26 June 2015

June Goals

Despite my best intentions, June was a big month!  We didn't have a whole lot planned so we were hoping for getting a lot of buswork done.  We worked on the bus, but we also did so much more!
First things first, goals.
  • There's a concert in mid-June at the VW dealership - just a quick jaunt in the bus.  We went, we had a good time. 
  • Piccolo Spoleto festival.  This ended the first week of June; I thought it would be a longer event.  We missed it.
  • Ongoing bus work, of course.  Windows out, paint in.
  • Start working on a plan for the second garden season.  Still on my list is to plant a bunch of baby tomatoes, but I think I have a good idea of what I want.  Just need to decide when to plant.
  • Play around with my camera more - spend one night at the beach taking photos. Being on the east coast, it made much more sense to get up early and take photos of the sunrise, so that's what I did.
  • I've been thinking about starting a webcomic, so I want to draw at least ten comic panels in June for practice.  Oh man. I cranked out six panels in the first few days of June and thought I was going to blow this goal out of the water.  The count still stands at six though.
Okay, what's going on in July?
  • Put the windows back in the bus!
  • VW Drag Night + camping.
  • A visit from a Minnesotan!  I hope he's bringing lots of sunscreen and light clothing, because July is a killer month in Charleston.
  • High Country Bus Festival.  The bus won't make it out there, but we'll bring a tent!
  • I'm aiming for drawing ten comic panels again.  This time I'll actually get it done.
On to the photo recap of my month.  We celebrated the world's largest batch of iced tea (ahem, sweet tea) and whipped up a batch of our own mint tea.
 The VW dealership hosted a concert and car show, where I fell in love with this little guy.
We harvested some corn from the garden this month!  All ten kernels went on a plate of nachos.  I almost tasted them. (All of the corn is so dinky.  I assume it's just too hot.)
Speaking of nachos, can Greek nachos be a thing?  We made gyros this month and had some leftover tzatziki.  That was about all we had left, so this plate isn't really all that Greek, but don't tell me Greek nachos don't sound delicious.
We also helped a local brewery celebrate their grand opening!  Apparently the number of craft breweries in this area is doubling this year.  Amazing.
Then there was the bus work.  We cut off the old brittle window seals and removed the windows.
With the windows out, we masked off the whole thing and painted the interior.
That's when we found out that we didn't mask off the WHOLE thing...and the roof was covered in overspray.
One morning we got up at the crack of dawn to see the sunrise.  It was much better than I anticipated.
My photos don't do it justice, but it was fun to try.
So that was June!  A surprisingly busy month, but definitely a good one.

12 June 2015

Mint Iced Tea + World Record Sweet Tea

My garden is starting to get out of control.  Well, maybe not the garden so much as the mint.  I am starting to think it was not such a great idea to plant the mint in my herb garden - I should have planted it far, far away from everything so that when it started multiplying like rabbits (well, not exactly like rabbits) it wouldn't interfere with the rosemary or lime-basil.
Mint plant, 18 April.
Mint plant, 10 May.
 Mint plant, 5 June.  Out. Of. Control. 
Desperate for ideas, I polled Facebook and got tons of awesome responses (including a recipe from one of my favorite travel bloggers, fangirl swoon)!  Ideas ranging from mint wine to savory Thai shrimp, and lots of things in between.  So many votes for mojitos, as if I didn't already have a strawberry mojito in my hand!
Mint ice tea is SO easy.  Make iced tea just like you normally would, but when you add the tea bags, add 1 to 1 1/2 cups of fresh mint leaves (per gallon).
If you don't have a regular iced tea recipe, here's how Kyle makes our mint iced tea.
Mint Iced Tea
  • 1 gallon water
  • 4 tea bags (quart-sized)
  • 1 1/2 c. fresh mint (loose)
1.  Bring the water to a boil in a large pot.  Take the pot off the heat.
2.  Add the tea and mint.  Let tea steep for 8-10 minutes, then remove the tea bags.  After 30 minutes, remove the mint.
3.  Chill. 

If you think the flavor is too strong, you can always use fewer tea bags OR steep for less time OR add some water to your tea so it's not so concentrated.  It's really hard to go wrong with iced tea.  Kyle drinks his with a few drops of stevia, I drink mine with a splash of lemon juice.

