I remember exactly when Danny and I met: October 1, 2010. We were newspaper interns sharing a breaking news beat and an address, each renting a room in a house with another woman and a cat.
One night, walking on Bayshore Boulevard after dinner, he almost kissed me.
On a trip to Ikea, 500-Days-of-Summer-style, he almost kissed me.
Until finally, one day, he did. We were on the couch, our bellies full of homemade pizza and my lips stained with red wine. By Thanksgiving, we were together.
By February, I said I love you. By spring, we had keys to our first apartment. And by this time next year, we’ll be married.
Two weeks ago on a weekend trip to Charleston, Danny proposed! I said yes, of course.
* * *
We went to Charleston to get engaged, but we were also there to eat well. The biscuits, crawfish, shrimp and grits, benne wafers, the pork — I love it all. Have you heard of tomato pie? It is a Southern dish and it’s a big thing in Charleston. I’ve wanted to make tomato pie for some time now. Picture pie crust cradling fresh tomato slices, herbs, cheese, and, yes, mayo. This is a Southern recipe after all. I know it’s not high time for tomatoes just yet, but I couldn’t wait. Summer feels like it’s here already.
I can’t wait any longer for tomatoes. For July. For pool days and a new pair of sandals. For the slowdown of time and fierce sunshine that seems to become part of me.
I can’t wait for a wedding in Miami.
I can’t wait to marry you, Danny.
That weekend in Charleston was perfect, and I want to return every April to be reminded of those magical days and being in love in a city that now feels like it’s ours somehow. A certain spot off of Queen Street certainly feels like it belongs to us.
How he proposed
Well, he did it in an alley.
As far as alleys go, it was a nice alley. Beautiful, really. Cobblestone on the ground. Brick on one side and coral walls on the other. The whole thing lined with plants and bushes.
It’s not what he’d originally planned.
On Saturday afternoon, we returned to our hotel to get ready for happy hour cocktails and dinner. I didn’t think anything of it when Danny said he couldn’t find the hotel key (he misplaces his keys sometimes). He asked me to help find it. Check my jacket on the chair, he said. In my hurry to get ready and out the door, I stuck my hand into a pocket of his blazer. Nothing. In the second pocket, I found the key card and said, okay, let’s go! I later thought there might have been something else there… Turns out he was behind me on one knee, waiting for me to pull out the little box with a ring inside. But I didn’t!
His plan totally went over my head. I didn’t even notice when he beelined for the bathroom to take a deep breath and quietly freak out.
As we walked to a restaurant, I could tell he was stressed, and he even said he felt sick, but after we visited a couple bars he seemed fine and we headed to Husk for dinner. If he was nervous then, I couldn’t tell. Hand in hand, we walked down Queen Street in the lovely French Quarter, just the two of us. Charleston is lively and full of friendly people, but on some stretches it can be private. Like you’ve been transported to another time. We came up on a building that stood out with its huge wooden doors, and Danny led me around the corner. Halfway down the street, he kneeled. He reached in his pocket for a ring and asked me to marry him.
We went back to the same spot the next morning to take pictures and it was even more lovely during the day. A few people were setting up a pop-up brunch. It turns out this alley has many names (Dueler’s Alley, Philadelphia Alley, Cow Alley) and is rumored to be haunted. It has history. And I love knowing that now it shares some of our history, too.
Our stops in Charleston
Heirloom Bookshop // The most adorable shop with vintage and rare cookbooks. We went home with an omelette cookbook that Danny couldn’t put down. He makes the omelettes in our house, and I can’t wait to try some new (old?) recipes. The space is also shared with The-Commons, a recently launched store featuring American-made goods for the home. We picked up some new plates and locally made tonic for our home bar.
Xiao Bao Biscuit // One of last year’s top 50 new restaurants, according to Bon Appetit. We loved the dumplings and a bowl of Chinese sausage with beans, which came with some tiny and powerfully flavored black beans that I declared must be the anchovy of beans! The bartender said they were just regular black beans with seasoning. I was stupefied.
Charleston Cooks! // A fun kitchen supply shop, but this time we took a cooking class, too. We weren’t there more than two hours but I learned quite a bit and it was well worth the $25. We tried Hoppin’ John, chess pie, and pork chops enhanced in a mini stovetop smoker. We snagged one of those baby smokers on our way out, too.
