From the Office and Backyard to the Road, Boat, or Plane–Backstories and
Side Stories While on Assignment. Updates on Personal Projects, Too.




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


Frocks of cotton dyed in mud, rust and indigo float on hooks and hangers in the studio at 701 Center for Contemporary Art (Columbia, SC). I’m writing about Leigh Magar’s merging of art and fashion for an upcoming magazine feature about out her new collection, which officially opens as a gallery exhibit, working studio and shop at 7 p.m. tonight (March 18, 2014).

The snapshots are of spools and cotton, one of the frocks and her hand-painted dots, and Leigh at her vintage Italian sewing machine. More to come…


– Sandy Lang, March 2014

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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?)
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.


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)





Great to see some excerpts from “NORDIC WINTER,” our latest feature for Maine magazine… love the serene images and layout.

This part of vast Aroostook County can quickly turn into a winter wonderland—especially at a Swedish-style lodge and trails situated more northerly than Montreal, and practically due east of Quebec City.


A blizzard hit last weekend and another is on its way. It’s mid-winter, and in a four-wheel-drive wagon we’ve made it to what looks to me like a mythical Norland—the great white North. In Aroostook County today, the landscape is the stuff of snowy dreams. Except where powerful trucks are pushing angled plows across roadways, a froth of white stretches across the rural scenery, barely disturbed. On Route 167, the color palette includes a cool white edged in blues, the deep green of spruce pine, and every shade of gray. Huge flakes are blowing down on Presque Isle, and we soon turn onto a white-blanketed lane to the cross-country ski destination I’ve read about in winter news reports of Olympic-level athletes in training.



I notice some things right away up in “The County.” (At 6,453 square miles, Aroostook spans an area greater than the size of Connecticut and Rhode Island, combined.) Here, inside and on top of many of the trucks and cars are snowshoes and skis—particularly since we took the exit from I-95 toward Presque Isle. Instead of a graphic of a bicycle, the yellow, diamond-shaped “share the road” signs here show a figure on skate skis. Winter sports definitely dominate. When we park at the Nordic Heritage Center and start exploring, the wood-paneled sauna is plenty hot downstairs, and upstairs, the large stone fireplace is stacked with wood and crackling with fire. An after-work crowd is gathering, hanging up their parkas and saying hello to each other—singles, couples, families. The flurries have started and stopped most of the afternoon.

Built on a hill, the Nordic Heritage Center is structurally impressive. The architecture of the red, wooden lodge building and waxing sheds  nods to the influence of Swedish immigrants who settled in nearby New Sweden and Stockholm. Old photographs, long wooden skis, and news clippings at the Center help tell the story, which begins in the 1870s when 21 families from Sweden were enticed to live in the northern reaches of Maine by officials sent by then-governor Joshua Chamberlain. The hardy immigrants are credited with bringing along Swedish traditions of food and culture, and for being the first to introduce Nordic skiing to America.



Near the Caribou Country Club, a sunny, snow-covered hillside is filled with sledders on toboggans. Here and there, the Swedish flag is flying or is painted on signs, the off-center yellow cross on a field of blue standing out against the snow. Among the farmhouses and cottages of rural New Sweden (population 650), the simple white-painted buildings of the New Sweden Historical Museum and Scandinavian Gift Shop are closed for winter.  Even though the official population of Stockholm numbers only about 250 people, the town center has a couple of downtown businesses that are lively. Originally settled by French-Canadian and Swedish residents, Stockholm has a century-old general store, Anderson’s Grocery, with wooden floors and Swedish sill (herring) in quart jars in the deli case. On the walls is memorabilia from the town, including runner sleds and posters from early-1960s Winter Carnivals, other fare includes aisles of basic pantry stock, hot coffee, Danish pastries, sandwiches, and Goteborg (dry Swedish sausage) sold by the pound. Residents gather at the couple of tables in front for conversation and newspaper reading.

Not far from the store, we park at the Stockholm Town Hall and click into our own skis. I’d heard that this double-looping trail is a good one. Ours is the only car in the lot when we start, and find the groomed trailhead that leads into the woods. After several minutes of passing no one else, we come upon a man on a snowmobile pulling the grooming equipment. He has aluminum snowshoes lashed to his sled and he suggests we also try Jack’s Trail in Stockholm “near the big red barns” on Donworth Road. I’m content with where we are, though. The sunlight is getting lower and slanting through the trees on the skating and grooved tracks. All is hushed. On these trails and at the snow-blanketed grounds around the New Sweden museum, I believe we’ve discovered some of winter’s most peaceful places.

On the return drive, we stop at Eureka Hall, also in Stockholm. Nearing sunset, its vintage lighted sign is a round, glowing beacon on a tall post. As we park, headlights from snowmobiles flash across the road and pull in, one after another. The large building that I learn once housed a basketball court and a bowling alley is now home to the casual Side Track Tavern downstairs, with a dining room upstairs arranged with Formica and chrome kitchen tables near large picture windows. In the tavern are more people than I’ve seen all afternoon. The ceilings are low, many customers speak French, and sledders’ helmets are lined up on tables and ledges under snowmobile trail maps. Several people order hot chocolates—spiked and not—that are served in tall, parfait-style glasses with straws and gobs of whipped cream. We settle in for awhile, especially when I find that the menu upstairs and down includes all kinds of hearty meals just right for travelers just in from the cold—stuffed quahogs on the half-shell, German rouladen, Hungarian goulash, Wiener schnitzel, Thai curry with haddock and shrimp, and even fried zeppole for dessert.

