Monday, September 19, 2011

Light and Dark in Charleston, SC

   I took a whirlwind trip to Charleston with a good friend recently (10 hours in the car for 8 hours in the city, yikes!), and it got me thinking about the coexistence of light and dark in the world. This was, of course, exacerbated by the fact that much of my view of Charleston came through a camera lens, where I constantly negotiate light and dark.
    To experience the most of Charleston during such a short visit, my friend and I took a Civil War walking tour (thank you, Groupons). Let me be clear...a Civil War walking tour in Charleston, South Carolina, where every member of the tour (excluding our fearless leader, Jack the Tour Guide) were born either above or outside of the proverbial Mason-Dixon line. Not controversial at all, right? You can see why light and dark play such a big part in this blog...
     Charleston is a beautiful, charming city. The buildings and streets reflect the serentiy common to images and stories of the Antebellum South. Every house offered up literally picture-perfect images.
Charleston's beauty comes from its well-preserved physical history. There are no soaring skyscrapers, little modern architectural design, and many original cobblestone roads weave throughout the city center. Charleston's historical charm, however, comes from Civil War-torn devastation. With no labor force and no infrastructer, the city had no money to rise from the ashes stronger and more modern. But, it turns out, Civil War rubble brings tourists in droves. So the inability to build a "better" Charleston during Reconstruction became their saving grace.
     But the light of Antebellum grandeur is always contrasted by the darkness of slavery. At the start of the tour, after laying out his credentials, Jack the Tour Guide said plainly, "So, slavery. Do we want to talk about it or not?" The shock and discomfort in the room was palpable. We all knew we needed to talk about it, but in what context? How does one celebrate Charleston's charm without denying a dark mark on America's historical narrative? How do we confront the remnants of slavery without villainizing modern-day Charleston?
(Our tour meandered through fairy tale cobblestone roads, and stumbled upon):
I'm still not sure I have an answer. Jack the tour guide faced it boldly, flippantly at times, by stating practically that we must not think like 21st century Americans, but place ourselves in the minds of 19th century Charlestonians to whom slavery was a natural part of life. Jack spoke in terms of capital and business, and, perhaps, in an effort to preemptively defend against Yankee judgement, reminded us repeatedly that slavery was an American activity, not just a Southern one.
     I could spend an hour relating my discomfort with the conversations we had throughout the streets of Charleston. No matter how hard I tried (I took many deep breaths and even craked a joke about out-bidding my tour companion for a slave with special barrel-making skills), I could not ignore my contemporary humanitarian views. Nor do I want to. But there is something to be said for understanding, accepting, and moving forward from a collective history which, I, as a lover of my country, embrace.
     In the end, what I appreciated about the Charleston I encountered was that, like Jack the Tour Guide, it didn't cover up its past. Sharp iron spikes (which according to Jack kept intruders and revolting slaves at bay) share architectural space with cool, marble verandas and charmingly shuttered windows.  Charleston presents its light and darkness side by side, lets the viewer draw their own conclusions, and perhaps learn a little bit more about their own relationship to history in the process.
Jack the Tour Guide, and his Civil War archival photography

Boone Hall Plantation
Boone Hall Plantation
Boone Hall's famous oak lane (lots of movies filmed here)

For my own sake and that of any readers, I want to state that because this is a blog, I have barey skimmed the surface of what is a deep and meaningful discussion. These are just thoughts I chose to share because this is a blog about life's joys, and I enjoy both discovering new places and contemplating my experience in those new places.

Friday, May 6, 2011

Venison Burgers

I literally just finished eating this meal five minutes ago and had to share it; it was that delicious! I have the luxury of being married to a hunter who shot a deer down in Texas this winter, meaning I have a freezer stocked full of venison. Unfortunately, we wound up with way more ground venison than I know what to do with. I can only stomach so much chili, so it was time to find some new ways to use ground venison. This venison burger recipe, adapted from, thoroughly hit the spot. The measurements may seem a little odd; the recipe originally makes eight servings, but I altered it to serve four.

