Featured

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.

Featured

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 

 

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Fox 6 Books: January 2020

These are the books I took to WBRC Fox 6 in January. A great way to start the reading year!

How to Walk is by Thich Nhat Hanh, one of the best-known Zen teachers in the world today. IMG_6341In this little book, he shows how the everyday act of walking (walking!) can offer opportunities to realize and express gratitude. I usually walk with a friend or, if alone, listen to the podcast Stuff You Should Know. But this book, which I first saw at Ten Thousand Waves spa in Santa Fe, New Mexico, this past summer, kept calling for my attention. It’s tiny, but filled with Hanh’s practices, meditations and touching stories. Each one shows how each step has the impact to increase our concentration, insight and joy. He makes it sound easy: “When you walk, arrive with every step. That’s walking meditation. There’s nothing else to it.” Of course, there’s more to it. But Hanh’s gentle guidance is there every step of the way to help readers become more aware of each step and of their breathing. Jason DeAntonis’s pen-and-ink drawings are the perfect playful accompaniment. Hanh, a Vietnamese Buddhist Monk, has been teaching mindfulness for more than 70 years, and he has written scores of books including the other tiny, tip-filled books:  How to See, How to Eat, How to Relax and How to Love.

I should have already read Just Mercy by Brian Stevenson. I think everyone in the entire state of Alabama should read this book. IMG_6338That it should be taught in high schools. I’ve heard Stevenson speak (he’s amazing) and this book has been on my shortlist for a while, but the new movie out now made me finally get to it. It is, as the subtitle says, a “story of justice and redemption.” It also is about the sweet, overwhelming power of mercy. Stevenson, one of the most influential lawyers of our time, founded the Equal Justice Initiative in Montgomery, a legal practice dedicated to defending the poor, wrongly condemned and those underserved (or just flat-out forsaken) by our criminal justice system. One of his first cases was that of Walter McMillian who was sentenced to die for a murder he didn’t commit. The story, I’m sure, is transitioning to the big screen quite well. It’s one of political dealings, legal wrangling and tangled conspiracies—and a black man accused of killing a young white girl in south Alabama in the 1980s. But Walter’s is just one of several cases detailed here that, together, have made Stevenson a champion for justice and mercy.

Under Stevenson’s leadership, EJI has won major legal challenges eliminating excessive and unfair sentencing, exonerating innocent death row prisoners, confronting abuse of the incarcerated and the mentally ill and aiding children prosecuted as adults. He led the creation of EJI’s highly acclaimed cultural sites, the Legacy Museum and the National Memorial for Peace and Justice, which opened in 2018. Stevenson’s work has won him numerous awards, including 40 honorary doctorates, the MacArthur Foundation “Genius” Prize, and the ABA Medal, the American Bar Association’s highest honor.

The Silent Patient by Alex Michaelides promises a thrilling twist, and it delivers. IMG_6343I never saw it coming in the day and a half it took me to devour this book. Alicia Berenson was living a lovely life as a famous painter married to a famous fashion photographer—until she shot her husband five times in the face and then stopped taking. She refused to talk—to try to explain her actions—and that made Alicia even more famous. She ends up housed at a secure psychiatric unit in North London. And criminal psychotherapist Theo Faber is determined to unlock her silence and figure out why exactly she shot her husband. This therapist-turned-detective is very good at uncovering clues, and he ends up finding out more than he ever expected.

Dreyer’s English is by Benjamin Dreyer, the copy chief at Random House, and in this book, he champions clarity in a way that is informative, interesting and even entertaining. IMG_6339We are not all writers, but yet, we are. We all write all the time:  emails, texts, more texts, blogs, online reviews, more emails. In his book, Dreyer shares much of what he has learned in his more than two decades of professional life. And it’s a playful, useful guide for writers of any sort who want to simply write better.  He offers lessons on punctuation—from the underappreciated semicolon to the en dash. He explains the basic rules of grammar; “Only godless savages,” he says, “eschew the series comma.” He advises against what my kids’ elementary school teachers called “dead words” like “very” and “actually.” And he says it’s OK to start a sentence with And (thank goodness!) and But (even better!).

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.

Little India: deliciously different and convenient, too

Some of Birmingham’s best Chinese food is at the Shell gas station on Highland Avenue. The one next to Bottega.

But this is not just any Chinese food. It’s Chinese-Indian fusion that combines cultures and flavors in exciting, delicious ways we haven’t seen here before.

After eating there several times, I wrote a story on Little India for Alabama NewsCenter. You can read the entire story here.

The dishes reflect what owner Rahim Budhwani and his family occasionally ate when he was growing up in Bombay (now Mumbai). There have been food trucks in India for a long time, he says. When he was 10 or 11 years old, he remembers going to them about once a month. The foods with culinary influences from neighboring China were favorites, something they longed for and looked forward to eating. One day, Budhwani’s brother, Karim, suggested he bring the Indo-Chinese concept here.

Budhwani, a businessman with an engineering degree, is the CEO of Encore Franchises, LLC. He had originally entered the Birmingham restaurant market the way a lot of people have done—with a hot dog stand. He put a Sneaky Pete’s franchise in his Highland Avenue convenience store. But at the continued urging of family and friends, he and his wife, Kulsum, decided to put their duel culinary degrees to work on something of their own.

“We started playing with it a little bit here and there,” he says. “We started sampling some stuff out, and people really liked it. And I said, ‘Well, that’s a good start.’ And that’s how Little India was born—out of nowhere and a conversation with my brother.”

Budhwani and Kulsum opened Little India in January 2019 (sharing counter space with Sneaky Pete’s), offering “flavorful, healthy, made-to-order food at a reasonable price.”

There are familiar Chinese dishes here, like hot and sour soup, Mongolian beef, shrimp-fried rice and Szechwan noodles, but they are different—lighter and brighter with noticeable Indian spices and ingredients like turmeric and tamarind, red chili powder imported from India, cardamom and saffron and garam masala. But then there also are dishes like Manchurian paneer that combine Chinese spices with the traditional Indian cheese.

