Serenbe Style and Soul

with Marie Nygren



August 2016

State of the Art: An Anniversary Present 16 years in the Making Becomes Serenbe’s Newest Sculpture

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IMG_3013abIn the months following Serenbe’s first charette back in 2000, sculptor Marty Dawes of Cherrylion Sculpture Studios brought back a maquette, or small-scale model of an unfinished sculpture. It showed a man and woman dancing — each had one leg kicked out behind them and the other legs combined into one on the ground.

Steve and I were completely taken with it because Marty had honed in on the essence of Serenbe and how it’s a dance between masculine and feminine energies. And there it was in 3D form. We knew that one day we’d have him create it for Serenbe.


IMG_2997aLast April, a full 15 years later, Steve mentioned he wanted to stop by Marty’s studio before our dinner at Bacchanalia to celebrate our 32nd wedding anniversary. When we walked in, there was a bigger maquette of the original sculpture — about three feet tall and on a stand. “Happy anniversary,” Steve said.

The sculpture, named The Dance, arrived and was installed one year later, just in time for our 33rd anniversary. The day coincided with the Serenbe Playhouse gala, so we asked all the kids to be at our house beforehand. We toasted our anniversary with Champagne and walked deep into the wildflower meadow to see the statue as a family. I asked everyone to save the last sip of Champagne and we all poured it around the statue to christen it.

In creating the piece, Marty, who was just commissioned to do the new MLK statue at the state capitol, was also inspired by Kahlil Gibran’s passage on marriage in his book, The Prophet:

Love one another, but make not a bond of love: 

Let it rather be a moving sea between the shores of your souls. 

Fill each other’s cup but drink not from one cup. 

Give one another of your bread but eat not from the same loaf. 

Sing and dance together and be joyous, but let each one of you be alone, 

Even as the strings of a lute are alone though they quiver with the same music.  

Give your hearts, but not into each other’s keeping. 

For only the hand of Life can contain your hearts. 

And stand together yet not too near together: 

For the pillars of the temple stand apart, 

And the oak tree and the cypress grow not in each other’s shadow. 

What I love most about the sculpture, besides its rotating base that makes it look like it’s dancing, is that it’s textured, like Marty put the clay on piece by piece. It’s not smooth. It’s all the cracks and crevices that we bring to our relationships and make us human.



August 2016

Egging Them On: Making Frittatas and Friends at Cooking Camp

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frittataIf you peeked into my kitchen during the kids cooking camps I held this summer, you would’ve seen 10 kids, 20 adoring eyes watching me and 10 little mouths responding, “Yes, Miss Marie” to my questions.

Well, most of them, anyway. On Tuesday, when we made salad and vinaigrette from scratch, I asked if everyone had tasted romaine lettuce. One hadn’t, which just blew my mind. This leads me to rule No. 1 of Ms. Marie’s cooking camp:

You have to at least taste it. The kids garden in the morning, either at the farm or Inn garden, then bring me what they’ve harvested. While we wash and chop — knife safety is part of the instruction — we talk about what I call the vital necessity of fresh. Why buy salad dressing when you can make your own?

It’s fun to watch them taste different lettuces and vinegars and learn the difference between oils. Most of them have never had kohlrabi, which I can understand, but they have to taste every ingredient before they pass judgment. I assure them I’m not going to give them cow brain.

kids cooking fritatta

Mothers ask me, “How did you get him to taste kale? He won’t try it with me.” I say, “Because I told him to. It’s not a negotiation.”

Just like the past two years I’ve hosted this camp, we do a set menu. Monday was pasta, Tuesday was salad and Thursday was blueberry cobbler. Everything is super simple and can be easily replicated at home.

On Thursday I did a frittata, which is a baked egg pie with no crust. In Spain, they use it for tapas and it can be served at room temperature. It’s one of my mainstays for a brunch or lunch buffet party. With a well-oiled cast-iron skillet, some eggs, meats, vegetables and cheeses, a child can make it and feel like they’ve made dinner.


