22 May 2015

Bull Island and Boneyard Beach

One of the greatest parts of moving somewhere shiny and new is having a whole new list of places to explore.  The local flora and fauna are different, as are the local phenomena!  Michigan had some fabulous snow and ice formations that were great for exploring, and I was reminded of that last weekend when we explored the eerie but beautiful Boneyard Beach on Bull Island.
I have roughly a thousand photos that I want to add to this post so expect it to be photo-heavy, but I promise it is worth every one.

Bull Island is a barrier island off the coast of South Carolina - it is the perfect day trip from Charleston.  It is part of the Cape Romain National Wildlife Refuge, and its preservation has made it a wonderful place for viewing local wildlife.  In fact, it has the densest population of alligators north of the Everglades.
The island itself is about seven miles long and hosts approximately 14 miles of trails and roads.  We took a ferry out to the island, and before we'd even gotten to the first intersection of roads we'd nearly ran into a alligator (literally - the woman ahead of us warned us after she accidentally hit it with her bicycle) and had a snake cross the path in front of us.
There is an ecotour guide on the ferry (which takes about 30 minutes to get to the island) and he had explained that a safe distance from a gator is about two feet.  He'd also said that despite the snakes and alligators, the biggest dangers of Bull Island are dehydration and sunburn.
We headed straight for the beach, having set our agenda for the day.
The ferry left at 9am, and we had the option of taking a ferry back either at noon or at 4pm.  There was no question - 4pm ferry for us!  In fact, we didn't even make it past Boneyard Beach until after 1pm.  We had some anniversary celebrating to do.
When we finally changed out of our anniversary outfits and back to hiking gear, we were starving.  Pack a lunch, and pack a lot of water.  Hint: four water bottles was not enough for us. 
I've tried to find a cool story behind Boneyard Beach, but it's pretty straight-forward.  Uprooted trees, bleached by the sun, weathered by salty air.
After we left the beach, we had some hard-core hiking.  Once away from the sea breeze, things got hot and sticky.  The bugs were out en masse, and they were brutal.  Right by the old fort, we saw a cluster of lazy alligators.
As we made it closer to the ferry landing, we decided we had enough energy to tackle one of the trails with a "guarantee" for seeing gators.  Actually, the guide had said that if we didn't want to run into any alligators, we should stay on the boat.  On the ride back, two people claimed they didn't see any gators and the guide refused to believe it.  I had to agree - with a thousand alligators living on Bull Island, they are pretty hard to miss.  For the record, we did not see ANY alligators on "Alligator Alley," one of the paths on the island.
By the time the ferry left at four, we were dead tired.  Sunburnt, dehydrated, and out of shape - our eight miles of hiking had us both hobbling.  All we could talk about was where we would get water when we got back to the car.  It was bad enough that some kind strangers offered us their extra water bottles.  However, we had a fantastic day and I would highly recommend a visit to Bull Island.  My only complaint is that ferry tickets were pretty pricy at $40 a pop, but if you have access to a private boat or kayaks there is a public dock on the island.  The ferry company also has an occasional sunrise tour for any photographers who want to capture Boneyard Beach at dawn.
We were so exhausted that we bought a tub of ice cream on the way home and then completely forgot to eat any of it.  All in all, a good day, and a wonderful way to celebrate our anniversary. 

15 May 2015

Creamy Tomato Basil Soup with Grilled Cheese Croutons

You'll want to keep this easy, delicious soup recipe tucked away in your back pocket for a rainy day.  Maybe that Saturday when you really wanted to be outside, but since it's raining you've decided to embrace the laziness and hang out on the couch with your current binge-watching obsession (might I suggest Parks and Rec?).
A few bites of this soup will bring back the nostalgia of rainy summer days when Mom would heat up some Campbell's tomato soup with a side of grilled cheese.  This is definitely the adult version - a more fabulous blend flavor and texture.  It takes barely more effort than the canned soup.