“I think if you’re in for a different kind of cuisine, then this is your restaurant,” Budhwani says. “If you like flavor, then this is your restaurant. If you like freshness, then this is your restaurant. If you like healthy, this is your restaurant.” Prices range from $1.99 for a dessert to $3.99 for soup to $8.99 for an entrée. “Economics also plays a part,” he adds. “So it’s all here at this restaurant.”

Little India Birmingham on Highland Avenue is served by Grubhub and Waitr, but you can eat in if you’d like. The 300-square-foot eatery has a few colorful highboys and chairs and a counter in front of the convenience store windows near the Doritos and Cheetos.

On the weekends, and increasingly with the regular, weekday menu, diners at Little India on Highland can enjoy Bombay-style street foods like pav bhaji (thick, spicy vegetable curry served with a roll), ragda pattice (a dish of white peas and potato cakes that is part of the street-food culture in the Indian states of Maharashtra and Gujarat), dahi vada (lentil balls in a yogurt sauce topped with chutney), and papdi and samosa chaat.

If you’re lucky, you can try the dahi sev puri (made with yogurt) and pani puri (with a tangy, spicy herb-infused “water”) that absolutely must be eaten in one big bite; fans of these little, filled fried dough balls call them “bombs,” and one explosive bite explains why.

(Follow Little India on Instagram or Facebook to see these Indian specials as well as the $5 lunch specials, usually a gravy of some sort – vegetarian and not – with steamed rice; these change daily, so you can try something new often.)

All these dishes—Indian or Indo-Chinese—are made with attention to detail and absolutely fresh ingredients.

“We try to get most of the vegetables from the local farmers’ markets,” Budhwani says. “All our meat is halal meat, so that way it’s basically good for everyone. The halal part is expensive, of course, but it brings the right flavor out of the product. So we try to use the top-quality products to get the right flavor and the right taste. We don’t compromise on the ingredients part of it, because we think that shouldn’t be done.”

They make their own sauces at Little India (including the soy sauces) every day, import the spices they need and cook every single dish to order.

“It could be totally customized to the way you want it,” Budhwani says. “We’ll make it the way you want it because our purpose is to make sure that you are happy and satisfied when you leave. That’s how … I would like to be treated when I go somewhere. … It’s the same thing we want to offer our customers.”

While his customers might wish for more tables and an open kitchen instead of beverage coolers and chip stands, Budhwani says he is happy right now with his convenience-store locations.

He is, however, planning to put a Little India food truck on Birmingham’s streets within the next few months.

For now, Budhwani is content to “bring the flavors of India in a different fashion to the people of Birmingham. I’m pretty proud of that,” he says.

“And giving a different flavor that people were not used to—I think that’s what I’m really proud of.  And to do it in such a small footprint. I think that’s the best part. Because a lot of people said, ‘You can’t do it.’ And I said, ‘I’ll show you how to do it.’ And that’s how we did it. It worked out.”

Little India

2236 Highland Avenue

Birmingham, AL 35205

205-933-6512

https://littleindiabhm.com

HOURS

Monday – Friday 10 a.m. to 9 p.m.

Saturday and Sunday 10 to 10 p.m.

Fox 6 Books: December

Thrilling distractions. These are some of the year’s best books.  They all are well-written, thrilling works of fiction that will offer the perfect distraction during a busy season.

 Never Have I Ever by Joshilyn Jackson shows why you need to stay on topic during your book club discussion. Amy Whey, a loving wife and mother, lives a pretty ordinary life and runs a fairly conventional book club with her best friend, Charlotte. But then the mysterious and alluring Angelica Roux arrives one night for the book discussion. Angelica charms the group and lures them into a game of telling secrets. It seems like harmless fun, but Amy knows it is not. And somehow, Angelica knows the truth about who Amy really is and what she once did. To protect her family and save the life she’s built, Amy must match wits with Angelica in a war of best-forgotten pasts and treacherous secrets. The book is full of dark twists and Jackson’s trademark humor. Jackson is the New York Times bestselling author of eight novels. A former actor, she also is an award-winning audiobook narrator. She lives in Decatur, Georgia, and enjoys a huge following here in Birmingham.

Cemetery Road is by Greg Iles, who spent most of his life in Mississippi and writes what he knows. This book, set in a small Mississippi town on the edge of economic ruin, is about powerful families and dangerous secrets. Marshall McEwan is a successful journalist in Washington, DC, but he returns to his Mississippi home (something he swore he’d never do) where his father is terminally ill. Bienville is not the town he remembered. His family’s 150-year-old newspaper is failing; his former lover has married into a powerful, connected family. A small group of patriarchs, who rule the town, are planning a deal with a billion-dollar Chinese paper mill, but then that turns deadly. So Marshall joins forces with his former lover and begins doing what he does best:  investigating to uncover hard truths. Iles has written 16 New York Times bestsellers. His novels have been made into films and published in more than 35 countries.

Fun fact:  Iles is part of the lit-rock group The Rock Bottom Remainders. The band is made up of some pretty famous folks including Dave Barry, Mitch Albom, Roy Blount Jr., Stephen King, Amy Tan and Matt Groening.

The Last Widow by Karin Slaughter will thrill her fans because this is another novel with medical examiner Sara Linton and her partner, Will Trent, an investigator with the Georgia Bureau of Investigation. Bad things are happening in Atlanta:  A scientist from the Centers for Disease Control is kidnapped in a shopping center parking lot. A month later, an explosion rocks one of the city’s most important neighborhoods—the location of Emory University, two hospitals, an FBI field office and the CDC. Sara and Will quickly discover a conspiracy that threatens thousands of lives. When Sara is abducted by the assailants they are seeking, Will has to go undercover to save her and prevent a massacre. A native of Georgia, Slaughter lives in Atlanta. She has been published in 120 countries with more than 35 million books sold worldwide.

The Huntress by Kate Quinn is a thrilling work of historical fiction where lives and nations collide. Nina Markova grew up in Soviet Russia, and when war came to her homeland, she joined the infamous Night Witches, an all-female night bomber regiment attacking Hitler’s eastern front. But then she’s downed behind enemy lines and encounters a Nazi murderess known as the Huntress. Ian Graham is a British war correspondent who leaves journalism to become a Nazi hunter. One target eludes him:  the Huntress. So he joins forces with Nina, the only person who has ever escaped from the Huntress. Jordan McBride, 17, grows up in post-World War II Boston. When her long-widowed father brings home a fiancée, she’s sure the quiet-spoken German widow is hiding something. But uncovering her new stepmother’s past also uncovers secrets in Jordan’s own family. Quinn, a life-long history buff, is a New York Times bestselling author of seven historical novels, including the wildly popular novel The Alice Network.

