Tea in Charleston

So after many days shooting on the water at Charleston Race Week (with not a single iced tea in sight), it was my pleasure to head into the town of Charleston to find a well-deserved beverage. My first stop was actually by luck. My original destination was 39 Rue de Jean, where the owner recommended that I stop for lunch before leaving town. I parked nearby at the Charleston Visitor Center and right there in front of me was The Charleston Tea Company on Ann Street. I was exactly what I was looking for, as it was not quite lunchtime and I had a bit more work to finish that day. It was quaint and almost hidden under a parking garage. They have a full cafe menu and the most sugary pralines that I have had to date. Not only do they have a full selection of loose tea of all kinds, but also they also have a grand variety of iced teas ready to pour! I decided on the mint tea. It was power-packed with mint flavor! It was almost…and I mean almost…too minty. But within a minute as the ice started to melt, the flavor eased into perfection.

I was happy again, as the glass frosted over in a chilled tea delight.

But lunch was beckoning me and I was anxious to try out this french bistro, so highly recommended. 39 Rue De Jean on John Street is a throwback to the Brasseries of the 1800’s in France.  It is a 2-story warehouse building that was renovated into this delectable french bistro. Brass railings surround the full bar and the decor is dark, yet with a modern twist. Le téa glacé est tres bon! Although I really would have preferred a St-Germain with Champagne. But with a long drive ahead, I decided against it.

Bouillabaisse was the Plat de Jour and the chef offers Bowls of Mussels prepared six ways on the lunch menu. I was a little surprised to see a full Sushi selection however. I decided in the chicken, ham, and brie sandwich served on a crispy baguette with red wine mustard and arugula. A perfect way to end my trip to Charleston. I hope to return and try all the other specialities someday – and also get that cocktail.

Half Sweet Half Unsweet at 39 Rue de Jean, Charleston, SC

Half Sweet Half Unsweet at 39 Rue de Jean, Charleston, SC

Microwave Heating Instructions (not recommended)

When my son was in preschool, breakfast was his favorite meal of the day. He happily climbed up his chair to devour whatever awaited him in his Thomas the Train bowl. His favorite was cheesy grits, as it was the morning version of his other favorite food, mac n’ cheese. I personally overloaded on Pop Tarts as a child and I was not going to make the same mistake with my children. So I did the best I could with the time allowed.

Once at school, we would walk hand-in-hand down the halls that were covered in student art, from last week’s choring hours at the craft table.  Classmate Marcy was usually sitting out in the hall waiting for class to start. She was regularly holding a damp paper towel with a droopy, round piece of dough hanging over it. A microwaved pancake. She looked like she was bobbing-for-apples as she tried to get the floppy flapjack in her mouth. I loved to watch her.

The microwave has always been a mystery to me. I wanted one so badly when I was a child.  Everyone on our street had one. What in the world were my parents waiting for? I actually remember the day we got ours, because my parents splurged for the microwave storage cabinet as well.  There was a serious lack of counter space, so this was a big deal.

I experimented with it like a reckless scientist. The food was piping hot the in middle, as the scorched finger-test would establish more times than I care to mention, yet it was frozen on the top. The vegetables were soggy, the noodles exploded and the sugar melted off the cinnamon buns. Plus, if you stand to close too the microwave you will become radioactive. (My friend told me that on the playground merry-go-round, so it must be true.) I did not want to show up to school glowing, so I kept my distance. I followed the push-the-button-and-run method.

As an adult, I am still wary of the microwave. The first weekend in December each year, we take a trip the mountains. It is a relaxing holiday trip with friends to hike and watch football (SEC Championship game weekend). Baking cookies became a tradition on this trip and ours kids had the job of decorating. The tube of icing that my friend brought was to be microwaved, to thus make it “squeezable”. Now, dealing with a foreign microwave can be daunting. The power levels all vary and goodness knows what two minutes at level 5 will be capable of? In this case it was supersonic. A red icing explosion of uncharted proportions. Relaxing trip on pause.