A small onion and a couple cloves of garlic get sauteed until soft.
One 28-oz can of crushed tomatoes is all you need.  I failed to find crushed tomatoes in my pantry so I ended up running some whole plum tomatoes through my manual food processor.
The tomatoes and a quart of chicken stock get added to the onions / garlic and brought to a simmer.
Add in some salt and pepper.  Basil too.
Stir in the cream.
More simmering.  You don't really want this to boil.  Simmer those delicious smells all through the house.
During that last simmer, start up the grilled cheese.
If you take your eyes off them for a second, they burn.  Gah.
Dice up into croutons, serve over a hot bowl of soup.
Creamy Tomato Basil Soup (pretty much this recipe)
Ingredients:
  • 1 small onion
  • 4 cloves garlic (or less, to taste)
  • 1 28oz can crushed tomatoes
  • 1 qt (4 c.) chicken stock
  • salt and pepper
  • 1/4 c. fresh basil
  • 1 c. heavy cream
  • grilled cheese, for garnish
Instructions:
1.  Mince the onion and garlic, saute in a medium sized pot over medium heat (use your preferred oil for this - I usually use bacon grease but you might prefer something else) until soft.
2.  Stir in the tomatoes and chicken stock.  Bring to a simmer, simmer 15 minutes.
3.  Add in the salt, pepper, basil and cream.  Simmer for 15 more minutes.  Do not boil.
4.  During step 3, you can also make the grilled cheese.  I'm not going to give you a recipe for that.  Bonus points for using multiple types of cheese.  Slice the grilled cheese into crouton-sized pieces.
5.  Serve the soup hot, garnish with grilled cheese croutons and a sprig of basil.
For being such a simple recipe, and I'm surprisingly obsessed with it.  Ever since I made it, I just want to make it again.  But it's like 100 degrees outside so I can't.  What I can do is use the rest of the cream to make spearmint whipped cream and serve it over cookies'n'cream ice cream.  It's a great excuse to use green food coloring.  Yum.
Primary lesson: delicious soup.  Secondary lesson: delicious whipped cream.

08 May 2015

May Goals

As April crossed into May, I have officially lived in South Carolina for one year.  It has been a tough year.  BUT there have been lots of positives, and living in SC has been a lot of fun.  I was eating home-grown radishes by mid-April - what's not to love about that?
I didn't choose goals for April, because right now my to-do list is very steady: garden, bus, wine.  And visitors!  However, I think I really need to choose some goals for May to pull me out of this funk I'm in, so here goes.
  • Have a Star Wars marathon.  I'm only aiming for the original trilogy, not sure I want to subject myself to hours of Jar-Jar.
  • Bus stuff (always).  I'll ask Kyle for the list later.
  • Camping / Savannah trip this month!
  • We've volunteered at a brew festival at the end of the month, really looking forward to that event!
  • I've got to finish up the elderberry (again) and get a new batch of wine started.
  • Plant more things in the garden / keep up with the garden.
  • Make some fun anniversary plans.  I've got something in mind but I'm not sure it will work out yet. 
We kicked off April with a visit from family.  Of course that included a trip to the beach...where we found some sea stars (at the last aquarium I visited, I was continually told that they are NOT STAR FISH because they are NOT FISH.  They are SEA STARS!).
We also visited a new taco truck on our way to a brewery.  Excellent.
Now that Kyle is bartending, our weekly bar night has started to look a little different.  But there's still beer.
We did a bunch of bus work but you can read about all that here.
My garden is looking awesome. Baby tomatoes, zucchini with a thousand buds, peas that are starting to blossom!
I'm still dealing with some garden pests, but I think that's a pretty constant state whilst gardening.  I don't know quite what I'm dealing with at this point, though, so I'll keep an eye on things.
The excellent weather continues and I continue to enjoy it. 

24 April 2015

Bus Stuff

My interest in writing a blog post right now is roughly nil.  However, we have yet to keep a good record of what we're doing to the bus, so I'm going to throw a bunch of information here and you can read it if you want.  This is coming from someone who spent her last lunch hour mowing the lawn...in dress pants.  This post might be unintelligible.  I apologize in advance.
Right after we got the engine put back together, and then figured out how to solve our vacuum leak problems, we still had one lingering issue that we could NOT figure out.

10 April 2015

Fried Fish Sandwiches

Kyle's mom and brother have been staying with us this week, and one of the highlights of their visit has been a fishing trip!  Captain Richard took us to all the hot spots for trout in the Charleston area, and there was hardly a dull moment aboard the boat.  Everyone hauled in at least a couple fish, and most of them were keepers.
I think it took us about fifteen minutes to haul in the first fish - a trout.  And with that, we were off.  Kim wins the "most entertaining" award.  I think this photo pretty much sums it up.
Kyle tried to take home the "biggest fish" award, a title he held for most of the morning, until I hauled in a lunker.  Of course, for all my competitive talk, I have no idea what size it is.  I think somewhere around 32" and 8-9 lbs - too big to keep, but it makes for a good story.  I suppose I could interpolate the dimensions in the photo if I really felt like it.
Our fresh catch has been on the dinner table in different forms this week, starting with fish tacos. 
 Kyle wanted to try fried fish sandwiches, and I remembered that Rachel had just posted a recipe for fish and chips - what great timing.
Kyle whipped up some batter - he made everything and took most of the photos, I'm just the scribe for this recipe.  I can't explain everything in this photo, but most of these are ingredients for beer battered fish.
Mix everything up indoors, then transfer to the grill because it's gorgeous outside and no one should be indoors any more than they have to.
Our grill has a side burner, where Kyle heated up bacon grease in a cast iron pan for shallow frying.  When the oil is hot, dredge the fillets in the beer batter (this was pretty thick - thin with more beer or water for less breading).  We opted to leave the skin on our trout.

