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.” 

Fresh, Bright Flavors at the Wildflower Cafe

Over the years, Wildflower Café has become a dining destination in Mentone, which is, of course, its own awesome destination atop Lookout Mountain.

I traveled to Mentone recently for Alabama NewsCenter to spotlight this unique restaurant. You can read the entire story here.

Café owner Laura Catherine Moon (just “Moon” to everyone she knows and meets) is as much of a draw as the regionally famous tomato pie or the carefully curated small general store with handmade art and crafts or the eclectically furnished, hippy-chic dining rooms or the colorful, peaceful wildflower garden surrounding the 1800s log cabin that houses the café and store.

Moon has owned Wildflower Café for more than a decade, but she never really intended to go into the restaurant business.

“It’s true,” she says. “I didn’t mean to.” She had owned several shops in and around Mentone throughout the years. One of them was a natural health food store called Mountain Life. “I sold organic produce and natural foods,” she says. “I sold herbs and my herbal blends. It was a store for wellness. It was sort of a convenience health food store up on the mountain.” Whenever the produce would start to wilt, she would think to herself:  “Well, if I could just cook it, then people could know just how good this food is.”

About this time, the Wildflower Café became available for purchase after being open for about a year. Moon first wanted to team up with the café’s chef, thinking he could run the restaurant and she would run her store. When he left three months later, she stepped up.

“I never even worked in a restaurant before I owned this one,” she says. “So it was a huge challenge to learn the ins and outs and the ropes and how to do it. And it just turned out that I’m really good at it.”

People come up from Birmingham and Montgomery to visit the café; they drive down from Nashville and Chattanooga. They travel over from Douglasville and Atlanta.

They come to Wildflower Café for the grilled or blackened wild-caught salmon and trout; the gourmet chicken salad with grapes and almonds; the big Canyon Burger made with freshly ground sirloin and filet; grilled chicken smothered with sautéed onions, bell peppers, honey-mustard sauce and cheeses; the prime rib with its crust of cracked peppercorns and spices (all these meats are hormone-free); angel hair pasta with a flavorful strawberry-balsamic sauce (there’s a vegan version of this dish, too); and signature shrimp and grits made with polenta. They come for hummingbird cake and old-fashioned chess pie and homemade crepes filled with sweet cream cheese and topped with house-fresh strawberry puree. And a great many of them come for the savory, cheesy tomato pie, which is so popular that Moon also offers a tomato pie wrap, a tomato pie salad, a tomato pie burger and a loaded tomato pie entrée (vegetarian and not).

A few words about this famous tomato pie:  It is worth any drive. Ripe, roma tomatoes are cooked down to sweetness and marinated in balsamic vinaigrette. Some cheddar and mozzarella and a beautifully flaky crust make it completely delicious.

Moon relies on area farmers for lots of her fresh ingredients like the humanely raised pork and poultry from Mildred’s Meadows Farm or fresh tomatoes, squash, corn, herbs and lettuces from The Farm at Windy Hill, Mountain Sun Farm and Feel Good Farm. “Nena’s (Produce and General Store), in the valley down here, carries some of the local farmers’ stuff,” she says. “So I’ll go down and buy from her as well.”

She brings local musicians to Wildflower on Fridays, Saturdays, Sundays and sometimes Thursdays. The country store is a gallery of local and regional arts and crafts:  clothing, wood crafts, jewelry, soaps, pottery, paintings, candles, music, books, foods like honey and jams and organic chocolates and Moon’s own natural lip balms and skincare (when she has the time to harvest the ingredients).

Moon says she’d like for customers to tell other people that “they came here and had an amazing experience and that the staff was friendly, the food was great and they just felt good when they were here. That’s what I want them to say,” she says. “And that the Wildflower is a great complement to Mentone. That would be a huge compliment to me, because Mentone is one of my favorite places on the planet. No matter where I’ve ever traveled, Mentone is the best.”

Wildflower Café

6007 Alabama Highway 117

Mentone, AL 35984

256-634-0066

http://www.mentonewildflower.com

Reservations are highly suggested for dinner and must be made by phone at 256-634-0066 or in person.  The café does not take reservations for lunch or Sunday brunch.

Hours:  Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday
Lunch 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. General Store open 10 a.m. to 3 p.m.

Thursday, Friday, Saturday
Lunch  11 a.m. to 3 p.m. Dinner 4 to 8 p.m.
General Store open 10 a.m. to 9 p.m.

Sunday
Brunch 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. General Store open 10 a.m. to 4 p.m.

(On holiday weekends, the restaurant closes at 6 p.m.; call and check before you visit.)

Art Alive!

AIDS Alabama brings together local artists to create art and opportunities through an art auction with a real-time twist.

AIDS Alabama does serious work, but the fundraisers this organization puts on tend to be lots of fun.