This is my favorite frittata recipe. The beauty of a frittata is that you can do any ingredients you so desire as the kids did for camp. We had 10 different combinations!

  • 1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
  • 1/2 cup minced onions
  • 1 tablespoon minced garlic
  • 2 cups chopped kale leaves
  • 1/2 cup crumbled goat cheese
  • 1 teaspoon Tabasco
  • 8 large eggs
  • Kosher salt

Preheat oven to 375.

In a 10 inch cast iron skillet, heat oil over medium heat. Stir in onions to coat and turn heat to low. Cook for 30 minutes until golden.

Meanwhile, crack eggs into large bowl and whisk. Add desired amount of salt and Tabasco.

Add garlic to onions. Cook one minute. Then add kale, turn up heat and sauté until bright green and tender.

Add eggs and cheese. Stir to combine.

Place in oven and cook 20-25 minutes until puffed and golden.



August 2016

In Their Nature: Spoken Word Poets Share Their Gifts with Serenbe

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photo from AIR Serenbe,

A few weeks ago, Steve and I attended “An Evening with Sarah Kay and Mahogany L. Brown,” a spoken word performance at The Inn at Serenbe Pavilion.

Sarah is a bestselling author, TED speaker, the founder of Project VOICE and a three-time alumnus of Serenbe’s Artist in Residence program.

California born and Brooklyn-based, Mahogany is a writer, educator, activist and the recipient of the SWACC! Focus Fellowship. This was her first experience living and working in the country.

The enormous caliber and quality of their talent aside, the performance was nothing short of incredible. And it was one of those moments where Steve and I turned to each other and said: Can you believe this is happening in our woods? 

I adore poetry and it means so much to me that, through the AIR Serenbe program, we can give artists like Sarah and Mahogany a place of respite where they can really go deep and work on their words. Then they take their work back out into the world where it can soothe, excite or enlighten audiences.


Everyone who comes here becomes a spokesperson for what time and nature can do for your soul … and your soul’s work.

Here’s Mahogany in her own words:



July 2016

AA Meeting: Losing A Cat and Gaining A Grandson

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It all started with Felix.

Six years ago, when Kara and Garnie lived together, they adopted a beautiful flat-faced Persian cat that had been abandoned in a mobile home park in South Georgia.

They named him Felix but called him Monkey Man. He was the coolest cat ever.

On June 26th, Felix had a heart attack and died. One minute he was walking around and the next he was gone. Garnie texted the family and we headed to her place. When we get news like that, we all just show up.

We gathered and said goodbye to Felix, then went our separate ways. Kara’s mother-in-law Kristen was in town for the impending birth and she and I set off on a walk through Mado, Serenbe’s newest hamlet-to-be, with Steve and four other people. As we walked through the woods, we got a call from Kara, saying, “I think my water has broken.”

Low and behold, it had. And this is normally where the story would include a mad dash to the hospital, but Kara was having none of it. She was two weeks shy of her due date, in the process of turning Camp Serenbe over to her assistant, and could not be convinced to shut down her laptop. Micah said, “We need to go to the hospital,” to which Kara replied, “No, I’m not ready.”

Typical Kara: She has things to do.

So Kristen and I retired to our respective places to await the call that Kara has gotten everything done and was en route to the hospital. In the meantime, I packed a bag of food: cheese, prosciutto, watermelon, blueberries, chocolate and a couple of sandwiches.

Typical Marie: Wherever we’re going, let’s be well-fed.

We got the call and headed out, desperately trying to keep up with Micah, who was speeding because the contractions had started. They got there, checked in and we were right behind them.

The wait began.

Steve and I were in the room with Kristen, who’s a certified midwife, but we could only talk to Micah per Kara’s instructions. Watching the two of them together — and seeing Micah tend to her — was nothing short of exquisite.

