THE HAUNTED ROCKY HILL CASTLE & A GIVEAWAY

Pumpkin Pie Spiced Mulled Cider | for the love of the south

It was only a matter of time before I heard the story of the haunted Rocky Hill Castle. The story unfolds at the dinner table, where all the best stories are told. The antique silver candlesticks are laced with wax. The autumn breeze rustles the trees outside the dining room window. The spicy scent of mulled cider fills the air. It is the perfect setting for a ghost story. Now, I’m not one for ghost stories, but this one whet my appetite since it retells of a home that once belonged to my family in Alabama.

In the mid-1820’s, owner James E. Saunders built Rocky Hill Castle, which proudly sprawled across the rich red dirt and majestic cedars of Courtland, Alabama. Saunders was a man pricked with pride, which echoed in the grandeur of his plans for the Rocky Hill mansion. He hired an architect, who beautifully blended Greek Revival and Italian style architecture. Identical Doric front and rear porticos with fluted columns and a crowning cupola adorned the exterior of the castle. An elegant walnut spiral staircase greeted every guest as they entered the front door. Decorative motifs, double parlors, arched windows and Italian marble mantles graced the rooms of the majestic home. The house was glorious, so much so that even the Saunders’ wealth could not afford the cost. As the architect presented the bill, Saunders was astonished by the price. Saunders lost his temper with the architect as they both spat angry insults at one another. The empty-handed architect left Rocky Hill Castle, cursing at its “thieving master.”

Rocky Hill Castle | for the love of the south

Years later, the Saunders family gathered at their long dining room table for dinner when they heard loud noises coming from the cellar, which sounded like someone pounding on the foundation of the house with a hammer. As members of the family rushed to the cellar to investigate, the noises mysteriously subsided. Then, as soon as they made their way upstairs, the noises began again. The cryptic hammering continued as along as the Saunders family lived at Rocky Hill Castle. The family eventually became familiar with the sounds and gently jested of the angry architect’s ghost trying to destroy the mansion he created by striking it off its foundation.

Then, sometime after the Civil War, a more convincing spirit called, “The Lady in Blue,” took up residence at Rocky Hill. She made her first appearance to Mrs. Saunders as the family moved back to the castle. (The family sold and repurchased the property three times.) The excited Mrs. Saunders rushed up the stairs to see her beloved view from her bedroom window, but she was surprised to be greeted by a woman standing on the staircase dressed in a dusty blue gown. Just as Mrs. Saunders went to greet the lady, she vanished. Her family teased Mrs. Saunders whenever she retold of her encounter…that is, until Colonel Saunders was confronted with “The Lady in Blue” as she sat, smiling at him in his wine cellar as he searched for a bottle of blackberry wine. He locked the cellar, never returning to his wine again.

Pumpkins | for the love of the south

The final encounter came as Mrs. Saunders, who was annoyed instead of terrified by these unexplained occurrences, was getting dressed one morning. She impatiently shouted, “If there’s anybody there, speak up or forever hold your peace!” Immediately, she received a reply, “Madam, I’m right here!” Two hours later, the Saunders family moved out of Rocky Hill Castle forever.

The Haunted Rocky Hill Castle: Take a glance at the upper right hand corner...
The Haunted Rocky Hill Castle: Take a glance at the upper right hand corner…

All that’s left is a patch of cedars where the castle once stood, scattered pieces of the mansion that are treasured in family homes, and this ghost story which keeps the spirit of the Rocky Hill Castle alive…

*This story has been retold and passed down from Thirteen Alabama Ghosts & Jeffrey.

P.S. The marble tabletop I use to take so many photos on is originally part of the Rocky Hill Castle! Most of the pieces I use in photographs are steeped in Southern history…

Cotton Field in Alabama | for the love of the south

P.P.S. {Because I love y’all, I am giving away a set of wooden utensils including an ebony spreader, maple scraper, and a set of 4 flat sauté tools in bloodwood, maple and ebony from Early Wood to stir and sauté all of your lovely autumn dishes. To enter the giveaway, leave a comment below letting me know your favorite autumn dish between now and midnight, October 25th. The winner will be chosen randomly and will be contacted via email on October 26th. Limit 1 comment per person, pretty please! Good luck and happy fall, y’all!}

Pumpkin Pie Spice Mulled Cider

Serves 8

Note: This cider has the same blend of spices found in a traditional pumpkin pie!

You can prepare this cider ahead of time and stash it in the fridge after discarding the spices! Once you are ready to serve the cider, just bring it to room temperature and heat through on the stovetop. Also, to make this a boozy treat, just add a shot of your favorite dark liquor to each glass of mulled cider, and crown the cider with a homemade marshmallow

2 liters pure pressed apple juice

1 cinnamon stick

1 vanilla bean, split in half lengthwise

Pinch ground ginger

¼ whole nutmeg, finely grated

6 allspice berries

6 whole cloves

4 tablespoons dark brown sugar

Pour the apple juice into a medium-sized saucepan over medium heat for a few minutes until the juice is warm. Add the cinnamon stick, vanilla bean, ginger, nutmeg, allspice berries, cloves and sugar. Stir until the sugar completely dissolves. The cider should have a lovely, spicy flavor with a balance of sweetness, but it should not overly sweet. Allow the cider to continue to steep and simmer until it reaches your desired spiciness. Take off the heat and strain, discarding the spices. Serve with a homemade marshmallow!