On the heels of April’s successful Dining Out for Life, when AIDS Alabama teamed up with local restaurants like Bottega Café and Chez Lulu for a day of giving, AIDS Alabama presents its 3rd Annual Art Alive!

Art Alive! is set for Saturday, July 27 from 6 to 9 p.m. at Canary Gallery  (2201 Second Ave. N. in downtown Birmingham). Guests can watch eight local artists create original artwork—ranging from abstracts to more realistic pieces—during the event. These works will be available that evening through a silent auction.

Tickets are $50 each. There will be foods from El Barrio Restaurante Y Bar, a friend to AIDS Alabama that also participated in Dining Out for Life; complimentary beer from Cahaba Brewing Company; and wine from International Wines & Craft Beer. Matthew Carroll Band will entertain the crowd.

The silent auction is an exciting focal point for this event, but people other than the winning bidders can go home with new art, too. Several previously completed works in the artists’ gallery will be available for immediate purchase.

Art Alive! featured artists include:

“We are so grateful to our talented and extremely generous featured artists,” says Caroline Bundy, director of development for AIDS Alabama. “To have the opportunity to actually watch these artists as they create their work is a thrill, especially considering the different methods each uses to create their own individual piece. You don’t want to miss this fun and unique event!”

Fundraising like Art Alive! allows AIDS Alabama to devote more of its energy and resources statewide, helping those with HIV/AIDS live healthy, independent lives and working to prevent the spread of HIV.

Right now, there are more than 14,000 Alabamians living with HIV/AIDS, Bundy says, and, according to the Centers for Disease Control, Alabama ranks 11th in the nation for new HIV diagnoses.

AIDS Alabama works tirelessly to meet the needs of Alabama’s HIV-positive population, providing safe, affordable housing to low-income people living with HIV in Alabama. Additionally, AIDS Alabama’s prevention education and outreach efforts provide free and confidential HIV screening, accurate HIV information and links to care for thousands across the state

There have been many important medical advances that make HIV manageable as a chronic disease, Bundy says, but HIV rates in the South remain high and within epidemic proportions, making AIDS Alabama’s prevention, transportation, mental health and housing services more vital than ever.

For more information and to purchase tickets, click here, or go to www.aidsalabama.org.

Three-Minute (at Most!) Bathroom Update

The ’80s called, and they want their crystal faucet knobs back.

Especially this one with its off-kilter label.

Here’s my new rule:  I’m going to tackle at least one update each month around my house. And once a year, I’m going to take the “Swedish Death Cleaning” approach to my space (especially my closet). This is where you clean and organize like there’s no tomorrow. Really no tomorrow. The idea is to go ahead and clear out all the (often needless) stuff you’ve accumulated over the years so loved ones don’t have to do it after you’re gone. Think of it as the ultimate consideration.

Margareta Magnusson explains it in her book, “The Gentle Art of Swedish Death Cleaning: How to Free Yourself and Your Family from a Lifetime of Clutter.”

On a less morbid note–and also once a year–I’m going to consider what I would change/update/replace/repair/ditch if I were going to sell my house tomorrow and have it be as nice as possible. Why wait? Why do those awesome things for someone else?

It’s OK to start small. Take a look at your space, and see what bugs you. Maybe it’s a paint color. Maybe it’s some hardware. Maybe it’s an easy fix.

So last Saturday, I made two trips to Home Depot and got replacement knobs for our old bathroom faucets. Two trips were necessary because I first bought the “universal” versions. Do not do that. Go ahead and get replacement parts specific to your brand. In our case, it was Delta.

The chrome knobs came with everything we needed to make a big difference with very little time and money. We (OK, my husband, Rick) popped off the old knobs and slipped the shiny new ones in place using the Allen wrench included in the package.

Voila! A happy bathroom!

 

The Kitchen Sink

The other day, I took a cue from my smart, stylish neighbor and found a new home for the dish soap at my kitchen sink. It’s an incredibly tiny tweak to this constantly used space, but it makes me really, really happy.

My problem:  I just didn’t like seeing the dish soap on a counter that I work hard to keep clear and neat. I never could find a pretty dispenser that would hold up to frequent use, and reaching into the under-sink cabinet every time I needed the soap just annoyed me.

So I bought a small jester’s crown fern (just a little six-inch pot) and put it into a copper container. Then I put a small bottle of dish liquid in there with it. Just the 8-ounce bottle that I can refill when necessary. The nice, fluffy plant hides the utilitarian soap container beautifully and adds some living greenery to the kitchen.

Win. Win.

