I can always count on my poet friend Irene Latham to remind me of National Poetry Month.
Her postcard featuring a work from Baldwin County artist and writer Nancy Milford (“Musings of an Old Man”) was a sweet reminder to live my poem.
In happier times, whenever I sent a package to my kids in college, I always included a poem. Always. The poem tucked in with food or other little treats reflected what was going on my my life or their lives at the moment. Sometimes these poems were just about the season we were in at the time. (I also always had the postman stamp these packages “spoiled” just for fun.)
Read them, enjoy them and here are some other poetry resources for you:
Irene’s own tips for writers including an editing checklist and books to make you a better writer and Author ABCs. There are resources for young writers here, too.
The Academy of American Poets was founded in 1934 to support poets and bring their work to as many people as possible. The organization celebrates poetry all year long, but this month is especially special. You can search a curated collection of more than 10,000 poems by occasion, theme, form, keywords or poet’s name. I also love their poem-a-day. There are materials for teachers there, too, which should help parents these days.
But now, the COVID-19 pandemic has hit close to home, and these restaurants are closed to the diners who would come from across the country (and even across the world) to experience their dining rooms, savor their food and drinks and enjoy their hospitality.
There are no more 30-day-out reservations, no more lines out the door.
The James Beard boost to business—which happens even with semifinalists—makes little difference now.
Some of these restaurants are still serving customers, offering curbside pick-up and deliveries. They are cooking for their employees who have been laid off and for other restaurant workers and for first responders while they wait to get back to business as usual.
I wrote about this for Alabama NewsCenter. You can read the entire piece here. It’s long, but these folks are still working hard even with their dining rooms closed. Read on to see how you can help them.
Their winning approach has resulted in weeks-long anticipation for tables, great local (and national) buzz and a James Beard semifinalist nomination for Best New Restaurant.
Most of that is on hold now, but Automatic is still serving customers curbside with a takeaway menu Wednesday through Sunday. They also offer cocktail kits as well as wine and beer to go. They recently added delivery service.
On April 1—the restaurant’s first anniversary—the menu featured smoked Gulf fish dip; grilled oysters with parmesan and smoked chili butter; fish and chips made with Gulf-fresh speckled trout; roasted chicken with crispy potatoes; seared Gulf tuna with smoked bacon, sweet potato and cabbage; and roasted Gulf snapper with asparagus, baby carrots and spring onions.
It wasn’t quite the anniversary they envisioned, but Evans says, “We’re glad to still be standing.”
Tips for these to-go orders go to hourly employees who have been temporarily laid off, and customers can help those staff members with a GoFundMe page Suzanne set up. Also, Evans is working with his farm suppliers to help them sell their produce.
from the local farmers are as important as the seafood, in my opinion. And I don’t want those guys to have to close a farm.”
So customers who come to pick up curbside meals might see Andrew Kesterson from Belle Meadow Farm or the folks from Ireland Farms or Justin Hill from Eastaboga Bee Company in the Automatic parking lot with their CSA-style boxes.
“We’re just trying to be positive and trying to do something good during this time, because there’s still a lot of hope. That’s something that we still have. So we’ll kind of take it as it comes and try to figure it out and know that we’re all doing it together.”
Chef Frank Stitt and his wife, Pardis, have temporarily closed all their restaurants—Bottega and Bottega Café as well as Chez Fonfon and the flagship Highlands Bar & Grill, which has earned lots of James Beard attention over the years: Outstanding Restaurant (2018), Dolester Miles won Outstanding Pastry Chef (2018) and Stitt won Best Chef Southeast in 2001.
Lately, Stitt has been cooking with the chefs de cuisine from his restaurants in his Highlands kitchen for his restaurant family. They make bagged meals—braised lamb with spring vegetable rice pilaf, duck and white bean soup, hamburger steak with green beans and mashed potatoes—using ingredients from local suppliers like baker Corey Hinkel. Stitt is sharing his own farm eggs—bringing in 45 flats of them recently to distribute to his staff.
This was the first JBF nomination for Chez Fonfon, which got the nod for its hospitality. This is fitting. In happier times, this French bistro is full of exuberant customers sitting around the bar; filling the tables; waiting for tables, drinks in hand. But even in the bustle of this high-energy dining room, the gracious servers can make you feel like your table is the only one that matters.
Hospitality looks different now. “We’ve been communicating more by phone, by text, by email, reaching out to friends and family and colleagues,” Stitt says. “Also, there are a number of our regulars who have reached out that they want to contribute some money for our staff, for the servers who take such great care of them. And so there seems to be that thread of love and care. We can express our hope and express our hospitality in those exchanges.”