 

 

 

CONSIDER the PEARL

Pearls + Oysters | for the love of the south

My fingers slowly etched the black velvet lining of my grandmother’s jewelry box. Getting dressed for the day was more of an event rather than a duty for my grandmother; every strand of hair flawlessly sprayed into place, lips perfectly tinted like the color of an azalea petal, and the air was filled with a cloud of Estée Lauder perfume. She was not ready until she graced her jewelry box and pulled out a strand of pearls. Each pearl perfectly round, milky, and luminous. I watched as she clasped the two gold ends together with ease and gracefully placed her fingers on the pearls as she looked at herself in the mirror, knowing she was now prepared for whatever the day held. As a young girl (to be honest, quite the tomboy at that age with grass-stained denim shorts and skinned knees), I dreamt of the day I would wear my own strand of pearls.

As I grew up, I realized pearls are a lovely depiction of the South. A pearl begins its life with an irritation, a piece of grit that has made its way inside the oyster. Over the course of many years, that irritation transforms into a seamless, radiant pearl. Imperfect oyster shells are the ideal environment for pearls to form, and without pain or frustration, pearls would not exist. And those who are searching for pearls are the only ones who find them.

Pearls + Oysters | for the love of the south

Just as devoted Catholic women outline rosary beads with religious reverence, we can trace every surface of every pearl on a strand, each one symbolizing an event, something we have overcome. Instead of seeing our pain as something to hide, the years of healing have gently worn down and polished the rough edges of our past, and we wear them around our neck as an encouragement of strength.

Now, I have a strand of my own as I treasure and carry on the tradition, the reminder that our everyday irritations can one day turn into something more beautiful than we could ever image. They retell of the great women who stood before us, striving for goals that they may or may not have met, but one thing I am sure of, they donned their pearls no matter the cost, no matter the prize. They are a symbol of the South, something we earn with time and proudly wear. Many people see them as old-fashioned, but I see them as timeless, as timeless as the women who wear them. As we daily clasp our strands around our necks and close to our hearts, it’s a daily ritual, a promise that we are treasures among the shores. Valued and adored.

Pearls + Oysters | for the love of the south

 

BEIGNETS, I LOVE Y’ALL

Marvelous Grapefruit Beignets | for the love of the south

There is a bridge stretching over Lake Pontchartrain, a very long bridge, which connects Mandeville to Metairie, Louisiana, just outside of New Orleans. We made our way past the gilded Superdome, onto Poydras to Decatur St. The scent of boiled crawfish, brewed Abita beer and fried beignets pierced the air. There is a tangible excitement in the streets, an energy as the city marches to the beat of its own drum, king cakes baking, jazz pouring out of every nook and cranny, rod iron rails decorated with colorful beads. It’s Carnival Time! The occasion calls for a visit to one of my favorite spots in New Orleans, Café du Monde.

The emerald green and white striped awning greeted us, welcoming us to our home away from home with open arms … and café au lait and beignets! We found a spot at one of the speckled, sugar dusted circular tables. Visitors from all over the world came to celebrate the season. Piles of camera bags, men in less than flattering shorts, gluttonous pigeons and hot beignets covered in mounds of powdered sugar filled the open-air café.

Marvelous Grapefruit Beignets | for the love of the south

Immediately, I became captivated by my surroundings and began watching a businessman, most likely a local, talking on his cell phone in the middle of the café.“How in the world is he carrying on a conversation with all of this celebrating going on?” It was in that moment when I heard him say, “Hold on, a pigeon is about to fly on top of this girls head!” Before I could turn around to get my eyes on the ill-fated girl, I felt something brush the top of my head as I bit into my beignet. Exhaling out of pure shock (and unfortunately covering everyone around me in a cloud of powered sugar), the lively café came to a screeching halt as I began waving frantically, attempting to get the pigeon away from me. My effort completely failed as one of its tiny feet got caught in my ponytail. That’s when the real floorshow began. A flurry of feathers, blonde hair, skinny arms and sugar began to brawl right smack dab in the middle of Café du Monde. An uproarious laughter filled the café, the bird finally got its footing and made a quick escape to the rafters. Everyone cheered, plates full of beignets slapped the tables, coffee cups clanked together and everything went back to its harmoniously brassy New Orleans self.

Our waitress placed another plate of hot beignets in front of me with a smirk. I knew she had seen the spectacle, and I also noticed she gave us twice as many beignets as we originally ordered. I think she felt bad for me. I didn’t mind. An extra order of hot beignets at Café du Monde was worth the trauma and disheveled hairdo. I cautiously devoured my glorious “pity” beignets as I kept one eye on the hot fried dough and one on the greedy pigeons above me.

Across the way in Jackson Square, someone began playing “When the Saints Go Marching In” for the tourists. No matter how many times I hear this song being played on the streets of New Orleans, I’m always surprised how it bewitches me. I’ll always have the spirit of Mardi Gras in my pocket, carrying it with me wherever I go and maybe a beignet or two! Laissez les bon temps roulez!

Marvelous Grapefruit Beignets | for the love of the south

Recipe: Marvelous Grapefruit Beignets

Serves 6

Note: These buttery, sugar-covered beignets, are traditionally eaten on Fat Tuesday, Mardi Gras, during Carnival season right before the season of Lent. But honestly, I love to serve them year round to keep the spirit of Mardi Gras alive!

If you don’t have superfine sugar, don’t worry. Just whiz up some granulated sugar in a food processor until superfine! Also, you can also substitute the grapefruit zest for lemon, lime or orange zest.

½ cup (100g) of granulated sugar

Zest of 1 grapefruit

2 cups (240g) all-purpose flour

½ teaspoon of kosher salt

½ teaspoon of baking powder

6 tablespoons of unsalted butter, cut into cubes, room temperature

3 eggs, room temperature

2 tablespoons of vanilla extract

Vegetable oil, for frying

Superfine sugar, for dusting

In a small bowl, combine sugar and zest. Rub the zest into the sugar with your fingertips. Set aside.

