Dinner of Dreams

PushStart Kitchen in Atlanta, GA is a supper club located at the historic Goat Farm Artist Commune in the Westside neighborhood. Chef Zach Meloy and his wife Cristina open their home to 18 strangers 3x a week and offer their guests a custom meal via communal dining. This historic yet urban environment nestled in between the railroad tracks, Westside Provisions District and the Atlanta Waterworks is a world unto itself where chickens, turkeys and yes, goats, roam the grounds. Where artists of all kinds create in their studios and dreams come to life in loft spaces to the din of the trains passing by.

This was my birthday wish: great food, great conversation and great friends. I wanted my birthday to be a gift to those present at the table last evening. The gift of friendship, support of each other’s life pursuits and incredible food. No one had to worry about allergies (gluten free menu), the cost of their meal (paid for), the company they were keeping (connections were made).  And who doesn’t love capping off a night of food and friendship with a little orange-infused moonshine!

Thank you to my wonderful husband for making this happen for me! It was my dinner of dreams.

Photos and food courtesy of PushStart Kitchen.

So this happened last night –>>

Pork albondigas, cotija, sour cherry jam.

Pork albondigas, cotija, sour cherry jam.

Poblano corn pudding, oyster mushroom, charred onion mascarpone, cilantro.

Poblano corn pudding, oyster mushroom, charred onion mascarpone, cilantro.

Pork loin, carrots in several ways, preserved lemon yogurt, black olive.

Pork loin, carrots in several ways, preserved lemon yogurt, black olive.

Flour less chocolate cake, clementine sorbet, vanilla milk jam, blood orange syrup.

Flour less chocolate cake, clementine sorbet, vanilla milk jam, blood orange syrup.

NEED! Food Photographers and Southern Food Writers!

Attention food photographers and Southern food writers! If you are (or you know someone who might be) interested in working with a group of creative, Southern smart asses on a very cool venture about the South, contact me at food@twistedsouth.com.

Send a cover letter along with writing samples or your photographic portfolio for consideration.

Cheers, y’all!

The Seed Underground by Janisse Ray

SeedUndergroundI’ve heard this woman speak on local food and seed saving a few times.  She is an activist in every sense of the word including being arrested for protesting land grabs and environmental disasters. This book is on my Christmas list for many reasons, mostly because I believe in the cultivation of heritage seeds which have almost been bred into extinction save for a few people, like Janisse, who have taken up the cross for these plants. Historic preservation is a general term which includes buildings, art, literature, oral history AND our food.

Here’s a link to purchase her book on Amazon:

http://www.amazon.com/Seed-Underground-Growing-Revolution-Save/dp/1603583068

The Real Roots of Southern Cuisine

collard green 1This is my recent article for Deep South Magazine with Chef Todd Richards of The Shed at Glenwood in Atlanta. A fascinating, enlightening and frankly, refreshing look inside the food Southerners take pride in cooking and in eating. Slavery is deeply rooted in its history and its transformation.  Chef Richards also discusses the term “Soul Food” and what it really means, where fried chicken came from and Southern cuisine’s two key ingredients.

Forget everything you’ve ever learned or thought you knew about Southern food because it’s all about to change.

http://deepsouthmag.com/2012/12/the-real-roots-of-southern-cuisine/

100 Mile Dinner-Give Mo’ Thanks

In the Beginning…

On a mild November evening in Avondale Estates, 70 strangers, 6 chefs and 5 local farmers joined together as a community of food lovers and locavores to celebrate Thanksgiving 100 Mile Dinner style. Held in a yet-to-be-leased store front in the Avondale Tudor Village, the simple space was dressed in local art and mustaches; a nod to the cause being benefited, Movember (a month-long charity in which men grow ‘staches for cashes to fight prostate/testicular cancer). Above the bar, the King of ‘Staches, 80’s icon, Tom Selleck of Magnum P.I. fame. Three long dining tables clothed in white with mason jars of Gerber daisies greeted guests who quickly began propping their chairs up; the polite art of saving seats at such affairs. Then it was time to get down to the business of eating and drinking! And so began a night filled with beautiful food, thoughtful libations and new friendships; and for some, food firsts.

