Wednesday, July 30, 2014

Farmdale Cottage – an Introduction Y’all!

A while back, I sold my house in Kathleen. My plan was to move into my family’s home in Perry and promptly begin building. Promptly/Two-Years-Later I have begun building. I did manage to publish A Time to Cook and Dinner on the Grounds in the meantime… and open my store and office in Downtown Perry. Thus, the last couple of years haven’t been that unproductive! The last year in particular has been tough too with some major familial changes too – we lost both my Mimi (maternal grandmother) and my Mama (my mama) within a year. But, the Good Lord giveth when He taketh and Baby Napp came to us all just before Mimi and Mama’s passing – and not a moment too soon!


What this Farmer needed was a fresh start in an old place. A new house to call my own and start over in a sense – a new house that would be home for not just me, but the homeplace for my sisters, Maggie and Meredith, and their burgeoning families. We Farmer “chillrun” needed our own nest to fly back to. A new nest full of promise and hope and happiness for the “new normal” that has become our lives. It is with that macabre humor yet hopefully positive spin I present to y’all “Farmdale Cottage.”


“Farmdale Cottage” is the name of the new nest for yours truly and for my sisters to call home. It sits within a dale in the woods of my family’s land in Perry. My aunt and uncle are literally on the same property. That means for all our family gatherings and holidays, we will all be like Christopher Robin – deep in the hundred acre wood! We will all be together for those times most importantly, but we can all be together in our own beds… who am I kidding, we all end up piled together like we did as children. Some things never change!


A little history…
When I was fourteen, Mama and Daddy took us to visit the “Centennial House” in Atlanta. It was the 1996 Summer Olympic Games and Southern Living had built said house under the design of Spitzmiller and Norris. Over the next eighteen years, I would stalk the streets of Buckhead and eagle-eye homes I just new Robert Norris and Rick Spitzmiller had their hands on. Their website became a beacon of design hope and a resource for inspiration and good taste. Never did I imagine that this dream team of architects and their amazing firm would be designing my very own home!


As a designer, an editor-at-large with Southern Living and an author, I have the marvelous opportunity to travel The South and visit fantastic homes and charming towns. Of course, I end up meeting awesome people too, thus my Christmas card list grows with each story assignment or book tour! One day though, I was home in Perrydise perusing through a nearly ancient copy of a Southern Living house plans book I had grabbed from the grocery check-out line years ago. I’m a bit of a magazine hoarder (first step is admitting right?) and I stumbled on a plan for a cottage designed by Spitzmiller and Norris. It was a Coastal Living plan but still in the SL fam. Anyways, I looked and looked at that plan and kept thinking that the house seemed so familiar. “Had I been there?” I kept asking myself. “Was this a showhouse I toured and just don’t recall?”


The house was simply meant to be my house. It felt familiar and “homey” simply just looking at it from the pages of the magazine. I knew this was the cottage for me! The home for this Farmer to build in his dale! A short time later, I find myself in the Atlanta HQ of “Rick and Bobby’s” architectural firm – becoming fast friends with their team and the two principle architects as well. Anytime a group of Southerners bands together to talk about architecture, homeplaces, family and paint colors, you know it is going to be a fun time! I couldn’t be any more thrilled with the plans, for Robert took some of my crazy ideas and integrated them into the plans. He thus revamped the SL plan for yours truly and made the house plan my new home’s plan. And, don’t be too surprised if this little project ends up in the magazine… I’m just saying… wink, wink, nod, nod.


Each day, I annoy and distract my builders (my pals with Wall2Wall construction out of Hawkinsville) with questions and ideas (I tell them that they’re not “change orders” but “ideas for improvement”), and I wake up like I did as a young boy excited for Christmas morning – but now to see the house’s progress and not what Santa brought. But… if  Santa is reading, I’m sure I can be really, really good from now until Christmas and maybe I can get those andirons I’ve been drooling over? Or maybe some more pecky cypress beams? I digress…


If any of y’all have ever built a home, you know it is a PROCESS!!! A tedious and slow process but then some things come at you so fast you almost have to close your eyes and point! You have to pick out appliances, wood selections, plumbing fixtures and all sorts of things you never imagined in a jiffy and then wait 3 months! Yes, my day job is designing and making my clients’ homes and gardens lovely places to call home, but when it is MY house I have a tough time! The cobbler’s kids never have shoes and the designer’s house is a mess! Ha! Thankfully, I have a FABULOUS design team at JFI, so they love helping me I’m sure! Ha! I entice them with peach ice cream and cobbler from Lane’s and then “oh yeah, we’re just going to stop real quick by Farmdale…” At least they get some cobbler right?


