My friend Christiana Roussel and I are members of the Birmingham chapter of Les Dames d’Escoffier International. This is a philanthropic organization of women leaders in food, wine and hospitality. We are a varied group of food writers and bloggers, chefs, restauranteurs, sommeliers, farmers, cookbook authors, cheese makers, educators, food photographers and stylists, nutritionists and more.
We are dedicated to growing, creating, promoting and sharing our local food culture, and on an even more basic level, sharing food itself. We also focus on education and mentoring the young women who will follow us, and we fund scholarships to help them along.
But sometimes we just want to have fun.
So Christiana, our programs chair (who also is a food and lifestyle blogger–check out her Christiana’s Kitchen here), decided to throw a “Favorite Things” party.
Here’s how she described it: “Each dame is to bring three items, each valued at less than $10, unwrapped, in a bag. When the party starts, each dame will get up and tell about her favorite things. After each presentation, we will pull three dame names from a bowl, and they will take home some new favorite things. At the end of the night, each dame will have shared three things and collected three things. It’s a fun way to learn more about each other.”
We gathered at the John Hand Club in downtown Birmingham (check out the incredible view), added a little wine and some delicious hors d’oeuvres to the mix, and we had ourselves a party. With really cool favors.
Here’s what I brought:
I love, love, love the Diva scent of Glamorous Wash by Tyler Candle Company (Funny story: I ran around my neighborhood for weeks thinking it was the best-smelling place on earth and wondering why. Then I realized it was because people were doing their laundry with Diva Wash. The dryers were getting the scent out into the neighborhood.) A little of this laundry detergent goes a long way; I mix it in with my regular detergent when I wash my running and yoga clothes. The little 8-oz bottle came in just under $10.
The Party Cracker Seasoning from Savory Fine Foods, LLC in Texas makes an instant awesome snack in quantity. I included the extra-large plastic bag needed to mix it up with an entire box of saltines. This seasoning comes in other varieties: chipotle, dill, cinnamon sweet, but I love the original mix best. This cost about $6.
Who doesn’t appreciate some cheeky cocktail napkins? These MikWright napkins with vintage photos and clever phrases are some of my favorites. I always have a few different versions on my home bar, and they are instant conversation starters. These are around $6.
And here’s what I brought home:
A three-pack of microfiber face-cleansing mitts. No more ruined washcloths! I’ll use one with Sephora’s Supreme Cleansing Oil, which is my go-to at the end of each day, and I’ll share the other two mitts with my daughters.
A great coffeecup with abstract birds on it. Perfect for sipping my morning coffee while I watch the bird feeders outside my kitchen window to see who shows up. Hummingbirds are coming soon. So are the lovely goldfinches.
Some of the Dames brought items from their own businesses like a cellphone credit card holder with a gift card from Ashley McMakin, owner of Ashley Mac’s; (have you had Ashley Mac’s hot spinach and artichoke dip?). Specialty coffee from Erin Isibell, owner of The Red Cat Coffeehouse and salted chocolate granola from Jennifer Yarbrough, owner of Crestline Bagel Co. (check out my post about Crestline Bagel’s new Cahaba Heights location). Becky Satterfield, of Satterfield’s Restaurant in Cahaba Heights, brought cardamon-scented sugar; Katherine Cobbs brought honey from her own hives and a “mother” vinegar starter (with instructions) from her own kitchen. Sonthe Bokas Burge shared Shoreline Extra Virgin Olive Oil (available at Shoreline Foods International Market & Deli in Pensacola, FL) as well as a personal story of love and friendship in Crete.
Other inventive favorite things (mostly around or under $10): a Kuhn Rikon serrated veggie peeler that even peels tomatoes, a hummingbird feeder, Maybelline skinny eyeliner, sea salt caramels, Zkano Organic Cotton Socks (made in Fort Payne), a BabyFoot peel, handmade absinthe-scented soap from NOLA, Ellis Stansel’s Gourmet Rice, a Corkcicle, handmade cards, Harney & Sons Paris tea, cans of wine, Trader Joe’s Organic Tahini and L’Oreal Voluminous eyelash primer.
I’d love to know your own favorite, under-$10 things. Feel free to share!
I spent the past weekend at the Southern Foodways Alliance 2018 Winter Symposium here in Birmingham. I joined more than 150 people from all over the country to talk about what it means to produce, grow, cook, eat and love food in the South.
Attendees included James Beard Foundation Award-winning restaurateurs and chefs as well as some of the latest crop of nominees. There were coffee growers, food writers, oral historians, a mariachi band, educators, activists, photographers, farmers and filmmakers. Some people were there simply because they love Southern food.
