Friday, January 30, 2015

fresh friday

Fresh tips and ideas from readers and friends...

Take Magnolia Plantation up on their offer... you can take a camellia walk with an expert every day through March. Click here to set it up

*image source:

According to the National Coffee Association, Americans drink an average of 3.1 cups of coffee a day. We wonder if people will ever stop posting images of lattes and perfectly positioned pots of coffee? Local Collective Coffee makes a mean pour over coffee, adding fuel to the fire.


The Center For Birds Of Prey will close for the month of February for remodeling and will reopen in March. Stay tuned!

Saltwater Sounds is offered this Saturday, January 31 at the SC Aquarium - The Charleston Symphony Orchestra joins the Aquarium from 9:30 a.m. to 12 p.m. adding fresh sounds to a familiar space.

This post compiled to Milky Chance's cover of Taylor Swift's Shake It Off. This fresh twist on this song cracks me up - click to watch the video.

Thursday, January 29, 2015

Doing the rounds... and the truth about Trader Joe's

*image source:

If you're like me and you care about what foods you and your family consume, you find yourself doing an odd grocery store dance each week I like to call "doing the rounds". As in a doctor doing rounds in a hospital, you visit each grocery on your list of favorites checking the pulse on the best they have to offer. 

It's exhausting.

 I shop Whole Foods for meat products and fruit, Trader Joe's for vegetables, bread, dog biscuits, mini yogurts and cheeses, two different local markets for milk and general oddities my boys like, and Costco and Walmart for paper products. I like both Whole Foods and Trader Joe's for fresh flowers. The truth is, I just can't buy everything I like in one place. I don't insist on all organic products, but I do like to use the best quality I can find, and price matters too.

Let's take Trader Joe's for example. Is it everything? I find myself skimming the outskirts; an outer loop sweep of flowers, vegetables, yogurt and cheese and I'm outta there. Personally, I just don't go for the packaged meals because I find they are often a bit high in sodium. This Huffington Post article digs into why Trader Joe's prices are so low and, after all, we all love that, right? The flowers and cards are great and we can't live without the peanut butter dog biscuits, which is why our dog weighs 80 lbs. And what of reports that all or much of Trader Joe's foods are sourced from China? Most of what I read about this seems unfounded and so I won't share it here, but this story by the LA Times seems most valid and suggests these issues were dealt with years ago. 

I do my best (most of the time) to provide healthy foods for my family, and I know I'm not alone in this quest. I just wish it was a little easier and less time consuming to hunt and gather these days.

 However, here's one after dinner dessert recipe completely made from Trader Joe's products... on this night, it was everything.

*postnote- Did you know that America's Trader Joe's are owned by the Aldi supermarket chains in the UK? Aldi supermarkets were started in Germany with just one premises and now operate many thousands all over the world.  Read this article about the original owners of Aldi, the Albrecht brothers who divided their empire into two outfits: Aldi Sud and Aldi Nord (who own Trader Joe's). It's fascinating... a tale of the richest men in Germany, a kidnapping, and even the birth of quadruplets.  

Apple-Rhubarb-Pear Mini Crumbles

*Preheat oven to 375 degrees. 

  • 3 large pears, peeled and diced
  • 3 apples, peeled and diced
  • 3 Tbsp frozen rhubarb
  • 3 Tbsp butter
  • dash of salt
  • 1/2 cup light brown sugar
  • 2 Tbsp sugar
  • 1/2 tsp cinnamon
  • 1/2 tsp nutmeg
  • 2 tsp lemon juice
  • 3 Tbsp flour
For the crumble topping:
  • 3/4 cup Trader Joe's old fashioned rolled oats
  • 1/4 cup light brown sugar
  • 1/4 cup sugar
  • 1 1/2 cups flour
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 2 Tbsp vanilla extract
  • 1 1/2 sticks cold salted butter, cut into pats 
Method For The Fruit:

In a large saucepan, saute the fruit in the melted butter for 3 minutes until fruit is beginning to soften. Now add all remaining ingredients except the flour and simmer for another 8 minutes, stirring occasionally. When the fruit is soft, add in the flour and simmer for another 3 minutes. Remove from heat.