Cocktail Hour and Tastes

Salvador Dali Sparkler

Pumpkin Tortelloni with Maple Gastrique and Fried Sage

Upon entering, guests were handed the first of five drinks crafted by Seven Lamps head mixtress and beverage manager, Arianne Fielder. This sparkly concoction of prosecco mixed with cranberry syrup and ginger liqueur, aptly named “Salvador Dali” after the curly stached surrealist, set the mood for the evening, joyous. The tastes by Daniel Chance of Campagnolo were equally as joyous with passed hors d’ouevres of east coast oysters with Mt. Apple mostarda and crème fraîche and stations which included 18-month proscuitto on cheesestraw lavosh, warm turkey rillette on a corn muffin with cranberry jam and pumpkin tortelloni with maple gastrique and fried sage. Mixing and mingling while slinging back oysters, nibbling on small bites and sipping on sparkle was just what everyone needed to end their weekend.

Setting the Tone

Rusty Bowers (far left) of Pine Street Market introducing the Chefs

For many that night, it was their first community dinner, for others, veterans of such affairs, it was a night of networking and indulging, carefully enfolding the newbies into the mix. No one was left lost or uncomfortable. The chefs walked the floor, shaking hands and introducing themselves. The farmers doing the same while making sure to plant themselves (pun intended) amongst the diners at the tables in order to get to know their patrons. At 7pm, dinner service commenced with Rusty Bowers of Pine Street Market explaining the flow of the night, the purpose of the dinner and the chefs accompanying him: Daniel Chance of Campagnolo, Terry Koval of The Wrecking Bar, Kyle Griffith of Pine Street Market, Nick Melvin of Garden District, Layne Lee of Sweet n’ Sinful Bakery and Arianne Fielder of Seven Lamps.

Mains

Braised Rabbit Leg with Sweet Potato Purée and Persimmon Chutney

Burge Organic’s Winter Green Salad with Pine Street Lonza

Terry Koval kicked off the first course with an ingredient many had never eaten before, rabbit. A nervous anticipation came over some while others readied their fork and knife for a familiar bite. Presented was a perfectly braised Bullard Farms’ rabbit leg with sweet potato puree and persimmon chutney. It melted in your mouth. Audible gasps could be heard around the room as people savored every morsel. Delicious! Arianne paired this bite with a smooth yet lusty 2010 Rickshaw Pinot Nior.

The Stranger

Next Kyle Griffith’s salad of Burge Organic’s winter greens, Pine Street Lonza, pumpkin seed brittle and goat cheese with honey vinaigrette. The salad was light and flavorful, a refreshing palate cleanser from the rabbit before and the heavier course to come. A combination of ingredients that worked beautifully together, paired with Arianne’s “The Stranger”, blue coat gin, honey water, lemon, fresh blackberry pear cider and a nod to actor Sam Elliott’s ‘stach with a “kiss” of absinthe.

Meat n’ Three

Gum Creek Pork Rib Roast

Gum Creek Pork Rib Roast, Roasted Broccoli, Confit Goose and Chestnut Brioche Stuffing

The second course, or the meat n’ three, had Nick Melvin and Rusty Bower’s take on Thanksgiving served “family style”. A true community feel as each bite was passed by smiling faces in bowls overflowing with food. On the menu, crowned Gum Creek Farms‘ pork rib roast, grilled squash with mint chimichurri, roasted broccoli with brown butter cheddar mornay and fried shallots and confit goose and chestnut brioche stuffing. The pork roast, pure perfection. A generous portion of tender, juicy meat topped with pomegranate, devoured in seconds. All of the sides created a balanced plate where the star could shine while the supporting cast could each bring their own charms to the table. A crowd favorite was the confit goose stuffing. Moist and full of the flavors of Thanksgiving.

The Magnum P.I.