My head and heart are filled with winter now. Later that night, as we’re safely tucked in at our hotel in Presque Isle, the snowstorm blows fiercely. By morning, a new blanket of white covers everything, and we decide to begin early for our return drive. Hot cocoa visions dance in my head as we slowly make our way. (Somehow, I missed ordering one last night.) The blizzard has left the northernmost miles of I-95 looking like little more than a ski trail waiting to be groomed. At times, it’s almost impossible to see the interstate highway’s path, but we make our way. What an interesting, exciting winter interlude it’s been. When we finally arrive at our own midcoast cabin, one of the first things I do is heat up a saucepan of milk. I’m ready for that mug of hot chocolate now, complete with piled-on whipped cream that reminds me of the days just past, drifted like snow.


– Sandy Lang for Maine, January 2014 (photographs by Peter Frank Edwards)





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.




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.


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.




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)

Love the cover image of the women of Uproot Pie Co., taken during our road trip to small towns with optimistic-sounding names. We met so many terrific people, and I wrote a feature story for this month’s issue of Maine.


The clouds are puffed out like dandelion fuzz across a blue sky and the sun is shining. It’s a brilliant day for clear-headed thinking. That’s good, because at the hilltop intersection of Route 220 and Route 137 a choice must be made. Are you looking for Freedom or Liberty?




LIBERTY an excerpt
“You better hurry. I got the last blueberry,” advises a woman who’s making her way down Main Street. It’s a Saturday morning in Liberty (population 927) and the library is holding one of its pie sale fundraisers. I pick up the pace and feel lucky to grab a strawberry-rhubarb from the thinned-out tables of home-made pies.

Sure, you can go to a chain hardware store to buy a screwdriver. But here it’s as if you’ve gained access to the old garages, barns, and sheds you see around Maine –the ones filled with tool that manufacturers just don’t make anymore. At Liberty Tool, customers freely plunder through one, two, three floors of clamps and crowbars, boxes of wrenches, and barrels of saws with carved wooden handles. The volume of inventory is fascinating, always changing (every Saturday, new finds are added), and encourages creative thinking about what each object is and how it could be used again. In the air hung with rust, dust, and whiffs of mothballs, I overhear one man ask another, “Have you found it?” He answers, “Not yet, but I’m sure I will.”
Across the street in another wooden building with a front porch is Liberty Graphics, a T-shirt printshop founded in the 1970s that uses water-based inks on organic cotton shirts. Here, bins of tees are printed with designs from local artists, nature, the night sky, and graphics inspired by Frank Lloyd Wright. (When I visited many shirts were on sale, and the serve-yourself coffee was only 47 cents a cup!) On the floors above is the Davistown Museum of tools, history and art. The collection was established by Liberty Tool owner H.G. “Skip” Brack, and is housed in several rooms. One room with a high ceiling feels like a sanctuary or a sacred place—maybe it’s the recorded music that plays, a rhythmic chant—or the circular arrangement of chairs and objects. Everything is obviously wrought by hand, and signs let visitors know you’re allowed to touch the axes, hatchets, hammers, and even the whale harpoon. This part of Maine shows true reverence for the makers of the world.


– Sandy Lang, October 2013  (images by PFE)



Mississippi man

Heard the sad news that T-Model Ford has died this week. I’ll never forget the day I met him, by chance, one morning in Clarksdale, Mississippi.

Reprinting my 2008 post, here:

“I ain’t old no more.”

T-Model Ford 2008 Clarksdale (PFEPhoto)

The music never seems to stop in Clarksdale, Mississippi. One morning there earlier this year, the first person we met on Delta Avenue was bluesman T-Model Ford, who was sitting in a folding chair eating eggs and toast from a foam tray, waiting for the Cat Head Delta Blues store to open.  He told us he’d been hired to play a sidewalk concert, and would sing and play guitar again at a festival later that day.  Right then though, it was just T-Model Ford, his wife, Stella, a couple of grandkids, and us. “When they find out I’m here, they gonna fill this place up,” the 80-something bluesman said. “Everybody wants to play with T-Model.”  And he was right.  As soon as he lifted his black Peavey guitar from the case (he calls it “Black Nanny”), a crowd started to fill from the just-empty streets, walking up and waiting for the music, which came slow, with devilish smiles, rasp and soul… like a mix of mud and fire.

I’ve written a story about our three nights in Mississippi to be published in early 2009.  While there, photographer Peter Frank Edwards and I also visited William Faulkner’s Rowan Oak and spent part of a pleasant morning with William Griffith, the curator there. I wanted to see more of the Mississippi places that have inspired so much writing and music.

Rowan Oak, bottletree 2008 (PFE)

Last week I was finishing final edits on the story when somehow, old T-Model turned up to play in a bar five miles from our house in South Carolina.  Of course we went to see.  This time he had a back-up band, and it all didn’t start until near midnight with amplifiers loud. The vibe was completely different, the crowd completely white. And in the dim and whiskey all I kept thinking was of other times, other places… the morning sun on a Mississippi sidewalk.

– Sandy Lang, December 2008 (re-posted July 2013). Images by Peter Frank Edwards.

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