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Charleston, South Carolina 2009 (created 8.15.09)

Saturday: We left Winston with the car packed full of one week of supplies, a Chihuahua in her car seat and a 14 year old, blind and deaf Cockapoo! Samb drove the first two, uneventful hours, but when I got behind the wheel on I-26 (outside Columbia), we encountered two separate episodes of traffic grinding to a halt. One was a tiny fender bender on the shoulder and the other; someone having engine trouble. The rubbernecking quotient in South Carolina is pretty frustrating! With our trip running 45 minutes behind we arrive in Mount Pleasant, where a wonderful customer and friend is graciously letting us stay in her home for a week! Unfortunately, some miscommunication occured and she expected us the NEXT week! Amazingly, she quickly suggests we stay at her best friend Terri's parents place nearby on the Isle Of Palms for several days. We cruise there and arrive at an immaculately manicured, gated community (that we later realize isn't even included on tourist maps) where we're issued our entry pass.When we get to the condo I'm shocked when the porch sliding glass door opens and a young woman looking at me suspiciously says, "May I help you?" She doesn't have a clue who the crazy woman on her back porch is, so I begin explaining who I am and what's going on. It turns out that Terri's sister-in-law and four children had decided to stay another night and weren't leaving until 5AM the next morning! We left the IOP, afraid there'd be no hotel rooms, since there are SO MANY people everywhere you'd think there wasn't a recession going on. Starving, tired, having to pee, and me still sick from an upper respiratory infection; we have no place to sleep. We turn into the ritzy version of a strip mall called The Shoppes At Seaside Farms and cruise through until we locate a little cafe called The Soda Water Grill. We sit down outside with the dogs, eat, pee, drink tea, talk and pray. Our waitress Laura was SO nice, and after helping us contact several completely booked hotels, she recommends the Hilton Homewood Suites, literally right around the corner. At $189 a nite, they're our last resort and miraculously, a pet friendly chain. Yeah!! So, we had a beautiful place to spend the night.

Sunday: Samb took the dogs out at dawn for a 45 minute run through the empty parking lots and manicured lawns. We ate the free breakfast and then headed back out to Wild Dunes on the Isle Of Palms, to our home for the next few days. The place was beautiful! Ocean front AND a pool!! Just gorgeous! So, God answered our prayers and gave us such a wonderful place that we never could afford. After loading all our stuff in and getting things arranged, we spent the day doing nothing at all. We just needed to unwind and let it all out. Most of the evening was spent watching a Travel Channel marathon of the show Man Vs. Food, which we'd never seen. As the evening progressed my coughing and congestion took a turn for the worse and Samb said he was taking me to a Doctor the next day. Eventually I quieted down and slept really well.

Monday: In the morning my lungs felt alot better, and I made us breakfast while Samb took the dogs out for a beach stroll. It was the most perfect day! We swam in the pool for several hours while the nice ocean breeze with blew under the Carolina blue skies and bright sun! Then we walked on the beach for an hour or so at low-tide when a sand bar juts several hundred feet out from the shore. It's so wide the massive tide-pools in the middle are filled with dozens of families with children at play. Amazing!!

I was exhilarated but tired, so we went back; showered, snacked and rested a while. After that, we had tea, got dressed and went into town to have dinner. We ate at a quaint little place recommended by Sara Edi on the IOP called Acme Cantina. We wanted some seafood, so Samb had Shrimp and Grits with a salad. The house dressing was yummy and very interesting. I was a slightly sweet, fresh cilantro vinagrette. The shrimp was very tasty, but the dish was flawed by instant grits... but of course, we're spolied by the Shrimp and Grits at Crook's Corner in Chapel Hill! I had a seafood platter with a big tasty crab cake, grilled Mahi Mahi and grilled shrimp served with slaw, tartar and cocktail sauce. Very simple, fresh and well-prepeared.Our waitress Eli (???) was also really nice. We got some dessert stuff at the store and headed back to our beach! I'm really starting to relax and unwind and most importantly; heal from this upper respiratory infection. Samb really needed this time away from the house and construction; and we needed time alone together without all the usual daily demands. Thanks to our benevolent creator for providing us this beautiful place and time!

Tuesday: Today is the day we're scheduled to move to Sara Edi's house, where we were supposed to be staying in all along. After a homemade breakfast, which I love to make even when I'm not at MOC; we went to the pool for one last dip. Back inside we take showers, but a surprise visit from the housekeepers interupts our snack. We shift ourselves into high gear and scramble to gather our belongings and prepare to pack the car. Samb insists I sit down, eat my snack and take my medicine. A phone call from Sara reveals that the Swedes at her place are staying an extra night. This whole vacation is free, so we laugh at our circumstances and abandon our packing. We sit outside on the balcony with the dogs until the ladies have finished cleaning. My illness seems to come and go, but not be letting up! Lots of wheezing in the day and coughing through the night; and I'm still tired. We decide to eat in this evening, because they say there's a massive storm with golfball-sized hail and hundreds of lightning strikes coming our way. We hurry to the grocery store and get salad makings, two Kashi Mediterranean pizzas and more frozen yogurt! Back at the house Samb started expressing his concern about my illness during dinner. He said that he'd rather have me getting well at home than sick on vacation; and that if we didn't go to the doctor on Wednesday we'd have to go home. Well, I did NOT want to go home and I was sick and tired of being sick and tired; on my VACATION!! So, I promised I would go first thing in the morning.