Method For The Crumble Topping:

In a large mixing bowl, blend together all the dry ingredients. Add the vanilla and mix well. Now cut in the butter until you create crumbles.

Now spoon the fruit filling into greased ramekins and then spoon the crumble mixture on top of each one. Bake at 375 degrees for 30 minutes until the crust is brown and the filling is bubbling. Great with vanilla ice cream - Enjoy on an extra cold night!

Tuesday, January 27, 2015

Charleston Currents Feature: Get ready for summer camps

Charleston Currents

Sabine: Looking for a summer camp

JAN. 26, 2015 | As we settle into the new year, popular demand for the best summer camps has resulted in early planning. January and February are now the months to begin looking at your summer calendar and bookmark the websites you will watch for upcoming camp schedules and registrations.
00_sabineTo help get your game plan organized, we offer a breakdown of some of our favorite camps, what they specialize in and a timeline of when those 2015 online schedules will appear on your screen. This selection of camps includes Charleston-area day camps with a focus on the camps tried by or highly recommended to Pluff Mud Kids.

Guidelines for choosing camps

  • When choosing a local day camp for your child, there are a few key guidelines to follow.
  • What is the age and maturity level of your child? Will you include a friend or sibling of similar age? Always check ahead to determine the ratio of adult supervisors to children and overall group size.
  • If the camp is offered on a split schedule, what time of day would best suit your child? Also consider the weather conditions for the month of the camp. For example, an indoor camp may be a reprieve from the heat in Charleston in August, whereas your child may enjoy a soccer camp more in early June.
  • Does the camp offer instruction in a new skill or interest, or would your child feel more comfortable with some level of experience in the camp theme?
  • Transportation is key. Do the logistics of drop off and pick up still make the camp worthwhile? Make sure your child is comfortable with carpooling or transportation provided by the camp.
  • Consider the cost carefully and factor in transportation, snacks, and special equipment/clothes needed. Some camps will offer discounts for multiple siblings.

Area favorites

Here are a few of our favorite Charleston-area recommendations:
Charleston-area town recreation department camps: Mount Pleasant Recreation Department serves as a good example of the well-rounded brochure of camp options for all age levels. MPRD has a long-standing track record for offering reasonably priced camps with seasoned teachers. Program Coordinator Tina Carter advises that, while camp registration begins March 2, 2015, online information on these camps will be available for parents to consider a week prior to registration. Parents may register online or at Rec Department facilities. Tina Carter may be reached at by email or check the website directly here for more information as it becomes available.
Trident Technical College Kids’ College: I recently spoke with Daphne Holland, personal enrichment and youth development manager for TTC, and she stated that the popularity for age-appropriate camps calls for an even more structured programming in the works for TTC summer camps in 2016 (current camp range is kids age 7 to 16). Kids’ College at TTC offers a campus that can cater to creative cooking, in-depth science study and state-of-the-art technology, to name a few of the courses that get children excited for summer learning. These programs are very popular and fill up quickly, so choose carefully ahead of time and be prepared to sit and immediately fill out on-line registrations. All day camps at TTC specify the various campus locations where classes are held to help in transportation planning. Use this link Trident Technical College Kids’ College Camps to peruse camp offerings available online Feb.15, 2015, with registration beginning mid-March 2015. More information: Contact Daphne Holland.
Gibbes Museum Of Art: Morning art camps are held at the Circular Congregational Church directly across from the Gibbes Museum Of Art and offer a small group study on various themes. Last summer ( take a peek here at the brochure), there was a camp entitled “All About Animals” that was perfect for our son and his cousin. Taught by Charleston artist Kristen Solecki, this class was one in a range of choices that appeal to budding artists. Check the Gibbes website here in the coming weeks for a 2015 brochure or contact Associate Curator of EducationRebecca Sailor directly. Members of the museum receive a discount on camp registration fees.
Huck Finn School: Huck Finn School summer camps on Sullivan’s Island are a perfect example of a great program for children taking off and running wild. The 2015 summer camps were posted online and sold out in two hours with a current waiting list of 60 children! “A good problem to have,” says school founder Michael Bronco, who is currently looking to add a few more potential camp dates to meet the demand. This wildly popular program offers old-school classes in areas such as knife forging, log cabin building, and WWII survival techniques to name but a few of the innovative skill building workshops. Check back here as this site is one to watch.
Local businesses supporting education for children: Some local area businesses specialize in specific skills and have embraced the summer camp culture by offering ongoing classes throughout the summer. Three excellent examples are:
  • Space Craft Studios: Printmaking, hand-lettering, 3D printing and so much more… Owner Allison Merrick has created a warm and welcoming space for kids (and adults) to explore new styles of art. Located in West Ashley at 8 Avondale Avenue, Allison is currently working on plans for summer options and can be reached at (843) 284- MAKE or by email.
  • 15.0126.sewingSew Much Better: Sewing Studio owner Janet Muhs is currently finalizing plans for her 2015 summer sewing classes for kids to be called “Camp Couture.” With School Of The Arts adding an area of study in costume and fashion design, learning to sew in a small setting at a young age is a great way to work towards that program. Camp Couture runs each week of summer at a cost of $200 per week which includes all fabrics, patterns, and notions. Camps commence June 8, 2015, and are broken into two separate sessions, 9 a.m. to 12 p.m. and 1 p.m. to 4 p.m. These camps wrap in August with a fashion show called “Project Swag Way”. For more information, contact owner Janet Muhs or call (347) 581-8336. It is located in Mount Pleasant at 708 S. Shelmore Blvd.
  • Blue Bicycle Books: “Write of Summer” has been a Lowcountry favorite summer writing camp for kids for more than a decade. With camp locations in downtown Charleston and Mount Pleasant, these morning session camps help to enhance your child’s creative writing abilities to keep summer brains active. Watch the website here for summer listings.
Big Fun For Groups: Other options we recommend are facilities such as Wild Blue Ropes and SkyZone, which provide summer fun for groups of kids. These can be ways to create new interests and work out muscle groups on equipment that kids don’t otherwise have access to. These businesses make it easy for parents to provide a long afternoon of well supervised, safe fun.
For a closer look at most of these wonderful summer programs for kids, take a look in the Pluff Mud Kids archives listed under “Summer Camps.”