I did enter the project with a few things I knew I wanted and would not settle – unless that pesky ol’ “b” word raised its ugly head…budget! I knew I wanted a metal roof, board and batten siding stained dark, a brick foundation with large semi-louvered panels, old brick floors where I wasn’t using heart pine, heart pine countertops, painted brick somewhere and true, working shutters. Knowing that, I then have to focus on other elements, but KNOWING for certain some of the key components to the home is very settling. Knowing a few major elements is like having a North Star to keep you focused and on target.


So, here is a rendering from my fantastic friends at Spitzmiller and Norris of “Farmdale Cottage.” I’ve catalogued pictures along the way, so stay tuned to the “Farmdale Chronicles” for updates on the house. I hope y’all enjoy this series. I’m going to need your support to get through it and get into it!!! Can’t wait to host my first dinner party! Until, then, the construction continues… “Lord willing and the creek don’t rise!”

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Amaretto Peach Bake with Honey-Lemon Olive Oil Cake

Almond and peach flavors are totally apropos for one another – probably because they’re cousins! Peaches are in the almond family. Just take a gander at a peach pit’s inner pit or the blossoms even – you’ll see the family connection for sure! I won’t bore you with the horticultural nomenclature, Latin naming, bark similarities and inner cambium layers of their trunks: just trust me – they’re related!

My sisters and I had the best extension of siblings with our first cousins growing and still do today! Something about having your own playmates from your own family tree is so fun. Growing up in a small town, we often were mistaken as “oh he’s one of those Brantley kids” or “she’s that Farmer girl isn’t she?” and for the sake of not splitting hairs, we’d just answer “ yes’m or yes sir” accordingly. We’ve always been glad to be the from the same tribe!

The kissin’ cousins in this recipe are the amaretto cookies, almond liqueur and the peaches. They are a household of flavor all to themselves! I can remember my Mema, my great-grandmother, and my Mimi, my grandmother, being the most temperate of ladies – “lips that touch wine shan’t touch mine!” was often exclaimed. Yet, there was always a bottle of almond liqueur, grand manier, sherry or Lydia Pinkum cough syrup somewhere in the pantry or medicine cabinet! I guess they had to say such an expression because they married Baptists. I digress…

Taking inspiration from close relations, my Amaretto Peach Bake in Dinner on the Grounds is that familial combination of flavor relations baked together with the freshness of the season and complementary tastes. Plus, it couldn’t be an easier dessert (or breakfast) for the summertime. I even serve it with ice cream, whipped cream or even with a side slice of cake! However you decide to serve it, just make sure you have plenty! You’ll realize how MANY cousins you have when you make a dessert like this!

Amaretto Peach Bake with Honey-Lemon Olive Oil Cake
Photography by Emily Followill  

Amaretto Peach Bake
4 peaches, halved and pitted (peeled, if desired)
1 1/2 cups amaretto liqueur
2 dozen small amaretto cookies, crushed
8 tablespoons (1 stick) butter
Whipped cream, optional
Mint or basil for garnish

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

Place peaches in baking dish, pit side up. Fill each pit with a heaping tablespoon of cookies and top with 1 tablespoon butter.

Pour amaretto around peaches, making a vat of liqueur.

Cover loosely with foil and bake for 25-30 minutes, or until peaches are completely soft.

Serve with whipped cream or ice cream.

Garnish with mint or basil. I love the essence the basil gives off with the warm peaches.

Farmer's Note: I like the keep the skin on because it helps the peaches hold together. 

Honey-Lemon Olive Oil Cake 
3 eggs
1 1/2 cups plain yogurt (not low-fat)
2/3 cup olive oil
1 cup honey
1 teaspoon good vanilla
2 heaping tablespoons grated lemon zest (from 2 large lemons)
2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
2 1/2 cups flour
2 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
3/4 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt

Preheat oven to 350. Grease a 9-inch springform pan and line the bottom with parchment paper.