Fisher’s at Orange Beach Marina
Executive chef Bill Briand of Fisher’s at Orange Beach Marina in Orange beach oversees two different restaurants under one roof: the breezy and relaxed open-air Dockside with stainless steel bars and pecky cypress walls, and the more sophisticated Upstairs with its relaxing seaside colors, onyx bar (impressively lit from below), antique cypress tables and reclaimed heart pine floors from the Godchaux Sugar Mill mule barn, built in 1892 in Raceland, LA. He’s also in charge of the nearby Playa at Sportsman Marina with its local seafood, steaks and tacos with homemade tortillas.
Briand’s creative riffs on Southern coastal cuisine—crafted with locally made products and just-caught Alabama Gulf seafood and spiced with the flavors of his Louisiana heritage—have earned him his fifth straight semifinalist nomination for Best Chef South.
Upstairs is closed now, and Briand and his team are doing zero-contact curbside—and boat—pick-up from Dockside and Playa. Burgers and po’ boys and Cuban sandwiches. Shrimp and quarts of tuna dip. Tacos, soups, salads. At night, they do family packs of tacos, barbecue, fried chicken and peel-and-eat shrimp that will feed 4 to 6 people. There are cocktail kits and beer and wine to go.
We feed anybody who asks, he says. “Any employee who needs food. We send food to all the other restaurants that are open, on a daily basis, giving them their own family meals. Any police who come driving through our parking lot, we feed them. Whatever we can do.”
“We were fully staffed and ready to go for the spring push, spring break and it just all stopped. And that’s hard. We just want to get back open. We have a clean, freshly painted restaurant. We want to see our locals and see our people come back and sit out here and have a good time, eat some oysters and, you know, really get back at it. That’s what I’m looking forward to—normalcy again. We’ll get there.”
Timothy Hontzas, the classically trained chef-owner of Johnny’s Restaurant in Homewood, has been a JBH semifinalist for Best Chef South for four straight years. He has attracted national attention or his fresh takes on Southern classics like fried chicken thighs drizzled with chipotle- and coriander-spiked Eastaboga honey, bechamel mac & cheese, a Parmesan grit cake. But this happens to be a Greek-and-three, and so Hontzas honors his heritage with authentic Greek favorites like spanakopita, souvlaki, rolo kima (Greek meatloaf with lamb) and tzatziki made with homemade yiaourti (Greek yogurt).
Weekday lunchtime usually sees lines out the door of his restaurant in Homewood’s downtown. Sundays after church are even busier. These days, Hontzas is still cooking, but he’s serving his customers with curbside pick-up from a menu posted on Instagram.
He’s making comfort food when we all need some comfort. Things like pot roast with toasted black peppercorn gravy served with field peas and snaps and mac & cheese; meatloaf with chipotle BBQ sauce; a Greek Pack with keftedes, house-cultured tzatziki, fasolakia (Greek green beans with tomatoes) and individual tiropita (cheese pie).
He does meal packs that feed six, but, as he says, “It’s a lot of food. I’m Greek. I’m not going to let you go hungry. There’s a little extra in there, too.” He recently added more choices to this menu so people can customize their meat-and-three like they’re used to doing. These foods are delivered cold. You can heat them up as you want, or freeze some for another day.
His curbside service allows Hontzas to keep buying from his longtime produce partner Dwight Hamm, who has farms in Cullman and Hanceville. He’s still buying meats from Evans Meats, a local family-owned business. He’s still employing his sous chef, and the staff out front alternate days so everyone gets some hours. Staff meals are the Greek foods he grew up eating—comfort food for them, too.
“It’s hard, but the easiest thing to do is quit,” he says. “Obviously, we have to be smart about it … but, I mean, we can’t just quit. … We’ve just got to push through. It’s kind of like Jason Isbell says, we’ve got to ‘keep dropping the hammer and grinding the gears.’
“We just push through and support one another because we’re all family,” he says. “I hope, I just hope it all brings us closer together and shows us how fragile we are and how important we all are to one another.”
Life will eventually go back to normal, or some semblance of normal that we can—and will—happily embrace. These beloved restaurants will still have their James Beard status months from now. Some might be finalists by then. Some might be winners.
Meanwhile, we can help them by ordering takeout or contributing to their staff GoFundMe campaigns and ordering gift cards to use now and on a brighter day.
This from the National Day Calendar will get us started: “On April 2nd, Hob and Jill went up the hill with their little Kits to celebrate National Ferret Day because that’s some serious business.”
