Sunday, December 13, 2009

eat!, hilton head island, s.c., dec. 8

while we were in hilton head earlier this month, we went to a restaurant by a food network chef. one reason we went is because he was supposed to open a restaurant in st. pete, to great fanfare, but in the process, we reported that most everything he claimed on his resume was a lie. word was his business relationships were already shaky at that point, and eventually the project was scrapped. but then a very similar project opened in hilton head.

i wrote a story about it for the paper. i was going to blog in more detail about the food, but scrapped it when real life took over. (see previous post.)

anyway, we thought most of the food was pretty good. here is link to my story in the times.

meeko, 1995-2009

it started out under a lawn mower south of miami.

my herald colleague bill van smith was about to mow his lawn. before starting the mower, he heard something from underneath. so he looked. there was a stray cat nursing three new-born kittens.

it was the summer of 1995. well, it was miami, so it was always summer. it was june. pam and i had just bought a house, and one of the reasons i was looking forward to owning instead of renting was that there would be no extra charges on the mortgage for having pets. it was a big deal for us at the time to pay the extra fees and deposits for razzle, the cat that we already had, so as long as we were renting, we couldn't take on a second.

so when bvs said he couldn't keep the kittens because he already had too many cats, we said we'd take one. sight unseen. bvs decided to give us the black and white one with the white-tipped tail and the peace sign on his forehead. so when the kitten was old enough, bvs brought him in and gave me the kitten and $40 to get him snipped when he was old enough. i told him we'd take care of that, but he insisted.

so that night i took home a cat that would become a huge part of our lives for the next decade and a half. and $40. best deal i ever made.

when it came to naming him, we waited to see what would fit his personality. and he had so much of that. we were struck by the mask-like markings on his face. disney's pocahontas was in theaters at the time, and while we weren't crazy about the movie, her scampish raccoon was named meeko. he sort of looked like a raccoon. it sounded good. it stuck. (years later, our niece was at the house. she was young enough that i really didn't understand anything she said. but when we told her the cat's name was meeko, her face lit up and as clear as anything, she said, "MEEKO!" )

a big reason we wanted a second cat was because we thought that our cat razzle, who was 6 or 7 at the time, would like having another cat around. her pet. we were wrong. there was a lot of growling and hissing for the first couple of weeks. meeko wanted to play. razzle didn't. ultimately, they came to a truce. i don't know if they ever really liked each other, but they tolerated each other.

meeko was amazing. when we brought him home, we weren't sure if he was a long hair or a short hair. all his white hair seems long and fluffed, while his black hair was short and shiny. and he was round as a tennis ball with a tail.

he did not stay tiny.

he quickly graduated to juvenile-sized. he was long, tall, strong and lean. and as big as he was, his legs and ears seemed disproportionately huge, which we were told meant he wasn't done growing.

it was true.

eventually, he hit 19 pounds. and for a long time, it seemed like he was 19 pounds of solid muscle. his black hair eventually caught up with the white hair, giving him a beautiful coat, a muscular build, an expressive face and a lot of attitude. he knew how good looking he was. it wasn't unusual to catch him sitting there, looking in the mirror. well, ok, it was unusual. but it wasn't something that surprised us when we saw it anymore after the first few times.

at our house in deerfield, we had to be careful what room we put him in if we needed him to be locked up. the house had lever-style door knobs, and if the door opened out, we couldn't leave him there. because as soon as he was tall enough, he figured out how to reach up, pull the lever down and push.

we lost razzle shortly after moving to clearwater, and when we decided to bring in a new cat, we picked up najah. she was about 6 months old, fluffy and full of energy. she wanted to play. meeko didn't. and so we learned about a whole different kind of circle of life. when we brought home jazmine a couple of years ago, meeko all but rolled his eyes and said "here we go again."

but with a houseful of cats, he became an elder statesman. at times when we was obviously not feeling well, the girls would defer to him, leave him alone, wait in line behind him. and when he was feeling better, all bets were off. he was fair game to be chased and jumped on. it got to the point that one way to tell how meeko was feeling was to see how the girls were treating him.

while our other cats seem to gravitate to either me or pam, meeko was truly "our" cat. he didn't have a favorite. he loved us both. if the two of us were sitting, watching tv, he would sit on one of our laps, then after a while, get up and go to the other. and it wasn't always a matter of who had food.

