So many (great) wines, so little time at the Wine & Food Festival

Another Hilton Head Island Wine & Food Festival has come and gone and lucky for me I was able attend this singular event again after taking a 2 year hiatus. I attended my first one back in my early 20’s (and now you can, ahem, double that) when it was held at Shelter Cove Marina under one massive tent. The event, which started out 27 years ago as simply ‘Winefest’, has seen some changes over the years, and like many a good wine, has improved with age in my opinion and rightfully morphed into a “Wine & Food” event.

The Festival includes not only the outdoor Public Tasting, but 6 days of events chocked full of the best domestic and international wines and glorious gourmet options for the foodie in you.

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Lift a Fork in Praise to Music To Your Mouth

I must admit it had been a while since I had tread the moss-draped – and admittedly quite spectacular – avenue of oaks that leads to Palmetto Bluff. Car parked and off on foot (too nice of a day to take the golf cart shuttle), I rounded a corner as a couple on bikers (of the non-motorized variety) ambled past me – the gentleman is clad in dusty orange (or maybe it was peach?) almost high-water trousers with nautical emblem belt, slightly wrinkled button down shirt and much to my amusement, penny loafers and NO socks; the unofficial state men’s attire of coastal South Carolina. I knew I was in the right place!

But I digress. This event is about food, not fashion so I doubled my pace toward the huge tent; the sweet smells of both familiar and unusual culinary temptations beckoning me with each step. Music ToYour Mouth, now in it’s fifth year, is a foodie experience second to none.

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Going Locally Lowcountry – It’s Festival Time In Hilton Head!

To me fall is the perfect time to take stock of Hilton Head Island’s bounty and make some eating, drinking and general having fun plans around the boom of upcoming events in the area. When I was younger the SC State Fair was always an event us kids looked forward to as much as college football games and Halloween. While the carnival rides were amusing, my favorite part of our annual pilgrimage to the land of corn dogs, cotton candy and elephant ears were the farm animal barns, believe it or not. According to my cousins my immediate family was considered “city folk” (even though we had a huge backyard garden, our address was a rural route and my mother raised quail at one time) whereas they lived and worked an actual farm with hogs (really big pigs) and cattle and horses and chickens – the real deal.

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Foodies Best Kept Secret No More!

It’s no secret to the foodie friends and fans of Hilton Head Island that the island and environs are home to an incredible array of restaurants, cafes, and caterers with talented owners and chefs creating tasty, delectable menus. Hopefully this blog has highlighted some of those who are also embracing sustainable business practices by using in-season ingredients purchased from local farmers, fishermen and purveyors. Some are going a step further by growing their own produce and herbs, teaming with local farmers to compost their kitchen scraps and even “putting up” locally grown vegetable and fruits for later use.

Over the past summer it’s been an awakening I’ve seen for myself at the local farmers markets, among the chefs and restaurateurs I’ve interviewed, in the media and with visitors to the Lowcountry. Recently, special events, held from the bright lights of Broadway to the moonlit skies above our own Coastal Discovery Museum, have brought the one-of-a-kind flavor and the emerging culinary stars of the Hilton Head Island into the national and even international foodie vanguard. In New York, the Conde Nast dining rooms welcomed SC coastal cuisine with dishes prepared by local chef and Food Network Star contender Orchid Paulmeier. A “deconstructed” Lowcountry boil was the showstopper recipe convincing editors and foodie insiders to take a closer look at the burgeoning Hilton Head Island food scene.

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Ode to the ‘Mater at the Sea Grass Grille

As the balmy days of August recede in Hilton Head Island so begins a bittersweet time of year for local foodies as we say farewell to a favorite southern summer fruit, the tomato, and hello the local bounty of goodness found in autumn’s garden and coastal waters. Plucking the last ruby red local ‘maters in late summer, making a last fresh tart or pie (or even just eating one out of hand!) is a ritual for me going back to my childhood. With a soft sigh my mother would announce, “We’re down to our last Big Boy. I’ll slice it up for lunch.” So we would each get a slice or two, then silently move fork to mouth, eating each bit very slowly, attempting to make that unmistakable and lovely home-grown tomato taste last as long as possible.

However, I put the cart before the horse. These days more farmers, especially here in the Lowcountry are growing in 2 (some 3) seasons and at last week’s farmers market (Hilton Head Island and Bluffton) there were still plenty of local tomatoes to be had. And at Sea Grass Grille there is still their signature Carolina Tomato Pie to be eaten!

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Honey of a Summer at Lee Bees!