In a stand mixer fitted with a batter attachment, combine flour, salt and baking powder with a fork. Create a well in the center and add the rest of the ingredients, including the zest-infused sugar. Mix until the ingredients are combined and begin to form soft dough. Shape the dough into a ball, cover in plastic wrap and refrigerate for 2 hours.

On a generously floured surface, roll the dough out until ¼-inch thick. Cut into 16×2-inch strips. Cut again on a diagonal, creating diamond shaped pieces. The dough is very delicate, so be as gentle as possible!

Over medium heat, pour 2-inches of oil in a large cast-iron skillet. Once the oil reaches 325oF, gently place the diamond-shaped pieces of dough into the oil, allowing them to get beautifully golden on both sides. Drain on paper towels or paper bags and toss in superfine sugar. Devour immediately! If by some miracle there are any leftover, just seal them up in a plastic bag, stash them on the counter, et voilà! Breakfast is served!

 

 

 

 

MELTING SUMMER DAYS

Summer Ice Cream | for the love of the south

Every summer, my family spent a few days at a friend’s vacation house on the Gulf of Mexico. To me, they were the most lavish people we knew. It didn’t matter that there were crab traps and wheel barrels lining the stairway to the house, that the kitchen had outdated, chipped linoleum floors and there was no air conditioning. Honestly, it was one step away from camping, but as a child, I didn’t notice. It was a summer home.

We spent long summer days carefully treading the shallow, murky Gulf floor, making sure we didn’t cut our feet on the backs of rigid oyster shells. We spent hours crouching in the water, grinning from ear to ear as we surfaced beautiful oysters. We tossed them in a galvanized bucket, and once the pail was filled to the brim we brought it over to a picnic table that was perfectly perched at the end on the dock. I watched as one of the older boys took a small, sharp knife and slowly pried the shell open, jiggled the oyster free and handed it to me. The oyster slid to the back of my throat like a sweet yet salty egg yolk.

Backyard Mint Ice Cream | for the love of the south

Roped to the dock were a dozen or so crab traps. We gently lifted the traps and carried any unfortunate captives to the kitchen, being careful not to trip on any flotsam and jetsam on the way up the stairs. The women prepared the seafood and all the trimmings while the men gathered the propane tanks and large silver pots outside. In no time the salty, summer air was bursting with Cajun spices, and we sat down to a great boil.

Dark Cherry + Amaretto Ice Cream | for the love of the south

As the sun began to set, the scent of spices became a faint memory, and we began scooping out servings of thick, creamy, black-speckled homemade vanilla ice cream. We sat on top of the wooden picnic table at the end of the dock, kicking our legs, watching our reflection on the water. I placed my hand on the table, tracing the initials I had carved into the weathered wood, making sure I treasured this moment as my childhood summer days started melting away and fading faster than ice cream in the hand of a child on a hot summer’s day.

Blackberry + Local Honey Ice Cream | for the love of the south

I had such a wonderful time creating One Summer Ice Cream Five Ways for Relish including Vanilla Bean, Backyard Mint, Blackberry + Local Honey, Dark Cherry + Amaretto, Georgia Peach + Basil!  Hope you enjoy!

Recipe: Vanilla Bean Ice Cream

Makes 1 ½ Quarts

2 cups of whole milk

2 cups of granulated sugar

Pinch of kosher salt

1 vanilla bean pod, deseeded

2 cups of heavy whipping cream

In a medium saucepan over medium heat, combine milk and sugar. Stir occasionally until the sugar completely dissolves and tiny bubbles form around the edges of the pan. Take off the heat, and add the salt and vanilla seeds along with the vanilla pod to the milk and sugar mixture. Allow to steep and cool for at least 10 minutes. Whisk in the heavy whipping cream and discard the vanilla bean pod. Cover and place in the fridge for a few hours until completely chilled, at least 2 hours.

Transfer the base to an ice cream machine and freeze according to the manufacturer’s instructions. Transfer to a container and let ice cream set completely for at least 2 more hours.

 

Recipe: Georgia Peach + Basil Ice Cream

Makes 1 ½ Quarts

2 cups of whole milk

2 cups of granulated sugar

Pinch of kosher salt

1 vanilla bean pod, deseeded

2 cups of heavy whipping cream

½ cup peaches, chopped into small cubes

½ cup of hand-torn basil

In a medium saucepan over medium heat, combine milk and sugar. Stir occasionally until the sugar completely dissolves and tiny bubbles form around the edges of the pan. Take off the heat, and add the salt and vanilla seeds along with the vanilla pod to the milk and sugar mixture. Allow to steep and cool for at least 10 minutes. Whisk in the heavy whipping cream and discard the vanilla bean pod. Cover and place in the fridge for a few hours until completely chilled, at least 2 hours.

Using an ice cream maker, add the chilled ice cream base to the machine and freeze according to the manufacturer’s instructions. Once the mixture has thickened, add the chopped peaches and basil. Once the machine has finished, scoop the ice cream into a freezer proof container and freeze for at least 2 hours. Enjoy!

 

Recipe: Blackberry + Local Honey Ice Cream

Makes 1 ½ Quarts

2 cups of whole milk

2 cups of granulated sugar

Pinch of kosher salt

1 vanilla bean pod, deseeded

2 cups of heavy whipping cream

½ cup blackberries, quartered

1 tablespoon of local honey

In a medium saucepan over medium heat, combine milk and sugar. Stir occasionally until the sugar completely dissolves and tiny bubbles form around the edges of the pan. Take off the heat, and add the salt and vanilla seeds along with the vanilla pod to the milk and sugar mixture. Allow to steep and cool for at least 10 minutes. Whisk in the heavy whipping cream and discard the vanilla bean pod. Cover and place in the fridge for a few hours until completely chilled, at least 2 hours.