Quick sidebar: there are two prevalent ideas about eating fish skin.  The first is that the skin contains health omega-3s, the second is that the skin contains more pollutants than the meat.  Since these are thin fillets it's much easier to leave the skin on, plus it didn't add any off flavors.  If I was frying up unbreaded fish it would be fairly easy to remove the skin after frying.  I probably wouldn't eat the skin regularly but I'm not going to worry about having a few fillets worth with these trout.
Look at how happy Kyle is!  This meal was a really nice treat.  It was such a beautiful night and cooking up fresh fish that we caught ourselves was pretty exciting.
The fish hits the oil.  For these thin fillets, 2 to 3 minutes per side was plenty.
Look at that crispy golden crust.
In the meantime, Kyle also made some grilled potatoes and toasted the whole wheat ciabatta buns to complete this fish and chips meal.
The moment of triumph: build up the sandwich with a little arugula, tomato, and tartar sauce.  Sit outdoors.  Enjoy with a beer.
Fried Fish Sandwiches (recipe found here)
Ingredients:
  • 2 c. flour
  • 1 tbs baking powder
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 1/4 tsp cayenne pepper (or more, to taste)
  • 1 bottle beer (we used Yuengling)
  • 4 fillets of a mild fish (trout, mahi, flounder, etc)
Instructions:
1.  Heat 4 tbs oil in a large pan over medium-high heat (we used bacon fat). 
2.  Mix up all batter ingredients.  Dredge fillets in batter and put in pan immediately.  Cook 2 to 4 minutes per side (depending on thickness of fillets).  Fillets should be golden brown.
3.  Put on sandwiches and serve.

Rachel also has a recipe for homemade tartar sauce, which you should definitely try.

03 April 2015

More Spring Everywhere

From eating lunch on the porch to taking walks around the neighborhood at night, I'm spending WAY more time outdoors these days, and it is the best.  There was a huge influx of pollen in March but I didn't have much trouble with allergies, which pleases me greatly.  In the past couple days alone, I've noticed that visibility is getting reduced because the leaves on the trees are getting bigger - soon there won't be any afternoon sunshine on the garden.
March goals were pretty straightforward:
  • We attended the French Quarter Art Walk the first week of March. It was great.  Such an awesome event, maybe I'll even get to go again tonight.
  • My parents were here visiting!  It was a short and sweet visit with my family, and they brought soooo many goodies from MI. 
  • Start eating greens from our garden.  I can hardly get anything to sprout, much less grow.  The soil we got does not seem to be a friendly environment to seeds.
  • Bottle the chardonnay.  Done.  I didn't start anything else because I had to empty the elderberry back into the carboy - after popping two corks and one bottle (!) it was pretty clear that the elderberry was refermenting.
  • Catch up on online classes.  I tried.  I failed.
  • Prep the bus for the interior build.  Well, the paint is stripped but that's about as far as we got.
And as far as April goals go, it's pretty much the same stuff - visitors for spring break (yay!), do garden, make wine, fix bus.  It's also festival season here so obviously, attend ALL THE FESTIVALS!

On to March in photos.

The parental visit started with the Art Walk, where we explored our favorite galleries.
We also found a rooftop bar where we found a giant version of a pin point impression toy.  It's harder than it looks when the pins are this big!
We took the fam to the beach, of course, and also a festival on one of the islands.
I also cajoled them into helping me move a pile of dirt into the raised beds.  Yay dirt!  Thanks, parents.
We made some progress on bus work after that, finally got the odometer working but the gas gage is still being obstinate.  Of course, you know what they say about all work and no play...so we attended the St. Patty's Day block party and it was awesome.
After that, we worked on paint until Kyle got crazy eyes.  He's been a total champ, after the easy ceiling paint was off, he's been slaving away at the more difficult wall paint, using a combination of oven cleaner, razor blades, and sweat to remove the crappy latex paint in the bus (and a wee bit of the original paint underneath).
As far as the garden goes, here's the latest in $10 cat deterrents.  Works like a charm.  I'm still having a lot of trouble getting things to sprout, so maybe my seeds got too hot last summer or something happened in one of the moves or something.  But also the dirt is pretty bland - probably need to get some nutrients in there (compost, N/P/K, etc).
Okay, what else.  We went to the Flowertown Festival, but on our way there we got distracted by a special cask tapping / anniversary breakfast, and just like that I was drinking a beer at 10am on a Sunday (and it was delicious).
Flowertown was an okay time, but I'm not a big spender and there wasn't really anything that caught my eye there, except for the gorgeous azaleas!
I did manage to grow some greens this month, and we did eat them in a very delicious salad, but I'm pretty disappointed by the garden so far.
Last but not least, here's the wine we got bottled.  After I get that elderberry straightened out, I'll move on to a nice red.
It didn't seem like such a big month until I wrote it all out!  However, I think we kept a pretty good balance of work and play, so hopefully we can keep this pace up through April.  There's a lot going on!