Ferret facts: Male ferrets are called Hobs, and female ferrets are called Jills. Their babies are called Kits, and the whole ferret family is called a “business.” I love that!
Other facts: They are carnivores and are part of the mustelid family, which includes the otter, badger, weasel, marten, mink and wolverine.
Humans domesticated ferrets about 2,000 years ago because they are great hunters. Some people do keep them as mischievous pets (they do best with a ferret companion). They are highly intelligent, can learn to use a litter box and can do tricks.
But in North America, the black-footed ferret is one of our most endangered mammals.
Once thought to be completely gone, a rancher discovered a small population on his ranch in Wyoming in 1981. Since then, efforts by conservationists, breeding programs and landowners are bringing the population back from the brink of extinction.
Today the population wavers around 500 ferrets alive in the wild with more in breeding programs preparing to be reintroduced into the wild.
You can celebrate #NationalFerretDay by learning more about the rediscovery and conservation of the black-footed ferret. Watch the movie Ferret Townto learn more.
For years, I have wanted Wanda Sykes to be the voice on whatever app I’m using for driving directions. I might make wrong turns on purpose just to hear her go off. Actually, I would absolutely make wrong turns on purpose.
I was reminded of that when I saw a mention on Axios about a fun new channel on SiriusXM. (If you don’t yet read Axios, you’ll want to get right on that.)
“The midst of a global pandemic might seem like an odd time to launch a radio channel devoted to female comedians, but executives at SiriusXM believe that it’s precisely the right time,” AP reports.
The channel is called “She’s So Funny,” and it’s up now (debuted today at 7 a.m. ET). It’s channel 105 if you already subscribe. (SiriusXM also announced that starting today, it is opening up streams of all of its programming for free online, through May 15, as a gesture to people at home because of the virus.)
Much of the material comes from recorded routines by women like Moms Mabley, Joan Rivers, Amy Schumer, Wanda Sykes, Tig Notaro and Whoopi Goldberg. The channel will also showcase emerging talent like Rachel Feinstein and Jo Firestone.
There will be interviews or specially-made messages from Aidy Bryant, Amy Schumer, Pamela Adlon, the Original Queens of Comedy and others in the first week.
Keep them entertained (and learning at the same time!) with some free sample coloring pages from Amazing Alabama and Amazing Georgia, the first installments in Laura Murray’s “Amazing States” coloring book series.
The Visitors Center is not open currently. The lovely Pavillion is closed, too. But all those miles and miles of well-maintained trails and the interesting industrial ruins you’ll find along the way, are available to you right now. So are the paths strewn with trilliums and the incredible, panoramic views of the city.
You can appreciate the shifting shafts of sunlight dappling the forest floor through the branches of oak and hickory and sycamore trees all along your journey; take a break at Turtle Rock; and literally walk through eons of earth’s history in the quarry with limestone boulders embedded with fossils of brachiopods, bryozoans and crinoids (marine invertebrates from when this area was part of a shallow inland sea).
Kelly says the book was more than a decade in the making. But it was worth the effort because this place is important. He writes: “Every aspect of Birmingham’s existence—geological, anthropological, social, economic, political, technological—is encapsulated in the Ruffner story.”
So get out there and explore the mountain. Simply go there and back, become a member or pay your trail use fee and be sure to observe the 6-foot rule.
Social distancing has changed our food-centric state in ways we never imagined. Curbside service has become the new normal for many eateries. Others are relying heavily upon delivery services. Still others are altering their business models in more significant ways.
While lives depend upon safe interactions, livelihoods depend upon businesses remaining in business. I wrote a story for Alabama NewsCenter about some of the ways food- and drink-related establishments are addressing the coronavirus crisis.
The dining rooms at all four Ashley Mac’s stores are closed, but Ashley McMakin, who owns the company with her husband, Andy, is still making homestyle casseroles and salads and desserts for pick-up and limited delivery.
And now, the Ashley Mac’s team is offering something else, too.
“We were just trying to think of some things we could do for the community,” McMakin says, “and one thing we can get—that a lot of people cannot get at the grocery store—is produce.” So, they are packing boxes full of fresh fruits and vegetables. For $30, you can get a box of produce ranging from romaine, onions, broccoli and tomatoes to strawberries, cantaloupe and pineapple. McMakin says they will offer the produce boxes, which will vary according to what’s available and fresh, as long as there’s a demand and they can get enough produce in.
Be sure to check Ashley Mac’s social media outlets for availability of items and produce boxes. Call 205-822-4142 for free pickup or 205-968-4126 for delivery with a $100 order.