Using an ice cream maker, add the chilled ice cream base to the machine and freeze according to the manufacturer’s instructions. Once the mixture has thickened, add the blackberries and drizzle in the honey. Once the machine has finished, scoop the ice cream into a freezer proof container and freeze for at least 2 hours. Enjoy!

 

Recipe: Dark Cherry + Amaretto Ice Cream

Makes 1 ½ Quarts

2 cups of whole milk

2 cups of granulated sugar

Pinch of kosher salt

1 vanilla bean pod, deseeded

2 cups of heavy whipping cream

½ cup dark cherries, pitted and quartered

1 teaspoon of amaretto extract

In a medium saucepan over medium heat, combine milk and sugar. Stir occasionally until the sugar completely dissolves and tiny bubbles form around the edges of the pan. Take off the heat, and add the salt and vanilla seeds along with the vanilla pod to the milk and sugar mixture. Allow to steep and cool for at least 10 minutes. Whisk in the heavy whipping cream and discard the vanilla bean pod. Cover and place in the fridge for a few hours until completely chilled, at least 2 hours.

Using an ice cream maker, add the chilled ice cream base to the machine and freeze according to the manufacturer’s instructions. Once the mixture has thickened, add the cherries and amaretto. Once the machine has finished, scoop the ice cream into a freezer proof container and freeze for at least 2 hours. Enjoy!

 

Recipe: Backyard Mint Ice Cream

Makes 1 ½ Quarts

2 cups of whole milk

2 cups of granulated sugar

Pinch of kosher salt

1 vanilla bean pod, deseeded

2 cups of heavy whipping cream

½ cup of hand-torn mint

In a medium saucepan over medium heat, combine milk and sugar. Stir occasionally until the sugar completely dissolves and tiny bubbles form around the edges of the pan. Take off the heat, and add the salt and vanilla seeds along with the vanilla pod to the milk and sugar mixture. Allow to steep and cool for at least 10 minutes. Whisk in the heavy whipping cream and discard the vanilla bean pod. Cover and place in the fridge for a few hours until completely chilled, at least 2 hours.

Using an ice cream maker, add the chilled ice cream base to the machine and freeze according to the manufacturer’s instructions. Once the mixture has thickened, add the fresh mint. Once the machine has finished, scoop the ice cream into a freezer proof container and freeze for at least 2 hours. Enjoy!

 

 

4TH of JULY + SOUTHERN RATATOUILLE

Southern Ratatouille | for the love of the south

There is something so freeing about this time of year. The weight of the world seems to slip off our shoulders and allows us to dive deep into the pleasures of the summer sun. Farmers markets are filled with the most beautiful, vibrant colors. Feasts are prepared ahead of time, allowing us more time to spend out of the kitchen and outside with loved ones.

Summer Produce | for the love of the south

Last week, I was completely captivated by the summer produce at the market. White and purple speckled eggplant, pinky-sized emerald okra pods and intensely dark zucchini caught my eye. Immediately, I knew I wanted to make ratatouille, and not just any ratatouille, Southern Ratatouille. I tossed in okra along with the other lovely summer vegetables, added a lot of red pepper flakes, omitted the Herbs de Provence and finished the dish with a few shakes of Tabasco sauce. The best thing about ratatouille is that it gets better as it sits in the fridge, so it’s the perfect dish to make ahead of time and can be served warm, cold or at room temperature, which made it the most wonderful dish for a picnic I was having the next day.

Summer Produce | for the love of the south

I drove along the long, dusty road to Arrington Vineyards to meet up with a dear friend. We found a quiet, shaded spot at the top of the vineyard and laid out our spread. She prepared a simple mozzarella and tomato salad and a beautiful cherry galette. I whipped out my ratatouille, a freshly baked baguette, fleur de sel oregano butter and fresh lemonade. We chatted all day about the summer, our plans for the 4th of July and mostly just laughed until the sun began to set and we went our separate ways.

Summer Picnic | for the love of the south

On the way home, I began dreaming about my 4th of July menu while still buzzing over our picnic in the vineyards. I decided to make a peach and basil galette, sweetened with raw honey, stone fruit summer sangria, vanilla ice cream served with fresh berries and sea salt caramels.

Peaches + Basil | for the love of the south

The air was unseasonably cool as the sun began to set on the 4th of July. Our linen draped table proudly held our summer creations. Close friends gathered together. Laughter and fireflies filled the air. And, then there were fireworks.

Now, let me explain. About half of the gathering consisted of Australians, and in Australia, it’s illegal to pop fireworks. Therefore, the overall response to the fireworks was unbelievable! I was more entertained by their squeals and wide eyes than the actual explosives. My crème brûlée torch, which I set out for toasting marshmallows, was being slightly abused as it was being used to light the fuse for the fireworks. All of a sudden, one of the rockets fell over and completely bombed us! The children spent the rest of the evening underneath the table in sheer terror and were seemingly forming an evacuation plan in case of an emergency (There may have been a few adults hiding under there as well.)

Summer Stone Fruit Sangria | for the love of the south

Toward the end of the evening, I began pecking away at the drunken fruit in the bottom of my sangria jar as the smoke from the fireworks cleared, I sat back and relaxed as the fireflies flickered away in the distance and the laughter of our group softly bubbled away like a gently simmering pot of blackberry jam. I felt the weight of the world fall off my shoulders in the freedom of the setting summer sun on this wonderful 4th of July.

