Serenbe Style and Soul

with Marie Nygren



September 2015

Weather Or Not: Kara’s Wedding, Part 2

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Months before Kara and Micah’s wedding, they sent out invitations to close friends and family members. But as the week of the wedding approached, rain threatened to be an uninvited and very last-minute guest.

The entire family was glued to the weather report, giving each other up-to-the-second updates on weather patterns. To tent or not to tent was very much the question for this outdoor celebration. Much later, Micah confessed that he and Kara woke up every day for a week and a half and checked every weather site they could find. Even the Serenbe administrative office staff checked obsessively and they weren’t even part of the festivities.

11960191_10153472753832626_3987030546726494322_nThe day before the wedding, there was a 60 percent chance of rain—a very literal gray cloud hanging over our heads. We talked about moving the reception to the pavilion on the Inn grounds, but that was worst-case scenario for Kara, who uses it as home base for Camp Serenbe every summer. If you work in an office, it’d basically be the equivalent of hosting your reception in the conference room.

My sweet Kara works all year to make 8 weeks of summer camp look effortless. She has it organized to a T: 70 children, 24 counselors and spreadsheets to the max. She knows her budgets and schedules and approached the logistics of this wedding in much the same way. She worked for the better part of a year to make it look effortless and when we had no choice but to talk about tenting the reception space versus moving to the pavilion, Steve and I shut it down shortly after we saw the look of disappointment on her face. We’re here to help make her dreams come true, not settle for Plan B.

So we tented. And did it rain? Not a drop. It rained all around us—literally right down the street in Newnan—but it was like there was a bubble over us that rain didn’t dare penetrate.

On Monday, after the last guests left, Steve took the newlyweds to the airport to catch the first of two flights that would take them to Greece. As he pulled off the gravel road of the Inn and onto the paved road that borders Serenbe, the skies opened up and it poured. And it reminded me of Field of Dreams, that wonderful movie about baseball players from different eras, when Burt Lancaster crosses the line and changes everything. When Kara and Micah left, the universe somehow knew it was okay for the rain to come.

And it did. 11995736_10103444724067253_1882328120751072956_n

Join me next week for the final installment of the Kara’s Wedding series: A grateful look all the angels that came together to make her day magical.



September 2015

Before and Ever After: Kara’s Wedding, Part 1

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This time next week, my sweet daughter Kara will be married. While others are happily heading into the holiday weekend, Wedding Week at Serenbe is heavy on the hustle and bustle.

10418233_10154758695950023_5316102243126598467_nThe bride has arrived from Seattle. The weather is being watched closely to see if rain will make a cameo appearance. Steve, Garnie, Quinn and I are finalizing last-minute details while our dear friend, neighbor and former set designer Kristin Genet and her father, who’s visiting from Germany, wrap lights around small trees. He’s been having the best time and starts to tell us all about it with the few English words he knows, then lapses into enthusiastic German. It’s quite endearing.

And so it begins:

On Thursday, guests will start to arrive and Steve and I will host dinner for 80 at the house. Friday is the bridal party lunch at the Inn, followed by a barbecue-themed rehearsal dinner given by Micah’s parents.

Our house will become party central on Saturday morning, when all 12 members of the bridal party come over to have their hair and makeup done. The lead stylist is the daughter of the man who did the hair, makeup and nails for my wedding party decades ago.

Meanwhile, Micah and his buddies will have a soccer game in the fields.

Shortly before 6 p.m., we’ll walk from our house, across the wildflower meadow, to the ceremony site, where a trumpet player and a string trio from Woodward Academy (my and my daughters’ alma mater) will play everything from classical music to the Beatles and Allman Brothers. At one point, Steve’s cousins and their spouses—all of whom have incredible voices—will serenade the couple and their guests.


the new in-laws

Afterwards we’ll have cocktails and passed hors d’oeuvres, then a sit-down dinner. Micah’s cousin, one of 8 family members flying in from Israel, will do a traditional blessing with challah bread made by Garnie’s boyfriend, Matty.


