Friday, January 22, 2021

CALABASH EXPEDITION!

Many folks are beginning to make their way back to inside restaurant dining, now that we are several months into the COVID19 Pandemic, and the food service industry has implemented steps to make the experience as safe and enjoyable as possible.  This photo shows I was one of those people venturing out to see what the world outside my own little kitchen looked like!  Even though it has been a long time since I have been very close to a human chef, I felt it would be safe to get my photo taken with a chef statue, because he was wearing a mask, as was I!


The restaurant I was visiting is located on the IntraCoastal Waterway (shown in photo), in Myrtle Beach, South Carolina.  Since the waterway connects to the ocean, it makes it easy for the restaurant to advertise that all their seafood is South Carolina grown.


I learned a new culinary term when I visited Myrtle Beach, and that word is "calabash".  Calabash-style seafood is lightly breaded and fried, and typically served buffet style.  The seafood is always accompanied with a side dish of hush puppies.  Cornmeal is used for the breading, instead of flour, to give the seafood a light coating.  The seafood is then fried in hot oil, until it becomes golden brown.  To make sure I do not forget this new-to-me culinary term, I have a tee shirt with the word printed into its design!


I mentioned in the previous definition of calabash seafood that it is usually served buffet style, and so it is no surprise to see a sign that says the restaurant where I experienced my first calabash seafood, was voted "the best all you can eat buffet in South Carolina by Reader's Digest".  (And "digest" is what my stomach was doing for a very long time, after all the delicious morsels I fed it from this buffet!)


No need to "clam up" and be quiet, when there is a giant pan of steamed clams awaiting your taste buds!

Likewise, if the pandemic has you feeling a little "crabby", you can work through those feelings of hostility, as you PINCH the dickens out of these critters, to get at the tasty shreds of meat they conceal, beneath their hard outer covering!


One of the measures for improved sanitation that buffet restaurants have implemented, is providing disposable gloves for the patrons to use, each time they touch the handle of a serving utensil.  As you can see that means there has to be an ample supply of the gloves available for patrons. One entire serving station had been converted to a "glove storage station"!

As you can see from this photo, the buffet line is covered on both sides with a very substantial sneeze guard.  This clear tunnel reminds me of the shark tunnel I saw at the Myrtle Beach aquarium, and since there are sharks mounted on the wall above the serving stations, it was very appropriate!
 

For years, sanitation regulations at buffet restaurants have called for getting a clean plate with each trip to a serving station.  Since the COVID19 Pandemic, buffet guidelines also call for each guest to use a fresh disposable glove for each trip to a serving station. 

In addition to an amazing variety of seafood, The Original Benjamins also had a GIGANTIC hunk of beef at their meat carving station!  To find out the most up to date hours of operations for this restaurant, visit their website at www.OriginalBenjamins.com

Another type of cuisine I tried while in Myrtle Beach, was a "buffet" of quick-serve restaurants, which I encountered at the Market Hall, in Tangers Outlet, in Myrtle Beach .

Notice the easily-seen and easily-accessed hand sanitizer station in front of the restaurants in the Market Hall.  These were found at all the food service establishments I visited.  To get a complete listing of food service providers that you can visit at this location, go to www.TangerOutlet.com

So far in the article, I have told you about buffet restaurants, and quick-serve restaurants, but I also had the pleasure of enjoying some elegant, "sit-down and served" meals while in Myrtle Beach.  And since the meal started with a beautifully plated and colorful salad of fresh vegetables, I was a happy diner!

Likewise, the main entree that followed the salad course was also attractive and yummy!  Meals such as this can be arranged at Sea Watch Resort ( www.seawatchresort.com )


In addition to having meals served beautifully on a plate, we had some fantastic meals served in a box! (see photo below)  At the Ripley's Aquarium (www.ripleys.com), our group had the opportunity sample the box lunches that are available through their catering service.  And no need to ask for a "leftovers" box if you cannot eat it all, because the entire meal comes in a box that you can take with you, to have as a snack later!


This photo shows some of the boats moored at Barefoot Landing in Myrtle Beach, which is situated along the IntraCoastal Waterway, and this is another area where visitors have a plethora of dining options, which you can find listed on their website, at www.bflanding.com.

