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I currently live in Charlotte, NC and after spending 7 years as a personal chef and caterer, I am now happy to share my love of cooking with friends and family. My heart is in the kitchen, but my soul is in the stars!

Procrastination at its finest

Call me a procrastinator. Go ahead....I'm a big girl and can take it when people call me names. Especially when they're true. Give me any amount of time to complete a project and you'll find me in the 11th hour trying to put the finishing touches on it. True to form, here I sit finalizing this post for the July Daring Bakers' Challenge on the eve of it's due date even though I've had an entire month to complete the project. I'm not ashamed of my procrastination habit ~ I'm quite proud of it, actually, because I work better under pressure. When time is of the essence, I can turn out some fabulous results.

The July Daring Bakers' challenge was hosted by Nicole at Sweet Tooth. She chose Chocolate Covered Marshmallow Cookies and Milan Cookies from pastry chef Gale Gand of the Food Network.

The pressure was on this morning when I finally rolled out of bed at nearly 10am to get these cookies done. Each individual component was easy enough on its own but like most DB challenges, the time involved was rather extensive. We had a choice of making one of the cookies or both and since I was already under the gun, I chose to only make the chocolate marshmallow cookies. It was an all-day project and the results turned out great even though I wasn't overly impressed with the finished product. I'm more of an ooey-gooey, warm, slightly under baked chocolate chip cookie kinda girl myself but I think the guys at work will lay waste to these little chocolate dipped treats in no time.

The recipe said it yielded 2 dozen cookies so can anyone tell me how I wound up with 4 dozen cookies?? And exactly enough marshmallow to pipe on all 48 cookies? And just enough chocolate for dipping all of them? The longer I worked, the more they multiplied....it was like rabbits! The only problem I ran into is that, nearly 4 hours after they were dipped, my chocolate still has not set up. That may only be because I chose to use what I had on hand and combined 3 different types of chocolate. I wound up being 1 ounce short so I shorted the vegetable oil just slightly. I'm currently financially embarrassed thanks to a busted air conditioner and a trip to the beach, so it was nice to not have to add to my already exorbitant grocery bill for this challenge.
The real treat in this challenge was the homemade marshmallows. I've never made them before and I'm already thinking of other projects that I want to do with them and these will be at the top of my list!

Thank you Nicole for a great Daring Bakers' challenge and for giving me the inspiration for yet another project!





Mallows(Chocolate Covered Marshmallow Cookies)
Recipe courtesy Gale Gand, from Food Network website

Prep Time: 10 min
Inactive Prep Time: 5 min
Cook Time: 10 min
Serves: about 2 dozen cookies

• 3 cups (375grams/13.23oz) all purpose flour
• 1/2 cup (112.5grams/3.97oz) white sugar
• 1/2 teaspoon salt
• 3/4 teaspoon baking powder
• 3/8 teaspoon baking soda
• 1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
• 12 tablespoons (170grams/ 6 oz) unsalted butter
• 3 eggs, whisked together
• Homemade marshmallows, recipe follows
• Chocolate glaze, recipe follows

1. In a mixer with the paddle attachment, blend the dry ingredients.
2. On low speed, add the butter and mix until sandy.
3. Add the eggs and mix until combine.
4. Form the dough into a disk, wrap with clingfilm or parchment and refrigerate at least 1 hour and up to 3 days.
5. When ready to bake, grease a cookie sheet or line it with parchment paper or a silicon mat.
6. Preheat the oven to 375 degrees F.
7. Roll out the dough to 1/8-inch thickness, on a lightly floured surface. Use a 1 to 1 1/2 inches cookie cutter to cut out small rounds of dough.
8. Transfer to the prepared pan and bake for 10 minutes or until light golden brown. Let cool to room temperature.
9. Pipe a “kiss” of marshmallow onto each cookie. Let set at room temperature for 2 hours.
10. Line a cookie sheet with parchment or silicon mat.
11. One at a time, gently drop the marshmallow-topped cookies into the hot chocolate glaze (I actually balanced my cookie on the fork and used a spoon to drizzle the chocolate over the cookie).
12. Lift out with a fork and let excess chocolate drip back into the bowl.
13. Place on the prepared pan and let set at room temperature until the coating is firm, about 1 to 2 hours.