Arianne’s “Magnum P.I.” cocktail complimented this course with bold exquisiteness. Keeping with the hearty, rich tastes, she mixed Four Roses Bourbon with Dolin Rouge sweet vermouth, Southern Tier 2Xmas (spiced festive ale), vanilla-maple foam and whiskey barrel bitters topped with a Tom Selleck ‘stache. Brillance in a glass.

Sweet and a Little Sinful

Apple Tart, Maple Custard, Pumpkin Beignet

Layne Lee’s tasty treats closed out the night in the same way it began, a joyous celebration of Fall. Beautifully presented in front of each guest, a platter of small bites which included Gruyere apple tart with salty caramel, pumpkin beignet with spiced crème anglaise and a maple and candied pecan custard. The tart was like popping Fall in your mouth. The beignet a little sexier all powdered sugar, spice and everything nice. While the custard brought you home to Granny’s house, comforting, sweet and full of charm. What better cocktail pairing than Arianne’s take on Hot Buttered Rum aka “Hot Buttered Chuck Norris”, Barcardi Anejo Rum, Mercier golden delicious cider, butter and round house kick of spice. A drink that allowed guests to sit back, relax and discuss the experience with new found friends around the table. (Apologies for lack of photo of “Chuck Norris”, by this point the writer was savoring every bite of this delicious course and lost her head in it).

It is finished. 

Bravo to the chefs, farmers, mixologists and volunteer servers for a wonderful evening. With bellies full and hearts happy, guests were given a great send off into the holiest of food holidays, Thanksgiving. This day of thanks conjures images of family and friends, hearth and harvest but it is also about community, giving back, the giving of talents. 100 Mile Dinner’s “Give Mo’ Thanks” illustrated this point wonderfully with all anticipating the next time we will break bread together in January as a community of friends.

Getting into the Lifeboat One Leg at a Time

It is with much relief that I write this post but not for the reasons you think. Relief from the visceral undertones of political ads on TV. Relief that soon my Facebook feed will once again be filled with cute cat memes, happy baby pictures and bitching about Timeline’s suckage. Relief that my Twitter feed will scroll happily with food, liquor and debates on Facebook’s relevancy. In short, this election cycle has plum worn me out.

Last night’s election could not have put the period at the end of a declarative sentence better, stating clearly how divided this country is at the moment. In the end, the popular vote proved that we are a country struggling to find its voice again. The mud-slinging politicians, the name calling on social media, the mainstream media…oh the humanity! You couldn’t escape it no matter how hard you tried to unplug yourself. There was nowhere to run, nowhere to hide. This election, simply put, broke my heart. I was called ignorant, entitled, a moocher, self-serving and un-American by family and friends alike. This without provocation. This without saying a word about how I feel politically. This without saying how I feel about them politically. This while being quiet and trying to ignore, remembering the words my parents taught me, “if you can’t say anything nice, then don’t say anything at all.” There were times when I wanted to lash out, stand up for myself. I would write it out, read it and throw it away. I knew my words would serve no purpose but rather continue the viciousness. The buck stopped with me. I hoped people would catch on that I wasn’t interested. Yet it continued. The most hurtful comments came from people I love dearly. They weren’t talking directly to me but what they said was unknowingly directed at people like me.

I am not affiliated with a party but I lean in one direction more often than not. I don’t partake in food stamps but I (or rather my children) receive government assistance. I didn’t have healthcare at one point in my life (pre-2009) and put my children on public healthcare in order for them to have what they needed. I had to take handouts from strangers, live with my parents at 36 years old after my house was foreclosed on, declare bankruptcy, suffer the loss of my self-respect. My water and electricity have been turned off many times. I’ve lived on the edge of disaster. But I did what I had to do to survive, to protect my children. The government’s “handouts” kept me and my children from spiraling further into the abyss of financial ruin.  Much of the credit goes to my family and friends for their love and generosity of spirit during a very difficult period in my life. I had it lucky. Many others are not as fortunate. For those of us who have lived on the edge or continue to do so, it is usually not our choice. Tools, education, family, friends, upbringing, yes, even religion all factor into the equation of how we come out on the other side.