Monday, January 26, 2015

Make It Monday: Baked Meatballs In Creamy Vodka Sauce

You've just settled into your new resolutions and workouts... am I really going there with the vodka and the heavy cream? Oh yes, my friends, I am! Put your Spanx on and dig in because this is too good to miss.

Ingredients to gather:

1. Choose your favorite pasta

2. For the meatballs:

  • 1 lb minced beef or lamb (you can find Australian minced lamb at Whole Foods if you ask for it at the meat counter)
  • 1 cup dry breadcrumbs
  • 1/4 cup water
  • 1 egg, beaten
  • 2 Tbls ketchup
  • 2 tsp olive oil
  • 1 carrot
  • 1 celery stalk
  • 1 small onion
  • 1 tsp sea salt, pinch of black pepper 
3. For the sauce:
  • 2 tsp olive oil
  • 1 1/2 tsp butter
  • 1 clove garlic, minced very finely
  • 1 small onion, minced very finely
  • 1/2 cup vodka
  • 1 can crushed tomatoes (14.5 oz) * I only ever use Muir Glen organic fire roasted tomatoes - recommended by a reader!
  • 2 Tbls tomato puree 
  • sea salt and pepper to taste
  • 1/2 cup cream

Method for meatballs: Preheat oven to 400 degrees
  1. Finely mince the carrot, celery, and onion. Saute these in 2 tsp olive oil and add the salt and pepper. Saute until onion is golden brown. Remove from heat, place in a bowl and set aside.
  2. In a small bowl, allow bread crumbs to soak in 1/4 cup water. Then add the beaten egg.
  3. In a large mixing bowl, combine the minced beef or lamb with the sauteed vegetables. Add the ketchup and work this together well - I use my hands.
  4. Next, add the bread crumbs with egg to the meat mixture and blend together well.
  5. Form into meatballs and place them in a glass baking dish or ceramic casserole dish that you have oiled lightly (or line with foil first).
Encourage your kids to wash their hands well and demonstrate how to roll a meatball. This is such a fun dinner to make!