And on Sunday, Steve and I will host 150 at our house for a friend chicken lunch. Can’t come to the South without having some fried chicken.

I’ve been crying for weeks. Months actually. I’ve threatened to get fake eyelashes for the entire weekend. Kara’s dream is coming together and very soon there won’t be any more last-minute details to finalize. It’ll just be time to sit back, smile and watch it all unfold.



August 2015

Welcome Matt: Getting To Know Serenbe’s first Chef-In-Residence (and Garnie’s boyfriend) Matt Adolfi

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Marie and Matt at the Cluck Off

Last year at our annual Les Dames d’Escoffier “Afternoon in the Country” event, Matt Adolfi, who was then the chef de cuisine at Bacchanalia, caught my daughter Garnie’s attention. And almost immediately, Anne Quatrano and I started texting like modern matchmakers.

Me: How can we get them back together? 

Anne: I’ll bring him out for the Cluck Off! 

Me: Perfect. 

They officially met at the Cluck Off—the multi-chef chicken battle we hosted late last year—over honey bourbon roasted chicken thighs. Then they talked. Then they went out soon after that. And again. And again. And again. In the following months,  Matt ended his eight-year tenure at Bacchanalia and made the move to Serenbe, where he’s now the chef-in-residence, focused on creating lines for Serenbe Foods, new restaurant concepts and other culinary experiences.

A leap of faith in more ways than one, I asked Matt to describe what led him to move his career and life out into the country. Here’s what he said:

I love Bacchanalia and AQ for teaching me how to cook and I’ll always remember where my Southern roots started. I started as an intern and worked countless unpaid hours to get a sous chef position, I did that for a few years until I had the opportunity to be the baker for Star Provisions for about a year. Being the baker is the hardest job in that building, hands down, but is also one of the most gratifying. After being the baker, a position at Floataway Cafe had opened and I was the co-chef with a friend for about a year. 

Floataway was a great learning experience, but was not the food I love. Bacchanalia was the cuisine where my passion started. So AQ gave me the opportunity to come back as a sous chef, where I remained for a couple years until she gave me the chef de cuisine role. After a couple years of chef de cuisine, I still wanted more and the executive chef position was held by my friend David Carson. It was his time to shine. So a chance to climb up the ladder wasn’t really there in the immediate future.  

The restaurant industry can wear on you mentally and physically. Garnie saw my frustration and, as the problem solver she is, she created a way for me to come to Serenbe and have a role, which was win-win. I get to see her more and contribute to a remarkable place. 

Since he’s been with us, Matt has already done the VIP brunch for May Day, a few pop-up dinners, dinner at the Art Farm and several cooking classes at the Bosch Experience Center, in addition to revamping the menu at the Blue-Eyed Daisy.

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Matt cooking for Art Over Dinner

But what’s most delicious about him is that there’s no boasting to Matty at all. He’s amazingly talented and equally gracious and kind with an easy-going personality.

Garnie, on the other hand, is a type A personality all the way, but falling in love has softened her a bit. I’m not going to say she’s become laid-back—she’s still driven—but love has a way of getting in your system and reminding you that work’s not everything.

And it makes so much sense to me that my firstborn—the one most like Steve—would fall in love with someone who cooks and nourishes others for a living. There’s a real poetry in the history that’s repeating itself there.


Though he says he originally thought our little community was “some weird place in the middle of nothing where rich people lived,” Matt has, through Garnie’s eyes, seen what makes it special.

“I grew up in a small town outside Syracuse, so Serenbe brings that feeling of community back home for me,” he says. “I love to see how it changes and progresses everyday and how a place can change people’s lives so drastically. People want a community like Serenbe—the majority of them just don’t know it.  It creates inspiration and blossoms amazing natural relationships with neighbors. It’s a place that lets you be connected with nature and community while being aesthetically gorgeous. I never want to leave. I’m truly blessed to be a part of such an amazing thing.”