2 TBSP + 2 tsp mayonnaise
1/2 tsp grated lime zest
1 tsp lime juice
1/2 tsp dijon mustard
2 TBSP + 2 tsp green onions, chopped
1 TBSP + 1 1/2 tsp plain yogurt (I used Greek yogurt which I think accentuated the gamey venison flavor, but I could be making that up)
1 TBSP jalapeno pepper, finely chopped (didn't have one, didn't really need one. But if you like a bit of heat I bet it works really well here)
2-3 splashes of Worcestershire sauce 
1/4 tsp salt
1/4 tsp pepper
1 lb. ground venison
4 whole wheat kaiser rolls
4 slices sharp Vermont white cheddar or pepper jack cheese

-in a small bowl combine the mayo, lime zest, lime juice and dijon mustard. Cover and keep in fridge until ready to use.
-Combine onions, yogurt, jalapeno, Worcestershire, salt and pepper. Mix in venison with your hands, just until all flavors are mixed together. Too much mixing can make the meat tough. Shape into patties, and grill, pan-fry, or broil until meat is no longer pink. Allow cheese slices to melt on meat before serving.
-Baste insides of rolls with olive oil and grill until slightly toasted. Spread a bit of the lime-dijon-mayo on a roll, then construct your burgers.

Serve with oven baked potato wedges, seasoned with olive oil, salt, pepper, garlic powder and parsley.

I am sure these would be good with lean ground beef. But if you can get your hands on some ground venison (those who know me personally, ask me for some!), use the venison.  Not only is venison a leaner and healthier meat (talk about free-range!) it adds a special gourmet touch to a traditional burger meal. Enjoy!

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Mario Batali's Eataly, New York City

My father, a gourmet chef (previously by trade, currently by hobby) told me about Eataly, an Italian food and wine market in downtown NYC.  Visiting Eataly, dining at the steakhouse in Yankees Stadium, and taking in a show was how my father celebrated his recent birthday (and every previous birthday going back six or seven years).  Clearly, a love for Italian food, the New York Yankees, and theatre run deep in my blood.  Not to mention the fact that my blood is actually Italian, on my mother's side (Sicilian, and proud of it!).  A few weeks after hearing about my father's birthday adventures, I had the opportunity for a quick jaunt to New Jersey/New York for a friend's baby shower.  I immediately devised a plan to visit Eataly.

Let me put it this way: I used to envision Heaven in a Garden of Eden-like setting, with rivers flowing through forests filled with exotic plants and beautiful, sunny weather everyday.  I now envision Heaven as one giant Eataly (minus the checkout counter because who carries money in Heaven?).  And, no, I'm not joking.

Rows upon rows of pastas, olive oils, baskets full of fresh vegetables, Italian candies and chocolates, gourmet jams and spreads, an espresso counter, a gelato counter, and seven different restaurants serving up freshly made gourmet Italian food reminiscent of my two weeks of blissful eating through Rome back in college.  In fact, after my first bite of Naples style pizza with prosciutto, arugula and mozzarella, I had a Ratatouille-esque flashback of my trip to Italy (you know the moment I'm talking about, where the food critic takes one bite of his meal and is transported back to the carefree days of childhood).  Oh, and did I mention the separate wine room, walls lined with bottles upon bottles of Italian wine, reminiscent of the library in Beauty and the Beast?  Note that describing Eataly has me referencing Disney movies.  Barring any copyright infringements I would venture to say that Eataly is the new happiest place on earth.  At least for those like me who tend to have love affairs with good food and wine.

Go to Eataly.  If you are in NYC, put it on your itinerary.  Have lunch there, buy a jar of olive tapenade, and relish in rising above all those touristy schmucks who wait in line all day at the Empire State Building wearing foam replicas of Lady Liberty's crown or take pictures of the guy in Times Square who plays guitar in his underwear and cowboy boots.  If the weather is nice, buy some fresh made bread and cheese and walk a few blocks over to Washington Square Park and have a picnic.  If you're not already in love with Italian food, well then, honey, this is the beginning of a beautiful friendship.