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.

Farm Bowl + Juice Co. is Convenient, Flavorful and #Fresh

Andrea Snyder is all about healthy, convenient and local dining – whether that’s a full, family meal; an easy, nutritious breakfast; a cup of coffee with a friend; or a quick, vitamin-rich juice shot on the way to a gym.

The Birmingham entrepreneur has all that covered.

Snyder and her husband, David, first brought us Urban Cookhouse, a farm-to-fire-to-table fast-casual restaurant, in 2010.  They now own a licensee group that includes the Homewood, Summit, downtown Birmingham and Tuscaloosa locations, and Urban Cookhouses are in three other Alabama cities as well as four other states.

“We were one of the first concepts to bring local food to the fast-casual segment and figure out how to do it at that price point, which is $10 to $12 a meal,” she says.

Farm Bowl + Juice Co., which the Snyders founded in Homewood in January 2018, is just as forward-thinking.

I recently sat down with Andrea Snyder for Alabama NewsCenter. You can read the entire story here.

The small, bright storefront with an Instagrammable abstract mural outside and charming rope swings on the porch, is a neighborhood wellness stop specifically designed to promote a lifestyle of clean eating. There are two locations–one in Homewood and the other in Tuscaloosa.

“We wanted it to be a wellness brand, and so we decided that we would be plant-based,” Snyder says.

“We have no animal products. We want you to always feel good. So we make cold-pressed juices. All of our smoothies are exactly what’s listed on the menu with whole ingredients like almond milk and coconut milk. We have overnight oats and coffee. It’s just a good place to come for clean eating,” she adds, whether that’s a snack or meal replacement or breakfast or lunch or something in between.

Acai berry bowls are at the center of the colorful, healthy menu, which includes oatmeal bowls, cold-pressed juices and smoothies, juice shots, toasts, juice cleanses and a kids’ menu featuring acai and oatmeal bowls and a strawberry smoothie.

Some of the ingredients, like acai berries and mango, are tropical but the Snyders source Alabama ingredients as much as possible. The same area farmers and makers who supply Urban Cookhouse also deliver here. This not only insures the restaurants have fresh, flavorful foods, but there’s also an economic impact and a sense of social responsibility in supporting the farms. “We’ve partnered with these farmers for a long time,” Snyder says, “So it was easy to … just get them to come next door and drop off another batch of something.”

There are in-season strawberries, blueberries and blackberries from Smitherman Farms; kale, spinach, honeydew and watermelon from Southern Oaks Farm; and year-round honey from Eastaboga Bee Co.; wheatgrass from Southern Organics; and coffee roasted locally at Seeds Coffee Co. Framed photos of these trusted partners line the walls of the restaurants.

The ingredients are made into things like the popular Nutty Professor, a bright, satisfying acai bowl. It has Sambazon Açai Berry Sorbet as the base, and then they add strawberries, almonds, granola, peanut butter and local honey. The staff can recommend add-ons, like sliced bananas, pumpkin seeds, chia seeds or cacao nibs.

Oatmeal bowls, with Farm Bowl’s blend of overnight oats, come topped with a variety of things, such as almond butter, local honey, chia seeds, hemp seeds, blueberries, strawberries, apples, nutmeg, cinnamon, toasted quinoa, walnuts and pecans.

The Power Up smoothie is a blend of almond milk, coconut water, avocado, blueberry, spinach, banana, coconut butter, cocoa nibs, chia seeds, hemp seeds, local honey and cinnamon. Recommended add-ons include vegan protein, nutmeg, spirulina or freshly made Seeds coffee ice cubes. The Bounce Back has kale, chard, almond milk, banana, local honey; chia seeds, cinnamon, vegan protein and ginger can be added.

There are cold-pressed juices for every need.

The Refresh is made with watermelon, mint, cucumber and beets; Hydrate works with coconut water, pear, cucumber and honeydew; Gym & Juice is a mixture of honeydew, apple, spinach, spirulina, lemon and celery.

Wellness shots, which Andrea showcased at a chef’s demo at The Market at Pepper Place this summer, are made to order like all the smoothies and bowls and avocado and honey toasts. Juice cleanses are daily combinations of juices and shots that cost $40 and $50. The “summer cleanse challenge” is popular with Farm Bowl’s Instagram followers.

Farm Bowl + Juice Co. provides a fresh, fun and convenient way to consume optimum nutrition, but Snyder wants it to be a place of fellowship, too. She has been pleasantly surprised by the social media following Farm Bowl has inspired. The store features photos of #farmbowlfamous fans online and in stores.

“I want people to make this a part of their lifestyle, to realize that this is convenient. It is a good value. We’re always going to take care of our customers. We also love for them to think of us as an alternative to your coffee shop. I want more of this,” Snyder says, pointing to two young women deep in conversation at a nearby table. “Come and have something healthy besides a muffin. We have great Wi-Fi, and we’d love for you to just come and hang out all day.”

Farm Bowl & Juice Co.

1920 29th Ave. S.

Homewood, Alabama 35209

205-848-2929

1470 Northbank Parkway #170

Tuscaloosa, Alabama 35406

205-710-2990

HOURS

Monday-Friday

7 a.m. to 7 p.m.

Saturday-Sunday

8 a.m. to 7 p.m.

https://www.farmbowlandjuiceco.com

On Being Thankful

I love Thanksgiving. I dread Thanksgiving.

There’s so much expectation with this holiday. I love going around the table and saying what we’re thankful for, but before that happens, I get stuck on the food and family and the perfection of those things. Of course, I know nothing is perfect. But still.

And I really, really stress about my menu.

It was so much simpler when all I had to do was bring an appetizer to the feast my grandmother put together each year. Turkey and dressing and fried chicken and the assorted casseroles—green bean, sweet potato, squash—and pecan pie and sweet potato pie and coconut cake.

