Mark and I have just returned from 5 days in Charleston, SC, where his family lives. You know you like your in-laws when visiting them is your idea. Mark’s uncle, Jeff, is an avid gardener who owns two properties, both of which sprout delicious vegetables year-round. My dream is to one day live close enough to Jeff that he’s able to garden on my property, giving me rights to forage a salad from his plants every day. Many of us pitched in at dinner time while we were there, but Jeff and Mark’s aunt Joyce were able to provide fresh lettuce and other veggies plucked fresh from their gardens. It’s things like that that tempt me to submit to their hints that we should move down there from horrid, freezing Northern Virginia!
Jeff is a big fan of Middle Eastern food and one night treated us to one of his favorite meals – one I’ve never had before – an Egyptian dish called foul mudammas (“foul” is pronounced “fool” and it’s far from foul). Per my request, he and Joyce shared a recipe they originally got from the internet and have been making frequently since then. Foul Mudammas is a peasant food: cheap, filling, delicious, often served as breakfast, and depending on how poor you are, possibly lunch and dinner. Although we had it for dinner, I can see its appeal as a savory breakfast, especially in the summer, its bright bite a lovely way to begin the day for those of us lacking the sweet tooth most American breakfasts appeal to. I think Jeff has made this dish so many times he operates on instinct now, but here is the original recipe he worked from.
1 lb cooked fava beans (either canned or soaked and cooked dry beans)
1 lb cooked chick peas (either canned or soaked and cooked dry beans)
1 cucumber, diced
1/2 cup chopped tomato (about 1/2 can diced tomato)
1/2 cup lemon juice (about 2-3 lemons, squeezed)
1/2 cup parsley, chopped
1/4 cup olive oil
2 large radishes, sliced
several cloves garlic, minced or pressed
1 tsp salt
1/4-1 tsp cayenne pepper (the recipe given to me calls for 1 tsp, which seems like a lot to me…and I like things spicy)
Warm the cooked fava beans and chick peas, then transfer them to a large bowl. Add the lemon juice, garlic, and salt and mash together until about half of the beans are broken down and the rest are still whole. Add the remaining ingredients and combine well. Serve with pita bread.
We served this with pita, hummus, sliced cantaloupe, tossed salad, and Joyce’s crunchy, spicy black-eyed peas, which I should have demanded a recipe for as well. Scrumptious! Have I mentioned that Mark’s entire family happily eats vegan whenever we’re around? Sometimes I forget that’s probably actually unusual, but they are people who frequently eat vegetarian and vegan anyway, so I know we aren’t putting them out. Still, I love it and I know I’m lucky.
Mark’s mom never fails to find some new adventure for us to try while we are down there, with a heavy emphasis on nature, animals, and photo ops for my sake. Mark’s parents, aunt, uncle, and cousins moved to Charleston about six years ago, so it’s not like this is their hometown, but the more times we go down to visit, it’s probably getting harder and harder for my mother-in-law to find new places for us to go. I’d tell her not to worry so much about entertaining us except, well, I LOVE nature, animals, and photo ops. She outdid herself this time with Cypress Gardens, about 45 minutes north of the city of Charleston. Cypress Gardens has several attractions, including a lovely butterfly house that I loved, a very small aquarium which I hated (I do not like aquariums or zoos), and a black swamp which I loved, loved, loved. If you can get past the fact that there is an aquarium there, the swamp is TOTALLY worth the drive if you ever find yourself in the Charleston area.
There were plenty of butterflies fluttering around the butterfly house and perhaps I’ll share some pictures in a later post, but today, how about instead a butterfly-to-be?
In addition to butterflies and caterpillars, inside the butterfly house there were a few turtles, an ankle-biting duck, an observational bee hive (which would have upset me except the bees were free to leave through a dedicated bee exit to the outside), and few different birds including these pudgy quail:
They had to drag me out of the butterfly house, but only because I didn’t know how awesome the swamp was going to be. So, the swamp is black because the cypress trees leach tannins into the water. My mother saw my pictures and freaked out about the alligator (!!! yes!), but until then it hadn’t occurred to me that some people might not find a combination of alligators, vultures, and black water to be the greatest experience ever, but I was in heaven. Almost literally: I commented it was like being in a dream. We were fortunate to be there on the one really nice day (out of a couple very cold and one rainy day): sunshine and 60′s – very beautiful – but really almost any weather is going to give you a variety of awesome photos, beautiful for different reasons. I’m itching to go back on a foggy, misty day. There is a walking trail around the swamp, but what you want to do is take one of the paddle boats for either a self-guided (included in the admission price) or guided (for an extra fee) tour. We paddled at a leisurely rate (or rather, Mark and his mom paddled at a leisurely rate while I sat in the middle seat and rapturously snapped hundreds of pictures), and it took about an hour to complete the loop around the swamp.
The swamp pictures are best viewed in high-res, so the rest of the photos in this post are linked to big versions; just click on them for the full-size version.
The black water is almost mirror like, adding to the dream-like aura. We encountered only one other boat during our winter Presidents’ Day sojourn, so it was extremely serene. This is an accurate photo of what it looked like:
I was totally focused on how amazing the trees and black water were, but when I managed to look up, I found VULTURES! This involved a few demands to stop the boat so I could take pictures and generally rhapsodize.
The water was very, very calm, with little visible life teeming around. I saw a turtle or two sunning itself, but the greatest part was when Mark claimed he saw an alligator. Now, there was a sign where you get into the boats saying there may be alligators, and a wishful-thinking Renae even boldly exclaimed, “I sure HOPE there are alligators!!” as she stepped into the boat, but neither his mother nor I believed wolf-crying Mark when he cried alligator. Except he DID see an alligator and soon we did too!! We paddled right by him!! How awesome is that??
If you’ve been reading this blog for a while, you know what’s coming next: the infrared shots. Yes, the swamp, like a lot of South Carolina locations, lends itself very well to infrared photography. This one incorporates several elements: you can my mother-in-law’s paddle in the lower left, the super reflective water, and in the distance a couple of park benches framing the trail around the swamp.
I chose to include this one because it shows one of the white arrows (on the tree in the middle; it’s hard to make out if you aren’t looking for it, but it’s the lighter-colored rectangle on the tree bark) that mark the route that you are supposed to row, although I then realized that if you look at the photo above this one, also on the middle-most tree, there is also a white arrow. Because the swamp is a complex and fragile ecosystem, you don’t have free reign to row willy-nilly throughout the swamp: you are to follow the unobstrusive arrows through a set path. Fortunately, it’s a long, meandering, very interesting route, although you do have to go under a couple of low-clearance bridges, which I found to be part of the charm.
That’s all for tonight…I was going to show you a dog picture or two, but I think I’ll save those for next time.