Thursday, October 1, 2015

A Time to...CELEBRATE!!!!

I had an exasperating questionnaire posed to me recently. She meant well, I guess, but it hit a nerve nonetheless. “Which book is your favorite? Haven’t you written like a DOZEN or so?” All I could hear was her tone in the word “duzzzzzzin” – how her eyes rolling when she said it. Mama used to tell us that if we “looked at her again in that tone of voice, we’d be in trouble.” How can someone “look” in a “tone of voice?” I now know and understand. Sorry Mama.

Without hesitation (or filter on my lips) I extemporaneously blurted out, “SEVEN!!!” I raised my eyebrows, lifted my chin and proceeded my proclomation.

“Actually, I’ve written seven. And EACH one is as unique and special as children are to a parent – do YOU have a favorite child? Hmmmmm???!!!???” I felt my cheeks flush from that fit of flustering, uncontrolled exclaiming, right there on Carroll Street, Downtown Perry. She probably did have a favorite child –  and I now somewhat remembered this woman and her brood and further recalled that she probably had a least favorite child … a rank that interchanged daily depending on her offsprings’ doings. Anyways… I digress…

Southern-boy guilt welled up and seeped into my psyche – that guilt of being bred to always be polite and say “yes ma’am” drilled into us by a childhood immersed (literally if you’re a Baptist) in Sunday School, cotillion, elderly unmarried aunts, little ol’ ladies and our mamas – who were simply keeping the tradition from which they learned.  I sheepishly had to grin across gritted teeth and say, “Yes ma’am. This is my seventh book.” I took a deep breath. “A Time to  Celebrate is my seventh book, and I could not be more excited, thrilled or honored to share with the world recipes, photos and stories of my life. May I reserve you a copy, ma’am?

She nodded, vexed at the honey-tongued charm I was ladling. “I’ll come by the shop one day soon” she said. “Thank you ma’am. And I look forward to signing a special copy JUSSSSSST for you.”

As she walked one way and I walked another, I laughed out loud to myself right there on the herringbone-patterned brick sidewalk as I walked back to my shop and office. I laughed because my first reaction was to be defendant and adversarial when someone referred to my tome – to my literary and culinary accomplishments. I need not have to defend anything I’ve accomplished. I should be proud. Not a negative sort of pride, but a sort of pride that comes from deep within – confidence and assuredness maybe? Regardless, I am  well-stocked in pride for my culture that I cannot wait to share it with everyone I meet. I mean, come on y’all, who doesn’t want a piece of Carmel Cake? Right?

What I need to do is celebrate my accomplishment – celebrate my history, my heritage and my legacy with my people – literally celebrate how I’ve just written about in the book – celebrating life’s grandest and humblest moments in true Southern-style. And that is what I plan to do. Today is October 1, 2015, and my seventh book is officially released! Yay!!!!! And that my book is released in my favorite month, in my favorite season! And, that tonight, I’ll have great folks from all around The South with me – at a favorite shop in Buckhead, Lucy’s Market. There is nothing to ruffle my feathers about a day like this! This pride is a good feeling and I really do want to share it with y’all!

Yes, I have written seven books. Wow!!! I honestly cannot believe that the dream I had in college to write a series of lifestyle books has come to fruition! Thank you all for supporting me and encouraging me. I had amazing photographers (Emily Followill and Kristen Scott) working with me and my sweet friend Jenna Bush Hager wrote the foreword! My incredible team at James Farmer Inc showed nothing but noteworthy and stellar talent, dedication and perseverance every step of the way. My Mimi and my Mama instilled in me grace and appreciation for our Southern legacy, and my sisters, Aunt and Uncle, Grandfather and cousins continue to motivate and keep the feast with me – each and every day. “Thank you” are two little words to cover a broad range, but I mean them.

The subtitle of the book is from the Book of Common Prayer – Let us Keep the Feast. Long after the celebration is over, I want nothing more than the sustenance from that celebration to keep – to stay, to dwell, to grow and to live – within our hearts and souls. So, it is a TIME TO CELEBRATE, y’all! I know I am! I look forward to celebrating with y’all! And that is definitely something to be proud of – great friends and family and reasons to celebrate!

Wednesday, July 15, 2015

It's my party...

For this year’s birthday, I wanted something very selfish. I wanted a dinner in my house, with my friends, at my table… but MY house was not ready. Big shock, y’all, that Farmdale wasn’t ready… a week later it was, but for my birthday proper, it was not ready. And even if Farmdale had been completed, there would be no way I could gather my friends around a table that was to be pulled from storage, piled with boxes atop it, stacked with a skyline of dishes and all the STUFF that a person accumulates… stuff, upon stuff, upon stuff. Where does it all come from? I’m thinking I’m a hoarder… admittance is the first step to recovery, right?

