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!

Friday, March 20, 2015

FARMER'S DOZEN: Ashley Gilbreath

Akin to a baker's dozen, my Farmer's Dozen is a quantity of a dozen or so questions - a series of questions with fellow designers, authors, tastemakers, friends and Southerners alike. 

Farmer’s Dozen: Ashley Gilbreath

1. What influences from Louisiana have you brought to Alabama? 
Louisiana is chock full of details, color, and character! Once you get a taste of it, you can’t forget it! I will never get tired of the feeling that “home” gives me- I love the energy and character and I love to think that I can channel that feeling into interiors!   Louisiana is full of old plantations, massive shady oak trees, brick courtyards…history, antiques, culture.  Preserving that feeling, that since of history, gives a humbling feeling.  

2. Who inspires you? 
There is no person on earth more fabulous than Bunny Williams! She has such a knack for updated traditional design. Her use of intentional color and texture forces people to pay attention to details- love it! She has killer taste! 

3. Your babies are you and B made over… they’re precious!!! What would be a dream room to design for Cates and Rett? 
My favorite spaces in a home are those where I know a family will be spending time and making memories. For my sweet kiddos, that space is a playroom! I love to see sophisticated and practical play spaces that feel young and fun! I have an addiction to coral right now, so that would be involved for sure! Who says a boy can’t play around pink?! Pink is good for the soul. 

4. What did you call your grandmothers, and do you have any treasured heirlooms from them? 
I called them Grandma and Grandmommy, and yes! I have an antique brass bed in our guest room that belonged to my great grandparents and I can’t imagine ever parting with it!  My Grandfather and my Dad grew up sleeping in that bed, and so did I.  

5. I think a coffee table says a lot about your life and style. What’s on your coffee table right now, and what is your coffee table? 
Currently, my coffee table is an antique Spanish wood table that I picked up in Belgium. I say “currently” because I’m infamous for changing out tables at my house! At the moment, mine has a few cocktail table books, a concrete bowl for the remote control, and a vase filled with blush colored roses! One should always have fresh flowers in their home! 

6. I had a great aunt that said you could tell a lot about a lady by her silver pattern. What’s your pattern? Does it say anything about you? 
Life is funny! When I chose my silver pattern, Joan of Arc, I knew I wanted something timeless and traditional. It’s beautiful… however… over the past couple of years, I have grown fond of mismatched silver! It sounds crazy, but I love the idea that something feels “collected” rather than purchased. This applies not only to silver, but to furniture and artwork as well! 

7. Do you collect anything in particular? If so, how did you start? 
Oh dear, what do I NOT collect?! I have a little love affair with small vases and bottles! They are so charming! I also love to collect artwork. I truly believe that the best way to purchase art is to buy what you like. Some can get so hung up on color and size and exactly where it will go, but my rule is that if I love it, it’s mine! We can find a home for him later! I also have an addiction to buying antique cane chairs… I just can’t say no to them!

8. Favorite thing you ate in Europe on your buying trip? 
The very first day we arrived, Jessica and I walked the streets of Brussels, Belgium and essentially just soaked up the culture. Completely amazing people and a totally different way of life. We found a street-side café and were served the most amazing salad with baked mozzarella along with really good wine. Jessica and I sat at the table for probably three and a half hours! We quickly realized that while the food was amazing, the slow pace and relaxing atmosphere was the best thing we had that night! 

9. What are your favorite scents from the home and garden? 
My husband, Barrett, is an amazing cook and a total foodie, so I love to smell something tasty in the kitchen! When it comes to the garden, I love to smell gardenias and rosemary… plus they look pretty in the house!  I grew up with gardenias outside our back door…they remind me of home.  

10. You’re having a dinner party could invite anyone… Including any character from history, who would be at your dinner party? (Pssst, I am included on the guest list)
Of course you’re included on the guest list! My dad’s mom lived to see Cates born and we had a great relationship- absolutely my angel on earth that I knew prayed for me constantly. My other grandparents lived until I was a very young child, but I never had the opportunity to actually have a relationship with them. My maternal grandmother loved to entertain and both of my grandfathers were farmers, so I have no doubt that they would have some amazing stories to tell! They would absolutely be on my dinner party guest list! 

11. I loved “our house” aka your old house on Felder… you took that house and turned it into something great. What was it that you saw that no one else did and thus made it your own? 
Ah! This house still makes my heart skip a beat! My initial reaction was “this house needs lots of love and a family.” It had so much potential and so much character, but was lacking a family! We lived in this house when Barrett and I lost our infant twins and it was also the house we brought home our precious daughter, Cates. The house has seen heartbreak, overflowing love, and lots of memories and I will forever be grateful! 

12. The smell of lady peas simmering on the stove makes me weak in the knees. Describe your perfect Southern meal… and if you’re frying pully bone, you must invite me over. 
I am a dessert lover to the core! Nothing makes me happier than a really good cheesecake… it just doesn’t get better than that!  And, if I can be picky, it would be my Mom’s cheese cake.  

