickman family who lived next door and only a stone’s throw from the black tannic waters of the Edisto River, the Edisto Motel remains for me the zenith of seafood cooking. I compare any seafood restaurant to the Edisto Motel. Some restaurants have come close, but none are as good

None

Change my mind? You can’t and won’t

Thirty five minutes from Beaufort

Thirty five minutes from Charleston

Fifteen minutes from Walterboro

Folks flocked to the motel for supper those three nights

Zelda Hickman and her sister Doris Cook ran the kitchen and cooked the food themselves. Really.

I know this because one evening my youngest brother was being very picky about eating his perfectly fried local shrimp

Mrs. Hickman always moved round the restaurant asking if everything suited her guests. That evening she stopped by our table, “Hey, how y’all this evening?”

She could see my brother’s reticence to eat despite my parents’ pleas. She squatted down beside him and with her lilting accent said, “Oh, Son, I need you to eat those shrimp. My sister and I peel and devein each one and then fry them just for you.”

Church honor

He gobbled every bite

People from all over the Lowcountry still bemoan the closing of the Edisto Motel Restaurant. As I said, we compare any fried seafood to Ms. Hickman’s and Ms. Cook’s. Knowingly, we roll our eyes and say to one another, “Still not as good as the Edisto Motel”

It was a family affair not just for the Hickmans and Cooks but for their guests, too

There were no reservations made

Instead, cars pulled in off of Highway 17 and patrons emerged to stand in line. If you were really lucky, you would arrive right at 5 p.m. on your way home from wherever you were going. Or you made that special trip to the Edisto Motel just for early supper

Standing in line and waiting was one of the best parts of the experience, because, it being South Carolina, all the customers would begin to chat and know people who knew people

“Oh, we’re from Walterboro”

“We live in Mount Pleasant”

“Just drove over from Lady’s Island”

“Came down from Summerville”

“We’re on our way back to Savannah”

Sometimes the wait would be for an hour or so

It did not matter one bit

I don’t recall anyone saying, “I’m not waiting in this line”

If they did they were a fool

The line was completely democratic and a cross section of humanity

The wealthy northerners that wintered at nearby plantations

The local folks who cleaned their houses

Black, White, Old, Young, Singles, Families, Folks from Off, Home Folks, Binyahs, Comeyahs, everyone went to the Edisto Motel

Inside the hallway of the building holding the restaurant there were long, metal, industrial coolers stocked with beer and soft drinks

Dads would always go inside and grab a couple cold ones and pass them around

By the time you snaked through the line and reached Mr. Hickman to seat you, he would ask, also in a wonderful Lowcountry brogue, “How many?” Then ” How manydidya have?” It worked on an honor system for the beer and cokes. They never monitored the coolers.

But no one came for the drinks

If you did not experience it, then there is no way I can describe it

Sorry

But, I’ll try

The seafood was fresh and local

Small creek shrimp

Mr. Hickman would drive to B&B Seafood at Bennett’s Point, to Gay Fish Company on St. Helena, and any shrimp dock in between to get the shrimp

They bought local oysters

Their flounder was flounder that had been swimming earlier that day

Their scallops were never skate wing

Crabs were deviled in the shells

Each meal was served with coleslaw or salad, baked potato or French fries, and hush puppies

I can hear Mr. Hickman now

Holding his order pad and pencil ready to go

“What ya having?”

“Slaw or salad?”

“Blue cheese, French, Thousand Island, Eye-tal-yun, Ranch, Oil and Vinegah, or Honey Musstahd?”

“Baayked or fried?”

He asked every diner that same question

Meanwhile, in the kitchen the ladies would put the seafood in a little egg and milk mixed together with some salt while you waited

They would then coat the seafood in cracker meal

Cracka meal as we say

Crushed crackers reduced to a flour like consistency

(N.B. Recently, a friend asked the Hickmans’ son what the secret was and he divulged the method and the brand of cracka meal. I’m in on the secret, but I’ll never tell)

Then, they would place the seafood into hot oil for just a brief spell then onto the plate with either the baayked or fried, some tartar sauce and some cocktail sauce. A lot of customers would order slaw just to have it to go with the seafood

The hush puppies fried in the same oil accompanied unnecessarily but oh so necessarily

The fried oysters in the winter were a work of art

During the early spring, if the shad were running, Mrs. Hickman would let you know that they had shad roe. She would fry it up and bring it sizzling to your table. I can taste the fried fish eggs popping in my mouth right now. I might be drooling

John Martin Taylor put the Edisto Motel fried shrimp receipt in his book Fearless Frying Cooking

He knew perfection when he found it

Like him, we knew perfection, too

We went their often growing up

During Law School in Columbia, a group of us went to the Edisto Motel for supper one night. Mrs. Hickman smiled and said, “I just love seeing people I’ve known for years all grown up” Little did we our days of fried perfection were not for long back in the 1990s

My family’s strongest and strangest memory of the Edisto Motel was sometime when I was in middle school. On a cold Saturday night on the way back from something in Charleston, we stopped for supper. It being cold, there was not much of a line. We were seated quickly at a table near the front corner of the restaurant

Across the restaurant were the Graces and Tuppers who also lived in Beaufort

We were next to a table of folks from Walterboro one of whom had draped what looked like a cheap rabbit fur coat on the back of her chair

After the usual slaw or salad, baayked or fried inquiry, we sat and chatted about the day, the weekend

In almost no time, our food arrived

Several of us had chosen the French fry option that night

Out of habit, my father grabbed the glass bottle of Heinz ketchup and began to shake it

