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

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

Heels and suitcase wheels clack on the tile floor. The movie “Casablanca” plays continuously on two TV screens, and is projected across a rear wall. Oversized paintings and photo portraits by San Juan artist Carlos Mercado—colorized in aqua blues and red ochres—are hung in large frames above the Moroccan-style furnishings of bed-like couches, carved-wood, and patterned upholstery. All of this is in the long, narrow lobby at the CasaBlanca Hotel in Old San Juan. For under $130/night, we’re booked in a fourth-floor, walk-up room. Some of the 30 guestrooms have balconies, but we’re in “The Marrakech” that’s Paris-tiny and includes a window on the interior courtyard. Lean out from the bed, open the wooden shutters, and you can look down to the tables in the lobby café—people are drinking coffee, typing on laptops, or talking over card games. No in-room telephone or hair dryer, and the sheets and bedding are thin (mattress, too). It’s all clean and comfortable—basic, but it works. For a “wake-up call,” the desk clerk bounds up the stairs and wraps firmly on the door to make sure we’re up and about. On the first afternoon, we walk up two more flights to a rustic rooftop deck with a few lounge chairs and five empty stone tubs as big as horse troughs that are fitted with faucets and shower hoses. I turn a faucet handle, and the water flows. (“It’s nice to bathe up there at night,” Juan at the front desk later explains, but we never make it back upstairs.) Mornings, Jorge is behind the bar to make espresso, café con leche. Over coffee, I hear other guests complaining about street noise from the night before on narrow Calle Fortaleza. I didn’t notice—always returning after long days walking downtown and touring the countryside in a station wagon loaded with four or five people (and a cooler of iced-down bottles of Cava and cans of Medalla Light in the back).

I’m happily assisting Peter Frank Edwards, who’s on a photo assignment here. With our local friends, we follow two-lane roads on the interior of the island, past coconut and banana trees, and the fattest, tallest bamboo stalks I’ve ever seen. (More reports from those adventures to come.) Rock and roll, soul, and Latin jazz plays on the car stereo—and well past dark every night we make our way back to CasaBlanca, where nothing disturbs my Puerto Rico rest.

– Sandy Lang, March 2013

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Travel, Wild animals and places



Hardwater fishing

Took off for February adventure with PFE for our latest feature for Maine magazine. Thank you to friends from South Carolina who came along, and to everyone we met in the shacks and on the ice at Baker’s Smelt Camps.

The full story runs six pages in the Jan. 2013 issue. Excerpts from the fish tales:

KENNEBEC ON ICE. Trying for smelt before the ice melts.

Even in February, the ice conditions are iffy. We’re driving through the Kennebec River towns north of Merrymeeting Bay, looking for fishing camps. Catching a bucket of smelt is our goal. But the frozen surfaces are thinner than usual this year, where there’s ice at all. Photographer Peter Frank Edwards and I drive north from Bowdoinham through Dresden, Pittston, and Randolph. Thin, silvery-pink fish often not much longer than an outstretched hand, rainbow smelt are known to live primarily in saltwater bays, but spawn in fresh water—famously, under the ice of the Kennebec River.

By chance—and because we could see actual ice—we choose Baker’s from more than a half-dozen smelt camps that pop up each year on frozen stretches of the Kennebec River and its tributaries. “This is a sweet spot,” claims Cindy Lougee. The Pittston site is situated at a bend in the Kennebec that creates an eddy; the spawning fish like to feed in the calmer water, she says. Lougee helps owner Mike Baker, a logger, to coordinate the ice fishing at Baker’s Smelt Camps. In a lined notebook, she keeps a handwritten record of the shack reservations. “People book them for a tide, and stay six or seven hours,” she explains. While we talk, guests come in to the wood-paneled office to buy beef jerky or homemade cookies, or just to soak in the heat and conversation. Lougee suggests we go down on the ice and choose which shack we’d like to reserve. She shows us what I think at first is a pizza box, but then she opens it to reveal a bed of seaweed and tangles of long red sandworms.  These, she says, are hand-collected on the Maine coast; some people cut them up into small pieces to use for bait.

To get to the ice, we descend the bank and step onto a narrow wooden boardwalk. The surface is slushy on either side of the planks, but no one seems concerned. I can hear several radios playing from different shacks. We peek inside a few that are empty and see similar layouts inside of each: a plank floor down the center, a woodstove at the rear, and a trough of open water along the length of each side, where the ice has been cut.

A few of the teenagers who work at the camp, delivering firewood and keeping things tidy, catch up with us. One of the young laborers, Steve Potter, is pulling a load of firewood on a sled and says his job on the frozen river has its odd moments. He says, “Earlier, I saw a four-wheeler go by on the river pulling a La-Z-Boy with a guy strapped to the seat for the ride.” Two other workers, Airyn Jewett and Katie Baker, are both from Gardiner. They say they’ve been coming to the camps for years, and that their fathers helped to clear the snow for an ice-skating oval a few yards from the shacks. The teenagers tell us most people hang bait lines from a horizontal post, but they’ve had good luck catching fish on handheld “jigger” poles with a short, heavy line, using the poles to jiggle bait in the water and then hook the fish. It doesn’t look like there’s room inside the shacks for jiggling or much of anything else, but I’m told some of the structures can hold up to six people who are actively fishing. We reserve number 35, a smaller shack with a decent-looking woodstove…

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



Hunt and sip

A year ago this month, I had the honor of mingling with some smart and scrappy hounds and horsesand the tweed-wearing ridersat a fox hunt near Landrum, South Carolina.  This part of the Upstate is great for antiques’ shopping and wine touring, too. From the opening paragraphs of my story, “Art of the Chase,” for Charleston magazine:

Everything is hovering around 30 on the morning of the fox hunt in a rural corner of Greenville County.