Saturday, March 12, 2011

The Clean Program

The jury's still out on whether this is a "little joy," but worthy of sharing:
     As I've mentioned in previous posts, my husband and I are eternally grasping at a healthier lifestyle, in spite of out inherent love for rich foods and our couch.  We completed the 60 day Team Beachbody Insanity workout, and while I discovered improvements to my cardio stamina, the number on the scale unfortunately did not budge.  This was mainly due to my inability to stick to more rigid eating habits.  I incorporated healthier items into my diet, such as whole wheat pasta (a sacrifice for a Sicilian girl!) and more vegetables, to no avail.  I needed a serious overhaul.
     My in-laws found The Clean Program online, which is a 21-day body cleanse program.  I did some research on their website, and decided to try it out.  The cleanse diet starts with a 5 day "elimination diet" designed to rid you of unhealthy sugar and carb cravings.  The website offers a three page, categorized list of all the foods allowed during the diet.  Essentially the elimination diet cuts sugars, gluten, and bad carbs (i.e. white flour based products) from your diet.  From the foods on the list you create 3 main meals.  After the 5 days, you start the main part of the diet: 21 days of 2 liquid meals and one regular meal, as well as optional snacking to stay fueled (choosing only foods on the elimination diet list).  The Clean Program offers cleanse diet packages with 2 powders for the liquid meals, and various supplements to help cleanse the body.  We chose to purchase only the 2 powders.  My in-laws didn't purchase anything, they just made smoothies based on the elimination diet ingredients.  I figured by paying money for something, I'd be more willing to stick with the diet.
     So far I have survived the 5 day elimination diet.  The liquid diet is set to start tomorrow.  I won't lie, cutting out so many foods once considered staples of my diet (because of sugar and/or gluten levels tomatoes, strawberries, and whole grain pastas/breads/crackers are off limits, as well as all dairy and soy products), but with a little creativity and a lot of motivation, I can happily say I'm prevailing thus far.  And I'm even seeing slimmer stomach results!  I'll continue to post on my progress with the rest of the cleanse.
     If you're interested in the diet, here's the website:

Friday, February 25, 2011

Lemon Pepper Shrimp Pasta

This recipe is simple, quick, and delicious, and has become a staple meal in my house:

1lb. medium to large shrimp (I think I buy a bag of 31-40 count)
1 tsp olive oil + more for pasta
1/4 tsp salt
1/2 tsp pepper
2 TBSP lemon juice
1-2 cloves garlic, minced
1 package Buitoni whole wheat linguini
parsely for garnishing

Heat a grill pan on med-high heat.  Toss shrimp with all other ingredients.  Grill shrimp, 2-3 minutes on each side, so that the shrimp turn pink with some grill marks.  Set aside

Prepare pasta according to package.  It too needs only a few minutes to cook, because it's not hard like other pastas.  But it's one of the few whole wheat pastas I can stomach.

Heat olive oil and garlic in a large saute pan.  Lower the heat, add shrimp and pasta, toss just to coat pasta and heat shrimp.  Don't cook pasta and shrimp too long in saute pan, or it will burn and stick to pan. Garnish with parsley, and enjoy!

Last night I decided I didn't want an extra pan to clean, so I cooked the shrimp in the saute pan.  Grilling the shrimp on a grill pan gives it more flavor.  Next time I'll suck it up and wash an extra pan.  Or if the military would give my husband a moment's rest, I'll make him wash it!

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Creative Ecology

Husband and I recently moved to North Carolina.  As a native Southern Californian, I'm always interested in investigating "beach culture" in other parts of the country.  We live pretty close to the Atlantic, so I did a little research and came across Fort Macon State Park in Atlantic Beach.  Fort Macon is a Civil War fort where a month long battle transferred control of the fort and by extension the North Carolina coast to the Union Army. 

