Save the Restaurants We Love

I just got a text from my friend George Sarris who owns The Fish Market Restaurant on Birmingham’s Southside. George’s restaurant has a special place in my heart.

When our kids were young, Rick and I had a weekly date night there. That was at the old place–the one that looked like a big styrofoam box. We’d crowd around a table with friends and strangers. It was not unusual for people visiting Birmingham from around the world to realize they knew someone at that table.

When George moved across the parking lot to his current location in a wonderful old warehouse with a custom bar and centuries-old timbers, my friend Lisa DeCarlo and I went with him and a small group to Greece (and then Lisa and I went to Turkey) to gather furnishings and decor (including genuine Greek fishing boats) for the place.

Our oldest child got her first job at The Fish Market and worked there as a cashier for years through high school and during summers home from college. To say she learned a lot about life there is a huge understatement.

Freshly shucked oysters and ice-cold local beer at The Fish Market bar are two of my favorite things in this world.

So, yes, this restaurant means something to me. And I’m not alone in this. So I want you to read what George sent me. Then do whatever you can to save the independent restaurants we love.

Here is George’s message in his own words:

Restaurants are the common ground of life in the United States. During my 50 years as a restaurant operator, I have watched customers grow up, get married, have kids, pass away – and now their kids are regular customers. If someone dies, gets married, has children, or a birthday party – we go to  a restaurant. In my home country of Greece, we have the coffee shop – the roundtable of the community – but here, it is restaurants. Not everyone likes to drink at bars, or dance in clubs, or even go to church, but everyone eats. If something happens to restaurants in the United States, then the way of life that we have come to cherish is at risk of changing irrevocably.

Without substantial help, I do not see 80% of independent restaurants surviving into 2021. 

My Name is George Sarris and I have lived in Birmingham, Alabama, for the past 50 years. I immigrated through New York on April 1, 1969 from Tsitalia, a small village in the Greek Peloponnese. Our voyage was with the 2nd-to-last passenger ship that ferried immigrants to the United States from Europe.

My village consisted of mostly subsistence farming, and our 9-person household family struggled to make ends meet, with  5 kids, 2 parents and 2 grandparents. We had a “modest” house: 2 rooms reserved for the grandparents, parents, children, a bedroom for the goats and sheep, and the last bedroom was for our donkey and Truman, a Missouri Mule. 

Our mule was given to us under the Marshall Plan, a $700 million aid package provided by the United States to assist Europeans in the wake of World War II. There were 28 Missouri mules given to families in Tsitalia, and we named ours Truman. Most everyone in the village gave their mules American names. 

At the age of 12, the children left the mountainous village to begin high school in the plains down below. Our parents stayed above, tending to the small groves in the terraced rocky hills, while we lived amongst ourselves. By necessity, we were self-sufficient: cleaning, washing clothes, cooking,  all handled by kids no older than 15 . We were taught to take care of ourselves from a young age–as long as you can work, everything else will fall into place.  

At the age of 18, I started working in restaurants. I paid my dues in every position of the business. I worked a stint in New York to learn a little bit about delis, so I went with what I knew.  I opened a “Kosher Style” deli in downtown Birmingham. Of course back then in Birmingham, “Kosher  Style” might even include a little pork.  I have owned  restaurants for the last 48 years and have always applied the same model that I learned back then: work hard, keep cost low, and appeal to blue and white collar clientele alike. 80 hour work weeks are the rule, not the exception, and that remains true to this day. 

For the last 37 years I have owned The Fish Market Restaurant on the Southside of Birmingham. When we opened in 1983, there were 8 seats in the dining room; today there are 375. I have been fortunate to have a long-lasting restaurant, and it all goes back to what I learned in the beginning of my career: work hard, save your money, and be fair to customers. If you can do those three things, then you can make a living. 

For the first time in my life, that is no longer true. My business’ future is no longer in my hands. 

My son Dino has worked with me from the age of 9 years old. He is 32 and now, I don’t even know if the restaurant business will be for him over the next four decades as it was for me.   

The US employs over 11.5 million people via the restaurant industry, with countless others whose jobs are directly tied to the industry via farming, manufacturing, importing, shipping, transporting, etc. At the Fish Market, we employ some of the most marginalized in our community: those who have been afforded minimal education;  persons who have been previously incarcerated (and, in some cases, currently incarcerated), and those experiencing homelessness. These Birmingham residents can find a career at our restaurant.  And, more importantly, they can grow from that position. The restaurant industry thrives on giving people chances, and sometimes second (or third) chances. 

Additionally, independent restaurants are behind community events, fundraisers, helping local schools and churches, and any worthwhile cause. Because we are a big part of everyday life and we live among our customers. We stake our future in our communities. 

As an independent operator, I wear many hats with my staff: preacher, therapist, policeman, social worker, banker, and, above all, a friend. Personally, I see restaurants as a way to teach those of us, like myself, who grew up without some of the basics – personal hygiene, social etiquette, promptness, self control, and stress management. There is a learned art to keep smiling in the face of a customer who is having a bad day. It seems to me that if you learn these basic principles then you can handle most of life’s difficulties. 

So now, more than ever, our country’s independent restaurants need help. After Fish Market’s initial closure on March 17, we received the Payroll Protection Plan/CARES Act (PPP) money to cover 8 weeks of operational costs. We were able to pay all critical expenses:  rent, staff salaries, utilities, interest on existing loans, etc.. But, once that all was paid, we were back to square one. There was nothing left to keep the business going beyond those 8 weeks. The CARES Act did not address the actual problem that business owners were facing: the pandemic (and restrictions placed on businesses) were not going away anytime soon. 

The newly proposed “Prioritized Paycheck Protection Program (P4) Act”, seems, on its face, to have improved from the previous bailout. Businesses will have to show, through financial records, that their business is still being negatively impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic.  In the spring, numerous businesses receive grants who were thriving yet still remained eligible for huge amounts of money that could have helped those of us who are genuinely in a crisis. The P4 Act could provide funds to those who truly need it, and will allow us to keep our industry afloat through the end of the year. 

Truman, along with 28 other mules, was instrumental in the survival of our small mountain village in Greece. 70 years later, the community is still there, preserving the way of life that they hold dear. If the airlines, farmers, hospitals, bankers, carmakers, insurance companies, Wall Street, and multinational corporations can get a caravan of mules, when will the independent restaurant industry get theirs?

The restaurant business has never in the history of this country needed help from the government. We were able to pull ourselves up by our own bootstraps in order to make it. This time, all we need from the government is a mule, and we can take it from there.

Farm Market Easy Dinner

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Ingredients

2 tablespoons olive oil

3 cloves garlic,thinly sliced

1½ tablespoons green curry paste

3 cups chicken stock

10 baby or fingerling potatoes, halved lengthwise

Kosher salt

4 eggs

1 cup shishito peppers

1 cup Sungold tomatoes

3 tablespoons butter

½ cup roughly chopped basil


Directions

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

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

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

Total time: 20 minutes

Serves 4

Fox 6 Books July 2020

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

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

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

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

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

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

Prescribing Books

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Full Moon Shines Across Our State

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Full Moon Bar-B-Que

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

Check individual locations for current hours.

fullmoonbbq.com

U-Pick Lavender

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

Now add fragrant lavender to that fun list.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Fox 6 Books: June

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Virtual 5K = Real Results

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

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

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

Will Wilder saw a way to help them.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Fox 6 Books: May

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Pizza

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

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

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

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

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