Note: if you don’t want to make your own marshmallows, you can cut a large marshmallow in half and place on the cookie base. Heat in a preheated 350-degree oven to slump the marshmallow slightly, it will expand and brown a little. Let cool, then proceed with the chocolate dipping.

Homemade marshmallows:
• 1/4 cup water
• 1/4 cup light corn syrup
• 3/4 cup (168.76 grams/5.95oz) sugar
• 1 tablespoon powdered gelatin
• 2 tablespoons cold water
• 2 egg whites , room temperature
• 1/4 teaspoon pure vanilla extract

1. In a saucepan, combine the water, corn syrup, and sugar, bring to a boil until “soft-ball” stage, or 235 degrees on a candy thermometer.
2. Sprinkle the gelatin over the cold water and let dissolve.
3. Remove the syrup from the heat, add the gelatin, and mix.
4. Whip the whites until soft peaks form and pour the syrup into the whites.
5. Add the vanilla and continue whipping until stiff (the recipe didn't state how long it would take but I found it took nearly 15 minutes to achieve a stiff consistency).
6. Transfer to a pastry bag.

Chocolate glaze:
• 12 ounces semisweet chocolate
• 2 ounces cocoa butter or vegetable oil

1. Melt the 2 ingredients together in the top of a double boiler or a bowl set over barely simmering water.

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She's A Peach!

After California, the state of South Carolina is the second largest producer of peaches and so consequently peaches can claim their rightful place as the state fruit. And if you've driven down Interstate 85 near Gaffney, SC you've most likely seen this water tank that often gets mistaken for my a huge butt.

In 2006, the SC Department of Agriculture reported that the peach industry brought in an estimated $40 million to the state and I'm quite sure the figures have soared even higher in more recent years. Just a few weeks ago, I forked over 6 of my hard earned dollars for a small basket of nearly ripe peaches from McLeod Farms in McBee, SC.
I figured since the town Constable was nice enough to not pull me over for speeding this time and make me pay a hefty fine, it was the least I could do.

There was a mad rush of people in the store and if I'd had more time, I would have enjoyed perusing the aisle of all things peaches ~ jams and jellies, salsas, freshly baked breads ~ but I was pressed for time and it's probably a good thing or else they'd have gotten more of my money. When I bought the peaches, they still needed a few days to ripen so I left them out on the counter until I decided exactly what to do with them. If you need them to ripen sooner, place them in a brown paper bag, close the bag, and lay it on the counter. They will ripen almost overnight because of the gases they emit.

And then it hit me....why not make something totally South Carolinian with my South Carolinian peaches? I rummaged through my recipe collection and finally found exactly what I was looking for ~ a recipe written by my friend Peggy Waller, the Inn at Merridun bed and breakfast owner from Union, South Carolina.

Carolina Peach Soup is quick, easy, and perfect on these hot and humid summer days. It's perfect as a first course as part of a brunch or light lunch and I also enjoy it for breakfast with a slice of freshly baked quick bread. And what the heck...have some for dessert too because it's just so good! Enjoy the recipe and, Peggy if you're reading, drop me a line because I want to come visit you very soon!



* Exported from MasterCook *

Carolina Peach Soup

Recipe By :Peggy Waller
Serving Size : 6 Preparation Time :0:00
Categories : Soups

Amount Measure Ingredient -- Preparation Method
-------- ------------ --------------------------------
5 large peaches -- peeled and quartered
1/2 cup sugar
1/4 cup fresh lemon juice
1/4 cup white wine
1 cup sour cream
1 tablespoon orange juice
peach slices and mint for garnish (I also added a sprinkle of ground cinnamon)

Puree peaches, sugar, lemon juice, and wine. Add sour cream and orange juice concentrate; blend until smooth. Refrigerate until well chilled.

Serve in a pretty bowl or cup with peach slices and fresh mint.

Source:
"Culinary Memories of Merridun"

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Tizzert's Carrot Pecan Cake


Wednesday is my favorite day of the week for numerous reasons, but mainly because it's the day that the food section is included with the newspaper. Forget world peace and politics ~ I want to read about fruits and vegetables and hot new restaurant openings!