And that’s good enough.
From a drink made with Cathead Honeysuckle Vodka, Good People‘s Snake Handler reduction AND Buffalo Rock Ginger Ale to breakfast cake made by Dolester Miles, the pastry chef at Highlands Bar & Grill, to Chef Duane Nutter‘s lunch of Sea Island Red Peas and Shrimp (and much more!) to Becky Satterfield’s amazing gumbo full of Conecuh Sausage, it was a delicious time worth savoring.
See my story on Alabama NewsCenter for all the details.
You’ll find that we heard CNN’s Moni Basu talk about growing up in an Indian household in the American South and how food narratives can effect change. Fawn Weaver and Clay Risen talked about Nathan “Nearest” Green, the former slave whom many believe taught Jack Daniel how to distill whiskey. Writer Julia Turshen spoke about her book Feed the Resistance: Recipes and Ideas for Getting Involved, which benefits the ACLU. Food writer and dining critic David Hagedorn explored the various meanings of Southern hospitality, and Atlanta-Journal Constitution reporter Rosalind Bentley talked about the women who fed the Civil Rights Movement and sustained protestors with home-cooked meals respectfully served on their good china.
You’ll want to put next year’s Winter Symposium on your calendar. I’ll see you there.
I ran the recent 2018 Mercedes Half Marathon in Birmingham. This was not my first time to do this, but I was extremely nervous about it. I knew this would not be a PR day. I had some perfectly good excuses: It was rainy. It was hot. I had some on-and-off pain in my hip. But the fact was: I had not prepared as much as I should have done. I simply had not put my feet on the ground enough in the weeks leading up to this race.
But I did it anyway.
And I ended up running a joyful race. There’s really no other way to describe it.
I decided early on–at about mile 3–to just run. To simply be in every moment. I’m pretty competitive, and I have a bad habit of sizing up the women running near me to try to see if they are in my age group (and therefore someone I need to pass). I’m not proud of this. But at this race, I didn’t do it.
“You do you,” I actually said out loud.
Once I let go of my expectations (and tamped down my competitive nature), I started noticing things that made me happy and grateful to just be there–moving forward at my own pace.
We passed by Kelly Ingram Park and I looked at the beautiful Four Spirits sculpture, and I acknowledged the precious souls of those four little girls. I ran by Glen Iris Elementary School, and I thought of the awesome young girls on the Girls on the Run team I coach twice a week. I had met them only the week before, but they already are “my girls.”
I was listening to a playlist made by two of my children, and the songs they picked out for me made me happy. From Kygo to Beyoncé to Fleetwood Mac. It was all good. My older daughter had given me two charms for my shoes–an Eiffel Tower and a Girls on the Run button–and I smiled as I put one fancy foot in front of the other.
Members of the Mountain Brook High School Track & Field team were staffing one of the water stops in Southside around mile 6, which is always more hilly than I remember. A few of the girls I know hugged me and shouted: “You’ve got this, Mrs. Swagler.” And I knew I did.
I thanked each Birmingham Police officer at every intersection. A special thank you to the officer who gave me a high five at the top of that small hill on Highland Avenue.
A spectator in Avondale gave me a string of green Mardi Gras beads, and I ran on happy to know enough to be dressed appropriately in a thin tank top in winter (and now with a fun accessory!). I took a moment to appreciate having some great shoes and even greater socks. (My Thorlos Experia socks were everything the salesperson said they would be. Funny how something so small and simple can make a really big difference.)
At mile 10 when Tiidrek Nurme, the winner of the full Marathon (and an Olympian!), passed me, I did not think about how quickly he had lapped me. Instead, I thrilled to see him so closely, moving so effortlessly and so fast.
At mile 11, the pickles and pickle juice were just what I wanted. At mile 12, that cold sip of beer was good, too.
Just before mile 13, my phone died and so did my music. But then I noticed a man running with a small (but really loud), portable speaker, and I ran alongside him for a block or so. He was pacing his wife who was running her first half marathon. He told me he and their kids already had gotten her a fancy display board for the really cool finisher’s medal she was about to earn.
When I finished, Rick Journey gave me a special shout-out, which I appreciated very much. I got my medal (it really is one of my favorites) and a finisher’s gift that remains a mystery to me. It looks like a towel, but it has a strange little zipper and some webbing and a clasp (see the gallery below). I have no idea what this thing is; if anyone else knows, please tell me.
As I walked toward the party (with barbecue and massages) in Boutwell Auditorium, I realized I had not looked at the clock as I crossed the finish line. My time didn’t matter. But the moments I spent running that race did matter very much. They added up to a truly joyful whole.
