This summer’s harvest has begun to reveal its bounty. Tomatoes and cucumbers are in full-swing and soon I will have all of the squash and zucchini I can stand (and plenty for the neighbors) not to mention, beautiful Italian basil, which I love with a tomato sandwich. I recently received this book, Vintage Craft Workshop, from friend and author Cathy Callahan. The macramé planter project immediately caught my eye and got me thinking about the possibility of year-round fresh basil and mint.
In my mind, I am planning several hanging pots that will live just inside a large window, where they will get lots of sun. The first thing that comes to mind when I think of hanging pots are the macramé plant holders in my home in the 1970’s and early 1980’s. They ran along the kitchen wall in varying heights, usually filled with ferns and the random “Spider Plant” (Chlorophytum comosum). Here, we attempted our own Alabama Chanin version, to test out the sizes we could make, the height, and how they would look made with our cotton jersey pulls. No surprise – they look exactly as I remember them.
In anticipation of tomorrow evening’s opening exhibit of our BBQ’ed Dresses Collection at Warehouse Row in Chattanooga, Tennessee, we mixed up a celebratory cocktail. Our friend Brooks Reitz of the Jack Rudy Cocktail Co. sent us a few more bottles of his Small Batch Tonic for the event, and the Chattanooga Whiskey Co. is providing the booze, so we mixed the two together, plus a touch of lemonade for sweetness, and found ourselves in a dreamy barbeque state of mind.
Next week, as part of the Crafted by Southern Hands event and workshop, our Barbeque-inspired Collection will be on display at Warehouse Row, a historic, old stone fort turned community retail center in downtown Chattanooga, Tennessee. The couture dresses were originally a part of the 15th Annual Southern Foodways Alliance Symposium’s Punch, Pictures, and ‘Cue Couture, and were smoked in collaboration with Drew Robinson of Jim ‘N Nick’s Bar-B-Q, Birmingham, Alabama.
Since the SFA Symposium last fall, the dresses have been at our home studio in Florence, waiting for the perfect place to display again. They still have as rich a hickory smell as the day they were smoked.
Expect award-winning barbeque from Jim ‘N Nick’s, cocktails and beer, and live music to celebrate the evening. Make sure to bring an appetite.
I’ve been thinking about painting my back porch and deck white since it was built last summer. After all, we spend about fifty percent of our time out there. I’ve long disliked the toxicity of commercial paints on the market. Most common indoor and outdoor household paints contain volatile organic compounds (VOCs). VOCs contain a variety of chemicals, some of which give off noxious fumes and may have short term or long term adverse health effects. According to the EPA, levels of some VOCs are 2 to 5 times higher inside a home than outside; when you are painting or stripping paint in your home, particularly in older homes where lead paint may have been used in the past, indoor levels of VOCs may be 1000 times that of outdoor levels. I’ve used VOC-free paints for all of my indoor and outdoor painting since they came on the market some years back.
In thinking about my outdoor living area, I wanted to investigate additional ways to paint more safely, and came across two options that I could possibly make myself: whitewash and milk paint. Whitewashing, which many of us remember from Tom Sawyer whitewashing the fence in The Adventures of Tom Sawyer, was commonly used for years because it is inexpensive, can be homemade, and homeowners could use ingredients they had on-hand, improvising their own recipes. It is still used in rural areas to protect wooden surfaces like fences and barns, or by designers who want to give furniture a rustic look. The mixture’s base is always lime and water, which makes a chalky type of plaster. Then, ingredients might be added to thicken or strengthen the mixture, like flour, glue, sugar, soap, soil, or milk.
Every 4th of July, my neighborhood throws a parade in honor of Independence Day. Everyone dresses in celebratory costume – dogs, children, adults, bicycles, scooters, and an occasional fire engine sport some U.S.A. flair. It’s come to be one of my favorite days of the year. We begin on a shady street and promenade in a 6 block radius, to end up back where we started for red, white, and blue ice cream; cookies; cupcakes; and an assortment of beverages.
All of this is followed by the Annual Kids vs. Adults baseball game on a lot built and maintained by the neighborhood children behind the houses of some very community minded neighbors. Then, we share a beautiful pot luck lunch and a pool party. We end the day back at the baseball diamond with blankets, mosquitos, and fireworks, as always, provided by Florence based TNT Fireworks. In my mind, it’s community—and the celebration of a nation— like it’s supposed to be.