One of the many restaurants you will find there is LuLu's, which is a restaurant group (usually located in popular waterfront destinations), that is owned by the sister of popular recording artist, Jimmy Buffett.  Her website is www.lulubuffett.com  Their website advertises "Gumbo Love", as does the gigantic sign printed on the top of their roof!  So, if you would like to experience some popular Gulf Coast cuisine, stroll into Lulu's!


A visitor does not have to look very far to find a waterside dock in Myrtle Beach.  Our group walked past the one in this photo, as we headed to the Wicked Tuna Restaurant, in Murrells Inlet, near Myrtle Beach. 


Most waterfront restaurants try to provide outdoor dining options for their guests, and Myrtle Beach is no exception.  These outdoor dining spaces became particularly important during the pandemic.  At the Wicked Tuna restaurant, we were seated in their outdoor dining room, and it was delightful!  The photo shows one of the heaters designed especially for areas such as this, that can help take the chill out of the air. 


Our group had the wonderful opportunity to try small amounts of every single appetizer they offer on their menu.


Likewise, we could order their main dish sampler platter that gave you a small serving of each of the many types of seafood they offer.  Their website (www.thewickedtuna.com) states they have their very own fishing fleet, to insure their "Hook to Plate" fresh seafood philosophy, is delivered every day!

Another restaurant we visited was the Hook and Barrel Restaurant.  They had a lovely oyster bar, and diners would watch a highly skilled worker shucking the "fresh from the sea" oysters.  It gave new meaning to my understanding of the cliche, "AWE, shucks!".  "AWEsome" is how I would describe both the food, and the decor, at this establishment!

I was as intrigued with the ceiling lights made to look like jellyfish, as I was with the single light bulbs dangling from a huge nautical-looking rope!  Their design elements were inspired by their commitment to reduce their environmental impact , in hopes of providing a better future for the planet.  They are especially happy to tell folks that the wood seen inside the restaurant was milled from trees cut down, on the lot where the restaurant sits.  Likewise, they choose their menu items based on the product's sustainability.  To take a complete look at all they have to offer, visit their website at www.hookandbarrelrestaurant.com


Yet another new-to-me menu item I tried in Myrtle Beach was the sweet potato pancakes, served with maple pecan butter.  They were delicious, and can be found at the restaurant inside the Island Vista Resort.   And you do not have to be a guest at the resort to enjoy these items for either dine-in, or carry-out, meals.  Their website is www.islandvista.com.


If you are one of those cooks who thinks it is impossible to make a delicious meal without tons of butter, then you will be happy to know there is a Paul Deen Restaurant in Myrtle Beach, at Broadway on the Beach.  Although I did not actually eat a meal at her restaurant, I enjoyed perusing the expansive gift shop!  Of course, the gift shop items are available, not only in their store, but also from their website at www.PaulaDeensFamilyKitchen.com

The website for Broadway at the Beach will give you a complete listing of their numerous restaurants, as well as the most up-to-date guidelines regarding their efforts to reduce the harmful impact of Covid19.  As the sign in the photo says, visit www.BroadwayattheBeach.com for more information.   


Tourism partners along the Grand Strand have developed
an educational website to help promote responsible tourism, and to ask partners to take the "Grand Strand Promise".  Each of the participants in our group was given a face mask with the Grand Strand Promise logo printed on the front.  You can find more details at their website, www.greatergrandstrandisopen.com

One good thing a mask can do (in addition to reducing the spread of germs) is to make us mindful of what we are putting into our mouths.  I have talked to many people who blame the pandemic for weight gain they have experienced this past year.  Something that helps me with that issue, is participating in a healthy living program, that teaches me to turn to God for comfort, and not to food.  The program is called First Place for Health  (www.FirstPlaceforHealth.com)


In First Place for Health, we have a different Bible verse to memorize each week, and all that fantastic food I photographed in Myrtle Beach, provided a great visual aid to help me memorize Romans 14:17 that says, "For the kingdom of God is not a matter of eating and drinking, but of righteousness, peace, and joy in the Holy Spirit."  I use visual aids to help me memorize Scripture, but it is difficult to come up with a photo of "the kingdom of God", to illustrate that part of the memory verse.  Hence, I will use a photo of the beauty of God's creation, that I took, as I looked out onto the ocean, from the shores of Myrtle Beach.   Remember, it is the peace of God that should be our goal, not the "piece of pie" that satisfies a momentary craving.   So, I will use my facemask to help me be MINDFUL and grateful for the delicious food God has given me, because it is when I put God in FIRST PLACE, that I have true "MILES OF SMILES"!   Tricia


 

Monday, January 4, 2021

GRAND STRAND EXPEDITION!

