South Carolina [Part 3]

This is the final installment of Heather went to South Carolina.

I’m not a travel writer, I’m hardly even a traveler. I’ll go back to posting cooking misadventures soon enough. So bear with me for now.

Brookgreen Gardens [Murrells Inlet, SC]

I’m already regretting putting this in here, but I can’t only post about the good. This place was definitely 100% not worth the money. If you have free tickets, are over the age of 75, or just love being bored – head on over to Brookgreen Gardens. I couldn’t even tell you much about it, because we sped walk through looking for the Labrynth that was on the map. And guess what? The mazes I used to draw in the driveway with chalk were more serious than this thing.

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There were maybe two flowering bushes in the whole garden, and while the area itself could be pretty, it reminded me of the landscaping you would see if a fancy outdoor mall. Does that make me sound like a jerk? Well if not, the next part will; the sculptures were pretty bad. As in, I’m no expert, but a museum wouldn’t be fighting to get their hands on any of these.

Save your money and walk through a public park, or a housing subdivision. Or an airport terrace.

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This picture was clearly taken before the disappointment set in.

 

Russell’s [Murrells Inlet, SC]

This place is so good it doesn’t have a website. This is the second post in a row where I mention a restaurant in relation to its website having status. When a place is thriving and has no website, it is good. That is a fact when we live in an era where people like to look up menus, food pictures, and hours of business before driving down the street.  Or is that just me? Wow I have been asking that a lot lately. Perhaps I really do live in an odd bubble of obsessive restaurant website research.

Anyway, Russell’s is perfection. My father-in-law treated us to dinner here as a gift of nostalgia to my husband on his birthday. My husband used to come here with his brothers when they were younger, and I could tell it brought back happy memories of summer vacations and seafood dinners. With the wood paneling and walls covered with framed photos, some of that warm fuzzy memory feeling even rubbed off on me.

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 This cozy place is located on the opposite side of the road from the Marshwalk restaurants, and just a little bit further down, but is definitely worth a visit for a seafood dinner. Seeing my husband enjoy his dinner with his parents made me so excited to share this special place with the next generation. It also made me feel so blessed to have in-laws that I can spend a week with and still enjoy. I know not everyone is always so lucky, [and I’m pretty sure they don’t read this so I’m getting no brownie points], but I married in to some pretty great folks.  I mean, they treated me to grits, seafood, and golf cart trips to the beach all in one vacation.

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Boone Hall [Mt. Pleasant, SC]

This was the exact opposite on that spectrum of restoration/preservation I mentioned about Drayton Hall. I wanted to squeeze in a visit to a plantation that would have more atmosphere, and more of a feel for what life was actually like. Unfortunately, this one didn’t quite hit the mark but was interesting to visit. The weird thing about this place, is that in addition to being highly commercialized [“the most photographed plantation” insert eye roll], its also currently inhabited. That’s right, a family still lives here.

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Wait. What?

That’s right, you’re not allowed to take any photographs inside, and the second floor is off limits to tours. Well honestly I think that first part has nothing to do with the family’s privacy and everything to do with the fact that there is nothing original on display, and if people photographed the three rooms you’re allowed to tour, then no one would pay for the tour itself. Just blew the lid wide open on that one. You’re welcome.

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Its not the original plantation running family or their descendants that live there; in fact, according to the tour, the home changed owners several times throughout history and foreign families set up camp here in relatively recent history. They do interpret the social and cultural history of slavery here, as well as offer a few other attractions; so the ticket price can be worth it.

 

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But their garden is worth it. It was a gorgeous garden just in font of the house to the left and right of the walkway. Look at those poppies. There were flowers and vegetables mixed together in lush harmony.  This only made me madder about that Brookgreen gardens disaster. I was willing to let them off the hook thinking it was the off season, but if Boone Hall can do it, a place with GARDEN in the name should be able to pull off some flora.

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South Carolina Getaway [Part 2]

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The beach is always such a meditative place. There is a reason those sound machines have waves as an option; that repetitive and constant noise is therapeutic. Add some sunshine and its restorative.