Method for the sauce:
  1. Oil a saucepan with the olive oil and set to a medium heat. Add the butter and saute minced garlic and onion, adding the salt and pepper.
  2. Reduce heat. Add 1/2 cup vodka and simmer for a few minutes.
  3. Add the tomatoes and puree and stir well. Allow to simmer on a very low heat for about 8 minutes while stirring.
  4. Add 1/2 cup of cream and gently stir while simmering on the lowest possible heat.
  5. Remove from heat,cool slightly, and place in a mixing bowl.
  6. Spoon over the meatballs liberally and bake at 400 degrees for 30 to 35 minutes or until meatballs are cooked through. (Oven times vary, check the center of meatballs to ensure they are cooked evenly).
  7. Serve over your favorite pasta. Sprinkle Parmesan and a little fresh chopped basil on the top. 

Bittersweet - I never had a chance to make this for my Dad and I know he would have loved it. I hope your children love it as much as my boys do!

Friday, January 23, 2015

magical meatballs, mobile pet grooming, and more

Next week on the blog: A power packed week full of summer camp offerings, a magical meatball recipe, the truth about Trader Joe's, mobile pet grooming and more! Save in your favorites, subscribe to receive the latest posts by email, or follow our Facebook page. Here's a sneak peek...

A summer camp story: It's not too soon to make your summer plans!
From Gibbes Museum Of Art summer camp for kids

Is Trader Joe's everything?

Make It Monday meatballs measure up!

I don't trust him when I can't see the whites of his eyes! Time to try a new mobile groomer.

Thursday, January 22, 2015

10 minute pit stop

There is a place where the sidewalk ends
And before the street begins,
And there the grass grows soft and white,
And there the sun burns crimson bright,
And there the moon-bird rests from his flight
To cool in the peppermint wind.

- Shel Silverstein, from Where The Sidewalk Ends

My Mum has always said that you only have to go outside with a child and kick a ball for 10 minutes to make them feel that you have participated. It doesn't have to be a big event with a full blown picnic planned far in advance. Stop by a park for 10 minutes, kick off your shoes, run around like a wild thing in the sun and... you're done. Keep it movin'!

This 10 minute pit stop completely changed our day, offering a break from the normal routine of homework and piano and tennis and errands... reminding us why we choose to live where we do.

Some favorite fields of joy (open green spaces) for 10 minute pit stops:

This post compiled to Skinny Lover - Birdy ------- Photos by Little Bird

Tuesday, January 20, 2015

Breaking the border: 7 mile hike

Does a paper map have any relevance in today's tech fed world? On a long hike, a paper map is everything.

"A map says to you
Read me carefully, 
follow me closely,
doubt me not...
I am the earth in the palm of your hand."

- Beryl Markham - West With The Night

Looking for an interesting hike that will challenge you? For my boys who are currently into the Hardy Boys Mysteries, this hike had it all... mystery and intrigue, moments of danger, tests of their endurance and a stunning view at the summit. What more could a kid ask for? We headed to Calloway Peak on the Grandfather Mountain range in North Carolina - use this link for a great overview.

However, in my opinion, this is not a hike for children under the age of twelve as there are some vertical ladders to scale with no railings. I can assure you after the fact that I'm glad my boys weren't younger as their legs could only just about negotiate the rungs of the wooden ladders pictured below. My heart was in my stomach as I watched them carefully climb back down these ladders and there was no way to offer any help. The hike itself is most certainly strenuous for young children, but this is an excellent one to work towards as your children grow.

We had heard stories about the wreckage of a plane that crashed here a short distance from the summit in 1978, killing the pilot. The wreckage is hard to spot from the trail and you must leave the trail to hike in and see it this close - a very sobering sight to see. You could certainly bypass this site if you feel that your children would be more upset by this story than curious about it.

The second ladder (not pictured here because I was too busy praying) is even more vertical and precarious. The hike as a whole is a family favorite for all it's various elements; the view from the top is worth the sweat!

Pluff Mud pup Winston waits with me for his fellas to return

The ladders are at the very summit of this hike, so if you're hiking with your dog take turns waiting at the base of the ladders with your pup.

