The greatest inspiration for El ZunZún came from the tiniest of things: the hummingbird.
The cultures and foods along the hummingbird’s migratory route are evident everywhere you look—and in everything you taste—at El ZunZún in Cahaba Heights (which will open Monday, August 27).
Restaurant owner and pastry chef Becky Satterfield and executive chef Angela Schmidt, the two women bringing us El ZunZún, actually followed the long, brave migratory path of the ruby-throated hummingbird—from here to Mexico and back again several times—researching traditional recipes and cooking styles and techniques; appreciating the rich, vibrant culture; and sharing food and friendship with the people they met along the way.
They feel a deep respect for what they found and aim to share it with their customers.
“We want to do everything (at El ZunZún) as organically as possible,” Satterfield says, “to bring the truth to the plate from all of our travels and all our cooking.”
The foods at El ZunZún are authentic, and the combinations are creative. There are multiple salsas; antojitos, which translates to “little cravings,” are typical of street and market-stall foods; larger plates include beef short rib enchiladas with cactus fruit, tomatillo, Modelo Negra beer and local honey.
The bar, decorated with handcrafted Mexican tiles, serves several tequilas and mezcals as well as inventive cocktails. The Hummingbird Margarita is made with el Jimador Silver Tequila, Royal Combier, agave and lime and garnished with sal de gusano (worm salt).
Local food partners include Corey Hinkel who will provide proprietary bread and Deborah Stone, owner of Stone Hollow Farmstead, who is growing heirloom peppers and making fresh Mexican cheeses and cajeta (goat’s milk caramel). But Schmidt and Satterfield also are committed to the people they befriended in Mexico and buy from them, too. “We’re changing lives in Mexico,” Schmidt says, “and that’s important to us. After being there, you really understand … that they need jobs. To be able to give money back, Becky and I are both committed to that.”
El ZunZún’s menu is seasonal, and it will evolve, Schmidt says. “This (Yucatan and Oaxacan region) is just the starting point. I still want to go to the Bahia wine region and the Tijuana area. And later we want to go to Peru; that’s a hugely diverse cuisine down there with all the Asian influences. And then Venezuela, Cuba. This is a journey for everyone, really.”
I have a couple of friends with whom I routinely share beauty tips and news about clever, effective products. It’s funny, really. These women are highly successful professionals, truly amazing at what they do and I know them mainly in a business sort of way. But when one of us finds something good to slather, dab or spray upon ourselves, we always are ready to share it with each other.
And why not crowdsource this sort of thing in between all the important stuff? I think it’s a lovely thing to do.
So, in order to share that love … here’s a look inside my summer travel bag. These are some of the products I took with me to the beach where minimalism is the key, sunscreen is highly important and looking good is as effortless as possible.
This sunscreen from Supergoop! is something my daughter Allison shared with me. It’s a light, lightly scented (sort of citrus) mousse that just melts into your skin. It has shea butter to moisturize and blue sea kale for antioxidants. I use it on my face, neck and chest, and a little goes a long way. Note that it’s SPF 50. I don’t go for anything less.
I love to multitask, and OUAI Haircare Rose Hair & Body Oil is a great double-duty kind of product. I use a few drops to smooth the ends of my hair. I rub a little into my skin (hello, shoulders!) for hydration and a subtle bit of sheen. And it smells amazing, so it works as a summer-perfect perfume, too.
This Essie Treat Love & Color ultra sheer nail polish in Tonal taupe is my go-to for beach nails. I don’t have to worry about chips because I really can’t see them! It’s just a little wash of color, and I swear my nails are better for wearing it. Tinted Love is another great almost-not-even-there shade.
I picked up this rollerball of Persian Rose fragrance from Pacifica at Target right before my trip. I wanted something light and a little different. This is it: floral and a tiny bit smoky. And at only $12, perfect for tossing in a travel bag. It’s TSA friendly, too. The description mentions the Persian poet Rumi. I can’t remember the last time I had a Rumi-inspired impulse buy.
I keep a jar of Aveda stress-fix Body Cream on my bedside table. I carry a smaller jar everywhere I go. The certified organic lavender, lavandin and clary sage are proven to reduce stress. Also, the aroma reminds me to breathe deeply. That surely can’t hurt.
