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Farm Market Easy Dinner

What to do with our beautiful abundance of farm-fresh peppers and tomatoes? Add some potatoes and fragrant green curry broth to them. Then put an egg on it.

After doing the fantastically easy drive-thru farmers’ market at Pepper Place, I was looking to make something special with my plump, beautiful cherry tomatoes from Penton Farms in Verbena. I wanted to cook them just a bit so I could still really taste how fresh they are.

This recipe for Fried Eggs with Tomatoes, Peppers and Potatoes in Green Curry Broth sounded perfect. It’s from Chris Weber, the chef at a restaurant called The Herbfarm just outside of Seattle. You should know that Chef Weber is the youngest chef overseeing any of America’s 47 5-Diamond restaurants.

We found Chef Weber’s recipe and story in the Wall Street Journal–in that paper’s Slow Food Fast series.

During the past few months, this fine-dining chef has had to pivot and then pivot again. When The Herbfarm closed, Chef Weber provided free three-course dinners for area front-line workers, sending out more than 44,000 boxes to these heroes. When that funding dried up, he turned to a nearby hotel and started cooking high-end dishes for the guests there. He says he’ll restart the free meal program if the need arises.

Chef Weber says this dish is a “good late-night. When you’re tired and need something really good and fast but not too heavy.”

I think it’s a great (and quick and easy) summer weeknight dinner that takes full advantage of our wonderful, fresh local produce. I also think you’ll enjoy it.

Ingredients

2 tablespoons olive oil

3 cloves garlic,thinly sliced

1½ tablespoons green curry paste

3 cups chicken stock

10 baby or fingerling potatoes, halved lengthwise

Kosher salt

4 eggs

1 cup shishito peppers

1 cup Sungold tomatoes

3 tablespoons butter

½ cup roughly chopped basil


Directions

In a large, high-walled pan, heat olive oil and garlic over medium-high heat. Add curry paste and sauté until fragrant, about 1 minute. Stir in stock, potatoes and a pinch of salt. Bring to a simmer and cook potatoes until fork-tender, 15-20 minutes.

Once potatoes are halfway through cooking, set a large sauté pan over high heat. Once very hot, lower heat to medium-high and add half the butter. Crack half the eggs into pan. Once whites begin to set, arrange half the peppers and half the tomatoes around eggs. Salt yolks and vegetables. Roll vegetables around and once they blister in spots, after about 2 minutes, transfer eggs and vegetables to a plate. Repeat with remaining butter, eggs, tomatoes and peppers.

Distribute potatoes and some broth among four shallow bowls. Spoon in tomatoes and peppers, and top each serving with a fried egg. Scatter basil over the top.

Total time: 20 minutes

Serves 4

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Fox 6 Books July 2020

These are the books I featured on WBRC Fox 6 this month. You can see the segment here. One eerily mirrors the time we are in right now. We also have a fascinating look at Winston Churchill from bestselling author Erik Larson, a book prescription for children and a way to breathe easier.  

The End of October by Lawrence Wright was published in April with uncanny timing. This medical thriller is a page-turning novel about a flu pandemic that mirrors much of what’s happening in our world today. When the World Health Organization sends Henry Parsons, a microbiologist-epidemiologist for the CDC, to Indonesia to investigate some mysterious deaths in a refugee camp, he knows pretty quickly that there’s a problem. But when an infected man joins the millions of worshippers in the annual Hajj to Mecca, a global pandemic begins. As Henry tries to save the world, his own family is struggling to simply survive back home in Atlanta. This novel takes us from the deserts of Saudi Arabia to the White House to African and South American jungles and to illicit labs where the disease might or might not have started. The novel is rooted in facts, and Wright weaves in information about historical epidemics like the 1918 flu, modern Russian cyber- and bio-warfare and the evolving science of viruses. That makes this story even scarier.

The Splendid and the Vile by Erik Larson is a portrait of courage and impeccable leadership and a close-up look at Winston Churchill and London during the Blitz. It takes place in the course of one year. On Churchill’s first day in office, Hitler invaded Holland and Belgium. During the next twelve months, the Germans would wage a relentless bombing campaign, killing 45,000 Britons. It was up to Churchill to hold his country together, teach his people “the art of being fearless” and persuade the Americans that Britain was an ally worth helping. The book relies heavily on a great many wartime diaries and, with almost day-to-day focus, takes readers inside 10 Downing Street and the prime minister’s country home, Chequers. It is an intimate look at Churchill and his family, including his wife, Clementine, and their youngest daughter, Mary; his “Secret Circle” of friends and advisors and some of the citizens who lived through the bombing.

Pete the Cat and His Magic Sunglasses by Kimberly and James Dean is a book about positivity for young readers! Pete the Cat wakes up feeling grumpy—nothing seems to be going his way. But some magic sunglasses—and some selfless sharing—teach Pete that a good mood has been inside him all along. This book is being distributed by pediatricians to some of our state’s youngest and most underserved children during Reach Out and Read-Alabama’s 11th annual Rx for Summer Reading campaign to encourage families to read aloud together.  For 14 years, Reach Out and Read-Alabama’s partnerships with pediatric practices and clinics across our state have placed more than 1.7 million brand-new books in the hands of Alabama’s youngest and most underserved children. Currently, 52 of Alabama’s pediatric practices and clinics serve as Reach Out and Read-Alabama program sites in 30 counties, impacting 40 percent of the state’s children under the age of five.  “Pete the Cat and His Magic Sunglasses seems to be the perfect book for this summer,” says Polly McClure, statewide coordinator for Reach Out and Read-Alabama. “This book, in particular, promotes positive thinking, which is so important in these uncertain times.” Go to http://www.roralabama.org to learn more about the Rx for Summer Reading program and how you can help get books to children.

Breath: The New Science of a Lost Art by James Nestor is premised on this fact: There is nothing more essential to our health and wellbeing than breathing, but most of us don’t do it correctly. Nester is a journalist who traveled the world to figure out why we (as a species) have lost that ability. He visits ancient burial sites, secret Soviet facilities, walks the streets of São Paulo and spends time with choir schools in New Jersey. He talks to men and women who are exploring the hidden science behind ancient breathing practices like Pranayama and Sudarshan Kriya and sits down with scientists doing cutting-edge studies into pulmonology, psychology, biochemistry and human physiology. Modern research shows that making even slight adjustments to the way we inhale and exhale can enhance athletic performance; rejuvenate internal organs; effect snoring, asthma and autoimmune disease; and even straighten scoliotic spines. Breath will get you thinking about this most automatic and basic biological function. You’ll never breathe the same again.  

I link to Amazon to show you exactly what book I’m talking about, but I love to shop locally at Church Street Coffee and BooksThe Alabama Booksmith, Little Professor Book Center, and I often visit my local library.

Featured

Prescribing Books

Lots of Alabama’s pediatricians are prescribing Pete the Cat. 

We’re talking about Pete the Cat and His Magic Sunglasses, to be exact. It’s a children’s book by Kimberly and James Dean, and it’s being prescribed by pediatric healthcare providers statewide as part of Reach Out and Read-Alabama’s 11th annual Rx for Summer Reading campaign to encourage families to read aloud together.  

Pete the Cat and His Magic Sunglasses is the featured book for Rx for Summer Reading.

For 14 years, Reach Out and Read-Alabama’s partnerships with pediatric practices and clinics across our state have placed more than 1.7 million brand-new books in the hands of Alabama’s youngest and most underserved children. Currently, 52 of Alabama’s pediatric practices and clinics serve as Reach Out & Read-Alabama program sites in 30 counties, impacting 40 percent of the state’s children under the age of five. 

Actor and Alabama native Clayne Crawford reads Pete the Cat and His Magic Sunglasses. Through his Clayne Crawford Foundation, he partners with organizations across our state to help children, women and veterans.

Even as clinics adjust to new safety measures and logistics to keep families and children safe during the pandemic, well-child visits are still highly encouraged to prevent more disease and to keep children on track with regular vaccinations, says Polly McClure, RPh, statewide coordinator for Reach Out and Read-Alabama. “We remain committed to supporting families with young children, continuing to provide books and encourage reading aloud at every checkup from six months through five years of age.” 

The evidence-based Reach Out and Read-Alabama program builds on the ongoing relationship, beginning in a child’s infancy, between parents and medical providers to develop critical early reading skills in children. The idea is to give parents the tools and knowledge to help ensure that their children are prepared to learn when they start school.

With more than 15 peer-reviewed studies and a recommendation by the American Academy of Pediatrics, Reach Out and Read is an effective intervention that incorporates early literacy into pediatric practice. During regular, one-on-one visits with the doctor, families grow to understand the powerful and important role they play in supporting their children’s development. 

Parents gain the confidence and skills that enable them to support the development of their child, early language and literacy at home. And the children get books of their very own.

Teaming up with the Alabama Department of Rehabilitation Services, the lead agency for Alabama’s Early Intervention System, Reach Out and Read-Alabama practices and clinics are hosting events throughout the summer that give parents practical information about building moments and routines to help their families manage during these anxious times. In addition, information about services and support through Early Intervention referrals and Child Find (1-800-543-3098) will be available for parents and caregivers at each event.  

Using Pete the Cat and His Magic Sunglasses as a basis to explore new feelings and emotions as well as the world in which we live, each event provides one simple reminder to families that spending time together with books can offer a safe harbor, even if only for a few moments each day.

 “We are excited about our partnership with Reach Out and Read-Alabama and the summer reading campaign,” says Betsy Prince, coordinator of Alabama’s Early Intervention System/Alabama Department of Rehabilitation Services. “This provides a great opportunity to get the word out about early literacy and about the importance of Early Intervention in supporting infants and toddlers with developmental disabilities and their families.”

According to the Urban Child Institute, children’s experiences in their earliest years affect how their brains work, the way they respond to stress, and their ability to form trusting relationships. During these years, the brain undergoes its most dramatic growth, setting the stage for social and emotional development. Language blossoms, basic motor abilities form, thinking becomes more complex, and children begin to understand their own feelings and those of others. 

“I have found the Reach Out and Read program to be a critical component of our primary care clinic,” says Elizabeth Dawson, MD, FAAP, medical coordinator of Charles Henderson Child Health Center and founder of the Troy Resilience Project. “It is incredibly powerful to not only be able to talk about but also demonstrate the power of books and reading for our children and families every day, as we are able to observe how children interact with books as well.” 

“Pete the Cat and His Magic Sunglasses seems to be the perfect book for this summer,” says McClure. This book, in particular, promotes positive thinking, which is so important in these uncertain times.

“I look forward to sharing this book in our clinic for the upcoming summer reading program,” Dawson says. “I love that it gives parents and kids the chance to feel a little brighter while promoting literacy and relationships and building a healthy foundation for every child and caregiver to become more resilient.”

Go to Reach Out and Read-Alabama to learn more about the Rx for Summer Reading program and how you can help get books to children.

Reach Out and Read-Alabama kicked off its 11th annual campaign on its Facebook page with a live virtual event on Friday, June 19. Guest speakers included Betsy Prince of the Alabama Department of Rehabilitation Services; Elizabeth Dawson, MD, FAAP, of Charles Henderson Child Health Center and the Troy Resiliency Project; Anna Dailey of Dothan Pediatric Clinic; and Alabama-born actor Clayne Crawford of the Clayne Crawford Foundation who read Pete the Cat and His Magic Sunglasses. You can listen to Crawford reading the book here.

