Marko’s Dispatch from the South

Congrats to Kati on finishing the GM Diet!  We followed your daily updates with breathless anticipation.  And now, a special double feature from Marko, writing to us from that bastion of dieting, portion-control and butter, Charleston, South Carolina.

What to do after you spent a year of intensive grad school working away your entire weekends, then suddenly you have all the time in the world on those glorious days? Why, you cook. So what if your galley kitchen is on the small side, and you can’t open up the dishwasher and the refrigerator at the same time, or have more than one person in there at any one time, really (hey, shout out to the dishwasher, no one’s complaining!)? You make it work.

Charleston has a phenomenal farmer’s market downtown in Marion Square, but man oh Manischewitz do you pay for it. What’s that, two heirloom tomatoes and a palmful of pea shoots? Oh, $13. Naturally. So we decided to try our luck with a cute little farm stand on the
side of the road in Mount Pleasant, much closer to home. BOUNTY AWAITED. Cucumbers, eggplant and zucchini, 3 for $1? Full size watermelon for $2.50? Gorgeous heirloom tomatoes, 99 cents a pound!?!?! I bought it all, and I knew I needed to do something special to show it all off. So why NOT prepare a vegetarian meal for four growing boys? Enter Allie’s Ratatouille Pasta, based loosely on Rachael Ray’s Ratatouille Riggies, and I only say loosely because a) what the F is a riggie, that makes me upset and b) Joe hates Rachael so much that I had to pretend the recipe came from a cookbook somewhere. By “pretend” I mean that I covered the so-noticeable-it’s-practically-neon “30 MINUTE MEAL!” insignia on the page. Sigh.

For something that looked fairly simple, it ended up involving the use of a nonstick skillet, a baking sheet, a stock pot and a dutch oven. A food processor was part of the grand plan too, but I decided against it. Mainly because we only have a 4-cup mini-prep we got as an engagement gift, which Joe is reluctant to use because it might “jinx our wedding.” Besides, who wants to totally blend up the succulent roasted eggplant or roasted red peppers? I preferred my meat-hungry men to have some real chewable chunks in there, ya know? So 30 minutes my tuchus, Rachael, but about an hour fifteen later, the results were absolutely worth it. Penne pasta smothered in a rich, vibrant ratatouille, topped with fried zucchini and mounds of grated parm. All it took was roasting the eggplant, boiling the pasta, slicing, seasoning and frying the zucchini, making the sauce on the stove, completely ravaging my pantry of all usable ingredients, and burning my wrist with high-flyin’, scorchin’ tomato sauce. You know, your typical, no-fuss, Tuesday night kind of dinner.

I forgot to take a picture (something about being drenched in sweat and leaving four hungry guys in a hungry lurch of despair took my mind off these insignificant details) but, rest assured, it really did end up looking EXACTLY like the picture on the page. Which is unavailable online. So there goes that.

As for dining reviews of Charleston establishments, I will leave you with this: we live within half a mile of Gullah Island Cuisine. Although I was disappointed that a life-sized plush frog named Binyah Binyah was not at the door to greet me (but before I go further, let’s be honest. I never watched more of “Gullah Gullah Island” than the intro song. Nick Jr. usually got shut off after Blue’s Clues, Little Bear and Rupert. Does that make me racist? I just don’t know.), the all-you-can eat buffet for…wait for it…$7.99 (!!!!!!!! IT’S NOT NEW YORK IT’S NOT NEW
YORK!) did NOT disappoint. Here are the offerings I remember: fried chicken, baked chicken, barbecue pork and chicken chunks, mac n cheese, mashed potatoes with cheddar, red beans and rice, okra rice, lima beans and ham, collard greens and ham (sigh…I consumed all this on the Sabbath, too), fish head stew, CANDIED YUMS and that is a purposeful typo, okra succotash, banana pudding and cobbler. And of course a salad bar, if you’re watchin’ your figure. I can’t even begin to tell you how good everything was. If you weren’t lured to visit me in Charleston by historic row houses and cobblestone streets, by bars that specialize in alcoholic slushies or seafood freshly caught, come for Gullah’s. I have made my case.

Bye now y’all,

Marko

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