Now that Thanksgiving is up to me, I spend hours researching recipes and then days comparing them. This stuffing or that one? Green beans or Brussels sprouts? Mashed potatoes or sweet ones?  Pie or cake?

Not this year.

This year, I gave myself permission to simplify. I took one look at the New York Times Cooking suggested menu from Alison Roman who cooks her big feast in a tiny Manhattan kitchen and said, “That’s certainly good enough.”

It took all of five minutes to make this decision. And it will be just fine.

So I’ll make Alison’s Dry-Brined Turkey and (maybe) Sheet-Pan Gravy, Buttered Stuffing with Celery and Leeks, Green Beans and Greens with Fried Shallots, Crushed Sour Cream Potatoes, Spicy Caramelized Squash with Lemon and Hazelnuts and Leafy Herb Salad.

I ordered a chocolate-bourbon pecan pie from Pie Lab, because I am not a baker. And that also is OK. Besides, we have tons of Lebkuchen from friends in Germany.

I’ve assigned appetizers to my kids. We’ll start with Bavarian pumpkin soup and move on to Ashley Mac’s strawberry jam cheese ring. We’ll probably throw in some Dean’s Dip and chips. Maybe just a board with cheeses and nuts. Or rounds of Continental Bakery baguette baked with blue cheese and drizzled with honey.

Even the leftovers are simplified.

I’ll make Becky Satterfield’s Day-After Turkey Soup and Sweet Potato Biscuits (recipes below). And the day after that, it’s the Silver Palate’s Turkey Hash Salad. My family loves that. Then, if there’s still turkey left, I’ll do Sour Cream Turkey Enchiladas with Coriander from the Penzey’s website.

It’s still a lot of work. But I feel really good about it. I am thankful.

Leftover Thanksgiving Turkey Soup with Sweet Potato Biscuits

Total time: 2 hours 30 minutes (prep time: 30 minutes, cook time: 2 hours)

Yield: 6 to 8 servings

Turkey Soup

8 cups chicken broth (fresh or boxed) or turkey broth that has been strained through wet cheesecloth before starting new stock

1 turkey carcass, all meat removed

1 carrot, washed, peeled and halved lengthwise

1 whole stalk celery, washed, halved lengthwise

1 medium onion, peeled and halved

2 bay leaves

1 tablespoon chopped fresh sage

  • Put everything into a large stockpot. Bring to a boil, and then simmer while covered, about 1 1/2 hours, then strain.
  • When you strain the broth, remove the large bones and carcass with tongs. Strain the broth through a sieve covered with wet cheesecloth. Discard the solids. Add strained broth back into the stockpot.

While your stock is boiling/simmering, prepare:

1 whole carrot, washed, small dice

1 whole stalk celery, washed, small dice

1 medium onion, peeled, cut in small dice

2 tablespoons olive oil

2 cloves garlic, smashed and chopped roughly

1 bunch rough-chopped, blanched and shocked parsley

leftover Thanksgiving Day vegetables (like green beans, Brussels sprouts and squash)

3 cups leftover turkey meat, white and dark, diced into pieces no larger than a soupspoon

  • In a separate skillet or pot, heat the garlic in the olive oil over medium heat. Allow to brown slightly, about 3 minutes. Add the diced carrots, diced celery and diced onions. Sweat over medium-low heat until softened, 7 or 8 minutes. Set aside until broth has been strained.
  • After broth has been strained and added back to the stockpot, add these sweated vegetables from the pan into the stockpot containing the strained broth along with a medium bunch of rough-chopped, fresh blanched and shocked parsley. Also, add 1cup leftover green beans cut in two-inch segments, 1cup leftover Brussels sprouts cut in fourths, 1cup leftover yellow sautéed squash cut in fourths, 3 cups leftover turkey meat light, dark and also turkey neck meat, if on hand. Dice the turkey meat. Make sure the meat pieces are no larger than the size of a soupspoon.
  • Continue to simmer covered for 25 minutes and then serve 6-8 people with sweet potato biscuits on the side. (Store leftover soup in an airtight container after completely cooling in an ice bath. It should be good for a couple of days.)

Sweet Potato Biscuits

Preheat oven to 450 degrees F. Prepare baking sheets with parchment paper or cooking release spray. I prefer parchment paper. Set aside.

2 cups all-purpose flour

1 teaspoon kosher salt

3 teaspoons baking powder

1 teaspoon baking soda

  • Sift all above dry ingredients together

2 tablespoons of finely chopped blanched/shocked parsley (optional)

2 tablespoons of finely chopped blanched/shocked chives (optional)

4 tablespoons cold unsalted butter, cut into small pieces (2 ounces)

1 cup leftover sweet potato casserole with marshmallows (or mashed sweet potatoes)

1/8 – 1/4 cup milk (or more, if needed

  • Mix dry ingredients in food processor. Pulse butter into flour mixture until all butter has been blended into the flour. Process in the sweet potatoes to the flour mixture, just until fully combined with flour.
  • Add 1/8 cup of milk to mixture. Add more milk, a tablespoon or two at a time, if necessary, to achieve a ball of dough in your processor. Dough should be soft and smooth, not dry or too wet. If you end up with dough that is too wet and sticky, add a bit more flour so that it can be handled and rolled. If too dry, add more milk.
  • Roll dough on your lightly floured surface so that it is approximately 1/2-inch thick. Cut in 2-inch rounds with a biscuit cutter. Place rounds on prepared baking sheet. Re-roll remaining dough and continue cutting rounds until all dough is used.
  • Bake for 9-10 minutes, or until biscuits are golden brown.

If you don’t have a food processor, you can prepare this recipe by hand or in a mixer with a paddle attachment. Simply do all the steps in a bowl. If by hand, combine butter with flour using a fork or pastry blender to work the butter into the flour.

If you don’t use leftover sweet potato casserole (a casserole that has had sugar and marshmallows added to it) but use mashed sweet potatoes, I recommend adding 2 tablespoons of brown sugar to your dry ingredients.

Once baked and out of the oven, brush lightly with melted butter or honey or serve plain depending upon your preference.

—Becky Satterfield

Fox 6 Books: November

It’s not too early to think about gift giving. And when you give the gift of a book, it just keeps on giving. All these are worth wrapping, and I brought them with me to WBRC Fox 6 on November 5.