Featured

Full Moon Shines Across Our State

During times of unimaginable uncertainty in the restaurant industry, Full Moon Bar-B-Que continues to cook. Low and slow, of course. But steady, too. Even during a pandemic, it seems, people still want their ‘que. 

In the 23 years since the Maluff brothers—David and Joe—purchased Full Moon Bar-B-Que from Pat James, they have grown the business from a single store on Birmingham’s Southside to 15 locations all across the state. The Birmingham metro area has eight locations, including one in the Hill Student Center at UAB (it is scheduled to reopen in the fall). The brothers are even moving ahead with plans for a new store in Huntsville by the end of 2020.

James, a former football coach who spent a dozen years as Paul “Bear” Bryant’s assistant, started the business in 1986 with his wife, Eloise. They called it Pat James’ Full Moon Bar-B-Que. David and Joe, sons of Lebanese immigrants, purchased the original Birmingham location in 1997.

I talked to the brothers for an Alabama NewsCenter story. You can read the entire story here.

The brothers have stayed true to the initial vision with colorful, sports-centric décor celebrating favorite regional teams; made-from-scratch dishes; and hands-on involvement in the business. Perhaps most importantly, they have always used hickory wood-fired pits to cook the meats. They even have five big, portable pits, allowing them to cook Full Moon barbecue anywhere—feeding groups of 10 to (once restrictions are lifted) 10,000.

These wood-fired pits make a world of difference, David says. “We have a passion to do barbecue right.  That’s why all of our stores still have wood-burning pits in them. And we do it the old-fashioned way—fresh, from scratch, every day. We cook our meat low and slow right in front of our customers, and they see it, smell it, taste it. And that’s what’s kept us thriving through the years.”  

During its flavorful 35-year history, Full Moon Bar-B-Que has gathered fans from across the country. It’s cheekily called the “Best Little Pork House in Alabama,” but Full Moon offers a comfortable, family-friendly atmosphere that has served generations and appeals to all nationalities, David says. “We’re real big on making the customer feel good. That’s our job. When you come into our house, we make you feel warm and welcome. We’re here to make you happy.”

Full Moon was named one of the top 10 barbecue restaurants in the U.S. by Huffington Post. The restaurant’s red and white sauces are on grocery store shelves along with the signature chow-chow, which is served on every sandwich.

Full Moon boasts two items on Alabama’s list of 100 Dishes to Eat Before You Die:  the crisp vinaigrette slaw and the baked-fresh-daily Half Moon chocolate chip and pecan cookies (half dipped into glossy, dark chocolate). Both these items are made according to Eloise James’ original recipes. 

There really wasn’t much of a pivot, David says, besides shutting down the dining rooms. “We were already set up for drive-thru, catering (and) curbside. That’s our model. We got stronger in that sense, but we’ve been doing it forever. You know, we’re one of the few restaurants that can have a full menu like we have on the drive-thru menu. So, it’s automatic for us to thrive in a situation like this, because we do it every day.” Besides, he adds, barbecue travels well.

What has changed, though, are the expanded health and safety precautions at each restaurant, Joe says. Things like maintaining social distancing between tables, hanging plexiglass between the booths, regular temperature checks for employees, masks and gloves for everyone who works there, extra attention given to sanitizing surfaces and washing things in the kitchen. 

“We have to take these measures every day to keep our employees safe, to keep our guests safe,” Joe says. “That’s the most important thing at this point.” 

“I’m proud of our people,” David says. “Being in the restaurant business is tough enough. Then adding all these measures on top of their jobs. You have to remember:  These guys are wearing a mask in the kitchen! It’s hard for them. It’s hard for us to manage because we’ve never been through anything like this before, right? That’s our duty … we’ve got to keep everyone safe. We’re going to do whatever it takes to keep our business thriving and our employees safe. Whatever it takes.”

Full Moon has long been known for scratch-made Southern sides like collard greens, baked beans, fried green tomatoes, potato salad, fried okra and mac & cheese.  But over the years, the brothers have expanded the offerings to suit a variety of tastes and lifestyles adding freshly made salads topped with a meat of your choice, hand-breaded chicken tenders, and gigantic baked potatoes overstuffed with meat and fixings. They put wings (Buffalo and smoked) on the menu several years ago, and the fried catfish (farm-raised in Mississippi) is extremely popular. 

But it’s the savory, smoky barbecue that is most famous here, especially the pork. Whether you get it chopped or request it sliced, you’ll want to order it like the regulars do—with “a little of the outside meat” mixed in. There are classic spareribs as well as baby back ribs. The brisket is from Black Angus cattle. Smoked chicken, turkey and spicy pork links are other options.

All this food is made using decades-old recipes and time-honored techniques; it’s comforting and familiar. And it makes people happy.

Back in March, the brothers started a “Feed a Friend” campaign, and they’ve extended it through June. It’s not something they talk about much. For years, David and Joe have quietly worked behind the scenes with churches, schools and nonprofits, but they had to enlist the help of people on the restaurants’ email lists to find families in need. 

When the pandemic hit, David says, “we saw a lot of people unemployed, not working, hungry. It broke my heart; it broke my brother’s heart.”

Each week, they get 300 to 400 responses to their Feed a Friend query. They go through these messages every day, identifying families in need and then sending food to their homes.  “I’ll tell you,” David says, “the reactions we get … will bring tears to your eyes. When they hear they are getting fed today … they are overwhelmed with joy. … It’s anonymous, who suggested that they need food. We bring it to their front door. We don’t say a word to them except, ‘Enjoy.’ 

“We’ve gotten a huge response,” David says. “A lot of this we don’t advertise, and we don’t want to advertise. This is from our hearts to the community. And I don’t care who it is, whether they’ve been a customer of ours or not. That doesn’t matter. We need to feed the kids and the families in our community and support them when we can.” 

The brothers do this every day, and sometimes they’re feeding two or three families a day. But that’s not all.

“It’s a wonderful feeling in your heart, doing something for others,” Joe says. “Feeding the first responders, feeding the nurses for nurses’ week, feeding the firemen. We’re not doing it just in Birmingham, we’re doing it in Tuscaloosa, we’re doing it in Auburn, we’re doing it in Montgomery. We’re just … trying to help our community out when they need it.”

Full Moon Bar-B-Que

Locations in Alabaster, Dothan, Fultondale, Homewood, Hoover, Inverness, Jasper, McCalla, Montgomery, Opelika, Pelham, Southside in Birmingham, Trussville, Tuscaloosa and UAB’s Hill Student Center. 

Check individual locations for current hours.

fullmoonbbq.com

Featured

U-Pick Lavender

The u-pick opportunities in Alabama abound—strawberries, blueberries, sunflowers, muscadines, tomatoes, pumpkins and even Christmas trees. 

Now add fragrant lavender to that fun list.

Lavender Wynde Farm in Harvest, located in the rolling foothills north of Huntsville, is inviting the public to the farm to pick their own lavender Friday and Saturday, June 12 and 13, from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. each day. (The 10 a.m. to noon timeframe is filling up. They suggest visiting after lunchtime.)

There’s a Zen sort of vibe in the sunny, manicured fields of what owners Lora and Mike Porter call their “farmlet.” Some folks sit in chairs scattered around under a few shade trees while dozens of others kneel or sit in the grass next to knee-high plants quietly snipping the fragrant stems. 

When you arrive, you’ll be handed a pair of sterilized garden scissors (but you are encouraged to bring you own, which they will sterilize for you). They give you a small plastic sleeve with rubber bands. These sleeves will hold 100 to 120 stems. You’ll pay $10 for each bundle. You’ll be instructed how to dry your bundles of food-grade lavender (upside down in a cool, dry place for a few weeks). My bunches are making my closets smell amazing right now.

Lora Porter says, “growing lavender in north Alabama was a learning process.” Lavender is a Mediterranean plant, she explains, and it loves rocky soil. Our Alabama clay was too dense, so they learned to augment the soil with gravel and mound the plants for drainage. The long, beautiful rows of full, healthy plants, each bristling with hundreds of stems, is proof they’ve figured it out.

In addition to the u-pick opportunity, there’s a pop-up shop selling soaps and other bath and beauty products like body butters, lotions and sugar scrubs; essential oils; teas; and lavender-filled sachets. While they specialize in lavender, the Porters raise a variety of herbs and botanicals. They distill, on-site, many of the hydrosols and essential oils that are used in their natural, handcrafted aromatherapy products.

During the u-pick events, they will be distilling mint and lavender throughout the day, and they’ll have lavender lemonade for sale, too. Visitors can buy their own mint, rosemary and lavender plants (and they’ll even sell you bags of gravel to get those lavender plants started properly). 

Lavender Wynde Farm is at 492 Robins Road, Harvest, Alabama 35749. For logistical purposes, you should go to the Facebook page to let them know you are coming for the u-pick days. Or call 256-714-4144 and leave a message. Otherwise, visits are by appointment only. 

A few things to know:  Use the farm’s gravel driveway to enter. Do not use the neighbor’s driveway or cut across their grass for ingress/egress. And bring your own garden clippers/scissors if you have them; several of the farm’s scissors were lost during the first u-pick weekend. They will sterilize yours as you enter and leave. Finally, feel free to share photos of your lavender-picking adventure. Lora says that “makes all the weeding worthwhile.” 

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Fox 6 Books: June

These are the books I featured on WBRC Fox 6 this month. You’ll find nonfiction with Harper Lee, timely historical fiction, a usable guide to important self-care and a twisty thriller set in Germany.

A note for right now:  I want you to have access to great reads from your home. While our access to books is somewhat limited, I’ll be sharing books that are not hard or expensive to find. Some are available via the Jefferson County Library Cooperative’s Overdrive (Libby) platform for download on your electronic devices. If you don’t have a library card, you can get an e-card here (https://www.jclc.org). You can also get my recommendations on Kindle or paperback via Amazon. Only one of these books is brand new, but you can get it delivered, too. 

Furious Hours:  Murder, Fraud, and the Last Trial of Harper Lee, by Casey Cep, is set in 1970s Alabama when the story of a serial killer caught the attention of Harper Lee who wanted to write her own gothic true-crime work (like Truman Capote’s In Cold Bloodwhich she helped him research 17 years earlier).

Lee attended a trial and worked obsessively on the book about a man accused of killing five family members for insurance money. Cep’s reporting is based on materials no one has written much about, including a surviving first chapter of a book Lee called The Reverend, which sat in a briefcase for years in Alexander City. In this well-written work of nonfiction, Cep takes up the story of Reverend Willie Maxwell after he himself has been killed. The trial is for the vigilante who shot Maxwell at the funeral of his last victim. The same savvy lawyer who helped Maxwell avoid punishment is representing the man who shot him. This book is a moving tribute to one of our most revered writers and an intimate look at racial politics in the Deep South.

Year of Wonder:  A Novel of the Plague, by Geraldine Brooks, feels awfully timely right now. In the 1660s, a small village in England quarantined itself after residents were stricken with The Plague.

This is a work of historical fiction because this really did happen in the remote village of Eyam, and some of the characters (including the rector and his housemaid) are from the sparse historical record. In this book that housemaid, Anna, is the heroine, and the story is told through her eyes. As the disease takes half of the villagers, Anna emerges as a healer. (Somebody had to after the village midwives and herbalists were killed during a witch hunt.) The Plague was devastating, of course, but the deterioration of Anna’s community was another thing to overcome in a terrible year that eventually became a “year of wonders.”

Healing Yoga, by Loren Fishman, MD, is a practical guide from a renowned expert on rehabilitative medicine who shares usable advice and easy-to-understand techniques to pursue self-care right at home.