The phrase "Grand Strand"  refers to a continuous, sixty mile stretch of land, along the coast of  South Carolina.  It is based on one of the definitions of the word "strand", meaning "land at the edge of a body of water".   However, there is another definition of the word "strand", that says "to be put into a difficult position".   It is this last definition, that is partly responsible for the opportunity I had to make a trip to the Grand Strand, in December, 2019.  The Grand Strand area has an economy based on tourism, and with the shutdowns and travel restrictions caused by the COVID19 Pandemic, many businesses on the Grand Strand,  were, indeed, feeling "stranded" in a "grand" way, because of reduced numbers of tourists.  I went on this trip because I wanted to be a positive influence on helping get the word out that it is possible to travel here in a responsible manner, and choose activities with lower risks of spreading germs.  I took the photo below of the Grand Strand section of Myrtle Beach, that shows their very popular board walk.    
 
 
My lodging during my visit was at the beautiful Avista Resort ( www.avistaresort.com), located in North Myrtle Beach.  I took the photo below, from the balcony of my room, that had a fantastic view of the Atlantic Ocean, the beaches, dunes, and an artistically arranged outdoor pool area.

There was a boardwalk that led from the Avista pool deck, across the dunes, and down to the beach.  So my first priority as soon as I got checked in, was to get out on that sandy beach, and go for a walk beside the ocean.  (Since I live in the "land locked" state of Arkansas, my opportunities for seaside strolls are minimal!)

As I walked towards the west from my hotel, the sun made the ocean shimmer like a diamond.  As you can see from the photos, the beach was not at all crowded, so the concept of "social distancing" was an easy goal to meet!

 

As I turned towards the city park, that connects the beach to the street called Ocean Drive, I noticed an open-air pavilion, with a sign indicating that this was the location for Sunday morning church services.  Since I enjoy visiting churches in new locations whenever I am away from home, I made a point to return the next day to take them up on their invitation to "Come as you are, leave as you Should".  And what a blessing it was to go there the next morning to not only be fed spiritually, but they provided coffee and donuts!

 

Later in my exploring, I made my way down to the Cherry Grove Pier, shown in photo below.  This popular landmark was built in the early 1950's and has weathered many hurricanes.  It was remodeled and lengthened in 1999 after Hurricane Floyd. 

 

These wading birds provided a nice foreground to frame the sun, as it sinks below the horizon in Myrtle Beach.  For those interested in the origin of city names, I can tell you that the name is in recognition of the area's abundant shrub, the Southern wax myrtle.  It came about around 1900, when a contest was held to name the area, which was being called "New Town".   It was incorporated under that name in 1957.  

  
 
 
  
 
 
For someone who enjoys photographing sunrises and sunsets on the ocean, December is a great time to visit Myrtle Beach because the sun sets early, so that you can enjoy a sunset stroll before dinner.  Likewise, it rises later in the morning, so that you do not have to rise in the wee hours of the morning to catch it in all its glory!  It was such a pleasure to be able to sit and have my coffee, and watch the sun rise from the comfort of my room, or balcony!

 

The group  I was with, each had their forehead temperature checked (as shown in photo), before we boarded the bus that was used to transport us around the area.  All of us wore our masks the entire time, except when eating.  There was hand sanitizer on the bus, throughout the hotel property, and at every attraction/venue we visited.  The trip was planned so that as many of our activities as possible could be done outdoors.  The tourism partners that are working to make Myrtle Beach as safe a place as possible started a movement to educate the public and tourism-related businesses on what could be done to lower the risk of disease transmission.  Folks were able to take a pledge to carry out the suggested guidelines, and each of the participants on this tour was provided a cloth face mask, indicating they had taken the pledge to visit responsibly.  You can read about their efforts on their website, www.GreaterGrandStrandisOpen.com . 

 

The first attraction we visited was Brookgreen Gardens (www.brookgreen.org), which has the largest outdoor collection of American figurative sculpture in the world.  It was established on the site of 9 former rice plantations.