 Inland is the latest book by Tea Obreht, and it’s awesome. Two remarkable lives intersect in the lawless, drought-ridden Arizona Territory in 1893. Nora is a tough frontierswoman awaiting the return of her husband who has gone in search of water. Her two elder sons have vanished after an argument, and Nora waits with youngest son, who is convinced that a mysterious beast is stalking them.

The other main character, Lurie, is a former outlaw and a man haunted by ghosts. He sets out on a momentous expedition across the West with camels! The way in which Lurie’s death-defying trek intersects with Nora’s plight is the surprise and suspense in this great book by the New York Times bestselling author of The Tiger’s Wife, which I also loved.

Ordinary Girls:  A Memoir by Jaquira Diaz is a Barnes & Nobel Discover Great New Writers Fall 2019 selection. These selections are pretty much always spot on. Jaquira Diaz has won two Pushcart Prizes and has been published in the New York Times, Rolling Stone and the Guardian. This shining life surely seemed unlikely when she was growing up a black sheep in housing projects in Miami and Puerto Rico. She will tell you she was a juvenile delinquent—arrested over and over, a street fighter, a runaway, a high school drop out and a suicide risk. She always longed for love and security and a family and a home. This incredibly candid and beautiful and powerful memoir is a true story of survival and more. Diaz says she was a kid who loved to read. “You could say that books saved me.” But as much as she loved books, she didn’t see people like herself in the pages. “I wrote Ordinary Girlsfor girls and women who are like the girl I was, like the woman I am now. For those who never saw themselves in books.”

God Save the Queens:  The Essential History of Women in Hip-Hop by Kathy Iandoli recognizes that the history of hip-hop has, for far too long, revolved around men. But women have always been incredibly important to this musical movement. From rap’s earliest moments, they have been out front and keeping pace with their male counterparts. These “queens” have paved the way for Nicki Minaj and Cardi B and those who will top the charts after them. Music journalist Kathy Iandoli offers a fast-paced, heavily researched history of ambition and spirit and attitude and girl power. She tackles issues of gender, sexuality, violence, body image and objectification and more in this feminist history of hip-hop.

The Ryman Remembers with a foreword written by Will Campbell is a hybrid kind of cookbook that traces the colorful history of a building and those who played within its walls and ties it in with easy-to-follow recipes for foods from all over– just like the people who have played here.

Readers might be surprised to know just who has been on the beloved stage of Nashville’s Ryman Auditorium. Long before bluegrass and country music legends played here, orchestras and symphonies from New York, Boston and Chicago played the Ryman. Isadora Duncan, Martha Graham and Nijinski and the Ballet Russe all danced on its wooden stage. Charlie Chaplin, Katherine Hepburn and American explorer Robert Edwin Peary appeared here, too. Then, of course, there was the Grand Ole Opry, which made its home at the Ryman beginning in 1943. Over the next 30 years, the greats of country music played here—from Hank Williams to Loretta Lynn to Johnny Cash and Elvis and more. After falling into disrepair, the Ryman has been restored and is once again a thriving theater. It is, in fact, Nashville’s most revered venue.

The recipes here make this book extra special and trace a Southern heritage of favorite foods associated with famous names who have played this stage—ranging from Amy Grant’s Buttermilk Fudge to Nashville Symphony conductor Kenneth Schermerhorn’s Soul Pasta to John T. Hall’s favorite Hot Water Cornbread to Dolly Parton’s Beefy Cowboy Beans.

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.

Back Forty Beer Company Birmingham: Where the Food is as Popular as the Beer

Photo by Russ Bodner

Invariably, whenever someone mentions Back Forty Beer Company at the Sloss Docks in Birmingham the talk turns to food.

That’s because an award-winning chef with a fine-dining background helms this open kitchen (next to the open brewing production) and is turning out dishes that are delicious and inventive, seasonal and locally sourced and perhaps more than you’d expect.

 I visited Back Forty Beer Company Birmingham recently for Alabama NewsCenter. You can read the entire story here.

Owner & CEO, Douglas Brown says the full restaurant here is one thing that sets Back Forty Beer Company Birmingham apart from other great breweries in the Magic City. That was part of the plan from the very beginning, and executive chef Russ Bodner has led the restaurant since before Back Forty Birmingham opened in the summer of 2018.

Photo by Russ Bodner

Bodner, a St. Louis native who studied at the French Culinary Institute in New York City, worked in the kitchen of the Michelin-starred, haute Greek restaurant Anthos with celebrity chef Michael Psilakis and restaurateur Donatella Arpaia. He was the sous chef with James Beard Award-winning chef Gerard Craft at Taste in St. Louis. He honed his unique blend of fine Southern comfort food and exciting global influences on Lake Martin at SpringHouse (with acclaimed chef and Hot and Hot Fish Club alum Rob McDaniel—a five-time James Beard “Best Chef: South” semi-finalist) and then at Kowaliga as executive chef.

“Our goal here,” Bodner says, “is to provide not just regular brewery fare but to have a restaurant that brews beer or a brewery that has a restaurant.”

Either way you look at it, it’s working.

Chef Bodner has created an impressive yet casual farm-to-table menu that is way more than just pub food. Most everything here is made from scratch—the pickles, the mustards, the sausages and sauces. Bodner relies upon local growers like BDA Farm near Tuscaloosa or Ireland Farm for his seasonal produce. He visits the farmers markets for smaller, specific quantities of things, and he turns to locally owned Evans for most of his meats and Gulf-fresh seafood.

photo by Russ Bodner

So you’ll find a beet salad that’s colorful with mustard greens and radishes or local butternut squash soup topped with pickled golden raisins and homemade crème fraiche. Pan-seared jumbo scallops might come with caramelized bok choy, local sweet peppers, carrots, shiitake mushrooms and radishes in a homemade dashi broth. The Niman Ranch pork porterhouse is paired with sweet potato hash, Benton’s ham, peppers and onions. Pastas are homemade, and chef Bodner is excited about the Asian noodle bowls and ramens guests can enjoy during the cooler months.

It’s comfort food, Bodner says, “but done in a really nicely presented way and using the best ingredients that we can.”