Garnie and Quinn arrived, planning to stay only an hour. Kara was in active labor – Kristen and I knew what she was going through, but unless you’ve done natural childbirth, there’s no way you can describe the pain. Though she’d never been to a birth before, Garnie walked in, assessed the situation, walked over to Kara and essentially became her doula.

Typical Garnie: The CEO of everything. Lead the charge; deal with the situation.

When Kara and Garnie were in high school, they were on the cross country team together. Garnie brought that training into the labor room and it clicked. “See the top of that hill? That’s where we’re going. Just focus on that hill,” she said and totally got in synch with Kara.

After 10 hours of active labor, Amos Nygren Adler, all 6 pounds, 6 ounces of him, arrived at 2:54 a.m. on June 27th.

amos collage



July 2016

Get Canned: Linton Hopkins Fires Up His Best Bolognese

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In all my years of cooking, it never occurred to me that there was a difference between pomodoro sauce and marinara. Then Linton Hopkins appeared for the Southern Chefs Series with his canned tomatoes and chittara cutter and taught me a thing or two.

Pomodoro is made with fresh tomatoes. Marinara is made from canned. And not just any canned, but D.O.P. certified, or Denominazione d’Origine Protetta, which means they’re strictly regulated according to things like the strain of San Marzano tomato, how they’re grown, where in Italy they’re grown and how they’re harvested (by hand, of course).

Full of knowledge from his trip to Italy last summer, Linton made both a Bolognese and a marinara. He did the Bolognese first because — and he was very adamant about this — a true Bolognese has to cook for three hours.

He was also adamant about the size of the onion, celery and carrot we chopped to sauté in olive oil and butter before adding the ground beef. They had to be tiny so they could “melt into the sauce.”

Fun fact: At Restaurant Eugene, Linton only allows chefs to have two knives at their station: a 10-inch and a paring knife. If they can’t do it with those two, he says they don’t need to be in his kitchen.

I had one Dutch oven in the house, so Linton said, “Go find a romantic pot, Marie.” I was like, what? But I went to a neighbor’s house, asked for a romantic pot and came back with a lovely enamel pot. Crazy to think it makes the sauce taste better, but it just might.

Though we made it on Sunday, we ate the Bolognese on Monday with gnocchi. Linton used Marcella Hazan’s recipe — a truly authentic Bolognese with no flash or pizzazz.

And it makes a damn good sauce.

Marcella Hazan’s Bolognese

  • For 6 servings, or 2 ¼ to 2 ½ cups
  • 2 tablespoons chopped yellow onion
  • 3 tablespoons olive oil
  • 3 tablespoons butter
  • 2 tablespoons chopped celery
  • 2 tablespoons chopped carrot
  • ¾ pound ground lean beef, preferably chuck or the meat from the neck
  • Salt
  • 1 cup dry white wine
  • ½ cup milk
  • 1/8 teaspoon nutmeg
  • 2 cups canned Italian tomatoes, roughly chopped, with their juice

1. In an earthenware pot or deep, heavy, enameled cast-iron casserole, add the chopped onion with all the oil and butter and sauté briefly over medium heat until just translucent. Add the celery and carrot and cook gently for 2 minutes.

2. Add the ground beef, crumbling it in the pot with a fork. Add 1 teaspoon salt, stir and cook only until the meat has lost its raw, red color. Add the wine, turn the heat up to medium high and cook, stirring occasionally, until all the wine has evaporated.

3. Turn the heat down to medium, add the milk and nutmeg, and cook until the milk has evaporated. Stir frequently.

4. When the milk has evaporated, add the tomatoes and stir thoroughly. When the tomatoes have started to bubble, turn the heat down until the sauce cooks at the laziest simmer, just an occasional bubble. Cook, uncovered, for a minimum of 3 ½ to 4 hours, stirring occasionally. Taste and correct for salt. If you cannot watch the sauce for such a long stretch, you can turn off the heat and resume cooking it later on. But do finish cooking it in one day.

