If you’re in the States, have a climate similar to that in ATL, and are in any sense interested in peppers such as the boonie, it’s time to start thinking about how to get seeds, germinate those seeds, and prep the plants to be ready for the spring thaw. My recollection after two seasons of working with boonies is that the ideal germination time for them in a Hardiness Zone such as 7a or 7b is about mid January.

You would germinate them inside of course. A heating strip markedly increases germination rate. With lights set up for the big boonie, once they sprout I can set up the small plants alongside the big ones using soda bottle greenhouses. Once they are big enough and the outside low gets substantially above 40 degrees fahrenheit, they can go outside.

I may do some tomatoes at the same  time. I have a yellow fruiting tomato variety that germinated well from seed, but didn’t like my local soil.  If, instead, we pot them, as we did last year, we should get markedly superior results.


We’ve been traveling a bit – the first vacation devoted to something other than relatives in some years, mostly up and down the Atlantic Coast. The best of the restaurants we ate at was Paula Deen’s Lady and Sons, but I’ll reserve that for a separate review. The others I’ll concatenate here, and also update the boonie pepper status, as they have sprouted.

boonie pepper sprouts.

boonie pepper sprouts.

The details:  The seeds were soaked overnight in water, and the Jiffy Peat pellets were watered with warm water with a little hydrogen peroxide. I added a tablespoon of 3% to 370 ml of water, but I suspect that’s really too much (I’ve seen a teaspoon in a pint or quart recommended). The seeds have been incubating 13 days in a 12 pellet Jiffy peat container, sometimes in the sun, but the last 5 days just near a window, no direct sunlight, using Park Seed’s windowsill heating strip.  The window sill was getting so cold it was counterproductive, whereas warm and near some sun seemed to make more sense to me. If I can get 4 good plants fully grown, I’m in business.

We went up and down the coast the past few days, going as far north as Myrtle Beach, SC and as far south as Tybee Island, GA. We touched on a number of interesting places to eat, but as we’re largely a Atlanta area blog these will be minireviews.

Myrtle Beach

Myrtle is not a pure white sand beach, but a light brown beach. It’s long and large, with hotels as far as the eye can see both north and south. Hotels were advertising prices as low as $27.00 a day. There is a lot to see and do, but mostly my wife wanted to watch waves. There was a restaurant near our hotel, called the Pier. If you walked to the pier just north of this one, there was another restaurant there named Pier 14 (getting original here). My wife ate at the Pier. There were decent shrimp in her po boy but the bread was spongy.

A balcony view of Myrtle Beach.

A balcony view of Myrtle Beach.

South Carolina Ginger Ales

I’ve been fascinated by spicy ginger ales ever since I saw a special by Charles Kuralt where he visited a ginger ale manufacturer in Blenheim SC. I know now that Vernor’s has a bit more bite than generic ginger ale, and that if I can get Stewart’s ginger beer (also described here and here), then I can have a nice spicy treat. But what I ran into in a Piggly Wiggly in Myrtle Beach is Blenheim’s Ginger Ale, which in the version I had started smooth and ended with a really nice kick (I wonder what C. Kuralt drank?). For those interested in the comparison between the various ginger ales, there is some discussion of it on Yelp.

This ginger ale has some kick to it. Now if I could find the red cap version..

This ginger ale has some kick to it. Now if I could find the red cap version..

Crabby Mike’s Calabash Buffet, 290 Highway 17 N, Surfside Beach, SC

The nicest thing about Crabby Mike’s buffet is the way they treat people while waiting to get into the buffet. The DJ outside, along with a stack of hula hoops, is really a nice touch. It allowed impatient children of all ages to burn off energy and enjoy themselves while waiting for their meal. Once inside, the menu has no price for the buffet, other than “market price”, so I suspect their prices go up and down as crab and fish become more or less expensive. We were charged $23.99 each for our buffet.

Crabby Mike’s is really big, with three or four step tiers to the restaurant, and in the middle, 7 large islands with food on them, a wall side kiosk where you can get all kinds of fried and grilled fish, and then desserts along one wall. There was a lot of space devoted to snow crab legs and crab clusters, and one section devoted entirely to crab claws. Crab legs and clams seemed to go really fast. They had a mixed collection of clams and mussels and the mussels were enormous.

The food? Mostly good. The snow crabs were saltier than I expected, but certainly edible. My wife went back for seconds on crab. My daughter stuck to the crab claws when she could, because it wasn’t as crowded. There was a lot more seafood, a lot more southern style vegetables than the typical Atlanta based Chinese and crab buffets, but in some respects, the ambience isn’t any different. Some people were in there eating nothing but crab (and throwing half of that away).

The most surprising items I had at Crabby Mike’s were their apple stix. I wasn’t expecting the rush of cinnamon when I bit into those at all. I enjoyed those a lot.

Verdict: Recommended. The food is good, and Crabby Mike’s will make your wait painless.

Crabby Mike's Calabash on Urbanspoon

Sticky Fingers, 341 Johnny Dodds Road, Mt. Pleasant, SC

We knew about this restaurant before we ever saw one, due to their excellent Habanero Hot sauce, which partly replaced our use of the Texas based Stubbs BBQ sauce. We had eaten there once, while staying in Charleston, and we ate there again while driving south along highway 17. This section of highway 17 is just south of the land of the sea grass baskets, little kiosks littering the road selling hand made woven baskets.

The food at Sticky Fingers was good. They have excellent sauces, their chicken fingers are more fist sized than finger sized. Sticky Finger’s ribs are tender but there really is little if any smoke in them. There are better ribs at Mad Dogs in Conyers.

