Two weeks ago we introduced Jones Valley Teaching Farm and the work they are doing with schools and in classrooms across Birmingham. With programs like Good School Food, Farm Lab, and Seed to Plate, they are providing food-based, hands-on, experimental education and design-thinking strategies for students in Pre-K to 12th grades. Their practices are sustainable (in more than one way), thoughtful, and all-around good.
While the organization began in 2001, many of its programs, like Farm Lab, are new and have seen (planned) growth in the past few years. To cover expenses that come with the design, building, and staffing of such programs, Jones Valley is working to diversify their fundraising efforts.
One of their most successful fundraisers is the annual Twilight Supper, held each fall at the farm. The weekend of May 16th, they are introducing Gather Dinners – a series of events held across the city of Birmingham and the state of Alabama – as a spring counterpart to the fall event.
I first heard of Jones Valley Teaching Farm around 2003. The farm was still a small plot of land located close to The Garage, in Birmingham, Alabama. I drove down one cold winter day to have lunch with (then director) Edwin Marty. There was one hoop house, and running water, and not much else—yet. It was ambitious, and it felt like the beginning of something special.
Later, I heard much more from Jim ‘N Nick’s Bar-B-Q co-founder Nick Pihakis and chef Drew Robinson. Those two so fully believe in the farm’s mission and methods that they back up their beliefs with fundraisers and hands-on support. I am also convinced that the organization can make real difference in the community.
Since my first visit in 2003, Jones Valley Teaching Farm has grown and moved to downtown Birmingham. Since 2007, the organization has expanded their farm and their scope with a focus on educating students, visitors, and community gardeners on how to grow real, healthy food. Today, the farm is a hub of downtown green. The farmers on site use both established sustainable and experimental practices, with the goal of developing a flourishing ecosystem in the heart of a bustling city. They currently grow over 200 varieties of fruits, vegetables, and flowers and offer their produce for sale on-site and at local farmers’ markets—generating over $45,000 in sales in 2014 alone.
Sometimes when you meet a kindred spirit, you feel that connection immediately. It’s safe to say that I felt that bond when I first met Angie Mosier a dozen (or so) years ago. She laughs in a way that draws you in immediately—you just have to know what she’s laughing at. She also throws a mean party and anyone who has ever been in attendance knows what a real good time looks (and sounds and tastes) like. She is Southern in so many ways—she can cook, bake, and mix cocktails; she can spin an engaging tale; she has an almost encyclopedic knowledge of the history of Southern food, but she is no wilting flower.
I was lucky enough to collaborate with Angie on the second book in the Alabama Studio Series, Alabama Studio Style. She leant recipes, guidance, food styling efforts, and all-around support. It’s not an exaggeration to say that I couldn’t have written that book without her. Angie is a talented writer, photographer, stylist, and cook in her own right. She documents food, but also the people behind the food—the ones who keep our Southern food traditions alive.
…the role of the architect, or the designer, is that of a very good, thoughtful host, all of whose energy goes into trying to anticipate the needs of his guests—those who enter the building and use the objects in it. – Charles Eames
Our favorite Eames quote above is now on our café tables, the production cutting room, and displayed front and center on our design room inspiration board. I looked at the pages above and tried to imagine what Charles and Ray would have served in their gorgeous mid-century kitchen. The kitchens of my 1960s childhood were inspired (through trickle-down design) by Charles and Ray Eames—who sought specifically to target the needs of the average American family.
And the American family was changing from the mid-1950s through the 1960s and 1970s. Where cookbooks in the 1950s advised women to have dinner ready for their husbands when they got home from work, moving into the 1960s they began to offer recipes for busy moms. You could now make dinner by opening cans and boxes of prepared foods. That meant a lot of casseroles and inventing creative ways to use canned foods like soup, tuna, and even SPAM. The food fads of the day leant a sense of the exotic and the exciting to the dining room. Fondue, Chinese woks, Julia Child’s advocacy of French cooking, and…all Jell-O everything—brought about food inventions the likes of which had never been seen.
For those who want to relive the good old days of Chicken a la King, ambrosia or gelatin salads, meatballs with grape jelly, onion soup dip, cheese balls, or Baked Alaska, we recommend visiting Mid-Century Menu or, my personal favorite, White Trash Cooking—for a treasure of Jell-O based recipes.
For everything else, we defer to the queen of the Mid-century kitchen: Miss Julia Child.
Learn more about the Eames, Mid-Century design, and the love the kitchen, purchase Eames: Beautiful Details, pictured above and now available from our online store. (Natalie’s personal copy shown here photographed by Abraham Rowe)
The process of canning and preserving is just one of the “living arts” that we are thrilled to see making a comeback. This year at The Factory Café, we have set ourselves the goal to “put-up” as much of the bounty of summer as we possibly can. (Not to mention my plans for my own backyard.) Our kitchen staff is constantly searching for ways to further source organic and local ingredients. Part of that solution means growing herbs, tomatoes, and other vegetables on-site; canning as much locally grown produce is another.
Last summer we made my Gram Perkins’ recipe for 14-Day Pickles for our café Egg Salad and, unfortunately, ran out of pickles by November. This coming summer we plan to, well, make better plans.
We are starting with the canning calendar below to save our harvest at its peak and preserve only the freshest garden fare. (Please note, the calendar below is tailored for the Southeastern U.S., but you can look for more specific information on your region or zone on The Old Farmer’s Almanac website.)