This is how I clean up at the end of the day. Derma-E Anti Wrinkle Scrub has marine plant extracts, vitamin A, glycolic acid, apricot seed powder and papaya to smooth and really, really exfoliate. Another multitasking product!
As I get older, I’ve become a fan of facial oils. I believe I got a sample of True Moringa Pure Moringa Simplicity Facial Oil in one of my Birchbox shipments. Or maybe Allison gave it to me. In any case, it’s made with 100% pure, cold-pressed moringa oil, which is great for moisturizing after a day of sand and surf. True Moringa works directly with a network of 1,600 smallholder farmers throughout Ghana providing sustainable livelihoods through access to credit, agricultural training, nutrition programs, and fair wages. So there’s that, too.
Finally, a product called Captain Blankenship Mermaid Sea Salt Hair Spray almost screams to go on a beach trip. I spray it onto damp hair and scrunch. It’s made with Atlantic sea salt (for after I wash out the Gulf of Mexico sea salt) as well as organic aloe vera and sea kelp and essential oils of geranium and palmarosa. Because beachy waves should smell nice.
St. George Island never disappoints. Even on a cloudy day, and those have been few, it’s my favorite place to be.
Life is here simple: hours and hours of reading books on the beach under a huge umbrella. We listen to Oyster Radio (100.5 WOYS) and don’t turn on the television. I’ve had oyster dates with my kids and husband at Lynn’s Quality Oysters on the bay side. We’ve spent hours in a sea kayak looking for turtles and dolphins (and finding them).
We timed our visit to coincide with the Perseid meteor showers and thrilled to a couple of long, slow, colorful earthgrazers most nights. On Sunday (the peak night), we sipped Buffalo Trace bourbon and watched into the wee hours seeing dozens of shooting stars, some with spectacular tails. Orange. Green. Blue. A few evenings we’ve woken to incredible thunderstorms just outside our window, lightning striking the water turning night into day. Another kind of light show.
We’ve eaten lots of tomatoes, just old-fashioned slicing ones from Chandler Mountain in Steele, Alabama, shipped all the way down here to the Piggly Wiggly in Apalachicola, Florida (imagine!). We’ve made salads by adding fresh peaches or watermelon to them–whatever my hand grabs first. Brother caught a redfish on his fly rod the other day, and we ate it a few hours later baked on the half shell with just salt and pepper and a little olive oil.
Best. Fish. Ever.
We spend our days in swimsuits here, very rarely dressing more than that. Even then it’s shorts and t-shirts. A sundress, maybe. In fact, we’ve not gotten much fancier than dinner for two at The Owl Cafe in Apalachicola one night. If you’re here, you should go. The food is delicious and the service so quietly friendly.
I can’t show you the turtles we’ve seen. Green turtles? Loggerheads? We only get a glimpse of a yellow-spotted head and they are gone. Likewise, a red fox crossing the road on our way home from dinner that one night was as fleeting as a thought. I saw this kingfisher cozying up to a guy fishing from the shore one day. I think he knew the guy had a bite before the guy knew.
Rick rode his bike on the island and off. And then off some more. While cycling on the logging roads in Tate’s Hell State Forest, he saw bear tracks but, thankfully, no bear. He also saw a deer and a sizable black snake. I told him if he wasn’t back by noon, I would come looking, so when he was done, he texted me: “I’m out of Hell. Headed back … all good.”
All that is Gulf-coast specific, but what we enjoyed on our dining table is not necessarily so. Most of these things don’t require a beach to enjoy, but of course, they might taste better down there.
1 cup (8 ounces) butter, room temperature, cut into 1-inch pieces
1/2 cup homemade harissa paste (see recipe below)
crusty bread and more beer to serve
Place a sheet tray lined with foil or a large cast iron skillet under the broiler to preheat. Toss the cleaned shrimp with salt. Set aside.
Add the beer and garlic to a small, 2-quart saucepan over medium-high heat. Reduce until it is sticky and only about 3 tablespoons in volume, about 10 minutes. The beer will foam up while boiling. Set the pot askew on the burner to prevent it from boiling over.
Add the butter to the beer one tablespoon at a time while constantly swirling until incorporated and thick, about 2 minutes. Remove from heat and stir in the harissas.