That approach gets you wings that are confit-cooked and perfectly spiced whether you choose the mild Naked Pig sauce or Puck’s smoky-sweet heat.

Beautiful, thin-crust pizzas are popular and range from a simple margherita with San Marzano tomato sauce, fresh mozzarella and basil to a bright, flavor bomb of a pie topped with pancetta and broccolini, mozzarella, garlic, fennel pollen, Calabrian chilies, chili crunch and preserved lemon.

The Burger Throw Down-winning Back Forty cheeseburger is the most popular item on the menu with two patties, American cheese, homemade aioli, house-made pickles and onions sliced so thinly they cook on the burger. They’ve sold some 50,000 so far. It comes with some of the best fries in this city and more of that homemade aioli for dipping.

Then there are beer dinners on Mondays—usually five or six courses all paired with a beer. “It’s a pretty big hit,” Bodner says. “Sometimes we have beers that aren’t necessarily on the menu, that we have smaller quantities of, that we can pour.”

Master brewer Tosh Brown, who trained with Back Forty Gadsden’s master brewers, is responsible for those. He freshly brews popular core, year-round Back Forty beers like Naked Pig, Truck Stop Honey, Freckle Belly and Paw Paw’s Peach Wheat Ale, but he also brews a steady stream of new, experimental beers you’ll only find here. Beers like Hop Tosh West Coast IPA, Unbridled Passion Wheat and “Hike Out” Hefe.

“We focus on hyper localization in all aspects of what we do,” Douglas Brown says. That means offering beer and food that you cannot get anywhere else. And these offerings are always changing.

Douglas Brown credits his staff for the brewery’s success—from Diane DeBord who manages the tap room to Tosh Brown who makes the beers that flow there to Bodner and his kitchen staff to the friendly servers who deliver the foods.

“We’d like for people to walk away from here with this feeling that they were welcomed from the beginning, they were treated well, and they got served great food and great beer,” Brown says.“We ask our employees to ‘act like an owner, experience like a customer, create like an artist, and also take care of our environment and our community.’”

Douglas Brown intentionally set out to create the kind of interesting and inclusive atmosphere he saw in brew houses in Europe. He wanted something that was family friendly.

“I’m most proud of what you see here on a Saturday,” he says, “with just hundreds of people coming through here. … from toddlers up to great-grandparents. Of course, it’s always nice if they’re enjoying the food and the beer; we’re always happy for that. But I’m just happy to see the people here enjoying themselves.”

Back Forty Beer Company Birmingham

3201 1st Avenue North
Birmingham, Alabama 35222

​205-407-8025

https://www.backfortybeer.com/birmingham

Taproom & Kitchen Hours:

Wednesday: 11 a.m. – 9 p.m.

Thursday: 11 a.m. – 10 p.m.

Friday-Saturday: 11 a.m. – 11 p.m.

Sunday: 11 a.m. – 9 p.m.

Monday: 11 a.m. – 9 p.m.

Tuesday: Closed

Fox 6 Books: October

Let’s get cooking! It’s not too early to think about holiday dinners with friends and family. A new batch of cookbooks is just what we need right now. I brought these with me to WBRC Fox 6 on October 1.

Seeking the South:  Finding Inspired Regional Cuisines by Rob Newton with Jamie Feldman is part inspiring travelogue, part user-friendly cooking guide. “There’s no genre of American cuisine as storied as Southern,” Newton writes. “It has the longest history, most distinct terroir, and the most pronounced traditions of any food in the country, built largely by enslaved Africans and their descendants. For these reasons and more, Southern food can be a tricky topic, with a tendency to rile people up both in and out of the geographic boundaries of the South itself.”

Newton, born in Arkansas, is the executive chef at Gray & Dudley in Nashville. This new book, with lovely photos of foods and places, showcases a new kind of South that draws from all corners of the world for its modern cuisine. Consider Hot Potlikker (a Chinese-style hot pot from Mississippi made with potlikker from cooking greens); boiled peanuts with lemongrass, star anise and lime; heirloom tomatoes with peanut chaat; charred okra with Sichuan pepper, garlic and green onions. Familiar recipes here include buttermilk biscuits, deviled eggs, BBQ Gulf snapper and fried chicken. But then there are lots of favorite foods prepared in a brand new way:  Raw collards with coconut and grapefruit; fried bologna sandwiches with chow chow; turnip and potato pancakes  with yogurt, dill and dillybeans.

The book is divided into five chapters representing different regions of the South—Upper South, Deep South, Gulf Coast, Coastal Plains and Piedmont, and Low Country and Southeast Coast. “I wanted to tell the story of the Southern food that I knew and loved:  dishes that went beyond the clichés and illustrated the diverse bounty across its many distinct regions,” Newton writes. Each chapter features appetizers, salads, entrees and desserts that define each region in beautiful, delicious ways.

Kindness & Salt:  Recipes for the Care & Feeding of Your Friends and Neighbors by Ryan Angulo and Doug Crowell features food and hospitality advice and prep techniques and tips especially for the home cook. Ryan Angulo and Doug Crowell are the owners of Buttermilk Channel and French Louie in Brooklyn. The book, with a fun retro cover, features 100 recipes for the foods and drinks that draw their passionate customers from around the corner as well as across the globe. They believe that every great meal starts with two essential elements:  kindness and salt. “Kindness,” they write, “is the spirit of warmth and hospitality that underlies every meal at their restaurants. Salt is shorthand for cooking carefully and brining out the best in your ingredients.” There are 21 foundational recipes from a chapter called Pantry that include aioli, parsley pistou, oven-dried tomatoes and hollandaise sauce. These are everyday items to elevate your dishes.  From there, you’ll find hundreds more for salads and veggies (radishes with butter and black olive salt), fish and shellfish (mussels Normande), birds and beasts (cast iron-roasted chicken) as well as baked things (cornbread with chile-lime butter). There’s an entire chapter devoted to cocktails and another for brunch dishes, reflecting the full range of what makes their restaurants popular. But everything is carefully explained, tips are given freely and techniques are detailed so the home cook can easily re-create this bistro cuisine, which is, after all, inspired by home cooking.