In honor of National Tea Day (Wednesday), Summerville SC - the self-proclaimed birthplace of sweet tea - decided it was time to take over the title of World's Largest Iced Tea.  Guinness Book of World Records was on the scene to make this event history, and the record was broken.
I kind of expected it to be a little bigger.  I don't know.  Who am I to judge.  What was REALLY impressive, however, was how long the line for sweet tea was!  We were present for the sweet tea festivities and were going to half-heartedly join the line for sweet tea, but we realized it stretched a block long and went around the corner.  Who knows where it ended!  I prefer my tea unsweetened, and we heard this tea was so sweet it made your teeth hurt, so we never tasted the tea but we had a great time anyway.  And if you're ever in the area, rumor has it the world's largest iced tea cup will be on permanent display!

If you're interested in learning more, I suggest reading this highly entertaining article from the Post and Courier.  The recipe for this 1425 gallon batch included 1600 lbs of sugar and 120 lbs of loose leaf tea from the Charleston Tea Plantation. You can also check out all the photos of sweet tea drinkers with their mugs of sweet tea on the Summerville, SC Facebook page.

05 June 2015

Camping Weekend

We had big plans for spending Memorial weekend in Savannah after spending a night camping with the bus club.  Well...we never made it past the campsite.  Savannah will be there anytime, but great weekends with great people don't happen often enough!
The campsite was only about an hour away, so we didn't get quite the shakedown cruise we expected, but I got to test out the brakes while we were still in the city - they work great.
When we first arrived at the site, we met some bus owners nursing a 4 week old kitten!  Roughly half the photos I took were of this guy:
As always, in between chatting with some really fun people, we were treated with some amazing food.  This weekend included some Southern classics that I hadn't tried yet - lowcountry boil and shrimp'n'grits!
To work off the food, we practiced hoopin' and also kayaked down the Edisto river.
Last but not least, plenty of relaxation.
Okay, and one more picture of the homicidal psycho jungle cat.  He's ferocious!

29 May 2015

Goals Recap

Suddenly May is coming to a close.  It was a great month!  We ramped up our weekend game this month with lots of events.
Here is May's list:
  • Have a Star Wars marathon.  We watched the original three, it had been so long since I've seen them!
  • Bus stuff (always). We didn't work on the bus too much this month, although Kyle knocked a couple things off the list.
  • Camping / Savannah trip this month!  Well, we never made it to Savannah...
  • We've volunteered at a brew festival at the end of the month.  After work today, we'll be on our way!
  • I've got to finish up the elderberry wine (again) and get a new batch of wine started.  Gah.  A new batch has been started, but the elderberry still needs to be bottled.
  • Plant more things in the garden / keep up with the garden.  I don't think I planted anything else, but we've been eating greens, radishes and peas and watching the tomatoes get bigger and bigger.
  • Make some fun anniversary plans.  I wasn't sure if we'd get a spot on the ferry out to Boneyard Beach, but we made it and it was a phenomenal trip - read about it here!
June is looking like a quieter month, but it's still early.
  • There's a concert in mid-June at the VW dealership - just a quick jaunt in the bus.
  • Piccolo Spoleto festival is going on, and I'd love to attend a couple events for that.
  • Ongoing bus work, of course.  Hopefully we can make some good progress in June.
  • As the summer months progress, it's going to get too hot for most garden plants, so I'm going to start working on a plan for the second season - the one that starts when it cools off a bit.
  • Play around with my camera more - spend one night at the beach taking photos.  I keep trying to learn more about photography, but when it's so sunny that I can't see my camera screen I can't tell how the photos are turning out so I don't really learn anything. 
  • I've been thinking about starting a webcomic, so I want to draw at least ten comic panels in June for practice.
That's about all I can think of right now.   Okay, on to photos from my month.  We spent the first weekend camping close to home.
The garden gets more and more out of control.  This photo is from mid-month, the tomatoes are much bigger now!
We spent a Saturday exploring a remote island.
The local wildlife kept us entertained.
I just love the beach.
Last weekend we went camping with the Moonies, which is always an out-of-the-box experience.  We planned on spending one night camping and then heading down to Savannah for the rest of the weekend, but camping was so great we couldn't leave.
It was such a perfect weekend, full of bright sun, great people, and cold drinks.  Not to mention the hula hoops, drum circle, and kayaking down the river.
We did so much in May.  And it's not over yet!  We've got awesome weekend plans that are sure to close out the month with a bang.  Summertime is the best time!

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)
  • 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
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.