I am by no means all the way in the life boat, but I’ve got one leg in now, slowly rebuilding my life, excited for the directions it’s taking me.  My beautiful husband, Paul, the greatest gift in the story that is my new life. Just as it does in our personal lives, it is going to take time to rebuild our country. This process may be long and arduous but we can do it. We are all Americans. We’ve been through tougher times than this in our history. We are survivors. Getting into the life boat will take time so we must learn to put aside our differences and realize our goal is the same, opportunity for all. The methods and political trappings of the past are not working in our 21st century, 24/7 world.  Agreements and solutions will have to be reconfigured to fit our future not our past. I have hope. That is something no one can take away from me. I spread hope, I teach hope, I live hope. I want to be an example my children can be proud of not shrink from in embarrassment. Practice what we preach to our children, kindness, generosity, fairness toward others. Teamwork. My simplistic view of the world is something I most love about myself. It is something my parents instilled in me from the earliest days of my life.  I don’t like being called names for believing in hope.  So remember, friends, take heed in what you say because you never know who you are hurting. Today is a day of celebration for some and mourning for others. I’ll give you today, but tomorrow it is finished and we must move on…together.

Last Weekend for U-Pick at Mercier Orchards…Also Hard Cider!

The last U-Pick weekend at Mercier Orchards in Blue Ridge, GA is this Friday, Saturday and Sunday from 10am-4pm each day. On the branches now are Pink Ladies, Fujis and Braeburns with early season Beni Shoguns still dappling a few trees. Unlike the produce aisle at the grocery store, testing the merchandise is encouraged; orchard policy! Sorry folks, no more Granny Smiths but they are available in the orchard store along with many other early season varieties already bundled to take home.  The orchard is very hilly which means boots, sneakers or a good pair of tread shoes are recommended. Cute hats and scarves optional.

Each variety of apple has its own unique taste and purpose, so study up before you hop on the tractor to the orchard.

Pink Ladies

Beni Shogun: In season during September, an earlier ripening version of the Fuji.  Yellow, very sweet and lightly crispy.

Braeburn: In season October-April. Red, orange in color with a mixture of sweet and tart flavors. Ideal for baking tarts or pies.

Fuji: In season Mid-October. Sweet and crunchy. A great snacking apple.

Pink Lady: A late season bloomer, October-November. Firm, sweet, but tart. A great apple to both snack on and use in cooking. Good for apple butter or preserving as well as baking.

**Caution! The yellow jackets are particularly bad this year. The staff in the orchard have allergy and first aid kits on hand in case of emergency. 

Before you head home, make sure to stop by the bakery located in the orchard store for a fried pie and to pick up a couple dozen Apple Cider donuts! Everything is baked fresh on site.

Hard Cider for Sale!

New to Mercier this year is the Hard Cider Tasting Room. Yes, hard cider made from Mercier’s apples all pressed, fermented and distilled on site. Currently they have three flavors to choose from Old #3, Black Bee and Lone Tree with more flavors on the way! These delicious ciders are all natural with no preservatives. The tasting room is serving a flight of four ciders (one which is not available yet) to those 21 years or older. Purchase a pint of your favorite brew for $5 and then bring a bottle or four home with you for $9 a piece. These ciders are only available through the Tasting store but there is talk of broadening the operation to accomodate wholesale markets in the Atlanta area! You hearing this, Tower Package?

Cheers, y’all!

Mercier Orchard Store is open Monday – Sunday from 7am – 8pm.

U-Pick/Tractor Rides are available through the end of October, Friday – Sunday from 10am – 4pm

Dark Harvest Haunted Tractor Tour is available Friday, October 26, Saturday, October 27 and Wednesday, October 31 from 8pm – 11pm.