I'm just a mom - not an expert on hiking by any means, but this is what I know for sure about hiking with kids...
Always pack the following:

  • Divide up your essentials. From a very young age, get your kids used to the sensation of carrying a lightweight pack and water bottle. We opt to pack one that our two boys can trade on and off as they hike.
  • Involve your children in choosing light snacks to pack for the hike including special treats that may give a boost of energy at just the right moment!
  • Review your trail map with your children before you set off on your hike. When you park and begin the hike, review your plan again. Re check your course periodically throughout the hike and ask them to sometimes lead the way. Always allow a bit more time than you think you'll actually need and NEVER set off too late in the day (allow extra time in case something goes wrong, someone is injured, or you get a little lost). Seem like overkill? Not when you consider that one day they will be hiking without you! Teach them the right way from the very beginning.
  • Pack protein for energy and snack frequently to keep kids well fueled. Carry more water than you think you'll need. 
  • Pack a first aid kit... always.
  • Pack waterproof jackets. Weather can turn quickly at high altitudes and no one likes to be wet and uncomfortable... most especially kids.
  • Wear waterproof boots or hiking shoes - they are worth the investment each year. Wear wool moisture wicking socks and pack an extra pair for everyone.
  • Always fill out your hiking permit and leave a phone number/emergency contact info. Involve your children in the activity.
  • Take turns being the leader/caboose/and middle man. Each of these roles teaches something different and valuable.
  • Tell jokes and sing songs in moments when energy is flagging! Keep the hike upbeat at all cost (even if it means incorporating your husband's off-color, inappropriate, British humor).
  • The feeling of accomplishment at the end of an arduous hike always trumps the hard work that went into the task.
Calloway Peak, NC
More information here and a great map.
Use this park map detailing the entire trail - you can actually hike all the way across to Grandfather Mountain from here...more info here.

Monday, January 19, 2015

Make It Monday: Star Wars printables!

If you follow this blog, you know I'm big on inspiring unplugged activities for kids. It gets more challenging as they get older, doesn't it? Here's an idea for the long weekend - too cool not to share! My kids have been loving this excellent website Star Wars Snowflakes by Anthony Herrera Designs. These amazing designs will keep big brains busy for a long time. Have fun and may the force be with you.

Thank you for keeping it creative, Mr. Herrera!

*some intricate cut outs require adult supervision

                            This project was compiled to Video Games - Lana Del Rey

Friday, January 16, 2015

iron gates: finding Philip Simmons (Part II)

Nothing ever becomes real till it is experienced.
- John Keats

classic "wiggle tail" - 2 Stoll's Alley

"No two spears are alike" - Philip Simmons

Walk it and talk it - it's the best way to learn! You can see three examples of Philip Simmons iron work on this easy 1.6 mile walk downtown:
  • 2 Stoll's Alley - Wiggle Tail Gate
  • 2 St. Michael's Alley - Egret Gate
  • 105 Meeting Street - Hibernian Hall Gate

Other sites to see:
  • 329 East Bay Street - Snake Gate
  • 254 Coming Street - Hammer Gate
  • St. John's Episcopal Church - Philip Simmons Garden
And so many more... can your kids spot this iron work all over town? Once you realize where to look, you'll never see downtown the same way again. Have fun!

*Linking with this PMK post (Part I)

Thursday, January 15, 2015


"How do you feel about making goat cheese? I'm kinda into the idea..."

This was a text from my little brother like a shot from the blue in the middle of an ordinary day.  My initial reaction was that I had no clue what to think of the idea as I had never even thought about making my own cheese. However, I know two things: 1) his random ideas always turn out to be good ones and 2) he has probably already researched this and knows exactly what he's talking about. Therefore, I'm in!

So, just before Christmas, we drove off into the wilds of John's Island looking for goats. More specifically, Jeremiah Farm & Goat Dairy, purveyors of Grade A goat milk with instruction in hand-milking, cheese making, and gardening (more options available for adults and children through their website).

We made our way down the dirt road toward the farm that sits on acres that were once part of Back Pen Plantation and were immediately greeted by Wellington, the farm's somewhat overly friendly spunky bull with a head like a plate of steel (he took a liking to my brother and offered a few gentle nudges)...