i had a million nicknames for meeko. bubba. buddy, chico. meeko-chico, panda cat. meek-meek. he ignored them all equally. i always figured that since he was from miami, he just spoke spanish. but i talked to him all the time. i think he understood.

we lost meeko friday night. there a several scenarios that could have played out that would have had us not be home at the time. but we were. and as awful as it was, it would be immeasurably worse right now had we not been. i can make arguments that i didn't see it coming or that we've seen it coming for two years. he had been sick, but he seemed to be doing well lately. he climbed to the top of his tree on friday morning to take his pills. he jumped up to sit in my lap on friday afternoon. and then a little after 11 p.m., he was gone.

as far as i'm concerned, razzle is showing him around the new digs, and telling him what territory she has staked out, and where she'll let him go. and deep down, they like each other, and that all those times where she tried to eat him when he was little, she was just kidding.


(pam put together a short video tribute click here to go to her blog to watch it.)

Thursday, December 10, 2009

hominy grill, charleston, s.c., dec. 7

so, rachael ray went to hominy grill on $40 a day. anthony bourdain went there on no reservations. adam richman went there on man vs food. so when we were within two hours of charleston, we made a point of hitting it for lunch.

after i made plans to go there, i learned that chef robert stehling won best chef-south from james beard in 2008. which make
s it funny that it took three tv shows to get me there. the best chef thing is usually all it takes.

anyway, rachael had the catfish. bourdain had the shrimp and grits. and adam went for breakfast and had the big nasty, a fried chicken bisc

didn't want catfish. i made shrimp and grits at the hotel one monday night. and while i would have liked to try the big nasty, we didn't get there until after noon. so, no dice.

nce we found a parking space on the second pass, we went in. nice townhome-y kind of place. very southern look. all the specials and desserts were up on chalkboards. i like that.

we started off with the picnic sampler. it had some pimento cheese, some country ham, some beet-soaked boiled eggs and okra pickles. i hat okra, but hadn't had it pickled, so i tried it. it was fine. the pimento was very garlick-y. i don't know that i had ever had country ham before, but had heard and read about it so much that i was looking forward to it. i heard it compared favorably to prosciutto and serrano. i don't know about that, but it was good. my favorite thing,
though, was cleaning up. after the toasts were gone, there was a little of everything left over. the pimento cheese was in a butter lettuce leaf, so i picked it up, added the rest of the ham and the
last quarter of egg and had it like a low country lettuce wrap.

then i had the low country purloo. i'm sure there's a really long, interesting story on what the heck purloo means, but here is what i determined: seemed like jambalaya to me. and no, i don't know what the heck jambalaya means, either. is was a rice stew with sausage and ham, and on top were chicken wings and cornmeal-crusted fried shrimp. i liked it. all the components were good. they worked well together. while there was plenty for lunch, i thought it was kind of expensive for how much there was. i wondered if the prices were at that point before it was on all the tv shows.

oh, and i had a side of fried cheese grits. they were actually in a light batter. very creamy and tasty. love grits, tho. i'm easy.

i had actually considered having the fried green tomato blt instead of the purloo. that sounded like a really good idea. but i wanted to try more than a sandwich.

after that, we consulted the chalkboards for dessert and asked our waitress for suggestions. she said that all three of the cakes were served at her wedding. and she also said that the chocolate pudding was the "best in the world." so we got that. none of the cakes appealed to me, so we also got the buttermilk pie. i wasn't sure what buttermilk pie was, but the waitress told me it was a lot like chess pie. um, oh. didn't have the heart to tell her i had no idea what chess pie is. it was lemon-custardy. i'll take it. was the pudding the best in the world? well, i haven't had all the others, so i don't know. it was really thick, chocolatey and nicely not-too-sweet. it was more mousse-y than pudding-y. that is officially not a complaint. apparently, the pudding has been featured on food network's best thing i ever ate, where someone -- our waitress thought maybe bobby flay -- had declared it his fave. i can see it. it was good.

love to go back for breakfast sometime to try the big nasty. i don't see ever being in charleston at breakfast time, tho. we'll see.

-- so, i mentioned that bourdain had the shrimp and grits. that is a signature here, and normally i like to order the signature stuff, but we avoided the shrimp and grits because i had made it at the hotel the night before. we always buy grits when we go through south carolina, and since our hotel in hilton head has a kitchen, i make shrimp and grits. this is this year's attempt. looks good. tasted fine. but something was missing. i realized this morning that it was tabasco. i thought i packed it, but i guess i forgot. oh well.