Follow Ashley on Instagram @parishshoppe and @ashleyfgilbreath

Thursday, March 12, 2015


A few months ago, I saw the writing on the wall… a major writing deadline looming, a travel schedule taking me from ATL to ST Lou to Palm Beach and ere’where in between within a few weeks and, well, February 24… Mama AND Mimi’s birthday. In fact, Mema, my great-grandmother’s birthday was that day too… three generations on the same day. This day is now tough on my sisters and me and we have decided that we need to scoot out of town – together – on that day and go somewhere fun. Somewhere fun, somewhere beautiful and somewhere we could eat at George’s several times… that meant we were off to 30a.

30a and Cashiers are places where I am as happy as I am in Perrydise. There is something soulfully peaceful and homey and comforting about this particular stretch of the Gulf. Mama loved it, Mimi loved the Gulf and so do we three. And how could anyone not? Sugary white sand, water that runs the spectrum from aqua to lapis to turquoise to silver and every shade in between and gorgeous homes too! And the sunsets… need I say more? Plus, we have friends who are so dear there, so we thus have a reason to get out of our pajamas – that we’ve been in ALL DAY –  and get dressed for dinner.

This latest trip was to refuel and rest and even write. I love writing where I am inspired by nature – the beach and the mountains are where I retreat to write and reflect and recharge. I love the pace I set when writing at these places and having something majestic like a red sky sunset over metallic, shimmery waters. Or maybe knowing that I can stretch after writing for hours with sand between my toes and the lulling sound of waves crashing in my ears – I think that sound infiltrates our souls too.

A change of pace and a change of scenery – that is healing for so much that ails me and many of y’all too. Maggie and Meredith and I needed and will always need time together as siblings – time to laugh and cry and eat at George’s every chance we can. Zach and Napp joined us later in the week as did the Gardins – our sibling set of best friends we’ve had literally our whole lives. But something was very special about those few days just the Farmer children together. Mama always told us that we were her heart personified – I think that heartbeat beats truer, more lovingly and stronger when we’re together.

Friday, March 6, 2015

Farmdale's First Party!

Have y’all ever hosted a shower for one of your closest, dearest friends at your house? I’m sure most of y’all have. But, have you ever had to install indoor plumbing and a driveway before the party? Well, it is doable, it will age you, it will question your sanity over and over and it will be the most fun you’ve had in a long time!!!

Farmdale is not finished. Farmdale will not be finished for a while longer. Farmdale though is where I would be hosting a shower for these friends – a proclamation I told my friends Katie and Douglas upon their engagement this summer. I thought I’d be in a Christmas at the latest… ha!!! I wanted to stick to my word and thankfully my fellow hosts pitched in! We had a party – a Perry Party for our sweet friend who’s moving from Houston County to Houston County… that’s pronounced like “House-ton” for us in Georgia and “Hugh-ston” for the Alabama reciprocal.

About a month ago, Katie and our friend Maggie texted me if we would have bathrooms at Farmdale. As a man, I can honestly say the though didn’t cross my mind. As the host to a group of my closest friends – a mixture of my buddies who thought like I did I’m sure, but our group now their pregnant wives, new fiancés, young moms and just lovely ladyfolks in general – I decided that the phrase “y’all just go outside” wouldn’t be very polite. Ha! Somehow though, in the course of that month, my septic system was installed, toilets installed too, a couple sconces hung in the bathrooms and I even hung a mirror over the sink – which had running water mind you!

Lucky for me, our social circle in Perry is a casual, relaxed group. We wore our jeans and boots, built a bonfire, roasted s’mores and dined on Amy’s famous chili – the white chicken and the awesome red one too! I made a big arrangement on top of a table I fashioned from sawhorses and shutters. This centerpiece boasted a couple racks from this year’s deer season, branches from my surrounding woods, pine cones and couple really cool pieces of wood Meredith and Maggie found on their walk. For the entertainment, we resorted to our old high school and college days. Growing up in a small, Southern town, we hung out around bonfires in high school and college. And we are still good at it too! Of course, the fear of being caught with beer has passed since we can buy our own – now we get flattered if we’re carded! S’mores were our dessert and I must admit I had my fair share! Who can resist a charcoal-caramelized marshmallow?

Farmdale Lane was dug out and lain with gravel so folks didn’t have to park in mud – mud that was frozen slush at one point since the well had busted in the cold one night. Miraculously, my front sidewalks got poured even amidst the cold weather which left on the day before and made for the most delightful, comfortable late winter evening in Perrydise. Regardless of moving heaven and earth to get extra lights, more amps for space heaters, sinks installed and the official plumbing to go with them, we were all together. A group of friends who have known one another since childhood, college and now into adulthood. We are tightly knit group who love one another and love to throw parties for one another too! I cherish our times together – times that are even more precious and treasured as our careers blossom, marriages begin, babies are born and even, sadly, move from Houston County to Houston County.

All in all, the party was a hit! I’m just thankful the toilets flushed! Congrats Katie and Douglas!!!

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