This sauce can be kept in the refrigerator for up to 5 days, or frozen. Reheat until it simmers for about 15 minutes before using.



July 2016

Feel-osophy: Linton Hopkins at the Southern Chefs Series, Part 1

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View More: Linton Hopkins arrived last month for the Southern Chefs Series, he had 4 things he’d never brought before: a plan to cook Italian food. a chittara pasta cutter; a four-ounce bottle of vinegar that cost $120; and his 17-year-old son, Linton V.

But he had that same all-encompassing passion for food and knowledge, which always strikes me, no matter how many times he visits. Every time that man walks through my door, I learn something.

The words “cooking class” only loosely describe what happens when Linton straps on his apron and starts talking to guests in my kitchen. It’s a food history, cooking technique and philosophy class rolled into one.

At some point — possibly when he was showing everyone the Peugeot peppermill he bought in Paris that lets you change the grind on the pepper — I just sat back and listened. He is such an unbelievable teacher. Here are four things he said that spoke straight to my soul:

1. Cooking well means having a love affair with food. And no one wants a crappy lover. That means using the best ingredients — the best olive oil; the best cut of meat. He didn’t use that $120 bottle of balsamic to dress a salad; he put a drop of it on top of a thin slice of sautéed garlic sitting on top of a thick slice of bacon he’d cured at Restaurant Eugene. And it was heaven.

2. Ten thousand hours. This was Linton’s response any time someone asked him how long it took him to learn how to poach an egg, or crack one with one hand. It takes practice, he told them. Hours and hours of practice. It reminded me so much of that scene in Julie & Julia when Julia Child refuses to be defeated at Le Cordon Bleu because she can’t chop onions correctly. So she gets a huge sack of onions, goes home and practices until she gets it right.

3. Fail forward: If you fail, keep moving forward. Don’t stop and don’t let it get you off track. Keep moving, keep trying, keep thinking your way to success.

4. Get your hands dirty: Linton is a huge kitchen gadget geek, but the most essential tools are his hands. He asked, “How can we learn to cook — how can we learn how the food really feels — unless our hands are in it?”

Come back next week for more about Linton’s homemade pasta and another thing I learned: the difference between marinara and pomodoro.



June 2016

Shell Shocked: Two Parties, One Day and Shrimp for 33

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Years from now, when I look back at the pictures from Kara’s baby shower, I’ll remember the gifts, the Kara Baby Showerdécor and how beautiful Kara looked, pregnant with her first child. I’ll also remember it as the time I scheduled two parties in the same day and forgot until I looked at the calendar.

I had 25 coming for the shower luncheon and 8 neighbors coming for an al fresco dinner. When I realized what happened, I thought, okay, I’m going to serve the same thing at lunch and dinner. That was the plan, but the plan morphed as the day went on.

For the shower, Garnie, Quinn and I agreed to host together, but guess who was nominated to cook?

I decided to make my version of a Pierre Franey shrimp salad recipe I’ve loved for years. Shrimp is one of a few fish dishes that can be served at room temperature, which makes it infinitely easier to prep. I paired it with celery, onion, shaved fennel, cucumbers, caper vinaigrette and feta cheese. Shrimp and feta is the exception to the rule of never pairing seafood and cheese. Something about it just works.

I also did a green salad with buttermilk dill dressing and pasta, because Kara loves her noodles. I tried the pasta with lemon and parsley, but something didn’t work right the first time. So I kept adding oils and vinegars until it did.

It all came off beautifully and when it was over, I looked around and thought, instead of repeating lunch, why don’t I just combine everything for dinner instead?

I’d quadrupled the green soup I made for the Farmers Market demo and froze a few batches, so I defrosted that and used it as the first course.