Panache, Domestique Coffee’s charming little coffeeshop down an alley off 20th Street in Five Points South, is closed for now. So is Domestique Coffee Café inside Saturn in Avondale, but the Birmingham-based, small-batch coffee importer and roaster that specializes in single-origin coffeebeans is banking on a brighter future.
Domestique is a multifaceted business that buys coffee from specialty growers all over the world including Haiti, Ethiopia, Bolivia, Mexico and elsewhere, so it’s not just local employees who are counting on this company.
So, CEO Nathan Pocus, who co-founded Domestique with his brother, Michael, says the company is inviting its customers to become co-founders, too.
They are offering a Founder’s Card for $100. Sales of the cards will help the business now and allow buyers to enjoy lots of benefits later including a free batch brew for a month upon Domestique’s reopening, (a $90 value alone), 10% off all purchases for life, free digital products for life, early access notifications for all special events, monthly discount codes to use on the company’s online platform, a ticket to the fun Founder’s Day party and more. Go to www.domestique.com to learn more.
Big Spoon Creamery, the Birmingham-based small-batch, artisanal ice cream maker, has closed both its stores for now. But their handmade frozen treats (pint packs and sammie packs) are available for 24-hour delivery in the Birmingham area.
Ryan O’Hara, who owns Big Spoon along with his wife, Geri-Martha, says everything is done online, and “it’s a great way for us to try to keep going and a great way to promote social distancing. People don’t have to leave their homes.”
So every day, they deliver as much ice cream as they can. “We didn’t think there would be such a huge response,” O’Hara says. “We’ve only been doing it for three days now, but we’ve had to cut off deliveries for the day when we reach our capacity. … We’re going round the clock. Desperate times call for desperate measures. We’re trying to do what we can to stay afloat.”
This home delivery allows Ryan and Geri-Martha to keep employing most of their full-time staff. Many of the part-time employees were college students who have since gone home. “We are prioritizing taking care of our people who rely on this job to support themselves,” he says.
Little Savannah Restaurant & Bar is a fine-dining establishment, although Chef Clif Holt likes to say when you’re there, you’re simply “dining fine.” His customers are still dining in fine style, but they’re doing it at home with takeaway dinners for two and four. And Chef Holt has figured out another way to help his historic Forest Park neighborhood where he has operated his restaurant for 16 years: He’s opening a neighborhood grocery.
The grocery will stock raw protein by the pound (ground beef, ribeyes, chicken and fresh Gulf shrimp and snapper); dairy and French baguettes; fresh produce (oranges, onions, tomatoes, potatoes, bananas and apples); and even toilet paper(!), paper towels, bottled water and boxes of latex gloves.
All the necessities for right now. All at fair market prices.
“We’re not going to get rich off it,” he says of the grocery. “But it’s a service we can provide at a reasonable cost and keep our flow going.”
That flow involves his employees, whom he’s trying to keep at work, and fish purveyors and truck drivers and even the folks who pick up the garbage. “People don’t think about that,” he says. “We have a shortage of thought sometimes about how these things are going to go. For me, the main thing I’m trying to figure out is how we can retain as much normalcy as possible.”
Normalcy currently means dinners for two or family dinners for four with the kinds of foods Holt’s customers have come to expect from Little Savannah. Things like hand-rolled pasta Bolognese or beef Bourguignon with herbed rice, Caesar salads and homemade focaccia.
You can check Facebook for the daily meal specials and follow Little Savannah on Instagram for more info. Orders must be placed by 4 p.m. for pick-up or delivery the next day. Curbside pick-up hours are 4-6 p.m., and there is a $5 delivery fee. Call or text 205-616-0995 or go to firstname.lastname@example.org to place your order.
Kay Bruno Reed, owner of Everything IZ, which includes IZ Weddings & Events and IZ Café, is one of the state’s busiest caterers, easily handling parties for hundreds and even thousands. On a smaller, more local level, she has been part of the Rocky Ridge neighborhood of Vestavia Hills for more than 20 years. Now, with weddings and large events canceled, she’s working to feed her neighbors—one family at a time.
She says, “Our staff has been working nonstop to keep our freezer stocked for our customers. We have been offering curbside pick-up for years but are now offering free delivery.”
She’s also stocking basic staple items like milk, bread and eggs. Reed says the response has been amazing. “Customers are thanking us for being open and feeding them.”
All of the company’s full-time employees who want to be there, continue to work there. Those who have chosen to self-quarantine, she says, are taking a portion of their paid time off.