Wednesday: We were up and in town by 9, and straight to the little clinic on the IOP. We got to see the doctor within 15 minutes. She was great! She very quickly determined I had bronchitis with bronchial spasms, fluid in my ears and sinusitus!! Since I'd already been sick for 10 days she had to hit me pretty hard with meds; steroids, antibitotics and an inhaler for wheezing! So $225 later we walked out. Though it was another unexpected expense, it had to be done, and we both felt better. After the doctor we went to a restaurant on the same street (JC Long Blvd), which Sara Edi had recommended. It turned out to be the MOC of the IOP; and our first exceptional meal of the trip!

A cute little house made into a restaurant, open for breakfast and lunch only. The menu was small (a good thing) and very hard to make a choice! Samb got corned beef hash and eggs with hash browns and biscuit. The corned beef turned out to be homemade, not the 'dogfood-out-of-the-can' style. He said it was the best he's ever had.

I had a salmon patty with eggs, hash browns and whole wheat toast. Delicious!! The place was packed-out and there was a wait to be seated. The hostess was nice, and the waitress did an efficient job, but showed no personality; she never talked to us or smiled. What a shame!! We went back to the house after that, so we could get in some pool time before packing and going to our new digs in Mount Pleasant. It was another beautiful day, and after the pool we packed up the car with luggage and dogs, and drove to the other house.

Arriving at the Beaumont villas, we finally opened the door we hoped to five days ago! We walk into an amazing little cottage full of exquisite furnishings. All the comforts of home and a beautiful little fenced in courtyard and sweet patio area!! We settled in and of course it was nappy-time for Samb...I however, was 'cracked-out' on the high dose of steroids I'd taken!! Me and the dogs hung out in the garden and when he woke up I started talking and talking and talking! He said, "Wow!" I couldn't stop! Ha!! We talked and hung out until I decided where we would eat dinner and got ready. We went to a place that looked like a dive, called Boulevard Diner.

Our waitress, Teresa, was phenomenal, as was the food!! We started with an appetizer called Vine Ripened Tomato and Pimento Cheese Pie with green tomato chutney. It also had some fresh spinach layered in. Amazing!!

Samb had a menu item called; Cashew Crusted Chicken, sauteed spinach, cranberry-sweet pepper chutney and smashed potatoes. Super Yummy!! I tried a special: Sauteed Chicken with spinach & tomato on sweet potato cakes with a balsamic four berry reduction. Both entrees came with a small but dense slab of cornbread. The food was so wonderful and the service, so good!

We got a piece of coconut cake and chocolate peanut butter cake to go. They were made by their sister restaurant, Village Bakery & Cafe. We were stuffed and happy! We went back to the house and ate some cake, which was of course, to die for!!

Then we settled in on the huge, comfy sofa and watched TV until we got sleepy. Samb, the chihuahua and I all ended up sleeping crammed on the sofa; which was fine and actually very comforting!


Thursday: I got up this morning and cooked a yummy breakfast. We're headed out to the only tea plantation in the United States. (The next nearest is in Argentina.) I'm so excited!! We drove across the suspension bridge, thru Charleston and down to Wadmalaw Island. We had very good directions, but there were a few places where there were no street signs to follow. Once past the navigation difficulties, it was a beautiful drive and we felt like we were driving back in time. When we got there, we hopped on a trolley-bus tour of the plantation.

It was so beautiful and I was especially moved at the sight of the first field planted from the original plant cuttings brought over from China in the 1800's. The plants are hardy and can live well over half a century (600-700 years) and still be very productive!

I never really understood what they meant when they referred to the "first flush." But after seeing the actual plants, fields and the harvesting process, I finally get it! The plants send out their "first flush" of leaves in early spring (April). These shoots and leaves (which are only harvested from the top of the plant) are the tenderest of the growing season (April-October). They are highly prized. I tried to purchase some, but the guy in the gift store said they just sold the last of it two weeks before we arrived! Oh well, there's always next year. Next we toured the factory. It's a small facility, but they produce quite a bit of tea. We got to see the different stages of production, from the initial "withering", to "oxidation" and "drying."