In a large bowl, whisk eggs lightly. Add yogurt, olive oil, honey, vanilla, lemon zest and juice, whisking till combined. Add remaining ingredients and whisk until just smooth and no lumps remain - but do not over whisk though. 

Pour the batter into the cake pan and bake for 60-70 minutes, until a tester comes out clean (cover with foil if the top is getting too dark toward the end). Cool in pan on a wire rack for 10 minutes; remove from pan and let cool completely.

This cake will stay fresh for several days, well wrapped.

Tuesday, July 15, 2014

Georgia Caprese Salad

The classic triumvirate of tomato, basil and mozzarella is nothing short of divine. I can just imagine Michelangelo snacking on this delicacy whilst carving the David statue. The salad is such a quintessential, Italian dish yet it has become a major part of the American summer menu – especially with the resurgence of heirloom tomato growing! My Caprese Panzanella from Dinner on the Grounds evokes the freshness of the Caprese salad with the all too fabulousness of hunky bread cubes toasted to perfection so they can soak up the vinegary sauce. I digress… that salad is fit for another post!

My Georgia Caprese Salad has a fun origin and pays homage to the old adage “necessity is the mother of invention.” The necessity of mention was supper. A light summer supper for yours truly alone. I was hot. I was tired. I did not want to cook – the thought of being around more heat was as tempting as repeatedly running into the back porch screen – head first mind you – like the bumble bee was doing. My family was scattered with other activities, travel or who knows what and Ol’ Jimmy was home alone – and hungry!

Not only was the thought of cooking with heat unappealing, the thought of eating something hot was equally unappetizing. Enter the “necessity… invention” moment. I rummaged through the fridge and saw I had a block of Pepper Jack cheese from M&T. I said to myself, “Self, you can at least have cheese and crackers.” Then I got to thinking – a dangerous pastime. 

There was a basket of peaches on the island awaiting my attention. I had a mess of basil in a Mason jar on the windowsill and a Caprese Salad  - a GEORGIA Caprese Salad began running wild in my mind. “Could it work? Will it be good?” spun around my head and the next thing I knew, I had sliced that peach open, layered a slither of the Pepper Jack cheese with a basil leaf atop the peachy wedge and was eating like the Prodigal Son on the fattened calf. As fresh and delicious as it was, it needed something. The creaminess of the soft cheese with a little peppery heat was marvelous with the tangy sweetness of the peach. The basil gave that green zing and herby wow-factor only fresh herbs can do but there was something still lacking. It needed a vinegary bite but with a hint of sweetness. Lucky for me, I had a jar of balsamic vinegar that I had reduced for my balsamic barbeque sauce – oooh…another post idea! Drip, drip, drip – drizzle, drizzle, drizzle – dunk! That was just what it needed!

The intensified sweetness of the balsamic reduction was syrupy in viscosity and just the right sweet with a vinegary tang. So after making a pig’s ear mess at first, I thought that I should try again and make it pretty. And then, I had to coin it for sure as a truly Georgian dish – Georgia-grown peaches, Georgia-made cheese, my Georgia-garden-grown basil with a balsamic glaze made right in my kitchen… Italy helped with the origination of the vinegar proper! As Mimi said, “we eat with our eyes first…” thus, I had to make it visually pleasing. This part was not difficult mind you – a peach is, well, pretty as a peach on its own! So here it is y’all, my Georgia Caprese Salad!

Georgia Caprese Salad
Photography by Helen Norman

1 peach
lemon juice
4 small, think slices pepper Jack cheese
4-6 large basil leaves
Balsamic vinegar*

*Reducing the balsamic vinegar on the stove over medium heat intensifies the flavor and thickens the vinegar too.

Friday, July 11, 2014

Peach Buttermilk Pound Cake

I love pound cake. I love peaches. I love cooking and baking with buttermilk. Need I say more about my Peach Buttermilk Pound Cake? Not really. It’s a Peach Buttermilk Pound Cake, y’all! But then at the same time, I could elaborate volumes upon volumes simply on the amazing nature that is a pound cake! Oh, the dilemmas of Southern culinary literature! I digress…

Buttermilk is my “go to “ baking liquid for cornbread, biscuits, pound cakes and cakes too. There’s chemistry involved with the acidity and dairy quotients but I shan’t bore y’all with that. I just know that buttermilk is awesome. Instead of further elaboration on buttermilk and its baking prowess, I’ll tell y’all why I love it in this cake in particularly – the zippy tang. It is not strong but there is a slight undercurrent that keeps the cake from being too sweet. A perfect pairing with sweet to tart peaches!

