Serenbe Style and Soul

with Marie Nygren



October 2014

Only Ewe: Many Fold Farms and the Perfect Cocktail Party Snack

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What does one pack before jetting off to have dinner with Alice Waters—that’s the Alice Waters, the mother of California cuisine and founder of Chez Panisse?

A dress with shoes to match and a big batch of Condor’s Ruin, an aged, ash-ripened cheese from Many Fold Farm.

Many Fold Farm is owned by Ross and Rebecca Williams, a lovely young couple who initially came to Serenbe in search of farm internships. To say they were overqualified is an understatement—read more about their history here— so they bought a house at Serenbe and a farm nearby, where they’ve created Georgia’s first organic sheep dairy.

What I love most about Ross and Rebecca is their passion. They work hard as hell and are devoted to making the Chattahoochee Hill Country the Southeastern version of Napa Valley.

And when I gave Alice Waters a bite of their cheese, she said, “If you hadn’t told me where it was from, I would’ve thought it came from France.” Alice knows her cheeses and so do the judges at the American Cheese Society, who awarded the Condor’s Ruin first place in the sheep’s milk cheese aged 31-60 days category this year.


Not bad for a dairy that’s less than three years old.

The Condor’s Ruin is only available through the end of October, which is when I switch to Many Fold Farm’s Brebis, a fresh cheese that pairs perfectly with a pecan crackers and fig preserves. It’s a super simple spread for a cocktail party with rich, complex flavors.

Many Fold Farm Cheese and Crackers with Serenbe Fig Preserves

Put the cheese in bowl. On a beautiful board, place the jar of preserves, crackers and bowl of cheese.



October 2014

Chris Hastings: Good man, great chef, talented teacher

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I try not to play favorites with the chefs who visit for the Southern Chefs Series. I really do. But when Chris Hastings, chef/owner of Hot and Hot Fish Club in Birmingham, shows up at my doorstep, I get really, really happy.


And even though he was supposed to arrive at 10 a.m. on Sunday and didn’t arrive until 1 p.m. for his cookbook signing—after which we raced to set up for his class—I was still thrilled to have him back at Serenbe filling my world with good food.

One of my favorite things Chris does is go through each recipe with all the attendees first thing. Before he heats the first pot, he hands everyone the recipes and they talk through them so everyone understands the process before they’re in the middle of it. And I love the way he invites us all to hold hands and bless the food before we eat.

Not that he’s ever off his game, but Chris was so on and so vibrant during his visit that the entire class organized a trip to see him in Birmingham. In five years of doing this series, no class has ever done that. He’s going to make us a special menu and we’ll sit at the chef’s table and eat and talk and laugh until everyone else in the restaurant goes home.

Here are just a few things he made: a composed tomato salad with grilled IMG_0369eggplant and goat cheese; bouillabaisse with whitefish, mussels and clams; goat cheese mousse with reduced muscadine jelly, muscadine sorbet and a candied pecan cookie; “swamp cabbage pasta” made of hearts of palm with fresh crab and butter; and goat cheese semifreddo with candied figs and berry jus.

It was a big goat cheese weekend.

IMG_0413He also did a winter vegetable and farmer’s cheese salad—oh yes, we made the cheese—with more steps that we should get into here. But the preserved lemon vinaigrette on top was absolutely to die for, and you can do it at home without an insanely talented chef standing nearby.


Preserved Lemon Vinaigrette

  • Makes about 3 ½ cups
  • 2 preserved lemons (store bought)
  • 1 cup fresh lemon juice
  • 1 cup extra virgin olive oil
  • 1 ½ teaspoons fresh parsley, chopped
  • 1 ½ teaspoons fresh chives, chopped
  • 1 ½ teaspoons fresh thyme, chopped
  • 1 ½ teaspoons minced shallots

Peel the preserved lemons and discard the inside pulp. Remove the white pith from the lemon peel and discard. Finely dice the lemon rind and place in a large mixing bowl. Add remaining ingredients to the bowl and whisk well to combine. Set aside until ready to use, making sure to stir well again before using.

Next up in the Southern Chefs Series: Joe Truex, executive chef of Watershed on Peachtree, November 16-17. For more information, visit



October 2014

How Juicy Is Your Life?

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Coffee Almond

How juicy is your life? Is it luscious and sensuous? Is it delicious?

How do you feel when you hear the word “juicy?” How does it sound in your ears and feel in your body? For me, it’s like dropping an eff bomb—it has a real energy and power.