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While in South Carolina, I went for my first ever beach run. I’ve walked on the beach and I’ve run while on vacation, but I’ve never really had the opportunity to run on the beach. Three times while at Mister’s parent’s house in Surfside, I was able to get a run in.

I’m terrible at running, and with the snow and cold in NY I havn’t really ran in a while. I would love to be one of those people that runs 10 miles a day with a marathon on Saturday, but three miles whoops my lungs and my knees. But when I run its like I forget everything that I had on my mind just minutes ago. Sunshine, breathing, my feet hitting the sand. Just focus on moving and breathing.  Keep moving. Keep breathing.

I don’t know if anyone reads this blog for my running advice. I don’t know if anyone reads this blog at all, but I’ll move on.

Litchfield Restaurant   [Pawleys Island, SC]

Since 1968, Pawleys Island locals and visitors alike have considered the Litchfield Restaurant the “Best Breakfast in Town”. That is as true today as it was back then. More than forty years later, we still serve hearty home-style Southern cooking for both breakfast and lunch. Our full menu is available all day, so sleep in and have a late breakfast if you like.

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I’m genuinely surprised this place even has a website, I mean they aren’t even open past lunch time. I spent a day with my Mother-in-law while Mister and his dad went out to play golf one morning. We started off with a stop for breakfast and this place was definitely worth writing home about.

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We were lucky enough to squeeze in at the counter and I saw the food coming out from the kitchen. That meant I knew I had to order grits and biscuits, the eggs and sausage were kind of an after thought. That biscuit was exactly like I imagined it would be, and yes I slathered it with butter and orange marmalade.

Also, why is food still so regionally divided? Grits in the south, oatmeal in the north. I’m still not sure I fully understand grits, but I can certainly tell you that about a third of that serving kept me feeling stuffed until almost dinner time.

If I get a chance to go back, I’m definitely going to try some sausage gravy.  Now you see why I have to run while I’m on vacation?

The Claw House [Murrells Inlet, SC]

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This was my first time having hot peel and eat shrimp (at least that I can remember?). Crazy good. Like seriously yum. Mister went with crab cakes, which we both think were overpriced for the serving but still good. This place is expensive for the atmosphere, but I think that’s because its located on the Marsh Walk. When the weather is nice, this is a great little section of restaurants and bars linked by a boardwalk. It wasn’t super busy on either of our two visits, but I imagine in the summer season it can get crowded.

Drunken Jack’s [Murrells Inlet, SC]

If you want to feel as if you’ve stepped back in time to the swanky club of another era, check out the lower bar area of Drunken Jacks. Just a few steps down the Marsh Walk from the Claw House, Drunken Jacks has a completely different vibe. This is a great example of something being just old enough to go from dated to retro.

If you keep moving towards the deck area, you’ll have a great view of the Marsh while you sip your drinks. 219.JPG

 

South Carolina Getaway [Part 1]

Mister and I made it back from South Carolina just as the latest snow storm was hitting New York. It wasn’t the welcome back we were looking forward to, but after 8 days of traveling around it felt good to be snuggled up with our dogs on a cozy snow day.

This was part vacation, part family visit, and part Mister’s birthday present; we went to visit his parents [who split their time between Binghamton, NY and Surfside Beach, SC], with an added stop in Charleston to visit a friend while taking advantage of the cheaper flights through their versus Myrtle Beach.

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We ended up in downtown Charleston pretty late on Wednesday, and I was excited to see everything but also hungry and tired – add that to the fact that it was way colder than we were anticipating and I was getting a little bit cranky.

Mister spotted Poogan’s Smokehouse and it was exactly what we I needed.

Local IPA’s, live music, smokey pork belly, and a pile of BBQ. Two sticky thumbs up.

The next morning I made a quick trip to a local supermarket for yogurt, fruit, and muffins that made an easy breakfast. My biggest budget travel tip for anyone is don’t go to a restaurant for every meal – buy like you would at home. Bananas were a cheap snack that we could take with us, and smaller things like a box of granola bars and bringing reusable water bottles meant the snack/water break costs didn’t add up as fast.