I had savored that race in a way I had never done before. In a way I didn’t even know was possible. I was tired, sure, but I also was immensely satisfied. It was similar to how I feel when I enjoy a perfectly delicious meal or when I read the last page of a wonderfully memorable book. It felt good and right. And it made me happy.
1. Open a dedicated checking account. Our daughter made a budget (with extra money for unexpected expenditures), and we opened a checking account with that amount. She was great about keeping up with everything on a spreadsheet, and she and her husband-to-be could spend the money as they wanted–and keep what was left over!
2. You need a wedding planner. These people coordinate weddings for a living. You probably do not. Even if you are a great hostess with amazing ideas and skills, you need someone else to make it all happen as easily as possible. We hired Jayna Goedecke, of Jayna Goedecke Designs, for the month of the wedding, and she was absolutely amazing. Her day-of schedule was seamless. An hour before the wedding, she oversaw moving the reception indoors, and all I had to do was stand back and watch it happen. That alone was worth every penny.
3. Trust your vendors. Give them direction, sure. Pinterest pages are perfect for this! But then, trust them to make your vision happen. That’s their job. We asked Jessica Morris at Hothouse Design Studio for rich colors and texture and got bouquets with pink roses, burgundy dahlias, succulents and olive branches; gorgeous mirrored lanterns next to weathered driftwood; and beautiful, loose arrangements in silver goblets and baskets made of kudzu vines by an artist from Alabama’s Blackbelt region.
We wanted Southern dishes to reflect food traditions from our town (Birmingham, AL) and Will’s hometown (Shreveport, LA). Our caterer, Kay Bruno Reed, owner of Everything IZ, came up with a beautiful and delicious menu of oyster po’boys, black-eyed pea hummus with cornbread crackers, and roasted Gulf shrimp with McEwen & Sons grit cakes. She even put together a biscuit bar with hot chicken, barbecue pulled pork and bourbon cane syrup. Roasted duck and gnocchi dumplings were a fancy version of chicken and dumplings. Laura Wilkerson Photography captured the special day perfectly. She even took photos of folk art in our home (where the girls got dressed).
Mary Jane Clements of Makeup Mary Jane made us all look great with fabulous up-dos and lots of false eyelashes.
4. Start with shoes. This is going to be a big (long) day for everyone … including the MOB. Both Allison and I shopped for our shoes (comfortable ones!!) before even looking at dresses.
5. Encourage the groom’s family to match. This happened with us quite by accident, but looking at the photos, we saw that the groom’s family ended up in various shades of blue and purple and black. They looked stunning together.
6. Fun gifts. Spend a little extra money, if possible, on an unusual, fun gift. We rolled various colored pashminas with a little tag that read: “It’s a Wrap! Thanks for joining us! Love, Allison and Will” Then we placed them in big baskets around the venue. They were a huge hit! Even some of the men took a few.
7. Song requests. We asked on the response cards, “What song will get you out on the dance floor?” Then throughout the night DJ Divine called people by name when he played their songs. It was a great way to keep everyone engaged.
8. Make your own rules. Instead of a big, fancy wedding cake, the couple had a beautiful little “naked” cutting cake, baked by IZ, and lots of bite-size pies from Pie Lab, which is in Greensboro, Alabama. The pies, especially the brown-sugar buttermilk, went quickly! Also, my daughter bought her dress at David’s Bridal because she found one there that she loved. It looked beautiful on her, and our tailor made it fit perfectly. Some people were taken aback that she didn’t buy from a high-end boutique, but she figured she would only wear it once and wanted to spend more money on other things.
9. Enjoy what the day brings. Allison’s outdoor wedding at Vulcan Park & Museum had an uninvited guest: Hurricane Nate showed up during the reception. We already had moved most everything inside and put the DJ under cover. When the rain started, DJ Divine kept playing, and one bridesmaid walked out into the rain and started dancing. That’s all it took! The rain photos were amazing, and the wedding suddenly became very memorable.
10. Know that nothing’s ever perfect. Something will go wrong or, at least, not quite as planned. There might even be a hurricane. Look around at all the special people who have gathered to enjoy the day with you. Then take a deep breath and move forward. Enjoy yourself! At this point, you’re entitled to that, too.
Here are all our wonderful vendors:
Jayna Goedecke, Jayna Goedecke Designs
Jessica Morris, Hothouse Design Studio
Kay Bruno Reed, Everything IZ
Mary Jane Clements, Makeup Mary Jane
Pie Lab in Greensboro, AL