We have organized two special events on back-to-back Sundays. Mother’s Day Sunday Brunch, on May 10th, features the best-of-the-best of our café brunch with the addition of some very special treats for mom. Reserve a spot for our seatings at 10:00am – 11:30am or 12:00pm – 2:00pm or get more details below.
Both of these inaugural events call for preregistration. All of this talk about Brunch made us start wondering how this meal came about. Read on to discover (what we believe to be) the origin of this most delicious meal:
Brunch has become such a widely adopted part of the American culinary experience and like so many food traditions, its existence cannot be nailed down to one exact moment. There was no year B.B. (before brunch) and no A.B. (after brunch) but food historians and brunch experts believe that the meal originated in Great Britain’s hunting culture. Large, multi-course breakfasts were prepared for sizeable hunting parties and included pork, eggs, fruit, pastries, and other hearty foods. However, it is possible to pin down the origin of the word “brunch”, which is obviously a combination of the words “breakfast” and “lunch.” It was first printed in an 1895 Hunter’s Weekly article by Guy Beringer titled, “Brunch: A Plea.” In the article, Beringer argued against heavy, post-church Sunday meals, in favor of a lighter meal during the late morning hours—one that encouraged a cocktail or two. ”Brunch is cheerful, sociable and inciting,” Beringer wrote. ”It is talk-compelling. It puts you in a good temper, it makes you satisfied with yourself and your fellow beings, it sweeps away the worries and cobwebs of the week.”
For this month’s cocktail selection, contributor Jesse Goldstein focuses on something that most Southerners hold dear: a glass of tea. Here he provides us with both hot and cold options that are delicious and simple to prepare—for one or for a whole group.
When most think of tea and cocktails, the first thing that comes to mind is a good hot toddy. There’s nothing wrong with a classic, but if that’s the extent of your use of tea in cocktails, you’re missing out on a beautiful spectrum of flavors just waiting to be incorporated into all types of boozy beverages.
For me, a great cocktail must have balance. This most commonly comes in the form of balancing boozy sharpness with sugar and citrus, but even that can still fall flat on the palate. Think of a well-balanced cocktail like your favorite meal in a restaurant. The spices and seasonings enhance the main ingredients that make that dish so memorable. When it comes to cocktails, freshly brewed black, green, and herbal teas can impart bright herbal notes and bitter tannins that supplement just a few simple ingredients and compliment many spirits.
If you’ve read the previous blog post, Reclaiming Church Punch, you know that teas have a place in cocktail history. Much like the punches of yesteryear, these new tea cocktails can also be made in large batches for entertaining—or just a lazy weekend afternoon on the porch with friends. Just be sure to always start with fresh, high-quality teas and chill them prior to making iced cocktails.
Last year, we launched our Friends of the Café Dinner and Factory Chef Series, which was quickly established as part of our Makeshift initiative. As with most things here at Alabama Chanin, the idea evolved over time from an interesting idea into something bigger. In 2015, we are continuing to host Friends of the Café dinners, combined with a corresponding workshop series—a branch of The School of Making. The series will combine our celebration of slow, sustainable, and inventive food with our ongoing conversations on craft, design, food, making, and community.
The initial idea for this series was simple—each month, The Factory Café would feature seasonal dishes inspired by regional chefs (or restaurants) that shared our values of celebrating place, artisanal craftsmanship, and good food.
At almost any workplace, you can hear employees talk about their co-workers with a closeness and familiarity; after years of working alongside one another, your officemates can (in some cases) begin to feel like family. In the past, that has actually been the case here at Alabama Chanin. Studio and dye house directress Diane Hall has worked alongside her daughter—who has also been one of our artisan stitchers. Some of our other artisans have been sisters, mothers and daughters, aunts and nieces, cousins, and almost any other combination of relations. And all these years, it never occurred to me that I would have the opportunity to work with my son, Zachariah, known by everyone here as “Zach.”
The company that has become Alabama Chanin started in New York City, first in Brooklyn Heights and then at the Hotel Chelsea on 23rd street, in a borrowed apartment that was my first hand-sewing studio. The apartment was three rooms and a tiny kitchen. The front room, looking out over 23rd street, housed my bed, ironing board, and sewing center; the middle room was Zach’s. In those early days, he was enlisted to carry wet fabrics to the laundromat around the corner, keep me company on jaunts to the 26th Street Flea Market, and generally assist where needed.
I guess I should have known that he would eventually come to assist me in my design efforts. In fact, at my graduation from the School of Design at North Carolina State University, they asked Zach to stand, as he had completed most of my college education with me. He stood to a round of applause as the youngest “designer” to graduate from the program. (He is blushing as I write this…)
Being intimate with the obstacles of implementing Slow Design, we are inspired by how the Slow Food movement has successfully encouraged us to pay attention to the food we eat, where it comes from, and how it is produced. And, it’s beautiful—and even more inspiring—how the conversation has quickly moved beyond the concepts of sustainable farming and organic produce to sustainable livestock farming and animal husbandry. Will Harris of White Oak Pastures has been a leader in the crusade to raise livestock using traditional, multi-species grazing rotation, with no hormones and antibiotics since the mid-1990s.
It’s been said that it is not necessary to be a “pig” in order to raise one. These days, our friends at the Fatback Pig Project are proving just that by producing sustainable pork right here in the state of Alabama. This initiative, initially formed as a collaboration among Jim ‘N Nick’s Bar-B-Q co-founder Nick Pihakis, chef Donald Link, John Michael Bodnar, and Mike Bodnar, is working to create a network of Fatback Farms—farms that produce heritage breeds of pigs.