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On our way from Charleston to Surfside Beach, we stopped at Drayton Hall. I’ve always had a love for visiting historic sites – particularly homes. Coming from New York, plantation houses have always been sort of a fascinating existence within the realm of history and Hollywood. While they are always associated with the dark history of human enslavement, they are also landmarks of a way of life, an era of American history, and a display of a culture I havn’t really gotten to “touch” in person before.

Drayton Hall is incredible in the sense that it is entirely preserved rather than restored. The building hasn’t been turned into a Disneyland approximation of how grand southern life was; its a house that holds so much history that even the vacant rooms breathe whispers of the lives that have passed through.

The preservation versus restoration issue was something that Mister didn’t quite understand; and coming from a History/Public History background, I wasn’t sure if it was something that didn’t really make sense to everyone else as well.

Preserve: They do the minimal amount necessary to maintain the house exactly as it was when it became a historic site. They interpret the paint colors as they were found, instead of repainting the house the original color from the first moment of construction. They point out where the outbuildings once stood, instead of rebuilding them for an easier tour.

Restoration: Bringing the building back to the way it looked when first built, or back to a specific time period. This includes furnishings being brought in or custom made, sometimes costumed interpreters, and often times erasing the changes that were made over time.

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Whenever visiting a historic site of this magnitude, I relish the opportunity to consider who built this house. Why? How? Where did the wood come from? Who made the bricks? Why was the house built in this exact place?

Imagine the first owners crossing the threshold. The last family to run down the stairs. The first tourists to open the door.

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After a few hours spent taking the formal tour and walking the grounds, we had to switch cars and found ourselves looking for food outside of town, in a highly commercialized area. It wasn’t looking promising.

I pulled up Yelp and did some serious reading before finding Boxcar Betty’s. Perfection. Small menu, specializing in chicken; fast, cheap, good.

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Museum of the Month: February

This year, Mister and I have decided to visit one New York City area museum per month – in an effort to get out and do more, but also to help Mister really feel more a part of the area. This is also a vaguely selfish plan: I have a Master’s in Public History, aka I specialized in museum studies. Museums are my thing, so this is a way to get Mister more into them. Hopefully.  I planned out a schedule of 12 museum/sites, and so far we’ve been two for two.

In January we visited the Metropolitan Museum of Art with a quick stop at the Cloisters on our way home.  This was a huge hit – full suits of armor, incredible artwork, mummies.

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One really important thing to note about *most* NYC museums – the admission fees are “suggested donation amounts.” What that means, is that while it says $25 per person admission, you can still pay $1 and get the same ticket.

February, I kept up the theme of the big classics by choosing the Museum of Natural History.   Not at big of a hit, I’ll be honest. The first floor felt crazy dated, but thats almost part of the appeal of the place in a way. The dinosaurs were pretty cool. But I mean, how many bone displays can you look at with awe? No, maybe just me?

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Of course all the dinosaur spotting paired with the rainy weather made me want a snack before we headed back home.

A quick Yelp search gave us Levain Bakery  , which ended up being on the block between the museum and our car.

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There was no line when we walked in to get cookies, but while we were sitting inside eating them, the line backed up long enough to just about hit the door. Luck was definitely on our side that afternoon.

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We sort of panic ordered – thats where we see a short menu and just yell things out without any discussion. Mister got the walnut chocolate chip, I got the dark chocolate peanut butter.

These are big, [under baked] gooey, bites of cookie goodness. First bite verdict: dark chocolate peanut butter was way better. Last bite verdict: walnut chocolate chip was better. Thankfully we had a bottle of water with us, because that dark chocolate monster was so rich it was almost hard to get down after a few bites.

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I mean, I’m not complaining about either cookie. Trust me, these were both intensely good. If you’re going to share, go for the dark chocolate; otherwise stick with a classic.

We paid $5 per person museum admission, parked for free on the street, and treated ourselves to cookies afterwards.  It was a pretty fun rainy day date for just about $20.  I call that a win.