Garnie and Matt hosting their first dinner party in their townhouse


I’m mindful of the uniqueness of his situation—that Matt has chosen to live and work in a place created by his girlfriend and her family. I imagine most men would consider this odd, but not our Matty: “I believe in the entire Serenbe mentality and I believe in Garnie’s family—I just want to be sure that our personal relationship and our work relationship can work together positively,” he says. “But as I’m sure everyone already knows, in both of our relationships Garnie is still the boss.”



August 2015

Reptilian Ride: Serenbe Gets a Gator

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IMG_1221We broke ground on Mado, the third phase of neighborhood development at Serenbe this year. Focused on health, wellness and aging in place, Mado is hidden back in the woods, which is what I love most about it.

Normally Steve would take his car up there to check on construction and the sales team could show off its progress via electric golf cart. But neither of those are tough enough to navigate well in all the mud, new roads and natural roadblocks like, you know, giant tree limbs.

So Steve bought a Gator, a small all-terrain vehicle made by John Deere. To him, it’s functional—a means to getting where he wants to go. To the rest of us, it’s a cool new toy perfect for joyrides.

I’ve never been an off-road vehicle kind of person, but the Gator is way cool. It’s fast, it’s loud and doesn’t think twice about climbing uphill. The boys in what I call the Tribe—Kara’s fiancé Micah, Garnie’s friend Michael and her boyfriend Matty plus Matty’s best friend Lucas—started coveting it the day it arrived. When our new PR team visited from NYC and DC, Quinn, Garnie and Monica, our marketing manager, took them out for a spin.

Even the cows love it: A few got lost recently and we took it out to find them. Nothing gets away from the Gator.



August 2015

Inns and Outs: How Nine New Rooms Turned Our Home Into A Hotel

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Steve, the girls and I moved out of what is now the Inn at Serenbe in December of 2005. It started as a farmhouse, evolved into our home for 11 years, transitioned into a bed and breakfast and became, until a few weeks ago, a 19-room inn where people come from all over the world to stay and explore our community.

Over the past five years, demand and desire led to conversations about adding new rooms. Those talks turned into plans and dirt turned into nine additional rooms that opened late last month.

They’ve changed the whole dynamic of our sweet little Inn. I look around at all the housekeepers scurrying about and think, wow, we really are a hotel now. With upwards of 80 employees, it’s come so far beyond what started with Steve and I back in 1996.

Originally Quinn and I tackled the décor but managing everything from window treatments to Kleenex boxes quickly overwhelmed us. Quinn has the dubious honor of being liaison between contractors, decorators, Garnie (who’s in charge of the Inn), Steve and I. I’d mention some decision I’d made about marble bathrooms and she’d say, “Mother, did you allot for it in the budget? And I’d look at her like she’d descended from another planet. “Mother,” she’d say again, quite sternly. “We have to allot for it in the budget.”

One day I visited with longtime Atlanta designer Stan Topol, a dear friend who designed many of Steve’s restaurants in Atlanta and The Hil at Serenbe. On the way back, I texted Garnie and Steve: Why haven’t we called Uncle Stanley to help us? For Quinn and I, it’s a major undertaking. To him it’s old hat.

Stan came on board, waved his wand around and made magic. Then legendary landscape designer Ryan Gainey, who designed the original gardens when it was our home, joined on to do the garden. And just like that, we have 10,000 feet of new space, including a conference room that seats 110 for dinner and 170 theater-style.

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This project has been our baby for so long. And the night before we opened it to the public, we stayed there with our babies—the first time we’d slept there together since we left 10 years ago. We toasted to their future with Champagne—the three girls will eventually own it together.

Visitors come and see soft beds and shiny new appliances. I look around and see my family’s past and my daughters’ future.



