AVOCATIONS

Pickling Effort Gains an Ally

An extra hand aids in rinsing and sorting the okra We knew that it would pay off at some point.  Happy to add my son, Samuel, into the okra pickling campaign for 2013. We sourced the okra this year from Gruber Family Farm in St. George, SC through GrowFood Carolina.  Good looking stock for the late summer.  We can can rest easy knowing that an extra rinse has been lovingly applied to each luscious pod courtesy of the little man.

Tomato time

Two flats of uggggly Brandywines and Cherokee Purples, ready to get sauced. Feeling good about putting up the first marinara sauce of the season.  I acquired a couple of flats of dead ugly Brandywine and Cherokee Purple tomatoes from GrowFood Carolina.  Big thanks to Sara and the crew for this delicious, local delights. These quarts of goodness will be nice reminders of the summer past, giving Old Man Winter a run for his money.

Remember When We Were Guest Squatters in a Dutch Kindergarten?

Classroom in a Tilburg, NL kindergarten; one of the current residents used this room for their child's birthday party a short time earlier. It was pretty strange, but certainly memorable.  Michelle and I were traveling through Europe before Thanksgiving this year. On the way from Brussels to Amsterdam we decided to drop in on our good friend Erik Boker in Tilburg, NL.  The itinerant Boker is pursuing an MFA in photography, his chosen medium.  We stayed with Boker in a once and future kindergarten school house that he is essentially squatting in legally, along with a half dozen others.

The kindergarten was left pretty much as is, less the furniture and adding the foosball table.

We didn't know quite what to expect for the accommodations, but I anticipated something smaller and more rustic.  This kindergarten was pretty modern and well appointed, with nice fenestration, broad well-lit hallways and even a natatorium for swimming lessons.  And it was enormous, large enough that each current resident had an expansive classroom with a dedicated kitchen and bath space.  The residents were spread out through the school with only a couple of people in each wing. For the Netherlands, the accommodations were huge, and in this case free.  Taking part in a government sanctioned program that places residents legally in buildings that for whatever reason exist in limbo, Boker submitted an application and was offered the kindergarten. His classroom is his main residence with a photography studio across the hall.  We used another smaller room nearby.  As I say, strange but memorable, and comfortable enough.

The natatorium; we used the shower of the adjacent infirmary.

This hall was the final leg of the bike ride back from anywhere.

The cards were useful as we got a handle on our Dutch.

From the Tilburg kindergarten

Bicycles outside of the main Tilburg train station

We had never seen anything like the the preponderance of bicycles that we saw in Tilburg.  The bikes outside of the train station numbered in the thousands and the network of dedicated bike paths through the city was deliberate and well-conceived.  Boker said that Tilburg was a pilot city within Holland in the 1970's for the changing of the surface transportation networks to better accommodate bicycle commuting.  Most streets, however small, had a dedicated bike lane lane, often separated by a curb. The biggest danger was being mowed over by a Dutch girl racing along on her commuter ride.  I have to say it was astounding for a tourist to see this.

Erik Boker, professional photographer, and our host.

We also couldn't help to note the things that we didn't see, which were overweight residents.  There were virtually none.  The typical Dutch diet is known for being heavy on fatty meats and cheeses, yet the residents are in superior condition compared to Americans, judging by outward appearance.  I'd have to think that peddling these heavy bikes around a few times a day doesn't hurt.

postscript: Last night I was having a cocktail with, among other good people, John Fisher, the owner of boutique wood flooring supplier J.L. Powell and Company of Whiteville, NC.  We were in the kitchen of the Beaufain St. condo of that a good friend of his owns.  John was born and reared in Whiteville, living there most of his life except for an education at Davidson College and many weekends chasing coeds in Chapel Hill.  The topic of the Netherlands came up and I mentioned the recent trip.  John asked where we'd gone and I mentioned that we stayed in Tilburg for a couple of nights.  "Tilburg! Hell! I used to be married to a woman from Tilburg!" he exclaimed with a laugh.  The people: the chief reason why I love living in Charleston.

Ansonborough Gold

I love okra pickles.  Aside from cheeseburgers, they are my favorite thing to make in the summertime. I put up okra pickles using a simple recipe from John Martin Taylor's excellent first cookbook, Lowcountry Cooking (Bantam 1992), which is being issued as a 20th Anniversary edition this month.  "Hoppin' John", as he is known, was an important figure in the resurgence of the traditional Lowcountry cuisine in Charleston and points beyond.

John opened a culinary bookstore in 1986 on the edge of Ansonborough in Charleston, and in it he would sell his homemade okra pickles alongside his books.  They must have been popular with his friends and neighbors --and they must have been dedicated cocktail consumers-- for they took to calling them "Ansonborough Gold".  In the recipe, John notes that his favorite way to enjoy them is "with a glass of chilled Russian vodka," which makes me smile thinking of the 1980's, for some reason.

I'm partial to Tito's Handmade Vodka, distilled in Austin, TX. They are also a fabulous garnish to a bloody mary (particularly made with Joe Good's excellent Fat and Juicy bottled mix) or by themselves right out of the jar.

We became interested in putting up produce a few years ago after we began gardening with our good friend Forrest Deleot at his James Island property.  He had a fenced garden space in his back yard that had severely overgrown over the preceding years.  We cleared it out and have been splitting the time in cultivating summer gardens ever since.  Having ready access to fresh produce all summer is addicting and brings us back year after year.

625 Rutledge Interior Detailing

We've had a bunch of early tropical weather this season which has perfectly coincided with my boating schedule.  Sunday morning tropical storm Beryl came through just in time to blow some friends and I out of a surf fishing morning on the eastern tip of Kiawah Island.

Being up and wired, I decided to knock out a couple of detail sheets for the 625 Rutledge restoration and renovation.  Historic Charleston renovations are a perfect opportunity for an architect to break out the pencils.  I find the the detailing that I do by hand tends to be better than computer drafted efforts.

Indication Number Seven

There are several indications that let you know that you are affiliated with builders that are not only excellent but truly exceptional.  One way is that when you put out a call for extra insect rot material to use as garden stakes, they bring you rips from mahogany moldings.  Thank you, Scott Koenig!

I have had the opportunity to work with Scott's company, Steven J. Koenig Construction, on one occasion in the past, and was very close to working with them on others.  We collaborated on a Mediterranean-inspired residence of exceptional quality  on Kiawah Island.  It was constructed from Insulated Concrete Form framing, which was the first time for either of us.  They did a wonderful job of working with clients who were relatively difficult to please.  In the end, the residence came out beautifully and we were all pleased with the results.

Koenig Construction is a family owned company with decades of experience on Kiawah Island and a long track record of quality and stability.  They were among a handful of contractors who ushered in a new level of capability and increased expectations for quality on Kiawah in the 1990's.

Many thanks to Scott for bringing by the high rent garden stakes.  Pretty safe to assume that we're the only gardeners on James Island (aside from Scott?) that can boast mahogany.  Only the best, I say!

Staking it up

Had a chance to do some weeding and staking at the garden on James Island last weekend.  Can already taste the tomatoes.  My good friend Forrest Deleot has the land behind his house and we pitch in to help purchase plants, till and plant, weed periodically, etc.

The plants are of to a good start despite the light rain that we've had.  Hopefully the plants will be stronger for  the early stressing.

We found a couple of years ago that steel rebar chairs, usually used in the construction of footings, make for great tomato plant supports.  The plants can be guided up through the wire structure without needing be to tied off.  A series of long wood stake material is used to tie the adjacent  tomato stakes together to make them more self supporting.  We use diagonal stakes every so often to stabilize the whole assembly.