IMG_2180For dinner, I combined penne pasta with shrimp, added fennel, celery, Kirby cucumber, feta and covered it with vinaigrette. I even used the butter lettuces from the green salad at lunch as the base of the shrimp pasta salad. The buttermilk dill vinaigrette I did for the lunch salad wouldn’t have worked with the dinner pasta, so I combined white balsamic vinegar with Champagne vinegar, grapeseed oil and olive oil for the dressing. Again, it wasn’t quite right, so I added lemon juice and capers until it had some life to it.

What was three separate buffet dishes at lunch became one dinner at night. Hosting 33 people over the course of a day is enough to make anyone a little bonkers, but with a little advance planning — and

a lot of prep work the day before — it can work out beautifully.

Shrimp and Pasta Salad

  • 1 lb wild shrimp, cooked, peeled, deveined and tail removed
  • 1 lb penne pasta
  • 1/2 cup Kirby cucumber , sliced thin
  • 1/2 cup fennel bulb, sliced thin
  • 1/2 cup Vidalia onion, sliced thin
  • 1/4 cup capers
  • 1/2 cup feta, crumbled
  • 1/4 cup parsley, chopped
  • 2 heads butter lettuce, washed
  • Vinaigrette
  • 3/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
  • 3/4 cup grape seed oil
  • 2 tablespoons champagne vinegar
  • 2 tablespoons white balsamic vinegar
  • 2 tablespoons Meyer lemon, freshly squeezed
  • 1 tablespoon kosher salt
  • Place all ingredients in a jar and shake well.

Cook penne according to package directions. Drain well and place in bowl. Pour half the vinaigrette over hot pasta and stir well. Flavor will penetrate the pasta. Add all vegetables, stir well and let sit 30 minutes to marinate.

On a platter, line it with the lettuce leaves. Toss the shrimp with the pasta. Spoon over the lettuce leaves.

Sprinkle the feta, parsley and capers over the shrimp and pasta and serve.



June 2016

Cold Comfort: How to Turn Leftover Lettuce Into Soup

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marie cooking demo farmers market june 2016
marie cooking demo farmers market june 2016

Every Saturday, from April to November, Selborne Green is alive with residents and visitors sampling their way around the Farmers & Artists Market. Serenbe Foods, The Hill and Serenbe Farms have tables alongside many other local vendors who sell everything from handmade cups to pickles and fried pies.

I do a chef demonstration every year and always start the planning process with a visit to Farmer Ashley from Serenbe Farms. She had fennel and butter lettuce, so I did a salad with shaved fennel, cucumber, Vidalia onion, and a buttermilk, sour cream and feta vinaigrette I made ahead of time.

I paired it with green soup — one of my all-time favorites. It makes wonderful use of the exterior lettuce leaves that aren’t as pretty as the interior ones and don’t make it into the salad. Instead of throwing them away, I blanch and freeze them until it’s time to make the soup.

As many times as I’ve made green soup over the years, I’ve never served it cold. But the theme of the demo was summer entertaining, so I thought I’d give it a try. I filled a squeeze bottle with sour cream and buttermilk and did little garnish on top of each cup. It was fabulous and everyone loved it. The participants learned a new recipe and I learned something new about an old favorite.

Green Soup

  • Serves 6
  • 1/4 cup sliced green onions
  • 5 tablespoons unsalted butter
  • 2 cups diced potatoes
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 2 cups chicken stock
  • 1 cup torn arugula leaves
  • 1 cup torn spinach leaves, stems removed
  • 2 cups torn lettuce leaves
  • Salt and white pepper, to taste
  • Sour cream or creme fraiche
  • Snipped fresh chives

Saute green onions in butter for 5 minutes until wilted. Add potatoes and salt and 1 cup of stock. Simmer, covered, for 10 minutes. Add the arugula, spinach and lettuce. Simmer for 10 minutes more and test the potatoes for doneness. Puree vegetables in a food processor. Taste for seasoning, add the rest of the stock and simmer for 1 or 2 minutes.

Serve either hot or at room temperature with a dollop of sour cream or creme fruit and a sprinkling of chopped chives on top.



