From the Office and Backyard to the Road, Boat, or Plane–Backstories and
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Archive for the ‘Lowcountry S.C./Charleston’ Category

08.21

2017

Totality

           Photo by Sandy Lang

On the patio at the Mills House
just after the smoked fish appetizer

It’s beautiful, she says.
The paths of circumference. The maths
of stars and planet paths.
The fountain flows. The roses grow.
A crescent trajectory, not made by us;
by the universe.

It looks like the moon, he says. A classic quarter
with edges getting crispy. Wispy.
Slippery sliver of sun. Pure, penny-colored bright.

One, two and then all of us, in paper glasses
lean back to blue sky, clouds flying.
Odd sunlight and clear shadows. All shadows.
The fountain flows. The roses grow.
We’re in it now, the ring of fire.

– Sandy Lang, Aug. 21, 2017

05.10

2016

Swelter Love

Backyard

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

03.20

2014

SATURDAY BOURBON

During the Charleston Wine + Food Festival earlier this month,  Peter Frank Edwards and I met with chef Sean Brock at the Husk Bar on Saturday (before it opened for the day) and ended up spending one of my favorite hours of the weekend. PFE is doing the photography for Sean’s upcoming book (images are looking incredible), and Sean had arranged for Julian Van Winkle of the Old Rip Van Winkle Distillery to stop by to be in a photo.

When Julian walked into the narrow Queen Street single house-turned bar, the only light was that coming in the windows on the sleepy, cloudy afternoon (day three of the fest). We’d all been talking, and Sean was behind the bar pulling a knife across the two-year aged Edwards’ ham to cut thin slices to set out for everyone on a wooden board. PFE and I sipped whiskeys along with Tyler Brown (the exec chef at the Capitol Grille, Nashville), who was also in town for the festival and happened to stop by. Julian took in the quiet scene and declared, “Ham and whiskey. My happy place.”

After settling in, the Kentucky Bourbon man demonstrated how to make a couple of his Rye and Bourbon “Vanhattans” and we all had a taste… not too sweet with a splash of Antica vermouth. After that, he poured a 10-year Rip Van Winkle with a wide twist of orange peel and single chunk of ice.”It’s like an automatic Old-Fashioned,” he said after a satisfied swig.

All the while, sharing plates showed up from the Husk kitchen next door, including a mound of fried beef tendon (puffed like pork rinds but lighter, and with a “Pop Rocks” crackle), fried dilly beans (couldn’t stop eating them), and hot drumsticks and wings of perfectly coated, Nashville-style hot chicken. Great day in the afternoon.

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Photo by Peter Frank Edwards: Tyler Brown, Julian Van Winkle, Sandy Lang, and Sean Brock at Husk Bar, Charleston, SC.

– Sandy Lang, March 2014

I ache for New Orleans sometimes. Many thanks to Chef Justin Devillier of La Petite Grocery on Magazine Street for bringing some Big Easy to Charleston, SC today. In a beard and brown hair, and with a sleeve of inked art—redfish, crabs, a pelican—the young restaurant owner looks somehow akin to Charleston’s Sean Brock. (I ask, and he says the two are friends and have an ongoing debate about the exact ingredients of gumbo—okra or no?)
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Devillier is the real deal. He’s been a finalist for the James Beard Award Best Chef-South two years in a row. I was lucky to be one of the small group in the Zero George kitchen today to pull up a stool at the counter and watch him cooking for a while. Zero George is kicking off its Guest Chef Series at the hotel.

His Chilled Blue Crab Salad was delicious and elemental—lump crab you could really taste in the lightest toss of buttermilk/aioli in even measure, lemon juice, cracked pepper and herbs. He made a pounded, but not too-thin, panko-coated, fried rabbit with biscuits and peppery-tangy green tomato jam.

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And through the afternoon, he put together a Shrimp Okra Gumbo. He likes his gumbo with less flour-based thickness, and more acid and broth, he explains as he stirs the gumbo with a wooden spoon. “There’s nothing worse than gumbo that’s a floury mess, just because it’s New Orleans.”

The young chef ladled out a gumbo with a brown broth as dark as chicory coffee. You could taste the brown-ness and the okra, shrimp, and pepper (Devillier says he likes black pepper in gumbo, by the way).

He and his wife, Mia, the general manager at La Petite, are both in town for the Charleston Wine + Food Festival. They arrived sleepy from Mardi Gras. So happy to meet them on a chilly, rainy Thursday in the Lowcountry. I hope the clouds blow by so the chef can put that fishing gear he toted all this way to work on the redfish around here.

– Sandy Lang, March 2014 (avec lunch crowd, below)

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01.01

2014

WINTER GREEN

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We have a tradition of getting to a trail near Hollywood, SC to walk on the pine straw and fallen leaves, particularly around Christmas and New Year’s Day.