Not knowing that the top was loose, he began to shake ketchup all over the dining room

He thought my mother had been shot

Mrs. Hickman, walking through the dining room, got ketchup on her glasses

Gene Grace’s shirt got hit from behind

The woman from Walterboro would never wear that cheap rabbit fur again

He shook with great vigor

No half measures

Finally, Mr. Hickman got hit behind the counter

Ketchup coated the ceiling

Once my father realized it was his violent shaking of the ketchup bottle and not a Stephen King movie come to life, he really started to laugh. So did all of us. My brothers and I didn’t get a drop on us

For years, whenever we went to the Edisto Motel, Mr. Hickman would wink at my father and tell him he checked the ketchup bottle tops just for him

I think there was a bill for the rabbit fur cleaning, too

I don’t know what that cost my parents

I do know that I would pay any exorbitant sum of money to have those shrimp and oyters again with some baayked or fried

On a camping trip a couple of years ago, a group of us almost recreated the fried shrimp using local shrimp, the right cracka meal, and hot clean oil

It was pretty close

But, it wasn’t the same without hearing Mr. Hickman asking if we wanted our potatoes baayked or fried

Kneadful Things

Where the hell have I been? Under a rock? Not paying attention? Why have I not known about Jim Lahey and Mark Bittman’s No-Knead Bread from the New York Times? Paradigm. Shifted

Man shall not live by bread alone. Matthew 4:4

But, he wishes he had known about this sooner as this had to have been inspired by the Word of God. It’s that good

According to the NYT, it’s one of the most popular things they have ever published. They say as much on the NYT Cooking website. There’s a video, even

This is from Jim Lahey of the Sullivan Street Bakery in NYC. I made a couple of changes

I did read the Notes and used some of the tricks in making my first batch recently

This bread tastes like a French boule straight from your favorite bakery. It’s got a chewy hard crust and a light as air crumb on the inside with big air holes from the yeast and steam and fermentation. Not quite a sour dough, but the chew, the mouthfeel (I hate that term), the flavor profile (I hate that term) aren’t that far away from sourdough

You will need a heavy, oven proof Dutch oven – enamel, cast iron – with a tight lid. I used a LeCreuset that can go into up to a 500 oven.

It takes a while

Up to 24 hours

Seriously slow process

But don’t rush it

It’s amazing

As it cools on a rack it snaps, crackles, and pops. Let it cool fully, slice with a good bread knife, then slather a thick slice with butter

It ain’t gluten free, though, so sorry to our pals who can’t eat gluten

I about fell out in my kitchen when I turned it on the rack to cool

Look at that beauty

Look at those gorgeous cracks and seams and splits and air bubbles all from fermentation and then cooking in an oven in an oven….thanks Mr. Lahey

No-Knead Bread

3 1/2 cup bread flour – not White Lilly – I used King Arthur brand with hard red wheat, high gluten content. Not good for making biscuit but on time for this bread.

1/4 teaspoon yeast. (Note: if you are using active, dry yeast, you will need to proof it as I did. If you are using instant yeast, no reason to proof it)

2 tsp. Kosher salt

1 1/2 c. + 2 tbs. water. I used the 2 tbsps to proof my yeast and used warm water for that.

Flour for sprinkling work surface, and for sprinkling the bread. You can use wheat germ or cornmeal to sprinkle on the bread, too.

In a large bowl combine flour, salt, proofed yeast and water and stir until blended. The dough will be shaggy and sticky. You will wonder why it looks such a mess. Use a wooden spoon. You will think, there is no way this going to work. Trust the yeast. It does all the work for you.

Cover bowl tightly with plastic wrap and let dough rest at least 12 and up to 18 hours at room temperature. I made it before supper one night and then baked it the following mid-day.

The dough is ready when there are bubbles dotting the surface and it looks like it has come together. I checked on it in the middle of the night, and bubbles had just started. Even so, I was super skeptical that this would work.

After the 12-18 hour rest, line a baking sheet with a piece of parchment paper. Lightly flour it and place the dough on it. Sprinkle with a little more flour and fold it on itself a few times. Cover with the plastic wrap from the bowl and let it rest 15 minutes

With barely floured hands, roll into a ball quickly. Srinkle top with a little flour more flour or cornmeal or wheat germ, and cover with a cotton dish towel – but not terry cloth.

Let rest for two more hours.

When it’s ready it will be doubled in size and not bounce back when pressed with your impeccably clean fingers

A half hour before the end of the two hour rise, heat your oven to 450 degrees. Not on convection if you have a convection oven. Put a heavy 6-7 quart covered Dutch oven and the lid- cast iron, enamel, Pyrex, ceramic – in the oven as it heats. You’re creating an oven in an oven that will trap steam and heat. Trust me. It works. I had to take out one of my oven racks so that the top of the lid had room to fit.

When the dough is ready, using potholders for sure, remove the Dutch oven from the oven.

Plop in the dough. I threw it in with the parchment paper. I won’t do that next time as I think there would have been a darker crust, which would be fine with me

Place the lid on the Dutch oven, return it to the oven, and bake for 30 minutes

After 30 minutes, remove lid and bake 15 to 30 minutes until it is as brown as you want it to be. That’s the key. To brown it well. Had I not plopped it in with the parchment, I think I would have had a better colored crust. I will do it the right way next time.

After the bread gets as brown as you like it, remove it from the oven and turn out on a rack to cook. I held the rack over the Dutch oven and inverted it, then turned the bread over again right side up to cool

Let cool on a rack and listen to the snap, crackle, and pop

I may never buy bread again.

So crumby….look at all those pockets…can’t believe this worked