So take it from this Farmer, the cake is a fun one! Serve it up for your family, friends or just indulge in the whole “thang” yourself!  Enjoy, y’all!

Peach Buttermilk Pound Cake
Photography by Maggie Yelton

I adore this cake. The base itself is a classically delicious cake with hardly a parallel. Seasonal additions such as peaches are marvelous. Blueberries, blackberries, strawberries, pumpkin puree, pecans, pears, and apples all meld well. For this Georgia boy, peaches are my favorite.

8 ounces (2 sticks) unsalted butter, room temperature, plus more for the pan

3 cups granulated sugar

6 large eggs plus 1 egg yolk

2-3 tablespoons vanilla extract

finely grated lemon zest, optional (not needed if peaches are tart)

3 cups all-purpose flour

½ teaspoon baking soda

¼ teaspoon salt

1 cup buttermilk

3-4 peaches, peeled and chopped (the firmer the peach, the better they hold up in the cake, but a soft peach practically dissolves and gives a bit more flavor – baker’s choice!)

Preheat the oven to 325 degrees. Lightly butter a tube or Bundt pan and place it on a baking sheet; set aside.

Using a mixer on medium speed, beat the batter and sugar together until light and fluffy. Add the eggs and egg yolk one at a time, beating after each addition. Add the vanilla and lemon zest, if using.

Whisk the flour, baking soda and salt together in a bowl. Beat the flour mixture into the butter mixture in three additions, alternating with the buttermilk, scraping down the bowl as needed. Pour the batter into the prepared pan and top with peaches.

Bake about 1 hour and 30 minutes, or until the cake pulls away from the sides of the pan and a toothpick inserted in the middle comes out clean. Let cool on the baking sheet for 5 minutes, then transfer the pan to a rack and cool completely. Run a knife along the sides of the pan to loosen and then turn out onto a cake plate. I usually flip the cake again so the side that was the top in the oven is, once again, the top side.

Tuesday, July 8, 2014

Peach and Pecan Chicken Salad

Whether you are married or buried in The South, you will have chicken salad. You may be a newly born baby down in Dixieland, and your first meal will most likely be a Dixieland Delight of chicken salad – second to pimento cheese or barbeque. I say all this in jest – “jest” saying, y’all, we eat a lot of chicken salad!

This Southern staple is apropos for a wedding, a shower, a luncheon, a wake, a church supper or a hunt club picnic. It is a mandatory dish at garden club. You can be quite elegant with your presentation, and remove the crust (Mimi always said that if you cut the crust off, it was fancy), or you may scoop it onto a lettuce leaf. Or, you may dip Ritz crackers into the styrofoam cup of chicken salad as you leave the drive-thru window at Georgia Bobs – chicken salad can be casual, everyday or highbrow, high-end… diner’s choice.

Chipped, chopped, shredded or chunky – chicken salad is much the same as Southern barbeque in its array of forms. “Mother always chipped hers so fine that it was almost fluffy…” I’ve heard many a time. “Uncle Earl just chopped his…” you may have witnessed this. MawMaw, Mema, Mimi and Mama all have their methods and, like brands of mayonnaise, their posterity follow suit in their taste and preference. Then there is the entire debate about celery. As for me and my house, the finer chopped the better – if added at all.

We are a seasonally accoutrement style chicken salad family. Pecans are generally a basic, year round mainstay to my recipes though a fall/winter crop, yet one may find walnuts, cashews or even almonds in different styles of the dish. As for the seasonal flair, apples may be found in the fall or perhaps the nuts of choice are seasoned with rosemary or sage. Strawberries, blueberries and blackberries find their way into summer recipes. Along with other fruits – peaches in particular.

Enter my Peach and Pecan Chicken Salad from A Time to Cook. It’s pretty much my basic chicken salad recipe with the addition of peaches and pecans. I even like to garnish with a twist of basil for extra scent and flavor texture. But rather than just mix the peaches and pecans into the salad, I like to heavily sprinkle them on top. No particular reason for this fashion or maybe so I can see the wedges of sweet peaches awaiting to be devoured.

