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Archive for September, 2008



Fishing the Inlet

oyster sign, An

We just spent a couple days and nights along the road just inside the creeks of Murrells Inlet, SC where no less than 30 seafood restaurants are set in with houses and a few other businesses like hair salons, boat yards and bait shops.  The air smells like pluff mud and salt, and at night, of hushpuppies frying.  For me, memories are locked into that scenery, that air.  I grew up a few miles up the coast, and on prom night we’d all go out for seafood first in Murrells Inlet, already wearing our tuxedos, gowns and corsages.  In college we’d drive down to the boat landing and sit on car hoods, watching the marsh and moonlight.  (Is that what we were doing?)

It was good to get back, always is.  A curiosity and attraction of the Inlet is the longtime restaurants.  In a world where so much changes, it’s a comfort to see there’s still a Lee’s Inlet Kitchen (in the same family since 1948), and that the best bar is owned by a Vereen, one of the oldest families in Murrells Inlet.  That bar (also a restaurant) is Russell’s, and Russell Vereen is a fellow Socastee High graduate, a guy with a thousand stories.  No, more than that, and always changing.  He likes to buy up old signs from the Inlet, or save them from certain trash… pointed at one on the wall of the barn behind his restaurant that had been cracked into several pieces by a runaway car.  Russell salvaged that “Welcome to Murrells Inlet S.C. Seafood Capital” sign – put the planks back together – and says he often finds people sitting in the rocking chairs below the wall of signs, getting their picture taken.

We met Sean English and Denny Springs over at Harrelson’s Seafood, a fresh fish counter where they also have a kitchen and are trying to be the very best at making a fried grouper sandwich.  With every order they cut a nice-sized hunk of fresh grouper and fry it just right.  And if you order the fish tacos with tuna, the big, meaty chunks of fresh tuna are blackened on the outside and still perfectly pink inside.  Denny’s another Socastee grad and his grandfather’s wife, An Mathis Springs, is one of the most amazing women in Murrells Inlet.  Born in Vietnam, she came to Murrells Inlet in the early 1970s and starting catching and selling minnows for bait, walking on the mud flats with minnow traps on her back.  She later turned to catching blue crabs, and still, at 70 years old, she goes out several times a week to set and pull up her traps, then makes fat crab cakes and delicate crab egg rolls to sell.

We also hung out with Gaston “Buddy” Locklear, an old friend who used to paint designs on Perfection surfboards for Village Surf Shoppe, which is still open, a legend in Garden City.  He now paints on canvas and wood, is one of the most prolific artists I’ve ever seen… sometimes covering his finished paintings in a coat of epoxy, just like with surfboards. He’s part of this very cool co-op gallery in Murrells Inlet called the Ebb & Flow. And that day, he showed us a just-finished painting of the marsh island in Murrells Inlet where Drunken Jack’s restaurant has been letting goats roam since the mid-1980s… to keep the brush down for better inlet views.

Buddy at the Ebb & Flow Inlet Crab House

With so many restaurants in Murrells Inlet (and some of them changing names and owners practically with the seasons), there’s certainly some mediocre food being served.  But if you want a perfectly fried softshell crab (and a nice Bloody Mary too) there’s the tiny pink-roofed restaurant on the north end, the Inlet Crab House & Raw Bar.  I’ve been there in winter too, for the oyster roasts and beer… just right with its wooden tables and booths, worn concrete floor and framed pictures of old fishing trips.

More about Murrells Inlet soon…

 – September 2008, Sandy Lang

Camden race

Wispy-slender jockeys sit high in saddles wearing jerseys of purple and cream, or pink polka-dots, or stripes of aqua and teal.  Horses with coats of tan, black and smoke gather at the starting line-up on the grassy track.  They quiver, some rearing back, snorting.

All of this, and a bugle sounding, and an announcer’s voice cracking through the tall pines that shade the paddock and grandstands at the Springdale Race Track in Camden.  Everything is sharp and vivid, and we are wearing the proper ribbons to give us all of the access to the track and grounds that we’d like.   (A privilege you must pay for, or be working to get.)