But microwaves have improved over the years. The threat of nuking my brain is somewhat alleviated. The hot spots seem to have sorted themselves out, and with savvy programming you may be able to keep the sugar on your buns. But you still can not put a pancake in the microwave and expect it to stand upright in your napkin. Unless of course, there is a new version out there that toasts and nukes. I will be last on my street to own that as well.

Shortcuts in general have rarely served me well. Not just in food preparation, but in most of life’s tasks. I was visiting a friend’s horse farm yesterday and carefully tracked a “shortcut” route on my map. I was going to avoid all the commercial intersections and enjoy a drive down a winding country road. Midway down that quaint country road, I arrived behind the road-painting truck. It happily took up both lanes and moved at what I could gauge was about 3 MPH. My odometer does not really clearly break down anything under 10 MPH, so that is my best guess. Shortcut busted.

The toaster oven has become a staple in our kitchen. Despite the extended cooking time, we use it daily. Why just make a sandwich when you can have toasted cheese melting over the sides? Chicken nuggets are meant to crunch when kids bite into them, not shoot blazing chicken juice, compliments of the nuke-machine. And please tell me how to compare a crunchy slice of leftover pizza to the wimpy microwaved version?

My kids know that soup gets cooked in a pot, vegetables steam in a steamer and chicken is baked the in the oven. Spend the time to cook it correctly and enjoy the fruits of your labors.

But do know that if your hot cocoa gets cold, please feel free to use the microwave.

The Art Connoisseur

Human beings are curious by nature. Some more then others. I once asked a girlfriend what she did on her recent beach vacation. She told me that she sat by the pool all day and “people-watched”. Not exactly my cup of tea, but I have to admit that some of her stories were particularly colorful.

We often notice exceptionally fashion-forward ladies while they shop. As they peruse the merchandise, onlookers are noting her choices. As she steps away, they flock to follow in her footsteps and grab whatever she approved. I thought if I ever own a shop, I will hire her to simply browse.

Today I was walking through a local antique shop. I enjoy the myriad of flashbacks that only objects from my youth can stir. From across the store, I saw a stately gentleman studying something. I did not give it much thought. As I turned the corner of the next aisle, he was still there and in deep concentration. My curiosity is starting to pique. He was moving in close to take a good look at the piece on the wall. Perhaps studying the paint strokes of a talented local artist?  Maybe he has discovered the work of a famous painter that has been stored in someone’s attic for generations? I was growing more inquisitive, as he continued to examine the piece.

Trying not to seem obvious, I sauntered down the next aisle.  It was full of your general run-of-the-mill relics. Nothing compared to whatever was inevitably at the end of the aisle!  He was still there as I approached. He was now standing back, as if to get the whole picture in view. He even had his hand gently scratching his chin. He was contemplative and educated. A true art savant!

Smoking Stand

Smoking Stand

I dabbled around with an unusual vintage smoking stand to kill time. Actually the smoking stand was something that I just would have walked by without a second look. But it was a cool sign of times past.  It even plugs in and lights up for evening smoking parties. Very Gatsby.

Eventually the gentleman pulled himself from the piece, to no doubt finalize his purchase. I am sure he has the perfect spot for the masterpiece in his home. Maybe over the fireplace in his library or the guest suite in his mountain cabin?

As a student of Art History, I have to admit that I do still enjoy studying artisans. I appreciate the passion and creativity that goes into one’s work. I personally look to buy art that has a story and is not sold bulk in retail markets. Antique stores are a great way to find such treasures.

Onward to the end of the aisle. I turned with anticipation and there it was in all it’s vintage glory. Although certainly not what I had expected. It was a poster featuring Ann Sheridan and Veronica Lake in their skivvies selling diet pills. I found myself coming in close to read the details. I also found myself stepping back to give the poster a full viewing. Then I slipped away quickly.  I would not want any onlookers to get the wrong idea.