 

Update Your Space in One Afternoon

I had the opportunity to sit down with Birmingham design expert Lisa Caldwell Flake for a story in Portico Mountain Brook. Lisa has a stunning sense of style, and she comes by it honestly. Her mother, Mary Ruth Caldwell, is a designer, too. The mother-daughter team at Caldwell Flake Interiors works to uncover the character of a home and then express that unique character through the people who love to live there.

Lisa is known for adding exciting pops of color to the rooms she styles. “I always say I like to have a ‘wow’ in each room,” she says. “I like for you to know that I’ve been there, but it’s still my client’s house. I want them to be comfortable living in it.”

Read the entire story here:

Inspiration can come from anywhere, Flake says. An iPhone snapshot from a Santorini vacation— where whitewashed houses cling to cliffs above a sparkling blue Aegean Sea–was the inspiration for her own living space, which juxtaposes bright white with a spectrum of brilliant blues. Two huge and stunning cobalt blue Moroccan vases shine on the dining table. There are vibrant splashes of turquoise in a large abstract painting by Atlanta artist Cynthia Knapp. Rich sapphire art glass from Prague sparkles like a fantastic jewel on a small table across the room.

We can’t all create a room like that, but Lisa did give me three quick, inexpensive tips for updating your own space in as little as one afternoon:

  • The easiest way to freshen up a house and make it look more current is to update lamps and pillows.  “Spend your money there,” she told me, “because you don’t have to spend a ton to make it look better.”

    In my own family room, I’m enjoying these pillow covers from Pottery Barn. The sofa is from there, too. It’s covered in the company’s Performance Everydaysuede, which is awesome. Nothing sticks to this fabric–even bicycle grease (don’t ask) comes off with a little diluted Dawn dish liquid. Richard Parker’s fur just wipes right off, too.
  • Clean up the bookcases. Consider arranging your books by color.  Then use extra space on bookshelves to display a few things you really like. Start with something big, and then remember that less is more, she says “One big bowl looks neater than a lot of little things.”  

The books in my library look like literary wallpaper now. I only kept a few extra items mixed in.

  • Don’t let a collection become clutter.

    I put a small collection of wooden canteens, gathered during a trip to Turkey, on the mantel in the family room. They are an unusual reminder of an amazing trip.

    If you have a collection of something, don’t scatter it all over the house or even all over a room. Group those things together in one place, Flake says. “Display your collection in a way that’s purposeful.”

 

 

 

A DIY That Should Have Been Done Already

We have a wall full of folk art, which my husband, Rick, and I have collected over the past 30 years. We started our collection with a piece by famed Montgomery artist Mose Tolliver. It’s called Fountain Ducks with Eggs, and it was an engagement gift from our colleagues at The Alabama Journal.

We lived a few blocks from Mose, so I visited with him occasionally. Sometimes I bought something; most times we just talked. One day I wanted to purchase a painting that was hanging above the bed that Mose was lying in at the time. He told me:  “Well, honey, just climb right on up here and get it!”

Since then, wherever we’ve lived, we added to our collection whenever the time (and the piece) felt right.

We have two works by the late, great Howard Finster. We first met Howard in 1986 after he had done the album covers for Talking Heads‘s Little Creatures and REM‘s Reckoning. Rick and I drove up to his Paradise Garden in northwest Georgia with every intention of buying some art. But the reverend wasn’t in the mood to sell. He asked us what we had to trade, saying he had traded one painting to a guy who put a new roof on his house and another to a man who gave him a case of King B Sweet Twist chewing tobacco.

We left empty-handed that day, but several years later we went back with our three-year-old daughter, Allison, who totally charmed Finster. He heard her skipping around in the next room and said, “Hark, I hear an angel. Where are you, angel?” And she replied, “I’m right here!” Then she went and sat with him while we browsed. That day we bought one of Finster’s Trumpet Angels and a House Divided (cautionary art to keep our own home united).

These days our wall features a few more pieces from Mose T. We added a cross by the late Birmingham artist Chris Clark, a fabulous dog from D.C. artist Dan Kessler (some of his pieces were reproduced several years ago for Target; imagine my surprise when I happened upon them). There are a few crows on the wall by Laddy Sartin. Those were gifts from our dear friend Tom Gordon. I added a piece  our younger daughter, Eleanor, painted when she was in elementary school. It’s called Tricked-Out Capybara.

This art wall has been in place in our current home for some 20 years. And sometimes when I looked at it, I would think, “I really don’t like the light switch plate on that wall.” But I never did anything about it. Until now.

One afternoon I grabbed some acrylic paints from the craft closet, took the switch plate off the wall, painted a sunset on it and drew a silhouette of Birmingham’s beloved Vulcan statue.

 

(I didn’t plan on making this a silhouette, but then I messed up the face.) My little art project took all of 45 minutes, including drying time for the acrylics.

 

 

When I put the switch plate back up, the wall finally felt right.

My own folk art.

Why not?

It makes me happy.