“Memory in these incomparable streets, in mosaics of pain and sweetness, was clear to me now, a unity at last. I remembered small and unimportant things from the past: the whispers of roommates during thunderstorms, the smell of brass polish on my fingertips, the first swim at Folly Beach in April, lightning over the Atlantic, shelling oysters at Bowen’s Island during a rare Carolina snowstorm, pigeons strutting across the graveyard at St. Philip’s, lawyers moving out of their offices to lunch on Broad Street, the darkness of reveille on cold winter mornings, regattas, the flash of bagpipers’ tartans passing in review, blue herons on the marshes, the pressure of the chinstrap on my shako, brotherhood, shad roe at Henry’s, camellias floating above water in a porcelain bowl, the scowl of Mark Santoro, and brotherhood again.”
― Pat Conroy, The Lords of Discipline
May was a month of celebration for the Andersen family, and what better place to celebrate than Charleston, South Carolina? My husband and I fell in love with this city, and the Lowcountry, when we spent a few days there for a conference in December 2011, and we’d been longing to return. Our oldest son graduated from the University of North Carolina Charlotte on May 10, and he and his wife were expecting our first grandchild. The 4 of us met 2 of our New Mexico “kids” in Charleston for a week’s vacation and celebration of life. In true Andersen fashion, food and time around the table were front and center in planning the week’s activities.
Our first full day in Charlotte we loaded up the Town and Country (our luxury rented mini van 🙂 ), and headed to the Charleston Farmers’ Market on Marion Square to stock the kitchen at our condominium. As I’ve so often written, our family is all about cooking together, and this week would be no exception. The Charleston Farmers’ Market is “dedicated to the support and advocacy of Lowcountry farmers and producers,” and they do it with finesse! This market was spectacular. We wandered around for a couple of hours, and the wheels were spinning with ideas for fresh and fantastic food. It was almost overwhelming. We bought fresh English peas from Johns Island, handmade fresh basil and tomato fettucine, gorgeous beets, sweet onions, strawberries, melon, brussels sprouts, freshly baked bread, all natural pork sirloin steaks, and more. On our way back to the condo, we stopped at Crosby’s Fish Market in Folly Beach for fresh, locally caught shrimp. Dinner that night was pasta with shrimp and peas in a lemony cream sauce. Yum! Eating fresh and local will always be my preference. Between the local, farm fresh produce, and the wonderful fish markets, our only complaint was not enough nights to cook!
Summarizing a week in Charleston in a blog post is nigh unto impossible. Monday evening we enjoyed a dinner cruise around Charleston Harbor. The views, the food, the music, and of course, the company, were divine. The chef on the Spirit Line Dinner Cruise focuses on Lowcountry cuisine using local, fresh ingredients. We were not disappointed. This evening was one of the highlights of our trip, and definitely worth the expense. Tuesday, we took kayaks out from Bowen’s Island, and were delighted by a school of dolphins .
Wednesday, we drove to Awendaw, SC. (about 45 miles), to catch a ferry to Bull’s Island – the largest of 4 barrier islands that form the Cape Romain National Wildlife Refuge. This is a spectacular experience, and one you should not miss! Wear good hiking shoes and a hat, take sunscreen, plenty of water and snacks, and by all means, catch the earlier ferry. We took the 12:30 ferry and ran out of time. The ferry departs at 9:00 a.m. and 12:30 p.m., and returns at 12:00 p.m. and 4:00. The cost is $40.00 per passenger, and it is totally worth it. Expect to see varied and beautiful scenery – fresh and salt water ecosystems, alligators, deer, racoons, squirrels, etc. However, the refuge is known worldwide for its variety of bird life – 293 species have been recorded, many of them rare and/or endangered.
Only foot traffic is allowed on the island’s trails. Our hike took us through live oaks, Sabal palmettos, cedar, loblolly pines and magnolias. We went from dense and lush wooded areas with fresh water bodies and alligators, to the austere beauty of Boneyard Beach. The beach is named for the many downed trees bleached by the sun and the ocean. Don’t miss it!