On a recent Wednesday, there was a short press release about Tizzert's, a "custom cakery" that opened back in 1995 here in Charlotte having revamped their website. Even under normal circumstances, I would have been compelled to check out the website but this particular day I found it ironic that I was even reading about Tizzert's in the first place. It was probably about the same time, back in 1995, when Tizzert's first opened that the online version of the Charlotte Observer ran a press release about Tiz Faison and her desire to start a bakery. Along with the article was a recipe for Tizzert's Carrot Pecan Cake. Not having the perfect carrot cake recipe in my repertoire at that time, I printed it from the website and filed it away.

Fast forward to a few weeks ago when I baked a carrot cake for my co-worker's birthday. Guess which recipe I used? The recipe that had been used so many times before in my own catering business. The one that made a grand entrance for Captain Sturm's 40th birthday. The one and only Tizzert's Carrot Pecan Cake taken from the website some 14 years ago.

Not much of a from-scratch cake baker myself, this recipe bakes up perfectly every single time. It's moist and delicious and the velvety cream cheese icing is nothing but out of this world creamy goodness! Granted, my photo does not do justice to Tizzert's wonderful creation, but this photo was taken on the fly just before I rushed out the door to the office (I had actually forgotten the cake that morning and had to come back home to get it!) And I gave up trying to make my cakes look like something straight out of the Wilton Cake Decorating book. When garnished correctly with finely chopped pecans pressed all around the sides of the 3 layer cake, it is pretty impressive (again, please forgive me for sending this poor cake to slaughter without the proper garnish but it was Monday and I was late and she was lucky that I remembered to bake the thing in the first place.) Oh sure, the cake is loaded with sugar but it can conceivably be considered healthy and good for you since it has vegetables in it, right?

Congratulations on your booming business, Tiz, and great job on your new website.

Tizzert's Carrot Pecan Cake

Cake layers:
2 cups sugar
1 1/4 cup oil
4 whole eggs
1 tsp pure vanilla extract
2 cups all purpose flour
2 tsp baking soda
2 tsp baking powder
2 tsp ground cinnamon
1/2 tsp salt
3 cups grated fresh carrots
1/2 cup pecans, chopped
FROSTING:
2 8 oz. cream cheese
2 sticks unsalted butter
1 1/2 tsp pure vanilla extract
1 1/3 cup powdered sugar
DECORATION:
2 cups pecans, chopped extra fine
1/8 cup half pecan pieces or larger -- (1/8 to 1/4)

For cake:
Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Line cake pans with parchment & spray lightly with pan spray. Combine oil and sugar in a mixing bowl and cream until light. Add whole eggs and vanilla. Sift together dry ingredients. Add to bowl slowly and blend well until all flour is incorporated.
Add carrots and pecans to mixing bowl and incorporate well. Pour into prepared pans and bake for 25-30 mins. Allow to cool in pan at room temp.

For frosting:
Allow butter and cream cheese to come to room temp. Use an electric mixer with a paddle attachment and add butter to bowl and beat well. Slowly add softened cream cheese to butter mixture in small pieces to decrease any chance of lumps. Scrape down bowl and add powdered sugar slowly, again blending well. Add vanilla last. Scrape bowl and blend 1 minute until smooth. Use frosting at room temp.

To assemble cake:
Use 8" Cake circles to flip cooled cake layers out of pans. Remove parchment. Carefully, trim any excess edges with a serrated knife to level each level. Apply cream cheese frosting evenly to 2 layers only. Place unfrosted layer onto 1 frosted layer and fold last frosted layer on top of these layers (like a hamburger). Chilled filled cake in refrigerator or freezer 30 mins or more (wrap in plastic wrap if longer than 30 mins). Remove chilled, filled cake and set on turntable. Add 1+ cups frosting to top of cake and push to sides, slowly turning turntable as you go around sizes of cake with straight met 8" spatula. Use more frosting as needed. Scrape off excess when nearly finished. Smooth top with edges of off-set spatula, bring icing into the center of cake. Place finely ground pecans into large bowl. Hold cake in your strongest hand on cake circle and slowly touch pecans to sides evenly from top edge to bottom edge. Place completely "crumbed" cake on cake platter or final presentation plate. Using large pastry bag with large star tip, pipe rosettes in even numbers at edge of the top of the cake to represent a slice (12 works nicely). Sprinkle rosettes with half or larger pieces to complete cake. Refrigerate before serving.