The book is full of postures proven to treat 20 common ailments—from headaches to insomnia from backaches to shoulder pain from bone loss to bunions. Learn strategies to restore your body, relieve your pain, and ease your mind with yoga. Some 170 photographs will illustrate healing techniques Dr. Fishman has invented, refined and validated with the help of thousands of patients through decades of research.

Broken Glass, by Alexander Hartung, is the first of two books (so far!) in the Nik Pohl thriller series set in Munich. The story is a page-turner, the protagonist is flawed but heroic and the city provides an interesting setting for this police procedural. (I love reading books set somewhere I’ve been, and having visited Munich last fall, it was great to see this amazing city again in these pages.)

In this novel, one woman is missing, another is dead and the two women look remarkably similar. Nik (who gets suspended from the police force fairly early in the story) has to figure out what else they have in common—something powerful people want to keep hidden. There are several twisty parts to this story, which make it highly entertaining.  

Blood Ties, the second in this series, came out last December, but read this one first to get a real sense of Nik Pohl’s character.

I link to Amazon to show you exactly what book I’m talking about, but I love to shop locally at Church Street Coffee and BooksThe Alabama Booksmith, Little Professor Book Center, and I often visit my local library.

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Virtual 5K = Real Results

Run, walk (or skip, for that matter) to benefit service industry workers.

A virtual 5K can make a real difference to local hospitality workers right now.

COVID-19 has hit Alabama’s restaurant and hospitality industry hard, and thousands of service industry workers across our state have seen their hours reduced or have lost their jobs altogether.

Will Wilder saw a way to help them.

Wilder has teamed up with The Trak Shak, Redmont Distilling Co. and EW Motion Therapy for the Redmont ‘Rona Run, a virtual 5K to benefit Alabama’s service workers. 

All proceeds from the Redmont ‘Rona Virtual 5K, set for May 8-10, go to the AL Hospitality Workers Relief Fund, which distributes cash directly to Alabama food and beverage workers to help cover rent, utilities and medical expenses during the COVID-19 crisis. 

Wilder, an avid runner who loves the outdoors, says, “Running has kept me sane since COVID-19 arrived. I’ve been running almost every day, and other than trips to the grocery store, it’s about the only time outside I have each day. 

“I’ve also always thought our incredible restaurant and bar scene is one of the best things about Birmingham,” says Wilder, who grew up here and attended college at Washington University in St. Louis and then Columbia Law School. “There is nothing I love more than showing people from out of town around our city and letting them taste our incredible food. It’s been tough to see how hard the pandemic has hit service sector workers. I thought that putting on a virtual 5K fundraiser would be the best thing I could do to use something that has kept me happy and sane to help the rest of my community.”

Participants can walk, run or walk-run—at a safe distance from others—either outside or inside on a treadmill. They will have almost an entire weekend to complete their virtual 5K. With social distancing practices in effect, participants are encouraged to exercise by themselves with the satisfaction of knowing they are part of something larger than themselves.

The window for folks to run the virtual race and submit their results begins at 6 p.m. on Friday, May 8th and ends at 4 p.m. on Sunday, May 10th. To be eligible for Top Finisher Awards, participants must submit photographic evidence of their time to AlabamaServiceWorkersRelief5k@gmail.com. This can be a photo of their treadmill screen or a screenshot of results from a GPS-based exercise app such as Strava or Nike Run Club or Runkeeper, Wilder says. (These apps have limited versions that are free.)

Awards will go to the Top Three Overall Women and Men, and there will be cool raffle prizes, too, including gift baskets from Dreamland Bar-B-Que and Redmont Distilling Co.

The winners will be announced during a Virtual Happy Hour at 6 p.m. on Sunday hosted by Redmont Distilling. Everyone who signs up or donates will get a link to log in through Zoom, a free video-conference website.

The cost to register is $20 plus a $2.50 RunSignUp fee. Registration closes at 3 p.m. on Sunday, May 10.

For more information or to sign up, go to https://runsignup.com/Race/AL/Birmingham/AlabamaServiceWorkersReliefVirtual5k

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Fox 6 Books: May

These are the books I featured on WBRC Fox 6 this month. I think they are perfect for right now: fiction that you can get lost in, an important picture book for young readers, a way to cope with anxiety and a cookbook to remind us of better days.

A note for right now:  I want you to have access to great reads from your home. While our access to books is somewhat limited, I’ll be sharing books that are not hard or expensive to find. Some are available via the Jefferson County Library Cooperative’s Overdrive (Libby) platform for download on your electronic devices. If you don’t have a library card, you can get an e-card here (https://www.jclc.org). You can also get my recommendations on Kindle or paperback via Amazon. Only one of these books is brand new, but you can get it delivered, too. 

Boy Swallows Universe, by Trent Dalton, is the story of a boy coming of age in 1980s Australia, and it is gritty and funny and heartbreaking all at once. There’s magic here as well as crime, violence, mystery and a character you won’t forget anytime soon. Eli Bell doesn’t know his real father, but his mother and stepfather are heroin dealers. He has a brilliant brother who does not speak. As a young child, their sitter was a notorious ex-felon (a national record-holder for number of successful prison escapes). Eli lives in a neglected neighborhood of Polish and Vietnamese immigrants, but he’s determined to follow his open and big heart, become a journalist and grow up to be a good man. People have called this book “electric,” “mesmerizing,” “thrilling.” I think this debut novel is all those things including amazing.

The Cat Man of Aleppo is a picture book for young readers by Irene Latham and Karim Shamsi-Basha, both of whom are local writers. It’s the true story of Mohammad Alaa Aljaleel, who, in the midst of a terrible civil war in Syria, took care of the hungry, abandoned cats he found on the once-beautiful streets of Aleppo. When most people fled, Aljaleel, an ambulance driver, stayed behind to care for his neighbors who could not leave. He soon realized that they were not the only ones who were suffering. So he used what little money he had to feed the city’s abandoned cats. When that wasn’t enough, he asked the world to help, and the world did. Today, people from all over support Aljaleel’s efforts to house and care for orphaned children and shelter and treat abandoned animals. This is a beautiful (and beautifully illustrated by Yuko Shimizu) story of love and compassion and determination and courage.

You Are Here:  An Owner’s Manual for Dangerous Minds, by Jenny Lawson, is something I found on a reading list for people who are experiencing anxiety. And who isn’t to some extent right now? Part therapy, part humor and part coloring book, Lawson (who wrote the equally hilarious book Furiously Happy) uses art therapy to help readers cope with anxiety and negative feelings. Lawson has always been candid about her personal struggles, something that helps readers cope with their own. Some of the material in this book is dark, but there’s lightness here, too. Lawson doodles and draws when she is anxious, and she sometimes posts these pieces online. Fans would come to her book signings with printouts of these drawings for her to sign. This is an entire book of these funny, smart, sometimes-irreverent drawings (all printed on perforated paper so you can tear them out, hang them up, give them to friends). That and things like fill-in-the-blank lists allow you to make Lawson’s book your own. 

Always Home:  A Daughter’s Recipes & Stories is a brand-new cookbook and more by Fanny Singer. Singer is the daughter of food icon and activist Alice Waters, and she grew up in her mother’s kitchen at Chez Panisse. (As a baby, she was swaddled in dish towels and slept in a big salad bowl.) She also learned the lessons of an edible education—knowing what you’re eating and how it got to your plate This is more than a cookbook; it’s a culinary memoir about the bond between mother and daughter, food (of course) and the need for beauty in our lives. Dozens of well-written vignettes accompany recipes for dishes like roast chicken, coriander seed pasta and her mother’s Garlicky Noodle Soup.  And they highlight an amazing life of food, people and travel.

I link to Amazon to show you exactly what book I’m talking about, but I love to shop locally at Church Street Coffee and BooksThe Alabama Booksmith, Little Professor Book Center, and I often visit my local library.

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Pizza

Thank you, Birmingham Breadworks, for getting me out of my house. At an acceptable distance, of course.

Because I ate a full half of one of your pizzas, I felt compelled (really compelled and fueled) to walk five miles in my hilly neighborhood today.

I really am grateful. That pizza with its savory bacon and thick, chewy Gouda on your delicious airy crust was amazing.

And it’s available for pick-up only on Thursday, Friday and Saturday from 5 to 7 p.m. Options include pepperoni, three cheese, Margherita, sausage and cheddar, onion and arugula, chicken bacon ranch.

You order online. Designate a pick-up time and you’re golden. And full.

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Sticky Onion Tart. You’re gonna want to make this.

Jamie Oliver‘s Sticky Onion Tart is a real treat. My friend Beth Wilder made it recently and shared a picture that made my mouth water. So I found the recipe and decided to make it myself.

It calls for things you probably already have on hand: onions, garlic, thyme, brown sugar, apple cider vinegar. I had to get the puff pastry during my last grocery run because I don’t usually have that in my freezer. Next time, I’ll get two because I will make this again and again.

A few notes: I had enormous onions in my onion/potato drawer, so I used two and cut them into eight thick slices. Also, I only had light brown sugar, but it was fine. I made this in a cast iron pan.

Jamie Oliver’s Sticky Onion Tart

Ingredients

  • 4 medium onions 
  • 50 g unsalted butter 
  • 4 sprigs of fresh thyme 
  • 4 fresh bay leaves 
  • 2 tablespoons soft dark brown sugar 
  • 4 tablespoons cider vinegar 
  • 8 cloves of garlic 
  • 320 g sheet of all-butter puff pastry , (cold)

Method

  1. Preheat the oven to 220°C/425°F/gas 7. Peel the onions and halve across the middle. Place the butter in a 26cm non-stick ovenproof frying pan on a medium heat. Strip in the thyme leaves and add the bay, shake the pan around and get it bubbling, then add the sugar, vinegar and 100ml of water. Place the onion halves in the pan, cut side down. Peel and halve the garlic cloves and place in the gaps, then season generously with sea salt and black pepper. Cover, turn the heat down to low and leave to steam for 10 minutes to soften the onions slightly, then remove the lid and cook until – very importantly! – the liquid starts to caramelise, gently shaking the pan occasionally to stop it from sticking.
  2. Place the pastry over the onions, using a wooden spoon to push it right into the edges of the pan. Bake for 35 minutes, or until golden brown and puffed up (it will look quite dark, but don’t worry!). Using oven gloves to protect your hands, pop a large plate over the pan and confidently but very carefully turn out.
  3. Delicious served with goat’s cheese, a simple salad and a cold beer.
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Hand-sewn masks

Back in mid-January, we got two weeks’ worth of pasta, beans and canned tomatoes. For Valentine’s Day, I gave my kids the usual heart-shaped box of chocolates along with some disinfecting wipes and their choice of lavender- or lemon-scented spray hand sanitizer. I thought I was prepared.

But then masks.

photo from WBAP.com

It is nearly impossible to get them now, so I decided to make them. I started with the New York Times’ pattern, which took a while. I made one with that. Next, I moved on to an easier pattern with a pocket for a filter from See Kate Sew.

But now, even fabric is hard to come by. I placed an order with JoAnn only to get one email after another saying, “Uh oh! Items from your order have been canceled.”

Then I came across this blog post from Free People about repurposing old clothing into homemade face masks.

That post was inspired by Becky Vieira, a super mom who created the website Masks For Heroes — pretty much overnight — in an effort to streamline support for making and acquiring masks, surgical grade and fabric alike.