Pour the butter sauce over the shrimp and toss to combine. Pour the shrimp and all the sauce on the preheated sheet tray or skillet. It will hiss and sputter. Make sure the shrimp is in one even layer and place the tray or the skillet under the broiler (but not too close; make sure they don’t burn) until shrimp are opaque and cooked through, about 4 minutes. Serve immediately.
Harissa is a key ingredient in North African cuisine. This batch will last up to a month in the fridge, and you can put it on everything from scrambled eggs to rice. It makes a lovely rub for grilled meats, too.
15 dried chiles de árbol
2 dried guajillo chiles
1 dried ancho chile
1 tablespoon cumin seeds
1½ teaspoons coriander seeds
3 garlic cloves, smashed
2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
1 tablespoon white wine vinegar
1 tablespoon tomato paste
1½ teaspoons hot smoked Spanish paprika
1 teaspoon kosher salt
3/4 cup olive oil, divided
Place árbol, guajillo, and ancho chiles in a large heatproof measuring glass. Pour boiling water over to submerge, cover with plastic wrap, and let sit until chiles are very pliable and cool enough to handle, 15–20 minutes. Drain; remove stems and seeds and discard (wear gloves for this part if you have them).
Toast cumin and coriander in a dry small skillet over medium-low heat, tossing constantly, until very fragrant, about 2-3 minutes. Transfer to a food processor, add garlic, and pulse until spices are broken up and garlic forms a paste.
Add chiles and pulse until chiles form a coarse paste. Add lemon juice, vinegar, tomato paste, paprika, and salt and process until mostly smooth but mixture still has a little texture. With the motor running, stream in ½ cup oil. Process until oil is incorporated.
Transfer harissa to a bowl. Pour remaining ¼ cup oil over top and keep in the refrigerator.
Here’s What To Do With All Those Tomatoes
I’ve made Alton Brown‘s Gazpacho recipe so many times, I can do it by heart (and feel OK taking my lazy-girl shortcuts). It’s a great way to enjoy summer’s bounty of tomatoes, and you can make it your own by adding things you love like a hotter pepper or things you have on hand at a beach house or lake place like a little bit of Old Bay.
Brown’s recipe proper (which involves removing the skin of the tomatoes) is in the link above. Here’s my take on it:
2 pounds really ripe tomatoes, roughly chopped and sort of seeded
1 small container of tomato juice or V8
1 large cucumber, some skin removed, seeded and roughly chopped
1 red bell pepper, roughly chopped
1/4 cup (or more if you want) finely chopped red onion
1-2 jalapeno peppers, seeded and minced
1 large clove garlic, minced
drizzle of extra-virgin olive oil
1 lime, juiced
2 teaspoons balsamic vinegar
2 teaspoons Worcestershire sauce
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground cumin
dash of Old Bay (optional)
1 teaspoon kosher salt
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
fresh basil leaves to garnish
Put the tomatoes and tomato juice into a large mixing bowl. Add the cucumber, bell pepper, red onion, jalapeno, garlic, olive oil, lime juice, balsamic vinegar, Worcestershire, cumin, Old Bay if you want, salt and pepper, and stir to combine.
You can leave it as is, with lots of crunchy bits in the soup or use an immersion blender to make it smoother. Stir to combine.
Cover and chill for 2 hours and up to overnight.
Serve with a chiffonade of basil.
Because Pimento Cheese is Good (and It Opens Doors)
This is true: I have managed to get an invite (more than once!) to a fabulous beach house in return for bringing the world’s best pimento cheese.
It makes a big batch, and we enjoy it for days with saltines. We save the last few servings for grilled pimento cheese and bacon sandwiches on a day when I just cannot leave the beach before 7 p.m.
We serve these sandwiches with whatever salad we care to pull together, (I show it with a fresh, juicy mix of watermelon, tomato and fresh basil with a splash of balsamic vinegar and a drizzle of olive oil and a little salt and pepper.)
These sandwiches are great with the gazpacho mentioned above.
Here’s Miss Verba’s recipe. Prepare to be addicted.