My goal is always to live a juicy life—a life full of adventure, risk, joy, love, friends, family, food and laughter. Life’s just too short to live any other way. It’s like Rosalind Russell says in Auntie Mame:

Live! That’s the message.

Yes, life is a banquet and most poor suckers are starving to death!

Lately I’ve been living a juicy life in more ways than one. Serenbe’s Blue Eyed Daisy Bakeshop has started carrying Bamboo Juice, a line of vital juices created by Kelley Sibley, a woman who spent 15 years studying the blue zones of the world, or the areas where people are 10 times more likely than Americans to live past the age of 100. She found that a plant-based diet was a major factor and created an amazing line of raw, organic, cold-pressed juices.

Kelley approached Thaddeus Barton, our chef at The Farmhouse, and his wife, Lane, of the Blue Eyed Daisy, who connected her with my daughter, Garnie. Garnie became a financial investor, connected Kelley with Serenbe Farms and helped her set up a plant just down the street in Palmetto, Georgia.

Shortly thereafter, these juices became part of my daily routine. I am never far from my Coffee Almond, full of almond milk, dates, vanilla extract, sea salt and organic coffee grounds that have been infused with medicinal mushrooms. It gives me what I need to make each day as juicy as possible.



September 2014

Bites, Best Friends and Breaking Up With Email

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Image courtesy of Bacchanalia

I’m married to a man who gets between two and three hundred emails a day. And between my work and personal correspondence, I get a fair amount myself. I do a pretty solid job of staying on top of it, but a few weeks ago, while project managing some renovations at the Art Farm, I stopped checking email for a week so I could focus fully on the project.

And it was wonderful.

I figured, if someone really needed me, they’d call. And I was right. My best friend, Connie, who lives in Maryland—the one with whom I sit in a car at the Atlanta airport and drink mint tea—called to say she was coming to visit. We have a yearly ritual of going to Bacchanalia, just the two of us, and indulging in whatever the kitchen sends to our table.

In-between the cured eggs, cured meats on lavash and beef tartare, we talk for hours, only stopping to comment on a truly exquisite bite. Of course, we’re at Anne Quatrano’s restaurant, so this happens often. A few of the dishes, like these preserved chanterelle mushrooms, were so delicious that we agreed we could never take another bite of anything and be happy.

And then we’d eat some more, letting email, texts and life in general wait while two old friends catch up on each other’s lives.

Preserved Chanterelle Mushrooms

  • From Summerland: Recipes for Celebrating with Southern Hospitality by Anne Stiles Quatrano
  • Makes 2 quart jars or 4 pint jars
  • 2 pounds chanterelle mushrooms
  • 4 cups extra virgin olive oil
  • Kosher salt
  • Freshly ground pepper
  • 2 large shallots, finely chopped
  • 4 garlic cloves, thinly sliced
  • 3 sprigs fresh thyme
  • 1 fresh bay leaf
  • 2 tablespoons sherry vinegar
  • ½ cup dry sherry wine

With a paring knife, trim the mushroom ends and scrape the stems, removing the outer layer of skin. Wash the mushrooms three times in cold, clear water, gently tossing so as not to bruise the flesh. Allow to air dry thoroughly on paper towels; if possible, place them in front of a table fan to speed up the drying process. Cut the dry mushrooms lengthwise into quarters, or sixths if they are large.

In a large (preferably 14-inch) sauté pan, heat 2 tablespoons oil over medium heat until lightly smoking. Add one-fourth of the mushrooms and cook until golden brown, about 15 minutes. Remove and drain on a plate lined with paper towels. Repeat, adding another 2 tablespoons oil and another one-fourth of the mushrooms to the pan. Repeat two more times to sauté all the mushrooms. Place the hot, drained mushrooms in a heatproof bowl and season with salt and pepper.

Add the shallots and garlic to the hot skillet you cooked the mushrooms in, reduce the heat to low, and sweat until translucent, about 5 minutes. Return the mushrooms to the pan and add the thyme and bay leaf. Add the vinegar, scraping up any browned bits, then add the wine and toss to coat the mushrooms. Cook until the liquid has been absorbed by the mushrooms, about 15 minutes. Add the remaining oil (about 3 ½ cups) to cover the mushrooms. Heat the oil to 145 degrees F, or until just hot to the touch. Remove from the heat and allow to cool to room temperature.

Spoon the mushrooms and oil into quart or pint jars, cover and refrigerate. They will be best after standing for a day and will keep for up to 2 weeks in the refrigerator.