It is a goal of mine to have as many sit-down dinners with Maggie – and our guests – as I can each week. My summer garden continues to grow and I am so anxious for those first tomatoes (my favorite part of summer). You hear talk on all fronts about managing time, finding the right balance of work and family, healthy lifestyles, and “doing it all”. Keeping Maggie, and all of those other things in mind, you can imagine that I was intrigued by a cookbook called, One Pan, Two Plates.
Carla Snyder’s recipes really do make just enough for two adults. If we’re facing one of Maggie’s pickier days, there might even be enough for a small lunch for me the next day. There is little waste, if you follow the recipes as written. Plus, I have found, with prep time included, you can be sitting down at the dinner table well within an hour. That works well at our house, where homework, play time, and bed time all have to be considered in the evening’s plans. There are options on how to enhance each dish for the “extra-hungry” and Snyder has added wine pairings for each meal as well.
A couple months ago, we launched a line of cocktail napkins made with our 100% organic cotton jersey and printed with the Alabama Chanin logo. We also shared a new favorite cocktail: our version of a Maiden’s Blush. Friend Brooks Reitz of the Jack Rudy Cocktail Co. sent us some of his small batch grenadine, which set off a quiet frenzy of cocktail experiments and creations around the studio. We work hard, and we like our rewards.
Our latest grenadine-inspired libation is the Alabama Sour (with a Sunrise flare). It’s a twist on the classic New York Sour Bon Appetít shared in April 2013. The classic recipe calls for an ounce of red wine floated atop the whiskey sour. We opted for Brooks’ sweet, yet tart, pomegranate-based grenadine instead of wine. Grenadine is denser than whiskey, causing it to settle on the bottom of the glass, hence the vibrant red, sunrise effect. Over ice, it’s a perfect early-summer evening quaff. We love it.
I’ve been a member of the Southern Foodways Alliance for years. I plan to be at the 16th Annual Symposium this coming October, if I can get a ticket soon enough (last year’s event sold out in minutes). The Symposium (as it’s loosely called) is wonderful simply in the fact that you spend the series of days learning, dining, and drinking among such an amazing group of individuals working to preserve the South’s culture and history through food. Last year, Alabama Chanin designed BBQ-inspired dresses for the 15th annual Symposium. This year, we have new plans in the works. As I’ve written over and over again, what I love most about the SFA is their commitment to documentation and preservation of the present, the who’s who, if you will, in Southern kitchens (across the nation) today.
In the February 2013 issue of Southern Living, an article featured a handful of chefs from Louisiana, Kentucky, Tennessee, South Carolina, North Carolina, and of course, Alabama, who are preserving southern cuisine in new and reimagined ways that reflect the changing landscape and demographics of the contemporary South.
Popular culture, social media, and our peers are all embracing a trend in home gardening across the country (though few of these gardens are as radical as Ron Finley’s median-turned-vegetable-garden project in Los Angeles). A guest for dinner last night mentioned that “even Oprah is on trend now,” having planted her own garden. Here in North Alabama, the home garden is hardly a trend. Most people grow at least a couple of tomato and pepper plants every summer. And if you take a drive down one of our many county roads, you’re likely to see large swaths of lawn devoted to food, with neat rows of summer vegetables stretching over red blankets of Alabama clay.
I’ve had a garden since I moved into my house in 2006. Putting it in might take only a weekend, but the cultivation takes years. However, it’s the week-to-week management that becomes difficult. When temperatures reach 98 degrees in the shade (and stays there for days on end) keeping up with the insects, weeds, the harvest, and watering becomes quite the challenge. Making time becomes stealing time. This is why my generous fall garden was still in the ground in late May, every kale or broccoli plant flowered and well on its way to seed.
Cows were born to roam and graze. Hogs were born to root and wallow. Chickens were born to scratch and peck. According to Will Harris and White Oak Pastures, these are the natural behaviors of animals, making them commonsense tenets of how to raise healthy livestock. “Nature abhors a monoculture,” is one of Will’s favorite sayings.
Five generations of Harrises have farmed a tract of land in Georgia that now raises livestock using traditional, multi-species grazing rotation, no hormones and no antibiotics. But, business was not always done this way. Post WWII, the Harris family farm moved away from the traditional ways of doing things and began raising livestock using more chemicals and fertilizers and blending into the industrialized complex of food production. In the mid-90’s, Will Harris, the current head of White Oak Pastures, made what some called a foolish decision to bring the family farm full circle: moving back to the traditional ways of natural grazing, healthy animals, and respectful butchering.