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Archive for the ‘Home & garden’ Category



Swelter Love


If it’s like last summer and most of the last several around our James Island backyard, it will be, again, the summer of rosé.

That’s a swelter-beater right there—a cool, coppery-to-rosy pink wine in one of those short, practically-unbreakable Duralex cafe glasses. I love it all, so French. (Likewise for a chilled Lillet Blanc cocktail with blood orange bitters downtown at Proof on King Street—another summertime sipper.)

So, the grill’s already going on a chunk of bluestone that we’ve set in a clearing near the largest of the three pecan trees. It was startling a couple years ago when a summer thunderstorm hit, and a bolt zippered down a centerline of the bark of this tree, sending pieces shooting off in all directions. The tree service experts said the old pecan would need to come down completely. But we couldn’t do it—and allowed only the most damaged sections be trimmed.

We always gather up some of the smallest dropped branches and snap them into pieces to throw on the hot coals right before grilling to give the chicken a pecan-brown color and a nut-sweet smokiness. (Peter Frank was born and raised in Charleston and always cooks chicken and ribeye steaks this way. It’s the same method for summertime corn on the cob. And when we have shrimp, he’ll sometimes wrap those in pecan leaves before grilling over the charcoal and pecan wood.)

I circle the yard again in an evening tour, with clippers in hand. It’s time to cut and bring in some of the pale blue hydrangea blossoms, and a few long sprigs of rosemary. Every year I plant several packs of zinnia seeds in the tomato and pepper garden, and we count on those reliable flowers all summer, so I check on the zinnias, too. If they’re still blooming, I gather some of the coreopsis wildflowers that we’ve been letting grow tall in the side yard—it can be hundreds of blooms at once, with gold petals leaning in.

What’s that? Peter Frank reminds me of basket left on the counter. I’d stopped to see the man who parks a truck sometimes on Maybank Highway to sell produce. You’re right, I tell him, we need to make ice cream with all of these peaches.

Here’s to swelter, and to looking at summer through rosé colored glasses.

Sandy Lang, May 2016


This morning, Pip, Red and Puny pecked and scratched at the corn kernels and cobs leftover from our last night’s dinner. At some point today, each of the three hens will likely hop into a galvanized tub in the potting shed and lay a brown egg in the pine straw. “The girls” make delicious eggs.

For about a year now, they’ve produced two or three brown-shelled eggs a day. It was an experiment last spring (2009) to buy the wobbly little chicks – for about $2 each from a feed & seed down the road. But now, with this week’s news of overcrowded egg factories, battery cages and worries of contamination, I’m more thankful for the hens each day.


The girls are true foragers. In our fenced-in yard of about 1/4 acre, I’ve seen them scratch and eat grass, clover, pecans that have dropped (if the shell is broken… we sometimes help with that), sunflower seeds, worms, bugs, radish greens, blueberries, millet, collard greens, watermelon, cucumbers, seeds of any kind. To add to what they find, each day we give them a cup or two of feed crumbles and of dried, cracked corn. They drink from a garden spigot left on to drip. (Pretty interesting to watch.)

I think it’s a content little flock. They need so little and they give so much.

Thank you, Pip. Thank you, Red. Thank you, Puny.


– Sandy Lang, August 2010  (Egg image by PFE.)

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Food, Home & garden



Pumpkin farm stop


Before he switched over to planting patches of pumpkins, squash and peas, Mr. Billy Lineberry grew long rows of tobacco. “He was a tobacco farmer, until all that ended,” his wife said, then leaned down to pick up their shivering chihuahua-feist, Spanky. It was a chilly morning, and Mr. Lineberry was several yards behind her, propping up the scarecrow on the hay bale.

The couple had come out of their tall farmhouse about 50 miles south of Chapel Hill, NC to mind the sideyard display of pumpkins and squash they were selling – gooseneck and Hercules’ Club gourds, orange pumpkins for jack-o-lanterns, and old-fashioned pie pumpkins with lighter, almost pinkish skin. Mr. Lineberry explained that they only ever meant to grow Halloween pumpkins one year, but as soon as they did, people said, “we’ll see you for our pumpkins next year.”


It was great to meet this fine couple (and Spanky), and when Mr. Lineberry saw that we admired his climbing okra plant, he sent us home with two of the long okras, so we could dry them for seeds to plant. I’ll have to report back on how they grow.

– Sandy Lang, October 2009 (images by PFE)

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Home & garden, People, Travel


Fall’s coming and the eating is fine. Last night we ate hot forkfuls of smoky orange-yolk eggs, gathered in the backyard and fried with butter and chopped basil. The grill is set under the pecan trees, and we broke pecan twigs onto the coals, then sat at the picnic table to wait and watch the fire.


This morning, something sweet. I’ve been making yogurt for a couple of years, this latest batch completely rich with whole milk and heavy cream. On the bread is the last of the raspberry jam from a Maine farm visited one rainy morning in July. I tasted the fading summer with every bite.

– Sandy Lang, September 2009 (images by PFE)



Polaroid spring

Polaroid, camellia

I know it’s still officially winter, but the fading camellias next to the new azalea and pear tree blossoms brought out the bees in the backyard yesterday. Warblers are stopping in too, on their way to somewhere. I shot a few Polariods with an old box of film, a 1960s camera… tucked each shot under my arm to process, peeled back the paper to these images.

Polaroid, studio2

Through the trees is the tiny backyard studio where I often sit to read and write, listen to birdsong, blues.