The Sioux Chef’s Indigenous Kitchen by Sean Sherman with Beth Dooley is a cleverly named James Beard Foundation Book Award winner that is all about real food. Namely, indigenous American fruits and vegetables, wild and foraged grains, game and fish. “Locally sourced” takes on a whole new meaning in this breakout cookbook by Sean Sherman, the Oglala Lakota chef and founder of The Sioux Chef, a group of people—from chefs to growers to food truckers and food lovers—committed to revitalizing Native American cuisine.  There’s no fry bread here. It does not rely upon European staples such as wheat flour, sugar and dairy products. The dishes are indigenous to the Dakota and Minnesota territories, but home cooks can find most of these ingredients quite easily. (There’s a list of suppliers at www.sioux-chef.com if you have difficulties.) A short guide to using this book lists straightforward techniques and simple tools such as a cast-iron skillet and a deep stockpot and essential ingredients including salt, honey, sumac and herbs. Each chapter features a short essay to explain the foods and food traditions of the recipes that follow. You’ll learn about and how to cook crispy bean cakes, deviled duck eggs, rabbit braised with apples and mint, autumn harvest cookies and real wild rice. Sherman shares space in the book with other chefs he met at the Native American Culinary Association’s “Native Chef’s Symposium.” You’ll find recipes like Chef Lois Ellen Frank’s Coriander-Cured Elk with Dried Chokecherry Sauce and Felicia Cocotzin Ruiz’s Two-Fruit Jam Scattered with Seeds. All in all, this book is a beautiful, thoughtful celebration of truly homegrown culinary traditions.

Buttermilk & Bourbon:  New Orleans Recipes with a Modern Flair is a new cookbook by Jason Santos, a Hell’s Kitchen runner-up and an expert on Bar Rescue. Turns out, a birthday trip to New Orleans inspired Santos to open his Boston restaurant Buttermilk & Bourbon. “I love everything about that city,” he writes, “the food, the people and the passion!”  In his restaurant and in this book, he relies upon food that is authentic in flavor and prepared in inventive, surprising ways. Consider Buffalo Duck Wings, New Orleans BBQ Shrimp with Jalapeno Grits and Flamin’ Hot Cheeto Mac & Cheese. The chapter on adult beverages is particularly fun with a Boston-Nola Hurricane; a Who Dat? made with chocolate-mole bitters and rye; a rum-fueled Lagniappe; and a Cajun Bloody Mary, of course.

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.

Opa, y’all! It’s time for Birmingham’s Greek Festival

It takes a village to put on Birmingham’s beloved Greek Festival.

For months before the event, now in its 47th year at Holy Trinity-Holy Cross Greek Orthodox Cathedral in downtown Birmingham, hundreds of people from this city’s thriving Greek community work together to prepare. They cook, they bake and they practice centuries-old dances. They are doing what they have always done – what people still do in villages all over Greece – creating a celebration and inviting people to join them.

Some 30,000 people will show up for this year’s three-day festival Oct. 3-5. Many are Greek. Most are not, and that’s just fine. “It’s a time,” says Sonthe Burge, “when everybody gets to be Greek for the weekend.”

This story originally ran on Alabama NewsCenter. You can read the entire piece and see our cool video here.

Burge is chair of a cookie committee that started working early in the summer with a series of cookie workshops to make a single kind of pastry – koulourakia, the twisted, buttery one.

“It’s a great cookie,” she says. “It’s just really nice … it’s more of a butter cookie that’s not super sweet. So it doesn’t go in the category with the baklava or the melos (melomakarona). They have a syrup and are so much sweeter. This is more like a biscotti. Like a Greek biscotti.”

By the time she and her teams are done, they will have made more than 1,600 dozen of these cookies. They will sell them for $10 a dozen, and they very likely will sell out of all 19,488 pieces by Saturday morning.

Burge’s crews of 50 or so volunteers for each two-day workshop include women (and some men) of all ages who work with a few church employees to measure, mix, roll, shape, butter and bake the sweets. Young mothers drop off their children at mothers’ day out and come to the church kitchen to work – and learn – alongside older women who could roll and twist these cookies in their sleep. In the banquet hall, yayas and papous, who no longer want to stand in the kitchen sit at tables and bag the baked koulourakia.

And this is just one variety of sweets that you’ll find at the Greek Festival.

“We have koulourakia, which we’re making today,” Burge says. “We have baklava; that’s what most people are familiar with, and we are really known for our baklava. (That committee will make nearly 25,000 pieces.) We have kourambethes, that’s a Greek wedding cookie (there are 9,034 of these), and then melomakarona, which is a honey spice cookie (more than 6,000 pieces of this labor-intensive pastry are made), and we have Greek donuts (these loukoumathes will be fried to order).”

There’s also chocolate baklava; almond crescents; and kataiffi, made with shredded filo, walnuts, honey and cinnamon.

Of course, there are lots more foods at this free, family-friendly festival.

Appetizers and entrees include pitas (filo triangles filled with feta cheese or spinach and feta); dolmathes (stuffed grape leaves); lamb souvlakia; Greek-style chicken; Greek salad; pastichio (a kind of Greek lasagna topped with béchamel); beef and lamb gyros; and a veggie plate with rice pilaf, Greek-style green beans, a Greek salad, spanakopita and tiropita. These savory dishes are individually priced. Everything is handmade.

All this is available to eat there or take away. You also can use the drive-through, which is available all three days from 10:30 a.m. to 7 p.m. No need to call ahead and place your order.

All-day entertainment includes the George Karras Band, DJ Disco Hristo and local dance troupes ranging in age from kindergartners to high schoolers.

“I always encourage people to go into the cathedral,” Burge says. “There are church tours that are guided, and also you can … just take one on your own.” This is the fourth oldest Greek Orthodox parish in the Southeast. The basilica features a stunning Byzantine interior with stained glass, and the iconography is beautiful.

The Greek Festival is lots of fun, but there’s a serious side to all this, too. The festival has donated more than $3 million to local and national charities, including The Bell Center, The Exceptional Foundation, Firehouse Ministries, The WellHouse and Greater Birmingham Ministries.