4th of July Evening | for the love of the south

Recipe: Southern Ratatouille

Inspired by Buvette

Serves 4

Note: This has become my favorite ratatouille recipe because of its simplicity and ease. It’s a wonderful summertime recipe that be served warm, cold or at room temperature. My favorite way to eat ratatouille is on a heavily buttered baguette finished with a sprinkling of fleur de sel.

2 tablespoons of unsalted butter

2 tablespoons of extra virgin olive oil

1 small yellow onion, finely diced

2 small tomatoes, cut into ½ -inch dice

1 red bell pepper, cut into ½ -inch dice

2 garlic cloves, minced

1 medium-sized eggplant, cut into ½ -inch dice

Handful of okra pods, trimmed and cut into small rounds

1 zucchini, trimmed and cut into ½ -inch dice

1 teaspoon of red pepper flakes

3 teaspoons of Tabasco Green Jalapeño Pepper Sauce

Sea salt, to taste

 

Place the butter and olive oil in large, heavy pot over medium heat. Add the onion, tomatoes, bell pepper and garlic, and a pinch of salt. Cook, stirring occasionally until the vegetables soften, about 10 minutes. Add the eggplant and okra rounds and another pinch of salt and cook for another 10 minutes. Lastly, add the zucchini and the red pepper flakes. Stir and cook for a final 15 minutes (35 minutes total), or until all of the vegetables are soft. If the mixture begins to look a little dry, add 1 tablespoon of olive oil. Take off the heat and stir in the Tabasco Green Pepper Sauce and add more salt if needed.

Ratatouille can be made ahead and will last up to a week in the refrigerator.

 

Recipe: Summer Stone Fruit Sangria

Serves 15-20

Combine 3 (750ml) bottles of dry white wine, ½ cup of brandy, 1 pound of sliced peaches and 1 pound of pitted cherries in a large container and chill overnight. Right before serving, add a liter of sparking water to the sangria. Enjoy!

 

 

 

 

SOUTHERN WOMEN

Sweet Tea + Magnolias | for the love of the south

There is something special about Southern women. There are elements engrained in our history, in our ability to be hospitable and in our namesake. We take on the names of the great women that have created a legacy before us, in hopes of leaving our own legacies. There are great expectations on our lives as Southern women. We were taught to sit up straight, to listen more than we speak (which we don’t always succeed at, but we try!), and to attempt to meet difficult times with a sugary disposition. Daring to be sweet in a world hell bent on being difficult. And above all, we were taught to be nothing less than a gracious hostess.

I mastered the art of being a hostess at a young age. I watched my grandmother and mother gracefully greet guests into their homes with open arms, always offering them something to drink as soon as they cross the threshold and answer the door with such enthusiasm the person on the other side heard them coming from a mile away while they shout, “I’m coming! I’m coming! I’m coming!” The gesture was well received with a grin and a hug around the neck.

Magnolias + Pearls | for the love of the south

Now, I greet guests with open arms in my own home. Mimicking the movements I’ve watched over the years. I rush around last minute lighting magnolia scented candles, pulling at my linen apron strings while touching up my lipstick right before company arrives. All the while, attempting to give the illusion that everything looks this way all the time, that I’m not out of breath, and that my company couldn’t hear me running around as they walked up the wooden stairway to my loft!

Magnolias | for the love of the south

Most people remember how you make them feel upon meeting, that is why the heart of a hostess is so important to Southern women. Our goal is to make you feel loved and comforted as you step into our home. We want to make sure there is plenty of food whenever life carries a crisis to your doorstep (and enough casseroles to fill your entire freezer for a year), enough flatware to serve a small infantry, and more than enough pimento cheese and biscuits to slake any Southern appetite.

Magnolias + Pearls | for the love of the south

Southern women are made to withstand heat. We have the tolerance to render bacon fat with a smile in a steamy kitchen in the dead of summer. To be able to serve ice cold sweet tea at a moments notice. We are resourceful in the kitchen when tough times abound. We are resilient women, withstanding all odds, challenges and our past. Southern women are tethered to history and are made stronger because of it.

I’m grateful to be a Southern woman. It has helped shape the very person I have become: God-fearing, proud, strong-willed, polite, caretaker. I am defined by geography, circumstance, and culture, and for that, I am truly grateful. Forever I will be thankful to be a spirited, Southern woman like the great women before me who graced these halls, handled these slicked skillets, wore these pearls and filled these etched glasses with sweet tea. Long live the legacy of the Southern woman.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

WILD ROSEMARY & LEMON CAKE COOKBOOK: FRESH PASTA

Fresh Pasta | for the love of the south

Indigo blue hues deepen as the sun sets on the Amalfi Coast. Salty sea air tousles my blonde locks as I quietly sip on limoncello. Clanging wine glasses and the gentle hum of a distant Vespa become a symphony of sorts. The scent of lemon fills the air. Silky strands of handmade pasta against bursting tomato flesh and fresh basil gives me a certain pleasure. Suddenly, the whistle of my teakettle brings me back to reality. I get up from the couch to make another cup of coffee, all the while dreaming of the wonderful cookbook Wild Rosemary & Lemon Cake by Katie & Giancarlo Caldesi.

Fresh Pasta | for the love of the south

I devour cookbooks as if they were novels with characters to be discovered and cultures to be revealed. Not only am I allowed to engage in the narrative behind the recipe, but I also get to create, consume and share these experiences with others. As I dig deeper into a new cookbook, there are usually those few recipes that stand out in my mind, tugging on my arm like a child begging for attention until I am compelled to hunker down and give them the consideration they deserve. The pasta chapter is what did it for me. I’d been eyeing the silky strands of pasta daily, and I couldn’t take it anymore. I need to make pasta, now.