So, I put my big boy pants own and dealt with it. I’m neither confirming nor denying a total toddler-style meltdown complete with tears, screams of rage and angst and that red-eye look of a sobbing child – all while in the Publix parking lot. I have lived at Brantwood (my aunt and uncle’s fabulous home on our family land) for the past couple of years while building Farmdale.

Yes ma’am, yes sir… it took me two years to build the place… somewhere between moving my office downtown, losing Mama and Mimi in the span of 9 months and traveling the country for speaking engagements and book signings, it took two years to build my house. And, not to mention, amid all of that aforementioned hoopla, nothing in the construction world happens in a rapid, timely or scheduled manner. NOTHING… but… it does come to a close eventually. Just not in time for your birthday. Again, I’m sounding like a toddler. Moving on…

We have a little supper club here in Perry. This group is a tightly knit posse all connected through the ties that bind. Half of us all went to high school together, some transplanted to Perrydise and others matriculated into our town and social circle seemingly by fate. By no means are we an exclusive club, but this group has banded together over the years and I know I can always count on them – for anything. Coming to my impromptu birthday dinner was the gift I really wanted from my friends. I wanted a moment to savor the wonderful, warm nature of my family’s home with a group of folks I love so dearly. I wanted Mrs. Mary’s biscuits to fill our bellies and us to all laugh, go back for seconds, reconnect and refuel – all on a Wednesday night. A fun, midweek supper that just happened to be my birthday dinner.

I set the table with some of my faves – bowls of peaches, sunflowers and mint and hydrangeas in mason jars, Aunt Kathy’s hand painted Italian dinnerware set off with a hodgepodge of plaid napkins. Mrs. Mary obliged me and prepared one of my all-time favorite meals – salmon croquettes, sautéed squash and zucchini, skillet corn, purple hull peas, cucumbers in vinegar, sliced maters, okra and tomatoes over Carolina Gold rice and of course, Mrs. Mary’s famous biscuits. There may have been a peach and cobbler and strawberry cake too. Mrs. Mary has made my sisters and me a strawberry cake for our birthdays for as long as I can remember. Our birthdays are May, June and July so strawberry cake is all too apropos.

Time does heal all wounds, but I’ll be honest, time can also whoop you upside the head and make you realize that you are having another birthday – which means another year without your Mama and Mimi. Holidays and their birthdays are not nearly as tough on me as my birthday is without them. Maybe that’s because they always handled the day – from our first birthdays, to our themed childhood ones with the coordinating cakes and party hats to our nice, sit-down dinners at a nice Atlanta restaurant when we were “grown up.”

I feel closest to Mama and Mimi when I’m cooking, setting the table and entertaining my friends and family. They did that so well, so effortlessly and so elegantly. Not that it was always “fancy”, but comfortable and lovely. You’d leave with your soul and belly full – filled with more than a moment of sustenance. So in the chaos that was to follow the week after my birthday of moving into Farmdale and more teetering on the edge of insanity, I have come to regard that particular night as an oasis of peace and soulful goodness. Good friends, good food and bowls of peaches can heal just about anything that’s ailing your heart, body and soul. Aren’t I the lucky birthday boy!

Thursday, June 4, 2015

*White Peach and Blueberry Crisp*

Belle of Georgia, White Lady, Southern Pearl… the list goes on and on! Until I found a few White Peaches at a roadside market that didn’t have a name… but they were delicious!!! It’s a tad early for the other varieties of White Peaches but these were ripe, juicy and very sweet! I almost hated to mix them with blueberries and bake them into a crisp! Almost…

Meredith peeled the peaches for me. Their skin was thin and just peeled away, yielding a juicy white flesh flecked with red tones. We ate the peaches as soon as we sliced them… it’s a wonder any made it into the crisp! I’m telling y’all, these were some of the best peaches we’ve ever eaten! I hope y’all can find some roadside treasures this summer too!
White Peach and Blueberry Crisp
  • About a half dozen fresh peaches peeled and pitted and sliced.
  • 2-3 cups of fresh blueberries simply washed.
  • ½ cup of sugar (if needed) depending on the sweetness of the fruit
  • ¾ cup of all purpose flour or biscuit mix
  • 1 ½ - 2 cups of old fashioned oatmeal
  • 1 cup of packed dark brown sugar
  • A stick of butter (room temperature) for topping and ½ a stick for filling
  • Pecans, almonds or walnuts for added crunch
  1. Melt the ½ stick of butter in a baking dish (9 x 13) in a 350 degree oven...allow the butter to start bubbling.
  2. Peel and pit your peaches and slice them into wedges.  Tip for peeling peaches…place them in boiling water for about 20 seconds then remove them to an ice bath…this stops the cooking and the skin will peel right off
  3. Wash your blueberries and pat dry. 
  4. Mix the two fruits together in the bubbling butter…this browns and “fries” the fruit before baking...yum!  Use the ¼ cup of sugar as well if your fruits are not sweet enough to your liking
  5. Mix the flour, brown sugar, oats, and remaining butter until it resembles a course meal.  Add a bit more butter if need be for desired consistency and nuts for additional crunch.
  6. Spread the above mixture across the peaches and blackberries and bake at 350 degrees for about 30-45 minutes…or until golden and bubbly.  Do serve a la mode!  From this Farmer’s garden and table, enjoy!