 

Taste of Atlanta and its Culinary Storytellers

If you’re like me, hopelessly devoted to food, the creativity behind it, the stories surrounding it, then check out the 11th Annual Taste of Atlanta this weekend, October 5-7 in midtown Atlanta. Over 80 restaurants will be featured at this year’s Taste from all over metro Atlanta and will include three kitchen demo stages, learning experiences, a Family Fun Zone with a Top Chef competition for kids, bar craft competition and a silent auction. For $25 a day, you get to dine at some of Atlanta’s most prestigious restaurants and preview those yet to open. But festivals like Taste give you more than just delectable bites and handcrafted cocktails, there are stories galore from the chefs, owners and barkeeps who keep us coming back week after week. It’s these stories that make Taste and festivals like it so unique. Food brings people together in a way no other element does. It evokes memories, starts conversations, helps us celebrate, even eases the grieving process.

Here’s my write up on Taste of Atlanta for Deep South Magazine. Learn about one restaurant in particular who is sharing their story through food, The Shed at Glenwood and their culinary storyteller and amateur historian, Chef Todd Richards.

Cheers, y’all!

http://deepsouthmag.com/2012/10/southern-food-with-a-story-at-taste-of-atlanta/

Field of Greens: Farm-to-Table Festival Style

Another Fall weekend is upon us in Atlanta and that means another great festival! So break out those tall boots, throw a pretty scarf around your neck and head out to the farm for Field of Greens this Sunday from 11am-5pm. Don’t forget to bring your grocery totes and cooler because there’s plenty of fresh produce and delicious treats to bring home!

In its seventh year at Whippoorwill Hollow Farm in Walnut Grove, Field of Greens brings together local farmers, chefs and specialty food artisans from around Metro Atlanta in celebration of the farm-to-table movement. There will be chef and craft demonstrations, live music from local artists, a kids’ area with fun things to do like apple pressing and clay projects, a farmer and artisans’ market and of course the legendary Chef’s Tent with over 30 chefs!

I love this festival for the sheer and simple fact that no one leaves unhappy. If you’re a foodie, both the Chef’s Tent and Meals from the Market will provide you with finger-lickin’ yumminess with some of their favorite dishes using local meats and produce. If you’re a crafter, you’ll love the artisans’ market where everything from scarves to soaps are for sale (I bought a scarf last year made from local wool). Looking for some fresh fruits and veggies? Then head over to the farmers’ market and stock your cooler with seasonal produce, local meats and cheeses, jams and pickles. Make sure to bring the kids because there’s lots for them to do at the Kids’ Village (not to mention the farm animals). You’ll probably spot my ruby red head in the Chef’s Tent because let’s face it, it’s all about the food! The tent is open from 12:30-3:30 or until the food runs out, so plan to get in line early. But don’t fret, it’s worth the wait because this tent brings festival food to another level with flavors from such restaurants as Rosebud, One Eared Stag, Cardamom Hill, Alma Cocina, The Shed and soon-to-open Bantam & Biddy and Buttermilk Kitchen.

To me, Field of Greens represents everything that’s right and good about Fall festivals. It provides an opportunity for these culinary and craft artists to meet with the public, put a name and face with the food or product and educate us on what we can do to continue the farm-to-table, buy local movement in our own homes. It’s a day of celebration, education and most of all of people who love what they do and want to share their passion with their community. So come out to the farm…eat local, shop local, support local and be in the movement.

Tickets are $20 in advance or $25 at the gate.  Admission includes unlimited tastings from the Chef’s Tent. Children 12 and under are free.  No pets.  

http://www.fieldofgreensfestival.com/

Festival Schedule:

11:00 – Festival begins

11:00 – 12:30Meals from the Market

12:30 – 3:30 (or until food runs out) – Chef’s Tent

1:30 – Chef Demo with Justin Keith of Food 101: Pickling and Preserving

2:30 – Chef Demo with Kevin Ouzts of The Spotted Trotter: Charcuterie

4:00 – Pig Roast with Chef Todd Mussman of Local Three

5:00 – Festival ends