June 2016

Cirque du Soil: Experiencing the Groundbreaking Work at Stone Barns

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Just as Steve’s Urban Land Institute meeting took us to New Orleans earlier this year, it took us to Tarrytown, New York last month for a forum on food and development at Stone Barns Center for Food & Agriculture.

Most call Stone Barns a nonprofit farm and educational center. I call it a fascinating think tank for food.

stone barnsThe facilities, once part of the Rockefeller estate, are exquisite. They’re overseen by Dan Barber, a chef/restaurateur, author and innovator in the food sustainability movement. Barber practices what he preaches at Blue Hill at Stone Barns and its sister restaurant, Blue Hill in Manhattan.

Barber spoke at length about both food and sustainability and his mission to educate the world on what it really takes to grow food. His key issue was the health of our soil and the concept of rotational crops.

For so many of us, food magically appears. We’ve gotten so far away from our food that we don’t understand what it takes to grow it. We demand so much of our soil that it gets depleted and won’t produce anything. The soil has to rest and be nourished.

Crop rotation is a system farmers use to keep the soil fertile and avoid disease. It means not planting the same thing in the same place year after year to keep up with demand.

It’s one thing to talk about it; it’s another thing to see it play out on the plate. Chef Barber served us his Rotational Risotto, which celebrates the lesser-known crops farmers plant in the rotational system. In this case, wheat is in demand, but it’s what he calls “uncoveted crops” — buckwheat, millet, rye, etc. — that nourish the soil so the wheat can shine.

It gave me a whole new appreciation for the science of farming, the agri-industry and what life must have been like 200 years ago when people didn’t have access to most foods year-round.

After the talk and tasting, we split up into three groups and rotated activities. I visited the chickens and learned about two different types: the Cornish Crown and the Freedom Ranger.

The Cornish Crown is the chicken most people eat because it’s genetically bred for breast meat and has very little bone to get the way of processing. By the time they’re eight weeks old, Cornish Crown breasts are so heavy they can barely walk. The Freedom Ranger is a heritage breed with a bonier skeletal structure. It was incredible to see them being raised side by side across the aisle from each other and taking in the differences between them at 3, 4 and 5 weeks old.

From there, I visited the hot house, where agricultural schools send seeds to see if they’re viable, and learned about different types of seeds. Then we came to my favorite part: food in action.

stone barns kitchenTogether with the culinary director at Stone Barns, I created a dish featuring every part of the radish. We made a salad with sliced egg, asparagus, a chiffonade of radish greens, pickled radish and a carrot yogurt dressing.

The eating continued at Blue Hill at Stone Barns with cocktails, appetizers and a four-course dinner featuring a parsnip “steak” with bordelaise sauce and beet ketchup.

After meetings the next day, Steve and I ventured into the city and saw three plays: Blackbird with Michelle Williams; The Humans, which was nominated for a Tony award; and The Woodsman.

It was nice to get my NYC fix, but I’ve become one of those country people who doesn’t find the craziness of the city as endearing as I once did. I’m good for a couple years, then I’ll forget, go back and do it all over again.



June 2016

Quinn-credible: The Makings of May Day

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photo by J Ashley Photography

The 5,000 people who attended Serenbe’s May Day celebration this year saw our community at its finest. They strolled the sidewalks, enjoyed more than 50 vendors — including food trucks, roving performers and regional artisans — took pony rides and supported the Art Farm with their $5 admission fee.

What they didn’t see is all the hard work happening behind the scenes. Long before 18 little girls and boys dressed all in white did their dance around the maypole, my daughter Quinn, Serenbe’s brand manager, and the entire marketing team were planning, plotting, delegating and making magic happen.

Quinn does her job: She doesn’t talk about it, agonize over it, or go on and on about it — she just gets it done. And it was done beautifully. Even the weather cooperated with her: Earlier in the week there was an 80 percent chance of rain that day, but we never saw a drop.