Sparky, now almost 15 years old, once chased a rabbit in high-speed circles here. Around and around, the two flashed past us on wider and wider circles until the fast rabbit outlasted the panting hound. Much of this path is through open woods of tall, long leaf pines, then you get to shallow swamps full of cypress trees and knees. Tiny green plants float on the black water below the winter-bare trees. Everywhere are stark shapes and linear shadows, and Sparky’s wild energy is revived. He hops over logs and splashes in the swamp.

Happy New Year! and wishes for health and happiness in 2014.

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Sandy Lang, January 2014

White shirt, white pants, vanilla cone… I’m in. Photographer Sully Sullivan did a marathon day of shooting for CHARLIE, with dozens of people invited in for group or solo portraits on seamless white background, all on one sunny Sunday afternoon in Charleston.

Editor Caroline Nuttall and crew then pulled together “The 2013 Book,” a print publication full of portraits and yearbook-style superlatives.

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Some favorite portraits inside are of the “Most Creative” Jay Fletcher (extra points for the suitcases), and the two “Most Desired,” chef Robert Berry (where did he go?) and the beautiful artist/photographer Brianna Stello.

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The whole book looks great. Thanks again Sully and to CHARLIE, for the ice cream and for the year-end fun.

Fat saffron spaghetti noodles on a pesto-like mash of dandelion greens. The ultimate comfort-food goodness. FIG’s Jason Stanhope made that dish, and earned the people’s choice prize at the StarChefs gala in Charleston this week.

It was a huge party, filling Memminger Auditorium with chefs, sommeliers, bakers, and cocktail makers from the Carolinas—each at tables offering up sampler plates or pours. I tried, but it would have been a mad feat to taste everything offered. Plus, I kept falling into good conversations, while Big Hair’s crew took care of the music and the Gin Joint was doling out cups of a “Bitter Holland Sling” with gin, aged whiskey and rum.

Other hometown favorites included the rudderfish crudo on marinated cabbage by Travis Grimes from Husk. I’ve had that riesling from Clean Slate with fish before, so I went straight in for a glassful. Then there was Stuart Tracy’s porchetta, squash, and mustard green sandwiches at the Butcher & Bee table. (This PFE pic isn’t the exact sandwich, but it’s another of the tasty B&B creations on ciabatta.)
Butcher & Bee, Peter Frank Edwards Photographs
Seeing Wendy Allen of Knife & Fork with a wing in hand led me to the sauce-dripped smoked chicken offered up by Aaron Siegel from Fiery Ron’s Home Team BBQ. (So good to talk with you, Wendy, and congratulations to you and Nathan… nasturtium panna cotta with sumac!)

The last thing I tasted was perfect for the night and season. Colin Bedford of Fearrington House served up a chanterelle risotto with foie gras, apple, and melty Carolina Moon cheese (a N.C. Camembert). Chef Bedford was right, it was terrific with some sips of the port pairing that I hope to find a bottle of soon. Anyone know the maker?

– Sandy Lang, December 2013  (image by PFE Photo)

Beautiful work… P. Frank’s images are part of an eight-page feature about Charleston published in the December 2013 issue of Conde Nast Traveler I had the chance to assist during several of the shoot days for this one, including getting out under the live oaks at Magnolia Plantation and Gardens. (That’s where PFE’s Uncle Miles minds the camellias!)

Conde Nast Traveler, Dec. 2013, Peter Frank Edwards Photographs article

Sandy Lang, December 2013 (images by Peter Frank Edwards Photographs)

That’s Arthur from L.A. proclaiming his knife-and-fork rights to the cornmeal dusted catfish at Husk in Charleston. The four of us arrived hungry, and you had to be fast when you wanted to taste something. We ordered plates for the table to share–of just about everything. If it made it your plate or placemat, it was in your dominion. My strategy was to keep people talking while I ate most of the chicken wings (dry rub of pepper, wood fire), a couple of crispy pig ear lettuce wraps, and most of the smoky dish of “Hop-N-John” with black-eyed peas and baby limas. With some sly plate sliding, I also managed for more than my share of pecan pie and Bourbon ice cream.

Here’s a close-up of my friend’s big bowl of the cream-rich shrimp and grits, and of the prized catfish.

– April 2013, Sandy Lang (images by Peter Frank Edwards Photographs)

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Food, Lowcountry S.C./Charleston

For the September 2012 issue of Brides magazine, I had the chance to write about the romantic side of Charleston, from oak tree-shaded outdoor settings for a wedding ceremony, to some of my favorite cake bakers, including Jim Smeal, Lauren Mitterer at Wildflour Pastry, and Sugar Bakeshop.

Beyond bakeries, the around-town guide features venues, florists, dress shops, photographers, caterers, and event planners. From the opener:

Charleston is filled with secret gardens, cocktail parties on piazzas, and horse carriages that clip-clop past historic townhouses on cobblestone streets. The young and hip flock here for art and fashion, and the food scene is as hot as a bonfire on a local beach. For modern-day belles from near and far who dream of a wedding fit for a Charlestonian, here’s our comprehensive guide…

– Sandy Lang, October 2012  (photography by Peter Frank Edwards)

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