Source:
"AroundCarolina.com"

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Picnic At The Pops

The Charlotte Symphony Pops In The Park series concluded July 3 after a resounding success both in performance and fund raising. The financially strapped orchestra raised nearly $150,000 this season from patrons eager to pay the small suggested donation. In addition to doing my part monetarily, I also contributed to my favorite summertime activity by introducing "newbies" to four of the symphony concerts. I hope they, in turn, will continue to populate the lawn each summer with friends and more friends.

Not only did I show up with new people in tow, each week also brought new and exciting picnic fare. Simplicity was the key for each of the concerts so that I could enjoy the day doing other things and not be stuck in the kitchen prepping and cleaning. Rosemary Flatbread with Bleu Cheese, Grapes and Honey from Food and Wine magazine was a delicious combination of sweet and savory and considering that I'm not a huge fan of bleu cheese, that's a pretty bold statement. I'm fully aware that all of these components compliment each other but it would never have occured to me to combine them in this manner. While this was quick and easy to put together, it does require a bit of planning in order to make the dough and let it rise.

If you're in the mood for something a little more substantial, then no doubt this overstuffed
muffuletta sandwich will fill the void. Another simple and delicious snack to pull together but again, forethought is required. The olive tapenade needs to be made at least a day in advance so the flavors can meld and the longer the assembled sandwich sits, the better it tastes ~ perfect for a picnic because it won't get soggy. Tangy and spicy, this hearty sandwich is not for the faint of heart!

Insalata Caprese is probably one of the most elegant things you can prepare for a picnic. Thick sliced heirloom tomatoes layered with fresh mozzarella, and fresh basil all drizzled with first cold pressed extra virgin olive oil. Amore mio! Of course, I do have to admit that I don't keep the dish true to its Neapolitan roots because I also add a dash of balsamic vinegar and some coarsely ground sea salt. It is imperative to use the best of fresh, home grown tomatoes and basil ~ do not refrigerate either of them prior to making the salad or even after assembly or else the flavors will diminish ~ and make sure you choose a very good fresh mozzarella and not the rubbery stuff that is so common in the grocery stores. Mozzarella di Bufala is ideal but sometimes hard to find so a good fresh cow's milk cheese will work just as well. Each and every item in this salad is showcased so it is important to use quality, fresh, and expensive.

My coveted picnic backpack is neatly store away until next summer but in the meantime, I hope you enoy these recipes and enjoy the summer!

Muffuletta Sandwiches

1 cup pimento-stuffed green olives, crushed
1/2 cup drained kalamata olives, crushed
2 cloves garlic, minced
2 tablespoons drained capers
1 tablespoon chopped celery
1 tablespoon chopped carrot
1/2 cup pepperoncini, drained
1/4 cup marinated cocktail onions
1/2 teaspoon celery seed
1 teaspoon dried oregano
1 teaspoon dried basil
3/4 teaspoon ground black pepper
1/4 cup red wine vinegar
1/2 cup olive oil
1/4 cup canola oil
2 (1 pound) loaves Italian bread
8 ounces thinly sliced Genoa salami
8 ounces thinly sliced cooked ham
8 ounces sliced mozzarella cheese
8 ounces sliced Provolone cheese

To Make Olive Salad: In a medium bowl, combine the green olives, kalamata olives, garlic, capers, celery, carrot, pepperoncini, cocktail onions, celery seed, oregano, basil, black pepper, vinegar, olive oil and canola oil. Mix together and transfer mixture into a glass jar (or other nonreactive container). If needed, pour in more oil to cover. Cover jar or container and refrigerate at least overnight.

To Make Sandwiches: Cut loaves of bread in half horizontally; hollow out some of the excess bread to make room for filling. Spread each piece of bread with equal amounts olive salad, including oil. Layer bottom of each loaf with 1/2 of the salami, ham, mozzarella and Provolone. Replace top on each loaf and cut sandwich into quarters.

Serve immediately, or wrap tightly and refrigerate for a few hours; this will allow for the flavors to mingle and the olive salad to soak into the bread.

