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Cooking With Myra: An all-girls' trip is no time to count calories

By By Myra Starkey
Dec. 10, 2013 at 6:10 a.m.

Benne seed wafers

Benne Seed Wafers (sesame seed)

• 2 cups brown sugar

• 3/4 cup butter

• 1 egg

• 1 cup flour

• 1/4 tsp. salt

• 1/2 tsp. baking powder

• 1 tsp. vanilla

• 3/4 cup toasted benne seeds (sesame seeds)*

Preheat oven to 325 degrees. Cream butter and sugar together and add egg. Add flour, salt and baking powder. Add vanilla and toasted benne seeds. Drop by teaspoon or less onto cookie sheet lined with parchment paper. Bake in oven for 10 to 15 minutes or until golden brown. Allow to completely cool before removing from parchment. Yields 100 wafers, great for gift-giving. Store in airtight container.

*Toast seeds in skillet or oven but watch closely. they should be golden.

It is like paradise to wake up in a town you love with nothing to do but shop, eat and walk. Several weeks ago, I traveled to Charleston, S.C., with Taylor's mom, L'nell, and his four sisters for a girls' trip. I call this a girls' trip, but all of us are at least 50 years old.

Taylor has two older sisters, Marsella and Loree, and two that are younger, Melanie and Mignon. We would wake up late every morning and nibble on toast and jelly. We didn't want to get too full since we would be stuffing our stomachs for lunch and supper each day with all kinds of delicious low country cuisine.

In Charleston, the people's style of cooking is considered low country because this is the coastal area of South Carolina. I'm not sure if there is a contrasting high-country food somewhere uphill from there.

One morning, we ventured to a horse barn in town so we could make reservations for a carriage ride around the city that afternoon. More about that later. The day was early, and it was time to shop.

People have been going to shop in Charleston since the 1700s. This port city has long been the center of commerce for the southeast coast of the U.S.

Our first stop was the City Market downtown, which is a large, old building built in 1841 for vendors selling fish, meats and produce. Now, the vendors sell more tourist and gift items. I wandered in and out of the stalls, observing all the shoppers and all the things they would carry home to their friends and families. There were miniature replicas of ships and houses and mugs and knickknacks of all kinds that were finding their way into ladies' bags already full of souvenirs.

I wasn't sure exactly what I was looking for, but I had not found it yet until I stumbled into a candy factory. I could smell caramel and chocolate wafting through the open door. The candy maker was busy stirring a cauldron of sugar, making caramel, while another popped popcorn for caramel popcorn.

A lady beckoned me to the fudge counter, which was about 10 feet long and three shelves high. It was filled with parcels of chocolate heaven. She asked if I wanted a sample or two, and I am sure you know my answer. I left with a small bag of dark chocolate toffee, presumably to give to Taylor, although I don't recall if that survived the trip home.

Across the street was a kitchen shop filled with every gadget known to a home cook. As I entered, I smelled simmering onions and garlic from the cooking school area of the shop. If only I had an extra couple of hours to attend. I lingered by the gadgets, finding a new julienne slicer and a small book of low country specialties. I was so enthralled with the store, that I lost track of time, and I had to run to meet the rest of the group at the restaurant in time for our lunch.

Magnolia Cafe is known as an upscale Southern restaurant. The shellfish over grits beckoned me, and once again, I ordered the traditional dish of grits (my third). Donald Drake, the executive chef, had prepared this dish with a dark, roux-type gravy filled with sauteed shrimp, sea scallops, lobster and creamy white grits.

It was delicious but not as excellent as the shrimp and grits I had at the restaurant Husk the day before. Mignon ordered the cornbread-crusted rainbow trout with shrimp, hominy and local butter bean succotash with ham and horseradish remoulade sauce, which was a beautifully presented on the plate with colors of red, yellow and green.

The restaurant beautiful and gives the impression that you are dining in someone's dining room with large, heavy draped windows looking out onto the busy street. I passed on dessert, knowing about that toffee sitting in the bottom of my purse. I hated to add more calories, but I had long lost count of those in the early part of the trip.

We parted ways with the group once again as Loree, Melanie and I made our way back to the market area. I had spotted another candy shop, Kilwins, and wanted to buy a caramel apple for our afternoon snack. It turned out that the shop had homemade ice cream, and each of us left with a cone.

I hated to share my toasted coconut with chocolate chip ice cream as it was the best I had ever had. There were small bits of toasted coconut throughout the creamy concoction. I even ate the whole sugary cone. The nice gentleman cut the dark chocolate caramel apple into manageable slices for the group to share later.



Next, we boarded the horse-drawn carriage for a ride through some of the historic neighborhoods. Clip-clopping down the streets at a slow enough pace to really see the old mansions and hear the history (and some of the ghost stories) was fun and a must do on the list for the city. I would suggest taking a chocolate-covered caramel apple to share to make it especially delightful.

Later that day, we went through some art galleries and then along some streets we had not yet explored; we ended up finding a small clothing boutique. The young shop owner was delighted that Loree and I stopped by and offered wine and water, so we sipped and shopped.

I found an amazing origami wrap which can be worn at least 12 ways. This may not seem newsworthy to any men, but for a woman, an accessory that can be worn 12 ways is a miracle. We stayed there long enough to buy several and decided that these would be our main memento of the trip.

All of us piled back into the van later that day and headed to Folly Beach. This is a small community nearby on a barrier island on the Atlantic Ocean. We planned to eat at a local favorite restaurant, which looked out over the water, but when we arrived, they were hosting a wedding reception, so they directed us to the western-facing bayside of the town to Ritas, which is known for its watermelon margaritas.

I ordered the seared tuna nachos, which was a huge platter of chips covered with cheese, tuna, chopped tomatoes and more cheese. I ate about one-tenth of the dish, even though our 20-something-year-old waiter assured me that it was a perfect size entree. The air was crisp as the sun set across the water and all seemed perfect at Folly Beach.

I have figured out over the years that I am a water person. I love the majestic forests and even the towering mountains, but take me to the beach, and time reverses itself. My wrinkles and creased brow disappear, and I feel young again, carefree and happy. Charleston has the best of all worlds, great food for foodies, galleries and stores for the casual shopper, historical houses and museums for the intellectual and nearby beaches for people like me.

A special thanks to my mother-in-law, L'nell, for giving me a life memory of Charleston with the Starkey girls.

Myra Starkey lives in Victoria. Write her in care of the Advocate, P.O. Box 1518, Victoria, TX 77901 or email myra@vicad.com.

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