September 2014

Atlanta Homes & Lifestyles 2014 Serenbe Designer Showhouse

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View More: the majority of August and the first few days of September, a beautiful Cotswold-inspired house in Serenbe’s Swann Ridge hamlet was a hive of activity. Designated as the Atlanta Homes & Lifestyles 2014 Serenbe Designer Showhouse, it’s been full of contractors, landscapers, construction workers and designers, all working to create a space full of imagination and inspiration.

At the same time, I was playing job foreman at the Art Farm, the place where visitors to Serenbe’s Artists In Residence program live and work. In the main building, we turned what was previously studio space into bedrooms for visiting artists, and added two offices, one for the AIR director and other for the director of Serenbe Playhouse. I oversaw everything from paint colors and the landscaping to the design of shipping containers, which will now enjoy a new life as studio spaces.

The Showhouse and Art Farm are just a few hundred feet away from eachView More: other—two completely different worlds connected by two things: a dirt road and revenue. All proceeds from the Showhouse benefit the Art Farm, so we can continue to welcome artists to our community, give them the space and time to focus and benefit from their talents.

Since it opened on September 6, the Showhouse has been a hive of activity in a different way. People from all over the Southeast and beyond are coming to tour the home and see how 12 local designers transformed three floors into a dream house. Seeing it now, it’s hard to believe it was a raw space with dirt out front just a few weeks ago.

We toasted its opening with many events at which we served this Farmhouse Lemonade, a cool, crisp cocktail full of summery flavors like lemon and strawberry paired with the spice of rum. Make yourself a glass and plan a visit to the Serenbe Designer Showhouse. $20 a person is a small price to spend the day dreaming.

Farmhouse Lemonade-1

Farmhouse Lemonade

  • For the lemonade:
  • Fills 25 highball glasses
  • 4 cups sugar
  • 2 cups water + 1 ½ gallons water
  • 1 ¼ quarts lemon juice

Place 2 cups of water in a pan and add the sugar. Stir to dissolve and boil 5 minutes. Cool, add the lemon juice and the 1 ½ gallons of water. Stir well.

  • For the strawberry puree:
  • frozen strawberries
  • 1 tea kettle hot water
  • ¾ cup white sugar

Fill Vitamix with strawberries and hot water. Let thaw for 10 minutes and drain water. Add the sugar and pulse until smooth.

  • To finish the drink:
  • 2 ounces Cruzan rum
  • 2 ounces strawberry puree
  • lemonade

Add the rum and strawberry puree to a shaker and shake until combined. Fill a tall glass with ice. Fill just under half with lemonade. Pour the strawberry mix on top and garnish with a lemon wheel and shake of raw sugar.



September 2014

Palate, Presentation and My Favorite Potato Salad

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Potato Salad

In all the years Steve and I lived in Atlanta, I could count the number of potlucks we attended on one hand. Here at Serenbe, we have at least one a month. I recently wrote about the vegan lima bean salad I made for a “welcome home” potluck. And here I am again with another potluck post about creamy horseradish potato salad.

No one is bringing three bean salads to Serenbe potlucks. Our residents usually use it as an opportunity to experiment with a new ingredient or something they’ve gotten from the Serenbe Farms CSA. And they’re not slapping some of that horrible ambrosia in Tupperware and setting it on the table, either. Very often these dishes are artistic creations with an eye towards both palate and presentation.

I have a thing about the kind of serving utensils I use—they have to be as pretty as the plate. Plastic serving pieces never see the light of day in my house. If it’s just Steve and I, fine. But when company comes I break out my collection of wooden and silver spoons.

I used one of my wooden serving bowls and a wooden spoon for the creamy horseradish potato salad I took to a recent AIR Serenbe event welcoming jazz pianist, vocalist and songwriter Laila Biali. This recipe is completely devoid of eggs, pickles and all the other things that ruin a good potato salad.

At the event, a woman sat down beside me and said, “You know, the best thing over there is the potato salad.” I just laughed because she had no idea I brought it. You know you’ve got a good recipe when you arrive with a full bowl and leave carrying an empty one, with a pretty wooden spoon clattering around in the bottom.

Creamy Horseradish Potato Salad

Makes 6 servings

  • ½ cup mayonnaise
  • 1/3 cup sour cream
  • 3 tablespoons bottled white horseradish (not dry)
  • 1 tablespoon white wine vinegar
  • 1 teaspoon sugar
  • ¾ teaspoon salt
  • ½ teaspoon black pepper
  • 1/3 cup chopped fresh chives
  • 3 pounds boiling potatoes (about 2 inches)

Boil potatoes until done, cool them to room temperature and quarter them. Whisk together mayonnaise, sour cream, horseradish, vinegar, sugar, salt and pepper in a large bowl until smooth. Add chives and potatoes and stir to coat.