Friday, May 1, 2015

Derby Days

Happy Kentucky Derby, y'all! 

As Southerners, we love any excuse to put on our Sunday best, break out our monogrammed julep cups and starched linen napkins, and gather with family and friends. The first weekend of May promises a celebration each year. With ladies donning their finest hats and gents in their seersucker suits, we all gathered to witness the 140 year old tradition known as the Kentucky Derby.  So, in the spirit of Derby Weekend, I'm sharing a couple of my favorite Southern recipes...Kentucky Bourbon Balls and Peach Mint Juleps! Y'all enjoy! 

Peach Mint Julep
10 mint leaves
1 tablespoon sugar
2 cups peach nectar
1 cup unsweetened tea
1/4 cup simple syrup (or mint simple syrup)
1 cup sparkling mineral water or plain sparkling water
Crushed ice
Peach wedges and mint leaves for garnish

Muddle the mint leaves and sugar in the bottom of the julep pitcher. Pour in the nectar, tea and syrup and give it a good stir. 

Add the sparkling water and gently stir again. Pour over crushed ice into julep cups. Add one shot of good bourbon to each cup. Garnish with peach wedges and mint leaves. 

Kentucky Bourbon Balls
(16-ounce) package powdered sugar
1/3 cup good bourbon
1/4 cup butter, softened
50 pecan halves (about 1 1/4 cups)
2 cups semisweet chocolate morsels
1 tablespoon shortening

Stir together first 3 ingredients until blended. Cover and chill 8 hours.

Shape mixture into 1-inch balls. Gently press pecan halves into 2 sides of each ball. Chill 8 hours.

Melt chocolate and shortening in a saucepan over medium heat. Remove from heat. Dip bourbon balls in chocolate, and place on wax paper.

Chill 1 hour or until hardened.

My friends at Onward Reserve have shared their favorite Mint Julep recipe in the spirit of this Derby Weekend as well! 

Thursday, April 16, 2015

Easy as 1-2-3… 4! Pineapple-Blueberry Upside Down Cake

Pineapple-Blueberry Upside Down Cake and 1-2-3-4 Cake

1 can of cored pineapple rings, about 8 rings
8 cherries
½ a cup of light brown sugar
½ a stick of butter
1- 2 pints of blueberries
1-2-3-4 cake

Melt butter in an iron skillet on medium low heat and “fry” pineapple and blueberries in butter. Sprinkle pineapple with brown sugar. Add a cherry to the center on each pineapple ring. Lightly lift pineapple to check for browning, and remove from heat once edges are browned and sugar dissolved, about 5 minutes max. Adding a pint or two of blueberries at this stage is divine!

1-2-3-4 Cake

1 cup of whole milk
1 teaspoon of vanilla extract
2 sticks of unsalted butter
2 cups of sugar
3 cups of sifted cake flour (Swan’s Down*)
3 teaspoons of baking powder
4 eggs
½ teaspoon of salt
Preheat oven to 350. Butter and lightly flour three 9-inch layer cake pans. Sift cake flour then lightly spoon 3 cups of cake flour into measuring cup.

Cream butter in a large bowl. Gradually add sugar, creaming until light and fluffy.

Sift the already sifted cake flour with baking powder and salt. Add eggs to cream mixture one at a time, beating well after each addition. Add vanilla with the last egg.

Add flour mixture alternately with milk, blending until smooth after each addition. Don’t overbeat, for this makes a dry cake. Pour into prepared cake pans if making a 1-2-3-4 Cake. For the Pineapple Upside Down Cake, pour batter into iron skillet on top of pineapple, sugar, and blueberry mixture to just about halfway up the skillet. Bake remaining cake in separate pans, or make additional Pineapple-Blueberry Upside Down Cakes!

Bake for 20-25 minutes or until toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean. Cool in the pans or skillet for 10 minutes and then remove cakes.

Flip the cake from the iron skillet onto a cake plate or wax paper. Serve warm with ice cream! Enjoy!

*NOTE: the back of the Swan’s Down box has this recipe!
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