July 2015

Leaf It to Me: Saying No to Cool Whip and Kale Yes to Salad at Cooking Camp

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Kids Cooking Camp at Serenbe probably looks a bit different than other cooking camps. We don’t do pizza bagels. They don’t learn the finer points of macaroni and cheese or take their newfound knowledge of gummy worms sundaes back to their home kitchen.

We do kale. Actually, we did two kale dishes in one day.

Based off the success of last year’s camp, I did two weeks this year instead of one. One day we made create-your-own frittatas with different cheeses, onions, garlic, tomatoes, peppers, bacon, sausage and— that’s right—kale.

IMG_0326One day we did quick pickles: I set out kohlrabi, turnips and carrots and the kids wanted to know where the pickles were. It was a revelation to them that pickling is a process, not a product—and not always a cucumber.

I even brought back the blueberry cobbler, which was a huge hit last year for two reasons:

1. It’s delicious.

2. It ended with a homemade whipped cream fight on my front lawn. The fat from the cream stained my steps, but it makes for a hell of a story.

For the cobbler, the kids learned how to measure both dry and liquid ingredients and I got to find out who has real whipped cream at home and who has Cool Whip, which I call poison. You know my rule: If you can’t pronounce all the ingredients, you shouldn’t eat it.

But the first day was kale. We made one of my favorite comfort food dishes, sautéed kale over rice. We even did a rice tasting to see which one we liked best for the base (I’m partial to jasmine myself). They gobbled it up with this kale salad with oranges, almonds and a fresh orange vinaigrette.

Kale, orange and almond salad with orange vinaigrette

  • 1 large bunch kale, washed, stemmed and torn into small pieces
  • 2 navel oranges, pith removed and sliced
  • 1/2 cup sliced almonds (pistachio can be substituted)
  • Optional- thinly sliced vidalia onion

Place kale in large bowl and toss with the dressing. Taste and add salt if necessary.Divide the kale on 4 plates and top with oranges, onion and nuts

Orange Vinaigrette :

  • 1/2 cup extra virgin olive oil
  • 1/4 cup fresh squeezed orange juice
  • 2 tablespoons white balsamic vinaigrette
  • 1/2-1 teaspoon kosher salt

Place all ingredients in a jar and shake. Or In a bowl and stir well.



July 2015

Branching Out: ‘The Secret Garden’ Comes to Life Between Two Sister Sycamores

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Every year since its inception, Serenbe Playhouse does an all-ages play. Playhouse executive director Brian Clowdus started with The Jungle Book in 2010 and has since done The Ugly Ducking, Alice in Wonderland, The Velveteen Rabbit and The Wonderful Wizard of Oz. This year he chose The Secret Garden, not knowing it was my most favorite childhood play. I still have the book I loved as a little girl.

When I found out he was doing it, I was over the moon. It’s one thing to read it—which I have, over and over—and quite another to see it live. And of course Brian has taken it to another level and beyond.

When he did Wizard of Oz last year, Brian had a permanent yellow brick road installed in the animal village at the Inn where he staged the performance. For Secret Garden, he went scouting with Steve, who of course knew the perfect place flanked by two sister sycamores. With a bench set in-between them, they’re the cornerstones for the gorgeous garden Brian had installed. It’s like theater in the round, but you’re also in a garde.

Edit IMG_3476I’ve seen it twice—on opening day and again on Father’s Day—and both times I felt like I was in a waking dream. Adapted by Rachel Teagle—who truly understood the magic of the story—this production marks the directorial debut of Playhouse artistic assistant Ryan Oliveti. When Ryan read the script, he contacted Rachel and said he wanted an animal in the play, so the robin—the one who leads Mary to the hidden key to the garden—has a speaking part.

I cried both times: The book I loved as a little girl means even more to me as an adult. The message of being transformed by nature speaks right to my heart and reminds me of the parents who tell me their children have gone off ADHD medicine since moving to Serenbe and being more active outdoors. I’m getting choked up again just thinking about it.