Fresh Pasta | for the love of the south

As I begin to knead the homemade pasta dough on my cool marble surface, I take time to relax and completely focus on the task at hand (quite literally)! There is something deeply therapeutic about repeating the same motion over and over again and being able to feel the dough come together in your hands. It’s an empowering sensation. Everything else falls away and in that moment, I imagine being on the Amalfi Coast as the scent of fresh pasta fills my quaint loft.

Fresh Pasta | for the love of the south

I believe cooking is one of the greatest ways to feel connected with someone else’s culture. Recipes bring me to every corner of the globe without having to leave home. They allow my kitchen to be an escape; a place of wonder, filled with new experiences, tastes and adventures. One of the greatest joys in life is cracking open a cookbook and becoming lost in the stories behind the recipes, which have a way of focusing on life and celebrating it.

Fresh Pasta | for the love of the south

The pages of Wild Rosemary & Lemon Cake are filled with beautiful photos and recipes from the Amalfi Coast. Below is a lovely recipe for homemade pasta and a few of my favorite quick pasta sauce recipes from this lovely book. Ciao, y’all!

Wild Rosemary & Lemon Cake | for the love of the south

Recipe: Fresh Pasta Dough

From Wild Rosemary & Lemon Cake by Katie & Giancarlo Caldesi

Serves 4 as a main

Note: The rule for fresh pasta is that you use one egg per 100g of flour. I tend to use a few teaspoons of extra-virgin olive oil as well to keep the dough from drying out too quickly.

200g (1 ½ cups) of ‘00’ flour or all-purpose, plus a little extra if necessary

Pinch of kosher salt

2 eggs

1-2 teaspoons of extra-virgin olive oil, if desired

Place the flour and kosher salt in a bowl. Combine with a fork and create a well in the center. Crack the eggs in the well and add the olive oil (if desired). Stir the eggs and oil together with the fork, while gently incorporating the flour as you work your way outwards. Continue mixing until you have incorporated all of the flour and a dough ball begins to form.

Remove the dough from the bowl onto a floured surface and knead the dough by hand. Stretch and roll the dough over itself, adding more flour if the dough begins to stick to the palm of your hands. Enjoy this kneading process because it does take about 10 minutes to come together! A good way to know if the dough is well blended is if the dough is completely one color, not yellow and white. If the dough becomes too dry, add a few drops of water.

Once the dough has come together, wrap it in plastic wrap and allow it to rest for 20-30 minutes on the counter. After it has rested, it will be ready to be rolled out by hand or through a pasta machine.

Quick Pasta Sauce Recipes:

Serves 4

Note: If you are using dried pasta for these quick sauce recipes, being cooking the pasta before making the sauce; if using fresh pasta, make the sauce first. Also, use a large pot of well-salted water to cook the pasta in so that it can move around freely and it won’t stick together.

Lemon Tagliolini:

1 quantity of fresh tagliolini, or dried spaghetti or linguine

1 ¼ cups of heavy whipping cream

Juice of 1 lemon

Salt and freshly ground black pepper

1 ounce of Parmesan cheese, finely grated

In a large frying pan over medium heat, combine the cream, lemon juice, salt and pepper. Cook for about 5 minutes to slightly reduce and thicken. Whether you are using fresh pasta or dried, drain the pasta (see note) and toss it with the sauce and add the Parmesan cheese. Serve the pasta in warmed bowls immediately.

Summer Tomato Sauce:

1 quantity of fresh pasta, or (12 oz.) of dried penne, rigatoni or farfalle

4 tablespoons of extra-virgin olive oil

1 large garlic clove, finely chopped

½ teaspoon of red pepper flakes

200 g of fresh ripe tomatoes, roughly chopped

2 sprigs of basil, divided in half, leaves roughly torn

Kosher salt, for seasoning

1 ounce of Parmesan cheese, finely grated

In a large frying pan over medium heat, heat the oil and fry the garlic and red pepper flakes together for 1-2 minutes. Immediately add the tomatoes, half of the basil and salt. Squash the tomatoes with the back of a spoon. When the pasta is al dente, toss it into the sauce, along with a tablespoon of the pasta water to lengthen the tomato sauce. Stir the pasta into the sauce and allow it to finish cooking (this will allow the pasta to absorb more of the flavor of the sauce.) Add the remaining basil leaves and toss again. Serve in warmed bowls with a sprinkling of Parmesan cheese.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

ODE TO MAS

Chicken + Lime + Cilantro Soup, Elote, Watermelon Agua Fresca | for the love of the south

One of the advantages of moving from place to place is getting to research and experience the best restaurants the South has to offer. Whenever I moved to Nashville, my list quickly took form with numerous local eateries. On the top of the list was Mas Tacos Por Favor, which is nestled in a residential area and honestly does not look like much from the outside. Mas Tacos is in the neighborhood of being a dive and super trendy (only in Nashville can somewhere be considered as both.) But, nonetheless, it stole my heart love at first bite and quickly became one of my favorite spots to eat in town.

Elote | for the love of the south

With cash in hand, I eagerly scan the chalkboard menu to make sure my favorites are available. Fried avocado tacos, watermelon agua fresca, elote and chicken tortilla soup, por favor. As soon as I find my table, my order is up, and there, sitting in front of me is some of the greatest Mexican food I’ve ever encountered. The elote (Mexican street corn) is roasted to perfection and slathered in a thin layer of mayo, kissed with shredded cheese and sprinkled with ground red pepper. The chicken tortilla soup is so bright and acidic it becomes slightly addictive, and you MUST wash everything down with their watermelon agua fresca.

Chicken + Cilantro + Lime Soup Prep | for the love of the south

This is a casual spot to meet up with friends, share stories, laugh, and most of all, enjoy a lovely meal. And you must eat there with a friend who is willing to tell you you have corn in your teeth from the elote because it WILL happen, and it’s completely worth it.