We bought a whole bunch of teas for gifts, personal use and to sell at the restaurant. The whole experience was very special for us. I always wanted to go to a tea plantation, and thought we'd have to go to China or somewhere. Then a few years ago I read about the Charleston Tea Plantation. When we got the opportunity to stay here, it was my number one destination! Turned out to be an even better experience than I ever imagined. It was the highlight of the trip! And the highlight within the highlight was getting to watch the 'Green Giant' harvest the tea!! In a country with cheap labor it would take about 500 people to do what this machine and their staff of 4 people do. Now, that's American ingenuity!

We left the Tea Plantation and drove into downtown Charleston to eat lunch at Jestine's. This place is really famous! It's lo-country soul-food at it's best. The woman it's named for lived to be 112 years old! All the recipes were hers and handed all the way down through the family she worked for to the grand-daughter Dana, who put up the restaurant in her honor. Jestine cooked for Dana's family since she was born! I actually got to meet and talk to Dana and she was warm, funny and engaging. We had a lot of shared stories about running a restaurant. The food was delicious!

We started with fried green tomatoes with a sweet relish. Samb had sausage gumbo which was the 'Blue Plate Special' on for the day. It was a thick, smoky gumbo full of sausage, tomatoes, okra over rice, of course.

I had one of my favorites...fried catfish with cabbage and black-eyed peas. Yummy! Of course, we had to have some of their homemade desserts. I had coconut cream pie (the closest to my Grandma's I've ever had). Samb had Coca-Cola cake! It was sort of halfway between cake and a brownie. It melted in your mouth! Our server was a pro, with plenty personality. We left there and walked to the Old City Market. This is four blocks of open stalls with all kinds of wares; somewhere between a real city market and a souvineir shop! Sweet grass baskets, jewelry, t-shirts, and nearly everything between. On either side of the market are more regular stores. We shopped for a couple of hours, and it was hot and crowded; but fun! We finished our travel-presents for our family and friends here. After that we were ready to go home and collapse!

Friday: We had a lovely, lazy morning and didn't leave the house until almost 1:00pm. We wanted to go antique shopping, so the first place we hit was Linda Page's Theives Market. It was real funky. An open barn-like space, with no air conditioning, but great prices! They sent us to another place several miles away and it was amazing!! We bought an antique wrought-iron screen, a colossal Pan doorknocker and a doorknob set with brass faceplates. SCORE! We went back to the house, had tea, took naps and waited to hear from Shama & Sierra; who finally arrived safe and sound about four hours later than we'd anticipated! I sent Samb out for some healthy and yummy take-out from Mustard Seed; one of the sister restaurants of Boulevard Diner.

I had a Seared Scallop Spinach Salad with oranges and julienned veggies with sesame dressing. So light, and so good! The scallops were cooked perfectly. Samb had Soba Noodles with stir fry veggies; healthy and earthy! Shama got some Pasta with Portabellas, veggies and delicious cheese. Sierra had a Pecan-Crusted Chicken breast with a honey-mustard sauce and mashed potatoes. They both said it was excellent and Samb said the leftovers were delicious when he polished them off later. We had dishes of sugar-free chocolate yogurt and talked and hung-out until around 1:00am.

Saturday: Our last day in Charleston! Man, what a relaxing and rejuvanating vacation! I believe it ended up being one of the MOST relaxing vacations I've had recently. We both needed this to spur us on in the coming difficult months! I brewed my first cup of American-grown tea and it was delicious! Good to the last drop! I'm excited about introducing this tea to Winston-Salem.

We all got up eventually, had a little breakfast and then went to the pool at Wild Dunes for a couple of hours. We then tried to have lunch at Sea Biscuit, but they close at 1:00pm on the weekends. We went back through Mount Pleasant to our favorite... the Boulvard Diner. By the time we got there we were all famished, especially Sierra, whose blood sugar had plummeted! As soon as we sat down Shama ordered some Chili-Cheese-Fries. I silently thought this was not a good idea, since every order of chili-cheese-fries I'd ever seen was a gloppy, greasy pile of empty calories! I should have known the Boulevard Diner would know how to do it right! The waitress was so great, and she made sure the appetizer came right away. It consisted of crispy fries, REAL cheddar cheese and a lovely black-eyed pea chili! It was amazing!! We tried a bowl of the Chilled Cucumber soup, which was the best I've ever had!! Think, rich and chunky; full of fresh dill and finished with a diced heirloom tomato and balsamic reduction. Yum!!! Shama had a perfectly grilled Salmon Salad, I had an Oriental Chicken Salad, Samb had a Grilled Catfish Filet on a bed of buttermilk smashed potatoes with sauteed spinach and tomatoes, finished with a melon salsa chimichuri. Sierra had a perfectly Grilled (she said!) Cheese sandwich with applesauce and was soon smiling again. Everything was so fresh and flavorful! This was my favorite restaurant of the trip, with Jestine's running a close second!

After this we went back to the house and Sierra and Shama quickly packed and hit the road. Samb and I lingered a little longer...resting, cleaning up and packing. We drove uneventful and speedy trip. Just the way we like it!