– Sandy Lang, March 2009



December tea times

Gryphon Tea Room, Savannah, GA

Earlier this month, we were down at the Gryphon Tea Room in Savannah, where they serve a dozen or more teas in fat porcelain pots. The afternoon we were there, a cold front was blowing in. Outside on Bull Street, people on bicycles and walking dogs were buttoned up against the gusts. Inside, sitting at one of the marble-topped tables, two women spoke softly, sipped slowly, but they were immensely noticeable. Likely in her 70s, one was dressed head to foot in fire-engine red – lipstick, sweater, pants and shoes – and carried the bright color with elegant confidence.  When she stood to go, her blonde, full-length fur coat nearly slipped from the back of her chair. One of the wait staff – most there are students from Savannah College of Art & Design (SCAD) – swooped in to help.  “Thank you,” the elder woman said. “Would you believe I’ve had this mink for more than 35 years?” And her friend added, “We’re both artists. We meet here and then go to the museums.” With that, they pulled on their coats, made their way to the door. I wish I could tell you who the two women were. But I can’t. My own pot of tea had just been brought to the table. It just wasn’t the time to break into a scene that wasn’t mine. There was food, drink, art and a southern lilt and grace in that 100-year-old former apothecary. It was a Savannah composite, to be sure.

Then this past weekend, I invited some friends to the house for tea around the aluminum Christmas tree. Peter Frank took some pictures of the cookies I made from a recipe in this month’s Gourmet, a walnut shortbread that you spread with blackberry jam to make sandwich cookies. (Butter, toasted crunch, jam… I loved them as much as anyone.) We also had chicken salad and cheese crackers, and I brewed American Classic tea, which is made from the tea hedges that grow a few miles down the road on Wadmalaw Island.  (Their black tea is also very good in a punch with ice, blackstrap rum, sugar and lime juice… we found that out at Thanksgiving.) Here’s to tea.

Walnut shortbread with blackberry jam

 – Sandy Lang, December 2008

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Food, Home & garden, Travel


No ladies-only brunch with pink punch this time.  We wanted pork.  The occasion was to celebrate with soon-to-be-parents Courtney and Carter, and a traditional baby shower was not in the cards.  (Speaking of cards, or anything print, Courtney is an excellent graphic designer, founded Gunter Design Co.)

Amy Pastre, another Charleston-based graphic designer and a partner with Courtney in Sideshow Press, hand-lettered and sewed the invitations. We decided to host the dinner at Amy’s house, and had originally thought we’d just round up our own tables.  But by the week of the event, when we’d had positive RSVPs from 20 people(!), we called a rental company for tables and chairs.  And the day of, we decided to set everything up in the driveway instead of in Amy and David’s dining room.

courtney table2courtney plate

This was the scene… a couple of sets of Amy’s plates and our mixed silver and glasses, and the yards of fabric I got years ago to use for curtains but never have (that ended up as our tablecloth).  Amy wrote out name cards on birch bark I’d peeled in Maine.  She roasted a pork loin with pancetta, and I soaked black-eyed peas and made a cold salad with olive oil, scallions and tomatoes. (It would be a sultry weather night.) Amy tossed a green salad with roasted artichokes.  She steamed corn on the cob.  I baked a banana cake (the one with buttermilk and mashed bananas from “Southern Cakes”), and Peter Frank raided the liquor cabinet at the last minute and cooked up a rum hard sauce to pour over the cake. Guests brought beer and wine.

Somehow, thankfully, everything seemed to come together on that late-summer Charleston night. Rain threatened but never fell, the lanterns stayed lit, and we made toasts long past dinner to Courtney, Carter and the baby-to-be.

What a warm welcome, a great start.

– September 2008, Sandy Lang



Bees’ life

Robert Biggerstaff, 72, looks in complete ease in his wide-billed cap as he leans against his garage wall and points out a cedar bee box a few yards away. A few honeybees buzz in and out, stopping at a plastic jar attached to the box. “See how that looks like a chicken feeder?… we fill that with Dixie Crystals and water to feed the bees while the hive gets going.”

We’ve been talking for awhile this morning at the center of his sideyard beekeeping and honey making operation, under the oak trees that edge a tidal creek off the Stono River on Johns Island, SC. I ask Mr. Biggerstaff if he has an apprentice, someone that he’s teaching these tricks of the trade. “No. I’m afraid beekeeping has become an old man’s game,” he says, particularly in recent decades as smaller farms have disappeared, and as mites, beetles and other pests have disrupted hives in the U.S., making beekeeping ever more challenging. In the 1960s, Mr. Biggerstaff recalls losing maybe 5% of his hives in a year, but these days a 50% annual loss is more common. He’s constantly having to manage for that reality – to bring in new queens, establish new hives. Then he tells me that while his home-based bee operation isn’t officially open for tours, as a former teacher he does enjoy making school presentations from time to time. “Children, when they see bees and learn about them, they get very excited,” he says.

And although he doesn’t put it in words, you get the feeling that he’s hoping that some young people will find the passion for beekeeping like he did, in spite of the challenges. “For years coaching was my life. Now it’s bees.”

R. Biggerstaff

I’m working on a story about Mr. Biggerstaff and his 40-year honey “hobby.” The former high school football coach tends 100-150 hives in 15 or so locations on the Sea Islands south of Charleston, and he and his wife, Jane, sell jars and squeeze bottles of the honey through produce vendors in Charleston and Mount Pleasant, and on Johns and Edisto islands.

– Sandy Lang, May 2008

Peter Frank ordered some eggs and turned on the incubator a couple weeks ago, and this week we had a nice hatch of bobwhite quail at the photo studio. I took one little guy home for a couple of days to try out as a pet. Fuzzy and not much bigger than a wine cork, the little peep seemed to enjoy his lamp-warmed box on the kitchen table, and looked up at the sound of our voices. But at night he would call out in that quail way. He didn’t follow our hand around the box. Somehow he’d kept his wild bird-ness. So after two days we put him back in with the others.


– Sandy Lang, February 2007 

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