As Becky says: “While cloth masks don’t offer full protection when dealing with COVID-19 patients, they serve other purposes: patients with less aggressive symptoms can wear them, freeing up Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) for health care workers, or they can be used as a covering for used N95 masks since, in some cases, many health care workers are having to reuse the same mask for up to five days.”

Visit Becky’s site to find an easy pattern as well as a list of nearby medical facilities in need of masks. In Alabama, Grandview Medical Center in Birmingham, Southern Family Health in Columbiana and Cahaba Medical Care in Centerville are listed.

Closer to home, there’s the Facebook group bham face masks. They are making masks by the thousands and offer practice tips and troubleshooting for participants.

The mask from the Free People blog is super easy. This DIY hand-sewn mask is made with elastic hair ties and whatever fabric you have around the house … even, perhaps, a shirt or skirt you no longer wear.

DIY Hand-Sewn Mask

You’ll need:

Needle & thread (or sewing machine if you have one)

Two elastic bands 

One 10-by-18-inch piece of new or freshly-washed fabric 

*NOTE: Most departments of health suggest that masks be made from two layers of tightly woven 100% cotton fabric.

Begin by folding your fabric in half along its longer edge, so that it measures 5 x 9 inches. Make sure that, if your fabric has a pattern, the pattern is on the inside. 

Take your needle and thread and sew along the long, open side of the fabric (a simple running stitch will work). You’re essentially creating a small tube, with two openings on each of the shorter sides.

Once sewn, turn the fabric inside out so that the stitches sit on the inside.

Take an elastic band and insert it around the cloth on the short side. Fold about 1” of cloth over the rubber band and sew along the length of that side, making a casing for the band so it fits securely in place. Repeat for the other side and, voila! You’ve made a mask! And best of all, you’ve played a definitive part in helping to safeguard yourself and the community around you. 

Here’s a link to a video showing you how it’s done.

(A shout-out to Free People: The retailer is partnering with Goldsheep, an LA-based factory that normally produces FP Movement leggings. They are producing masks that will be donated throughout the medical community.)

Finally, of course, here’s the simple bandana mask that requires no needle or thread–only a bandana and two hair ties.

Remember that social distancing is still key to staying safe–even with a mask.

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Still Serving: Crestline Bagel Co.

We’ve been baking bread here at my house. Well, my husband has been baking bread, and I’ve been really enjoying it. Here’s my blog post with the tried-and-true, no-knead, made-in-a-cast-iron-dutch-oven recipe. The original recipe is from Sullivan Street Bakery.

But one bread we always buy: bagels. We just can’t do them like my friend Jennifer Yarbrough and her teams at Crestline Bagel, so we don’t even try.

Luckily Crestline Bagel is still serving during this current crisis.

The downtown location is temporarily closed, but the Mountain Brook and Cahaba Heights stores are open 7 a.m. to 1 p.m. seven days a week.

Photo by Jennifer Yarbrough.

They are doing delivery through UberEats and Waitr. Or you can order online for curbside and takeout at Crestlinebagel.com.

So my go-to whole wheat everything with honey-walnut cream cheese–the perfect mix of savory and sweet, creamy and crunchy-remains something to enjoy.

And I’m truly grateful for that.

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Lost and Found

Friends, we don’t know half of what this coronavirus is taking from us. 

Not even half.

Our time with family. Our time with friends. Our time to just freely walk in this world and not think about the distances between us. 

I have often taken for granted the absolute delight of a sentence spooling out—one word sewn neatly into another and another and another, but now I am simply grateful, most days, that the words I fit together make any kind of sense.

Some days I am frozen. There are no words. 

So I look to someone else’s words for inspiration, for distraction. 

Yesterday, we lost John Prine, whose words in song are poetry. Sometimes, we don’t fully realize that, or stop to consider it, until we see them written down.

Here’s Angel from Montgomery:

I am an old woman named after my mother
My old man is another child that’s grown old
If dreams were lightning, thunder were desire
This old house would have burnt down a long time ago

Make me an angel that flies from Montgomery
Make me a poster of an old rodeo
Just give me one thing that I can hold on to
To believe in this living is just a hard way to go

When I was a young girl well, I had me a cowboy
He weren’t much to look at, just a free rambling man
But that was a long time and no matter how I try
The years just flow by like a broken down dam

Make me an angel that flies from Montgomery
Make me a poster of an old rodeo
Just give me one thing that I can hold on to
To believe in this living is just a hard way to go

There’s flies in the kitchen I can hear ’em there buzzing
And I ain’t done nothing since I woke up today
How the hell can a person go to work in the morning
And come home in the evening and have nothing to say

Make me an angel that flies from Montgomery
Make me a poster of an old rodeo
Just give me one thing that I can hold on to
To believe in this living is just a hard way to go

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Fox 6 Books: April

These are the books I featured on WBRC Fox 6 this month. Each of these books will take you somewhere else. And right now, while we’re unable to travel (even outside our homes for the most part), they offer windows to the wider world.

A note for right now:  I want you to have access to great reads from your home. While our access to books is somewhat limited, I’ll be sharing books that are not hard or expensive to find. Some are available via the Jefferson County Library Cooperative’s Overdrive (Libby) platform for download on your electronic devices. If you don’t have a library card, you can get an e-card here (https://www.jclc.org). You can also get my recommendations on Kindle or paperback via Amazon. Only one of these books is brand new, but you can get it delivered, too. 

Everything Lost is Found Again:  Four Seasons in Lesotho by Will McGrath is part memoir, part essay collection and offers an up-close-and-personal journey to Lesotho (this small, land-locked kingdom is surrounded by South Africa and is a place few of us have been, I’m guessing).

The author taught high school there, while his wife worked with families devastated by the AIDS epidemic. The subjects here can be serious and sad (there are lots of AIDS orphans in Lesotho; Old Testament retributions are not uncommon), but a lot of this book is laugh-out-loud funny. Truly funny. And that’s truly necessary right now. But best of all, this book takes us to a place of joy and resolve in the face of hardship and incredible love of life—a place where a stranger might reach out and hold your hand as you walk down the street. 

Sailing Alone Around the Room by Billy Collins is perfect for right now if you find your attention span shorter than usual. Actually, I would recommend any of Collins’s accessible, beautiful poetry. Also, this is National Poetry Month, so poetry is timely.

I absolutely adore Collins’s literate and totally accessible take on the everyday—things like the scrawled comments of a book’s previous readers or forgetfulness or having insomnia (After counting all the sheep in the world/ I enumerate the wildebeests, snails/ camels, skylarks, etc./ then I add up all the zoos and aquariums/ country by country.) Collins served two terms as our country’s Poet Laureate. He has been called “the most popular poet in America” by the New York Times, and his conversational style and smart, witty and approachable, works are why. 

Abraham:  A Journey to the Heart of Three Faiths by Bruce Feiler, the author of Walking the Bible, highlights the common heart of the world’s three monotheistic religions:  Christianity, Judaism and Islam.

All three share Abraham, and so Feiler takes readers on a journey to understand this common patriarch. He travels through war zones, explores caves, talks to religious leaders and visits shrines to uncover some little-known details of the life of a man who connects the faiths of half the world. Read it and understand your neighbors better. Read it and understand that many conflicts are not really necessary.

The Mirror and the Light by Hilary Mantel is finally here! Fans have waited eight long years for this final book in Mantel’s historical fiction trilogy about the life of Thomas Cromwell in the court of Henry VIII. This saga started with Wolf Hall and continued with Bring Up the Bodies (both of these won the Man Booker Prize). Both of those books also are available for download, but you might want to own them. 

In this last book, (which picks up after the beheading of Anne Boleyn, Henry’s second wife), Mantel traces the final years of Cromwell, who always has had to rely upon his wits with no great family to back him, no private army at his disposal. But this blacksmith’s son—a common man—rose to the very highest levels of wealth and power in a very fickle court and changed the course of a country before he was done.

I link to Amazon to show you exactly what book I’m talking about, but I love to shop locally at Church Street Coffee and BooksThe Alabama Booksmith, Little Professor Book Center, and I often visit my local library.

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Fish Market Family Meals

Right now, when life is so very different, it’s nice to know some favorite things remain available.

The Fish Market Southside is still serving with curbside takeout and delivery (through DoorDash, Uber Eats and Bham Takeout) Monday through Thursday from 11 a.m. to 8 p.m. and Friday and Saturday 11 a.m. to 9 p.m. The restaurant’s full menu is available as well as some family meals.

Family Menu #1 ($38) includes Greek salad, house-made focaccia, Greek chicken (or chicken tenders), Mediterranean-style green beans and Greek potatoes.

Family Menu#2 ($50) includes Green salad, house-made focaccia, green beans and Athenian-style grouper or salmon (or half and half because both are awesome) served over orzo.

photo from The Fish Market

Both these meals feed four, but Fish Market owner George Sarris is known for his generous portions. He is, after all, Greek; they like to feed people. These family meals are available with an hour’s notice all day.

All dishes–from the family menus or the regular menu–are in safely sealed takeaway containers. There’s half-price wine and beer available to go, too.

photo from The Fish Market

The Fish Market’s fresh seafood market is open (9 a.m. – 6 p.m. Monday to Thursday and 9 a.m. – 7 p.m. Friday and Saturday). There are grocery items there, too:  the Fish Market’s own extra virgin olive oil, coffee beans, pastas, Mediterranean sea salt, organic grits, assorted imported olives and cheeses and house-made condiments like Athenian sauce and Greek Island sauce. Grab some baklava, some bananas.

Additionally, some of the Fish Market’s most popular items are now “grab and go” – things like West Indies Salad, their famous gumbo, smoked salmon spread, shrimp or chicken Creole, red beans and rice with Andouille, feta spread, roasted eggplant and hummus dip.

This is comfort food when we all need some comfort.

photo from The Fish Market

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National Poetry Month

I can always count on my poet friend Irene Latham to remind me of National Poetry Month.

Musings of an Old Man by Nancy Milford

Her postcard featuring a work from Baldwin County artist and writer Nancy Milford (“Musings of an Old Man”) was a sweet reminder to live my poem.

In happier times, whenever I sent a package to my kids in college, I always included a poem. Always. The poem tucked in with food or other little treats reflected what was going on my my life or their lives at the moment. Sometimes these poems were just about the season we were in at the time. (I also always had the postman stamp these packages “spoiled” just for fun.)

Irene is the author of wonderful books of poetry and fiction and narrative poetry and poetry picture books for children and adults including Leaving Gee’s Bend; Don’t Feed the Boy; The Color of Lost Rooms; The Cat Man of Aleppo (out Apirl 14); Meet Miss Fancy; Can I Touch Your Hair?: Poems of Race, Mistakes and Friendship; Dictionary for a Better World; and more.

Read them, enjoy them and here are some other poetry resources for you:

Irene’s own tips for writers including an editing checklist and books to make you a better writer and Author ABCs. There are resources for young writers here, too.

The Academy of American Poets was founded in 1934 to support poets and bring their work to as many people as possible. The organization celebrates poetry all year long, but this month is especially special. You can search a curated collection of more than 10,000 poems by occasion, theme, form, keywords or poet’s name. I also love their poem-a-day. There are materials for teachers there, too, which should help parents these days.

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National Attention, Local Efforts

Our state’s James Beard Foundation semifinalists should be enjoying a boost to business, but this is not business as usual. 

When the James Beard Foundation announces its highly anticipated best-of semifinalists, our state usually has plenty of nominees. 