Verdict: Recommended. Meats are good, but the excellent sauces are really the star of Sticky Fingers.

Sticky Fingers - Mount Pleasant on Urbanspoon

Tybee Island

We had climbed the lighthouse before, but never really found the beaches, until this trip. It’s not as developed as Myrtle Beach, not as many things to see and do, but the beach is whiter, if smaller, and when we were there, the waves weren’t as bad and the weather was warmer.

AJ”s Dockside Restaurant, 1315 Chatham Ave, Tybee Island, GA

If you get far enough south on Tybee, this restaurant can be found by driving as west as you can. That’s how I found it, that and a peek at their Urban Spoon page.  The Urban spoon reviews recommended arriving just before sunset, as the view is excellent, but we had no such luck.  AJ’s has inside and outside seating, and I suspect during the spring and fall that the outside seating is the way to go. AJ’s is an honest to god hole-in-the-wall restaurant, as the inside seating is in line with their bar, while outside seating spills off onto a pier nearby.

My daughter and my wife had AJ’s po boy. I had a cup of their crab stew, and a crab burger, where instead of beef or chicken, you get eight ounces of crab meat patty on your burger bun. My wife substituted a house salad for her fries. That substitution came at no cost.

The short of it? Everything was good, but while I liked my crab burger (the patty was twice the size of my bun), I loved the crab stew. It was thick with crab meat, rich with cream. I told my wife if we come back, I’m getting a bowl of the stew. The salad had perfectly ripe tomatoes, the shrimp on the po boys were good, and the bread on the po boys was both fresh and a little toasted, as opposed to spongy.

The menu for AJ’s is available on their web site.

Verdict: Recommended, good to very good. We’ll have to get a bowl of the crab stew when we come back.

Aj's Dockside Restaurant on Urbanspoon

Along with a number of bloggers, I share a certain fascination with the lowly pepper. In part it’s a function of living in hot dry places like Texas, and it’s also finding that peppers taste good. Peppers are also a good source of vitamins A and C, perhaps the best source of vitamin C short of citrus fruits.

My wife is half Chamorro, half Japanese, and although we don’t eat Chamorro recipes very often, we certainly like to have them as an option. One of the foundations of Chamorro cooking is a sauce called a finadene sauce, and it is ubiquitous on the island of Guam. Finadene is so popular that even the local Kentucky Fried Chicken serves it there (along with red rice). The finadene sauce is spicy and the spice for the finadene comes from a pepper known locally as the boonie pepper (also called the donie sali). Boonie, in local slang, is simply a shortened version of the word “boondocks“. In other words, the boonie is the common jungle pepper of Guam.

I used to have boonie peppers that my mother had saved and grown in her back yard in Louisiana, and as a wedding present she gave her potted boonies to me. Problem was, I was living in an apartment in Texas at the time and had to keep the plants outside. They didn’t last long. Someone carted off my plants and I haven’t seen them since.

My wife, of course, was heartbroken. Over time she found that the Thai bird pepper was a decent substitute for the boonie, but it wasn’t exactly the same pepper either (though note comments in the Wikipedia on the Thai ornamental). While cruising web sites for this blog, checking out Chamorro sites, I did a search on the boonie and found that people are selling it these days.

The first source is Reimer seeds.  They show three different kinds of boonies on their site, though only one kind is available, as of 3/19/2009. The next two sources are two eBay sellers. One is named floralys and the other is named rightbbq. Both eBay sellers are sporting a 100% reputation, while Reimer seeds has had some issues with sales in the past (issues are noted on the site Dave’s Garden). The seller floralys is located in Yigo, Guam, whereas rightbbq is in San Jose, California. Who you purchase from, should you purchase, is your business. For now I’ve purchased seeds from all three sources, and I’m waiting and seeing.

In the meantime I’ve been digging around various sites for information on starting seeds. Floralys gives some advice on the eBay sites he (she?) keeps, but other places that offer good advice on starting seeds are the blogs Container Gardening and About Gardening. Other good resources are Gardner’s Net and Pepper Joe. The poster sampsonsimpson on the Dave’s Garden Reimer thread has some interesting takes on starting seeds that are worth noting.

Boonies, once started and allowed to grow, eventually become bushes with wooden stems, and do well in pots. They don’t tolerate freezes well but they will grow for years.  My one worry is that Snellville, GA, is just colder than the part of Northwest Louisiana my mother started her seeds in, and as woody as my lot is, I have to worry about adequate sunlight.

Some notes on Chamorro bloggers, and Chamorro restaurants. Judy the Foodie has put out a lot of posts on Chamorro cooking. The blog Tasi Thoughts is one of the more prolific Chamorro blogs out there, and his discussion of the cook book “A Taste of Guam” has sold me a copy of that book (note – Barnes and Noble is much cheaper than the sources Amazon will send you to). The blogger Scent of Green Bananas is worth a read because he looks at the world in interesting ways. The blogger The Food Ho in one post references a place in San Diego called The Islander Grill, which appears to be a Chamorro joint.

Now if they would only open one of those in Atlanta.

Updates: The site fiery-foods.com has a nice article on the boonie pepper. The company The Pepper Pilot has a collection of boonie pepper based products and also sells boonie peppers, as seeds or dried. Karsten Uhl has a nice article on the Saipan boonie pepper. The blog Square Pegs also mentions the boonie, and the jelly that can be made from them (with very nice pictures to boot). The military support site Spousebuzz.com has an article that mentions finadene as well. In an article from the Anderson AFB web site, Joyce Martratt mentions a spam kelaguen recipe that uses boonie peppers.