 

Although the gardens are open year-round, there are certain times of the winter season, when the Gardens sparkle with outdoor lighting installations, such as the one below.  The arching walkway provided by ancient live oak trees in the garden, are covered with vertical "strands" of lights that make the place seem magical.  It is , in deed, a "grand strand" of twinkling lights, that is a delight to walk through!!  In 2019, due to the pandemic, the days of operation were extended, so that more folks could enjoy the gardens, in spite of reduced capacity restraints issued through public health mandates. 

 

The arrangement of the lights in the installation below reminds me of an angel, with the center triangle being the body of the angel, and the triangles of either side, being the wings of the angel..  The reflecting pool below the lights makes the scene especially poignant. 

 

Another outdoor activity was strolling through the shops of Tanger Outlets (www.TangerOutlets.com).  For those who did not want to have their meal or snacks inside, there were ample seating locations in the outdoor, tropical-themed public areas.

 

At the entrance to Tanger Outlets was this fountain, and a statue called "Happy Girl".  I loved the uplifted hands body language on "Happy Girl", because it is the same gesture I am making on my profile photo at the end of the blog, along with the phrase: The Hebrew word for praise means "Hands upward toward God."

 

Another fun outdoor activity we did was riding go carts, and a photo of the multi-level, curving track is shown below, and their website is www.funatthetrack.com .

 

I very much enjoy driving go carts, and a nice feature of these go carts is that they were electric, so there were no nauseating gas fumes to deal with!  The photo of me below, was taken by the kind employee, who helped get me safely buckled up into the driving position.

 
 
Most of the dining establishments we visited had options for al fresco dining, and the photo below shows one of these very inviting spaces. It was located at a very unique establishment that had an amazing full-service restaurant on one side, and a bakery connected to it on the other side.  You can read more about its unique operations on their website at www.hookandbarrelrestaurant.com .

 

Photo below shows  yet another day, and another opportunity to see the sun rise over the Atlantic Ocean, from my amazing accommodations at Avista Resort!  As you may know, since the pandemic started back in March, most lodging properties are no longer entering guest's rooms on a daily basis, rather upon request only.  This reduces the risk of cross-contamination between guests and housekeeping personnel.  This posed no problems whatsoever for me, and listening to other participants on the trip, they also did not mind this change.  Each of us indicated it was a bit "freeing", because we did not feel we had to "tidy up" the room before we left, knowing housekeeping personnel were not going to see our messiness!

 

How is this for a view, while having a delicious breakfast, at yet another seaside resort we were able to tour??!!  This is a photo from where our group drove down the road a bit, to the Island Vista Resort (www.islandvista.com).

 

One of the features of this resort that I cannot remember ever seeing back in Arkansas, was a "zero entry" swimming pool.  Notice how one end is extending into the stone deck.  No need to "jump" when accessing this relaxing amenity!  The property gets its name because it is the only oceanfront hotel for nearly a mile in either direction, in Myrtle Beach.  If you go to their website, you can see an aerial photo that explains their pandemic motto, "Where social distancing comes naturally"!


 

Another very popular attraction we visited is called Broadway at the Beach.  As you can see from the photo of the "upside down"-looking building below, it is not your typical horizontal line of storefronts!  Broadway at the Beach is appropriately named, as it has a B R O A D array of activities available for both tourists and locals.  For example, the building below is Wonderworks, an educational, entertainment facility, that is jam packed full of exhibits, to amaze and stimulate the minds of those who visit!  If you want to glide across the water like a swan, you can rent one of the swan-shaped paddle boats!



There are
 dozens of retail shops to peruse as you stroll the immaculately cleaned streets of Broadway at the Beach.  Likewise, several popular restaurants are available for guests to choose as dining venues.  For a complete listing of all that is available here, visit their website at www.broadwayatthebeach.com

Our group had the pleasure of visiting Ripley's Aquarium, during our time at Broadway at the Beach.

Like all other similar establishments, capacity restrictions are in place, and timed entries are used to control the numbers of guests inside the aquarium at any one time.  Since I once had the opportunity to spend the night within a circular aquarium space similar to the one in this photo, I inquired about overnight sleepovers for Ripley's Aquarium.  Our guide told us this was a regular activity in pre-Covid days, and to check their website (www.ripleyaquariums.com) to find out the most up-to-date information on arranging a private event, such as an overnight. 
 