The Upstate air is a frosty 30 degrees, and today the count for the Tryon Hounds’ hunt is a field of about 30 riders on horseback with 30 yelping hounds. Anita Williamson, the “road whip,” has offered to let us ride in her truck to tail the party once the chase begins—throughout the hunt, she’ll follow the riders’ progress, open fence gates, and watch for any stragglers—canine or equine.

This is one impressive and natty hunt club. Attire of the men and women at the meet includes white riding pants, black wool caps, and brass-buttoned blazers that are as red as a holly berry. The well-groomed horses sport trimmed or braided manes. The day’s huntsman, Jordan Hicks of Pickens, is tall and trim in a scarlet coat. He opens the gate of a transport truck and releases the lanky, tricolor hounds. The carefully bred foxhounds bound into a scene of winter-bare trees and country pageantry as one twisting mass of yelps and sniffs. The pack is bursting with energy and confidence. Watching them, I wonder if they know they’re descended from old Virginia bloodlines…

You can read more in the print version (a few pages below) or online here.

– Sandy Lang, January 2013  (photography by Peter Frank Edwards)



Feeling merry

After the cotton, comes Christmas. From a series of weekend Polaroids… I made this one on a recent, chilly morning in Mississippi.

Best wishes for the season!

– Sandy Lang, December 2012

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Art, Craft



Fall color, No. 2

From a rental car on the narrow roads of the southern Caribbean island of St. Kitts, the views are of coconut trees, coral stone curbs, and brightly painted houses within a few feet of the roadway. I was there on assignment earlier this month, and on a Sunday, the sound of a choir singing poured in the car window from a one-room, seaside chapel set directly beside a “snack-ette” stocked with Carib beer and Ting sodas. From the islands tallest peaks, nearby St. Barths is in view. On the grounds of a former sugar plantation, children danced in island masquerade costumes, and a teenager who’d made a pet of one of the vervet monkeys (and named him “Skippy”) offered tours of the rainforest.

I’m writing a travel story to be published soon in print. Meanwhile, a few more snapshots of roadside and rainforest views, from morning to night…

– Sandy Lang, November 2012

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Fall color, No. 1

On a fall day at the cabin a few weeks ago, hardwoods across the water blazed red-orange and gold. I paddled the kayak to the summer swim platform (my last dive there around Labor Day). No swimming this time. It was the weekend for annual, end-of-season chores. To pull in the wooden dock, we wear wading boots and get in the water to float the wet frame to a spot where we can heave it to shore. Sometimes friends come by to help with the hoisting, or a light skin of ice already tops the water. This time, the day was sunny and the water flat-calm. I wasn’t cold at all.

– Sandy Lang, November 2012

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Maine days

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)



Northwest travels

Lummi Island, WA, photo by Sandy Lang, Sept. 2012

On an assignment in Washington state yesterday, we hopped on the ferry to Lummi Island just in time for breakfast at the Willows Inn. Golden-orange morning light everywhere, and I loved the tea and handmade packaging from Flying Bird Botanicals…

Flying Bird Botanicals, Lummi Island, WA. Photo by Sandy Lang, Sept. 2012

We spent the day and night on the under-10-square-mile island, and I met one of the fishermen, who says he can’t believe his luck in getting to look out at the islands and mountains, including Mount Baker–the peak white with snow all year–while he waits for the salmon to swim past. At dinner, we tasted tender, ice-cold slices of geoduck. (Nothing like an Atlantic cherrystone… Chef Blaine Wetzel says he can get 20-30 servings from just one of the huge clams.) We also tried hunks of wild sockeye salmon that had been netted in a bay just down the road, and smoked all day over alder wood. I couldn’t stop looking at this fish. The salmon had the deep red color of ripe watermelon, and the taste was incredibly delicate. More Pacific tastes today, I hope…

– Sandy Lang, September 2012

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Food, Travel

“Her grandmother’s fried chicken and creamed corn were the beginning. Cynthia spent many a Chattanooga afternoon in her family’s kitchens. And besides a love for southern recipes, she developed a French sensibility early on – Madeline books in hand…”

I’ve always loved a good interview, and I had a terrific one last year with food stylist Cynthia Groseclose, who asked me to write a bio for her website (excerpted above). After training at Le Cordon Bleu-Paris, Cynthia moved to NYC and then Charleston. That’s where we met, when she began doing some food styling with Peter Frank Edwards Photographs.

Cindy is now represented by Big Leo Productions, and is featured this month on their blog.  Her delicious work has also filled pages in Southern Living, Men’s Journal, Organic Gardening and more. Beau style!

– July 2012, Sandy Lang (pancake photo by Peter Frank Edwards; photo of Cynthia Groseclose by Andrew Cebulka)

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Food, In print/published

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