This year started out no differently with restaurants from across our state named semifinalists in a number of categories:  in Birmingham, Automatic Seafood and Oysters (Best New Restaurant); The Atomic Lounge (Outstanding Bar Program); and Chez Fonfon (Outstanding Hospitality). Three Alabama chefs are semifinalists for Best Chef South:   Bill Briand of Fisher’s Upstairs at Orange Beach Marina in Orange Beach; Timothy Hontzas of Johnny’s Restaurant in Homewood; and Duane Nutter of Southern National in Mobile

But now, the COVID-19 pandemic has hit close to home, and these restaurants are closed to the diners who would come from across the country (and even across the world) to experience their dining rooms, savor their food and drinks and enjoy their hospitality.

There are no more 30-day-out reservations, no more lines out the door. 

The James Beard boost to business—which happens even with semifinalists—makes little difference now.

Some of these restaurants are still serving customers, offering curbside pick-up and deliveries. They are cooking for their employees who have been laid off and for other restaurant workers and for first responders while they wait to get back to business as usual.

I wrote about this for Alabama NewsCenter. You can read the entire piece here. It’s long, but these folks are still working hard even with their dining rooms closed. Read on to see how you can help them.

Automatic Seafood and Oysters

The husband-and-wife team of Adam Evans and Suzanne Humphries Evans work side by side at Automatic Seafood and Oysters—he with his award-winning kitchen skills and dedication to the fresh flavors of local and regional ingredients and she with her eye for design and her genuine warm hospitality. 

Their winning approach has resulted in weeks-long anticipation for tables, great local (and national) buzz and a James Beard semifinalist nomination for Best New Restaurant. 

Most of that is on hold now, but Automatic is still serving customers curbside with a takeaway menu Wednesday through Sunday. They also offer cocktail kits as well as wine and beer to go. They recently added delivery service.

On April 1—the restaurant’s first anniversary—the menu featured smoked Gulf fish dip; grilled oysters with parmesan and smoked chili butter; fish and chips made with Gulf-fresh speckled trout; roasted chicken with crispy potatoes; seared Gulf tuna with smoked bacon, sweet potato and cabbage; and roasted Gulf snapper with asparagus, baby carrots and spring onions. 

It wasn’t quite the anniversary they envisioned, but Evans says, “We’re glad to still be standing.”

Tips for these to-go orders go to hourly employees who have been temporarily laid off, and customers can help those staff members with a GoFundMe page Suzanne set up. Also, Evans is working with his farm suppliers to help them sell their produce.

from the local farmers are as important as the seafood, in my opinion. And I don’t want those guys to have to close a farm.”

So customers who come to pick up curbside meals might see Andrew Kesterson from Belle Meadow Farm or the folks from Ireland Farms or Justin Hill from Eastaboga Bee Company in the Automatic parking lot with their CSA-style boxes. 

“We’re just trying to be positive and trying to do something good during this time, because there’s still a lot of hope. That’s something that we still have. So we’ll kind of take it as it comes and try to figure it out and know that we’re all doing it together.”

Chez Fonfon

Chef Frank Stitt and his wife, Pardis, have temporarily closed all their restaurants—Bottega and Bottega Café as well as Chez Fonfon and the flagship Highlands Bar & Grill, which has earned lots of James Beard attention over the years: Outstanding Restaurant (2018), Dolester Miles won Outstanding Pastry Chef (2018) and Stitt won Best Chef Southeast in 2001.  

Lately, Stitt has been cooking with the chefs de cuisine from his restaurants in his Highlands kitchen for his restaurant family. They make bagged meals—braised lamb with spring vegetable rice pilaf, duck and white bean soup, hamburger steak with green beans and mashed potatoes—using ingredients from local suppliers like baker Corey Hinkel. Stitt is sharing his own farm eggs—bringing in 45 flats of them recently to distribute to his staff.

This was the first JBF nomination for Chez Fonfon, which got the nod for its hospitality. This is fitting. In happier times, this French bistro is full of exuberant customers sitting around the bar; filling the tables; waiting for tables, drinks in hand. But even in the bustle of this high-energy dining room, the gracious servers can make you feel like your table is the only one that matters.

photo from Chez Fonfon

Hospitality looks different now. “We’ve been communicating more by phone, by text, by email, reaching out to friends and family and colleagues,” Stitt says. “Also, there are a number of our regulars who have reached out that they want to contribute some money for our staff, for the servers who take such great care of them. And so there seems to be that thread of love and care. We can express our hope and express our hospitality in those exchanges.”

Fisher’s at Orange Beach Marina 

Executive chef Bill Briand of Fisher’s at Orange Beach Marina in Orange beach oversees two different restaurants under one roof: the breezy and relaxed open-air Dockside with stainless steel bars and pecky cypress walls, and the more sophisticated Upstairs with its relaxing seaside colors, onyx bar (impressively lit from below), antique cypress tables and reclaimed heart pine floors from the Godchaux Sugar Mill mule barn, built in 1892 in Raceland, LA. He’s also in charge of the nearby Playa at Sportsman Marina with its local seafood, steaks and tacos with homemade tortillas.

Briand’s creative riffs on Southern coastal cuisine—crafted with locally made products and just-caught Alabama Gulf seafood and spiced with the flavors of his Louisiana heritage—have earned him his fifth straight semifinalist nomination for Best Chef South. 

Upstairs is closed now, and Briand and his team are doing zero-contact curbside—and boat—pick-up from Dockside and Playa. Burgers and po’ boys and Cuban sandwiches. Shrimp and quarts of tuna dip. Tacos, soups, salads. At night, they do family packs of tacos, barbecue, fried chicken and peel-and-eat shrimp that will feed 4 to 6 people. There are cocktail kits and beer and wine to go.

photo from Fisher’s at Orange Beach Marina

We feed anybody who asks, he says. “Any employee who needs food. We send food to all the other restaurants that are open, on a daily basis, giving them their own family meals. Any police who come driving through our parking lot, we feed them. Whatever we can do.”

“We were fully staffed and ready to go for the spring push, spring break and it just all stopped.  And that’s hard.  We just want to get back open. We have a clean, freshly painted restaurant. We want to see our locals and see our people come back and sit out here and have a good time, eat some oysters and, you know, really get back at it. That’s what I’m looking forward to—normalcy again. We’ll get there.”

Johnny’s Restaurant

Timothy Hontzas, the classically trained chef-owner of Johnny’s Restaurant in Homewood, has been a JBH semifinalist for Best Chef South for four straight years. He has attracted national attention or his fresh takes on Southern classics like fried chicken thighs drizzled with chipotle- and coriander-spiked Eastaboga honey, bechamel mac & cheese, a Parmesan grit cake. But this happens to be a Greek-and-three, and so Hontzas honors his heritage with authentic Greek favorites like spanakopita, souvlaki, rolo kima (Greek meatloaf with lamb) and tzatziki made with homemade yiaourti (Greek yogurt).

Weekday lunchtime usually sees lines out the door of his restaurant in Homewood’s downtown. Sundays after church are even busier. These days, Hontzas is still cooking, but he’s serving his customers with curbside pick-up from a menu posted on Instagram. 

He’s making comfort food when we all need some comfort. Things like pot roast with toasted black peppercorn gravy served with field peas and snaps and mac & cheese; meatloaf with chipotle BBQ sauce; a Greek Pack with keftedes, house-cultured tzatziki, fasolakia (Greek green beans with tomatoes) and individual tiropita (cheese pie). 

He does meal packs that feed six, but, as he says, “It’s a lot of food. I’m Greek. I’m not going to let you go hungry. There’s a little extra in there, too.” He recently added more choices to this menu so people can customize their meat-and-three like they’re used to doing. These foods are delivered cold. You can heat them up as you want, or freeze some for another day. 

His curbside service allows Hontzas to keep buying from his longtime produce partner Dwight Hamm, who has farms in Cullman and Hanceville. He’s still buying meats from Evans Meats, a local family-owned business. He’s still employing his sous chef, and the staff out front alternate days so everyone gets some hours. Staff meals are the Greek foods he grew up eating—comfort food for them, too.

“It’s hard, but the easiest thing to do is quit,” he says. “Obviously, we have to be smart about it … but, I mean, we can’t just quit. … We’ve just got to push through. It’s kind of like Jason Isbell says, we’ve got to ‘keep dropping the hammer and grinding the gears.’

“We just push through and support one another because we’re all family,” he says. “I hope, I just hope it all brings us closer together and shows us how fragile we are and how important we all are to one another.”

 Life will eventually go back to normal, or some semblance of normal that we can—and will—happily embrace. These beloved restaurants will still have their James Beard status months from now. Some might be finalists by then. Some might be winners. 

Meanwhile, we can help them by ordering takeout or contributing to their staff GoFundMe campaigns and ordering gift cards to use now and on a brighter day.

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National Ferret Day

It is National Ferret Day. It truly is. It’s also National Burrito Day, but I’d like to talk about ferrets.

This from the National Day Calendar will get us started: “On April 2nd, Hob and Jill went up the hill with their little Kits to celebrate National Ferret Day because that’s some serious business.”

Ferret facts: Male ferrets are called Hobs, and female ferrets are called Jills. Their babies are called Kits, and the whole ferret family is called a “business.” I love that!

Other facts: They are carnivores and are part of the mustelid family, which includes the otter, badger, weasel, marten, mink and wolverine.

Humans domesticated ferrets about 2,000 years ago because they are great hunters. Some people do keep them as mischievous pets (they do best with a ferret companion). They are highly intelligent, can learn to use a litter box and can do tricks.

But in North America, the black-footed ferret is one of our most endangered mammals.

Once thought to be completely gone, a rancher discovered a small population on his ranch in Wyoming in 1981. Since then, efforts by conservationists, breeding programs and landowners are bringing the population back from the brink of extinction.

Today the population wavers around 500 ferrets alive in the wild with more in breeding programs preparing to be reintroduced into the wild. 

You can celebrate #NationalFerretDay by learning more about the rediscovery and conservation of the black-footed ferret. Watch the movie Ferret Town to learn more. 

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National Crayon Day & ‘Amazing’ Coloring Pages

Got kids at home? Do they know it’s National Crayon Day?

Keep them entertained (and learning at the same time!) with some free sample coloring pages from Amazing Alabama and Amazing Georgia, the first installments in Laura Murray’s “Amazing States” coloring book series.  

These books are published by New South Books, and the third, Amazing South Carolina, releases in May. 

All three books offer creative ways to engage with history for kids and adults alike. 

Each page in these coloring books features historical and cultural sites that are a must-see in a particular county along with companion text that describes them. Every county is included.  
Click here for free coloring pages!
Amazing AlabamaAmazing Georgia and Amazing South Carolina are available for purchase on the New South Books website. They can ship them straight to you at home. (Amazing South Carolina will be available on May 12.) 

Or you can order directly from Laura Murray, who is offering free shipping with discount code “coronacation.”
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Fresh Air

I know we’re all pretty much staying home, and that’s what we’re supposed to be doing. But exercise is allowed and encourage and vital to both our physical and mental health.

Besides, “the mountain is calling.”

I’m talking about Ruffner Mountain, which has more than enough trails that you can practice social distancing while enjoying this beautiful day.

Image from Rick Swagler

Birmingham’s past, present and future come together in the most satisfying, family-friendly way on Ruffner Mountain. That’s been the case for more than 40 years.

Ruffner Mountain is, in fact, one of the largest urban forests in the entire country. And it’s right here in our own backyard—mere minutes from just about anywhere in our metro area.  