The farm's herd of goats provide a healthy flow of fresh milk which is then expertly turned into cheeses such as chevre, mozzarella, ricotta, and feta by owner Casey Price. Casey is more like a sharp minded scientist rather than chef - she's got this whole cheese making business down to a fine art and is more than willing to share what she's learned over the years through enthusiastic instruction. There were just four of us in Casey's three hour class on this particular day which also includes taste testing. I loved the odd combination of chevre (fresh French style goat cheese) drizzled with farm fresh honey (from their own bees) and fresh lavender, also straight from the farm's garden ( this cheese pictured here on the right)...

Casey carefully walks you through the steps to make each style of goat cheese - fascinating and very tasty. 2015 study #2!

Jeremiah Farm & Goat Dairy
Platt Road, Johns Island, SC
Tim and Casey Price
559-1678 or
For more information, precise directions, and to schedule a class or inquire about fresh goat's milk, please contact the farm. Check out their website here.

For more about the origins of chevre, watch this video from PBS
This post compiled to Home - Johnnyswim

Wednesday, January 14, 2015

Walk on Wednesday: Finding Philip Simmons (Part I)

     A look at Snake Gate at 329 East Bay Street. Simmons is credited with the first use of animal form in blacksmithing by an African-American.

The thing about the gate pictured above for me is that I never noticed it in all the years I've lived in Charleston. Nearly two decades of walking along these storied streets and I just never looked up, never saw it. Maybe, like today, the gate was always open and I walked right on by...maybe I just didn't know where to look.

Wandering downtown on any given street, you don't have to look too hard for a sample of Philip Simmons perfections of wrought iron. There are snakes, egrets, "wiggle tails", hearts and crosses worked into the themes of many a gate a stone's throw from one another all across downtown Charleston; a lifetime of work. Legendary blacksmith Philip Simmons left his mark for us to find... read the book, take down the coordinates, and set your course on an interesting walk of discovery.  

Mr. Simmons often wakes with an idea for a new gate. "I see it finished completely in my mind," he says.
- from Catching The Fire - Mary E. Lyons

This book by Mary E. Lyons is one to order here at this link and keep on your family shelf. See more examples of iron work by Simmons in this great piece by Charleston Magazine.

Simmons died in 2009 at the incredible age of 97 having spent a lifetime doing what he loved. Honor his work by passing his story on to your children... another piece of their Charleston tradition.

Simmons designed this piece for Buist Academy and I have omitted his animal shapes either side so that you can discover them for yourself!

Start at the Main Library on Calhoun Street downtown and pick up the book featured here. Then walk across the street to see the Buist Academy iron work. Circle the block of George Street and locate the Snake Gate on East Bay Street as you make your way back to the library. A great, short walk for kids and a chance to see two of Simmons's pieces in the process. Remember to look up, down, and all around!  

*More of our iron work discoveries on Part II, Friday. This post compiled to Satellite - The Dave Matthews Band

Sunday, January 11, 2015

Make It Monday: oyster shell maze

                                                                                                  *image source:

Oyster roasts are such an integral part of our Lowcountry tradition...

Click here for an original PDF version of this maze.

This PMK post from Edisto Beach last summer gives a tip on where to find an authentic oyster shell mound or "midden" to study up close. Put it on your list for Spring Break!

Wednesday, January 7, 2015

Walk on Wednesday: Camellia study Part I

We want to know...more about camellias.

We took a quick stroll after school and before piano today through Magnolia Plantation to see all the varied colors of camellias. Covering our own front yard candy striped camellia to protect it from the cold snap inspired us to learn more about the true names for these gorgeous blooms - 2015 study #1. We will get to the bottom of identifying the varieties pictured here and get back to you!

As the sun scooted behind the clouds and the temperature dropped by the minute, this is what we saw... unfiltered, unretouched. In terms of showing your children examples of the magnificent camellia, you would be hard pressed to find a finer spot in the Lowcountry to best illustrate the various types of camellias... Magnolia Plantation is stunning in every season of the year and is a perfect place for a walk.

"I remembered small and unimportant things from the past... camellias floating above water in a porcelain bowl."
-from The Lords of Discipline - Pat Conroy

We talked about the colors all the way home as the craziest sunset closed out the day.

This post compiled to Four Seasons In One Day - Crowded House