Husk // We loved it just as much as our first time there. Right after Danny proposed, we went here. A late dinner reservation meant we ended up having the balcony to ourselves soon after we sat down. We had oysters, catfish, those crispy pig ear wraps, and a bottle of bubbly rosé. We ordered two desserts, of course, and that pecan pie with bourbon ice cream was something else.
Dixie Supply Bakery & Cafe // A low-key and delicious spot for a Lowcountry breakfast. I had a crawfish benedict and Danny had biscuits and gravy. They also offer tomato pie and baked goods.
Slightly North of Broad (SNOB) // We only stopped here for a drink and a small plate of mussels at the bar, but this is the place all the locals mentioned to us, including, ahem, Nathalie Dupree, who I was lucky enough to speak with a few weeks ago at a USF food conference (!!!). She said it’s one of her favorites. So is Hominy Grill, which we also love. Order the Big Nasty.
The Macintosh // We had seafood charcuterie, which I’d never heard of before, and bone marrow pudding. Fantastic. And I had a cocktail made with ghost chili pepper.
Belmond Charleston Place // Our hotel for the weekend. Beautiful and in an ideal location.
More old-fashioned tomato pies slather the tomatoes with a top layer of mayonnaise and cheese, but I couldn’t resist letting the tomatoes take center stage. It looked too pretty. This recipe is adapted from Virginia Willis via Southern Living.
for the pie crust:
1 1/4 cups all-purpose flour
1/4 cup cold vegetable shortening, cut into pieces
4 tablespoons cold unsalted butter, cut into pieces
1/2 teaspoon fine sea salt
3 to 4 tablespoons ice-cold water
for the filling:
2 1/4 pounds tomatoes, thinly sliced
1 1/4 teaspoons kosher salt, divided
1 onion, diced
1 tablespoon canola oil (or leftover bacon grease)
1 1/4 teaspoons freshly ground pepper, divided
coarse ground or dijon mustard
1/2 cup freshly grated Gruyère cheese
1/2 cup freshly grated Parmigiano-Reggiano or Pecorino Romano cheese
1/4 cup mayonnaise
1/2 cup assorted chopped fresh herbs (such as chives, parsley, and basil)
To prepare the pie crust, process flour, butter, and salt in a food processor or stand mixer until mixture resembles coarse meal. With processor running, gradually add 3 tablespoons ice-cold water, 1 tablespoon at a time, and process until dough pulls away from the sides of the bowl and comes together, adding up to 1 tablespoon more water, if necessary. Shape dough into a disk, and wrap in plastic wrap. Chill 30 minutes.
Heat oven to 425°F. Unwrap dough, and place on a lightly floured surface; sprinkle lightly with flour. Roll dough out to 1/8-inch thickness. Press dough into a 9-inch pie plate. Trim dough 1 inch larger than diameter of pie plate; fold overhanging dough under itself along rim of pie plate. Chill until firm, 20 to 30 minutes.
Line pie crust with aluminum foil and fill with pie weights or dried beans to keep the crust from bubbling up as it bakes. Bake for 20 minutes. Remove weights and foil. Bake until browned, about 5 minutes. Let cool slightly. Reduce oven temperature to 375°F.
Meanwhile, prepare the filling. Place tomatoes in a single layer on paper towels; sprinkle with 1 teaspoon salt. Let stand at least 10 minutes to draw out some moisture.
Sauté onion and 1/4 teaspoon each salt and pepper in hot oil in a skillet over medium heat until onion is tender, 3 minutes.
Pat tomatoes dry with a couple paper towels. Spread an even, thin layer of mustard over the bottom of the crust. Sprinkle evenly with onions and 1/3 of the cheese. Arrange half the tomatoes over the cheese and cover evenly with 1/3 of the cheese, mayonnaise, and half of the herbs. Arrange the remaining half of the tomatoes over top and sprinkle with the rest of the cheese. Season with a pinch of salt and pepper.
Bake at 375°F for 30 minutes or until lightly browned, shielding edges with foil or pie shield to protect the crust from browning too much. Garnish with remaining herbs. Serve hot, warm, or at room temperature.