Right now there are limited hours of trail and parking access–8:00am – 6:00pm Tuesday through Sunday. And access is permitted for the following: Residents of the City of Birmingham, Members (there is a $3 trail use fee, or you can explore other membership levels here) and Employees of a Business Member.

The Visitors Center is not open currently. The lovely Pavillion is closed, too. But all those miles and miles of well-maintained trails and the interesting industrial ruins you’ll find along the way, are available to you right now. So are the paths strewn with trilliums and the incredible, panoramic views of the city.

Image from Rick Swagler

You can appreciate the shifting shafts of sunlight dappling the forest floor through the branches of oak and hickory and sycamore trees all along your journey; take a break at Turtle Rock; and literally walk through eons of earth’s history in the quarry with limestone boulders embedded with fossils of brachiopods, bryozoans and crinoids (marine invertebrates from when this area was part of a shallow inland sea). 

Then you might also consider getting your hands on Mark Kelly’s fantastic book that celebrates this special place. Back to Nature:  A History of Birmingham’s Ruffner Mountain is a beautiful book about the vital connection between that land and our city and its people. 

Kelly says the book was more than a decade in the making. But it was worth the effort because this place is important. He writes:  “Every aspect of Birmingham’s existence—geological, anthropological, social, economic, political, technological—is encapsulated in the Ruffner story.”

So get out there and explore the mountain. Simply go there and back, become a member or pay your trail use fee and be sure to observe the 6-foot rule.

You’ll be glad you did.

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Curbside Service has Become the New Normal

Social distancing has changed our food-centric state in ways we never imagined. Curbside service has become the new normal for many eateries. Others are relying heavily upon delivery services. Still others are altering their business models in more significant ways. 

While lives depend upon safe interactions, livelihoods depend upon businesses remaining in business. I wrote a story for Alabama NewsCenter about some of the ways food- and drink-related establishments are addressing the coronavirus crisis.

You can read the entire story here.

Meanwhile, here are some things you should know:

The dining rooms at all four Ashley Mac’s stores are closed, but Ashley McMakin, who owns the company with her husband, Andy, is still making homestyle casseroles and salads and desserts for pick-up and limited delivery. 

You can still get cupcakes at Ashley Mac’s.

And now, the Ashley Mac’s team is offering something else, too. 

“We were just trying to think of some things we could do for the community,” McMakin says, “and one thing we can get—that a lot of people cannot get at the grocery store—is produce.” So, they are packing boxes full of fresh fruits and vegetables. For $30, you can get a box of produce ranging from romaine, onions, broccoli and tomatoes to strawberries, cantaloupe and pineapple. McMakin says they will offer the produce boxes, which will vary according to what’s available and fresh, as long as there’s a demand and they can get enough produce in. 

Be sure to check Ashley Mac’s social media outlets for availability of items and produce boxes. Call 205-822-4142 for free pickup or 205-968-4126 for delivery with a $100 order.

Panache, Domestique Coffee’s charming little coffeeshop down an alley off 20th Street in Five Points South, is closed for now. So is Domestique Coffee Café inside Saturn in Avondale, but the Birmingham-based, small-batch coffee importer and roaster that specializes in single-origin coffeebeans is banking on a brighter future. 

Get Domestique coffee sent straight to your home.

Domestique is a multifaceted business that buys coffee from specialty growers all over the world including Haiti, Ethiopia, Bolivia, Mexico and elsewhere, so it’s not just local employees who are counting on this company.

So, CEO Nathan Pocus, who co-founded Domestique with his brother, Michael, says the company is inviting its customers to become co-founders, too. 

They are offering a Founder’s Card for $100. Sales of the cards will help the business now and allow buyers to enjoy lots of benefits later including a free batch brew for a month upon Domestique’s reopening, (a $90 value alone), 10% off all purchases for life, free digital products for life, early access notifications for all special events, monthly discount codes to use on the company’s online platform,  a ticket to the fun Founder’s Day party and more.  Go to www.domestique.com to learn more.

Big Spoon Creamery, the Birmingham-based small-batch, artisanal ice cream maker, has closed both its stores for now. But their handmade frozen treats (pint packs and sammie packs) are available for 24-hour delivery in the Birmingham area. 

This small-batch ice cream is like nothing else!

Ryan O’Hara, who owns Big Spoon along with his wife, Geri-Martha, says everything is done online, and “it’s a great way for us to try to keep going and a great way to promote social distancing. People don’t have to leave their homes.” 

So every day, they deliver as much ice cream as they can. “We didn’t think there would be such a huge response,” O’Hara says. “We’ve only been doing it for three days now, but we’ve had to cut off deliveries for the day when we reach our capacity. … We’re going round the clock. Desperate times call for desperate measures. We’re trying to do what we can to stay afloat.”

This home delivery allows Ryan and Geri-Martha to keep employing most of their full-time staff. Many of the part-time employees were college students who have since gone home. “We are prioritizing taking care of our people who rely on this job to support themselves,” he says.

To place your order visit https://www.bigspooncreamery.com/shop.

Little Savannah Restaurant & Bar is a fine-dining establishment, although Chef Clif Holt likes to say when you’re there, you’re simply “dining fine.” His customers are still dining in fine style, but they’re doing it at home with takeaway dinners for two and four. And Chef Holt has figured out another way to help his historic Forest Park neighborhood where he has operated his restaurant for 16 years:  He’s opening a neighborhood grocery. 

The grocery will stock raw protein by the pound (ground beef, ribeyes, chicken and fresh Gulf shrimp and snapper); dairy and French baguettes; fresh produce (oranges, onions, tomatoes, potatoes, bananas and apples); and even toilet paper(!), paper towels, bottled water and boxes of latex gloves. 

All the necessities for right now. All at fair market prices.

“We’re not going to get rich off it,” he says of the grocery. “But it’s a service we can provide at a reasonable cost and keep our flow going.” 

That flow involves his employees, whom he’s trying to keep at work, and fish purveyors and truck drivers and even the folks who pick up the garbage.  “People don’t think about that,” he says. “We have a shortage of thought sometimes about how these things are going to go. For me, the main thing I’m trying to figure out is how we can retain as much normalcy as possible.” 

Normalcy currently means dinners for two or family dinners for four with the kinds of foods Holt’s customers have come to expect from Little Savannah. Things like hand-rolled pasta Bolognese or beef Bourguignon with herbed rice, Caesar salads and homemade focaccia. 

You can check Facebook for the daily meal specials and follow Little Savannah on Instagram for more info. Orders must be placed by 4 p.m. for pick-up or delivery the next day. Curbside pick-up hours are 4-6 p.m., and there is a $5 delivery fee. Call or text 205-616-0995 or go to info@littlesavannah.com to place your order.

Kay Bruno Reed, owner of Everything IZ, which includes IZ Weddings & Events and IZ Café, is one of the state’s busiest caterers, easily handling parties for hundreds and even thousands. On a smaller, more local level, she has been part of the Rocky Ridge neighborhood of Vestavia Hills for more than 20 years. Now, with weddings and large events canceled, she’s working to feed her neighbors—one family at a time. 

IZ cafe has been serving since 1999; they are not stopping now. Photo from Everything IZ.

She says, “Our staff has been working nonstop to keep our freezer stocked for our customers. We have been offering curbside pick-up for years but are now offering free delivery.” 

She’s also stocking basic staple items like milk, bread and eggs. Reed says the response has been amazing. “Customers are thanking us for being open and feeding them.”

All of the company’s full-time employees who want to be there, continue to work there. Those who have chosen to self-quarantine, she says, are taking a portion of their paid time off. 

Reed is approaching her work amid the COVID-19 pandemic in a positive way. 

“My hope, first of all, is that it is over soon and with very few deaths.” She also says she hopes “parents will take this time to teach their children basic domestic skills while they are studying at home. 

“My prayer is that this will bring our nation together for the good of all.”

Go to everythingiz.com to see what’s available and to order.

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Virtual Storytime

Bedtime. Is there anything sweeter when your children are little? Brush teeth, storytime, one song, prayers and a goodnight kiss. 

Bedtime. Is there anything harder when your children are little and you’re just flat worn out? And they want “just one more” story, song, kiss.

I must have read this one a million times. Love it!

Why not now (when everything has changed) change up that routine, too? Here are some free! virtual storytime links for your kiddos and you. I found these links on Pure Wow, which I love. Thank you to Alexandra Hough for putting them together and sharing.

Storyline Online streams videos of celebrities reading children’s books alongside cool illustrations. Previous readers include Viola Davis, Chris Pine, Lily Tomlin, Kevin Costner, Annette Bening, James Earl Jones, Betty White and more.

Want to be the bedtime hero? Have Olaf (Josh Gad) from Frozen read to your kids tonight. The 39-year-old actor is helping out during these trying times by reading his favorite children’s books on social media.

Another favorite at our house.

Your options for virtual storytime are many and varied if you search the #OperationStoryTime tag on social media. You’ll find a growing (by that, I mean every few hours!) collection of children’s book authors, celebrities and illustrators reading books (their own works and others) aloud for children and families.

Oliver Jeffers will read his books and tell you how he wrote them.

The artist, illustrator and writer Oliver Jeffers will read from one of his books every weekday (and talk about what went into making it) on Instagram Live beginning at 1 p.m. CST. These #stayathomestorytime episodes will be on his Insta story for 24 hours and on his site after that. As he says, “We are all at home, but none of us are alone. Let’s be bored together.”

Actors Jennifer Garner and Amy Adams launched the “Save With Stories” initiative in partnership Save the Children and No Kid Hungry. The idea here is to post storytime videos on Facebook and Instagram and raise money for children stuck at home right now.

The Brooklyn Public Library is closed, of course, but the folks there are still committed to children’s programming. You’ll find book readings, songs and more on Facebook Live and its website. View the broadcast on the Brooklyn Public Library Family page at 10:00 am. CST or catch past episodes on the Facebook page.

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Drive-Thru Farmers Market at Pepper Place

The Market at Pepper Place has, for decades, promoted a “know thy farmer” way of doing business full of meaningful human interaction and conversations that make buying fresh produce and enjoyable and entertaining.

from the Market at Pepper Place

In light of the COVID-19 crisis, the market is taking a different approach these days with a Drive-Thru Farmers Market and a pre-ordering system that still gives you access to locally grown veggie boxes, farm eggs, baked goods, meats and more.

The second week of the Drive Through Farmers Market, will happen on Saturday, March 28 from 7 a.m. to noon in the “big parking lot” on 2nd Avenue South.

In response to health and safety restrictions related to COVID-19, this “contactless” market will allow farmers to continue selling the freshest locally grown produce available in the state directly to customers, and minimize the elements of traditional farmers market transactions that have been deemed high-risk in the current climate.

Here’s how this Drive-Thru Farmers Market at Pepper Place works.

• Click on this link to find out which vendors are participating each week. Vendor listings and links are updated on Monday.

• Each participating vendor’s name will be noted with their offerings, how to order, the order deadline and how they will accept payment.

• Place your orders, pre-pay online, and you’re done until Market day.

• Saturday, 7am-Noon, come to the Pepper Place Drive-Thru Farmers Market in the Pepper Place parking lot on 2nd Ave. South.

• Please remain in your car at all times. The farmer will load the back of your vehicle with pre-purchased goods using gloves and social distancing!

from the Market at Pepper Place

Please note that there will be no walk-ups or onsite purchases. Market staff and a security guard will be onsite to assist and answer any questions. The farmers, staff and customers are expected to follow all recommended safety precautions, including social distancing and hand washing. If you are sick or feel unwell, please send someone else to pick up your orders.

from the Market at Pepper Place

The folks at the Market at Pepper Place say they hope this drive-thru market will be successful for their farmers and shoppers while complying with the latest safety recommendations of the CDC and our State and County health officials.