Chicken salad, pimento cheese and poundcake are to me the building blocks of Southern culinary pyramid. Master them and you can always have something to snack on or feed the herd. One may then build upon these cornerstones seasonally or as your taste buds dictate. For this Farmer, summertime is peaches on and in everything – chicken salad notwithstanding! Hope y’all enjoy!

Peach and Pecan Chicken Salad

This recipe can easily be doubled. Use peaches or apples that are in season and a good-quality mayonnaise – for Southerners, it’s what your mama uses. Grapes make a nice garnish as well.

4 tablespoons butter
1 cup pecan halves
sea salt
6-8 peaches or 6 apples
lemon juice, optional
½ cup good-quality mayonnaise
2 cups cooked chicken, chipped or diced
6-8 sandwich rolls, or bread

Melt butter in a skillet over medium heat and toss pecans in melted butter. If using salted butter, add only a light sprinkling of salt. Toast pecans on the stove until they began to brown, tossing constantly so they don’t burn. Or transfer buttered and salted pecans to a baking sheet and toast in a 300-degree F oven for just a minute or two, watching carefully. If you can smell them, you may have let them go too far! Remove from heat and set aside.

Peel, pit and chip peaches or core and chop apples. If need be, squeeze a bit of fresh lemon juice to keep them from turning brown. The mayo helps with this too.

Combine the chicken, peaches or apples, and pecans in a bowl and then bring it all together with the mayo. Mix well and serve.

Farmer’s Note on Poaching or Sautéing Chicken: Cook 3 to 4 skinless boneless breasts in a quick stock with onions, celery, carrots, garlic, salt, pepper, parsley and chicken bouillon. Or just brown them in butter or oil with salt and pepper. Or, for fine garden flavor, roast the chicken with thyme or your favorite herb. When the chicken has cooled, chip or chop the bird.

Thursday, July 3, 2014

Summer Berries and a Happy Fourth, y'all!!

Y’all have fun Fourth of July plans I’m sure. Lakes, beaches, poolside barbeques and fireworks will fill our rosters and blow up our social media (@jamestfarmer BTDubs for my Instagram) and I can’t wait to see all those fun pics! I may even sneak a pic of Baby Napp… who am I kidding… I snap pics of that child every chance I can! I LOVE being Uncle Brubbs!!

My sisters, bro-in-law, Baby Napp and I will all be together on the Georgia coast with some friends fishing, enjoying the scenery and eating of course! One thing I’m sure to mix up this weekend is my Summer Berries with Mint Whipped Cream from Dinner on the Grounds.

Elegance and ease go hand-in-hand with this dish, and the splash of mint flavor melds the whole dish together. What is it about fresh summer herbs and produce? Nothing better!!! Plus I love that it can be served in heirloom silver berry bowls with berry spoons or right out of a Mason jar or Solo Cup! And it’s the perfect, refreshing dessert to any meal.

Stir up a bowl of your favorite summer berries, whip up a batch of minted whipped cream and celebrate our freedom! I can hardly think of a better way to celebrate… well maybe with a second serving! Happy Fourth, y’all!

Summer Berries with Mint Whipped Cream
Photography by Emily Followill

I am fascinated by the accouterments that accompany food. Berries in particular have their own spoons and bowls and even boats (as does gravy). Yet, in all the elegance that can be construed from silver service and fine china, there is hardly anything more elegant than the berries and whipped cream themselves, period. I like add a splash of mint extract to the cream for an ever-so-delightful flavor boost. And then I like to garnish with mint.

2 pints fresh berries
2 cups heavy whipping cream
1/2 cup sour cream
Splash of vanilla
2 tablespoons powdered sugar
Pinch of cream of tartar*
1/2 teaspoon mint extract or more
Mint leaves for garnish, optional

Wash and dry the berries; slice the larger ones if you wish. Divide among four individual dishes.
Whip the two creams together with the vanilla, sugar, cream of tartar and mint extract. Dollop whipped cream on the berries and garnish with mint.

*The cream of tartar thickens and also stiffens the creams, and I recommend it only when needing the cream to remain fairly stiff. I actually like the cream to fall and drizzle into the berries
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