A Road Trip to Charleston + Savannah

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It was good from the start. We stopped to have biscuits for breakfast at our neighborhood cafe — setting the right tone for a trip through the South — and then headed north with a full tank of gas. Something about a road trip is a lot more relaxing and freeing than waiting in line for security at the airport.

You set your own pace. You can pull over when over you want to or see something interesting, and the roadsides on the way to Georgia and South Carolina certainly try to get you to stop. From Tampa, this route requires a sort of scenic drive through Ocala. Road signs try to lure you in for late-summer peaches. Keep driving and they’ll mention fresh shelled peas and local honey, too. About 10 miles outside of Charleston, the signs all want you to pull over for shrimp.

But we were planning on lunch in Savannah.

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We didn’t arrive in time for a family-style meal  so our first stop in Savannah was The Crystal Beer Parlor, one of the oldest restaurants in the city. It’s casual and the food was satisfying after a long drive. We tried some local beers and took a quick drive downtown, which has cute cobblestone streets, crazy roundabouts, and horse-drawn carriages. Then we checked into our bed and breakfast, a lovely house by a river.

For our one night in Georgia, our dinner reservations were at Local 11 Ten, where the cocktails were fantastic and we shared a particularly great dish of scallops with pickled ramps. Our airbnb host recommended we follow our $14 drinks with a round or two of $4 whiskeys at the American Legion next door. Good call.

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Back in the Day Bakery was our quick stop for afternoon coffee and trinkets. I got my hands on a couple jars of INNA jam and spotted the most amazing marshmallow chandelier. Maybe we can make our own some time. We picked up an old typewriter print at a shop around the corner and found some plates at an antique/consignment store.

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Traded my palm trees for palmettos that weekend.

In the morning, we headed to Charleston to make it in time for the farmers market, which is definitely worth a visit. We perused the goods at a kitchen store near the waterfront and shared a BLT and beers at Blind Tiger Pub. We spent three hours taking tours and exploring at Middleton Place. We learned that rice was the crop of this state and Southern brides here are given South Carolina rice spoons, which measure out the perfect serving of rice. Fleet Landing served up some pretty stellar grits and we made it to Wild Flour Pastry for sticky buns.

The Gin Joint was so good we went back a second time. It’s a small bar with excellent bar food (think pad thai popcorn or chicken and sweet potato waffles) with even better cocktails. Their list of cocktails is enticing (I almost ordered one called Squid Lips) but we couldn’t help ourselves from the bartender’s choice box of words. Choose two words and the bartender makes you a cocktail. Danny chose smoky and refreshing and won every time.

He chose those words for three rounds and got three different drinks. One was smoky from mezcal. The best were smoky from scotch. The first one, which the bartender called Flowers and Ashes, was a mix of Laphroaig, elderflower liqueur, and gin. I was blown away by how smooth, delicious, and balanced it was. The second scotch cocktail, the Angostura Prescription, boasted an ounce and a half of Angostura bitters and acid phosphate to maintain sourness. Whoa. We didn’t want to leave.

But we had a much anticipated dinner reservation at Husk; one of the best meals we’ve had at a restaurant waited for us.

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Baked Feta with Blackberry and Rosemary Compote

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Vacations revolve around food for us. There’s usually a list of must-try restaurants in a new city and probably a market or two. Other attractions are scheduled around brunch and dinner. You too, right?

But meals comes into focus when we’re playing host as well. Friends or family taking a trip to visit us means offering up good eats and good drinks.

I took Friday off to hang out with Danny’s mom, Kathy, who was visiting for a few days. The day started with a leisurely breakfast at a nearby cafe, which always makes it feel like vacation. Even if it’s not my trip.

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For lunch, we arranged a  fruit and cheese platter and later that night we grilled bison for the first time. There were three kinds of really good ice cream for dessert. Whiskey and Pecans. Dark Chocolate. Salty Caramel.

All good, yes, but I couldn’t let the trip end without making the recipe we’d bookmarked a few weeks ago.  Kathy has a monster sweet tooth, but cheese always shows up on the table when we’re together, too.  We first made baked feta more than a year ago. It was broiled, salty, and topped simply with almonds.

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Fig and Almond Cake

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I made this cake before everything started to change over here. Peaches were still front and center at the market. Eight kinds of plums were on display. Two so-called velvet apricots. All of the eggplant.

Some of those fruits are still there, but roma and gala apples bumped peaches off to the side. Enormous, swollen-looking pumpkins replaced the watermelons. Those striped melons are gone.

But somewhere between these icons of summer and fall, there are the figs. They showed up at some point in August, but to me they seem at home in September.

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I love figs forever with cheese and prosciutto, but it’s good to switch things up. So, this cake.

I’m trying to be better about making recipes that catch my eye sooner rather than later. David Tanis wrote about figs recently in his City Kitchen column, and the photo of a fig and almond cake convinced me to try the recipe that week. Besides, wherever Tanis goes I like to follow. Continue reading  continue reading

Baby Sweet Peppers with Quinoa and Chorizo

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If you follow us on Instagram (me; danny) you may have noticed that we recently took a road trip through the South. We spent a night in Savannah before hanging out in Charleston for the rest of the weekend. I’ll have photos up soon, hopefully with a recipe for grits. For now, I have these baby sweet peppers we shared just before vacation.

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I couldn’t resist these small sweet peppers at the market. Roasting them softens their edges and concentrates their sweetness. Stuffing them with quinoa, chorizo, and cotija cheese just seemed like the right thing to do. This makes for a great little appetizer or a light dinner for happy hour at home. Or loco hour, as a sign in South Carolina called it.

I also roasted a couple of poblanos, which used up the rest of the quinoa mixture. The poblanos were also delicious but packed a lot more heat than those little orange and yellow ones. So much heat that I later regretted not wearing gloves while handling them. Between my index finger and thumb, it burned like hell. I tried dipping my hand in milk. Vodka. Absinthe. Half and half. Vaseline. None of it quite worked. Only sleep, which was hard to come by, eventually helped. So, wear gloves when preparing those peppers! Poblanos are not as sleepy as they seem.

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