Source:
Adapted from allrecipes.com

NOTES : Marinates overnight.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Rosemary Flatbread with Bleu Cheese, Grapes, and Honey

Ingredients
1 envelope active dry yeast
2 tablespoons sugar
2 cups bread flour, plus more for rolling
3/4 cup warm water
2 teaspoons chopped rosemary
1/2 teaspoon fine salt
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground pepper
1/2 pound red grapes (1 1/2 cups)
Coarse sea salt
3 ounces bleu cheese, crumbled (1/2 cup)
1 tablespoon honey
1 tablespoon snipped chives

Directions
In a large bowl, whisk the yeast and sugar with 1/4 cup of the flour. Stir in 1/4 cup of the warm water and let stand until slightly foamy, about 5 minutes. Add the rosemary, fine salt, pepper and the remaining 1 3/4 cups of flour and 1/2 cup of water; stir until a dough forms. Turn the dough out onto a lightly floured work surface and knead until smooth, about 5 minutes. Transfer the dough to an oiled bowl, cover and let rise in a draft-free spot until billowy and doubled in bulk, about 1 hour.
Meanwhile, preheat the oven to 450°. Place a pizza stone in the bottom of the oven, and preheat for at least 30 minutes.
Turn the dough out onto a lightly floured work surface. Press and stretch the dough into a 13-inch round, then transfer to a lightly floured pizza peel. Press the grapes into the dough and sprinkle with sea salt.
Slide the flatbread onto the hot stone and bake for about 12 minutes, until the crust is golden and the grapes have begun to release some of their juices. Sprinkle the bleu cheese on top and bake for about 2 minutes longer, until the cheese melts. Slide the flatbread onto a work surface and drizzle with the honey and sprinkle with the chives. Cut into wedges and serve.

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Turning Two Never Tasted So Good!



Could you say "No" to this face? I think not. I'm not made of stone, people. A few weeks ago I was asked by my friend Mary to help plan the party of the year for this handsome little man. It's a major milestone turning 2 years old, is it not? No longer a baby nursing a bottle and almost a man just as soon as you let go of the pacifier and can fully grasp the concept that food goes in your mouth and not on the floor (I believe I've dated a few who were just barely out of this stage themselves.)

I must have been absent the day they handed out the wanton need to have children because I've never had the desire myself ~ partly because I never really felt like I was old enough yet and mainly because I've never met the right person. But this cutie pie makes me feel all tingly in my nether regions. I'm thinking Mary should just turn him over to me one night when he's cranky and experiencing one of those "terrible two" moments and it will be enough to make me celibate for the rest of my life. But while the euphoria lasted, I decided this little prince needed a cake to remember for his big day.

This sinfully rich, decadent chocolate ganache cake is from one of my all-time favorite chefs, Ina Garten. The book Barefoot Contessa Parties! was given to me years ago and page 88 is one of the many dog eared pages. The cake is typical Ina style ~ overly impressive in appearance and unbelievably easy to make with very few ingredients.

The recipe as written makes only 1 layer which is enough to put anyone into a sugar coma but that just wouldn't do for the birthday boy. Mary and I decided to turn it into a 3 layer cake with raspberry mousse sandwiched between the layers, dripping with rich chocolate ganache and garnished with fresh raspberries. Oh Lordy! I wish I'd taken a picture of the other older children camped out in a complete circle around the cake just waiting for it to be sliced. I don't think they ever took their eyes off of the tower of fudgy chocolate.

Happy birthday John Wyatt and I wish you many, many more!

Chocolate Ganache Cake
by Ina Garten, the Barefoot Contessa

1/4 lb butter, at room temperature
1 cup sugar
4 eggs, at room temperature
1 (16 ounce) can Hershey chocolate syrup
1 tablespoon pure vanilla extract
1 cup all-purpose flour

For the ganache:
1/2 cup heavy cream
8 ounces semi-sweet chocolate chips
1 teaspoon instant coffee granules

Preheat the oven to 325 degrees.

Butter and flour an 8 inch round cake pan (see note ), then line the bottom with parchment paper.

Cream the butter and sugar in the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment until light and fluffy. Add the eggs one at a time. Mix in the syrup and vanilla. Add the flour and mix until JUST combined (overbeating with make the cake too tough).

