Welcome back to Mastication Monologues, and if you haven’t been back here lately, I am currently recounting the tale of when Janice and I went to Charleston, South Carolina. Here’s the first installment for your reading pleasure. The second day is also full of history, good eats, and one of the greatest moments of my life: proposing to Janice. So, buckle up because you’re about to read one of the greatest love stories since Jon Snow and Ygritte minus the whole being shot through with a bunch of arrows and tragic death part.
After that first day of gallivanting about the Chuck, as the locals call Charleston, we decided to get out of the hubbub of the city and visit the Middleton Plantation. However, before we even left the house, I realized that this was the day I would propose to Janice. I was planning on doing it at the Angel Oak tree after visiting the Middleton Plantation, but now I needed to figure out how to carry the ring. I could have worn my coat, but it was a warm day outside. Luckily, before we left Chicago, I had stowed a piece of gauze in one of my jean pockets. So, when Janice was showering, I went to my backpack where the ring was hidden in my backpack back at the security line in Chicago. I took out the box, which was too big for my jean pockets, and removed the beautiful ring. I wrapped it in the gauze, removed some business cards from an interior pocket in my wallet, and placed the ring in that very same pocket. Mission partially complete. I played it cool when Janice asked if I was ready to go, and we made our way to the Middleton Plantation.
At the current moment in America, race relations are continuing to grow tenser as the country becomes more diverse, and the race interactions established at the outset of our country through slavery and immigration can be seen today at this opulent 7,000 acre estate. We decided to do the entire tour package, with included a house tour and carriage ride, but we had free time before we got to meet the horsies. So, we decided to stroll about the grounds and marvel at the natural wonders that were planted and landscaped to perfection. Some of the highlights were seeing the oak trees that dotted the walkways that ranged anywhere from 200 to 900 years old. Mind you, the plantation was first established in 1730, and it actually is home to the oldest landscaped gardens in the United States. Eventually, it was time to hitch a ride with a born and bred Charlestonian and two old ladies, horses that is. Janice could hardly contain her excitement as they clip clopped their way to the pickup point and into Janice’s heart.
Cue emotional music
We climbed aboard the old carriage and took off as our driver explained the history of the plantation to us. The Middleton plantation was not mainly a working plantation but rather a country estate. That is not to say that there weren’t slaves who worked there, but they were either employed as house servants, lumberjacks to harvest the timber, rice planters in the large rice paddies off the Ashley River, or grow and collect indigo to a lesser extent. This was not your stereotypical cotton plantation. The real money was in the signature gold grain Carolina rice which was well suited for the humid Carolina weather and the planters’ profit margins. We went about the ground looking at the farm house complete with one of the male horses who wanted to bust out of his pen and the famous layabout known as Rocky the guinea hog. There was also one of the former slave houses next to the animal pens. We learned that the slave quarters were raised off the ground because it was a way to offer a bit of cool air in an otherwise brutal environment. By the time we reached the end of our journey, the horses were ready to get some hay and a nap, but we still managed to get some pics with these local celebrities.