Reed is approaching her work amid the COVID-19 pandemic in a positive way.
“My hope, first of all, is that it is over soon and with very few deaths.” She also says she hopes “parents will take this time to teach their children basic domestic skills while they are studying at home.
“My prayer is that this will bring our nation together for the good of all.”
The Market at Pepper Place has, for decades, promoted a “know thy farmer” way of doing business full of meaningful human interaction and conversations that make buying fresh produce and enjoyable and entertaining.
In light of the COVID-19 crisis, the market is taking a different approach these days with a Drive-Thru Farmers Market and a pre-ordering system that still gives you access to locally grown veggie boxes, farm eggs, baked goods, meats and more.
The second week of the Drive Through Farmers Market, will happen on Saturday, March 28 from 7 a.m. to noon in the “big parking lot” on 2nd Avenue South.
In response to health and safety restrictions related to COVID-19, this “contactless” market will allow farmers to continue selling the freshest locally grown produce available in the state directly to customers, and minimize the elements of traditional farmers market transactions that have been deemed high-risk in the current climate.
Here’s how this Drive-Thru Farmers Market at Pepper Place works.
• Click on this link to find out which vendors are participating each week. Vendor listings and links are updated on Monday.
• Each participating vendor’s name will be noted with their offerings, how to order, the order deadline and how they will accept payment.
• Place your orders, pre-pay online, and you’re done until Market day.
• Saturday, 7am-Noon, come to the Pepper Place Drive-Thru Farmers Market in the Pepper Place parking lot on 2nd Ave. South.
• Please remain in your car at all times. The farmer will load the back of your vehicle with pre-purchased goods using gloves and social distancing!
Please note that there will be no walk-ups or onsite purchases. Market staff and a security guard will be onsite to assist and answer any questions. The farmers, staff and customers are expected to follow all recommended safety precautions, including social distancing and hand washing. If you are sick or feel unwell, please send someone else to pick up your orders.
The folks at the Market at Pepper Place say they hope this drive-thru market will be successful for their farmers and shoppers while complying with the latest safety recommendations of the CDC and our State and County health officials.
With everyone working together and supporting each other—and supporting our farmers and local businesses—we will get through this time stronger and better than ever.
Again click here for this Saturday’s vendor list and links to their order pages.
Since 2000, Pepper Place Market has offered a special space for local and regional farmers and many makers to sell each Saturday. We’ll be back to that again. Meanwhile, I hope you’ll continue to support them all.
While most of us are being advised to stay home, my deepest appreciation goes out to those who are essential to our society–the first responders, doctors, nurses, grocery store workers, pharmacists, gas station attendants, restaurant workers (who still are able to work) and so many more who are out there keeping things working and moving forward right now.
Thank you. Thank you all so much.
Now I’m going to ask some of you who are home to leave your homes today and go one place: Go give blood. If you can, briefly go out into this world and give blood. Then pick up some curbside takeout from a local restaurant. That’s all.
There is a huge need right now for both those things, and since it’s important that you eat well after giving blood, that takes care of that.
You can go to Red Cross Blood to find the nearest blood drive. Just put in your zip code. You can make an appointment at the UAB Medical Blood Donation Center in downtown Birmingham, or go give at the Birmingham Blood Donation Center at 700 Caldwell Trace. The website can point you in the right direction and makes appointments easy.
You also can download the blood donor app at the App Store to make it even easier. (You do all your paperwork ahead of time, and they keep up with your donations and remind you when you can donate again.)
It’s important that you go and give blood as soon as you can, if you can. Because of the coronavirus pandemic, a great many blood drives have been canceled, and there are severe blood shortages throughout the country and right here at home, too.
I went to give the other day, and while it took a little longer than I expected, I just waited my turn and read my book (six feet away from the other people waiting for their turns). The entire procedure was safe and felt that way, too. The people working there took many, many precautions in dealing with us. I never, for one moment, felt uncomfortable or afraid.
My older daughter told me about the Revlon One-Step Hair Dryer and Volumizer Hot Air Brush when I was recovering from shoulder surgery recently. Blowouts at Blo Blow Dry Bar in Homewood were awesome (love that head massage!) but I couldn’t do that every week.
But even with very limited range of motion (happy to say I’m better now!), I was able to use this brush-dryer combo to get smooth and sleek, yet still full, results. It really is an amazing product.
And now that most of us are spending more time at home anyway, this is a good item to have on hand.
While I’m all about supporting local stores, most are not open now so you can order it from Amazon here.
But when all this is over, I encourage you to visit my friends at Blo. They do a really great job and it’s such a treat!