Wednesday evening we pulled in the crab traps for the last time. Our condominium complex boasts its own community fishing dock. All 6 of us spent time at the dock, checking the traps, playing card games, and of course – eating 🙂 .
We did enjoy visiting local microbreweries and cafés at lunch during our daily outings. Lunch menus are typically cheaper, so this approach is also easier on the budget. We did cook together every night with the exception of the Charleston Harbor Dinner Cruise on Monday. Crosby’s Fish Market was a half mile away, and the quality of their fish and seafood was superb. They also carry a limited selection of local farm-fresh produce. Our condo was also a half mile from the Folly Beach Pier, and a number of shops and restaurants. The location was ideal for quick access to the city, the outlying farms, plantations, and recreation.
We caught enough blue crabs to enjoy a crab boil. We served them with local roasted new potatoes and a salad with the beautiful beets from the Charleston Farmers’ Market, locally made goat cheese, and tangerines with a citrus vinaigrette. We draped the table with plastic trash bags, turned a paper grocery bag into a container for the discarded shells, and enjoyed our feast! This meal was so easy, so healthy, and a prime example of eating locally and supporting local farmers and producers.
One distinct advantage of staying in a vacation home is the ability to enjoy cooking the local foods together. VRBO.com is a great resource for locating local vacation properties. Our well-stocked and comfortable 3 bedroom, 3 bath condo with a view of the Folly River, dolphins, sea birds, and gorgeous sunsets was very affordable!
Our last day in Charleston included a trip to the wonderful South Carolina Aquarium in downtown Charleston. The Premier Pass which includes National Geographic’s Sea Monsters 4D movie is $29.95 per adult. The aquarium’s movie and exhibits focus primarily on local habitat, and feature a Sea Turtle Hospital. The aquarium is beautifully situated on the Charleston Harbor, within walking distance of historic downtown Charleston.
We walked from the aquarium to the Egan and Sons Pub, just off Broad Street. This pub offered a creative twist on pub food featuring local and very fresh ingredients. I loved the Rainbow Beet Salad with farm cheese and toasted hazelnuts. My salad was followed by Lightly Fried Local Oysters. The beer and wine menu was quite varied, and the ambience was charming. I would highly recommend it!
On a very personal note, I mentioned early in this post that our daughter-in-law Jamie was expecting our first grandchild on our vacation. Cade Christian Andersen was born July 14, and he is absolutely perfect! We are scheduled to meet him tomorrow afternoon in Charlotte, and we can hardly wait. I’m not sure how much blogging will happen in the next week… I am working on a grilled cumin dusted pork sirloin chop with spicy peach salsa. How does that sound?
A few more photos (click for a larger image):
Links to some of our favorite places:
Bulls Island, Cape Romain National Wildlife Refuge – Awendaw, SC.
Charleston Outdoor Adventures – Bowen’s Island – kayak tours and rentals.
Charleston Farmers Market – Marion Square – downtown Charleston.
Charleston Tea Plantation – Wadmalaw Island – trolley tour of a working plantation and our country’s only tea plantation.
Irvin House Vineyards and Firefly Distillery – Wadmalaw Island – the wines are not great, but the distilled spirits are amazing!
Poe’s Tavern – Sullivan’s Island – charming pub with Edgar Allen Poe theme and outdoor seating – food and beer selection is just okay.
Pavilion Bar – downtown Charleston – rooftop bar with gorgeous views and duck confit nachos!
Smoky Oak Tavern – James Island – barbeque and local beer taproom.
Egan and Sons Pub – downtown Charleston – awesome food and good beer selection.
Spirit Line Dinner Cruise – Charleston Harbor – gorgeous scenery, delicious food.
Crab Shack – Folly Beach – fresh, local oysters, shrimp and grits.
Folly Beach Pier – Folly Beach