The Birmingham church has an active Philoptochos Society, which is one of the largest women’s philanthropic organizations in the U.S. (although men also can be involved). Just recently, Burge says, the national organization sent $25,000 to the Bahamas for disaster relief.

“We’re all part of something bigger … all across the country … we all belong to this national organization, and we’re just a little microcosm of it here in Birmingham,” she says. “So in Birmingham, our mission is to help the needy, to help the poor. And we give money to different sorts of organizations. We’ve paid for equipment and different things at Children’s Hospital. We also have a scholarship fund for members of our church – for children who are graduating from high school going to college.”

The local chapter’s biggest fundraiser is the sale of frozen pans of pastichio during the Greek Festival.

One Cavernous Dining Room

The Rattlesnake Saloon, in a cavern under an enormous rock bluff in north Alabama, has been called one of the most unusual restaurants in the United States. The Duke Burger at this cave café is on the list of “100 Dishes to Eat in Alabama Before You Die.” If you haven’t yet been there and eaten that, thousands of people from around the world have already beaten you to it. The guest books show visitors from all 50 states and more than 30 countries.

I traveled to the Rattlesnake Saloon recently for Alabama NewsCenter. You can read the entire story here.

The restaurant is only part of what the Foster family has built on their thousands of acres of beautiful forested land with miles of trails, stunning views, places to fish and several ancient Native American shelters, one of which houses a burial place dating back 8,000 years.

The Seven Springs Lodge came first. For years, Danny Foster worked this land, which has been in his family since 1916, before creating the lodge.

People come here to hike, hunt, camp, craft, attend concerts, and ride four-wheelers, side-by-side vehicles, ATVs, dirt bikes and horses on the woodland trails. Schoolchildren show up for nature adventures and motorcycle enthusiasts gather for bike rallies. SHiFT Design (a community of builders, makers, designers and creators) has a summer camp here. Resident artists Gabriel and Robin Sellers carve and paint one-of-a-kind wood and stone sculptures. This also is a place for racking horse races, frontier days with chuckwagon races, bonfires, rodeos with bull riding and simply sitting on a porch.

Danny and his younger son, William, realized that every lodge needs a saloon, and the cavern was the perfect place. During construction, workers found a nest of rattlesnakes under a piece of tin, and the place got a name.

The Sidewinder’s Trading Post was the final element of this family enterprise. Danny’s wife, Momma Faye, runs this (sometimes with her beloved granddaughter, Willow, nearby), and her genuine hospitality is as much of a draw as the camping supplies, souvenirs, tack, postcards, handcrafted jewelry and unique T-shirts.

The popularity of all this, and perhaps the restaurant in particular, comes down to “curiosity,” says Danny. “They always say, ‘If you build something unusual …’ and another thing, we make it hard to get to.” (The restaurant is open three days a week seasonally.) He says, “If it’s easy, people will put it off. You only have certain hours, so people have to make arrangements to get to it; it’s a challenge. … They have to be deliberate about it.

“It really, really took off,” he says of the restaurant, “more than I expected.”

The cavern that houses Rattlesnake Saloon was a hog pen several decades ago. Today, an air-conditioned kitchen, bar and dining room is built right alongside the rock walls. This is an atmosphere like none other, with swinging saloon doors, antlers, a pressed-tin ceiling, chandeliers and some shockingly large rattlesnake skins (we counted eight that are stretched down rough-hewn columns in the middle of the dining area). There’s a stuffed rattler and an unfortunate rabbit in a dramatic Southern woodland diorama. The bar is colorful, with beer taps and a wall of cans on display. But to really experience Rattlesnake Saloon, you’ll want to eat outside at one of dozens of tables in the cavern, which is cool even in the summer. It is decorated with neon beer signs and offers a nice view of the woods and the small stage where, at night, there’s karaoke on Thursdays and live music on Fridays and Saturdays.

The saloon is accessible via “taxi.” You ride down and back up a steep hill in the back of an extended cab pickup truck. That taxi runs pretty much constantly, so you can come and go as you please. Of course, you can ride your horse to the saloon, too, if you brought one.

Momma Faye says she knows Rattlesnake Saloon has fans everywhere because she’s seen her T-shirts all over the world. “It’s nothing to see them in the Bahamas … and Cancun,” she says. “But we went to Wales with my son on a teaching trip, and we were walking down the street … and there were two people with our rattlesnake T-shirts on … in Wales!”

They come for a fun, themed menu that starts with “skunk rings” (good, crispy and sweet onion rings), “cowboy buttons” (fried mushrooms) and “snake eyes & tails” (fried jalapeno slices and green beans that are a must-have). That Duke Burger ($11) is the most popular item, though. This award-winning hamburger features a thick, half-pound Black Angus patty topped with applewood-smoked bacon and fried snake eyes (again, jalapeno slices) and served on an onion roll.

Since Rattlesnake Saloon opened in 2009, busloads of people visited for lunch and dinner on Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays, making it a popular tourist draw for remote Colbert County. But in 2015, when Food Network featured the place on “Craziest Restaurants in America,” Rattlesnake Saloon really took off.

The Saturday after the show aired, Momma Faye says, “We had 4,500 people here. Then we quit counting.”

The place is special, she says, because of the landscape. “But the other special thing about this place is the people who come.”

Momma Faye talks about hosting children who are blind and deaf and watching them experience nature in their own ways. She talks about the design-based adventure-learning opportunities led by her older son, Owen. (He is a professor of industrial design, and, each summer, his SHiFT Design Camp draws high school and college students from all over the world.) She talks about a young man from China who learned to drive in Danny’s truck.

“We have some of the best people in the world to come,” she says.

Rattlesnake Saloon

1292 Mount Mills Road

Tuscumbia, Alabama 35674

256-370-7220

https://www.rattlesnakesaloon.net

Hours: Thursday, Friday and Saturday (February-November) 11 a.m. to 10 p.m., Sundays 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. (April-September). (Near the beginning or end of the season, you might want to call before you go. Also, check the online calendar for special events.)

Beer and wine are served at the Rattlesnake Saloon after 5 p.m. only.

Tables are first-come, first-served. Only three available slots for group reservations (25 people or more) are allowed per night. For reservations, call before 4:45 p.m. (256-370-7218) and ask for Ms. Tee Tee.