Coastal Diaries - Parts 1 - 3

Sunday, October 16, 2016

Morning coffee amidst the debris washed ashore by Hurricane Matthew in South Carolina. 

October 12, 2016. Sometimes life throws a surprise when the heart screams for change. This happened to me recently. Last week, to be exact. In the space of 24 hours, my life went from normal to adventurous. Hurricane Matthew came trouncing up the East Coast, damaging homes, flooding towns and ripping up trees, and my husband was deployed to South Carolina to help assess damages in the storm's wake. Faced with the prospect of being separated from my husband for potentially the rest of the year, I decided to go with him.

On Monday morning, we packed up our lives, leaving our home and everything familiar in Winston-Salem for a temporary assignment in a new state. Getting here was challenging, to say the least. After traffic jams and road closures in Lumberton, a town in North Carolina mostly under water, followed by gas shortages and power outages in the heart of South Carolina, we finally motored into Myrtle Beach with empty stomachs and a packed-to-the-gills car.  (Yes, I forgot to pack food. But I DID bring the Kitchen Aid.)

I had been longing for adventure, but I was ready for it to be over when we were driving through storm-ravaged areas with no electricity or gas. And I quickly realized how short-lived healthy eating habits can be when the only food in sight for hours was a Cook-Out drive-through. In the end, we cast our lot with fate and drove 20 miles out of the way in search of a gas station with electricity. It was a success. And across the way was a grocery where we stocked up on bananas and cheese, saving us from a greasy debacle with fast food.

Snagging one of the only hotel rooms left on the coast, thanks to a kind Hilton employee, felt like winning the lottery. It may as well have been the Queen's palace for the sheer joy that washed over me as I threw myself onto a luxurious bed. Equally touching was how the hotel reached out to employees whose lives were affected by the storm, permitting them to spend the night when their homes were damaged.

Now we're settled into a cottage on a stretch of beach where I can see the ocean from my vantage point on the deck. I hear the waves pounding the shore, and I know from this morning's walk a twisted pile of broken dock pilings are pushing deeper into the sand. It's hard to believe only days ago a raging Category 1 plowed it's way past this coast, but the sound of bulldozers restoring the dunes and the ricocheting drone of jack hammers reminds me a community is rebuilding from nature's blow.

The skeletal remains of where the dunes used to be along Surfside Coast in South Carolina.

Remnants of a pier - the oldest in the state - that broke away during the storm. 

A sea bass leftover from a fisherman's catch provides breakfast for gulls. 

A grim reminder of the weekend's chaos. 

October 14, 2016.  I've been walking to the beach to keep up with the daily progress of the dune restoration. The process has been amazing to watch.  In the four days since we've been here, the twisted and piled up strands of picket fence have been picked up, the heavy pieces of the ripped pier have been carried off and there has been daily dredging of sand from the ocean to rebuild the dunes.  Additionally, carpenter crews have been arriving even as home owners are returning to assess their properties. Most homes in this community were spared total devastation and many only have cosmetic damages which can easily be repaired.  A few, though, have been completely destroyed due to heavy trees falling on them.

Further inland the damage has been greater. Each day, as my husband journeys from home to home assessing damages, he comes across ancient live oaks crushing rooftops, power lines looping across the road or straggling from poles. He faces road closures due to overflowing rivers and limited gas supplies as stations remain closed or are minimally functional. Many folks still don't have electricity and have been told it could be weeks or a month before it's fully restored. With no refrigeration, they have also lost food supplies, and for some this means a season's worth of harvest in their freezers. In spite of these hardships, most remain hopeful their communities will thrive once again.

Recovering from a hurricane is no easy feat, and our prayers are with South Carolinians, as well as those in our dear state of North Carolina, as they rebuild their lives.

October 15, 2016.  We were up before dawn, swilling copious amounts of coffee as we packed up for an excursion to Georgetown, a historic town about an hour south of Myrtle Beach. We drove past Calabash seafood joints, Krispy Kremes and boat repair shops in the sleepy dawn light before driving miles and miles through Low Country and crossing the bridge over the Waccamaw. 

We saw small houses hiding amongst the marshes and pine forests where mosquitoes hovered and the land was as flat as a grit cake. This was a different landscape than any I've seen, except for some of the inner banks of North Carolina. Still, there is a charm here. A beauty that gets into your soul and begs for exploration. The front porches with their sagging roofs and empty rocking chairs, the tiny general stores where you can buy bait and bread, and an occasional diner where southern barbecue is on the menu.

And then, after driving along a desolate stretch of highway with no homes in sight for miles, we crossed over a bridge and there beside the river was a beautifully sprawling white home.  We slowed to take in the tall windows and porches overlooking the water's edge, the boat house beyond and the magnificent architecture that was in such contrast to the tiny homes we had passed miles before. Sadly, it looked empty and I wondered about it's fate. Who had lived there? What stories had they told while sitting on that porch by the river?  I imagined a long dining table filled with happy guests and plenty of room for lodgers. Now, only the ghosts remained.

Later, we sat down to a dinner of Ruth Reichl's Pork and Tomatillo Stew and watched the sun set over Surfside Beach.

Crossing the Waccamaw River

Pork and Tomatillo Stew

Pork and Tomatillo Stew
Recipe by Ruth Reichl in My Kitchen Year


  • 2 pounds pork shoulder, butt or loin
  • 1 pound tomatillos
  • 1 pound Roma tomatoes, coarsely chopped
  • 1 bottle dark beer
  • 1 1/2 cups orange juice
  • 1 bunch chopped cilantro
  • 2 jalapenos, minced (I use one, but adjust according to your heat preference)
  • 1 lime
  • sea salt and freshly ground pepper
  • 1 head of garlic
  • vegetable oil
  • 2 large onions, chopped
  • 1 can black beans
  • white rice
  • sour cream

Begin by cutting the pork into cubes. Sprinkle them with salt.

Remove the husks from the tomatillos, wash the sticky surface off and quarter them. Put them into a pot with the tomatoes, the dark beer, and 1 1/2 cups of fresh orange juice. Let that stew for half an hour or so, until everything has become tender.

Brown the pork in a skillet, along with the whole cloves of peeled garlic in a few tablespoons of oil. Remove and put into the kettle of stew.

Put the onions into the skillet along with the cilantro and jalapenos. Add salt and pepper to taste and be sure the scrape the bottom, stirring in the delicious brown bits.

When the onions are translucent (about 10 minutes), put this mixture into the stew, turn the heat to low, partially cover and cook very slowly for about two hours. 

Before serving, add the black beans and cook for about 10 more minutes.

Serve over white rice. 

Stir the juice of one lime into a cup of sour cream and serve as a garnish.

Serves 6.


  1. Great writing, Naomi. You capture the beach restoration and all the rest.

  2. Thank you so much. I appreciate your compliment.