September 2014

BLT: The Ultimate Summer Sandwich

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Shortly after we moved to Serenbe in 1994, we put a garden in and our first tomato crop came in a few months later. I can still remember having that first homegrown tomato. I have yet to come up with words that can accurately describe how wonderful it was. It was so juicy, so bright and pure, it shouldn’t even be allowed to share a name with whatever those things are they sell in the grocery store. That first summer, I made Steve a BLT almost every single day.

BLTs are the quintessential summer sandwich. I’m not big on sandwiches in general, but BLTs are heaven. I have very specific ideas about BLT construction and only eat them at home when tomatoes are in season. They’re one of the few things that tastes better here than in a restaurant.

Here’s how it goes: Toast two slices of sourdough or whole wheat bread on both sides, not just one. Add Hellman’s mayonnaise. (I know everyone in the South is crazy for Duke’s but it has too much sugar for me.) Lay really good bacon on top; I prefer applewood smoked. It should be crispy, but not so crispy that it crumbles. Top that with arugula, which has a nice, peppery bite. Add a slice of perfectly sun ripened, freshly grown tomato and top it with salt and freshly ground pepper.

What you have is not just a sandwich; it’s nirvana.



August 2014

Kevin Gillespie: The Man Responsible For The Velveeta In My Kitchen

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Photo from Fire in My Belly by Angie Mosier

Photo from Fire in My Belly by Angie Mosier

Of all the chefs who’ve visited for the Southern Chefs Series, Kevin Gillespie has the shortest commute—he just walks down the street from his home here at Serenbe.

But long before he lived here, Kevin found himself a special place in my heart. He knows who he is and doesn’t try to be anything else. When he does his class, he doesn’t bring special tools or foods—just an apron and a smile.

When Kevin sent me his recipes in advance for the class, I headed to the store to gather ingredients. When I got to the word “Velveeta,” I stopped in the middle of the aisle. I’ve never bought Velveeta in my life. And if anyone else had asked me to buy it, I would’ve graciously declined. But I adore Kevin so much, I looked around until I found someone who could point me to the processed cheese food.

Kevin used the Velveeta in his Gussied-Up Mac-N-Cheese, a recipe that comes right from his cookbook, Fire in My Belly.

When I first started making mac and cheese, I made a béchamel with flour and milk, then added cheese. But it never tasted right. The cheese sauce was too grainy. I knew you couldn’t just melt the cheese straight because it would separate. The flour stabilizes it and keeps it from separating.

Then one day, I was rolling down the aisle of a grocery store and saw Velveeta. I did a double take. “Should that be refrigerated in the cheese section?” I wondered. I picked up the package and read the ingredient list. It had a stabilizer in it. Perfect! I know Velveeta is not a staple ingredient for professional chefs, but I thought, “I don’t give a damn. I’m going to make the same sauce I was making before and use Velveeta instead of flour.” It worked like a charm.

This is the genius of Kevin. He found a way to take macaroni and cheese to the next level while still making it accessible to the home cook. Did I mention that there’s andouille sausage in there, too? And that it’s topped with Utz potato chips?

He served it with Salisbury steak and his great grandmother’s warm banana pudding. And even with all that food in their bellies, the guests stayed around for hours after dinner, asking Kevin questions and listening to him tell stories. I thought about asking them to wrap it up a few times, then decided to let the night end organically—which is more than I can say for the Velveeta, which will live out the rest of its long, lonely life in the back of my refrigerator.

Next up in the Southern Chefs Series: Chris Hastings September 21-22. Secure your spot by calling 770.463.2610.

Kevin Gillespie’s Gussied-up Mac-N-Cheese

Serves 8

  • 1 tablespoon butter
  • 2 tablespoons salt
  • 1 pound dried cavatappi
  • 8 ounces diced andouille sausage
  • 4 cups heavy cream
  • 1 pound Velveeta, cut into 1-inch cubes
  • 2 cups smoked cheddar cheese, grated
  • 1 cup Parrano cheese, grated
  • 4 ounces Utz potato chips, unsalted and crumbled

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees. Butter a 3-quart baking dish and set aside.

Bring a large pot of water to a rapid boil. Add the salt and stir to dissolved. Add the pasta and cook until just tender yet still quite chewy in the center. Drain the pasta in a colander and set aside.