With everyone working together and supporting each other—and supporting our farmers and local businesses—we will get through this time stronger and better than ever.

Again click here for this Saturday’s vendor list and links to their order pages.

from the Market at Pepper Place

Since 2000, Pepper Place Market has offered a special space for local and regional farmers and many makers to sell each Saturday. We’ll be back to that again. Meanwhile, I hope you’ll continue to support them all.

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Give Blood

While most of us are being advised to stay home, my deepest appreciation goes out to those who are essential to our society–the first responders, doctors, nurses, grocery store workers, pharmacists, gas station attendants, restaurant workers (who still are able to work) and so many more who are out there keeping things working and moving forward right now.

Thank you. Thank you all so much.

Now I’m going to ask some of you who are home to leave your homes today and go one place: Go give blood. If you can, briefly go out into this world and give blood. Then pick up some curbside takeout from a local restaurant. That’s all.

There is a huge need right now for both those things, and since it’s important that you eat well after giving blood, that takes care of that.

You can go to Red Cross Blood to find the nearest blood drive. Just put in your zip code. You can make an appointment at the UAB Medical Blood Donation Center in downtown Birmingham, or go give at the Birmingham Blood Donation Center at 700 Caldwell Trace. The website can point you in the right direction and makes appointments easy.

You also can download the blood donor app at the App Store to make it even easier. (You do all your paperwork ahead of time, and they keep up with your donations and remind you when you can donate again.)

It’s important that you go and give blood as soon as you can, if you can. Because of the coronavirus pandemic, a great many blood drives have been canceled, and there are severe blood shortages throughout the country and right here at home, too.

I went to give the other day, and while it took a little longer than I expected, I just waited my turn and read my book (six feet away from the other people waiting for their turns). The entire procedure was safe and felt that way, too. The people working there took many, many precautions in dealing with us. I never, for one moment, felt uncomfortable or afraid.

So please, if you can give blood, go and give.

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Baking Bread

Here’s something you can bake that will be very satisfying (on so many levels) … even if you are not a baker.

It’s No-Knead Bread. It requires very special equipment, few ingredients, no kneading and not much baking experience. Really, time is the only big factor here.

It takes 24 hours to make this bread, but much of that time the dough is unattended.

We got the recipe from The New York Times, they got it from Jim Lahey, owner of Sullivan Street Bakery. It is one of the most popular recipes the Times has ever published, and my husband has made it for years.

It calls for only three ingredients–flour, yeast and salt–and you probably already have them in your pantry.

He bakes our loaves in a cast iron dutch oven, and it comes out with an amazing crust.

Get the recipe here.

Enjoy!

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Virtual Dance Party

I miss my friends (and the energy!) of The Bike Room at Ignite Cycle at Pepper Place. Often I was the oldest rider in the room, but that never mattered. We all become equal on those bikes, riding for ourselves and, recently, for each other.

Also, I loved, loved, loved going to class there with my grown kids!

It really is a wonderful, welcoming community. It’s a giving community, too. They share their fantastic setlists on the Ignite Cycle website, and when I’m not in The Bike Room, I use those sometimes as running playlists.

In an effort to reach out and lift up, the Ignite team is hosting virtual dance parties Monday-Friday and on Saturdays, too. Over the last two nights, more than 500 people joined in!

One participant left this message on Ignite’s Instagram: “as I danced alone, all that weird lonely energy that had been building up all day melted away. your INCREDIBLE vibes filled me to the brim with joy and gave me the motivation to keep going. I’m grateful to wake up today and to have something *totally stress-free* to look forward to🖤”

If you want to dance along with the uber-cool Ignite girls, tune into their IG Live for a 45 minute set from @djkallima Monday through Friday at 5:15 p.m. and Saturday at noon. It’s easy. Go to their Instagram at the appropriate time, and click on the profile picture and watch the live video.

It’s free. They say: “Community is too important for us to charge for it at a time it’s hard to find 🖤

The lyrics will be CLEAN … they know some people have “little ears” at home. Go on; dance with your fam!

It’s easy. Just hop on IG Live and get on the digital dance floor. Maybe you FaceTime with some friends, and it really does become a party.

Meanwhile, connect with the Ignite team @ignitecyclebhm on Instagram, Facebook, and Twitter.

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Celebrating an Unsung Hero of Birmingham’s Food Scene

I had the absolute honor of helping out with Alabama NewsCenter‘s awesome coverage of food-related stories to celebrate Black History Month and the contributions of African-American cooks and chefs to our state’s rich food scene (current and past).

One of my favorite pieces was about Juliette Flenoury, a name we all should know.

My editor Bob Blalock made the story I submitted way better when he invited local restauranteur Becky Satterfield (Satterfield’s restaurant and El ZunZun) to Alabama NewsCenter’s studio to narrate a video about her friend Juliette.

You can read the entire piece here and see that video, too.

Juliette grew up in Birmingham’s historic Fountain Heights neighborhood, and as a child she cooked alongside her mother. Before she was even a teenager, Flenoury was honing her skills, baking cookies and gathering fans among friends and family.

She began her first food-industry job working at the Greyhound Bus Station in downtown Birmingham. By day, she worked as a cashier, and at night, she cooked foods for the daily menu at the cafeteria in the bus terminal.

Juliette left the bus station job to cook at the Mountain Brook Club, where she remained for 43 years.

She says, “After cooking passionately for most of my life, I am best known for my corn pones, fried chicken, cornbread dressing, chicken potpies, greens and many other selections of Southern cuisine.”

Those corn pones, especially, are delicious little works of art, and watching her make them is art in motion. I was lucky enough to see this for myself one day at Becky’s home. Becky had invited her fellow members of the Birmingham chapter of Les Dames d’ Escoffier to meet Juliette and watch her cook. (We also enjoyed some amazing collards and black-eyed peas.)

Juliette retired from the Mountain Brook Club several years ago. She has spent some of her time since retirement cooking for family and friends; making gift baskets; listening to gospel music; taking care of elderly neighbors; and volunteering for Christian Service Mission when that organization needed her help cooking for the homeless and for student interns visiting Birmingham from various colleges.

Here’s Juliette’s recipe for her famous corn pones. Enjoy!

Juliette Flenoury’s Corn Pone Recipe

Preheat convection oven to 450 F

INGREDIENTS

5 lbs. Martha White (plain) cornmeal

1 ½ cups granulated sugar

1 cup salt of your choice (Juliette keeps everything old-school with regular Morton Salt)

4 cups of melted Crisco shortening at 450 degrees F

4 gallons of boiling water to pour into mix

Another gallon and a half of boiling water for the dipping spoon

INSTRUCTIONS

Spray four half-sheet pans with cooking spray and put into hot oven for 10 minutes (be careful not to let them stay in longer than that because they get too smoky). Then pull them out to use for panning the pones. This helps create a little caramelization.

Use a large commercial-grade metal kitchen spoon for mixing and shaping the pones.

Mix all dry ingredients first in a very large stainless steel mixing bowl (industrial/commercial grade).

Pour hot, melted Crisco into the cornmeal, stir quickly and incorporate well.

Pour boiling water, four cups at a time, until you have the right consistency. (The video will help with this part.) You might not need all of the water you prepared for this recipe, but have it on hand just in case.

Stir vigorously, and be reminded that this batter is very dense; at times, it will be hard to stir but needs to be fully incorporated.

Build a ridge on the side of the bowl nearest yourself, and smooth it off.  Start scraping your spoon toward yourself as the cornmeal mixture kind of curls inside the spoon. Take it and turn your spoon to the left, tap it to release the pone. Repeat this the same way every time. All pones should be right next to each other and uniform. (A little extra hot water should be added via the large kitchen spoon at intervals to keep hydration level correct. Smooth out, pat it down, back and forth, then scrape to roll the pone into the spoon. Also, halfway through this recipe, you will need to change out your dipping water with fresh boiling hot water to keep the temperature up for the conduction through your spoon so the pones will curl uniformly within the spoon and so the spoon will stay clean.)

Put pones in the preheated convection oven and bake for 45 minutes at 450 F. Check halfway through, and rotate the pan. The pones should be brown on the top ridge and the rounded sides to give you the crunch you desire.

This recipe, straight from Juliette’s time in the Mountain Brook Club kitchen, and in her own words, makes a lot of corn pones—several dozen, in fact.

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The Summer Edit: Books, Food, Drinks and Fun

Summer’s here. And I couldn’t be happier. Well, maybe I could. I most definitely could if I were at St. George Island. With a good book in one hand, a fun drink in the other and my family nearby.

To celebrate the season, I’m going to put together my own summer edit with books, drinks, foods (including easy-to-make dinners) and even a DIY or two. I’ll be adding to it over the next month or two as I see new things to share, so please stop back by.

I’ll start with my recommended summer reads. Really, there’s something here for everyone. Fiction. Nonfiction. Short stories. Even fantasy. Some of my picks are brand new. Others have been around long enough to be beach-perfect paperbacks. Several of them are written in ways that are nearly as interesting as the stories themselves. All are worth your time.

Summer Reads

All the Light We Cannot See, by Anthony Doerr, won the 2015 Pulitzer Prize, and it remains one of my all-time favorite reads. It’s about a blind French girl and a German boy whose paths collide in occupied France as both try to survive the devastation of World War II.

Behind the Beautiful Forevers is another Pulitzer Prize-winning book. Katherine Boo has made real-life reporting read like a novel. The book is set in the slums of Mumbai. With India prospering, the residents of Annawadi are hoping to find their way out of poverty. They all have different ideas about how to do that.

George Saunders‘s historical fiction about the death of Abraham Lincoln’s son, Willie … and the aftermath is unlike any other book I’ve ever read. Lincoln in the Bardo is a tale peopled with historical characters and others who are entirely made up. It takes place in the world we know and one that’s imaginatively unrecognizable.

The Last Madam by Christine Wiltz is a true story of 1920s New Orleans,  an eccentric woman and French Quarter brothels.  The author drew from interviews and Norma Wallace’s own unpublished memoirs.

Summer-ready short stories in Florida–from Lauren Groff, the New York Times bestselling author of Fates and Furiesoffers characters who face down snakes and sinkholes, hurricanes and humidity… and their own self-destructive behavior.

Going abroad? Pack A Bite-Sized History of France. A history lesson has never been so deliciously fun. The authors, Stephane Henaut and Jeni Mitchell, use food and wine as a way to trace French history from ancient times through today.

Fly Girls will land on bookstore shelves in August. In the tradition of Hidden Figures and The Girls of Atomic City, these are stories about amazing women … specifically Amelia Earhart and other female pilots (one from Alabama) who fought to fly.

The Incendiaries by R.O. Kwon comes out in July, and it couldn’t be timelier. It’s a powerful and dark novel about violence, love, faith and loss. A young Korean American woman at an elite American university is drawn into acts of domestic terrorism by a cult tied to North Korea.

Thirteen-year-old Ava Bigtree has lived her entire life at Swamplandia!, her family’s island home and gator-wrestling theme park in the Florida Everglades. But when her family falls apart, Ava sets out on a mission through the swamps to save them all. Karen Russell has written a deeply moving coming-of-age story with characters you’ll not soon forget.