And now, thanks to Brian, we’ll always have a secret garden here at Serenbe. A little piece of England where this Anglophile can sit, dream and sip on my version of a Pimm’s Cup—one of my favorite summer cocktails. A little English and a little Southern, it includes Red Rock ginger ale, a slightly spicy Southern soda founded in Atlanta in 1885.

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Marie’s Pimm’s Cup

  • Serves 1
  • ¼ cup Pimm’s
  • 1 bottle Red Rock ginger ale
  • 2 strawberries, sliced
  • French mint leaves

Fill a tall glass with ice and pour in Pimm’s. Fill the rest of the glass with Red Rock ginger ale. Add strawberries and garnish with mint.


The Secret Garden runs through August 16. Performances are Fridays and Saturdays at 11 a.m. and 2 p.m. Sundays in the English Garden at Serenbe. For more information, visit



July 2015

Pitted Against Each Other: Me, Nathalie Dupree and Cold Avocado Soup

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My dear friend Nathalie Dupree—author of 14 cookbooks, host of more than 300 national and international cooking shows and recent inductee into the James Beard Foundation’s 2015 Who’s Who of Food & Beverage In America—inhales Diet Cokes. In the four decades I’ve known her, I’ve never seen water so much as touch her lips.

I tell her that stuff is going to kill her. She says, “No it’s not. I’m still here,” and at the next available opportunity, she finds a way to make fun of the fact that I don’t have a microwave.

It radiates the food, I tell her.

“No it doesn’t.”

“Yes it does.”

“No. It really doesn’t.”

And so goes the banter every time she comes up from Charleston to host the Southern Chefs Series.IMG_5967

The beauty of Nathalie is that she’s done this so many times it’s second nature. Her classes are relaxed, fun and full of accessible food that everyone can make at home.

For lunch she did a pimento cheese tart with tomato on Pillsbury dough and at dinner she made a red pepper pork loin with a cold avocado soup that required zero cooking and was done in seconds.

It was delicious. She teased that I added too much salt, but I don’t think I did. Those Diet Cokes must be messing with her taste buds.

Cold Avocado Soup

  •  2 ripe avocados, pitted and peeled
  • 1 cup chicken stock or broth
  • 1 cup heavy cream or sour cream
  • 1-2 teaspoons chopped fresh cilantro or basil
  • Juice of 1 lemon
  • Salt
  • Freshly ground pepper
  • Ground hot red pepper

Cut the avocados up roughly and move to a blender or food processor. Slowly add the chicken stock and puree until smooth.

Transfer to a bowl and whisk in the cream and herbs.

Season to taste with the lemon juice, salt, pepper and hot red pepper. Chill in a tightly covered container or serve immediately.


The next two Southern Chefs Series—Ford Fry and Art Smith—are sold out. Join us December 6-7 for Chris Hastings. Call 770.463.2610 for pricing and additional information.



July 2015

The Rise and Fall of Cheese Soufflé

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When the girls were younger and all living at home, we had family dinner hour. Every Sunday through Thursday at 6:30 p.m. we turned off the TV, ignored the phone and sat down to dinner together.

We all had busy lives, but when we sat at the table we were there 100 percent. Everyone had to check in and everyone was heard. Tables are the great equalizers. No matter who’s older, has more power or money, when you’re all sitting at the table, everyone’s on the same level.

Our meal was always homemade—never take out. At that point, though Steve owned restaurants, but I really believe that one of the most important things you can do for the people you love is to prepare a meal with your own hands. That’s not to say dinner was elaborate—there was no chateaubriand or tableside Caesar salad presentation. But there was always a protein, starch and either two vegetables or one and a salad.

One of the girls’ favorite proteins, and something I still crave to this day, is cheese soufflé. People are intimidated by soufflés—the name alone sounds impossibly French and fancy—but I’m always like, get a grip, do you see how easy this is? There were many nights when I didn’t have a dinner plan, but I had eggs, milk and cheese.