Pour the batter into the pan and bake for 40-45 minutes, or until just set in the middle. Don't overbake! Let cool thoroughly in the pan.

For the ganache, cook the heavy cream, chocolate chips, and coffee in the top of a double boiler over simmering water until smooth and warm, stirring occasionally. Place the cake upside down on a wire rack and pour the glaze evenly over the top, making sure to cover the entire cake and sides. You can tilt the rack to smooth the glaze. Do not refrigerate.

Just a few side notes....the recipe indicates that you should use an 8" round cake pan but I have my doubts that it wouldn't overflow. We used 9" and they worked perfectly. Also, the cakes freeze well. Cool completely and wrap really well in plastic wrap. Pull out of the freezer a few hours before final assembly and let thaw.

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Grand Strand Sabbatical


This 4th of July holiday I was one of the multitudes of people headed to Myrtle Beach, SC for some fun in the sun. Despite being one of the main attractions of the SC coast, there is just no easy way to get to Myrtle Beach no matter which direction you are traveling from. Seeing long stretches of nothingness with a spot of destitute here and there was nothing new for me ~ it reminded me of where I’d been for the past 6 years and how far I’d traveled to be where I ultimately wanted to be. It gave me plenty of time to reflect on the past 9 months of my new life and how unbelievably stress free, carefree and happy I’ve become. It also gave me time to catch up on inspiration for some of my writing that I’ve been neglecting. The ideas starting flowing as the miles ticked by…

You may never take cooking advice or recipes tips from me, but if you can take just one thing away from your time here with me, please let it be this….when you find yourself on this same journey toward the sand and surf, PLEASE obey the speed limit through those little non-coastal towns. If you’re not careful, you won’t even realize that in a blink of an eye the 60mph limit suddenly dropped to 45mph and in another blink down again to 35mph. Nope, you won’t even know until you find yourself sitting on the side of the road surrounded by flashing blue lights and handing over $250 of your beach spending money to whatever municipal that the man in the uniform represents. And don’t feel bad when it happens to you because it happens to almost all travelers through the area ~ even the speed conscience Captain Sturm got a ticket once and although I was asleep in the passenger seat when it happened, somehow it was my fault.

The Grand Strand hasn’t changed much in my nearly 7 year absence. The landscape is more dotted with high rise condos, hotels, and beach houses but what I love most about Myrtle Beach is even though there is a certain level of classiness about the place, there is also a good dash of cheesiness mixed in. Tacky t-shirt and souvenir shops line the south end of Ocean Avenue where airbrushing is still all the rage. You can get a henna tattoo, hermit crabs, a belly button piercing and a newspaper thin beach towel for $1.99. The cheesiness works and it’s there for those who have not yet grown to appreciate the finer things in life. It’s for those who will develop an innate fear of throwing up on amusement park rides. It provides an atmosphere conducive to passing out from too much...uh...heat exhaustion. Yeah, heat exhaustion. Uh huh. And many a na├»ve young girl will sell her soul during a game of putt-putt to an Italian man during a weekend rendezvous.


But not me ~ I’m down on the classy north end of town because I've finally outgrown the lures of the south end of the Strand. This trip, I could be found enjoying some great seafood at Sara J’s located at 314 Atlantic Ave, Murrells Inlet, SC. It was a tough decision, but finally I decided on the crabcakes and was rewarded with 3 huge cakes served with a side of orange marmalade. They had more of a crispy deep fried appearance instead of the typical bread crumb exterior and there was very little filler, instead they were chock full of flaky sweet crab. An excellent choice indeed!

Murrells Inlet is also home to Spuds Waterfront Dining where I found myself on the 4th of July feasting on grilled shrimp and scallops before the big fireworks extravaganza. Both were cooked to perfection and the outdoor patio provided an excellent view of the 4th of July boat parade.











As a true Southern girl, I'd be remiss if I didn't mention that both meals were served with the deep fried delicacies known as hushpuppies. Dipped in honey butter, they're the perfect appetizer for any meal served by the ocean or otherwise.

My sabbatical ended with a fabulous fireworks display at the Surfside Beach pier that continued through the evening along the beach. It was the end to the perfect weekend that served the purpose of rejuvenating and inspiring my soul.

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