It began as a simple quest to find the best in Nashville, and it transformed into a love story about wanting more out of life, well more tacos to be exact.

Fresh Corn | for the love of the south

I’ve created these recipes completely inspired by my favorite dishes at Mas Tacos so you can recreate them at home just in time for Cinco de Mayo, y’all!

Chicken + Lime + Cilantro Soup, Elote, Watermelon Agua Fresca | for the love of the south

Recipe: Chicken + Lime + Cilantro Soup

Inspired by Mas Tacos Por Favor

Note: To get the most flavor out of the cilantro stalks, gently crack the stalks with the back of a knife before tossing them into the stock. I also use kitchen twine to tie the stalks together, which makes it easier to take them out later. 

1 gallon of water

2 boneless skinless chicken breasts

2-3 tablespoons of Tabasco Chipotle Pepper Sauce

3 red onions, quartered

6 cloves of garlic, smashed

1 carrot, roughly chopped

1 bunch of cilantro, stalks only (reserve the leaves for garnish)

2 Serrano Peppers, halved lengthwise

1 teaspoon of red pepper flakes

Salt and pepper to season

Juice from 3 limes

In a large stockpot on medium-high heat, combine all of the ingredients with the exception of the salt, pepper and lime juice and bring to a boil. Reduce to a medium simmer for 1-1 ½ hours. Take out the chicken breasts and shred with two forks. Strain the broth and return the shredded chicken to the pot. Add salt, pepper and lime juice. Adjust the seasonings to your taste. Garnish with avocado slices, halved grape tomatoes, cilantro leaves, roasted corn, queso fresco, rice, and lime wedges.

Recipe: Elote

Serves 4

4 ears of sweet, white corn, shucked

1-2 tablespoons of mayonnaise

Pinch of cayenne pepper

Kosher salt

Lime wedges

In a dry skillet over medium-high heat, roast corn until charred, turning occasionally, about 10-15 minutes. Brush with mayonnaise and sprinkle with cayenne pepper, kosher salt and lime juice.

Recipe: Watermelon Aqua Fresca

Serves 4

4 cups of cubed, seedless watermelon

Juice of 1-2 limes, depending on taste

In a blender, blend watermelon until smooth. Pass through a sieve and add lime juice to taste. Serve chilled.

THE PRODIGIOUS GRAPEFRUIT

Grapefruit + Raw Cane Sugar + Olive Oil Pound Cake | for the love of the south

While driving down the long, dusty road to Lacassine, Louisiana, cleared sugarcane fields revealed new life from the rich soil and a mellow, sweet fragrance filled the warm air. I imagined the empty field later in the year, taking over the landscape with its towering pampas-like foliage. As I became entranced by the pale jade landscape, we crept closer and closer to my great grandma’s house.

I tiptoed across the tiny, white shells in my great grandmother’s driveway and peaked around the corner of her small, whitewashed house and stepped into the garden. To me, this was an enchanted backyard, filled with life from one end of the tiny lot to the other. Strategically placed rows of perfectly ripe tomatoes and fingerlike okra pods smelled of sweet grass as I walked by. Tiny yet vibrant red and green peppers pirouetted in the breeze, reminding me of flickering Christmas lights. A protective fig tree magically became the perfect umbrella to take refuge under in the midst of afternoon showers, and near the back of the property, there was a gaggle of disgruntled chickens that became ruffled around the feathers if you got too close to their coop.

Grapefruit + Raw Cane Sugar + Olive Oil  Pound Cake | for the love of the south

On this particular trip, I decided to keep my distance from the foul fowls and kept to the side of the house, close to my grandmother. She was reaching over her head, picking what looked like spotted yellow basketballs. Quietly and curiously, I filled as many plastic shopping bags with the enormous unidentified fruit as I could and piled into the backseat of the car. I remember how the combination of the saccharine air from the sugarcane fields and the fresh scent of the mysterious citrus resting on my lap made my mouth water.

Immediately when we got back to the house, my grandma grabbed a large carving knife and split the colossal clandestine citrus in half, revealing blushing pink flesh. My grandma smiled proudly and said in her sweet Cajun accent, “Dat’s a biiggg grapefruit!” My mouth dropped in sheer disbelief, and we both started laughing and began ripping into the slightly sweet and tart flesh.

Grapefruit + Raw Cane Sugar + Olive Oil Pound Cake | for the love of the south

With a mouthful of ruby grapefruit and pink juice dribbling down my chin, I wondered what the secret was to the gigantic, sugary grapefruits that grew in my great grandmother’s backyard. Suddenly, I recalled the soft, spring breeze coming from the sugarcane field across the way and became sweetly satisfied in solving the mystery of the prodigious grapefruits.

Grapefruit + Raw Cane Sugar + Olive Oil  Pound Cake | for the love of the south

Recipe: Grapefruit + Raw Cane Sugar + Olive Oil Pound Cake

Slightly Adapted from Smitten Kitchen

Makes 1 Loaf Cake

Note: If you don’t have plain yogurt or buttermilk in the fridge, have no fear. Just add 2 tablespoons of grapefruit juice to 1/3 cup of milk and let it sit on the counter for 5 minutes to get nice and funky! It works perfectly in a pinch! 

Using the zest and juice from 2 medium-sized grapefruits for this recipe usually makes enough leftover juice for a simple glaze. Just whisk ½ cup of powdered sugar while slowly adding the leftover grapefruit juice until you have a smooth, thick glaze. Pour the glaze over the cooled cake and serve!