Old San Juan, Puerto Rico

I’ve spent many winter vacations in Puerto Rico (see last post), but I havn’t really explored San Juan, particularly the historic district of Old San Juan at all.  In the past few years, Mister and I have tackled one adventure per vacations [kayaking in the bioluminesent bay, rappelling down waterfalls, etc.], so I wanted to take the opportunity for some exploring.

Via Air BnB, I booked a two night stay at Portal del Sol.  This was my first experience with Air BnB, but after seeing the amazing architecture of Old San Juan I knew I really wanted to be able to live in it, even if just for a nanosecond.  This apartment was perfect, and our host Juan was great at making us feel welcome, even going so far as to giving us dinner advice via text when we were overwhelmed with options.

We were warned that parking can be tricky in Old San Juan; the combination of narrow streets, cobblestone, and limited parking was a recipe for some frustration for sure.  We found the apartment, then circled the block a dozen times looking for any available parking.  At peak crankiness, we saw a car just leaving and decided to nab the spot and then find our way back to the apartment on Calle de Sol; as luck would have it, we plugged the address into our phone GPS only to find we had literally parked right outside of the rental!

We explored the city, the sights, the food, the forts.

This city is so incredibly vibrant and alive, while being overwhelmingly historic all at the same time.  Being the history nerd that I am (BA American History, MA Public History), I was running around the forts like a kid in a candy store. The forts are National Parks, and one admission pass is good for both for a few days.

In addition to the two forts, definitely take the time to stop by La Casa Blanca, which was only a few blocks away from our apartment (and the forts, everything is within relative walking distance).

It was originally built as a home and protecting fort in 1521 for Juan Ponce de Leon, though he died prior to inhabiting the home.  For the next 250 years, Casa Blanca was home to the descendants of Ponce de Leon, up until Puerto Rico became a United States territory, at which time the house became home to the locally stationed US Army commander.  We arrived about a minute before they opened, and Mister asked if we could receive a tour; I’m thankful he did because the government employed staff member was so incredibly enthusiastic about the home that it was contagious.

I was so excited about seeing every square inch of cobblestone and Spanish architecture, that every morning I woke up just a bit before Mister to explore the city on foot, filling my backpack with breakfast treats and my hands with coffee along the way.

Recommendations for grab and go breakfast:

1.)Cafeteria Mallorca had a window full of freshly baked goodies, with an old school diner vibe inside.  The place was packed with locals and touring families alike enjoying sit down meals, but I focused on the cheese and fruit filled danishes that were too tempting to pass up.  Their specialty is the mallorca their named after, which is a  ham and cheese (sometimes egg) sandwich on a buttery, sweet bread.  I wanted to enjoy the sweet bread on its own, but maybe next year I’ll be able to pass up the sweets in favor of the sandwich.

2.) Bad Ass Coffee, now I know that Puerto Rico is known for some really amazing coffee so stick with me on this one.  If you havn’t had it, Puerto Ricaan coffee is more like espresso on the range of intensity and servings; sometimes when its hot and humid you want something colder and sweeter.  This place is a franchise based out of Hawaii, and while I downed some local coffee in the afternoons and evenings, I was all about their blended chais and almond milk lattes at Bad Ass Coffee in the morning.

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(proof that I had local coffee, and that I apparently have a weird lobster hand)

3.) SuperMax, yup a supermarket.  The Old San Juan location had a great selection of fresh fruits and veggies, plus bottled drinks and booze to keep our temporary home stocked with some options.  The other location of SuperMax, outside of Old San Juan was closer to the major hotels, open 24 hours, and had a giant parking lot.  In addition to these minor luxuries, it has a little coffee shop, a giant wine selection, full service deli, hot food, store made sushi, and even an in-store, make your own acai bowl/smoothie option.  Live like a local, right?

For dinner in Old San Juan, the restaurant options can be overwhelming and a bit daunting.  Some are clearly tourist traps, some are hard to identify as tourist traps, and some are really amazing food.  How do you tell the difference?

On our first night, we consulted Yelp as much as we could, but we were still sort of confused, hungry, and tired.  As I mentioned earlier, we turned to our Air BnB host, Juan, via text and he was gracious enough to recommend El Jibarito, which was just a block or so away from our apartment.  If the pictures above don’t speak for themselves, let me just tell you that this was the perfect blend of vacation indulgence (i.e. sweet, blended rum drinks) and fresh local flavor.  It was a great way to start our mini vacation within our vacation.