All of that excitement going 2 miles per hour with a slight breeze in our hair worked up our appetites, so Janice and I decided to try the plantation restaurant which was housed in a former guest house. We were led to the main dining room that was overlooking the lily pond. We looked over the menu which was filled with plenty of Low Country classics. We quickly made our choices since we had to finish our meal before our house tour. Janice got an order of fried chicken, macaroni and cheese, collard greens, and cornbread, and I got the pecan smoked pork shoulder with Carolina gold mustard sauce. Before they brought out our food, they also asked if we wanted sweet tea, regular tea, or water. Naturally, I went for the sweet tea, and Janice got the unsweetened tea. I was so happy with my sweet tea for one main reason: it was actually sweet. McDonalds back home always would promote their sweet tea during the summertime, and I love my sweet iced tea. When I got it, it tasted like plain black tea poured over some ice. Naturally, I had to go to the South where they know how to make it correctly. Then the food came out, and we had to hold ourselves back from going full Cookie Monster on these enticing plates. My pecan smoked pork shoulder took me to hog heaven. It was melt-in-your mouth tender, and the smoky flavor mixed perfectly with the slightly sweet mustard sauce. The creamed green beans were good but not great. However, I enjoyed the Hoppin’ John on the side. This southern staple has been around as long as African slaves have been in the USA, and the name is thought to have come from the possible corruption of the Haitian creole for pigeon peas or “pois pigeons” ([pwa pi jahns]). It was a scaled back version of the richer version that southerners serve on new year’s day with green elements like kale or peppers to symbolize luck and money. The rice was perfectly cooked with a bit of salt and pepper with plenty of black beans, and I would highly recommend mixing it with the pork. Janice was equally satisfied with her fried chicken. The breading was light and gave way to the juicy all white meat chicken below the surface. I was more of a fan the plantation cornbread since it didn’t skimp on the butter and sugar compared to the more crumbly and savory cornbread at Husk. While I am averse to eating any type of pasta (yes, I’m a monster), Janice gave the macaroni and cheese two thumbs up. The collard greens were ok, but not as satisfying as the ones at Hominy Grill. By the time we were finished, we had to get up and get moving because it was almost time to start our house tour. Janice was going to pay the bill, but she couldn’t find her credit card. I paid the bill instead, and we assumed it must have been left in the car. As we walked past the house for the house tour to see one of the oldest trees on the estate, we heard someone call out, “Excuse me!”. We turned around to see two older women walking toward us, and they asked Janice if her name was “Janice Kim”. She replied in the affirmative, and it turned out that two different people had found her drivers license and her credit card in two different areas and turned both in to the visitors’ center. This was a prime example of Southern hospitality and manners. We decided to pick the cards up when we would leave, so we went to snap some pictures with the 900 year old oak tree, the same river where they blew up the British ships in the movie the Patriot, and the burned down houses. After successfully being insignificant next to this natural giant, we went to our house tour. It was originally built in 1755, but is only one of the original three houses left standing. The main house and the north flanker house were burned down by Union troops during the Civil War. Unfortunately, we were not allowed to take any pictures, but we were up to our necks in historical facts including the lodging being home to Henry Middleton’s son, Arthur, who signed the Declaration of Independence. We highly recommend checking out the rich mahogany interiors if you love architecture, history, shiny things, and/or how high class society lived. By the time we emerged from that time capsule, we had to make a decision about what we wanted to see before they closed up the Angel Oak park. We decided to pick up the all important credit card and drivers license and check out the gift shops. Janice was on the hunt for souvenirs while I was secretly having time anxiety and subsequent sweats. She would ask me for opinions on magnets and rice while I was starting to run in place (in my head). Janice eventually picked up my vibe, and we got to the car quickly. We had to make the ride from northern Charleston down to John’s Island quick because we had about a hour before the park closed. Thankfully, we made it with enough time, and on the way, Janice was seriously doubting whether or not I was ever going to propose to her. She wasn’t joking, and neither was I. Perfect timing to put a ring on it. I realized I had to get the rock out of the interior pocket of my wallet, and I managed to do so as Janice rushed toward the tree with her selfie stick. The Angel Oak is estimated to be over 1500 years old and what a more romantic place to pop the question? It is one of the biggest and most sprawling trees I’ve ever seen. We took some pictures on one side of the tree, and I was analyzing the best place to do the deed. Cue the palm sweat and shifty eyes. Janice was none the wiser as we walked under the massive branches. We moved to the back side of the tree, and there wasn’t anybody around. This was it. My heart felt like it was going to pound out of my chest as I fumbled for the ring in the gauze and placed it in my hand. She turned around and everything I had planned to say went out the window. I said that it was a fitting place since she was my angel. I could see she was shaking her head due to the high levels of cheesiness in the atmosphere, but then she knew something was afoot when I dropped to my knee. I choked out my request to spend the rest of my life with her, and her response was like something out of Shakespeare: *cue crying, some laughing* “I’m holding my selfie-stick”. Just like in the movies! I was still waiting on my knee with the ring in my hand as she was more worried about her contraption. Eventually she took the ring and put it on her finger while still profusely crying with me on bended knee. Janice finally said “yes” through the tears, and I could get out of the power lunge of the century. It felt like we were floating on air beneath this relic of antiquity, and we even had an audience eventually who clapped for us. Once we finally got a picture in front of the tree with her new ring, we proceeded to let the world know of our engagement. We were then at a loss at what to do next, so I suggested that we could go for a romantic stroll along the river walk in downtown Charleston. It was the perfect setting as new fiance and fiancee as we watched the sunset, poochies running in the park, and the Citadel cadets getting some fresh air. All of the aforementioned events had made us quite hungry, so luckily I managed to find a romantic restaurant to celebrate known as High Cotton.