1 ½ cups (190g) of all-purpose flour

1 teaspoon of baking powder

¼ teaspoon of baking soda

1 teaspoon of kosher salt

2 tablespoons (30ml) of grapefruit juice, plus 1/3 cup (80ml) for syrup

1/3 cup (80ml) of buttermilk or plain yogurt

2 tablespoons of freshly grated grapefruit zest (from 2 medium-sized grapefruits)

½ cup (100g) of granulated sugar, plus 2 tablespoons for syrup

½ cup (95g) of raw cane sugar

½ cup (120ml) of olive oil (choose a mild olive oil, not extra virgin)

2 eggs, at room temperature

 

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Butter and flour a 9×5” loaf pan.

In a small bowl, whisk together flour, baking powder, baking soda and salt. Set aside.

In a glass-measuring cup, combine 2 tablespoons of grapefruit juice and buttermilk (or yogurt).

In a large mixing bowl, add grapefruit zest, ½ cup of granulated sugar, and raw cane sugar. Rub the zest and sugars together with your fingertips. Whisk in the oil until smooth. Add eggs, one at a time, and whisk until combined. Scrape down the bowl.

Add the flour and buttermilk mixtures to the cake batter, beginning and ending with the flour.

Spread the batter into the prepared pan, smooth the top and tap the pan on the counter a few times, releasing any bubbles in the batter. Bake for 45 minutes to 1 hour, until a cake tester comes out clean.

Meanwhile, combine remaining 2 tablespoons of granulated sugar with 1/3 cup of grapefruit juice in a small saucepan, and cook over low heat until the sugar dissolves. Set aside.

When the cake has finished baking, let it cool for 10 minutes and invert onto a cooling rack with a tray underneath. Poke holes in the cake with a skewer or toothpick and brush the grapefruit syrup over the cake. Allow the cake to cool completely while absorbs the syrup. Serve the cake all by itself or create simple glaze to pour over the top  (see note). Enjoy!

 

 

 

 

 

 

WELCOME HOME DARLIN’

pimento cheese and thyme gougeres

The smell of freshly painted walls and sawdust lingers in the air as I sit in the newly renovated house. For the past few months, I have been living in between two places, my loft in Nashville and my in-laws newly renovated home in North Alabama. The house was Michael’s grandmother, Meme’s, home just one short year ago.

Many moments were spent sitting in the short, beige chair in the den listening to Meme’s laughter. She laughed so hard the entire room had no choice but to be engulfed and embraced by her happiness. There was never a time when I didn’t get lost in her hugs or wasn’t welcomed with a smile that filled her entire face and a greeting that didn’t involve the word darlin’ in it. Everywhere she went seemed to be filled with life. Even as I sit here in this beautifully remodeled den, the echoes of her stories live on in my mind, countless prayers she prayed for the ones she loved, and the moments she spent visiting and giggling with her beloved family.

There is a beautiful foundation in this home. There is groundwork of love that has settled in the floorboards, it echoes in the hall and is audible in the laughter this home will be immersed in for years to come. Life springs from this home, it’s a place of healing, of rest. What a beautiful place for Michael’s parents to start their new season of life. I can see Meme, sitting across the way from me, with that contagious smile saying, “Hey, darlin’.”

Now, as I walk up the stairs from the lower den into the kitchen, I am greeted with a warm smile and a, “Hey, darlin’,” from Michael’s mother. Some things we pass on, whether it be a warm smile that can light up a room, a place to call home or a simple phrase that can make you feel like you’re home even if you are miles away. Welcome home, darlin’.

pimento cheese and thyme gougeres

Recipe: Pimento Cheese & Thyme Gougères

Inspired by Southern Living

Makes 24

Note: This recipe combines ones of my favorite Southern treats and the wonderful, traditional French gougère. This is the kind of food that must be shared with others! It makes for a great hors d’oeuvre, appetizer or a lovely midafternoon snack to be washed down with sweet tea.

The gougère dough can be made 4 hours ahead. Cover and chill until ready to use. Also, you can freeze completely cooked and cooled gougères for up to 1 month. To reheat, place the frozen gougères on a baking sheet, cover loosely with foil and bake at 350 degrees for 10 minutes, until warmed through.

½ cup (1 stick) of unsalted butter, cut into cubes

¾ teaspoon of kosher salt

1 ¼ cups of all-purpose flour

1 (4 ounce) jar of diced pimento, drained

4 eggs

1 ½ cups (6 ounces) of finely shredded sharp cheddar

1 ½ teaspoons of whole grain mustard

½ teaspoon of fresh thyme leaves

½ teaspoon of cracked black pepper

¼ teaspoon of cayenne pepper

1 egg yolk

Preheat oven to 400 degrees

Over medium heat in a medium-sized saucepan, combine butter, salt and 1 cup of water and bring to a boil, stirring constantly for 1 minute. Add flour and beat vigorously with a wooden spoon for another minute until the mixture is smooth and pulls away from the side of the pan, forming a ball.

Reduce the heat to low, stirring constantly for 2 minutes. At this point, the dough will begin to dry out. Remove from heat and let stand 5 minutes.

Meanwhile, finely chop the drained pimentos and drain again on a paper towel.

Add eggs to the slightly cooled dough one at a time, stirring well between each addition. At this point, you will feel as if you completely ruined the dough, but trust me. Just keep stirring. Add pimentos, cheese, mustard, thyme leaves, black pepper and cayenne pepper. Keeping stirring until all of the ingredients are incorporated.

On a baking sheet lined with parchment paper, create 1-inch mounds of dough, 2 inches apart either by piping the dough using a plastic bag or by using a small cookie dough scoop or a tablespoon. Whisk yolk and 1 teaspoon of water together and brush onto gougères.

Bake gougères until puffed and golden, about 20-25 minutes. Allow to cool on the baking sheet for a few minutes. Enjoy!