For those who are not afraid of heights, the Skywheel is a 187 foot tall observation wheel, situated adjacent to the boardwalk on Myrtle Beach.  When it opened in May, 2011, it was the second tallest Ferris Wheel in North America, after the 212 foot Texas Star in Dallas. Currently, it is the sixth tallest Ferris wheel in the USA.  The photo show the glass enclosed, temperature controlled gondolas, described as ballooned-out squares, of which there are 42. 

The developers of the Skywheel chose Myrtle Beach because of its new boardwalk, which has its northern end near the Ferris Wheel site.  In 2012, the Skywheel was named the best scenic experience in South Carolina.  Likewise, it gets my vote for best scenic experience of my 2020 visit to Myrtle Beach!  A nice feature of the gondolas, is that they are made of non-reflective glass, which provides the best opportunities for photos of the exterior.


Any time I have the opportunity to see an area of the country via a boat, it gives me joy!  So I was delighted to get to take a cruise on a 70-foot, authentic wooden riverboat, shown in photo below:

The Barefoot Queen is moored at Barefoot Landing, in North Myrtle Beach.  It cruises both north and south of the marina, on the IntraCoastal Waterway, but not going into the ocean.  The Intra Coastal Waterway is a 3,000 mile inland waterway, along the USA Atlantic Coast, and extending around the Gulf of Mexico.  Part of it is natural features, and part of it is manmade canals.  


The intracoastal waterway provides a navigable route along its length, without many of the hazards of travel in the open sea. 


Our group took the sunset dinner cruise, and in addition to enjoying a delicious meal and lively music, we had some fantastic photo opportunities, as the sun set in the west, with a scenic bridge providing the foreground.

 

In addition to all the attractions I have shown photos of in this article, we also visited two of the many live entertainment shows that Myrtle Beach is famous for.  We saw spectacular entertainment at both the Alabama Theater, and the Carolina Opry   Both these venues have gigantic auditoriums, full of thousands of seats, but due to pandemic-related capacity restrictions, much of the seating is "roped off" to allow for social distancing between guests.   I was trying to abide by the theater guidelines of no flash photography during their performances, but if you want to see some outstanding professionally-done photographs of their performances, visit their websites to be amazed!   www.thecarolinaopry.com and www.alabamatheatre.com

 

Did you know that the word "shag" can refer to more than a type of carpet, or type of haircut??!!  It is also a style of couples dancing (similar to Western swing) that is said to have originated in North Myrtle Beach! I think the city administration is proud of that moniker, as they have it painted on the water tower that sits in the middle of town!


Another definition for "strand" is "any of the parts that are bound together to make a whole".  With tourism partners being bound together with the common goal of restoration, the "heart" of  tourism can return!  That is the interpretation that I am giving to this art project I observed on the Grand Strand---different "strands" (in this case, broken  pieces of shells) working together as partners, to make something beautiful!

I intentionally framed the photo of the
Cherry Grove Pier with the sea grasses, to emphasize the importance of those sea grasses.  Those grasses, along with the dunes on which they grow and take root, play a vital role in reducing beach erosion. 

Likewise, daily time reading God's Word, helps keep me from succumbing to "spiritual erosion"!  So I was very thankful my room at the Avista Resort had a copy of the Gideon Bible in the bedside table drawer.  If you go to the website of the Gideons, (www.gideons.org), you can read some amazing stories of lives being saved, and changed forever, because a lodging patron had access to a Gideon Bible in their guest room!

 This trip to the Grand Strand was all about being partners----those who want to travel, partnering with those who want to welcome travelers!  So I am using a photo of my "partners" on this trip as the visual aid for one of my First Place for Health (www.FirstPlaceforHealth.com) memory verses:  It says, "In all my prayers for all of you, I always pray with joy because of your partnership in the gospel from the first day until now."  Philippians 1:4-5

I am very thankful to my partners at www.GroupTravelLeader.com and www.VisitMyrtleBeach.com for facilitating this fantastic trip to the Grand Strand of South Carolina!   Even though the face masks are covering them up, this trip gave us MILES OF SMILES!   Tricia