While the pasta cooks, line a plate with a double layer of paper towels. Squeeze the sausage from the casing, then quarter it length-wise and cut it crosswise into ¼-inch pieces. Heat an 8-inch skillet over medium-high heat, add the sausage pieces, and cook until browned around the edges, about 3 minutes. Using a slotted spoon, transfer the sausage to the paper towels to drain.

In a Dutch oven, heat the cream to a simmer over medium-high heat. Cut the heat down to low, add the Velveeta, and stir until it melts. Add the sausage, cheddar and Parrano, stirring until the cheese is completely melted. Pull the pot from the heat and fold in the cooked pasta. Pour the pasta into the baking dish and top with the crumbled potato chips.

Bake until bubbly and browned around the edges, about 20 minutes. Pull the dish from the oven and let the sauce set up for at least 5 minutes before serving.

*If you can’t get Parrano cheese, replace it with 2 ounces aged Gouda and 2 ounces Parmigiano-Reggiano.



August 2014

Lick-The-Plate-Clean Lima Bean Salad

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lima beans

Serenbe has a way of turning renters into residents.

Two years ago, Frances’ job brought her to Atlanta for a few months and they put her up in a high rise in the city. The location didn’t feel right, so she found a real estate agent and explained what she wanted. The agent brought Frances to Serenbe, she loved it, rented a house and became good friends with the owner.

When she returned to rent the house again a year later, it was for sale with some very interested buyers. Since Frances wasn’t able to rent it, she bought it. And we had a little potluck to welcome her back home.

The guest list was a mixture of meat eaters and vegans, so I made roasted pork butt and a lima bean salad with pear relish. Why pear relish? Because that’s what caught my eye when I opened the refrigerator. The limas were frozen, but I have not one thing against frozen beans—they’re one of the few foods that freeze well.

All the guests brought dessert, including a beautiful berry clafoutis and cupcakes with berries that had been macerated in sauterne. But the lima bean salad plate was licked completely clean. Sometimes the best salads are created between the freezer and the fridge.

Lima Bean Salad

  • 4 cups cooked lima beans
  • 2 cups fresh corn kernels
  • 1 cup Vidalia or sweet onion, diced
  • 1 to 1 ½ cup pear relish
  • Kosher salt

Mix all ingredients in a bowl and salt to taste. Let sit for an hour in the refrigerator to let the flavors mingle, then serve at room temperature.



August 2014

Camp Serenbe Cooking Class, Part 2: Ending On A Sweet Note

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IMG_0163I wrote last week about my Camp Serenbe cooking class full of eager young chefs who picked, chopped and whisked the week away with me. They were so incredibly precious with their cookie sheets and mise en place all ready to go.

After we did the tomato sauce and cheese soufflé on Monday and Tuesday, we spent Wednesday making a salad bar. They picked carrots in the garden at the Inn and created their own vinaigrettes with oils and vinegars.

The next day, it was time to talk dessert. The kids went into the Grange hamlet and picked blueberries for a blueberry cobbler from the bushes planted near the crosswalks. Then I asked how many of the kids had made their own whipped cream. We talked about the kind of whipped cream you can buy in a can—or, as I like to call it, That Which Shall Not Be Named—and I laid down my cardinal rule: If you can’t pronounce the words on it, don’t eat it.IMG_0150

So we made our own and wound up with so much of it that there was nothing else to do but go outside and have a whipped cream painting party. Some kids put it all over their entire face and bodies. Some just did a mustache. Some didn’t want it touching them at all. Some were throwing it at each other. But it was just one of those Auntie Mame moments—oh hell, let’s just do this. Sure, it would’ve been easier (and cleaner) to stay in the kitchen, but those kids left with big smiles—and freshly whipped cream—on their faces.

Blueberry Cobbler

  • 1 cup sugar
  • ½ cup butter
  • 1 cup flour
  • 1 ½ teaspoons baking powder
  • ½ teaspoon kosher salt
  • 1 cup milk
  • 2 cups blueberries

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Slice butter and put it in a baking dish to cook in the oven until butter is melted. Mix together all the dry ingredients and then add milk. Pour batter into the melted butter then scatter fruit around. Bake for 30 minutes to 1 hour until middle is set.

Note: Several types of fruit can be used for this recipe. Sliced strawberries, blueberries or sliced peaches can be added raw. If using apples, peel, slice and cook in skillet with ¼ cup butter and 2 tablespoons brown sugar until soft.