On a recent jaunt over to the Bluffton Farmers Market, I turned the corner and ran smack into the sunflower-yellow awning staked by the folks from Lee Bees, Ron Weisburg and his wife and partner, Cynthia Lee Dekun. Just the apiarist(es) I was looking for!

On my last visit I ran out of time before I could talk bees and honey, so they were my first stop on this trip. Ron is actually the apiarist, i.e. beekeeper, taking care of his honey and wax-making kingdom whilst Cynthia creates a fantastic assortment of honey-infused skin products. Now, I am normally more fascinated by the yummy for the tummy honey (and they produce this in abundance) however, I was drawn to the far side of their space first by the herbal scents and skin-soft-as-butter allure of Cynthia’s soaps, creams and shampoos.

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Cheers to Our 2011 Wine Spectator Award Winners!

It’s no secret that this gal is partial to the grape and all it’s wonderfulness. My husband, who easily confesses he never liked wine before our courtship, now regularly relishes a smooth pinot noir in summer as well as a spicy syrah in winter. While I do not pretend to be a wine expert nor an oenophile, I do thoroughly adore tasting wine and even more so creating pairings wine with food. Friends know when they are invited to take a seat at my table for a dinner party I have specifically chosen wines to complement the food I’ve prepared. To me it’s part of the creativity and adds to the fun in planning and executing a delicious meal. Some of the best times in my life include a table full of friends – with glasses full of wine!

Visitors and residents of Hilton Head Island should rejoice that so many local eateries do take their food and wine menus seriously. This year, 11 local restaurants have been recognized by Wine Spectator Magazine for their outstanding wine lists. Three of these, Charlie’s L’Etoile Verte, Red Fish and The River House at Palmetto Bluff received the designation of “Best of Award of Excellence”, a second tier award for establishments that exceed the first tier Award of Excellence requirements with wine lists that display vintage depth or excellent breadth across several regions.

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For the Love of Herbs: Isa’s Gourmet Cooking Delivers

To be honest, I did not grow up with my Mother using a whole lot of fresh herbs in her cooking. She did grow dill, which she used in pickling, curly leaf parsley and some mint, but that was about it. I discovered a whole new world the first time I used fresh oregano and basil in homemade tomato sauce and the first time I used fresh thyme I swore the dry, store-bought version would never again pass my lips. I began growing my own herbs in pots, which I carted from apartment to condo to house. I had my first rosemary plant for almost 10 years, finally bequeathing it to a friend when a long-distance move (and the fact that it was a bushy 4 feet tall) kept it a Lowcountry local.

In Hilton Head Island the wonderfully temperate weather makes for some awesome herb growing conditions, especially if you go the container route and have a sunny spot indoors for the few times tender plants should be protected from cold. And when some plants have nearly completed their growing cycle, I dry or freeze the leaves or blooms.

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Feed Your Soul at The Jazz Corner.

Part of the reason I like to cook is that it can be an incredibly relaxing experience and also provide a sense of accomplishment. I start with a recipe, some ingredients and a certain amount of time and in the end I am happy to gobble up the results. When I combine it with my favorite tunes, even tackling the most challenging recipes can become literally a piece of cake. A little My Morning Jacket…or Allison Krauss or maybe if I’m baking bread, Paul Simon’s Diamonds on the Soles of Her Shoes always seems to make the dough rise a little higher.

There’s a real, undeniable connection between food and music. Maybe it’s a deep-rooted human experience, offering more than mere sustenance by moving the pleasure palate through all five senses – smell, taste, sight, touch and sound – simultaneously. I just know it makes me really happy. It

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Soups On! At Gourmet Soups by Daphne

It’s the time of the summer in Hilton Head Island when vegetable and fruit bins overflow with the best of the season. It makes me think about… soup. Well, besides fried onion rings (Vidalia only, please!), roasted corn on the cob and fresh figs drizzled in balsamic honey dressing – but that’s another story or rather, another blog post.

While my Mother made several types of delicious soups, chowders and stews, her claim to fame in the area of brothy, savory delights is her vegetable soup. I don’t think she ever follows a recipe per say, but her best concoctions are always loaded with fresh corn, carrots, okra, potatoes, sweet peppers, and squash simmered in a piquant tomato base. The herbs she uses are sparse – some garlic, a little thyme, perhaps some basil and lots of ground pepper. Occasionally we’d be given a heartier version, by the addition of braised beef bones or ground beef and consommé, but always the fresh garden flavors were omnipresent.

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