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Our second dinner was at Verde Mesa.  This was an experience unlike anything else we had on the island, and that I’ve probably had in a while.  This restaurant had a whimsical environment, with a menu focusing on pescetarian and vegetarian options exclusively.  The service, though sometimes slow, was impeccable.  The bill was high, but the experience was definitely worth it; scallops so buttery in texture that they literally melted in your mouth, or a black olive couscous that was so flavorful it could have stood on its own as a dish.

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Seriously, just looking at those perfectly boiled eggs makes me want to eat that dish a million times over.

 

 

Boqueron, Puerto Rico

I’m blessed enough to have the opportunity to enjoy a family home in Boqueron, Puerto Rico.  My paternal Grandparents retired there when I was younger, and even after their passing, our entire family has taken turns enjoying the legacy they started.

Boqueron is about as far southwest as you can get on the island, so the entirely opposite area of San Juan.  There are a lot less tourists, though the area has changed quite a bit in the past few years.  Easily accessible from Aguadilla airport  via JetBlue or United Airlines, I can’t recommend this side of the island enough. [Sidenote: I’ve always flown JetBlue, but United has suddenly appeared with much more competitive prices.  This year we tried United, and will definitely be returning to JetBlue flights in the future due to the atrocious customer service and on board experience of United.]

The benefit of having the house while on vacation, is that you don’t have to rely on restaurants for the duration of your trip.  There’s even a Sam’s club between the airport and the house, so we were able to buy in bulk items like lettuce, avocados, asparagus, frozen shrimp, peppers, cheese, tortilla chips, strawberries etc.

Puerto Rico is unique in that most of the supermarkets, especially the more rural ones, have limited availability of fresh fruits and vegetables in comparison to the standard New York market. I recommend trying all the seafood you can on the island, but expect lots of fried sides, rice, and plantains. 056.JPG

One of my favorite beaches in the area is Playa Sucia, its an amazing bay like area that is so incredibly breath taking, pictures just don’t do it justice.053.JPG

The beach closer to the house, and most commonly visited is Buye Beach, see below:086.JPG

Not too shabby.

The town of Boqueron is really only worth visiting on the weekends, very few things are open the rest of the time.  The weekends though are a cultural explosion of locals and visitors; there are bands in the street, crowds of families, food stands, shops, street vendors and more.

263.JPGThough there are the obvious empanadas, tacos, and chicken wings just about every other bar, my favorite late night/slightly drunk snack is a bacalaito.  These are fried salt cod fritters; crispy edges and chewy centers of salty, greasy goodness.

Granola Bender

I think I’ve written before about how I’ll eat the same thing on repeat throughout any given week.  When you’re usually shopping for one its just easier to buy ingredients for one or two big meals and then portion it out throughout the week.

One way I keep myself from really hating this plan of action it by switching up toppings or add-ins.  If you’re eating chili every day, have it with diced avocado two days, cheese two days.  It keeps things interesting [or I just have a very low bar set for what is interesting]

This week, I invested in a box of “Just Clusters” granola from Trader Joes, I think its vanilla almond but I’m too lazy to go check.  To go with that, I bought a carton of unsweetened, vanilla almond milk, a container of blackberries, and a container of pomegranate seeds.  I like to go for a healthy combination of good for me and easy to eat; on Sundays I grocery shop and on Monday’s everything gets packed up, driven three hours to the office for consumption during the week.  The glamour of a long distance relationship!

One day I had the granola with almond milk, blackberries, and a scoop of vanilla protein powder mixed in.

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Another day, granola + almond milk + pomegranate seeds + cinnamon.

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Most recently, granola + raw, roasted almonds + blackberries

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I know, I lead a pretty exciting life filled with granola and desk lunches.  You have to find what works for you in terms of convenience, access, health, taste.  Its Friday, so I’m already thinking about what I’ll cook up this weekend for next week’s lunches.  Suggestions appreciated!