Lesson learned, as I had fallen into the curiosity trap myself.  I later saw the gentleman at the register with a hula lamp. I will not be hiring him to browse in my store.SLIM the way the stars SLIM

Half Sweet + Half Unsweet

I was born in a small town on Long Island, NY. Our backyard had an apple tree that supplied just the right amount of shade for my mom and baby brother, while my sisters and I would climb and swing. In the winter, my father converted our family vegetable garden into our own personal ice skating rink. Wonderful memories were made in our small backyard.

Hanging in the shade with older sis

Family would come to visit on the weekends from all over the state. Wood-framed canvas folding chairs were placed in a circle, with the occasional stroller parked in between. The picnic table was covered in casseroles, salads, pies and the iced tea was unsweetened.

I have always been a sweet tooth. I blame my dad for this affliction. If I eat a salty dish…then I crave sugar. A savory meal can only be followed by…sugar, sugar, sugar!  Breakfast cravings regularly include pound cake and beignets. When I was a child, grocery shopping was a favorite of mine. My mother would all pile all of us into the car and hop on over to the Gristedes. While she was busy at the deli counter chatting with the locals, my brothers and sisters would visit the coffee sample table. It was stocked with little paper cups with handles that pulled out to make it into a mug. I however, I had no interest in the coffee (and still do not to this day). I was on a sugar mission. I filled by mini mug with sugar from the dispenser and just a splash of coffee. This ensured a nice syrupy concoction. With the aid of my wooden stirrer, I slurped it down before mom was even done ordering. Ahhh Gristedes!

When I was in first grade, my father got transferred to Virginia. Our new house was situated on a big hill. It was perfect for winter sledding, as well as our notorious summer favorite, the Slip and Slide. Or better known as the Slip and Wipe-out.

Inveidable wipeout forthcoming

Inevitable wipe out forthcoming


Neighborhood kids frequented our home for kickball and badminton tournaments. We all mastered the art of catching fireflies in canning jars. With hard work and determination, my sister and I perfected the three-legged race. We were awarded the coveted blue ribbon annually at the Delaplane Strawberry Festival. The chicken was fried, the music was bluegrass and the tea was sweet. My plastic curly straw was getting a full workout at the festival that day. I could not get enough.

Practicing at the lens in the early years

Practicing at the lens in the early years

As the years passed, I would find myself flip-flopping between the two beverages. Sometimes I enjoy the flavor of the tea on its own, as an accompaniment to festive dessert or a fancy meal. On the other hand, there is simply no earthly way to sit down to a southern BBQ without a chilled sweet tea in my hand. I understand that we are not dealing with an extensive wine list here. We are talking about iced tea. But the sugar factor does in fact play into a meal pairing.

I’m a strong proponent of being a “low-maintenance diner”. I have always tried to be respectful of the chef and leave the meal alterations to a minimum. I also believe that everyone should wait tables at sometime in their life. After many serving jobs over the years, I can say that I have seen the best and the worst of people. It can be a very humbling, but also taught me a lot about how to treat others.

On a beautiful autumn day a few years ago I stopped for an iced tea at a local favorite, the Plum Street Cafe. I was waffling with the sweet-factor of my tea.  I could not decide, as I did not have a meal to base my preference. When my friend, the lovely Chef Monica asked, “Karen, do you want me to mix a little of both?” The rest, as they say, is history.

Plum Street Cafe Iced Tea To Go

Plum Street Cafe Iced Tea To Go

I realize that this comes at the expense of the hard-working servers. I also understand that I am breaking my low-maintenance rules.  I do always follow-up my request with a very polite, “if it is not too much trouble?”, particularly if they are refilling via the pitcher method.  However, I must stand true to my upbringing and represent accordingly. For I am a northern girl who was raised in the south, and I take my tea…half-sweet, half-unsweet*. Please know that you will be tipped accordingly.

*I do understand that unsweetened is the correct spelling for the term of tea sans sugar.  We just cut it short here in Georgia.  Do you want sweet or unsweet?