Anatomy of a Miracle by Jonathan Miles is about a paralyzed young man’s sudden and unexplainable recovery is an exploration of faith and science. And in this age of instant celebrity, it’s also about the meaning of life and humanity.

Orange Is the New Black meets Gone Girl in this twisty psychological thriller set in a women’s prison. Debra Jo Immergut has written a real page-turner with The Captives.

From the author of The English Patient, this new novel by Michael Ondaatje is set in the decade after World War II. Warlight tells the story of a small group of eccentric and mysterious characters and two teenagers whose lives are forever changed just by knowing them.

Coming Through Slaughter is the story of Buddy Bolden, the first of the great trumpet players–some say the originator of jazz. The novel is a fictionalized version of Bolden’s life, covering the last months of his sanity in 1907, as his music becomes more radical and his behavior more erratic.

I link to Amazon to show you exactly what book I’m talking about, but I love to shop locally at Church Street Coffee and Books, The Alabama Booksmith, Little Professor Book Center or visit my local library.

Summer-Perfect Drink

I like my summer drinks to be light and often pink. Rosé is my summer wine of choice. But I do love a Juliet and Romeo cocktail. Here’s the recipe from Bon Appetit.

INGREDIENTS

  • 3 slices cucumber
  • Pinch of salt
  • 1 sprig mint, 1 leaf reserved for garnish
  • 2  ounces Plymouth gin 
  • 3/4 ounce fresh lime juice
  • 3/4 ounce simple syrup
  • 3 drops rose water, for garnish
  • 3 drops Angostura bitters, for garnish

PREPARATION
Put cucumber slices and salt in a glass or a tin, and muddle.  Add mint sprig, gin, lime juice, simple syrup, and ice, and shake. Strain into a coupe without ice. Garnish with a mint leaf and the drops of bitters and rose water.

To me, though, nothing says summer (and nothing could be easier) than sweet vermouth on the rocks (or with a splash of club soda if you want to make a lazy afternoon of it). Vermouth originally was used as a medicinal tonic, with spices and botanicals like wormwood (the German “wermut” inspired the name). It’s wine that is aromatized (infused with botanicals) and fortified (spiked with unaged brandy). In the summertime, I really like Cocchi Vermouth di Tornio, from the heart of Italy’s Moscato wine region. They’ve been making vermouth since 1891 and hold a geographically protected AOC designation. Breathe it in, and you’ll you’ll get orange peel and maybe a little chocolate. You’ll taste that, too, along with some sweet raisins and a hint of cinnamon. It’s beautifully bitter on the finish. I also like the vanilla-scented Carpano Antica Formula (invented in 1786). These vermouths have a limited shelf life, so I keep them in the fridge.DIY

A good friend of mine spent her birthday with her daughter making something amazing. They went to Charlie Thigpen’s Garden Gallery and took a hypertufa class. I’m signed up for one next month with my Birmingham Les Dames d’Escoffier friends. Then we’re going next door to Ovenbird for drinks and light bites.

The folks at Charlie Thigpen’s say, “hypertufa planters are lightweight rustic pots made from Portland cement, peat moss and vermiculite. This combination makes the containers lightweight and porous and favorable for plant growth. They resemble stone and gain beauty with age attracting lichens and mosses.” My friend says it’s lots of fun.

Here’s what you need to know:

DETAILS

  • Cost is $55 (includes all materials except plants).
  • Class lasts about 1.5 hours and starts at 6:15 p.m.
  • Wear clothes and shoes that you don’t mind getting dirty
  • Each class is limited to 12 participants
  • Reservations must be made in advance, either by signing up online or by calling (205) 328-1000. Payment will be taken at time of reservation.
  • If you must cancel or reschedule, refunds in the form of store credit will be given for cancellations made at least 48 hours prior to class.

LOCATION

Charlie Thigpen’s Garden Gallery
2805 2nd Avenue South. Birmingham, AL 35233 (Entrance to the parking lot is on 28th Street, between 2nd and 3rd Ave S.)

There are classes scheduled for June 28, July 26 (August is sold out already), October 18 and September 27. These classes sell out quickly, so book yours right now.

If you can’t get in at Charlie Thigpen’s, Lowe’s has some instructions here to do it yourself at home.

 

Summer Sweets

Peaches are among the summer’s truest and best pleasures, and those from Chilton County, in my opinion, are better than all others.

I made this Peach and Blackberry Cobbler with Crystalized Ginger from Bon Appetit for my husband for Father’s Day, and it was a hit. The biscuits are just delicious and look so pretty. And it really doesn’t take much time. If you don’t have time to boil an egg (or just don’t want to), you can get a couple in the to-go section of your local Piggly Wiggly.

 

Peach and Blackberry Cobbler with Crystalized Ginger

INGREDIENTS

Biscuits

  • 1 2/3 cup all-purpose flour
  • 1/4 cup chopped crystallized ginger
  • 3 tablespoons sugar
  • 1 1/2t tablespoons baking powder
  • 1 hard-boiled egg yolk, finely grated on Microplane or small holes of box grater
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground ginger
  • 6 tablespoons (3/4 stick) chilled unsalted butter, cut into 1/2-inch cubes
  • 2/3t cup plus 1 tablespoon heavy whipping cream

Fruit Mixture

  • 2 pounds peaches, halved, pitted, cut into 3/4-inch-thick slices (about 5 cups)
  • 1 1/2-pint container fresh blackberries
  • 1/4 cup sugar
  • 1/4 cup chopped crystallized ginger
  • 1 tablespoon cornstarch
  • 2 tablespoons raw sugar
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground ginger
  • Vanilla ice cream or lightly sweetened whipped cream

PREPARATION

For Biscuits

Place flour, crystallized ginger, sugar, baking powder, grated egg yolk, salt and ground ginger in processor; blend to combine. Add butter and process until mixture resembles coarse meal. Add 2/3 cup cream and process just until moist clumps begin to form. Turn dough out onto floured work surface and knead briefly just until dough comes together, about 4 turns. Divide dough into 8 equal portions. Shape each into 2-inch ball; flatten each to 3/4-inch thickness. DO AHEAD Biscuits can be made 2 hours ahead. Cover and chill.

For Fruit Mixture

Combine peaches and blackberries with sugar, crystallized ginger, cornstarch and ground ginger in large bowl; toss to coat. Let stand until juices begin to form, tossing occasionally, about 30 minutes.

Position rack in center of oven; preheat to 350ºF. Butter 2-quart baking dish or 11x7x2-inch glass baking dish. Transfer fruit mixture to prepared dish. Place biscuits atop fruit mixture, spacing slightly apart. Brush biscuits with remaining 1 tablespoon cream; sprinkle with raw sugar.

Bake cobbler until fruit mixture is bubbling thickly and biscuits are light golden, about 50 minutes. Cool cobbler 20 minutes. Serve warm with vanilla ice cream or whipped cream.

 

 

Featured

10 Things I Learned as Mother of the Bride

1. Open a dedicated checking account. Our daughter made a budget (with extra money for unexpected expenditures), and we opened a checking account with that amount. She was great about keeping up with everything on a spreadsheet, and she and her husband-to-be could spend the money as they wanted–and keep what was left over!

View More: http://laurawilkersonphotography.pass.us/webbwedding2. You need a wedding planner. These people coordinate weddings for a living. You probably do not. Even if you are a great hostess with amazing ideas and skills, you need someone else to make it all happen as easily as possible. We hired Jayna Goedecke, of Jayna Goedecke Designs, for the month of the wedding, and she was absolutely amazing. Her day-of schedule was seamless. An hour before the wedding, she oversaw moving the reception indoors, and all I had to do was stand back and watch it happen. That alone was worth every penny.

3. Trust your vendors. Give them direction, sure. Pinterest pages are perfect for this! But then, trust them to make your vision happen. That’s their job. We asked Jessica Morris at Hothouse Design Studio for rich colors and texture and got bouquets with pink roses, burgundy dahlias, succulents and olive branches; gorgeous mirrored lanterns next to weathered driftwood; and beautiful, loose arrangements in silver goblets and baskets made of kudzu vines by an artist from Alabama’s Blackbelt region. 

View More: http://laurawilkersonphotography.pass.us/webbwedding

We wanted Southern dishes to reflect food traditions from our town (Birmingham, AL) and Will’s hometown (Shreveport, LA). Our caterer, Kay Bruno Reed, owner of Everything IZ, came up with a beautiful and delicious menu of oyster po’boys, black-eyed pea hummus with cornbread crackers, and roasted Gulf shrimp with McEwen & Sons grit cakes. She even put together a biscuit bar with hot chicken, barbecue pulled pork and bourbon cane syrup. Roasted duck and gnocchi dumplings were a fancy version of chicken and dumplings. Laura Wilkerson Photography captured the special day perfectly. She even took photos of folk art in our home (where the girls got dressed).

Mary Jane Clements of Makeup Mary Jane made us all look great with fabulous up-dos and lots of false eyelashes. View More: http://laurawilkersonphotography.pass.us/webbwedding

4. Start with shoes. This is going to be a big (long) day for everyone … including the MOB. Both Allison and I  shopped for our shoes (comfortable ones!!) before even looking at dresses.

5. Encourage the groom’s family to match. This happened with us quite by accident, but looking at the photos, we saw that the groom’s family ended up in various shades of blue and purple and black. They looked stunning together.

View More: http://laurawilkersonphotography.pass.us/webbwedding6. Fun gifts. Spend a little extra money, if possible, on an unusual, fun gift. We rolled various colored pashminas with a little tag that read:  “It’s a Wrap! Thanks for joining us! Love, Allison and Will” Then we placed them in big baskets around the venue. They were a huge hit! Even some of the men took a few.

7. Song requests. We asked on the response cards, “What song will get you out on the dance floor?”  Then throughout the night DJ Divine called people by name when he played their songs. It was a great way to keep everyone engaged.


View More: http://laurawilkersonphotography.pass.us/webbwedding8. Make your own rules. Instead of a big, fancy wedding cake, the couple had a beautiful little “naked” cutting cake, baked by IZ, and lots of bite-size pies from Pie Lab, which is in Greensboro, Alabama. The pies, especially the brown-sugar buttermilk, went quickly! Also, my daughter bought her dress at David’s Bridal because she found one there that she loved. It looked beautiful on her, and our tailor made it fit perfectly.  Some people were taken aback that she didn’t buy from a high-end boutique, but she figured she would only wear it once and wanted to spend more money on other things. 


View More: http://laurawilkersonphotography.pass.us/webbwedding

9. Enjoy what the day brings. Allison’s outdoor wedding at Vulcan Park & Museum had an uninvited guest:  Hurricane Nate showed up during the reception. We already had moved most everything inside and put the DJ under cover. When the rain started, DJ Divine kept playing, and one bridesmaid walked out into the rain and started dancing. That’s all it took! The rain photos were amazing, and the wedding suddenly became very memorable.

The wedding party. Check out the looks on the guys’ faces!

10. Know that nothing’s ever perfect. Something will go wrong or, at least, not quite as planned. There might even be a hurricane. Look around at all the special people who have gathered to enjoy the day with you. Then take a deep breath and move forward. Enjoy yourself! At this point, you’re entitled to that, too.

Here are all our wonderful vendors:

Jayna Goedecke, Jayna Goedecke Designs

Jessica Morris, Hothouse Design Studio

Kay Bruno Reed, Everything IZ

Mary Jane Clements, Makeup Mary Jane

Pie Lab in Greensboro, AL

DJ Divine 

Vulcan Park & Museum 

 

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