High Cotton oozed class. It seemed like we stepped into a time machine to an old mansion complete with an antique bar, dark wood accents, and tropical ceiling fans. It is a moderately dressy place, so don’t expect to fit in with your tank tops and jorts. We were seated at a table in the main dining room, and our waiter informed us of Charleston’s restaurant week which meant there was a special menu where we were able to choose an appetizer, entree, and dessert for the low low price of $40. Overall though, High Cotton is a restaurant that focuses on local ingredients and classic Low Country recipes. We also told him of our very recent engagement, so he treated us to a pair of complimentary champagne flutes. For our appetizer round, I got the fried green tomatoes napoleon which were the bread to a pimento cheese sandwich and surrounded by pickled shrimp. I found it to be satisfying and surprisingly light even though it was deep fried, and the pimento cheese was like a thick, spicy cheddar with the consistency of peanut butter. The shrimp were also pleasing even though they were pickled. Janice’s blue crab soup was ok. It was savory with a hint of sweetness that came along with the blue crab. We moved on to our entrees with gusto. My 8 oz. beef tenderloin with Bearnaise sauce, horseradish mashed potatoes, and Brussels sprouts were fit for a king. Everything was phenomenal. The mashed potatoes were creamy with just the right amount of sinus-clearing horseradish. The Brussels sprouts were roasted and slightly burnt and crunchy but not terribly charred. As for the meat and sauce, it was grilled to optimum juiciness which wasn’t overshadowed by the rich Bearnaise sauce. Can’t say enough good things about this dish. Janice’s shellfish and ravioli had a lot of fresh seafood from the nearby harbor including clams, shrimp, and crab along with peas and ravioli in a Parmesan sauce. I didn’t try the ravioli, but the clams were extraordinarily good. Our waiter said that the clams in the Low Country are actually better than oysters, but they don’t get the hype they deserve because they aren’t as sexy as their supposed aphrodisiac cousins. Couldn’t agree more with him. Janice thought the plate overall was ok though. Thankfully, dessert didn’t disappoint. I ordered the chocolate bread pudding complete with candied pecans, bourbon caramel, and vanilla ice cream. Need I say more? It was slightly warm which melted the ice cream which went along with the smoky caramel and crunchy pecans. It infused the semi-sweet, spongy dough of the bread pudding with a heavenly taste. Janice went with one of her favorite desserts: the vanilla bean creme brulee with a Carolina twist with tea infused citrus segments. The burnt sugar on top was a golden brown with a luscious and moderately rich cream below. By the time we reached the final spoonful, we were not only in love with each other but with High Cotton’s fare, atmosphere, and service. We made our way out and enjoyed a bit of the jazz quartet in the bar that was not performing when we first walked in. However, it was a classy end to a day filled with viewing history past, making history of our own, and plans for the future. If you’ve successfully made it to the end of this post, congrats and there are plenty more adventures to come!