1 pound sharp yellow cheddar
1/4 pound cream cheese, softened
1 teaspoon freshly ground white pepper
3 large red bell peppers, roasted, peeled, seeded, and chopped
1/2 cup homemade mayonnaise or best-quality commercial mayonnaise
1 teaspoon sugar
Splash of hot sauce, such as Tabasco or Cholulu
1/8 teaspoon cayenne pepper (optional)
Grind the cheddar in a food processor fitted with the grating disk, or grate it on the small-holed side of a hand grater.
Transfer the grated cheese to a bowl, add the cream cheese, white pepper, bell peppers, mayonnaise, sugar, hot sauce, and cayenne, if using, and blend all together thoroughly. I also add a splash of Worchestershire.
Refrigerate and serve chilled. (The spread will keep for several days in the refrigerator, but it usually disappears long before then.)
Here are the books I brought toWBRC Fox 6 on August 7. Enjoy a peek inside my beach book bag of escapism, mostly, and some education as well: Three page-turning novels and one nonfiction book about rats. Trust me on that one; it’s quite an interesting read.
The Last Thing I Told You (William Morrow), by Emily Arsenault, is a haunting, dark and well-written thriller—a perfect beach read and it’s in paperback, too. Therapist Mark Fabian has been brutally killed in his own office, but former patient Nadine Raines continues to talk to him—in her head—and try to explain the reason behind the violent act she committed when she was 16.
Nadine had been away from her hometown for decades, and Dr. Fabian died a few days after she returned. When Detective Henry Peacher begins investigating the doctor’s murder, he considers that coincidence. He also realizes that Fabian had pulled two old patient files before he died: Nadine’s and that of Johnny Streeter, who is serving a life sentence for a mass shooting that devastated the town five years earlier. It’s up to Peacher to figure out if there’s a connection between Nadine and Streeter and if so, what that means.
Sing, Unburied, Sing(Scribner), now in beach-ready paperback, is by acclaimed Southern writer Jesmyn Ward. She won her second (her second!) National Book Award (2017) for this one and her first in 2011 for Salvage the Bones. Ward takes readers again to rural Mississippi to examine the bonds of family and life in the Black American South where the past is not always the past.
This is a road-trip book unlike any other. It’s also a remarkable story of fathers and sons, and it will stay with you. Jojo is 13 years old, the son of a black mother, Leonie, who struggles to put her children above her own needs (and her drug addiction), and an absent white father, Michael, who is getting out of prison. As Jojo is growing into being a man, his black grandfather, Pop, has been there for him, but his other grandfather refuses to acknowledge his existence. When Michael is released, Leonie, with her kids and a friend, drives north through the heart of Mississippi to Parchman Farm, the state penitentiary. There’s another 13-year-old boy at Parchman; he’s a long-dead inmate who still carries the ugly shadows of slavery and violence and the Jim Crow South with him in his wanderings. Even as a ghost, this boy has something to teach Jojo about fathers and sons.
I’m enjoying Let Me Lie (Berkley) by Clare Mackintosh, the internationally bestselling author of I Let You Go and I See You. It’s another tight, twisty thriller that will keep readers up at night. Anna’s parents are dead. The police say it is suicide. Anna says it is murder. Turns out, they both are wrong.
When Anna has her own child, she misses her mother more than ever and becomes determined to find out exactly what happened to her parents. But when she begins looking into the past, someone in the present wants very much to stop her. This is another fun and shocking psychological thriller with some awesome surprises.
Rats (Bloomsbury) The subtitle of this creepily fascinating book by Robert Sullivan is Observations on the History & Habitat of the City’s Most Unwanted Inhabitants. New Yorkers have hunted down and killed rats for centuries, but the rodents stubbornly remain. And they are, in fact, as much a part of this city’s history as any of its humans. With a notebook and some night-vision goggles, Sullivan went to a garbage-filled alley in lower Manhattan to contemplate the wild city rat. He came away with lots of icky rat facts and entertaining rat-related stories (most everyone has one!).
The author introduces us to rat foes—sanitation workers and exterminators—as well as agitators and activists who have used rats to achieve social reform. Sullivan searches for the fabled “rat kings,” shares tales of rat fights in the Gangs of New York era and stories of how rats figured into the Harlem rent strikes. He also travels to Chicago, Milwaukee and other American cities to learn about rats there. By the end of this book, you’ll never look at a rat the same way again.