It’s little more than whipping egg whites, making a béchamel and adding egg yolks. And don’t get hung up on the béchamel part either—that’s just butter, flour and milk. The most complex part about it is the timing. Soufflés bake up beautifully, but they fall quickly. I’d have the table set and everything else ready to go so I could pull them out and put them on the table the minute the time went off.

Now that the girls are grown and having dinner at their own tables, I’ll still bake up a soufflé when it’s just Steve and I, sometimes swapping out the cheddar for a mix of goat cheese and Parmesan. He and I go in so many different directions all day long and it’s nice to sit at the table, tuck into a steamy soufflé and feel our souls with sharing, our minds with conversation and our bodies with food that comes together in minutes and tastes like it took all day.

Fannie Farmer’s Cheese Soufflé

  • Courtesy of James Beard
  • 2 tablespoons butter
  • 3 tablespoons flour
  • ½ cup scalded milk
  • ½ teaspoon salt
  • Few grains cayenne
  • ½ cup grated Cheddar cheese
  • 3 eggs separated

Melt the butter, add the flour, and when well mixed gradually add the scalded milk. Then add the salt, cayenne and cheese.

Remove from the fire; add the egg yolks beaten until lemon colored. Cool the mixture, fold in the egg whites beaten stiff but not dry. Pour into a buttered 1 ½ quart mold, and bake 30 to 35 minutes at 375 degrees.



June 2015

The Kindness of Strangers: Sandwich ‘Streetcar’ into Your Weekend

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Photo by BreeAnne Clowdus

Photo by BreeAnne Clowdus

Years ago, Steve and I took an annual “just because” trip to New Orleans. We’d get an early flight out of Atlanta, hit the Big Easy long before our hotel’s check-in time and head straight to Central Grocery for an early-morning muffaletta.

When I love something, I don’t care what time of day it is.

It’s one of my fondest memories of New Orleans—Steve and I sharing that big sandwich stacked with meat and incredible olive salad. On the way back to the airport, we’d stop for another and devour it on the plane.

Last week Serenbe Playhouse executive director Brian Clowdus put me back in touch with the magic of New Orleans—the hot, sticky air and smell of the streets—without ever leaving Serenbe. He did his production of A Streetcar Named Desire at the Art Farm, where three shipping containers and a platform create an unbelievable stage upon which Brian set all-white, very contemporary furniture—a nod to the original black-and-white movie with Vivian Leigh and Marlon Brando. It felt both gritty and modern—and it totally worked.


Photo by BreeAnne Clowdus

Brian’s productions are always packed with local actors of note, but this one includes his first major star, Matt Davis (Vampire Diaries) as Stanley. As Vampire Diaries is filmed in Atlanta, Matt has visited Serenbe often and became friends with Garnie. One day he mentioned how much he’d like to do Streetcar with Serenbe Playhouse. A short time later, Brian said something to Garnie about adding Streetcar to his line-up. She put the two together—it was meant to be.


Photo by BreeAnne Clowdus

Davis brings a brooding sensuality to the role and Deb Bowman, who plays Blanche is phenomenal. It’s a very dark and difficult play about a woman in the throes of a nervous breakdown and Bowman brings pure grace and magic to it.

Come see Streetcar before it closes on Sunday, but don’t arrive on an empty stomach. Make yourself a nice thick muffaletta before the show, complete with the best olive salad on the planet.

Central Grocery Olive Salad

  • 2/3 cup pitted and coarsely chopped green olives
  • 2/3 cup pitted and coarsely chopped Kalamata olives
  • ½ cup chopped pimento
  • 3 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 anchovy filet, mashed
  • 1 tablespoon capers, drained and rinsed
  • ½ cup finely chopped parsley leaves
  • 1 teaspoon finely chopped fresh oregano leaves
  • ½ teaspoon freshly ground pepper
  • ½ cup extra virgin olive oil

In a medium bowl, combine all ingredients and allow the flavors to meld. Store covered in the refrigerator until ready to use.