Fort Macon is now a 398 acre beachside state park.  With a lucky break from cold winter weather, we loaded the dog in the car and headed to Fort Macon State Park.  Though I will always favor the steep cliffs and rising waves of the Pacific Ocean, I admit that North Carolina has some beautiful beaches.  Part of the charm of east coast shorelines come from sloping sand dunes covered with tall golden grass and soft white sand.  The Atlantic Beach community appreciates the importance of the sand dunes, not just for their charm but for their more practical purpose of protection from tropical storms. 

The Atlantic Beach community came up with what I thought was a clever and creative ecology project.  After Christmas Fort Macon State Park offered its beaches up as a Christmas tree cemetary.  Instead of watching a tree rot on the front curb only to be hauled away to a trash heap, residents could drop off their trees at the state park. The trees will serve as a base for building up the sand dunes, protecting and enriching the beachfront.  Scores of Christmas trees lined the beach in semi scroll patterns.  I love when items can be cleverly recycled, and when a community comes together to enhance its natural beauty!

Aside from its creative use of holiday decor, Atlantic Beach is a fun outdoor day trip, especially in the winter, when the beaches are free from crowds of sun-bathing tourists.  Dogs are allowed; ours had a blast romping around the sandy beaches.  People fly kites, climb the rocky jetties, and collect colorful shells scattered over the beaches (one thing west coast beaches lack).  I'll defintely be back, perhaps for a run, or maybe even a picnic!

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Greek Bulgar Chicken Salad

My husband and I continually strive to live a healthy lifestyle.  Unfortunately, this is more of a battle of mind than matter.  We've learned that our bodies can take whatever exercise punishment we throw at them (I'll soon post on our experience with the Insanity workout from Team Beachbody), however our minds have not completely grasped the notion that what we put into our bodies is just as important.  In a desperate attempt to reinvigorate our healthy eating venture, I found this recipe on an email newsletter from Self Magazine, and made it for dinner last night:

Greek Bulgar Chicken Salad  (4 servings)
12 oz chicken breast tenderloins
1 1/2 cups bulgar
6 TBSP fresh lemon juice, divided
1 tsp sald, divided
1/4 cup thinly sliced basil
1/4 cup finely chopped red onion
1/2 cup chopped fresh parsley
1 1/4 cup peeled and chopped cucumber
1 cup diced tomatoes
5 TBSP crumbled feta
10 kalamata olives
1 TBSP + 1 1/2 tsp extra virgin olive oil
1/4 tsp black pepper

Poach chicken in 2 cups boiling water in a medium pot over medium-high heat for 10-15 min (check if cooked through at 10 min).  Cool, dice, and set aside.  Bring bulgar, 1 1/2 cups water, 2 TBSP lemon juice, and 1/2 tsp salt to a boil in a large saucepan over medium-high heat.  Cover, reduce heat, and simmer 5 minutes.  Remove from heat and let stand until bulgar absorbs liquid, about 10-15 min.  Uncover and cool to room temperature.  Transfer to a bowl and combine with remaining 4 TBSP lemon juice and remaining 1/2 tsp salt.  Add chicken and remaining ingredients. Toss well to combine.  Cover and chill before serving.

I was actually shocked at how much I loved bulgar, a type of wheat.  I tasted it before mixing in the other ingredients, and it was great on its own.  It could have been the lemon juice flavoring, but I tasted a hint of sweetness, so I might try a sweet recipe with bulgar next time.  Regardless, this little wheat gem will become a staple in my new healthy pantry.  And this recipe can easily be adapted for a vegetarian or vegan diet (not sure about gluten-free, check the label on the bulgar package)

One last note about the recipe:  My husband despises olives (everyone has faults, right?) so I kept the olives out of the main recipe and just chopped a few up for my bowl.  They actually gave the recipe too much of a salty bite, even for an olive lover such as myself.  So unless you really adore that briney bite, I'd go easy on the kalamatas.  Enjoy!