Let the races begin.

“It will be different than the hazy infield crush you remember from back in college,” we’d been told by a man we’d met the night before at the Crescent Grille, a restaurant in an old bank building on Camden’s Broad Street.  (This friendly man in a blue sport coat had, like us, been dipping chunks of hot fried okra into a the spicy sauce that chef Jamie Hecker had brought out for the happy hour crowd.  We got to talking, and I mentioned that in the late 1980s I’d borrowed a linen dress and gone to the spring steeplechase races in Camden – the Carolina Cup – with two carloads of college friends.  I remember wandering off and catching glimpses of one race beyond the fenceline, but that day was mostly about the tailgating – the food, drink and socializing in the enormous sea of the infield crowd.)  “The Colonial Cup is a quieter day, less crowded,” our new Camden friend told us.  “You’ll actually see horses this time.”

He was right.  On the clear-bright Sunday of the steeplechase races there were eight events including the Colonial Cup with the $150,000 purse.  And we saw them all…  

This is the first few paragraphs of a travel story I’ve got in the latest issue of G Magazine, a fine new magazine about people, place and culture in Greenville, South Carolina.  This piece was about a road trip to one of South Carolina’s horsiest towns, Camden, and was my second or third feature to be published in the magazine.

G fall fashion

For this issue (September-October 2008), I also had the opportunity to work with the G staff on a fashion shoot by PFE Photo.  Peter Frank shot the piece at the 19th century Hagood Mill & Folklife Center in the mountains and farmland of Pickens County.  We shot in the summer, but it was a perfect location for a fall-themed shoot with an old grits mill, cabins, a creek and forest paths. (I helped with props and general production.)  One of his images is the cover shot for the G issue, with 16 more pages from the shoot inside.

 – September 2008, Sandy Lang

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In print/published, 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

Full MoonFull Moon plate

From the highway that cuts around Birmingham, AL, we saw the Full Moon sign and the blue cinderblock building.  We circled in on the sidestreets, and when we parked down the block, I could already smell the wood smoke. We’d had a 6 a.m. flight and it was only a little after 11:00 by then, really too early for lunch.  But we walked in anyway, drawn by the carmelizing pork.  Inside, there couldn’t have been more than 15 tables, and a small counter for ordering.  Cups of ice were already filled by the tea dispensers, cookies and coconut pie were wrapped and stacked.  We heard someone order a plate of ribs with potato salad and beans, so that’s what it was for us too.  One plate to share was plenty… but Peter Frank was teased by two 60-something gents, “why won’t you let her get her own plate?”  The men ordered “chunky chop” sandwiches and french fries, cole slaw.  Chunky chop wasn’t on the menu, but that’s what they got… chunks of barbecued pork piled 2-3 inches high on the bread.  (Yes, I asked to see.)  How were the ribs?  Wetter than I like, and sweeter too.  But delicious, and the extra sauce was nice to sop up with the Wonder Bread slices that looks to be served with every plate.

We were in Birmingham for just one day and night for PFE to photograph Frank Stitt, who’s had an amazing run since the 1980s with his Highlands restaurant.  Our prime mission was to get shots of his famous baked grits and of his cornbread in a cast iron skillet (an assignment for Garden & Gun), and we spent the afternoon with the master chef to get that done.  Chef Stitt told us about his next book that’s coming out soon, and he said the recipes were created throughout a full year, using what was fresh from all seasons.  He’s a Slow Food guy, and that night we took it slow with his menu… my favorite was the grilled figs wrapped in ham.  I wasn’t sure about the lemon-mint cream that came with it… until I tasted it.  The fig concoction was sweet-savory with a refreshingly fatty finish, if such a thing is possible.  Really nice.

Frank Stitt, cornbread

Chef Stitt with the cornbread, made right.

– September 2008, Sandy Lang

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Food, Travel

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